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9-10 March: This Weekend in Motor Sport History

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Discover the most momentous motor sports events that took place this weekend in history……

~9 March~

1947: Franco Cortese won the first and only ‘world tour’ all-Cisitalia race at Gezira Island in Cairo, Egypt.

1952: President Juan Peron dedicated the new Buenos Aires Autodrome. 40,000 spectators watched Juan Manuel Fangio as he won the non-points, Argentine Grand Prix.

1953: John Fitch and Phil Walters drove a Cunningham to victory in the Sebring 12 Hour Sports Car race. The winning duo completed 899.6 miles, averaging 74.96 mph.

1966: Argentine race driver Pablo Birger was killed in a road accident at the age of 42. He competed in two grand prix, both for Gordini, and was very active in Argentine motorsport prior to his death.

1975: A.J. Foyt won the ‘California 500’ USAC Indy Car race on the 2.5 mile Ontario Motor Speedway. Foyt’s Gilmore Racing Foyt-Coyote was the car to beat all day, finishing 43.3 seconds ahead of Bobby Unser’s Jorgensen Eagle. Steve Krisiloff finished third in the Agajanian Eagle. Rick Muther drove Foyt’s second car when Joe Leonard failed to get a doctor’s release following his crash in the race the year before. 50,000 fans were on hand to watch the race, delayed an hour due to a track wet from overnight rain.

1980: Cale Yarborough won the NASCAR Grand National ‘Carolina 500’ at North Carolina Motor Speedway. Yarborough was driving his back-up Olds after crashing his Junior Johnson Chevy. Yarborough led the final 118 laps after an ill-timed yellow put five other contenders down a lap. Richard Petty’s Chevy finished second, 3 seconds behind. The race had been snowed out on March 2nd.

1986: Ronnie Silver snared the lead from pole-sitter Jack Ingram with 11 laps remaining to win the Mountain Dew 400 in the NASCAR Busch Series at Hickory (North Carolina, US) Motor Speedway. Ingram, who led 188 of the 200 laps, finished second with L.D. Ottinger third. The victory was the second and final win of Silver’s eight-year career in what is now the NASCAR Nationwide Series.

1997: David Coulthard won the Australian Grand Prix for McLaren from fourth on the grid, the team’s first victory in 50 races. It was also the first win for a Mercedes engine since Juan Manuel Fangio wrapped up the world championship at Monza in 1955. Williams, which had won both titles in 1996, was expected to dominate but Jacques Villeneuve was taken out by Eddie Irvine within seconds of the start, while team-mate Heinz-Harald Frentzen spun into the gravel three laps from the end as he sought to recover from a botched pit stop. Defending champion Damon Hill, who had left Williams to join Arrows, qualified in 20th but broke down on the parade lap. His only, albeit scant, consolation was that neither team which had also tried to sign him – Jordan and Stewart – managed to finish the race either.

1997: Dale Jarrett led the final 59 laps and breezes to victory in the Primestar 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Georgia (US) for his first win of the ­season. Ernie Irvan finished second, giving the Robert Yates team a 1-2 finish. Steve Grissom survived a ­tumble on the backstretch late in the race without serious injury.

2003: David Coulthard in a McLaren-Mercedes MP4-17D won the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne.

2010: Bernie Ecclestone upset a continent when he poured cold water on the prospects of F1 returning to Africa. “We’re aware that Africa is missing,” he said. “We had talks a couple of years ago and almost reached a deal but at the moment they are so wound up with the football World Cup – there was not much point in talking.”

~10 March~

1963: Junior Johnson won the “150 mile” NASCAR Grand National race on a dusty Orange Speedway. The race actually was 148.5 miles, but promoters still billed it as a “150”. Actress Jayne Mansfield presented the trophy to Johnson, who won $1550 for his efforts on the 9/10 mile dirt track. Johnson’s Ray Fox Chevrolet finished 2 seconds ahead of Jim Paschal’s Petty Engineering Plymouth. Herman “The Turtle” Beam was running at the finish, the 84th consecutive race he had done so.

Tony Brooks, Tony Vandervell, Stirling Moss after winning for Vanwall – 1957

1967: Tony Vandervell (68), English industrialist, motor racing financier, and founder of the Vanwall Formula One racing team, died. Originally entering modified Ferraris in non-championship races, Vanwall constructed their first cars to race in the 1954 Formula One season. The team achieved their first race win in the 1957 British Grand Prix, with Stirling Moss and Tony Brooks sharing a VW 5, earning the team the distinction of constructing the first British-built car to win a World Championship race. Vanwall won the inaugural Constructors Championship in 1958, in the process allowing Moss and Brooks to finish second and third in the drivers standings, winning three races each. Vandervell’s failing health meant 1958 would be the last full season; the squad ran cars in a handful of races in the following years, but finished racing in 1961.

