Jose Froilan Gonzales (b. 1922)
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Jose Froilan Gonzales

Jose Gonzales (right) with 1950 World Champion Nino Farina
Jose Gonzales (right) with 1950 World Champion Nino Farina.
Jose Froilan Gonzales was one of the most popular and talented of the bunch of South American drivers who invaded the European motor-racing scene in the 1950s. He never matched the almost clinical tidiness of his countryman Juan Manuel Fangio, because his technique at the wheel of a racing car was to hurl it at every corner as fast as it would possibly go, sorting out the slides with lightning movements of his enormous arms.

Like Fangio, Gonzalez, who was born in 1922, raced the primitive cars used in Argentinean road races, but these powerful old cars with poor roadholding helped him to achieve a great deal of skill in controlling slides on the dirt roads often used in local races. The Argentinian Government under President Peron was amiably disposed towards motor racing in the late 1940s and early 1950s, so in 1950 Gonzalez was given the opportunity to join Fangio in Europe.

He was given a drive in the Scuderia Argentina team of 4CL T Maseratis, taking the place of Fangio, who had gone to the works Alfa Romeo team. He soon showed his skill, with a heat victory in the Albi GP and second overall on total time. In early 1951 he returned to Argentina for the early-season races, taking a 2-litre Ferrari to Buenos Aires, where he gained the ecstatic admiration of his countrymen by beating the pre-war 1939 blown 3-Iitre Mercedes-Benz Grand Prix cars, although the German cars were by no means running well.

Back in Europe he drove one of the big 4½-litre Talbots in the Paris GP, where he finished second, and he also drove a sports version at Le Mans, with his countryman Onofre Marimon, but they retired. He was offered a place in the Ferrari team of 4½-litre Formula One cars later in the season, when Taruffi was taken ill, and in his first race; the French GP at Reims, he was holding second place when he was obliged to hand over to his team leader Ascari.

The Grande Epreuve at Silverstone

He stayed with Ferrari for the rest of the 1951 season, winning his first Grande Epreuve at Silverstone when he won the British GP after an initial battle with Fangio's Alfa Romeo. This spirited drive earned Gonzalez the affection of the British motor-racing public who christened him the Pampas Bull, because of his 18-stone figure and his hard-driving tactics. He took third place in the German GP, followed by second places at Barcelona and Monza, and finished third in the World Championship, behind Fangio and Ascari. He also took second place at Bari and at Modena in a Formula Two race.

For 1952 Gonzalez was signed by Maserati to drive their 2-litre car in World Championship races; he had little luck against the rapid Ferraris and he preferred to blow up his engine rather than finish in a low position. His only placing of note was a second at the Italian GP. He also handled the 1½-litre BRMs in races at Silverstone, Albi and Goodwood and put up some brave performances in these difficult cars, with a couple of minor wins at Goodwood to his credit. He also drove the Thinwall Special to victory at Goodwood.

Gonzales stayed with Maserati for 1953 but again he played second fiddle to the Ferraris, although he took third places in the Argentine, Dutch and French GPs and fourth in the British GP. Another brave display in the Albi GP with a V16 BRM almost brought victory, but tire failure caused him to settle for second place. With the coming of the 2½-litre Formula One in 1954, he joined the Ferrari team. This change brought him more success, as he won the British GP again - his second and final GP win - and finished second at the German and Swiss GPs, third in the Argentinean and Italian GPs and fourth in the Belgian GP.

Jose Gonzales pictured at Silverstone in 1951 in a 4.5 liter Ferrari
Jose Gonzales pictured at Silverstone in 1951 in a 4.5 liter Ferrari.
His British GP win at Silverstone was taken at the expense of countryman Fangio in the all-conquering new Mercedes 'Silver Arrow', so his victory was all the more popular in Britain. He took second place in the World Championship for 1954 and also won the Le Mans 24-hour race in a 4.9 Ferrari, co-driving with Maurice Trintignant. He was, however, less successful in long-distance sports-car races because he tended to break the cars. His career was interrupted by a bad crash during practice for the 1954 TT race at Dundrod in a 3-litre Ferrari. He had a broken shoulder and other injuries and decided to retire from racing, but he took part in the Argentine GP of 1955, sharing the third placed Ferrari with Farina and Trintignant.

The Pampas Bull

However, he decided not to come to Europe for the remainder of the 1955 season and restricted himself to local events. He drove a 3-litre Maserati with Jean Behra into third place in the 1956 Buenos Aires 1,000 km. race and was temporarily lured back to Europe later in the year to drive a Van wall at his favorite circuit-Silverstone. The car broke its transmission at the start, however, and he went back to Argentina never to return. From then on Gonzales took part only in South American events, usually with a Chevrolet engined Ferrari, but he did enter the 1957 Argentinian GP, where he drove a Ferrari with the Marquis de Portago, finishing fifth.

The burly Argentinian gradually eased himself out of racing to concentrate on his garage business. There is little doubt that he would have won far more races and probably taken the 1954 World Championship, had it not been for the skill of Juan Manuel Fangio.Today we remember him for his nicknames, The Pampas Bull (by his English fans) and El Cabezón (Fat Head, by his close colleagues). History will always record that he was overshadowed by Fangio, and he never contested a full world championship season despite being a Ferrari and Maserati factory driver.

Gonzales eased off his racing activities following the death of compatriot Onofre Marimon at the Nurburgring in 1954 two weeks after winning his second British Grand Prix. He continued to make sporadic appearances until 1960 and he would surely have won more grands prix had he accepted Tony Vandervell's overtures to become a full-time Vanwall driver after his one-off apperance at Silverstone in 1956.
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