1998 & 2002 Rolex 24 Champion Didier Theys talks about the late Gianpiero Moretti and his experience winning with him in a MOMO car
ABOUT DIDIER THEYS: Didier Theys is a vey accomplished race car driver that has made a name for himself in endurance racing. Didier Theys won the Rolex 24 At Daytona twice in 1998 and 2002. Theys raced the MOMO Ferrari with late Gianpiero Moretti for many seasons and holds the most professional victories of anyone in a Ferrari 333 SP with 10. Theys finished on the podium 61 times in sports car races all over the world, with 18 victories, 22 second-place finishes and 21 third-place finishes through the end of the 2008 season. Didier won the 2002 Grand-Am championship. He also won the 1998 12 Hours of Sebring, the Spa 24 Hours and was a podium finisher at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1997, 1998 and 1999.
When you meet Gianpiero Moretti for the first time?
DT: "Back in 1981; I was racing Formula 3 in the Formula 3 Championship and I was looking for sponsorship and I went to see MOMO and I met several employees and I met Gianpiero and my first sponsorship with MOMO was the steering wheel. I went out of the office with a brand new steering wheel because of my racecar. And then after that Gianpiero helped me on and off during my 3 year career in Formula 3 Europe".
What was your first race with him?
DT: "Back in 1988 I raced the 12 Hours of Sebring, I think it was a MOMO Tiga Buick. I was not driving with Gianpiero, he was driving the other MOMO team car. I came into that deal because Gianpiero called me up. Then after that we saw each other again at the IMSA race in Phoenix and I started to race with him in 1995 with the Ferrari 333".
If you had 3 words to describe Gianpiero, what would they be?
DT: "Passionate, Enthusiastic and Charming".
Tell us about the 1998 Rolex 24 At Daytona 24 victory.
DT: "That one on paper is probably the best one but we almost won two years earlier. In 1996 I put the car on the pole position at Daytona and we led for more than 20 hours and unfortunately on Sunday morning, (the late) Bob Wolleck was hit by a GT car at the chicane and we finished second, only 60 seconds behind Wayne Taylor. That was the famous episode of Max Papis catching Wayne Taylor by many seconds per lap, but we came short of 60 seconds to win the race, and I am sure if we had the win in 1996, Gianpiero would have stopped racing in 1996 but we continued two more years until we won the race in 1998".
Tell us what it was like racing with Gianpiero Moretti.
DT: "Well I did many races with him, not only Daytona. Between 1995 and 1998 that was four seasons and we did many races together and always a good spirit, a good friend with humor. It was really joyful going to a race and seeing him and his enthusiasm about the race. We always gathered with him in the evening and he had a big cigar! It wasn't just one race. We had so many souvenirs like for example Gianpiero's last Watkins Glen Six Hours. I dedicated that race to him after the race. I was leading the race down to the last 45 minutes and I had James Weaver in my gearbox for the last 45 minutes and I managed to keep James behind me and we won the race and he was very, very pleased for that, very pleased".
Do you have a special memory you can share with us?
DT: "We had so many good ones, It is so difficult to put just one on it, so many stories from the 70's, from the 80's, even from the 60's when we started to race the Ferrari 512. There's so many of them I cannot put just one down".
How proud Gianpiero was to win at Daytona with a Ferrari knowing that the last Ferrari win was in 1972?
DT: "That's correct. He was really proud. Also, don't forget he was part of the birth of the car. It was mainly Gianpiero who convinced Piero Ferrari to build a car for the IMSA series with the new regulations and it was a satisfaction for him for convincing Ferrari to build a car like that".
Tell us about Moretti, The "Gentleman Driver".
DT: "He had not only enthusiasm for himself and about his racing but for other people racing. He followed me when I raced for different teams. He followed some other drivers. He followed very well the people he knew. He looked at the press. Since 1998, every year at the start of Le Mans I had a call from Gianpiero. It became a tradition. At the start of Le Mans he always called me up and I'm going to miss that".