Gian Luigi Picchi- European Touring Car Champion GTA Jr.
Introductory Remarks about Gian Luigi Picchi:
Written by Vladimir Pajevic
Being a race car driver is the dream of kids of all ages and all countries of the world, which, however, only a privileged few manage to achieve, by comparing their ability raised to the limits with a mechanical device on the track.
But, to become a real race driver, official member of an important team is fiefdom reserved for a very small elite, endowed with uncommon talent reserved for a few. In the list of names of Italian pilots, Gian Luigi Picchi, driver from Tivoli, is considered by all to be a phenomenon, who at the turn of the 1960's and 1970's, remained a unique prodigy, and in the short span of his professional racing career, managed to conquer the collective memory as a champion who won everything, regardless of the cars entrusted to him, regardless of the competition or the conditions of the circuit.
Described at the time as a "winning factor", "aquanaut, King of wet circuits", and the "driver with gull wings", in the texts of the magazines dedicated to auto sport, Picchi was a driver with an uninterrupted sequence of successes, from the national karting championship in 1963, then the European one in 1965, becoming K250 vice-champion in 1966, F850 champion (De Sanctis official driver) in 1968, F3 champion (Tecno official driver) in 1969, European vice-champion in the Touring Group 2 championship (Autodelta official driver), and finally 1st Division European Touring Car Champion (again as Autodelta official driver), thus achieving an incredible score with a percentage of victories never achieved before him.
Being just 25 years of age, Picchi was the winner in 44% of all the races in which he started, driving different types of cars, with open wheels or with closed bodywork.
When a pilot is described, his passion, his competitive fury, skill, courage and dedication are exalted, but his human dimension is often overlooked, which however remains the main component in distinguishing a champion from a simple passionate dreamer. A champion driver is the sum of complex and refined physical and mental properties, which only in perfect symbiosis with the mechanical device are able to differentiate an ace from the simple driver of the car.
In a sport determined by mechanics, it is small, often imperceptible interactions with the car, always different and always specific to the various drivers, which make the difference and demarcate their specific values. The truth is that a good driver runs like he lives. The moods, and the exploits of the conductor in a very powerful mechanical vehicle that does not forgive even the slightest mistake are based exclusively on his concentration, his mental concept of competition and his intelligence.
Physical preparation is important but by itself it does not determine anything. The ability to process a huge amount of data that the track and the car communicate him and transform it into car management is the true key to victory. Thus, not the fastest on the track in certain phases of the race, the most unscrupulous in the face of challenges, the most daring in critical situations, are those who cross the finish line first.
Picchi had understood well these rules of fighting, and he won with better concentration, right analysis of the situation and the right reaction. He knew how to weigh the risk and calculate the real limits... both for himself and for the vehicle, winning above all with an unlimited sense of sacrifice dedicated to each test on the track.
Racing car drivers can generally be divided into two categories:
Drivers with innate natural talent whose senses are propagated in every mechanical organ of the car, who feel the track as their natural habitat, in which they move and behave with absolute ease, and
Drivers who with will, strength of character and long patient work have developed that whole that makes them versatile and accomplished racers as well as excellent experts of the vehicle they drive.
But, it is only those in the first group who have laurel wreaths in their DNA become champions. The annals and archives that preserve the names, rankings, and curricula of almost all the "greats" of the past confirm this judgment. The truth is that every racing season created its own champion, the King that conquered his crown on the battlefield and wore it with merit. Picchi passed like a meteor in the firmament of racing, remaining by his own decision present for too short period for gaining all the peaks that he could surely reach.
Motoring enthusiasts remember his unique decision to leave the antechamber of Olympus, retiring from racing, already a champion and already a first-rate star, leaving disappointed and incredulous his admirers.
Today, years later, his decision sounds quite logical. A sensitive and intelligent driver, despite his young age at the time, he had already witnessed many, too many losses in a cruel and ruthless sport, which still far from elementary safety on the track, reaped many sacrifices from its followers. In the history of Italian auto sport, his decision remains an isolated phenomenon, perhaps just confirmation of the high degree of intellectual ability to intuit a possible future.
With his own sense of antagonism, without clamor, without scandals, almost on the sly, he won in every type of competition and with the same sense of proportion, he was able to announce his retirement by explaining the priorities in his life. His name was already beginning to dominate the news of racing and to attract attention well beyond national borders, and the speed with which he had established himself in the rankings, left no doubts, he was that rare natural talent that distinguishes the champion.
