Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Johnny Cecotto

Alberto "Johnny" Cecotto (born January 25, 1956 in Caracas, Venezuela) is a former Grand Prix motorcycle road racer and Formula One driver.

The son of Italian immigrants, he was one of the few people to have competed in both motorcycle and Formula One Grand Prix.

Motorcycle racing history

Cecotto had won the Venezuelan National Championship in 1973 and 1974 when he rose to international prominence at the 1975 Daytona 200 motorcycle race with one of the more inspired rides in the history of the event. Competing as an unknown rookie aboard an unmodified Yamaha TZ 700 sponsored by Yamaha's Venezuelan importer, and starting from last place on the grid, Cecotto showed impressive riding ability by passing almost the entire field while working his way up to third place.

Johnny Cecotto Following Daytona, Cecotto arrived in Europe to compete in the Grand Prix series, where he continued his meteoric rise by winning the 250cc and 350cc races in his first ever Grand Prix at the season opening round in France. He went on to become the youngest World Champion ever at nineteen years of age when he defeated the defending champion, Giacomo Agostini for the 1975 350cc World Championship.

© foto Arthur Thill

In 1976, Cecotto returned to Daytona, now with full support from the Yamaha factory racing team. This time, he was victorious, coming out on top after a race-long battle with American Champion Kenny Roberts.
In the 1976 Grand Prix season, he lost his 350cc crown in a tight battle with Harley-Davidson mounted Walter Villa. At the beginning of the 1977 season, he was badly injured in a deadly four rider accident at the Austrian Grand Prix that claimed the life of Swiss rider Hans Stadelmann. Cecotto never seemed to come to grips with the 500cc Yamaha, having had a series of crashes which hindered his progress. Cecotto finished third in the 1978 500cc title chase and added the Formula 750 World Championship to his titles. He suffered a badly broken kneecap at the 1979 Austrian Grand Prix at the Salzburgring and missed half the season. Cecotto soldiered on through the 1980 Grand Prix season but his numerous injuries curtailed his motorcycle racing career. After the 1980 season, he decided to quit motorcycling to pursue an auto racing career. He retired with twelve 500cc pole positions in 27 starts, giving him one of the highest pole position per start ratios in motorcycle Grand Prix history.

Automobile racing history

Cecotto made his four wheeled debut with Minardi in the 1980 Formula Two Championship. In the 1982 Formula Two season, driving for the March-BMW team, he won three races and finished the season tied for first place with his team-mate Corrado Fabi but, was relegated to runner up by the tie breaker system. Nevertheless, his performance garnered enough attention that he was offered a seat in Formula One.

Cecotto at the 1984 Dallas Grand Prix, his last Formula One race.In Formula One, Cecotto participated in 23 races, debuting on March 13, 1983 for the Theodore Racing team. He had a promising start as he scored a sixth place in only his second race, however, the team suffered from lack of funding and he was forced to sit out the final two rounds. For the 1984 season, he joined the Toleman racing team with Ayrton Senna as his team mate. While qualifying for the British Grand Prix, he crashed heavily, breaking both of his legs which effectively ended his Formula One career.

After recovering from his injuries, Cecotto returned to competition in the flourishing Touring Car category, winning the 1986 Guia Race held during the Macau Grand Prix. Cecotto competed in a CiBiEmme BMW M3 alongside Gianfranco Brancatelli in the 1987 James Hardie 1000 - Australia's premier touring car race held at Mount Panorama at Bathurst NSW. In 1989 he captured the Italian Touring Car Championship. From 1988 to 1992 Cecotto competed in the Deutsche Tourenwagen Meisterschaft (DTM, German Touring Car Championship). Driving a Schnitzer Motorsport BMW M3, he finished as runner up in the 1990 season. The unknown youngster Michael Schumacher, who drove for the Mercedes junior team and participated only as a guest, probably cost him the championship by crashing into Cecotto's car during the first lap. In 1994 and 1998 he won the German Super Tourenwagen Cup Championship for BMW. In 1995 he raced in the British Touring Car Championship (BTCC) for BMW. In 2001 and 2002, he switched to the Irmscher Opel Omega and won the German V8 Star Championship two years running.

Cecotto currently devotes most of his time to supporting the racing career of his son, Johnny Cecotto, Jr.

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