Lavaggi

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Last updated: 24-October-2001


Biography

Before Formula One Formula One After Formula One

Before F1
1972-79

Johnny Carwash out of place in the cold, harsh world of F1

Had Giovanni Lavaggi, an Italian nobleman born in Augusta in Sicily, a Count to be precise, been around in the 1950s and 1960s, he would have had the ability to do rather well. He could have scored F1 points, even podia. After all, back then gentlemen drivers often achieved respectable results. But in the professional F1 world of the 1990s, 'Johnny Carwash' (the liberal translation of his name from Italian that would become his affectionate nickname) was out of place: a mediocre pay driver with distinctly ordinary performances, in F1 at least.

Lavaggi derived his interest in cars from his father, a racer of some renown, who retired in 1963. However, his father was against Giovanni racing, encouraging him to study instead, and never did he contribute a single lira to his son's ambitions. Undaunted, Giovanni took to motorbikes and motocross at the age of 14, and competed in some rallies in around 1979, whilst focussing on studying mechanical engineering at Milan Polytechnic.

1984-88

2nd overall in Fiat Panda, as GL takes to racing seriously

Financing his own way in motor racing by taking various jobs, he went to the Henry Morrogh Driving School at Magione, and started racing seriously in 1984 at the relatively ripe old age of 26, driving a Fiat Panda in the Italian Fiat Panda championship, where he came 2nd overall. It was not an overly auspicious start, and soon after, in 1986, he found a job as a management consultant, where he stayed until 1991.

But that did not stop his racing career. In 1988 he took to racing sports prototypes in the World Sportscar Championship. He entered the round at Monza in a Techno Racing Olmas GLT-200 Ford with his countryman Luigi Taverna, but after practice they did not start the race. He then competed in 4 races for Swiss Team Salamin in a Porsche 962C. He came 7th at Brands Hatch with Antoine Salamin and Jean-Denis Deletraz, then 9th at the Nurburgring and 7th at Spa with Salamin, before retiring at Sandown, out of fuel.


Giovanni landed the March F1 testing role in 1992A brilliant season saw Lavggi become Interseries Champion in 1993.
Giovanni landed the March F1 testing role in 1992 (left), while a brilliant season saw Lavggi become Interseries Champion in 1993 (right).

1989-90

Is awarded Autosprint Gold Medal for his WSC efforts

Having scored 20 points in 1988, he drove in all but one race of the 1989 WSC. He did 5 for the Kremer team in a Porsche 962CK6, 1 with Bruno Giacomelli and 4 with George Fouché, including 7th at Jarama and 3rd at the Nurburgring. He also did two more races at Brands Hatch and Mexico City with Salamin in the latter's Porsche 962C. In total, Giovanni was equal 25th overall with 17 points. He also raced a Kremer Porsche 962C at Le Mans with Giacomelli and Kunimitsu Takahashi, but retired after a fire.

After being awarded the Autosprint Gold Medal for his efforts at the end of 1989, 1990 was then a busy year for the Count. He joined Team Davey to drive a Porsche 962C in three WSC rounds, two with Tim Lee-Davey and one with Val Musetti. He also drove with Lee-Davey at Le Mans, where they finished 19th. He was entered by Kremer with Sarel van der Merwe for the WSC round at Dijon to drive a Porsche 962CK6, but the South African ended up driving the whole race.

1990-91

Superb drives in Interseries, but F3000 stints is a DNQ disaster

1990 also saw Lavaggi taking part in two events of the Interseries championship in his Kremer Porsche 962CK6. At both the Hungaroring and Zeltweg, he was 2nd outright behind Bernd Schneider, having recorded a pair of 3rds and then a pair of 2nds in the heats at the respective rounds. Amazingly, despite his limited involvement, he still ended up 5th overall in the championship, with 27 points!

But for Giovanni, his dreams lay in single-seaters. Originally, when he started out, he hoped only to reach F3, but he had tried an F3 car as early as 1984, and now he set his goals towards F1. So for 1991 he took the next step, and got himself an F3000 ride with Crypton in a Reynard 91D Cosworth. Unfortunately, it was a dismal failure. In 10 rounds, Lavaggi only qualified twice, at Enna where he spun out, and at Nogaro where he finished 12th.


The USA was forced to endure a brief 4 race stint by Giovanni in 1994.But it saw the best of Lavaggi in 195 when he won the Daytona 24hrs in 1995!
The USA was forced to endure a brief 4 race CART stint by Giovanni in 1994 (left), but it saw the best of Lavaggi in 195 when he won the Daytona 24hrs (right) in 1995!

