Back in the Day: Motorsport legend Fangio taken hostage in Cuba

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Back in the Day: Motorsport legend Fangio taken hostage in Cuba

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February 23, 1958. Argentine 5-time world motor racing world champion Juan Manuel Fangio is kidnapped in Cuba, a day before a Grand Prix race in the island’s capital, Havana. Cuban President Fulgencio Batista, who at the time was battling a left-wing guerilla rebellion led by Fidel Castro, had invited the world of motorsport to the country a year earlier hoping to present to the world a stable, modern and investment-worthy country. The 1957 race had been a success for Batista and was won by world number 1 Fangio. However, on the eve of the 1958 race, Fangio was stopped at gunpoint in his hotel lobby by a member of Castro’s July 26 Movement and taken hostage. Batista ordered that the race go ahead regardless, but publicity-wise the event was a disaster: oil that had leaked from a car onto the track caused a Ferrari driven by local competitor Armando Garcia Cifuentes to crash into the crowd, killing seven spectators and injuring 40 more. Cifuentes was subsequently charged with manslaughter whilst recovering in hospital. Fangio was released by his captors several days later and revealed he had been well treated and had in fact developed an affinity with them, saying “If what the rebels did was for a good cause then, as an Argentine, I accept it.” On January 1 the following year, Batista had been forced to flee Cuba, leaving Castro to take power.

Also on February 23: English highwayman Dick Turpin is arrested (1739); start of Russia’s February Revolution (1917); Antonio Tejero Molina leads a coup d’etat in Spain (1981).

Born in February 23: Samuel Pepys (1633), George Frideric Handel (1685), Viktor Yushchenko (1954), Mirco Bergamasco (1983), Dakota Fanning (1994).