Growing up as the child of a racing driver is a double-edged sword. Just ask Gian Maria Gabbiani, the son of former Grand Prix racer Beppe Gabbiani.
The Italian was born during his father’s brief forays in the world of Formula 1 and his childhood weekends were spent at the race track. While Beppe was still competing professionally, Gian Maria’s childhood heros were the ultra-versatile Michael Vaillant and John Surtees.
He has since gone on to model himself on his heroes and today Gabbiani – who has raced everything from open-wheelers, NASCAR, GT, off-road, rally cars and motorbikes – is one of the most versatile racers of his generation.
Sadly Gian Maria has rarely had access to the kind of funding needed to give him a long-term stint in any championship, but he has frequently shown the speed that would make him unbeatable on his day.
A switch to powerboar racing finally delivered the success his talent deserved, and he claimed two World Championship titles to his credit. Gian Maria today acts as a consultant, driver safety expert and TV pundit in between squeezing in any opportunity to go racing.
|GIAN MARIA GABBIANI|
|Full Name||Gian Maria Gabbiani|
|Born||5 November 1978, Castelfranco Veneto (ITA)|
|1996-1997||Formula Renault Campus Italy, Drumel Motorsport
|2000||Formula Palmer Audi|
|2001||VW Fun Cup, Scuderia del Girasole|
|2002||Italian Formula 3, Azeta Racing Team|
|2003||Italian Formula 3, Azeta Racing Team
NASCAR LateModel Atlantic Region, Charlie Sigmun Racing
|2004||Italian GT Championship, DR Sport Equipe Chrysler Viper GTS-R, 15th overall
Le Mans Endurance Series (GT Class), Lola B99/50 Zytek, 18th overall
FIA GT Championship, Graham Nash Motorsport Saleen S7-R, 18th overall
F3000 Pro Series, Scuderia Giudici Lola B99/50 Zytek
NASCAR LateModel Atlantic Region, Kerry Lawrence Motorsport Pontiac Grand Prix
|2005||Le Mans Endurance Series, Lola B99/50 Zytek
24 Hours of Nürburgring, Scuderia Giudici BMW 330
Endurance Touring Cars Championship, Scuderia Giudici SEAT Ibiza
UARA STARS National Finals – Lackey Motorsport, Chevrolet MonteCarlo
|2006||F3000 International Masters, Scuderia Bigazzi Lola B99/50 Zytek
Euro F3000 Series, Facondini Racing Lola 99 Zytek
|2007||International GT Open, Mik Corse Lamborghini Gallardo
Superstars International Series, Caal Racing BMW 550
|2008||FIA GT3 European Championship, Gravity Racing Ascari KZ1R GT3
International GT Open, EDIL-CRIS Racing Team , Ferrari 430 GT2
Italian GT Championship, Auto Orlando Porsche RSR GT2
|2009||Italian Touring Endurance Championship, Kessel Racing Honda Civic, 2nd overall
|2010||Italian Touring Endurance Championship, MC Motortecnica Honda Accord, 6th overall
6 Hours of Vallelunga, Drive Technology SEAT Leon, 2nd overall
24 Hours of Dubai, Strategic Transport Racing
Offshore Italian Championship, Team DOOA, 7th overall
100 Miles of Como, Bruno Abbate Racing Team, 3rd overall
|2011||Class-1 World Powerboating Championship, 1st overall
Powerboat Endurance Italian Championship, Team BMC 3rd overall
Offshore Italian Championship, Team MOTOROLA, 16th overall
Endurance Cars Championship Team Drive Technology , SEAT LEON Class Winner
International GT Sprint , Scuderia LA.NA. Ferrari F430 GT3
|2012||Superstars International Series, Ferlito Motors Jaguar XFR
International GT Sprint, Scuderia LA.NA. Ferrari F430 GT3
Cross-Country Italian Championship, Team DANISI Engineering
UIM Powerboat Edurance World Championship, 1st overall
UIM Offshore Class-1 World Championship , Team Fa.Ro. Acciai 7th overall
|2013||Superstars International Series, Jaguar Team XF SV8, 16th overall
UIM P-1 Powerboat World Championship, 3rd overall
UIM Offshore Class-1 World Championship, Team Fa.Ro. Acciai, 6th overall
|2014||NASCAR Whelen Euro Series , Team OVERDRIVE / Team CAAL
FA1 by Acceleration, Team Lazarus Lola/Zytek
Pick-Up V6 by Acceleration, Team Bas Koeten Racing
|2015||VENEZIA-MONTE CARLO, Team Australia, 1st overall
|2016||NASCAR Whelen Euro Series, Double T Nocentini Ford, 18th overall
Endurance Cars Championship , EMOTION Motorsport Wolf Honda
|2017||BLANCPAIN GT Series , HTP Motorsport , Mercedes GT-R AMG
TCR Italy, Kraf Racing Honda Civic TCR, 26th overall
What is it like being the son of a professional racing driver?
