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Archive for the tag “Villeneuve”

Gilles and Rene – Dijon, 1979

The 1979 French Grand Prix is remembered as one of Gilles Villeneuve’s greatest races.  Wheel-to-clashing-wheel with Rene Arnoux in the closing laps, Gilles defied a lack of grip to seize second place on the final lap.  Afterwards, though, Gilles could think only of the race he should have won – would have won but for a chronic lack of grip.  And what of Rene Arnoux, who from this day onwards became a close friend of Gilles?  Let’s join the Renault team in their post-race celebration – in the days before mega-TV coverage, instant replays and YouTube….

Emotional moment for all of France as Jean-Pierre Jabouille prepares to spray the Moet.  Gilles, subdued, is thinking only of how he could have won but for his Ferrari’s excessive Michelin tyre wear

It was six o’clock and Renault had won.  Won the French Grand Prix form the front row of the grid and set fastest lap.  An all-French victory of a kind far purer than the traditional all-English one, for the tyres had actually been paid for, designed and built in France and the engine had been financed by an all-French firm.  No Cosworths or Goodyears.  If you looked for foreign parts on the winning Renault you looked at the British Hewland gearbox casing or the Italian Magneti Marelli ignition or the German KKK turbochargers.  Otherwise, the Jean-Pierre Jabouille Reanult Turbo was all-French.  And it had won the French Grand Prix.

Renault Sport Director, Gerard Larrousse, excused himself because he said he wanted to watch the film.  The film?

“Oui.  The film.  Of the last two laps.”

He slipped past the phalanx of media crowding the motorhome and grabbed the arm of Rene Arnoux.  “Rene.  Come with me.  I have a surprise.”

The two of them went to the Marlboro Hospitality unit and took a front seat by a huge TV screen.  Arnoux, still in Stand 21 race suit, sat on the edge of his chair.  Larrousse, in black and yellow Renault jacket, winked at the crowd gathering around.

And so they ran the film – of Gilles Villeneuve, the Michelins on his Ferrari virtually gone – diving inside the Renault with two laps to go.  Smoke shrouds the Ferrari as it peels into the apex, but Gilles is there and Rene dropes back to third place.  “Encroyable!” says the commentator in French.  “Encroyable.  Villeneuve encore deuxieme!”

Rene opens his eyes wide, a young kid awaiting the next bit of action.  Larrousse sits impassively, the master in charge.  Next lap – and this is the last lap – it is Arnoux inside Villeneuve.  He has the line at the end of the stragith but the Ferrari follows him right round the outside, and the two clash wheels as they vie to become the first to apply the power.

Regardez!  Regardez!” yells the commentary.  “Arnoux le depassait a l’interieur!”  Arnoux looks sideways and gives Larrousse a grin.  Larrousse pats him on the shoulder.

Then comes the real action.  Arnoux has the line for an instant.  Then it is Villeneuve, sweeping to the other side fo the downhill plunge and looking perfectly set-up for the apex.  He is so – and Arnoux runs wide – in fourth gear – over the kerb, into the dirt and off the throttle.  Villeneuve is in front as the Renault rejoins – but only just.  Again, the two cars touch wheels, and the Ferrari slides sideways into what seems like the beginning of a very big spin.

It doesn’t spin, however.  Gilles, with astonishing car control, catches the moment and now the two are side-by-side, going into the slow, downhill left.  They touch wheels a third time, they both give a squiggle as they run off-line, and it is Arnoux who gets it together first, booting it towards the hairpin with second place seemingly in the bag.

Then he makes a mistake.  Arnoux chooses a wide, conventional entry for the right-hand hairpin and, in a flash, Villeneuve is inside him and on the power, smiling at the ease of the manoeuvre.  Then the Renault has no chance and it is Gilles Villeneuve who crosses the line in second place.

Arnoux slaps his palm against his forehead and asks everyone and no-one how he could have been so stupid.   After all that.  After all the wheel-banging, how could he have left the door wide open?  He turns to Larrousse in horror, ashen-faced at the sudden memory of his mistake.

There are no reprimands, no words.  Instead, Larrousse rises to his feet and begins the applause.  Rene, red-eyed, is clapped all the way to the door.

Joy on the pit wall in the closing laps as Rene Arnoux heads Gilles…..

…turns to dismay as Gilles leads Arnoux across the line…. 

Pictures: Sutton Images (the David Phipps Archive)

The legend begins….

