Raul Boesel

Raul Boesel’s rise to Formula 1 racing was as rapid as his departure from it: within three years of leaving his Brazilian homeland to find success, he was on the F1 grid making his debut in 1982. By 1984 and after a string of disappointments, F1 had left him behind, and he turned to the United States to find success.

His family had some wealth, and Raul was able to pursue some of the pastimes of the country’s upper classes, particularly in equestrian events, where he proved extremely talented in showjumping.

But he gave up one form of horsepower for another when a friend introduced him to go-kart racing, and he quickly became hooked. He abandoned his engineering degree studies for the chance to go racing, and started out competing full-time in what would later be known as the Stock Car Brasil championship.

This success saw him follow the well-trodden path of aspiring Brazilian racers: pack up and head to Europe to be discovered as the next Emerson Fittipaldi.

Raul quickly found his feet in kartingHaving never driven a single-seater and speaking barely any English, Raul somehow negotiated himself a drive with the Van Diemen works team in the British Formula Ford championship as team-mates to fellow F1 aspirants Roberto Moreno and Tommy Byrne. He finished runner-up in both Formula Ford championships in his maiden season!

British F3 was next, and he took the approach of being a consistent point-scorer, finishing third overall in the 1981 Marlboro championship standings with three wins and points’ finished in sixteen of the season’s twenty rounds. He earned himself a test drive with the McLaren F1 team at the end of the year.

Formula 1, 1983 British GPHis results earned him more sponsorship backing from his homeland, and he used this to help him land a seat at the March F1 team for 1982.

But the year was a disaster, and his hopes didn’t improve when he struggled with Ligier’s radical JS27 challenger the following year, earning a best finish of seventh at Long Beach.
His F1 career was in tatters, and after a year in South American Formula 2, he headed Stateside and kickstarted what would be a long and enjoyable career in the CART Championship series.

He interrupted this with a championship-winning run in the World Sports Car Championship with Tom Walkinshaw’s Silk Cut Jaguar racing team in 1987, and won the Dayton 24 Hours the following year.

His 171-race CART career marked Boesel as a model of consistency, and his fortunes peaked in the early-to-mid 1990s when he was a consistent points’ finisher. While victory sadly eluded him, he claimed eight podium finishes and three pole positions.

CART, 1994He joined the new Indy Racing League championship in 1998 and continued to try and target a win at the Indianapolis 500.

His final outing at the Brickyard saw him earn an outstanding front-row start, a feat that was all the more incredible due to his lack of time in the cockpit.
After this, Raul wound down his motorsport career to a few seasons in the championship where it all began, Stock Car Brasil, while also indulging in his new hobby of offshore powerboat racing. A near-fatal accident put paid to future watersport pursuits, and Raul now earns a very successful living as one of Brazil’s highest-profile DJs. entertaining thousands of patrons up and count the continent.

Raul kindly accepted our interview request and you will see that his answers give a fascinating insight into the highs and lows of his motorsport career. We remain extremely grateful to Raul for his help and support in making this interview possible.

Raul Boesel Raul Boesel, 1982 Boesel

Full Name: Raul de Mesquita Boesel
Nationality: Brazilian
Born: 4 December 1957, Curitiba (BRA)

First GP: 1982 South African Grand Prix
Last GP: 1983 South African Grand Prix
Entries: 30 Grands Prix: 23 Non-starts: 7
Wins: 0 Best Finish: 7th Best Grid: 17th
Fastest Laps: 0 Points: 0 Retirements: 12

First Race: 1985 Grand Prix of Long Beach
Last Race: 1999 Marlboro 500 at Fontana
Entries: 172 Starts: 171 Non-starts: 1
Wins: 0 Podiums: 8 Poles: 3
Laps Led: 321 Points: 730 Retirements: 62

First Race: 1998 Walt Disney World
Last Race: 2002 Texas
Entries: 28 Starts: 27 Non-starts: 1
Wins: 0 Best Finish: 5th Top-10s: 5
Poles: 0 Laps Led: 59 Points: 402

