Australian motorsport legend, and sometime F1 racer, Frank Gardner passed away at his Gold Coast home on Saturday, ending a long-time battle with illness. He was 78.
Born in October 1930, Gardner had more than 40 years involvement in motorsport in Australia and overseas, with activities ranging from racing a Norton motorcycle at Bathurst when it was a dirt road to driving Formula One cars, and making 14 starts in the Le Mans 24-hour sports car classic in France.
Gardner began his motorsport career on two wheels, racing solo speedway motorcycles in the late 1940s. He raced a car, an MG, for the first time in 1949 - and won - before heading overseas to further his career.
He made eight F1 starts in 1964 and 1965, driving Brabhams against the likes of Jim Clark, Graham Hill, Jackie Stewart, John Surtees, Sir Jack Brabham, Bruce McLaren, Jochen Rindt, and Denny Hulme, but his greatest success came in tin-tops and sportscars, becoming a works driver for Porsche, Lola, General Motors, Ford, Brabham, and Lotus.
“This is just a very, very sad time,” three-time F1 world champion Sir Jack Brabham admitted, “Frank was a friend for so many years and it is sad that it has had to come to an end.
“Frank was different, a real character who everyone loved to have around – he could make you laugh. He had a driving talent – he could drive anything – sportscars, single-seaters, saloon cars, everything. He drove some of our cars for a while and did a great job of that."
He competed regularly in the Le Mans 24 Hours, but his record overseas also included winning the European F5000, F2 and Touring Car championships, as well as both the British Saloon Car Championship and the British Champion Racing Driver award. He was also the first driver to win 100 international races for Ford and was awarded a special trophy to celebrate the occasion by members of the Ford family in Detroit.
Gardner returned home in 1975 and, two years later, won the Australian Sports Sedan Championship in a Chevrolet Corvair. He eventually retired from driving in 1977, but turned to team management, guiding Jim Richards to the Australian Touring Car Championship title in 1985 in a BMW 635csi and in 1987 in a BMW M3. In 1988, he was team manager for Tony Longhurst and Tomas Mezera when they won the Bathurst 1000 in a turbocharged Ford Sierra.
“Frank and I raced each other in New Zealand in the early '70s and then again when I moved to Australia,” Richards recalls, “I drove for him from 1982 to 1987 and they were probably best years of my career.