1992-93

Takes March F1 testing role, then becomes Interseries Champion!

Yet for 1992, Lavaggi landed a role as F1 test driver for the cash-strapped March team, whilst coming 7th at Le Mans in a Kremer Porsche 962CK6 with Manuel Reuter and Dane John Nielsen. Giovanni then hoped to be in the running for the March race seat for 1993, only for the team to fold at the start of the year. It had appeared as though they would have gone for Jan Lammers and Jean-Marc Gounon anyway.

So that year it was back to the Interseries championship in his Kremer Porsche CK7, where he was a consistent frontrunner. He took 6 heat wins and 3 round wins at Jarama, Mugello and Most, in the Czech Republic, where he set the lap record that still stands today. He was also 2nd outright at Donington and 3rd at Siegerland. With 83 points he was a convincing champion. Meanwhile at Le Mans, he once again drove a Kremer Porsche 962CK6, this time with Jरrgen Lässig and Wayne Taylor, finishing 12th.

1994-95

Four races in CART and a Daytona 24hrs win in the USA!

Rekindling the open wheeler dream, in 1994 he went to the USA to try his hand at CART, getting a drive in four events with the Leader Cards team. In his first outing at Belle Isle, in a two-year old Lola T92/00 Chevrolet, he failed to qualify. The team then upgraded him to a Lola T93/07, and he qualified 29th at Cleveland and 28th at Elkhart Lake, where he spun off and finished a lap down in 15th respectively. But at Laguna Seca he failed to qualify once again.

Remaining in America, in 1995 he started off in a glorious fashion, winning the Daytona 24hrs classic in a Kremer Porsche Spyder K8 with Lässig, Christophe Bouchut and Marco Werner, having driven for 9 of the 24 hours himself. He also raced at the Sebring 12hrs with Lässig and Bouchut, but was only classified 30th. But later on in 1995 his tilt at F1 glory would finally arrive.

Formula One
1995
Pacific

Joins a team on its last legs, and qualifies right at the back

Even if his father had never funded his racing exploits, through his own hard work Lavaggi nonetheless had some dosh to throw around. And, as the Pacific F1 team fell increasingly short of cash, Giovanni did a deal buying him four starts with the outfit, and regular team driver and shareholder Bertrand Gachot was more than happy to oblige, moving aside to give the Italian a go. At 37, Giovanni was the second oldest (behind Toshio Suzuki) driver to make his F1 debut since 1977.

No one expected anything great, and nothing great was delivered. At Hockenheim he qualified 24th and last, over ten seconds slower than Damon Hill on pole. He shared the last row with team-mate Andrea Montermini, but was over 1.1 seconds behind. He came close to being ten seconds slower than Hill again in Hungary, where he was almost 2 seconds adrift of Pedro Diniz in 23rd. He beat Diniz in the wet qualifying at Spa, but was over 12 seconds off Gerhard Berger's pole time, and it was back to 24th spot at Monza.

1995

Symmetrical 4 races before driving for Forti in Bologna

In terms of his race results, there was an interesting symmetry. He had a gearbox problem in Germany after 27 laps, after he spun off at the Hungaroring after only 5 tours. In Belgium he had another gearbox failure after 27 laps, and on home soil in Italy he lost control at the Retifilio having completed just 6 laps. Indeed, perhaps the most interesting part of his efforts was the cannoli party he and his sponsor Air Sicilia threw for the members of the media on the Friday night at Monza in the Pacific motorhome...

His four-race deal over, Lavaggi was replaced by one-time sports car team-mate Jean-Denis Deletraz, whose efforts proved abysmally worse. Having temporarily used up his money, Giovanni then sat around until year's end, hoping perhaps to score a Forti drive for 1996. Thus when Forti and Minardi participated in pursuit races at the Bologna Motor Show, Lavaggi joined Montermini and Vittorio Zoboli in the Fortis against Pierluigi Martini, Giancarlo Fisichella and eventual winner Luca Badoer in the Minardis.


Giovanni's Grand Prix debut at Germany was nothing to really write home about. He lasted 27 laps before he had a gearbox problem.
Giovanni's Grand Prix debut at Germany was nothing to really write home about. He lasted 27 laps before he had a gearbox problem.

1996
Minardi

Begins his Grand Prix return with a flaming fright

Come 1996, though, Forti plumped for Montermini and Badoer, while in the end it was equally cashless Minardi that threw Lavaggi a lifeline. Ironically, when Giovanni made his F1 return at Hockenheim, it was Fisichella whom he replaced, and it was also the same race where Forti officially shut its doors! And even though the Minardi was much better than the Pacific, Lavaggi now had to contend with the 107% qualifying rule, which the likes of himself and Deletraz had forced F1 administrators to bring about!

