"We all have to perish, but we all refuse to think about it. Drivers like anyone, we are not a special category. Yes, the fear of an accident exists and it is what develops prudence. And it prevents many tragedies. For example, I've always taken a certain amount of time to get to know a car. I've always preferred not to take unnecessary risks. Well, to tell the truth, maybe I'm too cautious".
This was what Ignazio Giunti, born on August 30, 1941 in Rome, said, conversing with his friends; he discussed it serenely, in the quiet hours of tranquility away from the track or in the short rest intervals between one test and another, when the driver gets out of the car and it's up to the mechanics to work. Born into a wealthy family in which his father, Pietro, is Calabrian, and his mother, Gabriella Sanmartino, is from Strambino, Piedmont, when Ignazio decides to try to become a driver, he has to face the opposition of his parents.
"When I was a boy I didn't like studying but a lot of motorcycles. That's how I started, racing motorcycles along country roads".
However, this does not prevent him from pursuing his dream, and secretly participates in some hill climbs with an Alfa Romeo in 1962, after having obtained his driving license in 1959. The family, which has land in Calabria, between Paola and Maratea, successfully promotes a hotel and tourist business, but Ignazio prefers to live in Rome, where they now call him the king of Vallelunga, the circuit at the gates of the capital, and in Calabria only goes on vacation.
The following year he decides to try his hand at sports car races, and takes part in the Targa Florio where, paired with Datti, he does not reach the finish line. Three months later he participates in the Hill Climb Consuma, finishing in sixty-first position. In 1964 he also made his debut on the track in Vallelunga, and immediately showed off by winning several races, also closing the Italian tourism championship in second place. Eleven months later he returns to Hill Climb Consuma, improving his placement by finishing forty-first, and then finishing in twenty-first place at the Hill Climb Mont Ventoux.
The following year will be that of his definitive consecration. Giunti opened the season at the wheel of Alfa Romeo with a retirement at the Mugello Grand Prix, but at the beginning of August at the Kannonloppet he won his first podium by crossing the line in second position. In the meantime, Giunti continues to compete in races on his home track, and despite clashes with rivals of great value such as Andrea De Adamich and Nanni Galli, no one manages to counter him, so much so that he is nicknamed the Reuccio di Vallelunga. Nomea which in 1966 allows him to receive the offer of the Auto Delta, which he accepts. Before focusing on racing with the Alfa Romeo manufacturer, he made his debut at the 24 Hours of Le Mans with the AVA, but a transmission problem forced Giunti and Dini to retire.
A week later he redeems himself by climbing for the first time on the podium with the Alfa, finishing second at the Hill Climb Mont Ventoux. Twenty-two days pass, and Ignazio repeats himself at the Mugello Grand Prix, crossing the finish line in third position. The year ends in a great way with the victory at the 4 Hours of Budapest. Giunti begins the 1967 season as he had closed the previous one, climbing on the lowest step of the podium at the three hours in Belgrade. She too has a good placement at the thousand kilometers of the Nurburgring, closed in fifth position, while at Mugello she does not center an encore due to a retirement. Beyond this, the good Italian driver manages to win the European Mountain Championship, and after a colorless performance at the Hill Climb Ollon-Villars, he wins second place at the Ettore Bettoja trophy held in Vallelunga.
The following year Giunti made his debut in the United States. The adventure in the States started off on the wrong foot: in fact, together with Galli he was unable to take part in the 24 Hours of Daytona due to an accident in free practice. The two Italians dispose of their disappointment by finishing second at the Targa Florio, and always paired with the Tuscan driver is also the protagonist of the 1000 kilometers of the Nurburgring, which closed in fifth place. Giunti achieves the same result in the Brno Grand Prix, this time alternating at the wheel of the Alfa Romeo T33/2 with Zoccoli, and closes the season by returning to team up with Galli by participating in the 1968 24 Hours of Le Mans, which ended in fourth place.
Giunti also started the season in the Unuted States in 1969, but one more season at the 12 Hours of Sebring he and Galli were forced to retire. The negative streak continues at the Targa Florio, as he once again fails to cross the finish line. However, after the seventh place obtained at the 7 Hours of Budapest, Giunti won the first race of the year at the Ronde Cevènole, and in Germany he collected two sixth places at the 6 Hours of the Nurburgring and at the Solituderennen Hockenheim. He then finished second in the Imola 500km, and closed the season by finishing fourth in the Jarama 3 Hours. These performances with Alfa allow him to realize the dream of any driver, racing in 1970 with Ferrari and competing in both sports car and Formula 1 races.