In October, 1978, in the cold of the Canadian fall, Montreal staged its first Grand Prix.  The race also enabled a young driver from nearby Berthierville to win his first Grand Prix.  And so the legend of Gilles Villeneuve was born.  We join that momentous week in the newly-completed Hyatt hotel, headquarters of the Labbat’s Grand Prix of Canada


Wednesday, October 4

The Hotel Hyatt Regency is a $50m tower in the south of downtown Montreal.  It is one year old;  it is in keeping with the newness of this part of the city.  It is also serving as “Grand Prix Headquarters”, which means that you collect your credential from the basement of the Hyatt, that the pre-race festivities, like the Gilles Villeneuve Ball, are held at the Hyatt, and that most of the Grand Prix teams, including mechanics, stay at the Hyatt.  Some remain aloof – Walter Wolf’s team for one, Michelin for another – but, otherwise, this is already a Grand Prix with a difference: the paddock area is effectively marble-floored and graced with Muzak.

This morning, with most of the teams together again after two or three days in New York, or brief trips to the Goodyear factory in Akron, Ohio, is to be much like any other.  Emerson Fittipaldi is clad in a red-and-white track suit as he sits down to breakfast, and Jody Scheckter is wearing his white outfit from TV’s “Superstars”.  Emerson will later train at the nearby, indoor athletic track;  Jody will hit a tennis ball or two.  Everything is within easy reach, within calling.  Clay Regazzoni, with “Klippan seat belts” emblazoned on his track suit, has booked a court for two hours.  Patrick Tambay will play with John Watson, Jacques Laffite and Riccardo Patrese.  Lauda and Hunt?  They are to stay at the hotel today, recovering from what must best be described as a quick trip to New York.  The weather was better down there – but that would appear to be all.  Here, in Montreal, only two miles from the circuit, there are facilities to make out-of-town Grands Prix look positively ancient.  The shopping malls are so large you need a golf cart to cover them.

This, then, is a glimpse of the future:  the more the Grand Prix business expands, the more inclined will be the business to stage its races near or in major cities.  Who wants to camp at Mosport when you can be in the Hyatt ten minutes after practice?  At Montreal, you do your next Goodyear deal in the air-conditioned bar, 30 minutes before dinner (and not in sokme steamed-up, hired motorhome).  Is there a downside to it all?  Will the Montreal “street” circuit justify the Hyatt?  We shall see on Friday, when practice begins.

There is an end-of-year feeling in the Hyatt this winter’s morning. The Championship has been won;  for drivers like Niki Lauda the race is of only academic interest, even if this is his – and also Carlos Reutemann’s 100th GP start – even if second place in the title chase is still wide open.  For drivers like Jean-Pierre Jarier, Keijo Rosberg and Rene Arnoux, by contrast, there is everything – including a good drive for 1979 – for which to fight.  And for teams like Ligier this is the time to say goodbye to the Matra engine.  Indeed, this is the over-riding, pre-practice mood:  such has been the dominance of the Lotus 79 that a good number of cars will be having their last race at Montreal:  next year they’ll all be going ground-effect.

That’s your first glimpse of this first Canadian GP in Montreal:  it is at once a glimpse of the future and a last look at the past.

Thursday, October 5

You reach the track by turning left out of the Hyatt, driving 500 yards on the freeway and taking the “Ile Note Dame” ramp.  Over a bridge, onto the island – and you are there, at the sight of Expo 67 and the 1976 Water Olympics.

The island is small – artificially built out of earth moved when the city’s underground railway was constructed.  And, necessarily, the circuit seems small.  It stretches the length of the island, with hairpins at either end and six chicanes in between.  It is also brand new: the timber is still light-coloured, the grass verges recently-placed, the paint still tacky.  Everywhere, artificiality prevails.

The cars are garaged in the old rowing sheds, back-to-back and side-by-side, as at Monza.  And the pits are a short walk away at the exit of the hairpin, before a quick chicane.

We are out on the course now, tooling around in a road car, when up comes Hans Stuck Jnr, completely sideways in his Mercury Monarch.  A grin splits his face:  it must be Hans’ sort of circuit.  Then Mario Andretti passes us, his station wagon on opposite lock out of the hairpin, avid journalists round about him.  (And ready to cause him some bother, it turns out:  remarking the circuit seems a little tighter, and a little slower than it might have been, and concluding lightly that the track seems designed for Gilles Villeneuve, he subsequently is quoted out of context by the local press.  Mario is impressed with the organizers and with the circuit build overall, but the locals whack him hard re his Villeneuve comments.  By Sunday morning he is saying to the media: “My criticism was over-emphasised and mis-directed.  I am not critical of the race organizers.  I am more critical of our own FOCA officials who were sent over here to approve the track”.)

