Teams Paul Richard 'Richie' Ginther
102Richie Ginther: Small but MightyBy Jeremy McMullen
It was the last lap. Only about three seconds separated first from second and the second place driver was coming on strong. Behind the leader were the big teams of Formula One. Behind the leader were bigger drivers, both in stature and in accomplishment. Even though he had led the race from the very beginning it seemed certain the victory would be snatched from him right before the end. Many times before, this driver had put in the performances of his life only to come up short. But this day would be different. It was the Mexican Grand Prix of 1965 and American Richie Ginther would add his name to the exclusive list of grand prix winners.
There was no denying Ginther's stature as an able-bodied car developer and driver, even if his small size would have suggested otherwise. Although he would not become a World Champion like his friend Phil Hill, his distinctive, wide smile and team-oriented style would cause him to be considered one of the greats even without all of the awards and accolades.
There are people, like a Jim Clark, that would definitely be considered natural drivers. There are others that would have to be considered natural car engineers that had a talent for driving. This would certainly describe Paul Richard 'Richie' Ginther.
Born in Los Angeles, California on the 5th of August in 1930, Paul Richard 'Richie' Ginther would be born and raised in a city of larger-than-life, apparently flawless characters. He certainly would not fit the mold. Short in stature and freckle-faced, Richie certainly didn't stand out in a crowd. If anything, he would be lost.
Richie's father worked for Douglas Aircraft and he would soon get his son a job with the company. This could not have suited young Richie better as his natural talent as an engineer and mechanic would be able to grow and prosper.
A lover of all things mechanical, Ginther would often build hot rods. This would lead him to meeting a fellow Los Angeles resident Phil Hill. Hill would seek out Ginther to help him prepare his race cars and the two would develop a close relationship that would help out both of their careers.
Richie would race hot rods and then began to take sportscar racing a bit more seriously as he prepared Hill's cars. However, his career would seemingly be put on hold when he would be drafted into military service. Serving for two years in the military as a mechanic during the Korean War, Ginther would gain invaluable experience. He would also gain much more knowledge in engineering, especially in aerodynamics. This would also come into play later on in his career.
Upon returning from service, Hill would waste no time recruiting Ginther's services and the two would actually take part in the Carrera Panamericana in 1953 driving one of only three Ferrari 340 Mexico Berlinettas to be produced by the Ferrari factory. The duo would fail to finish the race but they would be back the following year and would finish the arduous long-distance race a very praiseworthy second behind Umberto Maglioli.
The success in the Carrera Panamericana and in a number of other sportscar races driving an Austin-Healey 100 would lead to Ginther getting offered drives for bigger sportscar entities like John von Neumann's racing team.
In his first race for von Neumann, the 4th Stockton Sports Car Races, Ginther would take the Porsche 550 he was driving and would earn an overall victory. This would lead to a number of other top five and podium finishes over the course of 1955 and '56. The pairing of Ginther and the Porsche 550 was certainly a winning combination.
Besides winning races with the Porsche 550, Ginther's talents would see him also take victories in Ferraris and Coopers. The victories and top results would keep coming but his career would certainly take-off to greater heights when he took victory in the GT class at the 1959 12 Hours of Sebring. Ginther had already attracted the attention of the factory in Maranello, but the class victory on a big stage like Sebring would be that final performance they would need to see.
Ferrari would immediately put Ginther's talents to the test. Paired with Wolfgang von Trips driving a Ferrari 250 TR in the 1960 1000km of Buenos Aires, Richie would come through to finish the event in second place behind Phil Hill and Cliff Allison. This result would lead Ferrari to turn Ginther into a developmental driver.
Having served in the military as part of a team, Ginther would fall naturally into his development-driver role and would do a great deal to help make the cars better. This humility, and talent, would go a long way to provide the out-of-place Ginther his first experience in Formula One.
Ginther's debut in Formula One would make many other drivers jealous. Teammates to Phil Hill and Wolfgang von Trips, Ginther would get his Formula One debut with Ferrari, and at the Monaco Grand Prix no less. He would end up finishing well back but he would still come through to finish in 6th place; a championship point earned in his very first race.
This performance would be followed up with another 6th place in the Grand Prix of the Netherlands. Then, in front of the ever-passionate Italian crowd at the Italian Grand Prix, Ginther would rise to the occasion and would come home in 2nd place behind his friend and fellow Ferrari teammate Phil Hill. It would be a remarkable race as Americans would stand first and second on the podium.
Throughout 1960, Scuderia Ferrari struggled in Formula One with its obsolete front-engined cars. It was clear the way forward in the future would be with the engine at the back. Therefore, the factory would set about creating a rear-engine grand prix and sportscar. This is where Ginther's prowess as a mechanic and engineering talent would come back to the fore.
