WHAT­EVER HAP­PENED TO ? Johnny Ce­cotto

He was Barry Sheene’s great mate and a world cham­pion at just 19 – and all these years later he’s still in­volved in racing

Motorcycle News (UK) - - This Week -

Venezuela’s Al­berto ‘Johnny’ Ce­cotto was a dou­ble world cham­pion in the 350cc and For­mula 750 classes in the 1970s and also had suc­cess in the 250cc and 500cc world cham­pi­onships, win­ning a to­tal of 14 Grand Prix and tak­ing 26 podi­ums. He was 350 world champ at just 19 years old, great mates with Barry Sheene, and went on to com­pete in the For­mula 1 car racing world cham­pi­onship where he was team-mates with Ayr­ton Senna. So where is he now and what’s he up to?

How did Ce­cotto make his name? After win­ning the na­tional Venezue­lan cham­pi­onships in 1973 and ‘74, Ce­cotto ar­rived on the in­ter­na­tional scene with an as­ton­ish­ing ride at the Day­tona 200 in 1975. On a stan­dard Yamaha TZ250, he started from the back of the grid and worked his way up to third place – a per­for­mance that saw him fast-tracked into Grand Prix racing that very year. In his first ever GP he won both the 250cc and 350cc classes and by the end of the sea­son had be­come the youngest ever world cham­pion at just 19. Even more im­pres­sive was the man he de­posed as 350cc world champ – Gi­a­como Agos­tini.

So he ar­rived with a bit of a bang then? Yes. Ce­cotto was the new sen­sa­tion of the GP pad­dock and was signed up by the Yamaha factory for the 1976 sea­son. This time he beat Kenny Roberts to win Day­tona when it was the big­gest one-off race in the world.

Did he ever try his hand in 500cc Grands Prix? Yamaha put Ce­cotto on their factory 500 for the 1977 sea­son and he fin­ished fourth be­hind Barry Sheene, Steve Baker and Pat Hen­nen, de­spite be­ing badly in­jured at the start of the year in a multi-bike crash at the Aus­trian GP that claimed the life of Swiss rider Hans Stadel­mann. He went one bet­ter the fol­low­ing year to take third be­hind Roberts and Sheene but a suc­ces­sion of in­juries meant he never im­proved on that re­sult. A badly bro­ken kneecap meant he missed half of the 1979 sea­son and he re­tired from bike racing after fin­ish­ing sev­enth in 1980. From 27 starts in 500cc Grand Prix, Ce­cotto only won three races but his sheer speed was shown by the fact that he took 12 pole po­si­tions – one of the high­est pole-po­si­tion-per-start ra­tios in GP his­tory.

But he did win an­other world ti­tle, right? As well as con­test­ing GPS in 1978, Ce­cotto also raced in, and won, the often-for­got­ten For­mula 750 world cham­pi­onship. The se­ries had just been up­graded from Euro­pean to world sta­tus by the FIM that year but only lasted one more sea­son before be­ing aban­doned.

How good was he at car racing? Pretty damned good. He fin­ished the 1982 For­mula 2 sea­son joint top of the points table but was relegated to second over­all be­cause of the tie-break

rules. But he’d done enough to earn a drive in F1 for the 1983 sea­son. In only his second race he fin­ished sixth but it was to be his best re­sult from 23 starts due to his team fold­ing and fur­ther se­ri­ous in­juries. In 1984, as team-mate to Senna in the Tole­man Racing Team, Ce­cotto broke both legs in qual­i­fy­ing for the Bri­tish GP and re­tired from F1.

But even then he wasn’t fin­ished was he? No. After re­cov­er­ing from his bro­ken legs, Ce­cotto took up tour­ing car racing and won the Ital­ian cham­pi­onship in 1989 and the Ger­man cham­pi­onship in 1994 and 1998. He even com­peted in the Bri­tish Tour­ing Car Cham­pi­onship in 1995 (though only fin­ished 12th) and also won the Ger­man V8 Star Se­ries in 2001 and 2002.

What’s he do­ing now? The boy won­der of bike racing is now 60 years old and these days con­cen­trates on help­ing his son who is also a car racer. Johnny Ce­cotto Jnr has raced mostly in the GP 2 se­ries with a best cham­pi­onship po­si­tion of fifth in 2014. He now races in the For­mula V8 3.5 Se­ries. Ce­cotto se­nior also com­men­tates on F1 for Venezue­lan TV. He still makes the oc­ca­sional ap­pear­ance on Bri­tish soil and was at the Good­wood Fes­ti­val of Speed last year.

GP stars wouldn’t do this to­day! Sheene, Nixon and Ce­cotto on an RD400

Ce­cotto leads Sheene on the factory Yamaha OW35 in 1977, but the Venezue­lan would lose out to his Bri­tish mate in the ti­tle race

Whether it’s two wheels or four, Ce­cotto still at­tends events like Good­wood

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