Only few racing drivers participated in the world's premium competitions in both motorcycle and car racing. One of those is the Venezuelan Johnny Cecotto, who recorded 48 starts, 14 wins and two titles in the motorcycle world championships between 1975 and 1980. He then decided to switch to car racing and he participated in two seasons of the Formula One championship in 1983 and 1984. He was active until 2002, winning several touring car championship titles in Italy and Germany.
Johnny was a double motorcycle racing world champion
Johnny's real name is Alberto Cecotto, and he was born on January 25th, 1956, in Caracas, Venezuela. Johnny's father Giovanni was a motorcycle racing driver and he owned a motorcycle shop, so the young Johnny was very much into racing.
At the age of 16, Johnny started racing in the Venezuelan motorcycle championship and he won the titles in 1973 and 1974. He debuted on the international scene at the 1975 Daytona 200 race, where he surprised everybody with an amazing third place. Johnny continued to race in Europe, driving Yamaha and winning six races in 250cc and 350cc class of the FIM Road Racing Championship, thus becoming the world champion in the 350cc class. At the age of 19, he was the youngest ever world champion...
Full moto-career Johnny with Yamaha
In the following years, Johnny continued to drive Yamaha both in 350cc and 500cc classes, scoring eight more Grand Prix victories. In the championship standings, his best seasons were 1976 (2nd place in the 350cc class) and 1978 (3rd place in the 500cc class). In 1978, Johnny also won the title in the Formula 750 World Championship, which was the separate championship with its own schedule. Until the end of his motorcycle career in 1980, Johnny was driving only Yamaha bikes.
While racing in the 1980 FIM world championship, Cecotto parallelly began racing in the Formula Two Championship at Silverstone race in June. He was driving a BMW-powered March 802 for the Mike Earle Racing team and did not finish the race. He raced one more time with March at Zolder and later on he moved to Minardi's car at Zandvoort.
Runner-up in the Formula Two Championship
In 1981, Cecotto did a full season in the Formula Two, four races for Minardi Team and seven races for Horag Hotz Racing, finishing 14th in the final classification. During 1981, Cecotto participated in two races of the World Sportscar Championship, including 24 hours of Le Mans. He partnered with Bernard Darniche and Philippe Alliot in the BMW M1. They finished 16th overall and fifth in Group 5 class.
In 1982, Johnny managed to absolutely shine in Formula Two, winning three races and finishing second overall in the championship, behind another March Racing's driver Corrado Fabi. In 1983, both Fabi and Cecotto entered Formula One. Fabi joined the Italian Osella Squadra Corse, while Cecotto was hired by Theodore Racing Team, to drive Cosworth-powered N183 car alongside Roberto Guerrero.
Cecotto was the second Venezuelan F1 driver in a history
Johnny Cecotto debuted in Formula One at 1983 Brazilian Grand Prix, becoming second Formula One driver from Venezuela. The first was Ettore Chimeri, who drove one Grand Prix race in 1960. At the second round of the championship, United States West Grand Prix at the street course in Long Beach, California, Cecotto finished sixth to get his first and only point in F1 career. Later in the season he finished four races, retired three times and failed to qualify four times. Cecotto's one points placed him to the 19th place in the championship standings.
Cecotto and Senna together in Toleman team
In 1984, Cecotto moved to Toleman. His teammate was a 24-year-old Ayrton Senna. Cecotto finished only one out of nine races he started, scoring the ninth place at Canadian Grand Prix. The British Grand Prix at Brands Hatch in July was Cecotto's last F1 race. He crashed heavily during qualifying, breaking both legs, and his Formula One career was over. Venezuela had to wait another 27 years for the next representative in Formula One, and he came in the form of Pastor Maldonado, a man more known for his amazing ability to crash than for anything else.
Cecotto and Ravaglia second at Bathurst 1000
In 1985, after recovering from injuries, Cecotto returned to racing in the touring car races, driving the BMW 635i for Team Schnitzer. His best result was a second place at 24 hours of Spa, alongside Dieter Quester and Markus Oestreich. He then traveled to Australia, together with Roberto Ravaglia, to compete in the famous Bathurst 1000 race. They did great, finished second overall.
One season with Volvo 240 Turbo
In 1986, Cecotto joined the Volvo factory-backed RAS Sport team in the European Touring Car Championship. He drove Volvo 240 Turbo and won two ETCC races at Hockenheim and Zolder. Cecotto also won the Macau Grand Prix at Guia street circuit with Volvo.
After Volvo left the championship, Cecotto returned into the cockpit of a BMW in 1987. He was driving the BMW M3 of CiBiEmme Sport in both the World Touring Car Championship and the European Touring Car Championship. He was sharing the car with Gianfranco Brancatelli. The pair won races at Estoril, Dijon and Zeltweg. They also participated in the Bathurst 1000 race, finishing 7th overall and first among WTCC-registered crews.
