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Saturday, February 2
Big Mo hopes to stick around CART
By Robin Miller
He was the British Formula 3 champion in 1985, a Formula One regular for five seasons and spent the past nine years competing in Championship Auto Racing Teams.
He led the most laps in the 1995 Indy 500 and was the first open-wheel driver to ever qualify at 240 mph, yet only scored one victory in America.
He lost his best friend, Ayrton Senna, in a 1994 accident and one of his twin six-year-old sons, Giuliano, last year to a terminal illness.
But, throughout the turbulence of his career, Mauricio Gugelmin always maintained a sense of balance and humor that made him one of the most well liked racers on this planet.
"Big Mo" has decided to walk away from motorsports after 20-plus years, a pair of big crashes last year and the traumatic injury to Alex Zanardi, who lost both legs last September.
"Yes, after those two big accidents and Alex's deal in Germany, I said 'That's it, it's time,"' said Gugelmin, who managed to walk away from a 135-G impact at Texas Motor Speedway last April thanks to the HANS Device and CART's ever-evolving safety in and around the cockpit.
"I want to spend more time with my family and I know my wife (Stella) is happy but I think she's going to get tired of me being around all the time very quickly."
The 38-year-old Brazilian rocketed into F1 in 1988 following championship runs in British Formula Ford, European Ford 2000 and British Formula 3. He roomed with soon-to-be F1 legend Senna in a little flat in London from 1982-87 and still treasures the memories.
"We had a great time together and we were chasing our dream," said Gugelmin, whose F1 days never featured a front-line team so he headed for CART full-time in 1994. "One of the most ironic things was when I left to come to America.
"Ayrton called me up and one of the last things he told me was to be careful of those walls on the ovals. Then, a couple of months later, he gets killed hitting a wall in Formula One."
Gugelmin's finest hour in CART came in 1997 when he triumphed at Vancouver, captured three poles and finished fourth in the FedEx Championship. That was also the season he ran a practice lap of 242.33 mph at California Speedway before winning the pole at 240.942 mph.
"I just remember how far ahead I was looking on those laps because the corners were coming up real fast," he chuckled. "But to see Bruce's (McCaw, his car owner) face was special."
However, Mo's best memory came in 1989 at Rio de Janerio.
"I finished third in the Brazilian Grand Prix, behind The Professor (Alain Prost) and Nigel Mansell, in front of my home fans," he said. "That was so special because I still felt like a kid standing there on the podium."
Gugelmin had more than his share of mechanical misfortune in CART and McCaw's PacWest team couldn't build any momentum after '97. But Big Mo took over as president of Championship Drivers Association and has constantly strived for safety improvements to tracks and cars.
That's why everyone in the CART paddock wants to see him stick around in some capacity.
"We've still got to finalize a few things, but Bruce wants me to work with him, maybe as kind of a right-hand guy so you're going to see me around," said Gugelmin, who loves living in Coral Gables, Fla., his home for the past six years.
"I was concerned about CART's direction, but now with Chris Pook in charge I feel happy. I keep teasing Gil (defending CART champ Gil de Ferrran, who is running in the Indy Racing League in 2002) that Roger Penske convinced him CART was going to die but we've got 20-21 good cars confirmed and a great schedule."
Not being part of the only circuit in the world that runs on ovals, road courses and street circuits won't leave Big Mo feeling low.
"I went to Homestead, Fla., the other day to watch my old car (with Oriol Servia now driving it) and I wondered how I would feel," he said. "I felt I didn't need to be back in that little office one bit.
"You know, I made a decision and every day when I wake up I feel good about it."
Gugelmin left most everyone he came in contact with feeling good and it's nice to see him walk away with his health, a supportive family and his longtime friendship with McCaw intact.
"It's not often you come across people like Bruce and I feel very lucky we became friends," Gugelmin said. "If I'm real lucky, I'll enjoy the next 40 years of my life just as much as the first 38."Send this story to a friend | Most sent stories
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