1974-1976 Karting
1980 British Formula Ford, Van Diemen Racing, 27 races, 9 wins
1981 British Formula 3, Murray Taylor Racing, 3 wins, 12 podiums, 3rd overall
1982 Formula 1, March-Cosworth 821 V8, 15 entries, 5 DNQ, 10 races, 0 points
1983 Formula 1, Ligier-Cosworth JS21 V8, 15 entries, 2 DNQ, 13 races, 0 points
1985 CART, Dick Simon Racing, 10 races, 10 points, 30th overall
1986 CART, Dick Simon Racing, 17 races, 54 points, 13th overall
1987 World Sports Car Championship, Silk Cut Jaguar XJR-8, 5 wins, 127 pts, Champion
  CART, Granatelli Racing, 2 races, 8 points, 27th overall
1988 CART, Shierson Racing, 15 races, 89 points, 8th overall
  Daytona 24 Hours, Castrol TWR Jaguar XJR-8, 1st overall
1989 CART, Shierson Racing, 15 races, 3rd at Indy 500, 68 points, 11th overall
1990 CART, Truesports, 16 races, 42 points, 12th overall
1992 CART, Dick Simon Racing, 15 races, 2 podiums, 80 points, 9th overall
1993 CART, Dick Simon Racing, 16 races, 3 podiums, 132 points, 5th overall
1994 CART, Dick Simon Racing, 16 races, 1 podium, 90 points, 7th overall
1995 CART, Rahal-Hogan Racing, 16 races, 48 points, 16th overall
1996 CART, Team Green, 16 races, 17 points, 22nd overall
1997 CART, Patrick Racing, 17 races, 1 podium, 91 points, 10th overall
1998 IRL, McCormack Motorsports, 11 races, 132 points, 20th overall
1999 CART, Team Green / All American Racers, 3 races, 1 point, 32nd overall
  IRL, McCormack / Brant Motorsports, 6 races, 98 points, 23rd overall
2000 IRL, T-V Cunningham Racing, Indy 500 only, finished 16th
2001 IRL, Treadway/Hubbard Racing, Indy 500 only, DNS
2002 IRL, Team Menard / Bradley Motorsports, 9 races, 158 points, 19th overall

Your early years were spent dealing with a different type of ‘horsepower’, in that you were a very talented equestrian rider along with your brother. What sparked your initial interest in motorsport?

When I went to a go-kart race track with a friend and he let me drive the go-kart; I was then completely crazy about motorsport.

Who were your motorsport heroes during these early years?

Those days we follow Emerson Fittipaldi success, for sure he inspire many of the Brazilians drivers including me.

You competed in karts for four years – winning the ‘City of Curitiba’ championship in 1974 – and then you made the jump straight into tin-top racing, where you were named ‘Rookie of the Year’ in the Brazilian Stock Car Championship in 1979. What was this transition like to move from a lightweight and nimble kart straight into a much heavier and more powerful car?

It was very interesting, although the move wasn’t initially something I would have chosen. By chance, a friend invited me to share his car in a race that had two heats. It was the opening event of the Rio de Janeiro race track in 1977. After my success, I stayed in Stock Cars.

Stock Car Brasil, 1979 British F3, 1981
Raul’s journey to F1 included the rather unusual detour via Brazil’s Stock Car championship, which was then in its formative years. Well after his open-wheel stint had finished, Raul wound down his racing career in the Stock Car Brasil championship. He then moved to Europe and immediately impressed in Formula Ford and in the British Formula 3 championships – his form was strong enough to see him earn a McLaren test driver at the end of the 1981 season. [Images via Raul Boesel website]

You took the well-trodden path of many aspiring Brazilian drivers by heading to Europe, and jumped straight into Formula Ford, speaking little English and having no open-wheel racing experience. And yet you made what should have been an incredibly difficult transition look too easy, finishing runner-up in the championship. How did you manage to adjust to the European racing scene and the type of racing so quickly?

This was a very hard time for, especially because I didn’t speak any English. I had to learn the language, new tracks, and a formula type of car, as well as adapt to a new country. I was tough, but I have only one choice: to succeed, or I’d have to go back to Brazil.

The next stop was Formula 3 and you were again successful, finishing third in the Marlboro championship and earning yourself a test drive with the McLaren F1 team. Can you tell us about your first experience behind the wheel of a Formula 1 car?

It was amazing! In the first few laps, I couldn’t believe how quick the car was. I remember couldn’t even see the dashboard because of the speed and vibrations. After about 15 laps, I calmed down and I started to enjoy it. By the end, I was more confortable and confident as a racing driver.

