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Jo Gartner

Full Name:
Josef Gartner
24th January 1954
1st June 1986 (Aged 32)
Le Mans, Pays de la Loire (F), Le Mans 24 Hours
Most recent race (in database):

Jo Gartner was a determined and talented driver whose career was forever compromised by a lack of sponsorship. That he made it to Grand Prix racing was impressive enough.

Early racing career

He began in Formula Super Vee in 1977 and was runner-up in the series a year later. He graduated to European Formula 3 in 1979 but it was another year before his career gathered momentum.

Fourth at Donington Park at the start of the 1980 BMW M1 Procar Championship, he ran his own two-year-old March-BMW in that year’s Formula 2 series. A Toleman TG280-BMW was acquired for the 1981 European F2 Championship when Gartner turned rookie promise into a sixth place finish at Enna-Pergusa and third on the grid at Spa-Francorchamps.

He joined Arturo Merzario’s ramshackle F2 team in 1982 and his March 822-BMW immediately came sixth in Silverstone’s opening round. Third in qualifying at the old Nürburgring was another highlight but the team was a shambles and Gartner’s form suffered.

Victory at Pau

Back running his own car once more in 1983 – the Austrian was sponsor hunter, Team Manager, mechanic and driver. He converted an ex-works Spirit 201 to BMW-power himself and was rewarded at Pau. It was a confusing affair as conditions changed but Gartner nursed his wet weather tyres to lead in the closing stages.

He seemed to have lost the win when passed by Alain Ferté’s Maurer-BMW on the penultimate lap. But his rival (minus nosecone after a feisty performance) was disqualified as his car was underweight and Gartner was handed a highly popular victory.

Formula 1 with Osella

Success bred sponsorship and Gartner graduated to Formula 1 in 1984 when driving the second Osella-Alfa Romeo in eight GPs thanks to backing from a local tobacco brand. He invariably qualified the uncompetitive car toward the rear of the grid but finished fifth in the Italian GP. However, his car was not a regular in the world championship and so was not eligible to score points.

Discussed as a possible driver for Arrows in 1985, he travelled to the opening race in Brazil wrongly thinking that he had been retained by Osella. Without an F1 drive, Gartner raced John Fitzpatrick’s Porsche 956B in IMSA and was fourth in the Le Mans 24 Hours with David Hobbs and Guy Edwards.

The 1986 season began with victory in the Sebring 12 Hours with Bob Akin’s Coca-Cola Porsche 962 despite crossing the line on three wheels. The Austrian also raced Kremer Porsches in Europe that year and was a fine third at Silverstone with Tiff Needell as his co-driver. That was the then traditional dress-rehearsal for Le Mans but the French classic was a tragic event. Gartner was running eighth at 3.10am when he crashed sweeping onto the Mulsanne Straight. His car hit the barrier at 160mph and Gartner was killed on impact.