The former Formula One driver Daniel ‘Dan’ Gurney has died aged eighty six. The American was the first driver to spray champagne on the podium and the first to wear a full face helmet.
Gurney was part of a golden generation of drivers during the 1960’s, taking the first win for Porsche and being the second driver to take victory in a car he had built. Gurney has always been regarded as one of the greatest drivers in the history of the sport.
He took four wins in his career, which started with Ferrari in 1959; his first win came at the 1962 French Grand Prix at Rouen before winning again the following year. He then decided to set up his own team.
Before Formula One, he served in the Korean War before moving to California where he was a regular on the hotrod sconce. But from a young age motorsport was in his blood, as a teenager, he built a hotrod and cross the Bonneville Salt Flats at 138mph in a self-built hotrod, and became an amateur sportscar racer.
His first taste of F1 came at the non-championship Riverside Grand Prix, which attracted the attention of Ferrari. He made his F1 debut the following season with podiums at the Nurburgring and in Lisbon.
On his debut in Portugal, he was the fastest of the Ferrari’s, before fourth place at Monza. But his relationship with the Scuderia became strained and he left for BRM.
His time with BRM was marked only by unreliability, frustration and tragedy. A brake failure in the Dutch Grand Prix caused a crash that broke his arm and killed a spectator.
He then spent the next two seasons with Porsche where he finished fourth and fifth in the championship. His time with Porsche saw him take the first pole at the Nurburgring and his first wins at Rouen-les-Essart, plus the non-championship round at Solitude.
When Porsche pulled out at the end of 1962, he teamed up with Jack Brabham who saw his potential as a driver with a engineers brain. Dan was the man who broke through to score this new constructor’s first championship triumph, at Rouen once more.
Gurney lost the Belgian Grand Prix after dominating the race when his car ran out of fuel on the final lap, handing the win to Clark. (Three years later, it would be Clark’s car that capitulated at Spa, leaving the win to Gurney and the Eagle. History is neat, sometimes). It was the same story in Mexico City in 1964 losing to Brabham, gifting the title to Clark.
If he had stayed with the team he could have been champion the following season, but he joined Colin Chapmen at Lotus.
He was already quicker than the proprietor himself, who in turn was quicker than the man he brought in to replace Gurney, Denny Hulme. And it was Brabham and Hulme who won the titles in those two years. But Dan, having seen both Brabham and, thanks to Indy car racing, Lotus, from the inside, decided to strike out on his own as a constructor.
Indy Car saw another innovation from Gurney, he invented the ‘Gurney flap’, a small attachment for the trailing edge of a wing that boosts downforce with minimal drag which has since become ubiquitous in motorsport.
His death was announced by his wife Evi and his family, who said in a statement: “With one last smile on his handsome face, Dan drove off into the unknown just before noon, January 14, 2018. In deepest sorrow, with gratitude in our hearts for the love and joy you have given us during your time on this earth, we say ‘Godspeed.’”
Gurney’s greatest achievement came in June 1967, victory at the Le Mans 24 hours followed a week later by victory in his own car at Spa. That weekend at Le Mans saw him invent the now ritual champagne-spraying celebration that soon became the regulation way to celebrate a race win.
Innovation was in his blood, as he was the first driver to war the full-face crash-helmet to open-wheel racing, wearing one in the 1968 German Grand Prix.
It was his engineering smarts that saw the invention of what is now known as the Gurney flap, a small lip to add to wings which multiplied the downforce they provided for minimal additional drag.
Off track, he married and had four children. But Gurney was a gentleman and his great legacy will be remembered for as long as cars are raced.