Formula 1, McLaren Test (F1 Nostalgia)
Raul samples F1 machinery for the first time, earning himself an outing with the McLaren F1 team.

By 1982, you would be making your Grand Prix debut with the March F1 team. How did the opportunity come about, and what were your initial thoughts when you joined the team.

My test with the McLaren was pretty decent, I was quite quick and that opened the door for the March team with the help of some sponsorship. Some people think [team principal] John MacDonald was tough, but we had a good relationship – he actually had a great sense of humour. But the problem was that the car wasn’t any good.

Your maiden race would be the controversial South African Grand Prix, where the drivers famously staged a strike over the conditions of their FISA licenses. How difficult a baptism was this for you and what are your recollections from that weekend?

This was a really tense time. I remember John standing outside the bus going crazy, screaming at me and telling me that if I got on the bus with the other drivers then I would be fired and my career would be finished. But on the inside of the bus, I had Niki [Lauda], Gilles [Villeneuve] and Didier [Pironi] telling me that they needed my support, but that they would support whichever decision I took. I stayed on the bus.

Despite having Adrian Reynard as a designer, the March 821 was not a competitive car, and the team switched from tyre suppliers during the season, starting with Pirelli, and later moving to Avon and Michelin as the season progressed. There were occasions where you failed to make the qualifying cut; how much of a challenge was this debut season for you?

I always made the pre-qualifying cut until the problems you describe started to affect the team. In qualifying, I was always close to [team-mate] Jochen Mass, sometimes I even out-qualified him.

In the races, he had a better pace. The car was very heavy and I did suffer physically at the first few races. I was very disappointed with everything: the car and the turmoil inside the team didn’t help me.

As a comparison, in the 20 laps I tested with McLaren I was 1.5 seconds quicker than when I come back to the British GP at Silverstone with five or six races under my belt.

Raul Boesel, 1982 US GP

The March 821 (effectively an updated version of the previous year’s RAM 811) was heavy and uncompetitive. Boesel qualified inside the top-20 at both opening races of the season, but failed to do it again for the rest of the year. He earned two top-ten finishes early in the season, but he wouldn’t see the chequered flag again until the last race of the year at Las Vegas. The team’s cause was not helped by team boss John MacDonald twice switching tyre suppliers over the course of the year, and it was little surprise that Raul took his sponsorship backing to help land him a seat elsewhere for 1983. Unfortunately, the ‘elsewhere’ happened to be Ligier… [Image via F1 Nostalgia]

For 1983, you landed up at Ligier and piloting the unusual-looking JS21. Sadly, the results were largely similar to what you’d been able to achieve with March the year before, and the radical car was uncompetitive. Did the environment at Ligier differ much from that at March?

Raul Boesel, 1983 Monaco GPIt was terrible! I was really a number-two driver with second-rate equipment. They gave me plenty of promises, but nothing in action.

Even the best tyres from Michelin went to [team-mate] Jean-Pierre Jarier! For example, at Silverstone, after my pit stop my car was suddenly much better than it had ever been and I was suddenly two seconds a lap faster.

I could now mix it with the big boys, and I remember having a great battle with Michele Alboreto. The reason? Jarier had retired from the race, and they put his tyres on my car.

By 1984, the opportunity to stay in Formula 1 would pass. Your F1 career would read a total of 23 starts and a best finish of seventh at the 1983 race at Long Beach. How do you look back on your short time in Formula 1 today?

I always try to be positive about these things. Of course it was frustrating, but I learned a lot and learned it the hard way. Those lessons helped me for the rest of my career.

At what point was a career in CART mentioned or offered to you, and at what point did you begin seriously considering it?

I started to look at CART towards the end of 1983, as soon as I realised that staying in F1 would be impossible. I spent the 1984 season going to all of the CART events to try and secure a test drive or even a race seat, and eventually Dick Simon gave me a test outing at the beginning of 1985.

Dick Simon Racing has been known to have brought in former Formula One drivers and reinvigorated their careers. With no prior experience, was the thought of racing on ovals daunting, or were you sure you had signed for the best team to help you handle the transition?

Boesel's motorsport career was reinvigorated with his long stint in the CART championshipAt the time, it was the best drive I could get. I was the first F1 driver to drive for him, in reality, he only had one American driver who drove his spare car for one race before I came along.

