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When I Met Clay Regazzoni

When I heard that the Clay Regazzoni Memorial Room was being moved from Lugano to Romanshorn, my mind automatically opened the drawer of memories of my relations with him. And so, I decided to see what was inside, and tell the Speedholics fans and readers all about him.

Photos courtesy of Luigi Marmiroli Archive

I don’t think I can add much to the streams of words, and the many books and websites about the man, but it was a great pleasure to look back over the time I spent with Clay Regazzoni. The autumn of 1970 was one of the best periods in my – private and professional – life, and Clay, who I hadn’t met yet, was – unbeknown to him – one of the main reasons for this.

In late August I was on my honeymoon in Apulia, visiting the beaches and the splendid Romanic architecture. Just a month earlier, I had been hired directly by the ‘Commendatore Ferrari’ to follow the racing drivers around the circuits all over the world. And when I learned that Clay Regazzoni had dominated the Formula 1 Grand Prix in Monza in his Ferrari 312 B, I immediately thought that I would become his race engineer. I was in seventh heaven.

But things didn’t go exactly like that. On my first day working at Ferrari, they changed my job description. No longer on the track with Clay but in the Studies Office, where, overseen by Franco Rocchi, the Ferrari Sport Prototype 312P was being designed. So, the first time I shook Clay’s hand we weren’t on the track, as I had hoped, but in the office, where Clay, a curious man, came to see the designers working on his car. The Ferrari 312 P needed two drivers, and Clay, along with Jacky Ickx, won a splendid race at the 1000 km of Monza.

After the inauguration of the new track in Fiorano, Clay tested the Formula 1 and Sport Prototypes there, and during the breaks between test drives, we came down from the offices to talk with him and his mechanics.

In late 1973, before returning to Ferrari with Lauda, Clay organised an exhibition of competition cars in Lugano, and asked Ferrari to put his F1 on display too. Ferrari sent two representatives along with the car, myself and Giacomo Caliri. And it was exactly during those few days in Lugano that I had the chance to get to know him better.

Three years later, Clay left Ferrari for the second and last time. And so did Caliri and I, when we set up the Fly-Studio in Modena. From that point on, our acquaintance turned into friendship. Clay went to race for Ensign, an English team with very few resources and little competitive performance.

By chance, I found the drawing of a rear spoiler in my archive that we had designed and built for his car, the Ensign 177, even though the car didn’t have much fortune.

Many people around Parma, Reggio Emilia and Modena were very fond of Clay. Some of his sponsors, who went on to become close friends, supported him in his darkest hours following the accident that left him paralysed from the waist down. Many of his mechanics, as well as us engineers, were always pleased when he came to visit.

At that time, Clay dedicated a splendid poster to my three children. I have many memories of him in my study, leafing through my archive, and in fact one of my grandchildren even devoted a painting to him.

As I closed the drawer of memories, one last rather foggy but entertaining episode came to mind. I think it was Christmas 1974, and Clay lost the Formula 1 World Championships by just three points.

With his happy-go-lucky character, he had already got over the disappointment and he gave everyone who had worked with him a bottle of champagne.

Rumour had it that Niki Lauda, a man with a completely different character, tore him off a strip bitterly for that spontaneous gesture, because it forced the Austrian to follow his example.


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