His debut with Ferrari took place at the 24 Hours of Daytona, but as in previous occasions his luck was not on his side, and during the race he was forced to retire. Fifty days later Giunti redeems himself by winning the 12 Hours of Sebring together with Vaccarella and Andretti. Ignazio also repeats himself in the first Italian races of 1970, finishing second in the 1000 kilometers of Monza, and third in the Targa Florio. The feeling with the Ferrari 512 S is confirmed at the 1000 km of Spa, closed in fourth position, while at the 1000 km of Nurburgring he returns to the podium, crossing the finish line in third place. These results help to strengthen morale, already high in itself, in view of the debut in the Formula 1 circus, on the occasion of the Belgian Grand Prix. At Spa, Giunti proves that he too can be a protagonist in Formula 1, scoring the eighth time in qualifying, but above all by finishing fourth at the finish.
The great moment of form is interrupted with the retirement at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and even in the French Grand Prix he will not be able to confirm himself on the level of Spa, finishing him in fourteenth place, three laps behind Rindt. The Roman erased the disappointment by finishing third in the Watkins Glen 6 Hours, and getting an encouraging seventh place at the Austrian Grand Prix after setting the fifth time in qualifying. Giunti seems to be able to repeat himself in his first Italian Grand Prix in Monza, setting the fifth time again, but in the race on the fifth lap a problem with the fuel system forced him to retire and to close the world championship in seventeenth place in the drivers' standings, with three points earned during the season.
Even on sports cars, the season seemed destined to end in a negative way, not reaching the final finish line of the 1000 kilometers of Zeltweg, paired with Ickx. The two redeem each other by winning the 9 Hours of Kyalami, which allows Giunti to finish 1970 by climbing to the top step of the podium for the second time. Given the encouraging results, Giunti was reconfirmed by Ferrari also in 1971, and pending his debut in the Formula 1 world championship, like the previous year, he took part in the 1000 kilometers of Buenos Aires.
"I would like to win the Italian Grand Prix or the Targa Florio. That would be enough".
Ferrari says of him, during the renewal:
"I'm happy. He has shown that he possesses those qualities of combativeness and courage that Amon, for example, did not show".
From this first race, Ignazio has been determined to repay Ferrari's trust, but while he is in the lead, a tragedy - which still today makes the world of engines talk - extinguishes the hopes of the good Italian driver forever.
"The engine is that of the single-seater; therefore it is a strength and safety point".
Giunti takes command of the 1000km in the initial stages, then is overtaken by the big five-liter Porsche of the Mexican Rodriguez and the English Elford, but towards the thirtieth lap (164 are scheduled) he takes the lead, quickly accumulating about forty seconds of advantage. Eight more steps and the tragedy takes place. Beltoise hears his Matra's twelve-cylinder engine mutter and then stop. On the momentum he continues for a few hundred meters zigzagging, to take advantage of the minimum slopes of the circuit, then stops along the track. The Frenchman gets out and pushes the car, and with tenacity goes towards the garage, but he is on the right side of the road; to reach the mechanics he would have to cross the roadway. Then he pushes his car to try to reach the pits by crossing the carriageway diagonally, without any marshals stopping him.
But just at this moment arrives Giunti, who is being dubbed against Parkes: the English is on the right and the Italian on the left, side by side. Parkes takes the lead from the first corner (the maneuver is progressive) and moves ahead of Giunti, who is thus covered by the Englishman's car. He notices the obstacle before Ignatius and moves to the left, therefore Beltoise runs away towards the edge of the roadway and Giunti collides with the front right and the side in the rear left part of the Matra. A moment, and he gets a blaze. The Matra twirls towards the pits, the Ferrari spins on itself. The tragedy is complete, under the eye of the marshals.
The Ferrari, carambulated along the track amid the screams of dismay of the public and the men in the various pits, in a few seconds is engulfed in flames. The red spider stops in the middle of the roadway. The firefighters spray the wreck with powder extinguishers, trying to get closer to the cockpit where you can glimpse Giunti's unconscious body that remains in the stake for forty seconds. Finally, the rescuers extract the pilot and place him on a stretcher, going to an infirmary post near the stands. Giunti reports face injuries, probably a skull fracture and terrible burns; his body is sixty percent covered with third-degree burns. The health workers decide to hospitalize the Italian runner at the Fernandez polyclinic. During the transport by ambulance, despite a desperate series of cardiac massages, Giunti's heart stops.
Doctors keep the news of his death hidden for about two hours, while Ferrari technicians, friends and simple sportsmen, rush to the hospital in shock. Arturo Merzario, who was supposed to take over from Giunti driving the Ferrari, indulges in a fit of tears. The race continues, and Beltoise, having escaped the accident, heads towards the Matra garage amid the curses and shouts of the crowd, who had witnessed the tragedy in detail and seemed to have no doubts about the Frenchman's responsibility. The driver will be stopped by the Ferrari mechanics, who - maddened by pain and anger - pounce on him. The pilot is then accompanied by police officers to a police station to make an official statement on the accident.
