As this year marks the 30th anniversary of Canadian racing legend Gilles Villeneuve, Auto123.com contacted Pierre Dupasquier, former competition director at Michelin, so he could tell us a few stories…
"Every moment spent with Gilles was great," Dupasquier, now retired, declares right away.
"I met him for the first time during a test session prior to the 1978 season at Fiorano. Before he went out, Gilles received a few instructions from Mauro Forghieri, the technical director and by the time he completed his first lap, he had spun three times. On the second lap, he did two more. When he pulled into the pits, Forghieri told him: 'Listen Gilles, this is not a Formula Atlantic car. This is a Formula 1 car and you've got to learn to manage the brakes.'
"'But I haven't even started using them yet!' Gilles answered, giving Mauro his same innocent look as always," laughs Dupasquier.
|Pierre Dupasquier (Photo: WRi2)
"Gilles was excessive by nature. Whatever motorized vehicle he had in his hands, it had to be revving its guts out. He had absolute faith in his driving abilities too," he adds, before going on about how great Villeneuve also was on the technical side.
"Because Gilles was always flat out, we could rely on his lap times to be accurate. If there was a two tenths gap, we knew it came from the tires, not from him, because he was so consistent. He could go on forever lapping within an incredibly tight window. For us, that was precious. He could tell what was wrong with the tires, which ones handled good in high and low speed corners.
"Very precise he was, indeed."
Then, came Villeneuve's first victory in Formula One, at the 1978 Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal, on a cold October day. Dupasquier narrates how the home boy built his win.
"At the times, we weren't restricted as far as tires were concerned. Before a weekend, we chose which compounds we might need according to the track. But since we had never been to Montreal, we had no data. So we brought pretty much everything.
"Carlos Reutemann (his teammate) went to the safe side. But Gilles, bold as he was, went the other way. He took a tire we knew little about and did two laps with it in practice. Because it was so cold, we thought the soft compound might just be fine. We had a chat with him about it, he said it would be difficult, but thought it was worth a shot anyway. So off he went.
"And he won."
|Pierre Dupasquier (center) with Mauro Forghieri and Jody Scheckter in 1979. (Photo: WRi2)
As everybody knows, Gilles wasn't only bold on grand prix weekends. He was just as extreme every other day of the week. Dupasquier tells the story of when he had to fly back from Spain with Villeneuve after a day of testing in Jarama.
"I had a Renault 5 rental car. We were running out of time before our flights, but Gilles was still in his Ferrari. When he finished, he got out of the car, got dressed and took my keys. Then, we both jumped in the little R5, him at the wheel.
"That was my most memorable drive ever. He was banging gears absolutely at the top of the engine's lungs, but with incredible ease. His talent was immense," he remembers.
"Two moments stayed with me forever after that drive. The first was when we caught up with a truck in our lane, and a bus coming the other way. Gilles didn't have a chance in hell of going through, but there was a grass shoulder on the right side. So that's where he went, passed the truck and somehow impeccably gathered it back up at the other end.
"Then there was that time we got to a 'T' intersection where we had to turn right. There was also a queue of five of six cars waiting to turn. Gilles, apparently, had no intention of joining the line-up. So again, he went to the right, almost fell in the ditch, and under a big sign. I thought we were going to hit it but the small car slid under no problem.
"That was pure Gilles: all dangerous, but all relax."