Greg Moore, part 1. Mark Webber remembers
It’s with a fondness that over the next five weeks we will celebrate memories and the fun that was Greg Moore.
Greg Moore. It’s a name that stirs emotions and memories, happiness and sadness all in one go. For all of October, my weekly column will celebrate the life of the Canadian that was cut so short, and try and pass on some of the fun that everyone around him experienced before he sadly lost his life at the tragically young age of 24.
First up is Mark Webber. Not many people know that there was a link between current Red Bull Racing’s Australian Formula 1 winner and the young Canadian. Greg was part of the Mercedes-Benz IndyCar family, and in 1997 joined up to race in the FIA GT races at Sebring and Laguna Seca in America, where he was teamed with Alex Wurz in the Mercedes CLK. The following year Webber joined the family, teaming successfully with Bernd Schneider. In the summer of that year AMG Mercedes took Mark and Bernd to Elkhart Lake for the CART IndyCar race.
When I approached Mark for this piece he said that (like anyone else that met him) Greg quickly made an impression that weekend at Road America. “It would have been really hard not to strike up a good relationship pretty quickly. He was a super guy,” says Mark. “I’d been in F3 the year before and Elkhart Lake in 1998 was my first visit to an IndyCar race. It was all new. I was a bit junior then, and Dario Franchitti, Max Papis and Tony Kanaan were three or four years ahead of me, and obviously knew Greg a lot better, and it was clear they hung out a lot together.” As you will read over the next few weeks – from those guys themselves – they became know as the ‘Brat Pack’.
Being from Australia may have helped Mark fit in with the gang so easily. “It was strange,” he laughs. “I remember sitting with Greg’s Dad, Ric, at the IndyCars, and I think Canadians and Australians have an automatic bond as we’re from Commonwealth countries. We struck up a relationship very quickly and easily. I was at an early stage in my career but it was clear Greg and I had a lot more in common than a lot of the people I worked with from other countries. We had a great time on the weekend, on golf buggies and all sorts.”
That was all helped by former Mercedes driver Franchitti winning his first IndyCar race that Sunday. The post-race party that night is the stuff of legend, with (allegedly) Dario and Greg both found passed out on the lawn outside the famous Siebkens bar after a night fuelled by success, beer and Jagermeister.
“Yeah I was at that… There was plenty going on,” says Webber. “To honest mate, I don’t remember a huge amount of what happened that night! There were lots of people there, and yes, we had a good time….”
So as a youngster fresh out of Formula 3, did IndyCars attract him as a career step after GT racing?
“It was a shame that Greg and I couldn’t have been team-mates in GT, and we did speak about that,” Webber reflects. “He was doing his single-seater stuff and obviously I had just left single-seaters and gone into sportscars. It would have been really great. We were the same height – we would have fitted like a glove I think.
“I enjoyed the endurance element of my career in GT Racing and the camaraderie with the team and a team-mate. Bernd Schneider was like a big brother to me at the time. I always thought using kerbs and stuff was very scrappy, and I didn’t like it, and preferred to be clean. But Bernd was the guy that taught me how to be quick using kerbs. I always thought that was untidy, and you could be quick without using them. Bernd was like an open cheque-book in terms of information. Obviously Klaus (Ludwig) and Ricardo (Zonta) were different in terms of experience, and Bernd had a bit of a handicap with me because my only experience was in Formula Ford and Formula 3 before that, and endurance racing was a whole new thing. I probably did more laps in GT that year than I had in Formula Ford and F3 put together!”
As they headed into the 1999 season, things were looking good, but then a string on incidents that year saw so many things that would shape Mark Webber’s future career. While Mercedes had plans, circumstances would take over. First of all two frightening accidents at Le Mans for Webber, and one for team-mate Peter Dumbreck, that June led to AMG Mercedes cancelling the GT programme.
“Mercedes were looking at placing me over in America. But I’d made my decision by then,” says Webber. “I was testing for Benetton in F1 around the time, and I went to the Brazilian Grand Prix and saw Nelson Piquet Sr….” His voice trails off without finishing his thought. The Brazilian World Champion’s career was effectively ended after a crash at Indianapolis in 1992 that badly injured his legs.
“Obviously in ’99 we had the Le Mans stuff for me,” he recalls, “and then Greg was killed. That year was a tough year for lots of reasons. There was Greg, and Gonzalo Rodriguez at Laguna a few weeks before. I knew Gonzalo really well. He was great for me coming through, such a super-friendly guy too. I mean they are all a big loss, but those two were big for me, and we were all part of the Mercedes family.
“There were just lots of things that happened in about six months,” continues Mark. “Le Mans for a start, but the Greg thing knocked me around a lot – just some of the superspeedway crashes. I know they also have big ones on the short ovals too, but after that it was never going to be an option for me, even though Mercedes could have made lots of options for me to be a professional over in America… By then though, it was a long way down on my list by then to race there.”
Webber’s career path took him instead to F1, a path that Greg Moore admitted at the time was on his agenda too. But the Canadian’s new contract in Penske for 2000 put his F1 ideas on hold. Sadly, neither were fulfilled. Mark was a year younger than Greg, so it’s only up to us to imagine what might have been for Greg Moore, either in Indy or in F1.
Next week… Find out what happens when two best racing driver buddies have a day to mess about in Florida with two road cars, a road trip, a go-kart track on the way, and three very scared passengers… Days of Thunder doesn’t begin to describe it.