A very talented Italian racing driver best know for the testing and development work he did through the 1980s and 1990s for Alfa Romeo. He entered two Grand Prix but had to give up his car to his team mate on both occasions.
Giorgio Francia, from San Giorgio di Piano near Bologna, started racing in karts in 1964 where he remained until graduating to Formula Italia in 1969.
He won the title in 1972 and, in 1973 at the age of 25 , he moved up to Formula 3, driving a Brabham BT41 Ford. He scored a decent 4th place at the prestigious Monaco F3 GP but in the John Player British F3 Championship he was an uninspiring 23rd overall in the final standings with just 10 points.
1974 saw a change in series and fortune for Francia as he moved to the Polifac F3 Trophy in Germany. Entering 8 of the 10 rounds driving for Scuderia Mirabella Millemiglia in a March 743 Toyota, he won six races, winning the title ahead of the likes Hans Binder, Conny Andersson, Gunnar Nilsson, Alberto Colombo and Harald Ertl. At the Monaco F3 race he finished 4th again.
Starting 1975 still driving in German F3, Francia raced in rounds 4 and 5 driving a Maco 375 Toyota, before switching to F2, as a member of the works Osella team. Driving the Osella FA2 BMW, Francia scored three 4ths, four 5ths and a 6th, finishing a respectable 8th in the series. During the season he had a big off in practice at Rouen that almost killed a number of marshals and Franca missed that and the next round.
In 1976 the Oscella was off the pace and even a race at Pau in a Chevron B35 BMW for the Trivellato Racing Team didn't help. At the end of the season Giorgio was languishing down in equal 17th place with just one point to his name.
Giorgio joined the ranks of sports car drivers in 1977, entering the World Championship for Makes driving a works Osella PA5 BMW. At Dijon he was joined by Dieter Quester, then at Monza he finished 2nd with Silvio Artina. This was followed by a 3rd at Enna driving solo. After Enna he joined Alfa Romeo's racing division, Autodelta, to drive their 33SC12 in four rounds. Driving by himself, he came 3rd at Estoril and 2nd at Imola, then, driving with Spartaco Dini, he also finished 3rd at the Salzburgring. He also drove an Alfa Romeo Alfetta GTC touring car in the Spa 24hrs. Driving with Amerigo Bigliazzi and Carlo Facetti they finished 2nd in class and 4th overall. He almost made his F1 debut at the Italian GP, Bernie Ecclestone's Brabham team, powered by Alfa Romeo flat-12 engines, entered a third car for Francia. In first qualifying he was three seconds slower than anyone else, and 11.59s off James Hunt's pole position. Then, when Hans-Joachim Stuck's BT45B failed, Francia had to hand over his car to the German.
Back with Osella in 1978, he drove the works PA6 BMW in the European Sports Car Championship, taking wins at the Nurburgring and at Enna, partnered by Gimax. A 2nd at the Salzburgring was good enough for 2nd overall in the Championship in Class 2 on 60 points. Giorgio also won his only start in the Interserie Championship. In the World Championship for Makes Francia drove for the BMW Italia team in an Osella-prepared BMW 320is. Unfortunately the car was terribly unreliable and a 3rd at Dijon with Eddie Cheever was his best result in the championship that year. In a busy year he also drove the Autovama Firenze Alfetta GTV in the European Touring Car Championship. Driving with Bigliazzi at Monza and Mugello, they finished 4th outright in both races, taking a class win at Mugello.
1979 saw him take on the role as test driver for Alfa Romeo. He only did three sports car races, driving a private Osella PA6 BMW to 4th at Mugello with Lella Lombardi, before winning with her at Vallelunga in a works PA7. They also drove in the non-championship Monza 1000kms.
He then travelled to Argentina in the latter part of the year to race in the Temporada F3 series. However it was a debacle, and after sitting out the first round, Francia returned to Europe without having sat in an F3 car.
He returned to his testing duties in 1980 for the Alfa F1 program and for their Alfetta GTV turbo touring car. He did two more races in the WCM, retiring a private Osella PA8 BMW shared with Remo Ramanzini at Monza, then winning at Vallelunga with Roberto Marazzi.
Suddenly and unexpectedly in 1981 at the age of 33 he was given a second Formula 1 opportunity. When Miguel Angel Guerra injured himself crashing his Osella FA1B Cosworth on the opening lap of the fourth race of the season at Imola, Francia got the call. However though he had been testing for the Autodelta F1 programme, FISA rejecting his superlicence application due to lack of recent racing results.
So Ghinzani was brought in for two races while Francia's licence was sorted out. He was finally due to make his first F1 start at the Spanish GP at Jarama. But fate was not on his side, Gabbiani crashed in practice and Francia was forced to hand over his car and his F1 career was over.
Undetered he went back to the World Championship for Drivers and Makes in a works Osella PA9 BMW with Lombardi, taking 5 class wins and overall victory at Mugello. They also finished 2nd overall at Monza and Enna. With only five races behind them, a 5th place finish in the Championship was pretty good.
Driving increasingly in touring cars, his primary role throughout the 1980s was as a test driver for Alfa Romeo and Lancia. Concentrating on the Alfa F1 program on both chassis and engine work until the end of 1985, after which the program was limited to engine work, he also worked on the development of Alfa Romeo's touring cars.
His abilities in sports cars remained undiminished, winning the opening round of the World Endurance Championship in a Rondeau M382 Ford with Jean Rondeau and Henri Pescarolo in 1982. He made sporadic appearances in IMSA and other endurace series of the next few years but it was not until 1991 that he retuned to regular sports car competition driving an Osella PA16 Alfa Romeo to the title in the Italian Prototype Championship.
Most of his racing at this time was in touring cars. In 1982 and 1983 he raced with Luigi Racing, and in 1984 he switched between the Biesse Racing Team and the famous Jolly Club Milano team. Back with Luigi Racing in 1985 he only made 8 starts, taking two class wins in the Spa 24hrs and at Nogaro. Most of his time was spent developing Alfa Romeo's new Group A touring car, the Alfa 75 turbo.
In 1986 he only made four starts, three in the Jolly Club 75 turbo alongside Rinaldo Drovandi, and one in the version run by Brixia Corse as team-mate with Claudio Langes.
In 1987 he entered the World Touring Car Championship with Alfa Romeo but the cars were off the pace and pulled out of the championship before the series moved to Australia. The inaugural WTCC had not been a success and it was scrapped after one year, and although the ETCC staggered on, most teams concentrated on national championships.
In the 1989 Italian Touring Car Championship Francia took four wins but was unable to stop Cecotto from winning the title for BMW. 1990 saw Roberto Ravaglia win the title for BMW, with Giorgio only taking one win at Varano.
Ravaglia won the championship again in 1991 with Francia 2nd. Then in 1992 Alfa introduced the 155s, winning 17 of the 20. Driving the Jolly Club 155, Giorgio won three races, took three fastest laps, and finished in the top 5 in every race. However after dropping his two worst finishes, Larini, with more wins, claimed the title.
For 1993, Alfa Romeo entered the V6 TI 155 in the DTM. Francia drove one of the German Schubel team cars. Francia's consistency saw him take 17 top-ten finishes and 5 podiums to give him 7th in the Championship.
Staying on for another year in DTM he only stood on the podium twice and his 13 top-ten finishes were only good for 13th in the series.
Francia's last season of full-time racing was in 1995 in the Spanish Super Touring championship. With two wins he came 5th in the series. He continued with his testing duties and also became an instructor.