In the frightening bustle following the tragedy, an Argentine photographer, Carlos Solari, leans excessively from the roof of the Matra garage and rolls to the ground from a height of four meters ending up on a reinforced concrete step; the photographer will also have to be sent to hospital with head fractures. Ferrari's sporting director, the Swiss Peter Schetty, still hot will have bitter words for the gesture of the French racer:
"First of all, one wonders why Matra ran out of fuel on the open track, and why it didn't refuel before. The Matra has no fuel reserve. Therefore it was up to the driver to calculate the rest, and it was also up to the staff in his garage inform him in time of the need to stop to refuel. There is then and above all the strange behavior of the French driver, once the car has stopped. He first stopped near the right side of the track, then hinted at a attempted crossing, then turned right back. All this while the other cars were approaching at high speed. This lasted about five minutes, as while Beltoise was on the track pushing the Matra, some cars, like Mike Parkes' Three laps. The fate would have it that just as Giunti's Ferrari arrived the Matra was almost in the middle of the track. In front of the joints was Parkes. or in time the Matra and avoided it. For Giunti it was too late".
Subsequently, Schetty also criticized the behavior of the race organizers: in fact, when a car is stopped on the track, it is mandatory to wave yellow flags to warn the other competitors, but none of the Ferrari group sees a yellow flag. But then, before leaving Buenos Aires, he releases a different version:
"There are numerous rumors and versions circulated in the last few hours about the real or presumed responsibilities, and the consequent positions taken in relation to the accident that cost our Giunti life. I would expressly want to define as void of any foundation any version that attribute to me the undertaking of initiatives in the field of the pursuit of responsibilities. The Ferrari Company reserves the right to submit the documentation relating to the incident to the competent Italian motoring bodies so that a thoughtful and objective examination can be carried out in the appropriate international offices. on this occasion express my appreciation for the moving solidarity and the friendly spirit with which the Argentine authorities and local representatives participated in the mourning that struck Italian motoring".
This drama will shake and divide the world of motorsport, with drivers and journalists giving different versions of the accident. Fangio, home idol, will defend the circuit while declaring that Italy had lost the heir of Ascari, Castellotti, Bonetto, Bandini and Scarfiotti.
For his part, Parkes will justify himself by declaring that he slowed down his run due to the display of the yellow flags. In France, both the press and colleagues will defend Beltoise who, besieged by journalists in his room at the Coty Hotel in Buenos Aires, will repeat his version of the tragic accident. The French driver appears very pale, deeply depressed and distressed, while explaining that when his car stopped due to lack of petrol he tried to push it to the sides of the track where the pits were, but that the slope of the road at that point of the circuit prevented him from completing the operation:
"At that point the elevation of the track prevented me from making the necessary maneuvers. Then everything was lightning fast. My intuition told me that a terrible accident was about to happen. As I moved the car forward I felt more nervous. I saw the yellow flag signaling the danger. But of course no one else was there. Otherwise the accident could have been avoided. It was fate. There was a lot of bad luck in this incident. I warned the commissioners to signal the danger with the yellow flag, but it is clear that no one saw it; nothing would have happened if the flag had been seen".
Beltoise denies that he was attacked after the tragedy by the mechanics of the Ferrari team:
"It is false. At no time was I attacked and I was able to give my explanations immediately, which were accepted without reservation. I feel immense pain for the young Giunti".
And subsequently Beltoise will reiterate to the French newspaper Equipe:
"Anyone would have done the same thing in my place. I'm not crazy and I did my best to avoid the collision. First of all, I was the most vulnerable because I was walking on the track. I was very scared as soon as a car arrived, as sudden breaking of a piece is always possible, and I was on guard. When I started crossing the track I looked twice and never thought anyone could hit the Matra. Joints and Parkes came out of the elbow to the right side alongside; Once outside and Parkes on the far right of the track. I thought Parkes would pass to my right and Arrived on my left. But Parkes came out better than Giunti and folded to the left in front of Giunti. When Parkes is I said to myself: it went well and I don't have to worry about this step. Maybe Ginunti was looking at the rev counter and was surprised by Parkes' maneuver".
L'Equipe will affirm that Beltoise's thesis is also supported by Pescarolo and Jabouille who, when they saw the point where the fuel breakdown had occurred, admitted that the French driver does not lie. Even the Paris-Journal considers it unthinkable that Jean-Pierre Beltoise deliberately chose to take an absurd risk; the newspaper believes that the driver has implemented the solution that seemed less dangerous to him, and according to the newspaper, it is also the opinion of Fangio, especially since there was room for five cars. However, the accident is attributed to fatality. In an interview with the radio microphones of Europa 1, Jean Luc Lagardère, president of the Matra Sport company, will declare:
"I phoned Beltoise to find out what his state of mind was; he told me that he asked himself questions ten, twenty times, and that he came to the conviction that he was not guilty. We will support him. He is the cause but he is not guilty of Giunti's death. Beltoise has had many misfortunes in his life, and this is one more misfortune".