I was very lucky. I had a super talented driver at home, it made me very proud! I had the chance to see amazing races and epic battles with iconic drivers live. I still remember the sounds, the atmosphere and the cars like it was yesterday!
I spent most of my life in racing-weekends and I still love it even if I am not racing. For me Saturdays and Sundays are track days, it comes naturally for me.
For me racing is kind of a religion and I have to thank my father but also my grandfather Dante (he was the real race fan of the family!). He was there at my first go-kart race – my father was racing touring cars – talking with the mechanics and supporting me. It was almost the perfect weekend: I started from pole position, won my first race and the second, but I had a terrific crash in the final. At the time it was win or nothing!
I am a big fan of cars but what I like most is the challenge of the races, no matter if I’m racing racing cars, boats or bikes! I think the love for the technique of the “racing object” and pushing them to the limit is what I really got from my family.
Your father was competing in Formula 1 shortly before you were born and again when you were a toddler. What stories did he tell you of his time racing?
My dad is one of the best racing storytellers ever. He wrote already one book full of stories (Cavallo Pazzo) but he could write other five!
One of my favorite stories is he’d just finished his first practice sessions at the 1978 United States Grand Prix at Watkins Glen and finished fifth-fastest in the Surtees, having replaced Vittorio Brambilla after the terrible start-line pile-up at Monza which killed Ronnie Peterson. He was one of the youngest of the field – and damn fast, very proud of himself. He was in the bar of the hotel and beside him was Alan Jones (who’d finished top-three), predictably drinking a beer.
“Hey Beppe! You were very fast today, many compliments!” AJ said to him.
My father replied: “I didn’t have the right tyres today, otherwise I could kick your ass too!”
No matter who you are my father will always tell you what he is thinking…
He was part of old-school F1, and even though his career was brief he has so many good memories of the paddock. It was a totally different environment, very open and there were many friendships between almost all the drivers. It was a big family also during the holidays: I remember Bruno Giacomelli and Gilles Villeneuve in Monte-Carlo boat-racing for a beer with my father from the port of Saint-Ttropez. Everything was fun and there weren’t the kind of big compromises you see today.
Was it destiny that you would follow in your father’s footsteps and pursue your own career in racing?
Not really, I spent most of my childhood in a college and with my mother. During that period nobody was forcing me or convincing me to race, I just had the “need for speed” call! I was escaping from the college just to go with my cousin, testing my kart every single time had the chance. I was very focused to be a professional driver.
You raced in karts as a child. What was the support of your family during the formative years of your racing career?
Honestly my dad didn’t really support me and I had to find my own sponsors at the age of 14. My father was very fair from the beginning: if you win it means you are fast, thats it!
There’s no secret formula for success and I really didn’t have much of a budget to go racing. I did my best to stay on track as much as I could.
It was a tough childhood, but today I have a clear appreciation on what to do or not to do to be successful in competitive racing.
Aside from your father, who were your first motorsport heroes? What was significant about their achievements or character that you admired?
It’s funny because the first poster I’ve stick on my room wall was: Marco Lucchinelli! Then I had many friends of my father – he introduced me to the mighty James Hunt and his unique view of racing. If I have to nominate a real superhero, it would be John Surtees.
An iconic driver must be good enough to compete in all sort of competitions, like the French comic book hero Michael Vaillante: he was good with sprint races, endurance races, rallies, hillclimbs, bikes and powerboating.
I like the idea that a racing driver has different skills from other people, but when you are able to win in different racing specialities you enter that “superpower club”. Graham Hill, Romain Dumas, Sébastian Loeb, Fernando Alonso (just to name some) are part of that group – it is nice to see how much effort they put in all the disciplines they competed.
What key lessons have helped you move up the motorsport ladder?
The team is the key. You have to find the right team.
