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For­mula One, Le Mans and Indy­car colos­sus dies aged 86

Classic Cars (UK) - - Contents -

Pre­pare to take your barn finds to Birm­ing­ham for the Restora­tion Show

Dan Gur­ney, the Amer­i­can mo­tor sport icon whose ca­reer spanned driv­ing, en­gi­neer­ing and man­age­ment roles across all forms of top-level rac­ing, has died aged 86. Gur­ney en­gi­neered, built and raced his first car aged 19 in 1950, and com­peted at am­a­teur level be­fore a drive for Frank Arciero in the 1957 River­side Grand Prix in which he fin­ished se­cond to Car­roll Shelby. His per­for­mance drew the at­ten­tion of Luigi Chinetti, who se­cured him a Nart-fer­rari Le Mans drive for 1958, and a few For­mula One races in 1959.

His time at Fer­rari wasn’t fruit­ful, but he en­joyed suc­cess at Porsche in 1961-2, then Brab­ham for 1963-4, bring­ing the new teams their first F1 wins. Through­out the Six­ties he jug­gled F1, NASCAR and Indy­car, and drove Co­bras for Shelby.

In 1965 a plan Gur­ney orig­i­nally hatched dur­ing his F1 de­but year fi­nally came to fruition. As Shelby later re­called, ‘Dan just came up and said “let’s build a Grand Prix car. It could dom­i­nate the scene. It won’t be easy, but [we] can’t do it if [we] don’t try”.’ With Goodyear fi­nan­cial back­ing, All Amer­i­can Rac­ers (AAR) was born, and with it the dy­nasty of el­e­gant Gur­ney-de­signed Ea­gle sin­gle-seaters with which he con­tested both F1 and Indy­car races.

While vis­its to the podium were reg­u­lar, the Ea­gle only won twice – the 1967 Race of Cham­pi­ons and the Bel­gian Grand Prix – but Jim Clark once pri­vately ad­mit­ted to his fa­ther that Gur­ney was the only driver he con­sid­ered a threat on track.

That year was to mark Gur­ney’s zenith as a driver. In 1967, along with AJ Foyt, he won the Le Mans 24 Hours with the Ford GT40. As fierce Indy­car ri­vals, the Amer­i­can press had pre­dicted dis­as­ter for the sup­pos­edly an­tag­o­nis­tic Gur­ney/foyt pair­ing. In play­ful re­venge, Gur­ney sprayed his winners’ cham­pagne at the jour­nal­ists be­neath the podium. Driv­ers have copied him ever since.

Gur­ney’s in­no­va­tions on the track were far more se­ri­ous. He in­tro­duced the full-face hel­met to F1 the fol­low­ing year. Af­ter re­tir­ing in 1970 to run AAR full-time, Gur­ney drew upon Dou­glas aero­dy­namic re­search and fit­ted a ver­ti­cal metal strip in­spired by aero­plane wing trims to the rear of the car to in­crease down­force, and in do­ing so in­vented the spoiler.

Through­out the Seven­ties AAR con­tested the USAC Indy­car se­ries, but Gur­ney be­came dis­grun­tled with the poor lev­els of pro­mo­tion by USAC man­age­ment. In 1978 Gur­ney led a con­sor­tium of team own­ers to form a ri­val se­ries, CART (Cham­pi­onship Auto Rac­ing Teams). Within a few sea­sons CART ef­fec­tively re­placed USAC Indy­car.

In the Eight­ies, Gur­ney ran Toy­ota’s works team in the IMSA cham­pi­onship, en­gi­neer­ing the firm’s rac­ing Cel­i­cas and later de­vel­op­ing its Group C cars un­der the Ea­gle ban­ner. This cul­mi­nated in the MKIII, a car so pow­er­ful it’s cred­ited with the demise of IMSA’S Group C era. Fol­low­ing this, Gur­ney in­tro­duced Toy­ota to sin­gle-seater rac­ing via CART in 1996. Gur­ney also served as test-driver for the MR2.

Racer, pi­o­neer, en­gi­neer, cam­paigner – in every role, Gur­ney’s con­tri­bu­tions were all mile­stones.

Dan Gur­ney (right) with AJ Foyt, Le Mans 1967. Watch out below!

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