The Richard’s F1 team would like to extend our happy birthday wishes to former F1 drivers Dan Gurney (80 today) and Ricardo Zunino (62 today).
There are a handful of drivers in the sport whose warmth and charisma make them instantly likeable both during, and well after, their Formula 1 career. Dan Gurney is, by definition, one of these few men who continues to capture the hearts of motorsport fans worldwide.
New York-born and California-raised, Gurney was the son of an opera singer. After starting out in the domestic sports car scene, Gurney made his Le Mans debut in 1958, and by 1959 he was a driver in Ferrari’s works F1 team, picking up a podium in just his second race.
Feeling stifled by the strictness of Ferrari, Gurney jumped ship to BRM for 1960, but it was a dreadful year in the hopelessly unreliable P48, made worse when he killed a child spectator at the Dutch Grand Prix when his brakes failed.
He joined Porsche in 1961, and revelled with the handling of the nimble four-cylinder challenger, picking up three second places that year before his maiden F1 win came with an excellent drive at the French Grand Prix. It was to be the peak of Porsche’s achievement as a constructor in F1, for they withdrew at the end of the year.
Gurney joined Brabham as its lead driver and stayed there for three years, being hugely competitive against Jim Clark but frequently let down by niggling reliability issues. It was ironic that he would leave Brabham to set up his own team in 1966, only for the outfit to take the championships for the next two years.
But Gurney’s Anglo American Racers challenger was a superb-looking car – even to this day, it ranks among the most beautiful F1 cars ever made – even though its gutless four-cylinder Climax engine meant it wasn’t a competitive prospect until it was replaced by the more potent Weslake V12.
By 1967, this was truly competitive, and he took an excellent win at Spa before the Cosworth-powered challengers started to come to the fore for the rest of the season. Gurney also won that year’s Le Mans 24 Hours with AJ Foyt in a Ford GT40.
By now, Gurney was dovetailing his efforts as a driver/owner in Can-Am and USAC, and he finished on the podium at the Indianapolis 500 on three occasions. He returned briefly to fill the breach at McLaren at Bruce McLaren’s tragic death in 1970, but his best days were behind him and he quit competitive racing.
He would eventually win the Indy 500 as a constructor, with his Eagles powering Gordon Johncock and Bobby Unser drinking the milk in 1973 and 1975 respectively, and his team continued to win IndyCar races until the early 1980s. He reformed his team in the mid 1990s when Toyota entered the fray as an engine-builder, but the project closed after a few years.
Click here for Dan Gurney’s complete F1 results.
Zunino’s F1 career is a prime example of chance: being at the right place at right time. Certainly, his feeder series results had been nothing to write home about, despite the competitiveness of his machinery in Formula 2.
A switch to the Aurora F1 series was a smart move, and the Argentine won a race and took five other top-six finishes.
Zunino happened to be in the Montreal pit lane when Niki Lauda decided to quit Brabham on the spot during the race weekend, and team boss Bernie Ecclestone offered him the gig for the final two races of the year.
He had one more outing with Brabham at the non-championship round in South Africa in 1981, and then took a seat at Tyrrell for two races before making way for one Michele Alboreto…
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