COBOURN: Remembering Chris Amon, 73

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Chris Amon celebrates after winning the 1969 New Zealand Grand Prix at Pukekohe. The win was one of four for him in the Tasman Series that year. (Archives New Zealand photo)

Chris Amon celebrates after winning the 1969 New Zealand Grand Prix at Pukekohe. The win was one of four for him in the Tasman Series that year. (Archives New Zealand photo)

ROTORUA, N.Z. —  Chris Amon, the 1966 winner of the Le Mans 24 Hours and former Formula One World Championship driver, died Aug. 3 in a hospital in New Zealand of cancer. He was 73.

Having started in 96 Formula One races from 1963 to 1976, Amon was perennially known for his poor luck. Driving for Ferrari from 1967 to 1969, Amon qualified on pole three times in 1968, but could only score one point from those three starts. His duel with Jo Siffert in the British Grand Prix was a career highlight, but after leading the Canadian Grand Prix with a broken clutch, the car broke with 17 laps to go.

He would leave Ferrari in 1969, right before their 312 model improved to bring Jacky Ickx within shouting distance of the 1970 title. Joining the French Matra team in 1971, Amon would once again come tantalizingly close to another win in 1972, where on the rocky Clermont-Ferrand circuit, he would lead until a flat tire caused a pit stop. Flying through the field, he smashed the lap record to finish third.

But was he really that unlucky? No, not really.

A couple years ago, when Andrea de Cesaris sadly passed away, I wrote a piece for my college newspaper about how the Italian’s record didn’t reflect his abilities. Looking back on Amon’s career, his record really doesn’t reflect it.

While not a winner at World Championship level, the bold New Zealander was quite a force in the non-title races of the era. In the winter time Tasman Series, held in Australia and New Zealand from 1964 to 1969, Amon was a strong driver.

While the cars were just a half-liter off actual Formula One specs, the racing was fierce. Battling Jim Clark’s Lotus in his Ferrari, Amon won two races to finish second behind the Scotsman in the 1968 Series.

One year later, he had to battle the strong Lotus team once more, this time beating the reigning World Champion Graham Hill and the ever quick Jochen Rindt. Over seven races, he took his Ferrari to four wins, two thirds and one DNF to claim the final Tasman Series for Formula One machinery. Add to that his non-title wins at Silverstone in 1970 and Buenos Aires in 1971, against top-level fields, and his Formula One career doesn’t seem like a bust.

In sports cars too, he was perennially a good driver. In addition to his 1966 Le Mans win with Bruce McLaren in the magnificent Ford GT40, he claimed the 1967 Daytona 24 Hours and Monza 1,000km with Lorenzo Bandini in the beautiful Ferrari P4.

In Can-Am racing, Amon did not have as much luck as he did in endurance racing, but he gave it his all in both McLaren, whom he drove for in the inaugural season of 1966, and Ferrari machinery.

For all of his success on the tracks of the world, his luck came off of it. While Mario Andretti once quipped that if Amon “became an undertaker, people would stop dying,” it’s a miracle that Amon was one of the survivors of the era.

Driving from 1963 to 1976, Amon was on a World Championship grid with 22 drivers who would perish behind the wheel of a race car at one time or another. Friends such as Bruce McLaren, Denny Hulme and Bandini are on the list, as are other great drivers such as Jim Clark, Ronnie Peterson and Mark Donohue.

Of Clark’s death, Amon once said, “If this can happen to Jimmy, what chance do the rest of us have?”

Having lived to see his seventies, Amon is truly one of the lucky ones. While it is always a shame to see another hero of that era pass, leaving us with only a few, Chris Amon’s life was filled with good fortune.

And regardless of how everyone else chooses to reflect on him, that good fortune is what I will choose to reflect on when I think back on him.

Godspeed, friend.

The opinions expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views of Race Chaser Online, Speed77 Radio, the Performance Motorsports Network, their sponsors or other contributors.


About the Writer

Jack Cobourn is the international motorsports correspondent at Race Chaser Online, and covers the V8 Supercars Championship, Rally Cars and the FIA World Rally Championship.

Cobourn has been an avid follower of motorsports for years, having not missed a Formula One race in 16 seasons. He is a graduate of the University of Delaware, with a degree in history and a minor in journalism.

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