Top Stories from the Sports pages of the International Herald Tribune,
Thursday, November 4, 1999

Behind the Glittering Image of Motor Racing, Danger and Death Lie in Wait

By Brad Spurgeon International Herald Tribune
PARIS - As Formula One ends its season in a fairy-tale manner, it is all too easy to fall under the spell of the dream machine of motor racing marketing, while forgetting what is really at stake.

On one side of the Pacific Ocean, in Japan, in a season-ending Formula One grand finale showdown Sunday between two contenders, the century closed with victories by the fastest driver and the world's most illustrious racing car team.

But on the other side of the Pacific, in California, in a season-ending Champ Car grand finale showdown between two contenders, one of the rising stars died in a horrendous accident.

Many of the 30,000 Ferrari fans who had gathered in Maranello, Italy, for an all-night weekend vigil left town even before the race was over, as it became clear that the drivers' title would not go to Eddie Irvine, a Ferrari driver. No Ferrari driver has won the title in 20 years. Some fans, and later the Italian press, said that the constructors' title that the team won its first in 16 years was of no importance.

For Greg Moore, and those close to him, it is certain that none of it was of any importance. In the Champ Car race at the California Speedway in Fontana, California, Moore's car spun off the track, rammed into a wall and shattered to pieces that then tumbled violently across the infield grass, killing Moore.

Moore, 24, was English-speaking Canada's answer to Jacques Villeneuve, the Quebec-born former IndyCar and Formula One world champion. Moore won five races in his 72-race career in

the Championship Auto Racing Teams' series. In 1997, he became the youngest driver to win a CART race at 22 years, one month and 10 days, and he finished fifth in drivers' standings in 1998.

While Ferrari fans mope about their team's failure to win its first drivers' title in 20 years, Canada mourns. Front page articles in the major newspapers lamented the loss of ''one of Canada's best-known athletes,'' as The Globe and Mail put it.

Twelve years passed in Formula One from 1982 to 1994 without a race fatality. Then the biggest star of all, Ayrton Senna, was killed during the San Marino Grand Prix at Imola, Italy and his death had been preceded the day before by that of an Austrian, Roland Ratzenberger.

Senna's accident was broadcast live to millions of fans, a generation that had grown to believe in the television image of racing as that of a kind of video game of safety and simplicity. Did even the smiling, slight, and deep-voiced Greg Moore really know the danger of his sport?

''The cars are as safe as they can be,'' Moore once said. ''It's just that you'll never be able to make race cars completely safe. Things happen at speed.''

And in his first year in CART in 1996, when at 20 years old he was the youngest driver, he said, ''If I crash, I crash. I have no family, hardly any bills to worry about. So I'm out there giving 150 percent.''


SOME Canadians see the loss of Moore as comparable as that of Gilles Villeneuve, Jacques's father, who died in a Ferrari at the Belgian Grand Prix in 1982. But in terms of human tragedy, it is also the second death of a driver in CART this year. The first was a national disaster for Uruguay, as that country's greatest driver, Gonzalo Rodriguez, died on Sept. 11 during practice at Laguna Seca Raceway in Monterey, California, while driving a Penske car in only his second CART event.

Rodriguez was 27 years old, and like Moore, a smiling, uncomplicated rising star. At the time of his death, he was in second place in Europe in the Formula 3000 series, which runs as a support event at Formula One races.

Rodriguez's second place in the Formula 3000 championship eventually went to Jason Watt, of Denmark, who won the last two races of the season. Then Watt, who looked like he might become the first part-black driver to make it into Formula One, had a freak accident last month on a motorcycle while doing a photo shoot for a magazine. Watt is paralyzed from the waist down, and will never walk again, let alone drive.

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