Gilles: Epic talent — our correspondent this month was also our correspondent when Gilles first showed his talent.
I thoroughly enjoyed the ‘Year Zero’ feature on Gilles Villeneuve (October issue), particularly as I was in Trois-Rivières that weekend. I believe I took the action photographs of his March 76B which probably accounts for them being ever so slightly fuzzy.
During my seven seasons covering the European F 2 Championship for Motor Sport and Motoring News, US entrant Fred Opert sponsored my annual pilgrimage up the St Lawrence River: he was a canny one and knew the value of international coverage for his imported European drivers.
I remember being in awe of Gilles’s car control around the tight confines of Trois-Rivières. As I drove James Hunt and his brother Peter to Montreal for the night flight back to London, conversation was all about the youngster’s exceptional ability.
I recall Ray Wardell telling me what a pleasure it was to work with Gilles and how fearless he was in a race car.
Once back in England I convinced Motor Sport to run a full page of colour on Ray’s newly discovered talent and I wrote a glowing report.
Within a few years I was managing a lookalike works March 78B for Danny Sullivan in New Zealand’s summer series. Our backer was Auckland businessman Colin Giltrap. Nearly three decades later, I’ve just been at Brands Hatch watching Colin’s A1 Grand Prix car proudly representing New Zealand in the motorsport World Cup.
The exhilarating A1GP initiative stirred up similar passions to those I vividly recall feeling as I watched Gilles strutting his stuff all those years ago. I must be getting younger.