The first woman to compete for Alfa Romeo celebrates the return of the team to F1
Tuesday, 6 de March de 2018
Graziela Fernandes made history in long distance races and cheers for the “cuore sportivo” running in the Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team
In March, when the Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team officially enters the 2018 Formula 1 championship, it will be the return of Alfa Romeo to the competitions, after more than three decades off the tracks. In Sao Paulo, one heart will be beating stronger next to the engines accelerating in Australia. Graziela Fernandes, former driver, was the only woman to run in a competition team with the Italian machine. To see the “cuore sportivo (sport’s heart)” again on the high-speed tracks will be blast from a past of victories of which she herself was the protagonist.
The partnership between Graziela and Alfa Romeo marked the history for Brazilian car racing in the 1970s. Descendant of Italians, born in Paraguay and naturalized Brazilian, Graziela has experience in high-speed racing since her adolescence, a passion that brought her important victories. She competed in long distance races for the Willys team, with Emerson Fittipaldi in the driver’s hall, and also competed in karts. But it was accelerating an Alfa Romeo GTA that this pilot lived her glory days.
“The tiny Alfa was prepared in Italy. Everything was perfect in it”, recalls with affection the nice lady who does not reveal her age but who conveys a youthful enthusiasm when talking about her great passion for car racing.
Graziela was part of Piero Gancia and Emílio Zambello’s legendary Jolly Gancia team. She competed in mixed events and excelled in the longest races. “At that time the Mil Milhas Brasileiras or the Brazilian Thousand Miles was the most important event of the year”, she recalls. And it was precisely in this competition that the former driver achieved one of the best results of her career: the seventh overall place, among more than 60 participants, along with teammate Carlos Sgarbi. The race had the brothers Abilio and Alcides Diniz as the winners, who also piloted an Alfa Romeo GTA.
The first place in the Race of Champions was awarded to her the following year. In Graziela’s hall of conquests there are still some good positions in the “6 hours of Interlagos” and in “300 Kilometers of Tarumã” in Rio Grande do Sul (Brazil). “I raced with a GTA up until 1974 and would not have stopped were it not forbidden to have imported cars in national races”, she recounts, with a slight Castilian accent when commenting on the fact that importing vehicles was banned in the 1970s until 1990.
But not even the end of the Jolly Gancia team was able to drive away that great car racing personality. In 1983 the “Driving Doll” (A Boneca que Pilota), as she was known at the beginning of her career, returned to the competitions, this time in Stock Car racing. Two years later, in 1985, she competed in the brand championship in Rio Grande do Sul with a Fiat 147.
As a pioneer, Graziela also began to fly airplanes and became the first woman in Brazil to obtain the PLA certificate as airline pilot, which is the highest step in the aeronautical career. “I drove several cars, motorcycles and even boats. I also flew for 31 years. But it was with the Alfa Romeo GTA that I experienced the best days of my life”, she recalls. “It will be exciting to see it accelerating again, now in the Formula 1 race,” she adds.
Alfa Romeo’s success on high-speed circuits was not restricted to long-distance races. In Formula 1, the most advanced category in the car racing world, the model made history. In 1937, the racing car designed by Gioacchino Colombo made its debut in the 1938 Coppa Ciano in Italy. The following year, the model 158 named Alfetta, with 225 horsepower, was the champion of the F1 and in 1951, with the pilot Guiseppe Farina.
The pole position was repeated a year later with the Argentinean Juan Manuel Fangio, F1 champion driving an Alfa Romeo 159 (an evolution of the previous model). After a period away from the tracks in the 70’s, Alfa Romeo’s engines began to be fitted for the famous McLaren team cars. As a supplier, the brand won a memorable victory with Niki Lauda at the Swedish Grand Prix in 1978.
At the end of the 70s, Alfa returned to Formula 1 as a team, where it remained disputing races until 1985. At that time, the model conquered its sixth position in the 1983 season and podiums in the GPs in Germany and South Africa. At the end of the 1985 season, the model left the F1 tracks and by the year 2014, after the merger of Chrysler with Fiat, the Italian brand joined the group FCA.
Now, the FCA group has signed a technical partnership with the Swiss Sauber to create the Alfa Romeo Suaber F1 Team. The return of the model to the race tracks promises to be of maximum power, fueled by Ferrari’s energy units and technological gain through strategic cooperation between the companies that make up the team.
“The brand itself will also benefit from the technical and strategic exchange between the unquestionably experienced partners of the Sauber F1 Team and the Alfa Romeo engineers and technicians, who have already proven their skills in the design of the new models Giulia and Stelvio, and will further expand their experience by bringing top technical expertise to the Sauber F1 Team”, said FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne.
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