Benedicto Caldarella

He’s the an­swer to a pop quiz ques­tion about rac­ing that not many fans could an­swer. We’ve given the game away here, but if any­one asks you ‘Who is the Ar­gen­tinian rider who won a 500GP race?’ you’ve got the am­mu­ni­tion now.

Classic Racer - - WHAT’S INSIDE - Words: Ray­mond Ain­scoe Pho­tog­ra­phy: Benedicto Caldarella

The Ar­gen­tinian won only one GP dur­ing his rac­ing time, but if you’re only ever go­ing to win one then make sure this is it (a clue: it’s on home soil).

My par­tic­i­pa­tion in Europe for the works Gil­era team was a boy’s dream come true. Back in 1957, when I was 17, I ac­com­pa­nied my fa­ther, Sal­vador, who was rac­ing a 500cc Gil­era Pi­uma in the Ar­gen­tinian cham­pi­onship races. At the end of the sea­son, the Buenos Aires cir­cuit played host to the Ar­gen­tinian GP, and the lo­cals were joined by the newly-crowned world cham­pion, Libero Liberati, and his team-mate Al­fredo Mi­lani, with a brace of the cel­e­brated 500cc Gil­era ‘quat­tro’ fire en­gines. In the pits I had my first ex­pe­ri­ence of wit­ness­ing the ac­tiv­ity of an Ital­ian fac­tory team, as the me­chan­ics Gio­vanni Fu­ma­galli and Luigi Colombo tended to their charges. I was shak­ing with en­thu­si­asm through­out the train­ing and qual­i­fy­ing, and I can never for­get the sound as the two mighty ‘fours’ passed along the main straight at a sen­sa­tional speed never be­fore seen. Of course, cer­tain mem­o­ries of the race day stand out: I re­call how the me­chan­ics pushed the bikes to the start­ing grid, while the two Ital­ian cham­pi­ons walked along­side them, like bull­fight­ers. The fans were mad­dened with the sight of the two glad­i­a­tors who, of course, left the lo­cal rid­ers, in­clud­ing my fa­ther, far be­hind, as the Liberati-mi­lani duo rode to a one-two, re­ceiv­ing the ap­plause from the me­chan­ics and the spec­ta­tors in the stands.

Benedicto was born in Buenos Aires on Septem­ber 1, 1940 into a mo­tor­cy­cling fam­ily. His fa­ther, Sal­vador, was one of Ar­gentina’s lead­ing rid­ers of the 1950s, astride a Saturno. His older brother, Aldo, was third in the 125cc Ar­gen­tinian GP of 1963.

When I went to sleep that night, I was dream­ing that, one day, I would ex­pe­ri­ence the same thrills that Liberati and Mi­lani had felt. As the years went by, on my fa­ther’s Saturno and then a Match­less G50, I won races and cham­pi­onships in Ar­gentina and, seven years later, my am­bi­tions were ful­filled. Hav­ing rid­den the ex-scud­e­ria Duke Gil­era 500 in Ar­gentina in 1963 and then at Day­tona early in 1964, I was in­vited by Com­menda­tore Gil­era to race in Europe, so I trav­elled over to Italy with my fa­ther. Our first race was to be the e Shell Gold Cup and we trav­elled to Imola with the team’s direc­tor of sport, Mas­simo Luc­chini (Giuseppe Gil­era’s grand­son), and two me­chan­ics – by co­in­ci­dence Fu­ma­galli and Colombo! When we ar­rived in our ho­tel, I was amazed to be be­sieged by fans, all aware of my per­for­mance against Hail­wood at Day­tona a few weeks ear­lier and ea­ger for au­to­graphs. We then moved to our base, the premises of the lo­cal Gil­era dealer, and it was more of the same – fans, pho­to­graphs, au­to­graphs – I could not be­lieve it. And then we moved

Benedicto, nick­named Chi Che (Lit­tle One), be­gan rac­ing on his fa­ther’s Saturno in 1959 and was sec­ond in the im­por­tant Fer­ruc­cio Gil­era meet­ing in Buenos Aires, win­ning a new Saturno from the Ar­core fac­tory.

He won 10 out of 12 races and the Ar­gen­tinian and South Amer­i­can 500cc ti­tles in 1960.

