Jarno Saarinen – GP Genius Part II
Doctor Claudio Costa is the famous physician who played a crucial role in saving Mick Doohan’s broken leg, enabling the Australian to go onto win five world 500cc championships. Costa has been lauded for the commendable work he has done with his ‘Clinica Mobile’ service that he has provided to GP bike racing since the 1977 Austrian Grand Prix. His love of racing has surely been tested over the years with the injuries and tragedies that he has confronted.
The most painful and heart-breaking losses were those of Jarno Saarinen and Renzo Pasolini at Monza in 1973, where a young Doctor Costa was present. While the experience could have destroyed Costa’s love of motorcycle racing, the overwhelming grief and despair of that dreadful double tragedy drove him to continue thanks to his close friendship with Saarinen.
A little known fact is that Costa’s father Checco Costa designed and inspired the Imola circuit, which held its first race on April 25, 1953. It was the world of motorcycle racing that a young Claudio was first drawn into…like a new ‘home’.
In his book ‘doctorcosta’, Costa recounted the tragedy, the lead up to it, the enormous guilt he still carries, and the special relationship he had with one of the greatest and fastest riders of all time, Jarno Saarinen.
Claudio Costa: “Only once did I meditate leaving this ‘home’ that my father’s vivid imagination handed me; it was Sunday on 20 May, 1973 at Monza.”
The prelude to that tragic day began after Saarinen had returned to Europe after dominating the 1973 Daytona 200 on 10 March. As it was in Formula 1, it was common for top riders of the day to compete in non-championship events as preparation for the season proper in the absence of the intense off-season testing that happens today.
“On 25 March, 1973, an International Race had been organised by the Costa-Ronci-Tempesta triumvirate and the family friend Pietro Dalpazzo,” wrote Costa. “In the 350cc category, Jarno Saarinen was battling it out in the rain with Giacomo Agostini; as he came to the Tamburello, one of motorcycling’s most thrilling – and dangerous – corners, he fell heavily. The apprehension was great; Jarno arrived at the small trackside hospital conscious and calm, more than anything dismayed at having fallen. As he stripped off his mud-covered leathers he put us ease, convinced that his injuries were superficial. However, the translator Giovanni Fantazzini – one of my father’s most faithful followers and beautifully fluent in German (even more fluent than in Italian according to some) – said that the Finnish rider’s right knee was beginning to trouble him.
“I examined him again. Unable to find anything wrong, I suggested he apply plenty of ice to the knee as it could swell. It was not a suggestion based on clinical diagnosis; it was rather, made out of a sense of concern for someone who I thought of as a legend. In the evening, as we were having supper at the Hotel Molino Rosso, a worried Giovanni Fantazzini urged me to take another look at Jarno Saarinen in his hotel room. I found him lying on the bed, his wife Soili sitting next to him looking thoughtful. There was a lot of ice packed around his knee. Smiling, he started to talk in German, Giovanni translating: “Doctorcosta” (all in one breath, a habit that, years later, would be Mick Doohan’s too) he began, “you told me that this knee would have swollen and now that you’ve been proved right, you’re going to have to do something about it because I want to race on 1 April at Misano, 8 April at Modena, 15 April at the Imola 200 and 22 April during the ‘first’ World Championship race in France at Le Castellet”. It was at Paul Ricard that Saarinen’s legend would be forged, after forcing the great Agostini to crash out in pursuit of the Finn racing in his 500cc debut.
Over 36 years later on July 18, 2009 at Sachensring, Saarinen, who achieved a total of 15 GP wins and 32 podiums in the 50cc, 250cc, 350cc and 500cc classes, including that victory on his 500cc debut, was belatedly inducted in to the MotoGP Hall of Fame. Soili Saarinen was in attendance, along with Saarinen’s two brothers.
In the next instalment, we will learn about how Costa dealt with Saarinen’s injury both medically and morally in the lead up to Monza, and the words that Saarinen delivered to Costa that have guided the doctor through his incredible career.
Costa’s book is quite remarkable through its vivid descriptions delivered in Latin-prose through a prism of race-bred philosophy, and the moral dilemma he continually confronts when treating injured riders who want to race no matter the extent of their injuries.
In May 2009, Costa released his third book, Grand Prix College.
Video: The video is a piece from a Saarinen fan and features some great photos and haunting footage from the tragic race at Monza in 1973.
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