Nilsson leads Reutemann en route to victory at Zolder.
On this day 35 years ago, Gunnar Nilsson scored his one and only career grand prix victory for Lotus.
The Swede had attracted the attention of grand prix bosses by winning the British F3 championship in 1975 and catapulted to F1 with Colin Chapman's Lotus team as teammate to Mario Andretti. It wasn't a great time to be a Lotus driver as the Lotus 77 proved problematic, but with the switch to the Type 78 "wing car" in '77, Nilsson was transformed into a front-runner.
At Zolder's Belgian GP, Andretti took a comfortable pole position while Brabham's John Watson just edged Nilsson for second. Watson took the lead into the first corner, but later in the first lap, Andretti and Watson collided while battling for the lead. While Jody Scheckter (Wolf) Carlos Reutemann (Ferrari) Niki Lauda (Ferrari) and Jochen Mass (McLaren) all took turns at the front, Nilsson played the tricky wet-dry conditions perfectly, catching and passing Lauda and pulling away to victory.
Sadly, Nilsson's rapid rise would be cut short. After signing with Arrows for the 1978 season, he was diagnosed with cancer and was forced to stand down. He died that October at the age of 29.
After Gunnar's death, his mother, Elisabeth Nilsson, created the Gunnar Nilsson Cancer Foundation, assuring that his legacy would live on.