Robert Manzon, last living driver from F1’s first season, dead at 97

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The last surviving driver from Formula One’s debut season back in 1950 has died.

Per Reuters, friends of the family of Robert Manzon, 97, have confirmed that the Frenchman has passed away at his home in the south of France.

Manzon, a native of Marseilles that worked as a distributor of diesel engine parts before becoming a racer, made 28 Grand Prix starts from 1950 to 1956.

In his career, he earned two podium finishes – a third at Belgium in 1952 for Simca-Gordini and another third on home soil in 1954 with a privateer Ferrari – as well as 16 championship points.

In 1950, F1’s inaugural campaign featured seven races: The British, Monaco, Swiss, Belgian, French, and Italian Grand Prix plus America’s Indianapolis 500.

Manzon competed in the Monaco, French, and Italian events. A fourth-place finish in his native country was sandwiched by two retirements in Monaco (accident) and Italy (transmission). However, he did win some Formula 2 events that year.

His most competitive F1 season came in 1952. With the schedule now featuring eight races, Manzon took part in all of them except the ‘500.’

That year, he retired from three races but took home points in three more, including the aforementioned podium in Belgium. His nine championship points were enough to give him sixth in the driver’s standings.

Manzon’s career in F1 would conclude with a retirement at the 1956 Italian Grand Prix.

Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and loved ones at this time.

March 28 in Motorsports History: Adrian Fernandez wins Motegi’s first race

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While auto racing is an international sport, oval racing remains uniquely American. 

That almost always has remained the case since the inception of the sport, but in 1998, the citizens of Japan got their first taste of American oval racing.

Having opened the previous year, Twin Ring Motegi was built by Honda in an effort to bring Indy-style racing to the Land of the Rising Sun. 

Adrian Fernandez was the first driver to win at the facility, taking the checkered flag in CART’s inaugural race after shaking off flu earlier that day.

Fernandez held off a hard-charging Al Unser Jr to win by 1.086 seconds. The victory was the second of his career and his first since Toronto in 1996.

Adrian Fernandez celebrates with Al Unser Jr and Gil de Ferran after winning the inaugural race at Motegi. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

The race was also memorable for a violent crash involving Bobby Rahal.

Running third with 15 laps remaining, Rahal’s right front suspension broke in Turn 2, causing his car to hit the outside wall and flip down the backstretch.

Luckily, Rahal walked away from the accident without a scratch.

“The car was on rails through (turns) 1 and 2, and all of a sudden it just got up into the marbles, and it was gone,” Rahal said. “Thank God we’ve got such safe cars.”

The following season, Fernadez went back-to-back and won again at Motegi. The track remained on the CART schedule until 2002.

In 2003, Honda switched their alliance to the Indy Racing Leauge, and Motegi followed suit.

The track continued to host IndyCar racing until 2011 with the final race being held on the facility’s 2.98-mile road course, as the oval sustained damage in the Tōhoku earthquake earlier that year.

Also on this date:

1976: Clay Regazzoni won the United States Grand Prix – West, Formula One’s first race on the Long Beach street circuit. The Grand Prix would become an IndyCar event following the 1983 edition of the race.

1993: Ayrton Senna won his home race, the Grand Prix of Brazil, for the second and final time of his career. The victory was also the 100th in F1 for McLaren.

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