Motor racing this week is mourning the passing of one of its legends, Dan Gurney (13 April 1931 – 14 January 2018), who is fondly remembered by fans of the Scuderia for making his F1 debut in 1959 at the wheel of the '246 F1' single seater and scoring two podiums at the start of a decade long career in F1 and later as a highly successful team owner and constructor.
Gurney first came prominence when he caught the eye of Frank Arciero, an American entrant known for helping young talent, who put him behind the wheel of his ‘Arciero Special, a bespoke Ferrari sportscar fitted with a Maserati engine. Impressive results driving what was a less than highly regarded racecar brought Gurney to the attention of Luigi Chinetti, the legendary longtime importer of Ferrari cars to North America, who helped him land a factory Ferrari seat for the 1958 Le Mans 24 Hours.
Although the car retired during the Le Mans race, crashed by one of his teammates, Gurney’s driving skills saw him get the nod from Enzo Ferrari for an F1 test and he would be quickly signed up for the next season as the Scuderia was at the time having a wholesale clear-out of its driver roster.
For his F1 debut season in 1959 Gurney was behind the wheel of Ferrari’s 246 F1, which was going into its second grand prix season. This single-seater, the work of Vittorio Jano and Carlo Chiti, was powered by a 2.4-litre V6 ‘Dino’ engine. Its debut season in 1958 had seen the 246 F1 successfully clinch the title in the hands of Mike Hawthorn, who immediately retired.
For 1959 Gurney was one of a coterie of new faces at the Scuderia including Tony Brookes, Cliff Alison, Jean Behra and Phil Hill. Brookes won two races during the year – the French and German Grands Prix – but he narrowly lost the title to the Cooper of Jack Brabham, this car being fitted with a rear engine and signalling the direction F1 would be heading in. Gurney contested four races for Ferrari in 1958, starting with the French Grand Prix, which ended in retirement. He then claimed his maiden podium in his second race, finishing runner up in Germany before immediately making a return trip to the rostrum with third place in Portugal. His fourth and final race with the Scuderia netted a fourth place at the team’s home race at Monza in the Italian Grand Prix and that left him on 13 points to take seventh place in the World Drivers’ Championship.
He would leave Ferrari at the end of the season, moving to BRM for 1961, and the American would continue to race in F1 for another decade, with his best Drivers’ Championship results being fourth in 1961 and 1965 and fifth in 1962 and 1963. Notably, he would race also for Porsche and and enter the record books after scoring their only wins as a manufacturer in the German brand’s history in F1.
Aside from his victories in F1, Gurney would go on to win races in Indycar, NASCAR, Can-Am and Trans-Am as well as winning the famous Le Mans 24 Hours. Following his driving career Gurney would enjoy huge success in U.S. sportscars as a team owner and constructor and he also embedded his name into motor racing terminology, thanks to the ‘Gurney’ flap, after he became the first person to employ a slim vertical strip on the rear wing for improved aerodynamic effect.
Last Sunday Gurney passed away at 86 years old and he leaves a wife and six children.