Updated: Dec 2, 2020
The latest instalment of my series looking at each driver who contested the Rockingham 500.
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.
Born Jose Guillermo Gidley, Memo has dual nationality as he was born in Mexico and his story to the top of CART is a fascinating one of grit, determination and sacrifice.
Prior to his time with Chip Ganassi in 2001, Memo sold his apartment to fund his racing career, living in his car for four months. Other jobs he held to fund his racing included working for Jim Russell racing school, in which he got his chance to race in CART for Walker Racing in 1999.
Before his time in the CART series, Memo had a successful American open-wheel junior career in which he finished no lower than third in either the USF2000 series or Toyota Atlantic Series, for Cape Motorsports and Lynx Racing respectively. His first season in cars was in 1995 in which he won three times.
1996 saw Memo enter the Baber Dodge Pro Series before switching to the Toyota Atlantic Series for 1997 coming second behind teammate Alex Barron.
Memo remained in the series with Lynx Racing for 1998, winning three times, ending the year third. A year later was Memo’s chance after Walker Racing’s chance. He contested four races for the team during the middle of the season before moving to Payton/ Coyne Racing later in the year.
His results were promising however he was unable to secure a full time drive for the 2000 season, once again filling in for other drivers. His first three races of 2000 were for Forsythe Racing in which he replaced the injured Patrick Carpentier in which he achieved his first points finish in CART, ending the Rio 200 eighth.
These three races would not be his only outings that season, as he returned to CART later in the season for Della Penna Motorsports, replacing Norberto Fontana in the #10 car. Memo’s results were impressive, his best being a sixth at Road America however again he was unable to secure a full-time drive for 2001.
His results deservedly ensured he was known as a “super-sub”, a trait which ensured he was hired by Chip Ganassi for the second half of the 2001 season, replacing Frenchman Nicolas Minassian who had an incident packed start to his time in the CART season. Gidley was highly impressive for Chip Ganassi, looking competitive throughout the season, achieving three podium finishes for the then four-time CART Champions.
Although he impressed, he once again did not keep his seat and was unable to remain on the CART grid, only contesting the third race of the Indy Racing League season at Fontana in which he finished twenty-first. He did attempt to qualify for that season’s Indy500 however he did not make it to the race.
It was not the end for Memo however as he switched to the SPEED World Challenge, America’s equivalent of the BTCC. It was his only full season in the series in which he finished seventeenth, before returned part-time to the now renamed Champ Car Series, racing two races for Rocketsports Racing.
These two races would prove to be his last in single-seaters as he switched full time to sportscars, predominantly the Grand American Rolex Series. Memo’s first full season was 2005, racing for Ten Motorsports in a Daytona Prototype BMW-Riley alongside Michael McDowell.
The duo had a successful debut season together, finishing sixth overall, winning once, the final round of the season at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez.
He remained in the series throughout the late noughties however Memo was never able to replicate the successes of his debut season. During this time, he also made his American Le Mans Series return, the rival endurance racing category which had the faster LMP1 and LMP900 machinery involved.
His first race in the series was back in 1999 at the Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta alongside Jan Magnussen and Johnny O'Connell in which he finished fifth overall. He returned to the race seven years later, this time finishing on the podium. His final Petit Le Mans was a year later although he only managed to finish fourteenth.
Memo remained in the Grand American Rolex Series as the noughties ended, continuing to drive Daytona Prototype, DP, machinery. He remained in the series until the 2014 unification of the American Le Mans Series and the Grand American Rolex Series created the IMSA series, which uses DP machinery alongside LMP2 cars.
Sadly, Memo only entered the opening 24 Hours of Daytona race, in which he suffered a horrendous crash resulting in his back, arm and leg being broken, after colliding with the stationary Risi Competizione Ferrari GT.
The rehabilitation from the crash was long, and equally horrendous. He told RACER, that for months he lay face down on a massage table while his back heeled. It was how he ate, slept and healed, as anything else for long periods of time would result in debilitating pain.
Thankfully, Memo has made some form of recovery and has raced various races and championships in an attempt to see if his body can take the jarring bumps and forces that motorsport brings. His last outings were in 2018, however time will tell to see if more events are around the corner!
Pictures: www.indycar.com, www.snaplap.net, www.racebyrace.com