For most, his abandonment of racing was inexplicable as was his impressive sequence of victories opening all doors for him. However, it was precisely the great Ing. Carlo Chiti, undisputed patron of Autodelta who wanted him as the official driver of Autodelta to corroborate his decision by telling him in a private conversation that drivers have become cannon fodder, and that the decision to favor the family was impeccable.
The environment that Picchi left in those years was dominated by the ETCC championship, the cars that in theory should have come from serial production but which only vaguely betrayed their kinship with the cars met down the street, and the fascination that these competitions exercised was enormous. The circuits were crowded and animated by the colorful public, and the acrid smell of burnt oil and rubber gave an exotic touch to those events. In the 1971 season, Autodelta destined to the track in Division I the deadly GTA J 1300 which won in all eight races of the season. Picchi, driving the legendary GTA "Muso Giallo" (named after its bright yellow grille), won six of the eight grueling races of the ETCC calendar, suffering withdrawals in two races with co-drivers, with car breakages not chargeable to him.
He was crowned Champion of Division I, and the points he earned also assigned the brand title to Alfa Romeo for the year 1971. Such a result, in the cruel war between the big car manufacturers who fought for customers, bringing on the circuits in the races of Touring cars, drivers such as Clark, Rindt, Stewart, Mass, Lauda, together with highly valid Italian drivers such as Giunti, de Adamich, Galli, Dini... confirmed the fame of the extraordinary driver Gian Luigi Picchi, who dominated invincibly in his division.
Even his way of driving a racing car was different from the one that sent the trackside crowd into a frenzy.
In Picchi's driving there were little of the astonishingly acrobatic, and there was no voluptuousness and free aggression, and spectacular duels were made only when the race demanded a direct challenge. His driving was characterized by extreme precision, always within the outlined limits of the track, and his clean trajectories did not attract attention. However, he always braked a fraction of a second after his rivals and always exited the corner with a couple of revs more.
In this way of driving with millimetric precision, his origins from karting and militancy with open-wheel single-seaters were recognized, also recognizable “high school” was the choice of trajectories with which he tackled the curves. In a certain sense, his way of driving anticipated the future driving of the incoming drivers and was the watershed between gentleman drivers who cut their teeth running on instinct and sometimes became champions, and the dedicated drivers who, with extreme professional devotion improved themselves, until they obtained the certainty of their own limit.
Today it is certain that Gian Luigi Picchi was one of the greatest talents that Italian auto sport had ever expressed, but it is also true that his ability to drive the car was only one of the many factors that contributed to his development. His linear story is almost a paradigm of a champion's training scheme, and it is also the confirmation that only talent supported by patient work and passion can produce certain success.
Picchi won with all the cars entrusted to him and in all track conditions. In "wet" races under the rain and with the surface not gripping, he often downgraded his opponents, which remains the eloquent confirmation of his capability to govern the track and his concept of driving. Picchi was perfectly able to distinguish the thin line after which the driver's courage became stupidity and this quality protected him from unnecessary risky situations in racing.
His driving remained the sum of an intelligent calculation and analysis of the situation made on the track at every moment of the race. That's why in his curriculum vitae there are no spectacular accidents or actions beyond the limit which, together with extreme fairness and respect for other runners, distinguished his presence in the race.
However, one remained amazed by the precision of his trajectories in the complex curves, where lap after lap his car passed the same point that didn't vary even one centimetre. This confirms the degree of concentration that Picchi maintained during a race, where he often, conditioned by the vehicle, built the victory gaining lap after lap, fractions of seconds.
In 1973, Italy with octane in its veins had already begun to draw plans for the future oncoming triumphs of the Tivoli driver. F2, the growing role of Alfa Romeo and its 33 Prototype cars in the World Championship for Makes and offers from renowned teams were on the table until the day when Picchi politely but without appeal announced his decision to retire from professional racing.
The shock was considerable and caused an equal avalanche of "sure" voices offering explanations for his abandonment. The mystery part has remained intact to this day and not even Picchi has given a complete explanation. However, the fact is that even on rare occasions when he returned to the track in the races he accepted, he continuous to win with the same apparently nonchalant ease, true to the old Italian saying: "Blood will out."
"A precursor. Fifty years ago Gian Luigi Picchi indicated the path that for some years many young Italian drivers have been following more and more often and, as the Freccia di Tivoli did then, after some experience with single-seaters, they take off their right satisfaction in the races for covered wheels".