Giovanni's return began in a blaze, but not of glory. In Friday practice, he was forced to stop by the side of the track when his customer Ford engine expired. Unaware that flame was belching from the air intake above his head, he started climbing out slowly, but couldn't. He had forgotten to remove the steering wheel first! Casually he did so, before a cursory look over his shoulder revealed the raging inferno going on behind him. Suffice to say he couldn't get out quick enough after that!

1996

Minardi launch protest against Hill to get Giovanni in the race

Lack of track time cost him dearly, and in qualifying he was 20th and last, 7.4 seconds slower than Hill on pole, and outside of 107%. He was even 1.8 seconds away from Ricardo Rosset's Footwork Arrows in 19th spot. However, as Eero Hurmerinta tells us, Giovanni would have been within 107% of the time set by 2nd-placed Berger, so Minardi launched a spirited protest against Hill, claiming that the Williams driver had missed a weight check. The stewards brushed it aside, and Lavaggi had to sit out the race.

In Hungary he did get on the grid, only 0.75s off team-mate Pedro Lamy's time, but in the race he suffered the ignominy of receiving a stop-go penalty for speeding in the pit lane. Eero Hurmerinta, who was at the race, recalls that the whole crowd cheered as a result! Although he was eventually classified 10th, he had actually spun out with 8 laps left to run.


At Hunagry in his Minardi, Lavaggi got a stop-go penalty for speeding in the pitlane, and received a huge cheer from the crowd as well!
At Hunagry in his Minardi, Lavaggi got a stop-go penalty for speeding in the pitlane, and received a huge cheer from the crowd as well!

1996

More DNQs, but he makes the grid on home soil at Monza

After that, in Belgium more engine problems meant he was over 1.7 seconds slower than Lamy and outside 107% of Jacques Villeneuve's pole time, so once again he was not allowed to start. By the time F1 returned to Monza, though, he was the only Italian driver in the field, and in his homeland he had become something of a cult hero, for, despite his noble heritage, he seemed like an ordinary guy who had made it to the highest echelon of motorsport.

Lavaggi obliged by at least making it onto the grid, but his race ended prematurely after his engine went on lap 6. He then went to Portugal, qualified last but 1.1 seconds slower than Lamy, and was then trundling around at the back when he got involved in the pass of the year. As Michael Schumacher and Villeneuve came up to him approaching the treacherous Parabolica corner, the German encountered "a chicane disguised as a Minardi", in the words of Autosport, as Lavaggi inadvertently blocked the Ferrari.

A priceless clip: Dr Jonathan Palmer bags out Giovanni, while Murray Walker describes Lavaggi's pivotal role in the best overtaking manouvre in 1996.

"As Lavaggi gets a little bit in the way there... that's Lavaggi - and he's getting even more in the way there! Now he really should be moving on, moving out of the way. He's desperately slow, he's there because of his money..."
(.MP3 format, 584k, 37 secs)

1996

Plays a pivotal role in the pass of the year, then beats Lamy at Estoril

Schumacher backed off so as not to be slowed too much going onto the front straight. But in a true racer's style, and using his oval skills, the Canadian proceeded to make a move around the outside of the World Champion. Schumacher gave him room, and coming onto the front straight, Villeneuve used the slipstream from Giovanni's Minardi, and took the position, going on to record a fabulous victory.

Eventually Lavaggi finished 15th at Estoril, 5 laps down, but ahead of Lamy. However at Suzuka, once again he was miles off the pace, almost 1.4 seconds slower than Rosset, and he failed to make the 107% cut. That was the end of the Italian's Minardi deal, and to be fair, even though he was out of his depth in modern-day 1990s F1, all in all he had done a reasonable job under the circumstances, although he never attracted attention for anything other than his pay-driver status.

After F1
1996-97

Sits out a year, but his attempt at Le Mans ends in a DNQ

Nonetheless, the Count had fulfilled his dream of reaching F1. Mission accomplished, he subsequently returned to sports car racing, which seems to cater especially well for gentleman drivers, also-rans, and F1 rejects. In Lavaggi's case, he was all three! Having said that, sport car racing was where he has found his niche, and his results prove that he isn't an incapable racing driver in the slightest.