The new Ferrari sportscar was suffering from atrocious handling problems. Richie would think about the problem for a moment. Thinking back to his experience with Douglas Aircraft and with the military he would come up with a very simple idea of welding a small strip of metal to the rear of the car. The car would return to the circuit and immediately the handling would be better; the spoiler was born.
In 1961, Richie would really begin to hit his stride. Not only would he be instrumental in helping Ferrari's developmental program but at Monaco he would go on to set the fastest lap of the race and would end up 2nd to Stirling Moss. It would've been entirely possible that he gained his first World Championship victory that day had Stirling Moss not had what many consider to be his finest drive in Formula One.
As it turned out, Ginther would consistently come close but would never quite reach that top step of the podium. Richie would switch to BRM, or Owen Racing Organization, in 1962. Then, in 1963, he would have his best year in Formula One scoring three second place and two third place finishes. When it was all said and done, the American would finish the season third in the championship battle behind Jim Clark and his BRM teammate Graham Hill.
While his grand prix career was continuing to rise, his sportscar career was still very successful. Still with Ferrari at the time, Ginther would take 2nd place in the 1961 12 Hours of Sebring while being teamed with Giancarlo Baghetti and Willy Mairesse. Then, at the Nurburgring 1000 Kilometers, he and Olivier Gendebien would finish 3rd.
Switching to Owen Racing in 1962, Richie would find himself involved in the Rover-BRM Turbine project. He and teammate Graham Hill would receive an invitation to take part in the 1963 24 Hours of Le Mans. Though not officially entered in the race, the pair would bring the turbine-powered car home in 7th place.
In 1964, Ginther would be back at Le Mans. This time he would come with the brand new GT40 project. Partnered with fellow American Masten Gregory, the number 11 GT40 would start 2nd on the grid. The car would run strong early on but would end up out of the race after gearbox failure. However, in 1965, he and Bob Bondurant would bring their GT40 home in 3rd place in the Daytona 2000 Kilometers.
The 1965 grand prix season would see Ginther join Honda. The season would be filled with bitter disappointments and some low points-scoring results. But, then came the Mexican Grand Prix on the 24th of October.
Richie would start the race from the second row of the grid. At the start, he would make a great start and would end up in the lead by the time the field turned into the first turn. Ginther would remain in the lead while many challengers would fall by the wayside. Dan Gurney would mount a challenge toward the late stages of the races but it would be too late to deny Ginther his first World Championship victory. There he was the small man with a crew-cut standing, finally, on the top step of the podium with that trademark smile beaming. Here he was, though small, standing taller than anyone else. What's more he had taken the Honda team to its first victory in Formula One in just its second year in the series.
The victory would do little to subvert the feelings that had been growing within him. Like many others, Ginther would grow tired of the politics in Formula One. This dissatisfaction certainly appeared to grow more and more evident. In 1967, Richie would join Dan Gurney's Eagle Weslake team. In the past, Ginther had enjoyed some of his greatest moments at Monaco. However, in 1967 he would fail to qualify and this would hit him hard. The death of Lorenzo Bandini certainly had to make him pay more attention to his feelings. Ginther would listen to his emotions and would remember moments, like the 1966 Italian Grand Prix, when he was badly injured and would end up making the decision right then and there to retire from Formula One.
Richie turned his attention to taking part in the Indianapolis 500. He would take to the track for qualifying and would end up not being fast enough to make it into the field. Afterward he would take some time to think about everything and he would realize that racing was no longer fun. Ginther wouldn't vacillate back and forth about Formula One, and he wouldn't do that about racing in general either. That was enough. Just like that, Ginther would retire from driving.
Though he would retire as a driver, Richie would manage Richie Ginther Racing. He would continue with his own team right up into the early 1970s. However, he would tire of that as well and would end up selling everything and living quietly in Rosarito Beach, Mexico.
The quiet life suited Ginther after all the years of Formula One and sportscar racing. Still, he would often entertain old friends and acquaintances from his racing days. Then, in 1989, Richie and his wife, Cleo, would make a trip to England to take part in a BRM team reunion. Making his way to France from England, a heart-attack would suddenly strike. He would end up passing away in the hospital on the 20th of September. That same heart that made him a good friend to many fellow drivers and that carried him to many victories and podium finishes had finally given everything it had.
Amongst his racing brethren, Ginther would likely not stick out as the most talented. He certainly wouldn't stand out as the most successful. However, it would be atrocious not to recognize him at all. And, though his career stats, and his physical stature, would suggest he was a mere man amongst giants, his might, on more than one occasion, would raise him up so that he stood above them all.Sources:
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