Saturday, October 15, 2011

Champagne and Podia



-    Following the presentation of the trophies, motorsport drivers will often spray champagne over each other and their team-members watching below, a tradition started by Dan Gurney following the 1967 24 Hours of Le Mans race.

-    The drivers will generally refrain from spraying champagne if a fatality or major accident occurs during the event.

-    For the Bahrain Grand Prix, drivers do not spray the traditional champagne on the podium, although alcoholic beverages are legal in Bahrain. Instead, they spray a non-alcoholic rosewater drink known as Waard.

-    In the 1980s Alan Jones used to spray orange juice instead of champagne because the Williams team at the time was sponsored by Saudi Arabian companies and alcohol was forbidden by religion.

-    In France there was a law forbidding all advertising of alcohol products. In theory, the use of champagne on the F1 podium is an infringement of that law and one year the French refused to supply champagne. Annoyed, Bernie Ecclestone sent one of his assistants to a local supermarket on the morning of the race with instructions to buy bottles for champagne for the ceremony. If there was any legal action, Bernie said, he would face it. The champagne was sprayed and nothing happened.

-    Normally there is not much champagne left in a bottle when an F1 driver has sprayed it over the others and himself on the podium.  Nonetheless the bottles can be very valuable and are sometimes kept and then signed by drivers for charity auctions. Others are given to mechanics as gifts.

A previous post dealt with the 1955 tragedy at the Le Mans 24 hour race, mentioning that Mike Hawthorn’s traditional spraying of champagne was met with scorn locally:

The traditional podium victory celebration at the end of motor racing events screams sex and testosterone:  skimpily clad females, the phallic spraying of champagne by alpha males over the spectators and each other, the victory celebration is even known as “mounting the podium”. Victoro spolia – “To the victor, the spoils.”

The custom of giving winners champagne predates the 1955 race, winners having been provided a magnum of champagne which was then drunk and shared as a victory celebration.

In 1967, Le Mans race winner Dan Gurney (with co driver A J Foyt)  broke with that tradition and,  in so doing, started another tradition.  The Ferrari team had intended sending the Ford team back to the States without a podium finish but, in a huge upset, Gurney and Foyt won in the last remaining Ford out of 6 Fords that started the race.

Handed the traditional magnum of champagne, Gurney looked down and saw Ford CEO Henry Ford 11, team owner Carroll Shelby and their wives, as well as several journalists who had predicted disaster for the high-profile duo.

According to Gurney:

I was so stoked that when they handed me the Magnum of Moet et Chandon, I shook the bottle and began spraying at the photographers, drivers, Henry Ford II, Carroll Shelby and their wives. It was a very special moment at the time, I was not aware that I had started a tradition that continues in winner's circles all over the world to this day.

I was beyond caring, and I just got caught up in the moment. It was one of those once-in-a-lifetime moments where things turned out to be right. You don't re-create those moments, but a hard-fought victory needs something.

Gurney autographed and gave the bottle of champagne to a LIFE magazine photographer, Flip Schulke, who used it as a lamp for many years. He recently returned the bottle to Gurney, who kept it at his home in California.
The bottle - enshrined in a glass case - is on display at All American Racers.  On occasion it travels to auto shows or classic car concourse.

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