Much self-sacrifice and an iron determination to succeed against seemingly overwhelming odds kept Jo Gartner in motor racing when many drivers with lesser fibre would have fallen by the wayside. Jo had bags of talent but sadly lacked the neccessary finance to fully exploit it, running second-rate machinery for much of his career and acting as his own mechanic.
Born in Vienna, Jo's first involvement in racing came in 1972 as a mechanic for the Kaimann Formula Super Vee team. His driving career began four years later in 1976 in hillclimbs. In 1977 he raced in the Volkswagen-supported European Formula Super Vee championship, finishing third in the championship in 1978.
He switched to the European Formula Three Championship in 1979 with a Renault supported Martini and then to Formula 2 in 1980 with a two year old March.
On his debut in the second round of the European Formula Two Championship at the Hockenheimring, his car was damaged by debris from the accident that sadly killed his countryman Markus Höttinger. He was subsequently invited to take Höttinger's place in the BMW M1 Procar Championship.
In 1981, Gartner drove a year-old Toleman TG280 at selected races and picked up a point with sixth place at the Enna-Pergusa round. He finished the season with two races for the Merzario team, finishing eighth at Mantorp Park. Continuing with Merzario for 1982, Gartner picked up his only point of the season with sixth at the opening round at Silverstone, but the car was generally uncompetitive in a strong field.
For 1983, Gartner decided to return to running his own car, an ex-works Spirit 201. After a fourth place at Hockenheim, he won the Pau Grand Prix when the first driver across the line, Alain Ferté, was disqualified because his car was underweight.
That win enabled Gartner to gain the necessary sponsorship for a move briefly into Formula One, joining the Osella Grand Prix team in 1984, even scoring a fifth place for them at Monza but, against his expectations and much to his dismay, he was not retained for the following year. He was also in contention for a seat at Arrows, but lost out to Berger. He also held talks with Toleman and Osella but both seats went to drivers with more finance in place.
He thus switched to racing in the WEC with John Fitzpatrick Racing and IMSA with Bob Akin Motor Racing for 1985, which he enjoyed but saw primarily as a means to get back into Formula 1. The highligh of the season was a 4th at Le Mans with David Hobbs and Guy Edwards.
For 1986 he drove a Porsche 962s for Bob Akin and Kremer Racing. After a dissapointing race at Daytona, driving with Hans Stuck, they finished 3rd in the 3 hour race in Miami followed by wins in the Sebring 12 hour race and the Interserie race at Thruxton. More good results followed however at Le Mans things went as badly as is possible when, at 2:10 AM on the Sunday morning, Gartner's Porsche 962 suffered a mechanical failure, turned hard left into the barriers on the Mulsanne Straight at 160 mph. The car somersaulted, hit a telephone pole and caught fire coming to rest on the barriers on the opposite side of the track. Gartner was killed on instantly with a broken neck. The cause of the accident was never fully determined however two marshals saw Gartner brake on the straight just before the car veered off into the barriers.