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Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Salut, Gilles!!

 Today marks the 30th anniversary of the tragic death of Gilles Villeneuve,formula 1 racer, May 8 1982. I remember EXACTLY where I was when the first reports of his accident started to air. My dad and I went to Canadian Tire to pick up something and I, like I did often, stayed in the truck to listen to AM radio CJRS Sherbrooke, to catch the news from the track as this was qualification day before the Sunday race. I remember journalist Christian Tortora saying: ''We have terrible news; Gilles Villeneuve just had a HORRIFIC crash on Zolder's track. It was very violent and we can only pray that he is OK''.
Gilles with his boss and friend, Enzo Ferrari

  I was horrified! Gilles was to Quebeckers what the Pope is to Christians. He was an example of courage, determination, and, well, the legendary crazyness of Quebeckers. He was one of my 3 heroes. I can't refrain from shedding a tear when I think of him. He was a model citizen, a true good man. He was himself to the end, dying while trying to beat Didier Pironi's ( also driving for Ferrari) best time that day for the 6th place on the starting grid.

 With eight minutes of the session left, Villeneuve came over the rise after the first chicane and caught Jochen Mass travelling much more slowly through the left-handed bend before the Terlamenbocht corner. Mass saw Villeneuve approaching at high speed and moved to the right to let him through on the racing line. At the same instant Villeneuve also moved right to pass the slower car. The Ferrari hit the back of Mass' car and was launched into the air at a speed estimated at 200–225 km/h (120–140 mph). It was airborne for more than 300 feet before nosediving into the ground and disintegrating as it somersaulted along the edge of the track. Villeneuve, still strapped to his seat, but without his helmet, was thrown a further 100 feet from the wreckage into the catch fencing on the outside edge of the Terlamenbocht corner

  Several drivers stopped and rushed to the scene. John Watson and Derek Warwick pulled Villeneuve, his face blue, from the catch fence. The first doctor arrived within 35 seconds to find that Villeneuve was not breathing, although his pulse continued; he was intubated and ventilated before being transferred to the circuit medical centre and then by helicopter to University St Raphael Hospital where a fatal fracture of the neck was diagnosed. I heard someone say afterwards that he was decapitated, his head only hanging by the skin of the back of his neck. Villeneuve was kept alive on life support while his wife travelled to the hospital and the doctors consulted with specialists worldwide. He died at 9:12 that evening, Belgium Time.

 When my dad came back to the truck, I told him the bad news. My dad, not exactly used to show emotions, closed his eyes and shed a tear. That's when it hit me; Gilles Villeneuve was a hero to a NATION. He was the small time guy who had to mortgage his house to race. He had started at the very bottom, an underdog, and went to the big time, for an icon, Ferrari. Seeing my dad like that was a shock, and the only other time I saw him teary-eyed like that was when is twin brother Jules died.

 Gilles lives in the heart of every crazy Quebecker who has gasoline running thru his veins, like me.

In this video tribute, you can see young Jacques, his only son, who went to be world champion, following the coffin with a brave face on.

Young Jacques Villeneuve with his dad Gilles.
Jacques looks on while dad Gilles is interviewed
Gilles Statue in front of the museum in his honor
The starting line at Gilles Villeneuve's circuit in Montreal, renamed after his death

  Salut, Gilles, you are missed!!!
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