By: Chris Travell
I couldn’t find it at first. I walked around a fair bit of the track but couldn’t locate the spot where the history of Grand Prix racing changed. Walking back to the start / finish line along the back straight I noticed there was a left right chicane that looked vaguely familiar. I continued along and proceeded to the top of a grassy spot overlooking where the track straightened out. Looking to my right I noticed how the track went for a short distance and then disappeared over the crest of the hill.
For those who have been following The Ride you’ll know of my interest in Formula One racing. Last week was the 30th anniversary of the death of Gilles Villeneuve. Although he only won 6 Grand Prix races he is still heralded as one of the greatest drivers of all time. At the least he was certainly one of the most exciting.
Canadian race fans seem to have a special affinity with the little French Canadian. I was fortunate because my brother who has an equally passionate interest in motor sport took me out to Mosport in 1977 to see Villeneuve in his first race for Ferrari. He finished 12th after spinning off the track on a competitor’s oil, but he had clearly made his mark.
Fast forward to May 8th, 1982. With only 8 minutes left in qualifying, Villeneuve went out to better the time set by his teammate Didier Pironi. He never made it. He crested the hill below and came very quickly upon the back of Jochen Mass.
He moved to the right to let him through. At the same instant Villeneuve also moved right to pass the slower car. The Ferrari hit the back of Mass’ car and was launched into the air at a speed estimated at 200–225 km/h (120–140 mph). It was airborne for more than 100 m before nosediving into the ground and disintegrating as it somersaulted along the edge of the track and landing at the spot below.
The part of the track where Villeneuve crashed has been changed since then. There’s now a chicane in place which caused the motorcycles that were racing the day I was at Zolder to slow down considerably, make the right left and then quickly accelerate to start the last half of the lap.
Looking back at Villeneuve’s career, perhaps I was just being nostalgic. After all, Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton weren’t even born, and Jenson Button was only two. Many other drivers have considerably more victories but Villeneuve was different. He had undeniable talent, uncanny car control, and an insatiable passion for racing and as last week’s anniversary reminded us, those are character traits that are truly inspirational.
- May 15, 2012
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- The Garage, 2012 automotive industry, 2012 Canadian car market, 2012 US car market, automotive analysis, automotive industry, automotive marketing, car buying, car industry, chris travell, customer experience, customer satisfaction, gilles villeneuve, maritz research, zolder