Gilles in the wet on Friday, when his team-mate, Carlos Reutemann, had the advantage

Friday, October 6 Read more…

Some classic Gilles

As we approach the 30th anniversary of the passing of Gilles Villeneuve, let’s look back at one of his most famous wins – the 1981 Spanish GP at Jarama.  Against all odds, Gilles withstood race-long pressure to beat his four pursuers by 0.2sec.  

All pictures courtesy of Sutton Images (the David Phipps Archives)

“I’M REALLY upset,” said the Monaco winner, Gilles Villeneuve, walking into his personal motorhome.  For once, he didn’t remove his shoes.  On this opening practice day at Jarama, near Madrid’s international airport, even the cleanliness of his wall-to-wall carpet took second place to the handling of his Ferrari 126CK V6 turbo.  “I mean, I win Monaco, score nine points at a circuit that didn’t really suit us, and then we come to Jarama, where the car should be quick.  And this is my reward:  terrible handling.  Shocking.  I’m not flat on any of the four quick corners.  The car is a disaster.  Maybe for two or three laps, when the tyres are new, it’s not bad on the tight stuff.  But after that it’s impossible.  Worse than last year’s T4.  Much worse.  Oh, we can work at it.  We can make the car driveable, I guess, for the race.  But we won’t stand any chance of winning – not when we’re this bad.  You’ve only got to look at the lap times.  We’re two seconds off the pace.  If you assume that our engine is worth half a second over the Cosworths, which it is, that puts us two-and-a-half seconds away.  It’s ridiculous.”

That was Friday.  On Saturday, Gilles squeezed the absolute maximum out of his standard-wheelbase 126CK and, on a brand new set of Michelins, lapped in 1min 14.9sec.   That would have made him fifth quickest on Friday and it made him seventh fastest overall.  He still wasn’t flat on the quick corners but he was spectacular.  So quiet is the Ferrari engine that you could hear his rear tyres skipping over the kerbs while he kept his foot on it with his arms fully-crossed.  “It’s quite funny,” he said afterwards.  “On the quick corners you can see the track marshals running for cover…”

For the second consecutive race, Gilles made a perfect start.  He could see Laffite edging forward and then stopping, edging then stopping, just as the pole man often does.  Gilles went when the centre of the red light began its first millisecond of fade, weaved around Lafitte, banged wheels with Alain Prost – and found himself third, behind the two Williams, as they braked for the first (double-apex) right-hander.  Over the lap he followed Reutemann (or “bloody Carlos”, as he affectionately calls his ex-Ferrari team-mate).  The Ferrari felt reasonably good on full tanks, so Gilles darted right as they left the right-hander at the end of the lap.  The power of the Ferrari took him easily past the Williams.  Second place was his.   After the South American races, when Gilles had had trouble with a broken drive-shaft, Enzo Ferrari had addressed his engineers tersely: “I don’t ever want to have a Ferrari retire for that reason again.”  For Monaco, sure enough,  Ferrari had fitted their biggest possible drive-shafts and Gilles had been able to bounce them off the guardrails and hit kerbs and apply full power down over the bumps without the slightest hint of trouble.  On the Monday after that race, he had sent a Telex to the Commendatore, explaining a lot of things that had happened over the weekend.  He finished it thus:  “For 76 laps I tried to break your drive-shafts but I wasn’t successful.  Thank you very much.”   Knowing that the Ferrari was that strong, that he could do virtually what he liked with it, Gilles reeled off his laps at Jarama.  For ten laps he saw a plus-sign over Carlos (never more than two seconds) and a minus-sign to Alan Jones.  This grew larger by the lap, and was up to ten seconds by lap 13.  On the following lap, though, Gilles had an unbelievable slice of luck:  he accelerated out of the uphill hairpin and glimpsed yellow flags, waved frantically.    He braked early for the next right-hander – and saw Jones’s Williams, sitting stationary in the sand.  Head down, he completed his 15th lap in the lead of the Spanish Grand Prix.

On the 79th lap, with one to go, they were still behind him. Read more…

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