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Legends: Johnny Cecotto

Submitted by on February 23, 2011

1975For a rookie GP season, Alberto “Johnny” Cecotto’s impact in 1975 takes some beating. As a 19-year-old riding a second-tier Yamaha with a year-old factory engine, he won four 350 GPs and dethroned Giacomo Agostini to win the world championship. The “Kid from Caracas” also won two 250 GPs and the Imola 200.

Surely, he was destined to claim a swag of titles. Add dashing looks plus money from his Italian parents, and he seemed to have it all. He was the youngest world motorcycle champion to date and the first from the Americas.

But when Cecotto quit bikes at the end of 1980, aged 24, he had secured just one more championship, the 1978 Formula 750 crown. In six seasons, he won three 500 GPs, nine 350 GPs, two 250 GPs and ten F750 victories.

He was runner up in the 1976 350 title to Walter Villa, but that year’s Yamaha 500 failed to win a GP. Cecotto’s “playboy” friend Barry Sheene had hoped the ’76 500 GP season would be their matey duel.

Serious accidents at Salzburgring in 1977 and ’79 ruined those seasons.

Sometimes it was little things, like troubles with his contact lenses.

Cecotto was certainly fast. In 1978, he was the works Yamaha number one and qualified fastest in eight of the 11 GPs. And he did beat Kenny Roberts by five points to win the world F750 crown.

However, in 500 GP Roberts won the crown and downed Cecotto 4-1 in race victories.

In 1981, Cecotto switched successfully to car racing – a sport he’d always craved.  Stu Avant, who replaced Cecotto in the Italian Diemme team in 1976, reckoned this was a perfect fit for Johnny: “certainly safer and a whole lot cooler!”

In 1982  driving for the March-BMW team in Formula 2, 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 for 1983.

In Formula One, Cecotto debuted  for the Theodore Racing team. He had a promising start,  finishing  sixth 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 team with Ayrton Senna as his team mate. While qualifying for the British Grand Prix, he crashed heavily, breaking both legs which effectively ended his Formula One career.

After recovering from his injuries, Cecotto returned to competition in  Touring Cars, driving just about everything and winning often. He won the Guia Race at Macau in 1986 driving a Volvo 240T . He then switched to a CiBiEmme BMW M3 in the 1987 World Touring Car Championship.  In 1989 he captured the Italian Touring Car Championship. From 1988 to 1992 Cecotto competed in the DTM driving a Schnitzer Motorsport BMW M3, he finished as runner up in the 1990 season.

In 1994 and 1998 he won the German Super Tourenwagen Cup Championship for BMW. In 1995 he raced in the BTCC for BMW. In 2001 and 2002, he switched to the Irmscher Opel Omega and won the German V8Star Series Championship two years running.

If it has wheels and an engine, Johnny can win with it.

These days Cecotto is dedicated to the career of his 21-year-old son, Johnny Cecotto, Jr. who races formula cars.

by Don Cox

Images: JohnnyCecotto.com

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