JOHNNY CECOTTO: 30 YEARS IN MOTOR RACING
If this is the 50th anniversary of the Sebring 12 Hours then this is also the first ever visit of Venezuelan star Johnny Cecotto at the Florida track, although it is his 30th consecutive year in motor racing. Before Cecotto, only one motorcycle World Champion drove at Sebring 12 Hours race: British sensation John Surtees, winner of the 1963 edition of the race and 1964 Formula 1 champion, both in a Ferrari.
Cecotto started at age of 16 in a motorcycle race held on a street circuit in Barquisimeto city, in Venezuela. Three years later Johnny Cecotto became the youngest motorcycle World Champion, when at his first attempt he beat the14 time World Champion, Italian Giacomo Agostini, in the 350cc class. In 1976, at only the age of 20, Cecotto won the Daytona 200 and in 1978 he took his crown in the 750cc class after a fierce duel with American hero Kenny Roberts.
Before leaving motorcycle racing in 1980, Cecotto won 19 GP's. Then with four-wheelers, he finished second in the 1982 Formula 2 European Championship with 3 victories. In 1983 he ran in Formula One, scoring one point in his second race at Long Beach, but one year later he suffered a huge accident at Brands Hatch and for the native of Caracas, the F1 career was over. It was a similar history to another great motorcycle champion and promising auto racing driver, British Mike Hailwood, who finished his F1 career after suffering a heavy accident at Nurburgring in 1974.
After eleven months recovering from his injuries, Johnny Cecotto came back to the tracks in 1985 and became one of the finest specialists in Touring Cars. He had more than 30 victories, 5 crowns in Germany and Italy -- the last one was clinched in 2001 at the new V8Star Series in Germany. Now, at 46, Cecotto will make his debut at the classic Sebring race in a GTS Ferrari 550 Maranello of the team directed by Gabriele Rafanelli. As they did for John Surtees 39 years before, the Italian cars bring the opportunity to the former ace of two wheels.