The responsibilities could be several according to the newspaper Le Monde, not excluding that of the commissioners if they authorized the Beltoise maneuver. But the Argentine newspaper Clarin will write that in no way can it be admitted that shadows are cast on the behavior of the organizers, the firefighters, the police or the commissioners in charge of waving the yellow flags. The newspaper continues:
"We are tired to the limit of endurance due to the fact that in sports, when an event involving an Argentine or Argentines occurs, this serves as a pretext for a phobia against the country and its inhabitants to manifest from abroad its customs".
According to Clarin, the Argentine executives observed the television recording of the accident for an hour and a half in the presence of the members of the International Automobile Federation Schmidt and Piundner, the president of the Grand Prix Driving Association, and the race director of the 1000 kilometers, the famous former champion Manuel Fangio. Everyone would have claimed to be satisfied with the functioning of the various services, underlining that they have never seen, in Argentina or in the world, such perfection of organization. The synchronization of the movements between the signalmen with flags, firefighters, police and ambulances was perfect. Former world champion John Surtees will declare:
"If Jean-Pierre Beltoise was pushing his Matra only to get to the pits, and not for mere safety reasons, then the atrocious responsibility is all his own. Anyone who unites against a car stopped on the road bears no responsibility. I knew personally. Arrived and I esteemed him very much. I am deeply saddened by his death".
Denny Hulme, for his part, will say:
"This news pains me a lot, especially because we all loved Giunti, a talented young man with a future ahead of him. The causes of the accident seem unlikely to me, they are so absurd and far removed from our professionalism. he is responsible, we will all have words of deep blame for him".
The Argentine newspaper Cronica writes:
"Jean-Pierre Beltoise should never set foot on a racetrack again. The report from the secretariats of the International Automobile Federation should be clear and precise. John Smith and Martin Pfunder should recommend that the organization withdraw Beltoise's license".
Perhaps, of all, the most accurate and lucid examination will remain the one expressed by Arturio Merzario, who, speaking of Giunti's death, will say:
"I want to go beyond the terrible event and say that that episode served to open a reflection. Troubled, painful but without preconceptions. Made of desire not to fall into the same mistakes. It was one of the cornerstones in which the races began. reflect on the mistakes made. For the rest Beltoise was a victim of circumstances. In those days, if you did not return the car to the pits, even if pushed, your team would shoot you. For this I pity Ignatius, he was a friend, and at the same time I understand Jean-Pierre".
During the South African Grand Prix, the Grand Prix Driver Association will also take a stand, issuing a press release in which it will talk about the contest of fault between Beltoise, the circuit and Giunti. A compromise that triggers new controversies. Eventually Beltoise will be punished with a three-month disqualification. Ignazio Giunti had been engaged for almost three years to Mara Lodirio, a pretty former model of a well-known fashion magazine and now owner, together with her mother, of a boutique in the center of Milan.
They met in Sicily: Mara was in Palermo for a model show, Ignazio was there to race the Targa Florio. They immediately got together and became inseparable, so much so that Miss Lodirio had left her job as a model to be freer to accompany her boyfriend on trips, and to suffer waiting for him in the pits. This time, however, Mara had not accompanied Giunti on the long journey to South America for the first seasonal race of the world brand championship. She had preferred to stay next to her mother, in Milan, where the terrible news of the tragedy reaches her. Mara, upset by the drama, locks herself in the house without being seen by anyone, lovingly guarded by her mother, who answers, instead of her, her questions, by telephone or in person, from journalists and radio commentators:
"Mara is destroyed, she is absolutely unable to speak. After all, speaking to her, one would only be able to cause her more pain. A friend of Mara's phoned us and I answered the phone. At first I told her that Ignazio was only hurt, then, slowly, we told her the terrible truth. Now Mara keeps crying. It's a pity, they loved each other, they had everything, they would have married soon. We were already worried about finding a seat on some plane to Buenos Aires, then we learned that, due to the interest of the Italian ambassador in Argentina, Ignazio's body will be able to return immediately to Italy. Mara leaves tomorrow morning for Rome and will be waiting for him for give him the last farewell".
In addition to his family, Ignazio will leave a void in the world of motors, especially if you think that in a few years of activity he won four victories and sixteen podiums, a result that still today leads us to ask ourselves what extraordinary career the talented Italian driver could have had without that accident. Once arrived he will be buried in the Verano cemetery, while on the track that made him famous, having been the scene of his first steps as a pilot, and of numerous victories, a celebratory bust will be built to remember that boy who rebelled against his family in order to chase the dream of one day driving for Ferrari.