In 1961 to 1963 he rode a Match­less G50 and had a world ti­tle qual­i­fy­ing GP win in Buenos Aires in 1962.

to the cir­cuit for prac­tice. The me­chan­ics wheeled out the bikes and then my team-mate ar­rived – it was Al­fredo Mi­lani no less, one of my he­roes from that race in 1957. But when I went out for prac­tice on the Fri­day the bike was un­con­trol­lable, whereas it had been per­fect at Day­tona. It would not ac­cel­er­ate smoothly and it han­dled atro­ciously y, so that my hands were con­stantly bashed against the tank. Af­ter a few laps I gave up and handed the beast over to the me­chan­ics. On the Satur­day, at one stage I used a 350cc engine. We put the 500 engine in a 350

En­cour­aged by his per­for­mances, Gil­era granted him the ‘quat­tro’ for the first world ti­tle round of 1964 and he as­tounded the fans and press by stay­ing with Hail­wood un­til gear­box grem­lins set in. His ex­ploits led to the fac­tory invit­ing him to ride in Europe.

chas­sis; any­thing to im­prove the han­dling. Af­ter qual­i­fy­ing I was be­hind Remo Ven­turi on a works Bianchi twin and a few Bri­tish rid­ers on sin­gles. But, come race day, Sun­day, April 19, af­ter an all-nighter by Fu­ma­galli and Colombo, I felt much more com­fort­able on the warm-up lap. How­ever, there was some added pres­sure when Com­menda­tore Gil­era ar­rived, specif­i­cally to watch me race. But I soon took the lead and, rid­ing hard, I recorded the fastest lap and took the che­quered flag, ahead of Ven­turi and Mike Duff. I took the ap­plause of the crowd on my lap of hon­our and, be­fore I could fin­ish the lap, I was swamped by the ‘tifosi’ and then car­ried aloft in tri­umph to the podium. As I stood on the top step, I closed my eyes and thought back to Buenos Aires and 1957 – my dream had come true.

Dur­ing the rest of that sea­son, I rode the Gil­era ‘quat­tro’ at a num­ber of Euro­pean cir­cuits that I had never seen be­fore and was proud to es­tab­lish a few fastest laps. I rode hard but I was never put un­der any pres­sure by either my fa­ther or Com­menda­tore Gil­era, who was very con­cerned that his rid­ers should never overdo it. To fol­low in the foot­steps of the great rid­ers who had rid­den for the Ar­core mar­que in the Fifties was a priv­i­lege and the Scud­e­ria Duke rid­ers of 1963 (Min­ter, Har­tle and Read) were my idols. When I was in­vited to par­tic­i­pate in the VMCC’S Fes­ti­val of 1000 Bikes at Mal­lory Park in 2011, I walked into the lobby of my ho­tel and there was Phil Read, who in­stantly gave me a great hug. I lived my dream!

Af­ter his vic­tory at Imola, his cam­paign was largely thwarted by strikes at the Gil­era fac­tory, but he did take wins in the Ital­ian na­tional races at Val­lelunga and San Remo and sec­ond place in the Ital­ian GP at Monza, with the fastest lap.

He re­turned to the Gil­era fold for the San Remo in­ter­na­tional in 1966 but he was scooped up by a gust of wind on the seafront dur­ing prac­tice, break­ing a col­lar­bone, and so his sec­ond foray into Europe never got un­der­way.

Caldarella sub­se­quently en­joyed a suc­cess­ful rac­ing ca­reer in sin­gle seater cars and is now the race direc­tor of a na­tional rac­ing series for Mini Coop­ers in Ar­gentina. He makes oc­ca­sional vis­its to Europe for clas­sic bike events, par­tic­u­larly those or­gan­ised by the Registro Storico Gil­era.

Above: Caldarella as a kid on a 98cc bike. Right: On the podium at Monza with Hail­wood af­ter the race. Be­low: On the grid at Monza for the Ital­ian GP in 1964.

His firstride on ag­ileraon Novem­ber 13, 1963 win­ning the GP Fer­ruc­cio Gil­er­aat­bueno­saires.

At Val­lelunga on the Gil­era on May 24, 1964.

PHOTO BY GIANNI PERRONE

Left: On a works Honda 250 ahead of Red­man in the 1961 Ar­gen­tinian GP. Be­low: At Ce­se­n­atico on the Gil­era on April 26, 1964.

Right: Sal­vador Caldarella at Buenos Aires with Aldo and Benedicto.

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