Brought to you by TheJudge13 chronicler BlackJack’sBriefs
Such a list is not easy to compile, and it is even harder to be objective.
The way I reduced 830 F1 drivers to 20 is detailed in Part I. I wanted twenty top drivers (top No.2’s who might have been a team leader.) who had proved their ability to win – not drivers who showed talent but were unable to realise their potential, including drivers whose career was brought to an untimely end, for whatever reason.
. . . was born in 1931, in New York, USA and became one of the most successful, all round, racing drivers ever, and one of the most popular. He won in F1, IndyCar, NASCAR, Trans-Am and Sports-cars. He also built his own Eagle cars, run by his All American Racers team. After winning the 1967 24hrs of Le Mans he spontaneously sprayed champagne from the podium, to share his unbridled joy at winning, and started a tradition. As a race-car engineer Gurney was the first to place a simple, upturned, extension to the upper trailing edge of the rear wing – to greatly increase downforce with little increase in drag – which is still known as a ‘Gurney Flap’. At the 1968 German GP he became the first F1 driver to use a full-face helmet.
Having once found a brake-pedal spongey, when it was most needed, Gurney also adopted a habit of tapping the pedal before a hard application, which incidentally helped the brakes last longer – a boon in endurance racing. Gurney himself referred to it as: “The chicken-shit school of braking…!”
Gurney’s family moved to California when he was sixteen and, by the time he was 19 he had built a ‘hot-rod’ that ran 138 mph (222 kph) at the Bonneville Salt Flats. He also competed in drag-racing and sports-cars. At the age of 26 he was offered a works Ferrari drive at Le Mans for 1958… which resulted in a F1 offer for 1959 and, in just four races, he stood on the podium twice… plus a 4th place, and one retirement, gaining him 7th place in the Championship – in his first season with none of the early training so usual in Europe.
However Gurney didn’t like the Ferrari management style and for 1960 he joined BRM but netted six retirements and a 10th place in seven events. He also had a crash at Zandvoort which killed a young spectator and this memory was apparently always in his mind. With the new regulations for 1961 only Ferrari were properly prepared and, while the British teams ran around like headless chickens, in marched Porsche, with an update of their previous F2 car, with which Gurney finished on the podium three times (in eight races) and amassed the same number of points as Moss, to take 4th in the Championship. He lost his first F1 victory at Rheims, with a reluctance to block Giancarlo Baghetti’s Ferrari at the finish, a move Gurney regarded as dangerous and unsportsmanlike.
How things have changed, when we now have to regulate how much blocking is allowed.
For 1962 Porsche arrived with their attractive Flat-8 but the British teams had solved their engine problem and took first four places (BRM, Lotus, Cooper, and Lola) in the Constructors Championship… and even Porsche pushed Ferrari down to sixth place. After failing in the first three races Gurney finally took his first win, in France and Porsche’s only GP victory, and drove it home with another win in the non-championship race at Solitude, finishing 5th in the Championship. At the end of the year Porsche withdrew from F1, forcing Gurney to withdraw from Porsche, but taking PR lady, Evi Butz with him… down the aisle.
Late 1962 saw the arrival on the grid of Jack Brabham’s Brabham car, which retired in it’s first race but finished fourth in the final two races – enough to give the 1-car team 7th in the Championship – and, for 1963, Gurney was their first hired driver. Gurney stayed for three years, claiming 5th, 6th, and 4th in the Championships, with two wins and eight additional podiums – five in a row – two poles, and four fastest laps. Although Brabham himself scored the team’s first victory, in the non-championship Solitude race, it was Gurney who gave them their first full GP win, at Rouen.
Then Gurney surprised everybody by ‘doing a Brabham’, and building his own Eagle car for 1966, with a new Weslake engine, after trying a wildly ‘bored out’ Climax unit. Brabham had their unexpectedly successful Repco, and Ferrari had what Maranello always has (plenty of powerful motors…) while the British contingent were headless again, and BRM played around with a fantastic H16. Somewhat to everyone’s surprise Jack Brabham romped away with both the Drivers and Constructors Championships – and the way things are now, it’ll never happen again. Incidentally, Bruce McLaren had finally severed his long partnership with Cooper and was now also building his own McLaren cars.
Gurney’s first season as a driver/constructor was a ‘difficult’ time and 1967 was hardly better – in eleven races Gurney retired nine times – but he finished 3rd in Canada, won the non-championship Race of Champion, and actually put together the ingredients for a magical victory at Spa, finishing more than a minute ahead of Stewart’s BRM. Gurney holds an unusual record of having won the maiden GP victory of three manufacturers: Porsche, Brabham and AAR Eagle… Gurney’s popularity was even greater in America where there was an attempt to have him run for President, until it was realised that, at 36, he was too young.
Of the new ‘driver/constructors’ Brabham again won the Constructors Championship, with Denny Hulme and Brabham 1st and 2nd in the Drivers Championship. Gurney finished eighth, with Eagle-Weslake 7th, and McLaren, after finishing 4th in Monaco gave his team a sabbatical (mid-season) and had three races/retirements with Eagle.
During 1968 AAR had to admit defeat – only one car starting in five of the first nine events, they had only one finish, in 9th place. For the fifth race Gurney acquired a one-off drive with Brabham, and then bought a McLaren for the last three races, giving him a fourth place – his only points of the season.
Gurney pulled out for 1969 but a lone privateer, Al Pease, entered an Eagle Mk.I in the Canadian GP, and holds the dubious record of being the only F1 GP driver ever to be disqualified… for being too slow…
In 1970 Gurney reappeared, driving in three races for McLaren, and finished once, in 6th place. It was a sad end of what had been a great career. 1970 also saw the departure of Jack Brabham (after challenging for a fourth Championship), and the tragic loss of Bruce McLaren, although both teams continued. Also in 1970 John Surtees became a driver/constructor but, in the next nine years, this team scored just one podium finish, but became famous for being part sponsored in 1976 by The London Rubber Company (makers of Durex).
Dan Gurney had also raced at the Indy-500 from 1962-1970 (with two 2nd places and a 3rd) and throughout the 1969 USAC Champ-Car series, with seven wins, finishing fourth in the championship. His other successes, and those of Eagle (which were more successful outside F1) are too many to relate here, as this is aimed at F1 but, with 4 wins, 15 additional podiums, 3 poles, and 6 fastest laps during his eleven-year stint in F1 Gurney could not be denied a place on this list. He also appeared in movies: Grand Prix; A Man and a Woman; and Winning.
In 1980 Dan Gurney, who never gave up on innovations, introduced a new design of motorcycle called ‘Alligator’, featuring an extremely low seat position. While Gurney did not achieve his goal of getting it built by a motorcycle manufacturer, the 2002 production run of 36 Alligator motorcycles quickly sold out, at $35,000 each, and are now prized collectors items.
Dan Gurney (allegedly the only competitor that Jim Clark truly feared) lives in California, with Evi, and is still CEO, with son, Justin, as General Manager, of All American Racers – who kindly supplied these photos.
to be continued, next week…