Instead of pursuing the dream of an expensive career with the major formulas, at the beginning of the seventies the young Picchi in fact abandoned the single-seaters - at the wheel of which he had already won some tricolor titles - and he gladly accepted Alfa Romeo's proposal to become an Autodelta official driver and consequently one of the major protagonists of the continental series reserved for Touring.
The choice of Autodelta was not accidental, but the result of a careful selection involving 25 aspiring official drivers. Picchi was the first combined sports product of the karting school, training formulas with the single-seaters of the Pederzani brothers, of “Sor Gino” De Sanctis and Salvatore Genovese and of the Vallelunga circuit. In addition to Monza, in Italy, at the time, there was practically only the Campagnano circuit, whose characteristics allowed, even more than that of the Brianza track, to train a few generations of valid drivers from Lazio.
We are talking about characters like Bernabei, Flammini, Francisci, Giorgio, Naddeo and obviously Gian Luigi Picchi, the first guy coming from karts to impose himself behind the wheel of single-seaters and then tourism, as he tells in the book "My Years in Autodelta" newly released.
These were the golden years of the GTAm 2000, the GTA 1600 and above all the GTA Junior 1300 with which our team won the European title in 1971 with 6 victories in 9 races. Also for this reason, despite being, as he calls himself, a "lone wolf", he immediately became the myth of local enthusiasts.
"With Gian Luigi's victories in mind, I convinced my father to buy an Alfa Romeo" recalls Maurizio Solazzi of the Cuore Sportivo Club,
"...and then without his knowledge I wrote ' Peaks ' on the fenders!"
"I had some experience in Formula 2 and also had a proposal from Abarth to race with their sports, but in the end things did not materialize and since then I have become a man of the Alfa Romeo company" recalls Picchi who is now the Scuderia delegate del Portello.
"Of those experiences I have one method left: to leave nothing to chance, the search for perfection in performance and the will and determination to achieve results, all things that later served me in life. Today I am one of the few survivors of those years and consequently a kind of reference point for the clubs and Alfa Romeo fans of Lazio who take me to see their vintage cars.
You cannot imagine what the Alfa Romeo brand has followed! ".
Back on track sporadically with vintage and touring cars (in 2004 he won the inaugural race of the SuperStars series at Mugello with the Vaccari Motori BMW M5), on the road Gian Luigi Picchi instead drives very carefully.
"In the traffic of Rome we must try to anticipate much as possible the situations that may arise, keep a safe distance from those in front of us and avoid suddenly changing trajectory".
The "trajectory"..not the direction says Picchi.The driver's heart still beats today as it once did.
Our Senior Heritage Editor for "Autodelta Golden Years.com", Vladimir Pajevic has assembled and translated his thoughts of the great Autodelta GTA driver Gian Luigi Picchi.
Vladimir shares a brief commendary about the story you are about to learn from Mr. Picchi:
"Here in Europe, presenting Gian Luigi Picchi and his career to the fans of automobile racing and Alfa Romeo history is superfluous, as everyone involved or who follows motor racing at least here in Europe already knows the history of Autodelta and already understands and appreciates Mr.Picchi's achievements in the 1970-1973 period.
"I have added some words about him for younger followers of "Autodelta Golden Years.com". I interviewed Mr. Picchi because of his interest and excitment to be part of this website on the history and tradition of Autodelta and Carlo Chiti.
"I have found Picchi’s wonderful story fantastic, surreal, crazy and terrific, just as those times were indeed. He was one of Chiti’s favorites and Carlo was disappointed when Picchi had declared his decision to retire from racing, but Ing. Chiti did nothing to try to change his mind."
Gian Luigi Picchi.
Gian Luigi Picchi was one of great pilots of Autodelta and Alfa Romeo in its Golden Age, and surely the best 1300 GTA Junior driver ever. He was the Italian champion in karting, Formula 850, and Formula 3, and when he was signed for the Formula 2 Tecno team... he changed his decision and signed up as an official Autodelta pilot.
During the seasons 1971 and 1972 he won 9 of 17 races in the European Touring Car Competition that gave the championship title to Alfa Romeo and the nickname “The Winning Factor” to Picchi. He was an excellent driver of the rarest talent, known for his highly technical and precise driving (he came from karting and Formula competitions) and was also considered highly for his ability under wet conditions.
In the midst of the 1973 season, he decided to abandon active racing for private reasons.
Since he was considered to be among the most promising Italian drivers, his decision was a big surprise for fans and fellow drivers alike..but Carlo Chiti, though painfully aware of the great loss for Autodelta and Alfa Romeo....supported his decision.
