Friday, February 10, 2012

Swedish Speed Merchants

Gunnar Nilsson
Y’all know my most overused vernacular, not to be Cornfuzed with “Veniculi,” Err Italian People mover – Hya! But it’s hard to believe that almost two-year’s has slipped by since I passed over that pesky Eyjafjallaj√∂kull volcano en route to Vaxjo, Sweden – home of not one, but two ex-Gran Primo Piloto’s - as another story has finally escaped the irresistible gravitational pull of the NoFenderz Wormhole Vortex...

Thus here’s the “second-two-last” story I haven’t finished yet from that wonderful Swedish outing with my ‘Mega Tourista’s Tanja & Alvin; as little did I know I’d be going to the Hometown of two of Sweden’s Formula 1 drivers: “Stevie Johnson,” aka Stefan Johansson and Bjorn Karl Michael Wirdheim; both from Vaxjo. As I’d previously witnessed Stevie in action first at the USGP at Phoenix when he drove the beautiful Onyx F1 car... Then I later saw Johansson and “Wardhamm” plus “the Brackster” (Kenny Brack) all at Portland Int’l Raceway prior to my first visit to Sweden...

Which naturally made me ‘wunder just how many ‘Swede’s have been Formula 1 and/or CART or Champ Car drivers? To which I unearthed the following Intel which I’ve tried scribblin’ chronologically...

(10) ‘Swede Drivers:
Anderson, Conny; Bonnier, Jo; Borgudd , Tommy “Slim;” Brack, Kenny; Eriksson, Marcus; Johansson, Stefan; Nilsson, Gunnar; Peterson, Ronnie; Wirdheim, Bjorn; Wisell, Reine.

(1) Jo Bonnier

Series: F1

Teams: Maserati; Scuderia Centro sud; Jokim Bonnier Racing Team; BRM; Porsche;  Rob Walker Racing Team; Lotus; Brabham; Anglo-Swiss Racing/Ecurie Bonnier; Honda.

Years: 1956-71

Wins: 1


Jokim “Jo” Bonnier was Sweden’s Debutante racing driver to enter the rarefied Air of Formula 1 making his Debutante Grands Prix for the Werks’ Maserati team in the 1956 Italian Grand Prix. Next He drove for the Scuderia Centro Sud team before forming his own racing team. Then spending time with BRM and Porsche where Jo had his best success, claiming two wins total.


Bonnier was the only swede’ to race both front and rear engine F1 machinery. And became the first Swedish Driver to win a Formula 1 race when triumphing in the front engine BRM P25 at the 1959 Dutch Grand Prix.


Jo also won the 1960 German Grand Prix on the famed Nurburgring’s shorter Susschleife circuit, appropriately behind the wheel of a Porsche 718. Although it was a Formula 2 race in preparations for the forthcoming 1961 Formula 1 regulation changes to F2 machinery, and was the only German Grand Prix held on the shorter circuit.


Bonnier’s last Full season in Formula 1 was in 1968 before making sporadic “One Offs” for Lotus, Brabham and Honda, with his last F1 race being the 1971 United States Grand Prix.


Like almost All Formula 1 Drivers of this era, Jokim also competed in Sports Car and Can Am racing, winning the legendous’ Targa Florio twice, (1960, 1963) along with the 1962 12 Hours of Sebring. He also finished Runner-up in the 1964 24 Heurs du Mans with Graham Hill in a Ferrari, with his final major Sports Car victory being the ’66 1000km Nurburgring race with Phil Hill in Jim Hall’s Chapparal. Sadly Jo was Killed during the 1972 24 Hours of Le Mans when striking a Privateer Ferrari at High Speed exiting the Mulsanne Straight.

(2) Ronnie Peterson
Series: F1
Teams: March; Tyrrell; Lotus.
Years: 1970-78
Wins: 10

Ronnie began his ascent to the Pinnacle of Motorsport (Formula One) the traditional way, winning several Go-karting titles before graduating to single seater racing, where he won the 1969 European Formula 3 title – prior to joining the March (Factory) “Works” Team alongside a rebellious Austrian known as “The Rat.” (Niki Lauda)

After his 3-year contract was up, Peterson switched to Lotus for the first of his two stints with Colin Chapman, winning seven times alongside main teammate Jacky Ickx; plus Jim Crawford, John Watson and Brian Henton. He then returned to March for one further season in ’76 before moving onto partner Monsieur “De-Pie-eh” (Patrick Depailler) in those revolutionary Tyrrell P34 Six-wheeler’s. (In the far better paint scheme of First National...)

Then in ’78, Ronnie returned to Lotus as it’s number two driver behind Mario Andretti, as the ‘Swede won his final two race victories before perishing from accident at Monza, Italy the same day that Andretti became World Champion...

(3) Reine Wisell
Series: F1
Teams: Lotus; BRM; March.
Years: 1970-74
Wins: 0

There seems to be little offered ‘bout “Rennie,” (Reine) other then perhaps he was simply a victim of timing... As he was trying to carve out a Formula 1 career at the same time as Peterson – not to mention being overshadowed by Lotus teammate “EMMO,” (Emerson Fittipaldi) as for example; upon scoring his lone podium finish, a fine third place on his maiden Grand Prix outing at Watkins Glen, instead the media focused upon Emerson scoring his first victory. Wisell made his 22nd and final “Official” Formula 1 start in his Home race, the 1974 Swedish GP...

(4) Conny Anderson
Series: F1
Teams: Surtees; BRM.
Years: 1976-77
Wins: 0

Very little information upon this ‘Swede – albeit he was a Motorcross rider before toiling in Formula 3 for nearly a Decade; then with backing from Rotel, he ran a pair of Privateer March’s in the European F3 Championship beginning in 1975 – when he won the Monaco event, yet was stripped of victory for jumping the start and being given a time penalty of 1-minute. Yet he still finished fourth and then won at Anderstorp before losing the title to ‘Aussie Larry Perkins.

Then in ’76, Conny won a total of four European F3 races: Nurburgring, AVUS, Croix-en-Ternois and Knutstorp, but once again lost the title, this time to a rising Italian named Ricardo Patrese.

Anderson made his Formula One debut at the Dutch Grand Prix for the Surtees Team, before finally fading from the racing landscape after he failed to qualify for the ’77 French GP...

(5) Gunnar Nilsson
Series: F1
Teams: Lotus
Years: 1976-77
Wins: 1

It seems to me that Gunnar’s career is  overshadowed by nemesis Ronnie Peterson, who effectively “stole” Nilsson’s seat at the rapidly improving Lotus concern. Gunnar did win the 1975 British Formula 3 Championship

And was Mario Andretti’s teammate at Lotus, winning once in the wet at Zolder, site of the Belgian Grand Prix – passing Niki Lauda’s Brabham for the victory. Having signed to race for Arrows in ’78; sadly, Gunnar was never healthy enough to race for this new Start-up team, and ultimately died from testicular cancer at the age of 29...