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He only saw Formula 1 from behind



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Jo Gartner


Osella-Alfa Romeo FA1E (V12)




1984 San Marino GP (6 May 1984)


Fate seems to be cruel to the kind. Expelled from F1 after shining in the poor Osella, friendly Austrian Jo Gartner was biding his time in sportscars, seemingly waiting in vain for another opportunity to show his single-seater talent. Ultimately, it became an endless wait.

A relative late-starter in motorsports, at age 23 in 1977 Jo started out in the popular low-cost single seater Formula Super Vee series ran on the European continent. The series was supported by Volkswagen Motorsport. The initial Formula Vee cars were ran with the original flat-four 1300cc VW engines. The later Super Vee cars had 1600cc flat-four aircooled units or the new Golf inline OHC watercooled unit as an option. Jo got some help from Kurt Bergmann of the famous Kaimann marque, continuing in this category for 1978 when he proved that despite his late start he had some talent to show. He finished a creditable 3rd overall in the Euro series.

For 1979 Gartner took to Formula 3 with support from Renault Deutschland. Jo moved on Formula Two in 1980 but no points were gained. He also competed in the Procar series for compatriot Dr. Helmut Marko. That was the BMW M1 one-make series that ran together with the European GP races. The following season he spent his days driving a year-old Toleman TG280 and did collect a point with a fine sixth at Enna-Pergusa.

More up-to-date machinery was at his disposal in 1982, with Team Merzario running a March 822, but despite that the fierce competition meant that yet again a sixth place was his best result in 1982. The Class of 82 was a vintage year in F2 with drivers such as Stefan Johansson, Thierry Boutsen, Stefan Bellof, Jean-Louis Schlesser, Johnny Cecotto, Jonathan Palmer, Kenny Acheson, Corrado Fabi among the best of the crop. The following year Jo finally got onto the top step of the podium when he won the coveted street race at Pau, racing a former works Spirit 201.

The win was part of the entry ticket to GP racing. The other part was the necessary sponsorship-money, which in Jo Gartner's case came from Milde Sorte. With it, Jo secured a seat in the perennial back-marker team Osella. For his debut he had to settle with a normally-aspirated Alfa V12-powered FA1E model from the previous year. Yet he qualified the beast in 26th and ran at the back of the field until his V12 expired on lap 46.

After that Gartner would start in the 1984 FA1F car which had the thirsty Alfa V8 turbo for motivation. Amazingly, Jo was able to finish 5th at Monza with the FA1F but was denied the points that go with it, as Osella had only entered one car at the start of the World Championship. Accordingly, the sixth-place finisher, Gartner's illustrious countryman Gerhard Berger in his second drive for ATS, also missed out on his first point. Ironically, it was also Berger to whom Gartner lost out in trying to secure the second Arrows seat for 1985.

In his disappointment he was now forced to look elsewhere for a drive. Luckily, Group C endurance racing was gathering pace and he would soon find employment there. He went on to drive a Porsche 956 for John Fitzpatrick and also raced a 962 for Bob Akin in the IMSA series. Success finally came in sportscars the following year: he won the Sebring 12-hour IMSA race together with Bob Akin and Hans Joachim Stuck and also won an International race held at Thruxton in March 1986. This time he raced a 962 for the Kremer team and already had his sights set on a works seat for the Rothmans Porsche team for 1987.

Sadly, Jo would lose his life when he lost control of his Kremer Porsche 962 on the long Les Hunaudières straight - more commonly referred to as the Mulsanne straight in the English speaking world. He was halfway through the straight at 290km/h speed when he lost the car and was launched over the two-row Armco barriers. Three rows of Armco would be in place the next year…

In a striking resemblance to Bianchi's fatal accident from 1969, the wrecked car hit a telephone pole and turned upside down. It was sliding on its roof when it finally caught fire. Because the car had ended up away from the actual track it took the marshalls a long time to get to the car. Poor Gartner's life could not be saved. Jo was on his in-lap for refuelling so did not have much fuel in his tank. Still it was enough to fuel a blaze that claimed his life. The cause of the crash was never determined. Two marshalls who witnessed the crash saw Gartner suddely brake for something on the straight as the red brake lights were lighted. For some reason Gartner was on the brakes on a part when he should be hard on the throttle. Would he have held back for an animal leaping across the track? We will never know.

Reader's Why by Eric Verkaaik

The picture? Well, that's an easy one. The only occasion in which Jo Gartner had to compete in the antique Osella FA1E (chassis number 2) was at his Formula 1 debut in Imola. The season before the car had been outdated already. The Tony Southgate-designed 1983 chassis was not so bad in itself, but the engine which powered the car was not up to it anymore.

