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“Talent is cheap; dedication is expensive. It will cost you your life.”

~Irving Stone – The Agony and the Ecstasy~

Zandvoort 1979. With only three races to run in the season Ferrari drivers occupied the top two places in the championship. Jody Scheckter was in the lead with 38 points while Gilles Villeneuve with 32 points was tied with Jacques Lafitte driving a Ligier. The championship title was not quite decided…yet…

Villeneuve started the race from the third row of the grid with his teammate and main title challenger sitting right beside him. By the end of the lap Gillies had already leapfrogged those in front of him and was now up to second place, intent on hunting down Alan Jones ahead of him. He  surprised Jones when he took the lead of the race by audaciously going around him on the outside of the Tarzanbocht corner on lap eleven.

Gilles had managed to eke out a slim three second lead over Alan Jones when his rear left tyre exploded on lap 49, sending him first into a spin and then careering off the track and into the gravel at the Tarzan corner. With dogged determination he managed to extricate his car from the mud and dirt, his spinning wheels hurling muck all over the track.

Unfortunately he now had to traverse the entire lap before reaching the refuge of his pit box as he slid off just after the start-finish line. Initially he had three wheels providing traction to the tarmac, but by half lap distance he was relegated to two wheels as the right front wheel was floating in the air. The left rear suspension had been completely destroyed with the wheel dangling and bumping around without anything to hold it in place. He expertly  managed to control his car and get it around the circuit…maybe his extensive experience of driving in the snow with minimal traction was paying off…

Gilles was fighting for the championship that day and there was no way he was going to just quit. Gaston Parent, Villeneuve’s manager said, “Gilles was blowing his stack, yelling, ‘Put a f***ing wheel on there! Let me go out again!’ Finally they made him see the back of the car was a disaster. Then people criticised him for dangerous driving again. His argument was that he didn’t know it was so bad. But, believe me, Villeneuve would have gone out again on three wheels! That was the way he was.”

The race was won by Alan Jones in a Williams-Ford from a recovering Jody Scheckter almost 22 seconds behind in second who now only needed only four more points to win the Driver’s Championship. With Lafitte coming a distant third Gilles was now pushed back to fourth in the championship as Alan Jones’ win had given him third place overall.

After Gilles’ death Alain Prost said, “Gilles was the last great driver. The rest of us are just a bunch of good professionals.”

Zandvoort

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