Racing pioneer Dan Gurney dies

F1 driver who introduced full-face helmets, champagne spraying and Gurney flaps dies aged 86

Dan Gurney at the 1967 Belgian Grand Prix (photo by LAT Photographic)

Formula 1 and the wider motorsport community are mourning the death of racing revolutionary Dan Gurney, who passed away following complications from pneumonia over the weekend at the age of 86.

The American remains one of just three men to have won races in Sports Cars, F1, NASCAR and IndyCar, with Mario Andretti and Juan Pablo Montoya later following in his footsteps.

Gurney’s best races came in a three-week stretch in 1967, when he finished second at the Indianapolis 500, secured victory at the 24 Hours of Le Mans and won the Belgian Grand Prix in his own car. While celebrating the Le Mans win with teammate AJ Foyt, Gurney shook his champagne bottle to shower Henry Ford II and Carroll Shelby with the drink, beginning the tradition of spraying champagne on the podium. Between 1959 and 1970, Gurney started 86 races in F1 – the third most of any American driver, while his four race victories make him the second most successful behind Andretti. A study by the University of Sheffield published in 2016 used mathematical modelling to determine which F1 drivers were the best by looking at how much performance they contributed rather than the car they were driving. The results found Gurney to be the 14th best F1 driver of all time.

Gurney’s contributions to F1 weren’t limited to his driving. As an engineer and designer he created the Gurney Flap – a metal lip on the edge of a wing used to increase downforce still used in F1 today. The flap is also the first aerodynamic development created for motorsport to be used on aircrafts. Gurney was also the first F1 driver to wear a full-face helmet, debuting the equipment at the 1968 Germany Grand Prix. As one of the taller drivers of his day, the American found he suffered worse than most with small stones and other debris hitting him in the face during races, and sought out a solution to offer better protection. He initially tried to design his own, before discovering Bell Helmets provided such a helmet for dirtbike racers.

Gurney co-founded Anglo-American Racing in 1964 in a bid to see an American-engineered car compete alongside the best European teams, with the team making its F1 debut in 1966. After retiring from racing, Gurney committed himself full time to making cars and running a racing team. He was the Chairman and CEO of All American Racers from 1970 until 2011, with the team winning 78 races and 8 championships during that time, including victories at the Indianapolis 500 and 24 Hours of Daytona. In 1978 he contacted other team owners who were disenchanted with the way the United States Auto Club ran motorsport, eventually leading to the formation of CART. He called for the group to negotiate their own TV rights and prize money in a bid to help race teams see more of the money from motorsport. CART began its own series the following year and within 10 years was attracting international drivers such as Emerson Fittipaldi and Nigel Mansell.

Drivers and teams from a number of series have been paying tribute to the pioneer. Le Mans winner David Brabham said the sport has lost a great. Gurney was the first driver Jack Brabham – David’s dad – hired to drive alongside him in F1 after setting up his own racing team. IndyCar driver JR Hildebrand wrote that Gurney “epitomized all that makes motorsport special”, while the Mercedes F1 team described him as a genius on and off the track who will be greatly missed.

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