In 1984 turbocharged engines were "de rigueur" and to come up with a heavy, normally aspirated Alfa Romeo V12-engine was not a sign of the Squadra Corse Osella taking Formula 1 very seriously... Nevertheless, Jo Gartner himself was taking it very seriously and his reward at the event was that he actually qualified the car for the race. Okay, teammate Piercarlo Ghinzani had technical problems with the turbo Osella and the Toleman team had political problems (with tyre supplier Pirelli). But in the end Jo Gartner was 26th ahead of Ghinzani and... Ayrton Senna. And that counted. Even a coming together at the Variante Alta with Nigel Mansell's Lotus and the usual accusations afterwards couldn't spoil the joy.

In the race, the first of eight Grands Prix in which Jo started, he managed to keep the car going until lap 48. Of course, being about 12km/h slower on the straightline than the two (only other non-turbocharged) Tyrrells, it must have been a very frustating experience.

Although the name of Jo (officially Josef, knicknamed "Spatzi" or "Seppi") Gartner won't feature prominently in the history books, he really impressed other people with his determination and his attitude. He endured some hard times in lower formulae but never gave up. Born on the 24th of January 1954, Gartner had a technical education. In the summer of 1972 he introduced himself to Kurt Bergmann. Bergmann was the owner of the Kaimann race team which built formula Vee and Super Vee cars. After working on existing designs Gartner eventually redesigned some Kaimann types all by himself.

In 1975 Jo bought an old Formula Vee chassis in which he drove some laps at the Zeltweg and Salzburg circuits. He modified the car and sold it with profit. In his second car he made his race debut at a hill climb in Bad Muhlacken in March 1976. In the first heat he finished second. In the second heat he went for glory... and went off. After some more races in Austria and Germany it started to get serious when he competed in a Super Vee race at the old Nürburgring. Despite an accident at Flugplatz Gartner immediately fell in love with the 'Ring.

Halfway through 1977, when Gartner really started to concentrate on the driving part, he resigned from his job at Kaimann. In 1978 he competed his first full season of racing. With a Lola chassis he was competitive in the European Super Vee championship, finishing 3rd in the series.

Formula 3 was the next step. Gartner got a deal with Renault Germany to compete with a Renault-powered Martini, the same chassis in which Alain Prost would dominate in Europe that year. The name of Gartner's engine was just like Prost's: Renault. But that was the only thing it had in common with the French manufacturer's engine. Gartner's Schrick-tuned engine turned out to be a disaster on power and reliability. Only in the last race of 1979, in Kassel-Kalden, Gartner managed to collect three points. To keep his spirit up Gartner competed in the Formula Super Vee race at Hockenheim during the GP weekend. He won the race easily.

The following winter Gartner bought a 1978 March Formula 2 chassis from countryman Walter Raus who had competed with it in national events. Gartner spent the winter working on the car (more than often in the Kaimann factory) and modified both suspension and the sidepods of the car. In April 1980 Gartner, and his four-man strong team, showed up at Hockenheim. After qualifying Gartner in his two-year-old March was in an amazing 7th place. However, the race turned out to be an Austrian tragedy after the talented Markus Hottinger was hit by a loose tyre from Derek Warwick's Toleman. Hottinger died almost instantly. The fact that Gartner's race was ruined because of debris from the incident, was of no importance.

The following week Gartner accepted the offer to replace Hottinger in Helmut Marko's Procar team. In the Procar series a variety of drivers competed with identical BMW M1s in races which were often held as a support race to Formula 1 GPs. In order to add some extra spice to these races, the top qualifiers from each Formula 1 race also competed in the Procar series. Gartner's debut in Donington was a success. Gartner constantly mixed with the frontrunners and eventually finished fourth in front of GP stars Nelson Piquet and Carlos Reutemann. After this promising race Gartner failed to finish in any of the other races apart from the final one (in Imola) where he finished sixth. All in all the relationship between the not matching personalities of Marko and Gartner was a difficult one which obviously stood in the way of more success.

In Formula 2 Gartner's record was a lot better. In his second EC race (Silverstone) he only just finished outside of the points (seventh) after another strong qualifying performance. Because of financial limits Gartner competed in only six races in which he finished four times without scoring points. He did win in some national events however.

For 1981 Gartner bought the last TG280 Formula 2 chassis built by Toleman, number 09. With this chassis Toleman had actually carried out the first tests with the brand-new Hart 1500cc 4-cylinder turbo engine in preparation for its Formula 1 debut.

