NZ Formula 1 racer Chris Amon dead at 73

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) New Zealand motor racing driver Chris Amon, who was considered one of the best Formula One drivers of his generation, has died aged 73, his family said on Wednesday.

The cause of death was cancer.

Amon competed in Formula One between 1963 and 1976, starting 95 races, taking five pole positions and finishing on the podium 11 times without winning.

American F1 champion Mario Andretti said Amon was so unlucky ''if he became an undertaker, people would give up dying'' while three-time champion Jackie Stewart called him ''one of the most skilful and natural drivers ever to grace Formula One.''

Amon won the 1966 Le Mans 24 hour race with compatriot Bruce McLaren in a Ford GT40 with compatriot Bruce McLaren, who was later killed in a racing accident. Amon's death came shortly after the 50th anniversary of that victory.

Amon refuted the ''unlucky' tag which was attached to his career saying he was lucky to have survived in one of motor racing's most dangerous eras.

''A lot of people say I was very unlucky and I suppose in terms of results, I was,'' Amon said. ''But one thing I do always say to people is that I am very lucky to be here. I am eternally thankful to be here.''

Amon spent the first four years of his F1 career across the Lola, Lotus, Brabham, Cooper and McLaren teams before moving to Ferrari in 1967, where he spent three seasons. That 1967 season was the zenith of New Zealand's involvement in F1, with compatriot Denny Hulme winning the championship, and McLaren also racing.

Ferrari's then technical director Mauro Forghieri said Amon was ''by far the best test driver I have ever worked with. He had all the qualities to be a world champion but bad luck just wouldn't let him be.''

Amon said ''it was very frustrating sometimes. We were so close and yet so far on so many occasions right through my career really.

''But I did have a reasonable amount of success in sports cars and that sort of balanced it up a bit.''

After moving from Ferrari to March, Amon also raced with Matra, Tecno, Tyrrell, BRM, Ensign and Williams over the remaining years of his F1 career, as well as one race with the short-lived team he started. His last F1 grand prix was in Canada in 1976.

His major successes came in sports car racing and including the Silverstone International Trophy, the 1000km Monza and the Daytona 24 hours race.

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