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Vale Frank Gardner

By Peter McKay, 04 Sep 2009 Motorsport

Vale Frank Gardner

Frank Gardner was a larger than life character who did it all, including three British touring car titles, Le Mans and Formula One grands prix.

Racing legend and one of the great personalities in the sport, Frank Gardner, died last Saturday at his Gold Coast home after a long illness.

Ailing for some time with ulcerated legs and a blood disorder, but always a bloke to do things his way, Gardner last week demanded he be checked out of a Sydney hospital to be taken home to the Gold Coast.

Shortly after he made it to his home, he died.

Frank "Curly" Gardner's colourful and lengthy career on the track reached all the way to Formula One; he made eight starts in grands prix.

One of Australia's most versatile and winning international racing drivers and an acknowledged car sorter, Gardner, who was 78, later became a successful race team manager.

Always ready with an inexhaustible bank of quips and anecdotes, Gardner also wrote a significant book on safe driving, called "Drive to Survive". His contribution to road safety can't be over-estimated; decades of lobbying for higher driving standards culminated in his role establishing the Performance Driving Centre near Norwell, south of Brisbane.

Sydney-born Gardner mixed tin tops with big sports cars, and formula cars. In Europe, where he is still much admired, he collected a British Formula 5000 crown and those three British touring car championships in different cars.

In return visits Down Under, he scored podium finishes in the Australian Grand Prix and took third places in the 1967 and 1972 Tasman Series.

Returning to Australia permanently he finished second in the 1975 Hardie-Ferodo 1000 at Bathurst and then won the 1977 Australian Sports Sedan Championship in a Corvair.

Retiring from active driving, Gardner took a team management role with Allan Grice and then steered a factory BMW squad which won two touring car titles (1985 and '87) with Jim Richards driving. Later he was team manager when Tony Longhurst and Tomas Mezera won the 1988 Bathurst 1000 in a Ford Sierra.

In the 1990s, Gardner was back in a management role when BMW returned to local motor racing in the Australian Super Touring Championship, the factory team winning titles in 1994 with Longhurst, and in 1995 and '97 with Paul Morris.

After that Gardner, an avid golfer, hit the fairways regularly, re-appearing in public every year to drive the medical car at the Australian Grand Prix.

Former Gibson Motor Sports and Wayne Gardner Racing team manager Alan Heaphy remarked that Frank Gardner truly was one of motors sport's unique characters and that "his dry sense of humour will be sadly missed".

Mark Webber's partner Ann Neal acknowledged Gardner's place in the world of motor racing. "He truly was a legend in so many ways and someone both Mark and I enjoyed being in the company of. His contribution to Australian motor sport was tremendous and his wise words of wisdom to the youngsters trying to carve out a career for themselves was always well-received and respected. "