Have-a-go hero: Piercarlo Ghinzani
FORMER F1 DRIVER RECALLS HIS KYALAMI 500KM SPORTSCAR WIN
Piercarlo Ghinzani competed in Formula 1 for eight seasons, but is perhaps best remembered for two things that occurred in 1984.
He spent a month in hospital after a potentially fatal 170mph crash at Kyalami. During the warm-up for the South African Grand Prix, running fully-laden fuel tanks for the first time that season, a rear-suspension failure spat his Osella-alfa Romeo into a slide and it hit the barriers and banking before bursting into flames. But with several drivers poised to take his seat within just 24 hours of the crash, he returned to the cockpit for the next race at Zolder.
Even more impressively, he fought back to secure his sole F1 points finish in Dallas just seven races later. Ghinzani finished in fifth place, in a physically gruelling race in which the asphalt broke apart in the heat. Also in 1984, he ran seventh in the infamous rain-hit Monaco race before a turbocharger failure dropped him off the radar, and out of a chance of points.
Ghinzani, the European Formula 3 champion in 1977 who also had F1 stints at Toleman, Ligier and Zakspeed, displayed some flashes of excellence that gave him a shot at driving for one of motorsport’s most famous teams, but politics put paid to a frontrunning career with Ferrari.
“I went to Ferrari and said, ‘Look, I’m here, if you want to give me work’,” he recalls. “But Enzo told me, ‘I’m sorry but at this time my door is closed to Italian drivers’, because Ferrari still had a big problem with [Lorenzo] Bandini, who died in Monaco in 1967.”
Before racing in F1, Ghinzani had enjoyed success with Lancia in the World Sportscar Championship, and he returned to closed-cockpit competition with Joest in 1986, driving a Porsche 956. With a frontrunning car and team he had a chance to return to the top, and did just that, winning, fittingly, the 500km of Kyalami, driving solo and beating the sister car of Bob Wollek and Sarel van der Merwe.
“I remember the first three laps in free practice,” he says. “I looked at the corner [Jukskei Sweep], looked at the barrier and thought, ‘Gosh, I’m back here, I’m lucky.’ It was a good physiological experience because I could see my true performance in a competitive car.”
Ghinzani (above) won both 250km heats at Kyalami in 1986 with Joest Racing Porsche 956 (top)