Johnny Cecotto, from motorcycle racing to the 24 Hours of Le Mans

Johnny Cecotto, from motorcycle racing to the 24 Hours of Le Mans

Like the Brit John Surtees, Venezuelan driver Johnny Cecotto transitioned successfully from motorcycle racing to auto motorsports, and has also participated in the 24 Hours of Le Mans three times.

Born on January 25, 1956, Alberto "Johnny" Cecotto was first a prodigy on two wheels. When he won in 1975 the 350 cm3 title, at 19 years old he became the youngest motorcycle racings World Champion, dethroning living legend Giacomo Agostini in person! After a second title in 1978 (750 cm3) and a total of 17 victories, he switched to auto motorsports in 1980. Subsequently, having barely missed clinching the Formula 2 European title in 1982, he moved up to Formula 1 in 1984, joining as a teammate with Toleman a young and promising Brazilian who was none other than Ayrton Senna. But Cecotto's single-seaters career ended abruptly that year in an accident during the tests for the Grand Prix of Great Britain in which he fractured two legs.

It was two years into his transition to four wheels that he discovered the 24 Hours of Le Mans. In 1981, his first participation ended in a 16th place finish at the wheel of a BMW M1 shared with French drivers Bernard Darniche and Philippe Alliot. The rest of Cecotto's journey in auto motorsports would remain intimately linked to the Bavarian manufacturer (wins at the 1990 24 Hours of Spa and the 1992 24 Hours of Nürburgring) and in Supertourism and DTM, up until his return to Le Mans in 1996. With the Bigazzi team, official BMW partner, he was at the wheel of a McLaren F1 GTR (powered, let's remember, by a BMW V12). He finished eighth along with Brazilian driver Nelson Piquet and the American Danny Sullivan. It was to be Cecotto's best result, forced to retire in 1998 in a BMW V12 LM prototype at his third and final participation.

In 2003, at the wheel of a Ferrari 550 Maranello, Cecotto ended his career as a driver at a one of the great endurance races: the 12 Hours of Sebring. He is currently commentating Formula 1 Grand Prix for Venezuelan television, whereas his son Johnny Cecotto, Jr. is racing in GP2, winning at Monaco in 2012.

Jean-Philippe Doret / ACO - Translation by Nikki Ehrhardt / ACO

Photo: LE MANS (SARTHE, FRANCE), CIRCUIT DES 24 HEURES, 24 HOURS OF LE MANS, SATURDAY & SUNDAY JUNE 15-16 1996. At the wheel of the McLaren F1 GTR, Johnny Cecotto, Nelson Piquet and Danny Sullivan formed a trio with a prestigious record: two world titles respectively in motorcycle racing, three in Formula 1 and a win at the Indianapolis 500.