In 1996, anticipating his F1 stint would finish soon, he found time to drive a Promosport Italia Porsche 911 GT2 in two rounds of the BPR Global GT endurance championship at Monza and the Nurburgring with Renato Mastropietro and Vincenzo Polli. The combination failed to finish at Monza, and came 21st at the Nurburgring. Lavaggi then sat out most of 1997, but tried unsuccessfully to qualify a Kremer K8 Porsche at Le Mans with Jean-Luc Maury-Laribiere and Bernard Chauvin.

1998

Stars his own sportscar team, GLV Racing, and competes in ISRS

The reason for his absence throughout most of 1997 was simple. Having done his bit as a driver, he was now contemplating team ownership and management, and at the start of 1998 his GLV Brums Racing team, based in his residential home town of Monaco, was ready to race. Using a Ferrari 333SP sports prototype, he began testing the waters by entering four rounds of the 1998 International Sports Racing Series.

At Anderstorp he finished 4th with Marco Werner, but then he retired at the Nurburgring, where he had teamed up with Enrico Bertaggia, after spinning off on the second lap. He was then 5th at the Le Mans Bugatti track with Thorkild Thyrring, and 5th again at Kyalami with Andrea Chiesa. With 26 points he was placed 16th overall in the ISRS despite his limited appearances, and the team's promise was there for all to see.


Giovanni made his assault on Le Mans with Saldana and de Villaroel in their Porsche 911 GT3-R, but the car crashed out.
Giovanni made his assault on Le Mans in 2000 with Saldana and de Villaroel in their Porsche 911 GT3-R, but the car crashed out.

1999-2000

Joined by Gaston M, winning at Mangy Cours; more podiums a year later

For 1999, Lavaggi launched a full-scale assault on the ISRS, and was joined in the GLV Brums Ferrari by the then Minardi test driver, Argentine Gaston Mazzacane (and also by Dr Thomas Bscher in one particular race). In 8 rounds there were four retirements, but also a 6th at Enna, 4th at Barcelona, 2nd at Donington, and a fine victory at Magny-Cours. It left Lavaggi and Mazzacane joint 10th in the championship with 51 points.

In 2000, with Mazzacane off to drive for Minardi full-time, Lavaggi found another Argentine team-mate in Nicolas Filiberti in what was now called the Sports Racing World Cup. Consistent performances included 3rds at Brno and Kyalami, and 2nds at Barcelona and Magny-Cours. More to the point, Lavaggi scored two scintillating pole positions at Barcelona and Kyalami. With 62 points, the pair were joint 9th overall. 2000 also saw Giovanni drive at Le Mans in a Racing Engineering Porsche 911 GT3-R with Tomas Saldana and Jésus Diez de Villaroel, but the car crashed out.

2001

Senstional victory for Giovanni, coming from 4 laps down to win at Monza

For 2001, the SRWC was renamed the FIA World Sportscar Championship. GLV Brums wheeled out its Ferrari 333SP once again, with Christian Vann teaming up with Lavaggi. After retiring on lap two at Barcelona with transmission problems, Lavaggi then ran off the track at Monza on lap 4 because of a sticking throttle. By the time he got going he was 4 laps down on the leaders. But with some forceful driving, and a little bit of luck as other top runners encountered problems, the pair clawed their way back up, and at the end of two and a half hours of racing, snatched an brilliant and improbable victory!

But after finishing 5th at Spa, the age of the Ferrari started to show, with consecutive gearbox and transmission failures at Magny-Cours and Donington. Lavaggi then sat out the round at Mondello Park in Ireland before returning for the Nurburgring, having replaced Vann with Bob Berridge and Xavier Pompidou, but in Germany they suffered another transmission failure. With only Kyalami left to run, Giovanni currently sits in equal 16th position with only 28 points.


Lavaggi in the gravel thanks to a sticking throttle at Monza in 2001 - he got back on track 4 laps down, and after a storming drive went on to record a stunning victory!!
Lavaggi in the gravel thanks to a sticking throttle at Monza in 2001 - he got back on track 4 laps down, and after a storming drive went on to record a stunning victory!!

Personal

Just a normal guy who races motor cars!

On a personal note, Lavaggi is 181 cm tall and weighs in at 71kg. His blood type is A+ and he still lives, single, in Monte Carlo. His hobbies include sailing, tennis, skiing, boating and volleyball, and he likes both classical and new age music. His favourite bands are Mina and Mango, and he likes tonic water and pasta in particular. And, of course, he drives fast cars for a living. He is, in every sense, a true 'Renaissance man' Italian nobleman.

He has his own web site at www.giovannilavaggi.com, where you can read, amongst other things, some of his rambling thoughts on what it means to be an ordinary guy who drives racing cars. Incredibly, he even had something of a fan club, which appears to be sadly non-active these days...

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