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