I realised it late in my career: an average team gives you average scores. A team is like a family and you have to understand that the driver/rider is nothing without a great team supporting them. It’s so important to understand that before you approach any race or championship.
You’ve competed in a variety of disciplines and racing series, from open wheelers, GT racing, touring cars and even NASCAR. What skills has this broad range of experience given you and what racing car have you most enjoyed driving?
I’ve competed in so many different categories – some of them because they were the only means to compete given my budget was very low. The desire for competition was so strong that no matter what I was racing I jumped in and gave it all I could. This was not the right mentality for success but I learned a lot from that period.
I think the F3000 championship [in 2006] was the real deal, I enjoyed every metre I raced with it!
You’ve also enjoyed significant success in powerboat racing. How did you apply the skills from circuit racing to offshore racing, given the two disciplines appear outwardly very different?
True story: I started race in powerboats because the Italian branch of Motorola wanted to promote a new water-resistant cell phone. I offered to create a Motorola Offshore Team – they liked the idea a lot and from that moment my powerboat career began.
I started with Catamarans and I immediately realized the technique was very similar to cross-country car-racing. But remember you don’t have brakes with boat!
The two World Championship titles I won are very important to me. Unlike motorsport, I didn’t have pressure of my surname and had nothing to prove. I was just pushing to the max!
What has been the proudest achievement of your racing career to-date?
My first GT win with the Viper GT1 in the 2004 Italian Championship. The team called me on the Wednesday before the event; I had never raced at Enna Pergusa or in a GT car and we won!
It was a very nice sensation winning with a great Sicilian crowd, simply amazing.
Even more incredibly, I ran out of fuel on the final lap and was so scared I wouldn’t make it to the finish line. I had a 10-second lead at the start of the lap and won in front of the chasing Ferrari 550 by just half a second.
My other proud moment was my powerboat win at the Venice to Monte Carlo race of 2015. I was called up two days before the race; the Italian racing federation entered me as Australian (my mother is born in Melbourne) with two Australian ‘strangers’ for 12 days of full-gas racing in the Mediterranean Sea.
I remember clearly my first sight of the boat. It was brand new, there were no mechanics, no tools, almost nothing. In my mind I thought “Oh my God, it’s going to be very tough!” – we prepared the boat in just 24 hours with the most basic racing kit.
When we got the checkered flag at the end of the first stage, I asked the marshal: “What’s our gap to the first-placed boat?” and got as reply “There is not other boat, you are the first!”
I will remember it forever. We led the entire race and won the Venetian Gold Lion as a trophy. It was totally a blast and I was very proud of what I did.
What is left on your ‘bucket list’ in terms of cars to race or circuits to race on?
I wish could live another 150 years with great reflexes and eyesight to try everything!
I would like to compete in all the circuits of the world but I am working hard to be part of the next 24 Hours of Le Mans with a prototype. Even though I am getting older, the Indianapolis 500 is also on my list.
I do also follow the Australian Supercars Championship. It’s very similar to Superstars Series that I raced in. As an Italian-Australian driver I wish I could find a seat to race the Enduro Cup.
Today you also work in media and automotive consultancy where you lend your expertise. What are some projects you are working on?
I want to live 24/7 in the automotive business. Today I consult with ITALDESIGN for its new ZEROUNO supercar project. In the last 2 years I have had the chance to be at Goodwood driving the prototype, another unique moment of my life.
In 2018 I created the BOSCH Safe Driving School which has kept me busy during the week. I also do work with different TV programs talking about F1 and motorsport.
What are the best and worst cars you’ve ever driven, and why?
For sure the DOME LMP1 would be among the best. It had more than 850bhp with amazing brakes, it’s the closest comparison to an F1 car that I can imagine in terms of its performance. Also the A1GP car was a very fast car built for a great championship.
I don’t have a “worst cars” list. I love them all for different reasons, but I could write a chapter about some “worst teams”…
Motorsport and automotive industries continue to make more advanced in hybrid technology and driver safety. What are the biggest challenges facing both fields?
I am 100% petrol-head oriented but I understand there are huge changes at this moment. The Formula E championship is a point of ‘no return’ for the old type of motorsport.
Hybrid and electric technologies are growing fast but they are still not attractive for me in terms of sound and in their mass appeal with the public. I hope in the future the engineers will create a car that could offer great feelings like the good old days!
Images supplied by Gian Maria Gabbiani