Successful F3000 driver from Uraguay. He was tipped for success in the States and eventually in F1. Sadly he crashed his Penske in practice for his second CART race at Laguna Seca and was killed.
Born in Montevideo, Gonzalo 'Gonchi' Bognoli Rodríguez was the son of a Turismo and National Rally champion, Rubén-Jorge 'Gallego' Rodríguez. He started riding motorcyles when he was just seven years old and by the time he was 13 he began in karting.
In karts he was Uruguayan Champion in 1985, 1986 and 1989, South American Champion in 1986, and in 1989 he won the Sprint title at the World Championship in Valence, France. During this time he became good friends with Rubens Barrichello. He studied at the Stella Maris College in Montevideo, one of the best in the country.
He then graduated to the Uruguayan Formula Renault Championship in 1988 and in 1991 he was runner up in the series. He also won the 200 mile Turismo Championship and was named 'Rookie of the Year' in the South-American Formula 3 series.
He then graduated to the national Formula Renault series in 1988 and over the next four years won two championships and finnished runner up twice. In 1991 he also won the Uruguayan Turismo Championship and also raced in F3 for the first time.
In 1992 he travelled to Spain to compete in the National Formula Ford series finishing second in the championship with 2 wins. He also raced in the Uruguayan 200-mile South American Summer F3 Championship finishing 4th.
He continued to race in Spain the following year, racing in Formula Renault with FadSport and finishing in 3rd place with one win and in 1994 he moved to the UK, driving in the British Formula Renault Championship once again finishing in 3rd place with one win. He also won one European Formula Renault race at Brands Hatch.
In 1995 he stepped up to British Formula 3 with Alan Docking Racing taking a win at Silverstone in the Grand Prix support race with his Dallara Mitsubishi.
Staying with Alan Docking in British F3 he finished 12th in the championship. He also raced with Edembridge Racing in the British Formula 2 (3000) Championship. He contested six rounds, finishing second 2nd at Oulton Park, Donington Park and Brands Hatch.
In 1997 he moved up to F3000 with Redman and Bright but after a dissapointing season he switched to the Belgian Astromega Team driving a Lola T96/50-Zytek. It was a much better year and he finished 3rd in the championship, taking wins in Belgium and Luxembourg, and a 2nd in Monaco.
1999 looked very promising. A number of F1 teams were taking an interest as well as some of the CART teams. He started the year in touring-cars, winning the Nations Cup in Punta del Este, Uruguay. He stayed in Formula 3000 with Astromega, winning the prestigious Monaco Grand Prix support race. With 2nd place finishes at Barcelona and Spa-Francorchamps, he was lying second in the championship. He finished the series in 3rd place, behind Nick Heidfeld and Jason Watt.
With FI knocking on his door, he received an offer from the Mercedes Benz-Marlboro Roger Penske team to join Al Unser Jnr.. He tested the Lola at Sebring and at Mid-Ohio before making his debut in Detroit qualifying in 16th spot and finishing a respectable 12th ahead of Al Unser Jnr.. he had to return to Europe to finish the F3000 season but returned to the States in September, two weeks after the F3000 race of Spa-Francorchamps.
The Honda Grand Prix of Monterey at Laguna Seca was to be his second outing but, during qualifying, he failed to slow entering the Corkscrew and his car went off the track at full speed, bounced over the short gravel trap and crashed into a concrete barrier which was lined by only a small layer of tires. In the era before HANS devices he didn't stand a chance and was killed instantly. The cause of the accident was brake failure due to overheating. It was the first racing fatality in the history of Laguna Seca Raceway.
Three years later, in the early hours of January 22, 2002 on what would have been Gonzalo's 30th birthday his father crashed his car into a pillar on the Rambla de Montevideo. He was in a coma until he passed away on February 3rd. He was 54 years old.
Three Uruguayan drivers have managed to make it to F1, Eitel Cantoni, Oscar Mario González and Alberto Uría. Gonchi would probably been the fourth.