Of course I’ll admit that I was a bit nervous about oval racing before I first drove on one, but I soon came to enjoy the environment and the challenge.

Even though the only ovals you competed on in your rookie year were at Indianapolis and Michigan, what were your initial impressions of the discipline, compared to your road racing background?

It was very different – it was new way to drive a racing car, especially to ‘feel’ the car. Dick Simon was good to communicate with and I learned a lot with him. For some reason that I never really understood, I just got the hang of it, I started to enjoy it and learned how to set up the car for the ovals.

Interestingly, your best results in 1986 were on ovals, with a pair of fifth places at Michigan and Pocono. Even though there is no doubt as to your abilities in general, were you surprised yourself at your achievement on a fairly new type of racing?

Absolutely, yes I was. We should have won at least one race that year, and even though it was a new kind of racing for me and we did well for a new driver and a small team, I was still a bit disappointed at the end of the season.

It was during this time that you also took to sports car racing, and proved very successful in the endurance racing format, winning the 1987 World Championship and the 1988 Dayton 24 Hours. Were these achievements the highlights of your motorsport career?

I would say I’m very proud of it, but equally I’m proud of the three times that I started on the front row for the Indianapolis 500, as well as my second-placed finish at 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1991.

WSC, 1987 (raulboesel.com.br) WSC, 1987 Paul Ricard (raulboesel.com.br)
The greatest achievement in Raul’s motorsport career was winning the 1987 World Sports Car Championship. Driving for the mightly TWR Silk Cut Jaguar team, Boesel powered the team’s XJR-8 to five wins – the 1000Km Jerez, the 1000Km Silverstone, the 1000Km Brands Hatch, Spa 1000Km and Nürburgring 1000Km events – en route to claiming the title. He also won the Dayton 24 Hours in 1988.

After you won your Sports Car title in 1987, you came back to CART and your results showed a new level of confidence, with Top 10 finishes all over the place, including a podium at the Indianapolis 500 with your new team in Shierson Racing.

It was a great season. What was even more impressive was that we achieved these results with a Judd engine, which was definitely not as good as much of the competition. It made the result at Indianpolis all the more special.

As one of the many international drivers trying their hand at CART in the early 1990s, how did you compare the level of competition among drivers in similar machinery to you in CART at the time to your Formula One days? Your results were outstanding at the time, with frequent Top 10 and even podium finishes.

The competition was very tough in CART. It ultimately comes down to driver skill because the machinery was very similar. When I compare this to my time in F1, it’s night and day. In F1, I could only compare myself against my team-mates.

1996 was a difficult year, as you were one of the first of the Team Green drivers and the car was nothing like the championship-winning entry Jacques Villeneuve piloted the year before. From contact with other drivers, to mechanical faults, you must have been wondering if this was really the team you signed for?

Exactly. The team changed engine partners during the off-season from a proven winner in Honda to the troublesome Ford engine. We retired from twelve of the seventeen races, if I’m not mistaken, and our top engineer left the team. It really was a disaster.

To this day, you still hold the record for being involved in the closest road-course finish in IndyCar history from your third place finish at Portland in 1997. This could have been your first win if you were only 55-thousandths of a second further up the road. This must be a bittersweet record to be one of still be a part of.

Yes and no. It was a case of ‘so near, but yet so far’ if you know what I mean!

Boesel came within a whisker of winning the 1997 CART Grand Prix of Portland!

Despite several Top 10 finishes at the Indianapolis 500, the win you craved remained out of reach in your 13 attempts (14 attempts if you count the 2001 farce when Felipe Giaffone took over your seat after you qualified and he didn’t). If you have any regrets from your racing career at all, would this be one of them?

I don’t believe in regrets, but I do believe in frustrations. I basically won the 1993 race, but the officials made some mistakes that affected our result. We were given two penalties for infringements we didn’t commit. Were it not for these, I’d have won the race, and won it by at least a lap from the rest of the field.

Your last race in CART was hardly a pleasant one, as it was the 1999 Marlboro 500 in which Greg Moore was killed. Definitely an awful race to end your tenure in that series.

Yes, it was definitely a sad moment. Greg was a very gifted driver.