In those years, numerous fatal accidents had been the hallmark of European racing. It was Carlo Chiti who stood firmly on the front line with racing car engineers who demanded more secure conditions for drivers and circuits.
Speaking privately to Picchi Ing. Chiti had asserted that the drivers of the day were “…only cannonball meat in the war on the racetracks…”
Though Picchi had retired from official competitions, he continued to pursue historic racing (Ferrari 250 GTO with F. Violati, BMW M5…confirming his absolute ability driving racing cars of any kind at any age....to this very day.
Here is his contribution to the Autodelta "Inside the Walls" history, some of his memories of its glorious days, the atmosphere of racing events, the whiff of adrenaline and odor of burnt rubber and castor oil.
- - Vladimir
In His Own Words: Gian Luigi Picchi:
“Sometimes, the events on the racing tracks have the taste of Champagne and colors of a festive feast, and sometimes they are rough, cruel and shaded with sorrow. This is my story of one of those days that yes, had finished with victory, but also remained as a memory of tragic human consequences that often lies in wait along the racing circuits.
Autodelta was an extremely organized team, and in the ‘70's found itself fighting for the Tourist Trophy against industry giants such as Ford, BMW and Fiat. The start of 1972 season witnessed class victories of Rinaldi at Monza and Facetti at Salzburgring, and it was clear that Autodelta and Alfa Romeo were among the strongest factory teams aiming for the championship title.
Chiti had decided to pair Luigi Rinaldi with more experienced Luigi Colzani and he certainly guessed right. They were reliable and fast and his idea was to support Dini, Facetti and me (as we were considered “team leaders”) in gaining important points on the way to championship title.
The third race of the season was the fast and dangerous Brno circuit in the former Czechoslovakia, a frightful 14 km. track based on public roads with irregular surfaces and high curbstones along most of the circluit. Chiti asked me to help Rinaldi as he had never run at the Brno circuit and we decided to travel together few days before the race and make reconnaissance of the circuit.
It was good moment for Rinaldi... excited with the result of our Monza race that he has won together with Colzani. It was the second half of May, and the ambiguous weather of Czech’s springtime promised a dry weekend when we arrived at Wednesday 19th and made some laps to inspect the track.
I had instructed Rinaldi about the most dangerous sectors of the tough Czechoslovakian road circuit and everything seemed OK. Rinaldi’s lap times during practice started to steadily improve...faster and faster.. and so we expected the qualifying session to find us near the front of the grid.
But Saturday May 20th was unexpectedly a rainy day with abundant showers of water and the qualifying for grid position was postponed several times. Finally, at 2:00 p.m. we started and Rinaldi with his red and blue GTAJ has made his first, judiciously careful lap, posting a 8’22’’6 lap time, far behind the best of Walter Dona’s 6’18’’9 time on his 128 FIAT but Rinaldi started improving his times and in the fourth lap he did 6’45’’2.
Attempting to grab another part of the seconds towards the end of the session and approaching the large bend to the right, just before pit lane, he lost control of the car passing in a puddle, and aquaplaned.... spinning to the left and crashing violently against a concrete time measuring point that had no guardrail protection. The impact was tremendous and poor Rinaldi was killed instantly. Also killed was one one of the unfortunate track marshals that happened to be on the way of uncontrolled sliding car.
The rest was like a slow motion picture movie.
I had returned in the hotel unable even to recall in my mind the exact sequence of the accident and found in the hotel lobby two suits waiting and ready to be sent in the morgue.
One was Rinaldi’s and the other mine, as they were not sure who of us was actually driving at the time and was killed in the accident. There was strange silence that evening when we gathered to make up our minds and deliberate our future action as an Autodelta team. We all decided to go on and participate the race in honor of Rinaldi.
Chiti was silent and I did not know his view of the tragedy, but I think that he was proud of our decision to enter the race.
The next day, during the morning warm-up. Walter Brun had destroyed his 3-litre BMW at the same point, remaining fortunately with only minor injuries and that had signaled this to be the last Brno race on the old circuit.
I won the 1300 class and Massimo Larini was second. We dedicated our victory to Luigi Rinaldi and Commission Sportive Internationale (CSI) suspended Brno race track license.
On the day of his appointment with destiny, Rinaldi was wearing not his racing suit, but one with the name of Ignazio Giunti that Giunti had given to him as a gift, the same day Giunti himself was killed in the terrific accident with Beltoise in Buenos Aires. They both were Romans and close friends.”
Gian Luigi Picchi
Gian Luigi Picchi rides again for the 50th Anniversary of Autodelta, Monza 2014.
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