Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Remembering Gilles

First of all I must confess that I wasn’t aware of the forthcoming 30th Anniversary of Gilles Villeneuve’s death being this May 8th, albeit I knew it had occurred in the early 1980’s - the news having been first spotted on flagworld.com’s announcement of son Jacques tribute honouring the occasion by piloting his late father’s Ferrari 312T4 at Fiorano, Ferrari’s private test track on exactly 30-years after his tragedy at Zolder, Belgium...

Niki Lauda:
“He was the craziest Devil I ever came across in Formula 1”

Tragically, Gilles death occurred before my baptism into Der ‘Vurld de Formel Ein - not having watched my debutant Grand Prix via the Telescreen some four-plus years later - as I know I’d have taken a shine onto the affable ‘KuhNuck, eh?

Thus Joseph Gilles Henri Villeneuve’s meteoric rise to fortune “N fame seems like a veritable Rags-to-Riches fairy tail, depending upon which internetz source I trust to believe... Claiming that the ‘Quebecker was so cash-strapped for ‘loonies that he’d sold his house in order to fund his racing dream and thus took the entire family with him from race-to-race in first a camping van and later a motorhome.

And it clearly was a different world way back when - nearly forty years ago, as Gilles reportedly funded his initial foray into single seater racing by becoming a force to be reckoned with in his native winter sport of Snowmobiling! Having won the 1974 World Championship snowmobile Derby amongst other races, which afforded him the opportunity to demand appearance fees along with his race winnings...

And reading of his amazingly short career path to Formula 1, I’m reminded of another quick study commonly known as The ‘Kimster or thee Iceman, aka Kimi Raikkonen, albeit I can only assume that Gilles was much more outgoing, right? As I sincerely doubt that ‘GV droned on in Monosyllabic robot tone; Hya!

Having won both the U.S. and Canadian Formula Atlantic titles in 1976 in only his sophomore season, before repeating as ‘Kuhnadiun champion again in ’77 - along with having beaten 1976 F1 World Champion James Hunt in a “Celebrity” outing in Toronto; Villeneuve was signed to a third car drive at McLaren with a maximum of five races potentially plus an option on his services for 1978.

Thus, Gilles star at la Scuderia is so bright that I often forget that he actually made his Formula 1 debut at the British Grand Prix for Team McLaren instead - where he qualified ninth, splitting the team’s primary drivers Hunt and Jochen Mass before finishing P11.

Gilles Villeneuve at the USGP West - Long Beach, CA. (Source: Gordon Kirby; motorsportmagazine.com)
Yet it wasn’t to be, with Teddy Mayer, the team’s manager opting for Patrick Tambay the following season instead - before Gilles flew to Italy to meet Il Commendatore, Nee Enzo Ferrari - who reputedly considered the diminutive Canadian to immediately remind him of a previous F1 legend named Tazio Nuvolari... And hence, Villeneuve was inked to race for Scuderia Ferrari for the season’s final two outings and the entire forthcoming 1978 season, which intriguingly caused the current F1 champion Lauda to quit Ferrari! Whilst the rest as they say is history...

And I don’t know where I read it all those years ago? But somewheres on ze Interwoodz I recall reading a great yarn ‘bout Gilles and his arch rival & teammate Didier Pironi racing home from Monaco to Italy in identical Ferrari 512BB road cars and beating the shit out of their gearboxes; CRIKEYS!

Not to mention tending to think I recall vivid yarns ‘O lore being noted about Villeneuve’s crazy antics in Helicopters?

Yet of course, the most fabled tragedy of sorts is the much documented controversy surrounding Monsieur Pironi’s disobeying of orders during the ’82 San Marino Grand Prix and instead of following Gilles across the line - passed the KuhNuck on the final lap leaving Villeneuve livid with the Frenchman and vowing to never speak to him again!

Thus obviously this strong burning vitriol carried over to F1’s next round, the Belgian GP at Zolder a fortnight after and clearly Villeneuve was consumed with putting a good ‘Ol fashioned ARSE-whooping upon Pironi by going for Pole along with qualifying ahead of Didier that fateful day in May... Since what little I’ve read of Villeneuve’s career, he seems to have been a loyal team player and expected the same honour from his teammates...

Yet ironically, my most funniest memory of Gilles is related to his bitter rival Pironi’s girlfriend instead, who according to WICKEDpedia named the couples twin sons Didier and Gilles - who she gave birth to just weeks after Pironi’s death while competing in an Offshore Power Boating race.

7Whilst another of my fleeting memories is tied to something that never panned out - having written a letter to “Road ‘N AD!” (Road & Track) inquiring how to obtain a print, hopefully a lithograph of  the famous rosso No. 27 created by artist Anne Peyton - who seems to have disappeared from the motorsports art landscape...

And I understand why the switch was made by the FIA and Uncle Bernaughty, i.e.; the current car number ordering scheme; BUTT! I much preferred the good ‘Ol dazes instead when the No. 27 was legendary as Gilles with la Scuderia traditionally sporting the numbers 27 & 28, with ‘Uncle Chopper’s Tyrrell’s in classic Elf bleu and the No’s 3 & 4. Team ‘Willy, aka Sir Frank Williams with the legendary red No. 5 and  No. 6, McLaren International yearly sporting the numbers one & two plates; Brabham numbers 7 & 8; Lotus No’s 11-12 and so-on and so-on, as you get the jist...

Thus hopefully this special tribute to Gilles 312T4 Prancing Horse in Maranello will indeed be open to the public along with being televised, since I haven’t seen or heard the boxer flat twelve run since the Monterey Historics circa 1998-2000...

Salute Gilles!

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