1974: Bobby Unser won the 5th annual ‘California 500’ USAC Indy Car race on the 2.5 mile Ontario Motor Speedway. Bobby beat brother Al to the line by six tenths of a second. A.J. Foyt led the first 22 laps before being sidelined after running over debris and damaging the oil resevoir on his Coyote. From there on, the Unser brothers were in command, only losing the lead briefly on pit stops. Bobby passed Al with 22 laps to go and went on to the win. It was Bobby’s first 500 mile race win since his 1968 ‘Indy 500’ triumph and marked the first time in ‘California 500’ history that the winning driver started on the front row. Two time Indy Car champ and former Motorcycle great Joe Leonard blew a tire and crashed heavily on lap 152, suffering a compound fracture to his left leg. A slow recovery from the leg injury ended Leonard’s career and led to a lawsuit against Firestone.

1991: The United States Grand Prix in Phoenix, the opening race of the 1991 season, saw Ayrton Senna take it to the streets in his McLaren in just over 2 hours. He started from pole ahead of second man, Alain Prost in his Ferrari and finished ahead of the Frenchman by 16.3 seconds. Nelson Piquet brought his Bennetton home in third. Jean Alesi set fastest lap of the race in the other Ferrari but finished 9 laps down. There were some notable new faces at the race. Future World Champion Mika Hakkinen made his first grand prix start for Lotus and impressed by qualifying in 13th. It was also the first Formula One race for the Jordan team.

1996: A feast for Australian Formula One fans as the country hosted the first race of the season, less than four months after it had staged the last grand prix of the 1995 season. Damon Hill in his Williams Renault won the race but only because team-mate Jacques Villeneuve, on his F1 debut, led most of the way before being forced to retire with an oil leak. “I am sure everyone will agree Jacques was the moral winner, “Hill, who equalled his father’s record of 14 grand prix wins, said. He also revealed a loose stone had worked its way into his overalls and he spent much of the race shifting in his seat to try to dislodge it. “Every time I moved it slipped somewhere else even less comfortable.” It was also a memorable day for Martin Brundle who walked away from a spectacular 170mph opening-lap crash which left his Jordan ripped in two. He was able to take his place at the re-start in his spare car, but spun off on the opening lap. “I knew the car was a write-off,” Brundle said, “but I hadn’t travelled halfway round the world to sit and watch the race.”

2003: Barry Sheene MBE, British World Champion Grand Prix motorcycle road racer (cover image), died aged 52, of cancer of the oesophagus and stomach. He won two 500cc World Championships in 1976 and 1977, though by then his credentials as a racer were well established and he was already hugely popular off-track. Fighting Angel Nieto for the 125cc title in 1971 and then winning the 500cc Dutch TT in 1975, toying with Giacomo Agostini just months after breaking his leg, collarbone, arm and two ribs in a high-speed spill at Daytona, had already earned Sheene legendary status. His Dutch triumph was the first of 19 wins and 40 podiums in the premier class over nine full seasons. Sheene gathered numerous British titles and thrilled his army of fans with unforgettable races against Kenny Roberts in the late 1970s and early 80s. He was on-track for a third 500cc crown in 1982 (with five podiums from seven rounds) until the huge practice smash at Silverstone that battered both of his legs and drove his profile into the stratosphere. He continued to race for two further seasons after that crash, taking his last podium with a brilliant third place ride in the wet at Kyalami in 1984 – a performance he rated as one of his best. Sheene remained as Britain’s last champion in 1977 until Danny Kent in 2015. After a racing career stretching from 1968 to 1984 he retired from competition and relocated to Australia, working as a motorsport commentator and property developer.

