When Fabrizio Giovanardi was forced to follow Vauxhall‘s manufacter backing out the door from the British Touring Car Championship in 2010, fans conceded that it may have been the last time they would see the fruitful Italian grace the series. Thankfully, they would be wrong…
Giovanardi’s return to the championship for the 2014 BTCC season with Airwaves Racing adds a further dose of titillation and nostalgia to the hype already created by the fact there will be seven former champions on the grid at Brands Hatch on 30 March, Giovanardi joining Andrew Jordan, Matt Neal, Gordon Shedden, Jason Plato, Colin Turkington and Alain Menu.
The likeable Italian initially ventured down the single seater route following a graduation from karting, forging a promising career path towards Formula 3000 where he made a winning start on his debut at Vallelunga. Times became more difficult from that moment however, and Giovanardi switched to touring cars in 1992 – one that would see him shape an enviable CV in saloon car disciplines.
No fewer than 10 tin-top titles went Giovanardi’s way since then, starting with an S2 class title in the 1992 Italian Superturismo championship, driving a Peugeot 405.
Giovanardi switched to Alfa Romeo in 1995, but famously claimed a senastional run of six championship between 1997 and 2002, winning the Spanish championship and two Italian championships before taking the European Super Touring Cup and ETCC international touring car championship titles up until the end of 2002. A brief switch to BMW proved not his most fluent season a year later, before battling to third in the 2005 World Touring Car Championship having returned to Alfa Romeo.
His first foray into the British Touring Car Championship came in 2006 where, racing for Vauxhall, he adapted to then-struggling Astra Sports Hatch and became a regular front-runner, narrowly denied a maiden win at Donington during a thrilling last-lap duel with Turkington which was ultimately decided at the final chicane.
Giovanardi would never leave a gap that size available at the Knockhill round later that season, superbly fending off all before him to claim his first BTCC triumph at the Scottish venue, repeating the feat at Brands Hatch shortly afterwards on his way to finishing fifth in the final standings on his debut campaign.
Vauxhall and Giovanardi then became a formidable force when Triple Eight – then known as VX Racing – introduced a new Vectra for the Italian and team-mate Tom Chilton in 2007. Giovanardi quickly began to thrive in the Vectra, winning twice at Rockingham and again at Thruxton during the second and third rounds to take the eventual championship fight to the consistent Plato and SEAT.
10 victories during 2007 were enough to topple his rival, the latter brace of triumphs coming at Thruxton once again to see Giovanardi snatch an emotional maiden title by just the mere three points from Plato, on a weekend that also saw a certain Alain Menu make a surprise appearance as an extra team-mate at Vauxhall.
Partnered by Tom Onslow-Cole and then-double champion Neal for the following season, 2008 was dominated by the newly-crowned champion, who took his and Vauxhall’s second consecutive BTCC title on the spin as five wins and 15 podium finishes were enough to beat BMW driver Mat Jackson by 36 points.
2009 was a tougher campaign; Giovanardi was one of seven drivers to win in the first seven races of 2009 in his quest to seal a hat-trick of BTCC crowns. He entered the final trio of races at Brands Hatch second in the points to BMW driver Turkington in what would become a three-way dice for the spoils, with Plato buying into the situation thanks to a late flourish to his own season.
One of the most tense finales to a BTCC season ensued as Plato took only the second weekend hat-trick since 2004, while Giovanardi could not find a way around Turkington as the Irishman denied his rival a trio of titles having survived a tangle with the Vauxhall of Neal.
Inexplicable news that Giovanardi would be left without a drive for 2010 arrived when Vauxhall announced the pulling of their manufacturer backing in BTCC towards the end of 2009, forcing him to the sidelines with the then reigning champion, Turkington, unable to find a budget for his title defence.
An 11th-hour sponsorship deal ensured that Giovanardi and Triple Eight would appear at the Thruxton season opener however with Clio Cup UK champion Phil Glew in a second machine, where Giovanardi would be sensational in the only event he contested…
Despite zero testing, the Uniq-sponosred Vectra lined up on the front row of the grid and duly dominated races one and two in the hands of Giovanardi to lead the championship after the only round he would compete in, amazingly finishing 14th overall come the year’s conclusion and beating several full-seasoned campaginers.
Giovanardi will again lock horns with old adversaries such as Plato, Turkington, Neal, Shedden and Jordan, his rivalry with Plato arguably the most entertaining as he diced with his fellow double champion during his three full BTCC seasons most of all. Memories of the pair locked together as they ploughed though Snetterton’s grass at the Bombhole spring to mind, or their fiesty penultimate round squabble of 2007 at Thruxton during one of the BTCC’s rare respecting rivalries.
In just those 122 BTCC encounters between 2006-10, Giovanardi’s stats show a total of 41 podiums and 24 wins, while his impressive overall numbers since 1992 show an average championship finishing position of third, and an average victories tally per season of five.
‘Gio’ is a character that fans will cherish the sight of within the paddock, his calm and enjoyable persona matching his exuberant driving style behind the wheel.
When discussing his pace, ability and particularly car control, his talent to recover a difficult situation has been famously displayed on an uncountable number of occassions.
Rarely would Giovanardi spin a front wheel drive touring car, and such lurid slides as the tankslapper he gathered up at the infamous Paddock Hill Bend right hander of all places – folllowing a botched overtake on current champion Jordan’s father, Mike – emphasised that skill in spades.
One thing is certain; Giovanardi will haul every ounce of performance from the NGTC Motorbase Ford Focus he will sit comforatbly in during the 10 BTCC weekends of 2014, and will be just one of the many focal figures throughout one of the most eagerly-anticipated championship campaigns of recent times.