Cecotto entered DTM in 1988
In 1988, Cecotto opened the new chapter of his career, entering the Deutsche Tourenwagen Meisterschaft (DTM) with AMG-Mercedes. He was driving the Mercedes 190E 2.3-16 and scored the victories at AVUS circuit and Hungaroring, to finish 6th in the points.
In 1989, Cecotto joined BMW one more time, competing with Team Schnitzer's BMW M3 in the DTM and Italian Super Touring Championship. In the German championship he finished 7th in the final classification, in Italy, he won the championship title.
Second place in 1990 DTM season
For Cecotto, DTM season of 1990 was the most successful one, as he finished second in the points, behind Audi's Hans-Joachim Stuck. Schnitzer's BMW M3 was also victorious at the 24 hours of Spa when Cecotto was sharing the car with Markus Oestreich and Fabien Giroix.
Cecotto stayed with BMW for two more seasons in DTM, finishing fourth in the points, in 1991 and in 1992. Cecotto partnered Tony Longhurst at 1992 Bathurst 1000 race, finishing fourth in the BMW M3 Evolution.
ADAC GT Cup winner with BMW M3 GTR
In 1993, Cecotto continued his career in the ADAC GT Cup, winning the title with Warthofer's BMW M3 GTR. He was also driving Bigazzi's BMW 318i in the FIA Touring Car Challenge and Italian Super Touring Championship.
In 1994, Cecotto won one more title with BMW, this time driving the BMW 318i in the ADAC Touring Car Cup. Johnny continued to drive for Bigazzi in the Italian championship and FIA Touring Car cup, but without notable results.
One season with BMW in the BTCC
The next challenge for Johnny Cecotto was the 1995 British Touring Car Championship. He was driving a factory-backed BMW 318i and his best result was fourth place at Knockhill, to finish 12th in the points.
After just one season in the British championship, Cecotto again focused on the Italian Super Touring Championship and German Supertouring Championship in 1996, driving the BMW 320i. In the Italian championship, he finished second behind Rinaldo Capello.
Cecotto, Piquet and Sullivan together at Le Mans
The highlight of the season was Cecotto's return to Le Mans in the Team Bigazzi's McLaren F1 GTR LM. His co-drivers were Nelson Piquet and Danny Sullivan. They finished 8th overall and 6th in the GT1 class. In December 1996 and January 1997, Cecotto and Piquet won three races in a row with McLaren F1 GTR. They won 2h Curitiba, 2h Brasilia and Mil Milhas Brasileiras.
In 1997, Cecotto was driving the full season in the German Supertouring Championship with Team Bigazzi's BMW 320i. He finished third in the points, behind Peugeot's Laurent Aiello and his teammate Joachim Winkelhock. Winkelhock and Piquet were Cecotto's co-drivers at the 24 hours of Spa in July 1997. They finished second in the FINA Bastos Team's BMW 320i.
Last Le Mans attempt in the BMW V12 LM
Joachim Winkelhock was also Cecotto's co-driver at 1998 Le Mans race. The third member of the crew was Pierluigi Martini. They competed in the factory entered BMW V12 LM and retired after 43 laps.
Cecotto had a more successful season in the 1998 German Supertouring Championship, finally winning the title in the Bigazzi's BMW 320i. He won five out of twenty races and took the title with just three points gap ahead of old rival Laurent Aiello.
Two more championship titles before the retirement
With a championship title in his pocket, Cecotto had one year off but he returned to racing in 2000, entering a few races in the European Super Touring Car Cup with BMW 320i. In 2001, 45-year-old Cecotto proved that he can still win the races.
He competed with Irmscher Motorsport's Opel Omega in the V8Star Series and won the championship with four wins in nine races. A year later, Johnny Cecotto repeated the triumph in the V8Star Series, again winning the title with Irmscher Motorsport.
It was Cecotto's last full competitive season. Since then, he occasionally appeared in some races, such as the 12 hours of Sebring and Petit Le Mans in 2003, with Olive Garden's Ferrari 550 Maranello, or BTCC Masters show with Seat Toledo. His last guest appearance was in the German Volkswagen Scirocco R Cup in 2011.
Both sons are racing drivers
Recently, Johnny Cecotto is focused on the careers of his two sons – Johnny Jr and Jonathan, who also became racing drivers. Johnny Cecotto Jr, born in 1989, managed to become a Toro Rosso test driver in Formula One, but he mostly competed in the GP2 Series. In 2016, Johnny junior moved to the Formula V8 3.5 Series.
The younger son Jonathan Cecotto, born in 1999, made his first racing steps in the German Formula 4 in 2015.