My last single-seater race was the 2002 Indianapolis 500, when I started on the front row for the Menard team. Incredibly, we achieved this with just two days of practice before qualifying. Prior to this, I hadn’t sat in an IndyCar for over six months. That felt pretty good!

Following the recent Las Vegas Indycar race, in which Dan Wheldon was killed, how would you describe the state of the Indycar Series now? What direction do you believe they need to go down to return the series to the glory you experienced when you drove in it at the height of its popularity?

The cars were too easy to drive on ovals. You had too much downforce relative to the engine’s power. Even an inexperienced driver on their first oval outing would be going flat-out on their second flying lap.

It certainly calls for brave drivers – you need to be to race that close together – and that’s exciting for the spectators, but as we saw, it’s also very dangerous. I don’t really know the right answer to improve safety, and there are many ways to go about achieving it.

But equally, it’s something that also works quite well. While tragic, Dan’s accident was incredibly freakish in nature. Are we changing something for the sake of it, I find myself asking?

Equally, are you following Formula 1 in your spare time, and what are your thoughts on today’s version of the sport?

I’m just a spectator now. I think they’ve improved the show, but F1 is always going to be about technology and which teams can make the best use of it.

I know you have been asked about this on many occasions, but your famous pit-lane dust-up with Chico Serra during the 1982 Canadian Grand Prix is still talked about nearly thirty years later. You two quickly patched things up afterwards; how do you look back on that famous footage today?

It actually took a long time before we spoke to each other again. In fact it was many years. Looking back at it now, it was a case of two young drivers trying to succeed in what were bad cars. We both needed to get results and we were both competing for sponsors and support from the same country. It was a ridiculous fight, and it shouldn’t have happened.

One of F1’s lesser-known pit-lane dust-ups occurred between Boesel and his compatriot Chico Serra at the 1982 Canadian Grand Prix. Serra felt that Boesel had blocked him a flying lap, and the pair had a strong difference of opinions in front of the cameras. Tragically, the Grand Prix weekend was also affected by the tragic start-line death of Osella rookie driver Riccardo Paletti.

You’re now working in your ‘second career’ as a high-profile DJ, which is also the field that the likes of Sakon Yamamoto and Jaime Alguersuari have dabbled in when they have spare time. What is it that you enjoy about the Raul Boesel the DJ (flickr)mixing table, and have you yet had the chance to listen to the work of Sakon or Jaime?

It’s a new challenge. I’ve always liked ‘electronica’ music, it was my parallel passion.

When I decided to stop racing, it was because I was thinking more and more about music than being behind the wheel.

That was the trigger for me to get out of the sport and to pursue my other passion: learning how to be a DJ.

I’ve seen some of the work that Jaime and Sakon have done, and I think they’re pretty good!

You have been bestowed an honour in your home town of Curitiba, with the Autódromo Internacional de Curitiba earning the official nickname of the ‘Circuito Raul Boesel’ in honour of your achievements. How do you feel about this recognition?

This came after I won the World Sports Car Championship. It’s so nice to have the recognition and I’m very proud of it, especially to receive the honour when I’m still above ground!

Autodromo Internacional de Curitiba (FIA WTCC Media)
The Autódromo Internacional de Curitiba is also affectionately known as the ‘Circuito Raul Boesel’ in honour of the city’s favourite motorsport son. A fast, challenging circuit with a long front straight, it plays host to rounds of the FIA World Touring Car Championship, Stock Car Brasil, TC2000, and Fórmula Truck championships. [Image via FIA WTCC Media]

Who is someone who inspires you, and why?

I really admire Niki Lauda. He suffered terribly in his accident and then he came back from the brink to go racing again. He chose to become a successful businessman and then he returned to the sport to win another championship. That was amazing.

Is there anything you’d like to say or talk about that you are never asked about in interviews?

Not really, except to say that I believe I’m a person who has always tried to do his best. I am very fortunate to live doing something I love (and to have survived it), and now I’m pursuing another one of my passions as a second career. Not many people are fortunate to do that and I feel very blessed.

[Images via FIA WTCC Media, F1 Nostalgia, Flickr, Raul Boesel official website]

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Richard Bailey

Founder & Chief Editor at MotorsportM8
Hasn't missed a Grand Prix since 1989. Has a soft spot for Minardi. Tattooed with 35+ Grand Prix circuits.

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