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This week in motorsport history: 25th December – 31st December

As 2023 draws to a close, some big names in motorsport celebrate their birthday, sharing an anniversary with a Titanic title decider

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The final week of 2023 coincides with important birthdays and events in motorsport. 

Louis Chevrolet is an icon of the automotive and racing world (Image Credit: Chevrolet)
Louis Chevrolet is an icon of the automotive and racing world (Image Credit: Chevrolet)
25th of December 1878 – Louis Chevrolet is born in Switzerland.

Louis Chevrolet was born on Christmas Day, 1878. He and his brothers Arthur and Gaston would make racing history. Louis and Arthur were born in Switzerland, although Gaston was French. Louis emigrated to Canada in 1900, moving to New York in 1901. He managed to make enough money to get his two brothers across.

But to trace Louis’s racing career, we must go back to 1905. He won three races to finish runner-up in Champ Car to Barney Oldfield. He won in New York twice, as well as in Pennsylvania. Chevrolet raced a Fiat during this time.

By 1909, he had joined Buick and raced for them in what was considered the second Champ Car season after 1905. No championship was awarded, but we know that Chevrolet won in Indiana, Massachusetts, and New York, winning more races than anyone else over the season. However, Bert Dingley was given the de facto title.

His brothers then came across, with Arthur and Louis co-creating Chevrolet in 1911 with General Motors founder William Durant, who was a friend of Louis. Arguments then happened, and in 1915, Louis co-created Frontenac, with his brothers joining soon after.

Louis then raced in 1917 and finished runner-up to Earl Cooper by 49 points, with wins in Ohio, Illinois, and NY. Gaston also raced this season, taking three podiums and finishing 13th in the standings.

The Frontenac they created was quick. In the following two years, Louis once again finished runner-up behind teammate Ralph Mulford, with the two winning six races over the season. Gaston raced the following season and finished third in the standings, winning three races. Louis also won two races and finished eighth in the standings.

With momentum on their side, Frontenac would win the 1920 Indy 500 with Gaston, the last foreign driver to win Indy until Jim Clark in 1965, and the last French-born driver to win Indy until Simon Pagenaud in 2019. Gaston also won the Champ Car title as well, but then he died in November in an accident. Louis and Arthur never raced again. Despite winning Indy just two years prior, in 1921, with Tommy Milton, Frontenac filed for bankruptcy after a failed merger with Stutz.

However, Durant kept the Chevrolet name alive through GM in 1918. Chevrolet would become the best-selling manufacturer in America in 1929 and still exist in 2023. Despite Louis dying in 1941 of a heart attack and Arthur dying in 1946 of suicide, the Chevrolet name remains in racing.

Chevrolet provides engines for IndyCar, last winning the Indy 500 just this year with Josef Newgarden and Penske. They also won the 2022 IndyCar Series with Will Power and Penske. Unlike many of the car manufacturers of the 1910s, Chevrolet remains a big brand worldwide. Louis and Arthur created a formidable legacy.

27th of December 1900 – Hans Stuck is born.
Hans Stuck was one of F1's oldest drivers (Image Credit: Fahrtraum)
Hans Stuck was one of F1’s oldest drivers (Image Credit: Fahrtraum)

Born in Warsaw in 1900, Stuck is the first Polish-born F1 driver. Although Adolf Brudes and Robert Kubica were also born in Poland, Kubica is the only driver to represent the country.

Stuck started racing in the early 1930s. Due to knowing Adolf Hitler, he was able to race for Auto Union from 1934 to 1939. Audi and several other manufacturers ran Auto Union. People involved in Hitler’s racing project included the likes of Ferdinand Porsche, Luigi Fagioli, Rudolf Caracciola, Manfred von Brauchitsch, Hermann Lang, Achille Varzi, Paul Pietsch and Bernd Rosemeyer.

Stuck started racing for Auto Union and won three races in 1934, more than any other driver. Taking the old system of major races into account (Monaco, France, Belgium, Spain, Switzerland, Italy and Germany), as well as a different points system, Stuck would have finished second in the standings behind Louis Chiron as a withdrawal from the Belgian GP cost him and Fagioli dearly.

Due to their funding, Auto Union and Daimler-Benz were unstoppable. Stuck being Auto Union’s best driver in 1935, he won the Italian Grand Prix at Monza. In his first season, he finished fifth in the standings, with second place also coming in Germany behind Tazio Nuvolari. Nuvolari shocked the entire field by winning in front of Hitler, who had pre-prepared the German national anthem to be played.