Over the winter Jo had to redesign the back of the car to make it suitable for a Heidegger-BMW Formula 2 engine. The rear suspension was a complete new design "by Gartner". Although he worked flat-out on the car, Gartner missed the first races. But he managed to get the car ready for the third race, at the Nürburgring. A third position after first qualifying was his reward. In the race Gartner soon lost fourth gear, an essential one on this circuit. Gartner slowly lost a few places and (again) finished seventh 0.2 seconds behind Kenny Acheson's Toleman.

Again Gartner's program was limited by his budget. At that time he was not only being the team's driver, he also had to prepare his car and be a mechanic as well. To keep costs low, he and girlfriend Doris (who gave up her own career in order to be the team manager) spend the season living and traveling in a camper from race to race. But even so they were running out of money. Finally they got help from countryman Herbert Maier, boss of the Emco Machines company. Gartner and Maier were to stay friends untill Gartner's fatal accident in 1986.

The first race with Emco sponsoring resulted in Jo's first point (sixth place at Sicily's Enna circuit). The following race, on a rainy Francorchamps track, Gartner was pushed off by backmarker and countryman Sewi Hopfer in the closing stages while lying in a comfortable third place. He had made his mark however and was invited by Arturo Merzario to drive one of his semi works-Marches.

Gartner stayed with the Italian team for 1982, but the organisation turned out to be desastrous. Before the end of the year Gartner and team colleague Richard Dallest were both replaced by some Italian pay-drivers. Gartner's only highlights had been a sixth place in the opening race at Silverstone and - again - a stunning qualifying performance at his beloved Nürburgring (third position).

After learning his Italian lesson, Gartner again formed his own team for 1983. This time the financial part was in place thanks to Emco, Austrian tobacco brand Milde Sorte and a paying second driver: veteran and fellow Austrian 'Pierre Chauvet'. The cars which were bought were the ex-works Spirit 201s in which Thierry Boutsen and Stefan Johansson had won races in 1982. Again Gartner had to modify the cars to make them ready for the Heidegger-prepared BMW engines. During 1983 the team constantly improved the cars and eventually became a steady frontrunning outfit.

Highlight was Gartner's win in the streets of Pau. Although the car was not yet really competitive at that moment, Gartner led in the rain-affected race. On a drying track he opted to stay out on his wet Bridgestone tyres while his main rivals (the Michelin-shod Maurers) had made an extra pitstop for slick tyres. After a tough (even wheel-banging) battle, Alain Ferté overtook Gartner on the last lap to win the race. After the race and the ceremony Ferté's Maurer was disqualified for being 7kg underweight. Gartner was declared the winner. At the next race Ferté handed Jo the winner's trophy. Together with point-scoring results at Hockenheim and Enna, Gartner finished the championship in sixth position with 14 points.

In August 1983 Gartner tried to get a deal with German Formula 1 team ATS to drive one of its BMW-powered turbo cars in the Austrian GP. Everything seemed in place but a few days before the event teamboss Günther Schmid decided against the second entry.

Over the winter Gartner managed to get his much hoped Formula 1 deal after all! Emco Machines and Milde Sorte were paying for the ride at the small but enthusiastic Italian Osella Squadra Corse. However, the deal was done very late. Therefore the team was too late to nominate Gartner at the FIA. Because of that Gartner's participation wouldn't be eligible for points. Initially Gartner's debut was planned for the second part of 1984, but under pressure of sponsor Milde Sorte Osella was forced to enter a car at the third race in Imola. And because of a heavy accident at the first GP, Osella had only one turbo car left. So, Gartner had to make his debut in the old 1983-type Osella. In preparation for his Formula 1 debut Gartner competed in the first two Formula 2 races of 1984, without any success, and tested an Osella for one day at Imola.

After his debut Gartner had to wait until mid-July for his second GP, his first turbo outing. Via a test in Zeltweg he endured a troublesome qualifying at Brands Hatch. His race lasted only half a lap. His brand-new car (FA1F chassis number 4) was damaged in a massive crash at Druids in which half a dozen of cars were involved. In the week after the British GP, Gartner and his manager tried to make a deal with the Toleman team which had a vacancy after driver Johnny Cecotto broke his legs in a practice accident. But the money Toleman wanted was too much for Gartner and Co. Gartner meanwhile competed in the Spa Francorchamps 24-hour race and finished in a strong fourth place. He had very much enjoyed the racing during the night.

In Hockenheim the Alfa Romeo V8 turbo engine burst into flames after just five laps and after a fine qualifying effort at Zeltweg his race lasted only seven laps, again after engine failure.

These early retirements were a big problem for Gartner. In his contract with his sponsors there was a clause which stated that he had to complete 100 race laps before the next payments to Osella were made. So when Gartner arrived in Zandvoort for his fifth GP, he had to convince an impatient Enzo Osella that the next payment was already underway. Gartner was really under pressure. And again qualifying was full of problems. It was obvious that the team wasn't really up to the task of preparing two cars. More than often Gartner missed half of practice or qualifying simply because the car wasn't prepared in time!

