Updated: Jan 13
The twentieth instalment of my latest set of features.
My next series of features will be looking at each driver who competed in my first ever major international motorsport race, the 2001 Rockingham 500, the first time the American CART Championship had raced in the UK since 1979.
Having been confirmed the previous July, the race was held in front of 38,000 people who witnessed, at the time, the fastest ever laps on a British circuit, with hitting speeds of over 215 mph. It was also the first full length oval race in the UK since before the war, when cars roared round Brooklands.
I was seven when I watched the action at a very cold Rockingham, I remember my parents either side of me keeping me warm. However, I also remember the excitement of watching a major motorsport event trackside for the first time, having been to the official opening that May. The speed the cars hit was mind blowing and something I can still recall now.
The race was won by Gil de Ferran who executed a superb move on the last lap to beat Swede Kenny Brack, with fellow Brazilians Cristiano da Matta and Helio Castroneves finishing third and fourth.
Michael Andretti finished fifth ahead of his teammate Paul Tracy in sixth, with 1996 CART Champion Jimmy Vasser in seventh. The fourth Brazilian in the field Tony Kanaan was eighth ahead of home favourite Dario Franchitti.
Spaniard Oriol Servia rounded out the top ten for Sigma Autosport, while just outside the top ten, Italian Max Papis came home eleventh. After Papis in eleventh was Townsend Bell with his Patrick Racing teammate Roberto Moreno just behind in thirteenth. After the Patrick Racing duo of Bell and Moreno was the Forsythe trio of Alex Tagliani, Bryan Herta and Patrick Carpentier.
Following the trio was Fernandez Racing’s Shinji Nakano, a lap ahead of the sole remaining Chip Ganassi Racing entry of Memo Gidley.
Behind Gidley was Bettenhausen Racing’s Michel Jourdain Jr, ahead of PacWest Racing’s Mauricio Gugelmin, who finished five laps down and two laps behind Jourdain Jr.
2001 was Mauricio’s final season in motorsport in a career which began in 1971, when he starting racing karts in his native Brazil. Throughout his childhood, Mauricio showed incredible promise, winning his local championship nine years in a row before progressing to single seaters in 1981, competing in the Brazilian Formula Fiat Championship in which he won on his first attempt.
It would prove to be his final season racing in Brazil, as like many other Brazilians of his generation, he moved to Britain to further his career, joining Van Dieman in the British Formula Ford championship for 1982, a drive which was aided by long-time friend Ayrton Senna, who had raced for the team the season before.
The two were immensely close and shared a house from 1982 through to 1987, the duo eventually racing against one another in Formula 1.
Mauricio’s first season in Britain saw him claim his first title, before graduating to Formula Ford 2000 a year later, ending the year second, winning six times that season. A year later he went one better in which he began a streak of championship wins, winning the 1985 British Formula 3 championship for West Surrey Racing, a team Senna had graduated through two years earlier. A prestigious Macau GP followed in late 1985 prior to moving up the ladder into the newly formed International Formula 3000, a series which was in only its second year.
It was a struggle for Mauricio as he finished joint thirteenth with four points in which the championship was full of future motorsport stars such as Ivan Capelli and Emanuele Pirro.
For 1987, Mauricio switched teams to Team Ralt to contest his second season in F3000 in which he impressed immediately, winning the first race of the season at Silverstone. A podium followed before a string of four retirements dented his title aspirations, eventually finishing the season fourth with twenty-nine points.
His results were enough to see him graduate to the pinnacle of single-seater motorsport, Formula 1, making his F1 debut with Leyton House alongside Ivan Capelli in a car designed by legendary designer Adrian Newey.
Understandably, the duo fared well with Ivan finishing the season seventh while Mauricio finished thirteenth with two points finished at Silverstone and Hungary his best results of the year. He remained with the team for 1989 alongside Capelli once more and once again finished on four points, although this time it was from his first podium finish, taking third in the opening race of the season in at his home race in Brazil.
1989 would also be one of Maurcio's defining moments in F12, although not for the right reasons as he crashed heavily at the French Grand Prix, summersaulting upside down after outbraving himself into the first turn and hitting the Williams of Thierry Boutsen and Ferrari of Gehard Berger.
Motorsport website "The Race", recently ranked in their top 10 driver defining moments as astoundingly, after the Red Flag had been bought out, he jumped in the spare car and set the fast lap of the race, the only time he managed this during his F1 career.
It would prove to be his only podium in Formula 1 although he did remain with the team into the early 1990s, until Leyton House’s demise in 1991. During this time a sixth at Belgium was his only other points finish before moving to Jordan for 1992 in what would prove to be his final season in F1.
He drove the Gary Anderson designed Jordan 192 alongside Stefano Modena, although the duo were sadly unable to score a point that season.
With Jordan opting for youth in 1993, it ensured Mauricio’s time in F1 had come to an end, switching back stateside for the end of 1993, joining Dick Simon Racing for the final three rounds of the season alongside Raul Bossel and Scott Brayton. A thirteenth in the three rounds was his best result however he remained in the series full time for 1994, switching teams to Chip Ganassi Racing, now alongside the legendary Michael Andretti.
Mauricio finished his only season with Chip Ganassi Racing sixteenth before switching teams once more to PacWest Racing, for whom he raced from until the end of his CART career.
His first season with his new team yielded immediate success, claiming his first CART podium in the first race of the 1995 season before finishing third in the final race at Laguna Seca. 1995 was also Mauricio’s best result at the Indy 500, finishing sixth in what would prove to be his final appearance in the race due to the American single-seater split of 1996.
Another two podiums followed in 1996 however 1997 was Mauricio’s best year in CART, taking his only victory in the championship around the streets of Vancouver eventually finishing the season fourth, only behind Alex Zanardi, Gil de Ferran and reigning champion Jimmy Vasser. It was Mauricio’s consistency which ensured he beat the likes of Paul Tracy and teammate Mark Blundell as although both drivers had more wins, Mauricio only failed to finish outside the points twice that year.
Unfortunately, Mauricio was never able to recapture that form, with PacWest also starting to struggle financially into the late nineties. Throughout this period, he and teammate Blundell would often maximise the cars potential however neither were about to get back onto the podium.
For 2001, Blundell left the team and was replaced by reigning Indy Lights champion Scott Dixon, who took the team’s final win ensuring he won the prestigious Rookie of the Year accolade.
It was a challenging year both on and off the circuit for Mauricio who crashed heavily at Texas Motor Speedway, with two large impacts with the wall. The race was eventually abandoned with multiple drivers reporting blurred vision, dizziness and nausea caused by the high g forces and speeds around the oval.
As well as his own heavy crash, the passing of his son, Giuliano, ensured he missed the next race at Nazareth, his car being withdrawn from the weekend as a mark of respect.
By the send of the season Mauricio had decided to retire from CART racing at the end the season explaining how he wanted to spend more time with his family. Accidents to himself and Zanardi had affected which is completely understandable which also helped make his decision.
Since then, Mauricio has not competed in any form of motorsport and has also moved back to Brazil after selling his Florida mansion. According to sources, he is now co-running the family business alongside his brother and his two sons both compete in karts. Like many sons, I wonder if the new Gugelmin generation will be seen at a race track soon?
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