In 1936, Auto Union were better than Daimler-Benz. Rosemeyer and Stuck finished 1-2 in the standings after a phenomenal season by Auto Union, taking a 1-2-3 in Switzerland and a 1-2 in Germany. Stuck himself took a third in Monaco, a second in Germany and a third in Switzerland.

However, 1937 was a different story. Daimler-Benz now had the W125, the most powerful Grand Prix car, until turbocharged engines were introduced in the early 80s. Stuck did the best of the non-Daimler-Benz cars, finishing fifth in the standings with a second in Belgium and two fourth places in Monaco and Switzerland. He was behind Daimler-Benz cars in all but Belgium, when he finished behind teammate Rudolf Hasse.

1938 would be the same. Stuck was once again the best non-Daimler-Benz, tied with Nuvolari. Nuvolari won in Italy and Stuck finishing third in Germany. Then, the Second World War happened, and Germans were banned from racing post-WW2.

Stuck obtained Austrian citizenship and continued racing, participating in three F1 GPs and driving slow AFM cars. First with a Kuchen V8 and later with a Bristol L6. He retired from F1 at the age of 52 with one finish, making him F1’s sixth oldest-ever driver.

Stuck is widely regarded as one of the greatest hill climbers ever, winning the European Mountain Championship in 1935. His son, Hans-Joachim, would become an F1 driver and take two Le Mans wins in 1986 and 1987 with Porsche. He also took two podiums with Brabham in 1977 at the German and Austrian Grand Prix.

Hans Sr died aged 77 in 1978.

29th of December 1962 – 1962 South African Grand Prix, a title decider between Graham Hill and Jim Clark
Graham Hill in his BRM during the 1962 South African Grand Prix (Image Credit: @F1 on X)
Graham Hill in his BRM during the 1962 South African Grand Prix (Image Credit: @F1 on X)

Heading into the final race of the 1962 season, it was a battle between two British teams and drivers for the championship: BRM’s Graham Hill and Lotus’s Jim Clark.

Over the season, Hill had won in Holland, Germany and Italy, and Clark had won in Belgium, Britain and the previous race in America. For Clark to win the world championship, he needed to win, as Hill’s best five results were three wins and two second places, whereas Clark’s were three race wins and a fourth.

In 1962, only the five best race results counted towards the world championship. Hill could finish second, and it would not matter in the final race. But if Hill won, he would win the title. Hill would be champion if neither won, as Clark was nine points behind. All would be decided in South Africa in the maiden South African Grand Prix.

Clark took his sixth F1 pole position. He and Hill dominated qualifying, being 1.4 seconds faster than anyone else. He qualified with a 1:29.3, Hill with a 1:29.6 and Jack Brabham with a 1:31.0. Clark had been even quicker, setting a 1:28.9, but due to his car being his backup, it was not allowed.

F1’s 100th race began with Clark leading from Hill and Tony Maggs. As did Innes Ireland, Brabham had a poor start. They dropped from third and fourth to seventh and eighth, with Maggs and Bruce McLaren making three spots off the start from sixth to eighth.

By the end of lap one, Clark led from Hill, Maggs, John Surtees, McLaren, Richie Ginther, Ireland and Brabham. Over the next few laps, Surtees would catch McLaren and pass him and Maggs to move into third on lap 10.

By the start of lap 11, the order was now Clark, Hill, Surtees, McLaren, Maggs, Brabham and Trevor Taylor, who passed Ireland and Ginther briefly before retiring on the same lap. The order would remain the same until lap 20, when McLaren and Surtees briefly swapped positions, until lap 23, when McLaren finally secured the place.

Surtees retired three laps later with engine troubles. The top eight only changed order due to retirement, such as the eighth-placed Salvadori on lap 56. Ginther had encountered issues which dropped him to 13th, but he would entertain the fans with a comeback drive through the field. He was the only driver moving up or down the field until his progress stagnated on lap 55 when he passed John Love for ninth.

Clark was cruising. He set the fastest lap, which was eight-tenths faster than any other driver on lap three. Then, he suffered what would become the first of two oil leaks to cost him a title (along with the 1964 Mexican GP). Clark would encounter issues with twenty laps to go, costing him the world championship. He was out, which meant Hill was automatically world champion.

The race would finish Hill, McLaren, Maggs, Brabham, Ireland, Neville Lederle and Ginther as the top seven, with Lederle claiming his only F1 point.

 

Feature Image Credit: British Racing Motors 

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