In the race Jo drove very carefully and concentrated on keeping his car out of problems. And despite the fact that he sat in a fuel bath for half of the race (due to a leak), which caused him some burn injuries, he managed to get the car to finish in 14th place. The race at Zandvoort saved his Formula 1 career at that time. Two weeks later, Gartner enjoyed one of his career highlights at the Italian GP in Monza. Due to a lot of retirements and a remarkable reliability from the Osella cars, Gartner and teammate Piercarlo Ghinzani were in sixth and fifth a few laps from the finish. Then Ghinzani's car ran out of fuel - not surprising as the Alfa Romeo turbo engines ware not really economical on fuel. Gartner had been more aware of the fuel consumption during the race. But a with a few laps to go Gartner lost fifth gear. And on the final lap his engine also cut out. In his mirror Gartner (now in fifth) saw countryman and arch rival Gerhard Berger (in sixth) closing in his ATS-BMW. Gartner reacted instinctively: he steered left and right a few times, hit the clutch, shifted down to second gear, put on the electric fuelpump, lifted his left foot and... the engine fired up again. The Osella rounded the Parabolica and Gartner saved his fifth place and finished about 10 metres in front of Berger. With Niki Lauda winning the race it was a unique moment with three Austrian drivers finishing in the top six.

As stated before, Gartner and Osella didn't get the two points they truly deserved because his entry was nominated too late at the FIA in Paris.

The last two races of the season (at the Nürburgring and Estoril) Gartner drove reliably until he ran out of fuel on both occasions. He was classified 13th and 16th. The next winter Gartner and manager David Gulda had serious talks with Toleman and Arrows while keeping in touch with Osella as well. Toleman once again proved to be too expensive. In the end Gartner and Gerhard Berger were the only two candidates for the second Arrows-BMW seat. On the 14th of March 1985 Gulda had a two-hour meeting in Amsterdam with Arrows boss Jacky Oliver. After the meeting Gulda thought he had done the deal. But one day later, after having enjoyed some cross-country skiing with Gartner, they heard Gerhard Berger on the radio announcing his deal with Arrows... The next week an eleventh-hour deal with Osella also fell through because of some extra funds which Piercarlo Ghinzani brought to the team. It meant the end of Gartner's Formula 1 dream.

In 1985 Gartner's program was limited to some Group C races with Fitzpatrick Racing. Again Gartner proved succesful in a 24-hour race, this time at Le Mans. Together with David Hobbs Gartner drove to an impressive fourth place. The third driver of the team, Guy Edwards proved to be very slow in the race and was rested after two stints during the race. Especially during the night Gartner showed his talent and speed which eventually resulted in a contract for 1986 with the established Group C team of the German Kremer brothers. In November 1985 he competed in the famous Macau formula 3 race where he finished 10th. A week after Macau Gartner made his debut in the American Group C series, IMSA.

In 1986 Gartner competed in three championships: the Group C World Championship (with Kremer), the German Interserie (also with Kremer) and the IMSA (with Bob Akin's Coca Cola sponsored Porsche). In three months Gartner had competed in more races than he had done in the whole of 1985. And he was succesful too. But despite his success, he saw his racing in sportscars just as a period of earning some decent money in preparation of a comeback to single-seaters. He kept his Formula 1 dream very much alive.

He finished third in the Miami IMSA race, together with teammate Hans-Joachim Stuck, and won the famous 12-hour race at Sebring. Gartner had the honour of finishing this race on three wheels after the left front wheel had come off on the last lap.

Gartner won the Interserie round at Thruxton as well and finished a strong third in the Group C race at Silverstone (together with Tiff Needell). And then his second Le Mans 24-hour race was on the program. It was to be his last race. The whole weekend the brand-new Kremer-Porsche's handling had been impredictable. But Gartner's spirit was on a high because he had come to an agreement with the factory Rothmans Porsche team for 1987.

Gartner and team mates Van der Merwe and Takahashi decided to drive a conservative race until morning. But at 3:10 Sunday morning, just after Gartner had taken over from Van der Merwe, tragedy happened. Probably because of a suspension failure Gartner lost control over his car on the fearsome Mulsanne straight at a speed around 350km/h. Gartner suffered a broken neck and died instantly.

As a driver, Gartner had a reputation for being very difficult to pass. It reflected his dedication and determination which had brought him to Formula 1 against all odds. On the other hand Gartner was a very cheerful and positive character who always tried to put his career into perspective. Despite the hard times he endured, he never claimed that motorsport owed him a living. He dedicated his life to it. Sadly the sport didn't pay him back.