Richie Ginther (1930 - 1989)
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Richie Ginther

Richie Ginther

Paul Richard Ginther

For many years during the late 1950s and early 1960s, America's Richie Ginther was one of the world's leading Grand Prix drivers, offering formidable opposition to the European aces. Ginther, Phil Hill and Dan Gurney showed the world that the USA could produce racing drivers of the highest calibre.

Born in Los Angeles in 1930, Paul Richard Ginther was given a grounding in motor engineering and began work as a motor mechanic. He moved to Santa Monica where his interest in motor racing led him into a friendship with Phil Hill who, in 1950, was just beginning his international career.

With Hill's encouragement, Ginther took up racing himself with an MG TC, but two years National Service as an aircraft mechanic kept him off the tracks until 1953. In that year, Hill invited Ginther to ride with him as mechanic in his Ferrari on the famous Mexican Road Race. They crashed, but Ginther's enthusiasm was not dampened and he returned for a further spell in the passenger's seat the following year when Hill drove a 4½-liter Ferrari into second place.

Sports Car Club of America Events

Ginther returned to his work as a car mechanic when he left the services but he chose to work for dealers who ran racing teams and, before long, he was being invited to race the machines he prepared. He handled sports cars like the vicious 4.9-liter Ferrari and an Aston Martin DB3S, but it was with a Porsche Spyder that Ginther's name really came to public notice, as he won several races in Sports Car Club of America events. Phil Hill was firmly entrenched as a works Ferrari driver in the late 1950s and it was no doubt his persuasion that caused Enzo Ferrari to invite Ginther to Europe.

He had, in fact, already made a trip to Europe to drive a 2-Iitre Ferrari for Luigi Chinetti in the 1957 Le Mans race without making any great impact, but Ferrari was well disposed towards American drivers since he felt that this encouraged sales of his road cars in the USA. Ginther joined the Ferrari team in 1960 and, despite having famous team mates like Phil Hill, Wolfgang von Trips, Willy Mairesse and Cliff Allison, he showed that he was a first class driver. He finished second in the Buenos Aires 1000 km race with von Trips, then took sixth place in the Monaco GP on his Grand' Prix debut and followed up with second place in the Italian GP at the Monza circuit.

Ferrari soon appreciated Ginther's engineering talent and he was given the task of track testing all new Ferrari models as well as being a team member of both the sports-car and Grand Prix teams. With the new 1½-liter Ferrari in 1961, Ginther usually had to give best to his more experienced team mates but he finished a memorable second at Monaco when Stirling Moss' underpowered Lotus outwitted the Ferraris; only Ginther could get within striking distance of the maestro. He also took third place in the Belgian and British GPs and a fifth in the Dutch GP to end up with fifth place in the World Championship.

Sports-Car Racing

In sports-car racing, he co-drove with von Trips to second place in the Sebring 12 Hours and third at the Nurburgring. Ferrari did not pay their drivers very well in the early 1960s, so Ginther defected to BRM in 1962 where he again had to play second fiddle, this time to Graham Hill who won the World Championship. However, Ginther finished second in the Italian GP, third in the French GP and third in the Natal GP in South Africa with the 1½-liter V8 BRM. He remained with BRM in 1963, taking second place at Monaco and Monza and third in the French GP, to tie with team leader Hill for second place in the Championship. He also finished second in the non-Championship Oulton Park Gold Cup.

Richie Ginther behind the wheel of his 1.5 liter Honda V12 during the 1965 Belgian Grand Prix at Spa
Richie Ginther behind the wheel of his 1.5 liter Honda V12 during the 1965 Belgian Grand Prix at Spa. It was a good year for Ginther, who would take out the Mexican Grand Prix later in the year.
For his final season with BRM, Ginther finished every World Championship race he started, although once again the elusive victory did not come his way. He finished second at Monaco again, eleventh in the Dutch GP, fourth in the Belgian, fifth in the French, eighth in the British, seventh in the German, second in the Austrian, fourth in the Italian, fourth in the US and eighth in the Mexican. For the 1965 season, Ginther was invited to join the Honda team, but the 1½-liter V12 Japanese car was a troublesome machine and he usually finished well down the field. But in the final race of the 1965 season, the Mexican Grand Prix, the Honda held together and Ginther recorded his first and only GP victory.

Ginther also raced for Ford in long-distance races but his only good finish was a third place in the 1965 Daytona 24 Hour race. Ginther stayed with Honda in 1966 for the first season of the new 3-liter Formula but as the V12 car was not ready he drove a Cooper-Maserati occasionally, taking fifth place in the Belgian Grand Prix. Ginther crashed the Honda during its debut at the Italian GP but he finished fourth in the Mexican GP. For 1967, his countryman Dan Gurney asked Ginther to join him in running the Eagle-Weslake Formula One cars but they were very troublesome and, although Ginther practised several times, he never got into a race, and midway through the season he decided to retire.

Although he had only won the one race, he had achieved 14 podiums, scored a total of 107 championship points and was considered by many to be on the fringe of greatness. He appeared in an uncredited role in the 1966 film Grand Prix as John Hogarth, a driver in the Japanese funded “Yamura” team. He also acted as one of the technical racing advisors for the movie. Post retirement, in June 1969, he participated in a rally with sixty-five other competitors, including actor James Garner. The California Sports Car Club event was three hours cross country from Los Angeles to Huntington Beach. It benefited students from the Braille Institute. Ginther managed a Porsche 911-s with two American drivers during the 39th 24 hours of Le Mans, in June 1971.

The tiny, crew cut, carrot-haired Ginther was a much admired member of the Grand Prix circus. He would die of a heart attack while on vacation with his family in France on September 20, 1989.
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