2017: Former Formula 1 and motorcycling world champion John Surtees died at the age of 83. Surtees is the only man to have won the grand prix world championship on both two wheels and four. He won four 500cc motorcycling titles – in 1956, 1958, 1959 and 1960 – and the F1 crown with Ferrari in 1964. At 16 he left school and became an apprentice engineer at the Vincent motorcycle factory. A year later he competed in his first solo race and won it. In 1955 he became a member of the Norton works team and rode to victory 68 times in 76 races. From 1956 to 1960 he raced 350cc and 500cc bikes for the famed Italian MV Agusta team and won seven world championships. His transition to becoming a star in cars was nearly as swift. In 1959 the by now famous bike racer was given test drives by eager talent-hunters. In his first single-seater race, at Goodwood in a F3 Cooper entered by Ken Tyrrell, Surtees finished a close second to Jim Clark, then a promising beginner with Team Lotus, whose boss Colin Chapman promptly hired Surtees for the last four races of the 1960 Formula One season. His results – a second place in the British Grand Prix and a near win in Portugal – made Surtees a driver in demand. He stopped racing motorcycles and considered several Formula One offers, including one from Chapman to partner Clark at Team Lotus. Instead, Surtees opted to drive a Cooper in 1961 and a Lola in 1962, neither venture producing much in the way of results. However, his twin strengths of talent and tenacity kept Surtees in the limelight, especially in Italy, where the former MV Agusta star was now invited to lead the country’s famous Formula One team. Enzo Ferrari (who had managed a motorcycle racing team in the 1930s) was a great admirer of the passion and fighting spirit shown by Surtees the bike racer, and hired him as his number one Formula One driver for 1963. In that year’s German Grand Prix at the mighty Nurburgring a ferocious fight with Jim Clark’s Lotus resulted in a first championship win for John Surtees. In Italy, the former motorcycle hero known as ‘Son of the Wind’ and ‘John the Great’ was hailed as Ferrari’s saviour. Nicknamed ‘Big John’ in English, he also became ‘Fearless John’ – particularly in 1964 after he won another brilliant victory at the daunting and dangerous Nurburgring, where he beat Graham Hill in a BRM. With another victory, at Monza, Surtees was in contention for the title. So, too, were his countrymen Hill and Clark, each of whom had also won two races. In their Mexican Grand Prix championship showdown Clark’s Lotus was waylaid by an oil leak and Hill’s BRM was accidentally shoved out of contention by Lorenzo Bandini’s Ferrari, whose team mate finished second to become World Champion. For John Surtees, the satisfaction of becoming the first World Champion on both two and four wheels was only mitigated by the fact that he had clinched all his bike titles with race victories. Though he would win three more Formula One championship races, there were no more driving titles in his future. To some degree he was a victim of circumstances, though his feisty personality and fierce independence were also factors. He developed a reputation for being argumentative and cantankerous. Certainly, he said what he thought and did not suffer fools gladly. While most drivers left their aggression in the cockpit, Surtees seemed to keep his ‘race face’ on, which could be intimidating. In 1965, when Ferrari’s Formula One cars were less competitive, Surtees ran his own Lola sportscar in the lucrative North American Can-Am series. In one of those races, late in the season at Mosport in Canada, his Lola suffered a suspension failure and crashed heavily, leaving Surtees with multiple injuries. Over the winter he forced himself back to fitness and in the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa he stormed through pouring rain to score one of his most impressive victories. And yet this proved to be his last race for Ferrari. Ever since 1963 Surtees had been at odds with team manager Eugenio Dragoni. At the Le Mans 24 hour race their feud boiled over and Surtees stalked off never to return. Eventually, he agreed with Enzo Ferrari that their split was a disastrous mistake for both parties. Surtees finished 1966 with Cooper, for whom he won the season finale in Mexico, then spent two years leading Honda’s new Formula One team. He helped develop the Japanese cars and was rewarded with a satisfying win in Ferrari’s home race, the 1967 Italian Grand Prix at Monza, though Honda left Formula One racing a year later. After a frustrating 1969 season with BRM Surtees decided to follow the lead of Jack Brabham and Bruce McLaren and form his own team, though he was destined to have much less success. In nine Formula One seasons the best results for Team Surtees were a second and a third for Mike Hailwood, himself a multiple world champion on bikes. The Team Surtees boss retired from driving in 1973 to concentrate on trying to find more performance for his cars and enough money to pay for it. Not enough of either was found, despite Surtees pushing himself mercilessly the way he did as a driver. His constant striving exacerbated medical problems (a legacy of his 1965 accident) that eventually forced Surtees out of Formula One racing in 1978. His return to health gave him a new lease on life and the former curmudgeon mellowed considerably. He retired to a beautiful old house in the English countryside, where with a new wife (his first marriage was childless) he raised a family of three. He developed an interest in architecture and was successful in real estate ventures. Only then was the one and only champion on two wheels and four able to fully enjoy his singular achievements – of which he said: “I was a bit nuts, really.” In his later years Surtees spent much of his time working tirelessly for The Henry Surtees Foundation, set up after his son was tragically killed in a freak accident in a Formula Two race in 2009.

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