The one and only Giovanni Lavaggi turns 53 today!
Lavaggi’s principal motor racing success have been in sports cars – he won the Daytona 24-Hour classic in 1995 at the wheel of a Porsche Spyder K8. In spite of his lack of F1 success, he has had great success in protoype and sports car racing.
His F1 foray started in 1992 as a paying test driver for the woefully underfinanced March team. He also had a brief and very unsuccessful stint in CART.
An Italian count and a qualified engineer, Lavaggi competed in 10 Grands Prix (with 3 DNQs) between in 1995 and 1996 for the cash-strapped Pacific and Minardi teams.
Becoming the second-oldest driver to debut in F1 since 1977, his first outing at the 1995 German GP with Pacific saw him qualify bog last and over 10 seconds slower than pole-sitter Damon Hill. The remaining 3 outings with the team saw a DNF on each occasion, and he was the only driver in 1995 not to finish a single race he contested.
Minardi threw him a lifeline midway in 1996 when its finances were looking perilous, and he made his return at Hockenheim, but this time he had the 107% qualifying rule to contend with! His highest F1 finish came with a 10th (8 laps down after spinning out in the closing stages) at Hungary, and he DNQ’d again at Spa.
It was at Portugal where he ensured his cult status. Trundling around at the back of the field, he got himself involved in one of the overtaking moves of the season. As the battling Michael Schumacher and Jacques Villeneuve came up to lap him at the notorious final corner, the German champion encountered “a chicane disguised as a Minardi” in the words of AUTOSPORT as Lavaggi inadvertently baulked the Ferrari. A priceless commentary clip describing what happens next (with Murray Walker and Jonathan Palmer doing the honours) can be found here.
Why the nickname? Lavaggi was nicknamed "Johnny Carwash" (a liberal translation of his name from Italian to English) by those in the F1 paddock, with US talk show host David Letterman helping to bring the name to popular attention.
Giovanni very graciously gave Richard’s F1 a fascinating exclusive interview last year, which you can read here.