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Motorcycle Racing Career

Johnny Cecotto always intended to get into car racing. In Venezuela however he couldn't because he was too young. So in 1972 on the age of 16 he started racing motorcycles. His father Giovanni, who also had been a successful motorcycle racing driver himself, bought Johnny a Honda CB750cc. After some races he got a Kawasaki 750cc H2R from a local importer and because his results were very good he was soon to be discovered by Andrea Ippolito, the Venezuelan Yamaha importer. Johnny became a Yamaha 350cc and the next two years a total of 64 races were won in Venezuela and surrounding countries and so he became Venezuelan champion in '73 and '74. So far Johnny always raced with a complete white helmet. His great example Jarno Saarinen was killed in the Grand Prix of Italy at Monza on May 20th 1973 and therefore Johnny developed a new helmet design based on Saarinen's helmet. Cecotto's white helmet with the two pointed stripes in red was born. He would never change this design again in his career. Johnny also became the 1974 Latin-American champion. In 1974 Cecotto did 2 races outside South-America in international motorcycle racing. First at the Daytona 200 miles he finished 35th overall on a Yamaha 350cc and was 2nd in his class. The other race was in Europe at the Imola 200 miles where his Yamaha TZ 750cc broke down after 5 laps. He went back to South-America but planned to return. Cecotto started in 1975 to compete in international motorcycle racing. The first race was the Daytona 200 where he had to start from the back after he became a failing machine just before the beginning of the race. He came home in a fine 3rd position ahead of no less than Giacomo Agostini. He was sent to Europe to start in the world championship Grand Prix's in the 250cc and 350cc. Johnny would also start in some Formula 750cc races for Yamaha. In his very first European Grand Prix in France, at the circuit of Paul Ricard, Johnny Cecotto won both 250cc and 350cc races: "A new hero was born". The first European 750cc race on the circuit of Imola in Italy was also won by Johnny. The whole racing world knew his name now. He won a total of 4 Grand Prix's in the 350cc class and at the end of the 1975 season he became world champion and dethroned reigning champion Agostini. Johnny Cecotto had good chances also in the 250cc but he had very much mechanical problems so regrettably he couldn't win that title. Memorable however was his victory at Francorchamps after he had a tremendous battle with Walter Villa and Michel Rougerie on their Harley Davidson's. At Assen during the Dutch Formula 750cc race he fell and landed in a ditch and broke his left foot. But the season was over and he had enough time to recover for 1976 in which everything started hopefully with a big win in the 200 miles of Daytona. In the first Grand Prix at Le Mans in France he had two second places in the 350cc and 500cc. He had switched from 250cc to 500cc. The rest of the season was disappointing though and there wasn't much luck anymore. People said his mind wasn't always at racing and he didn't have the right person in Andrea Ippolito to companion him . Who knows? Johnny fell quiet a lot or didn't finish at all because of mechanical problems. Finishing 2nd at the end of the season his 350cc title was gone and taken by Walter Villa. I guess everybody still knows his accident at Assen in 1976 when he lost control of his 750cc Yamaha and fell at the end of the first lap. His bike caught fire and ignited into a big fireball.
Yamaha still had confidence in him though and gave him factory machines for 500cc and 750cc in 1977. He formed a team with Steve Baker in 1977 to battle the Suzuki's of Barry Sheene (his best friend in motorcycle racing) and Pat Hennen. Also he would race the 350cc class. Season opened promising with a 350cc victory in his home GP in Venezuela and 4th place in 500cc. But then disaster struck. During the 350cc race at the Salzburgring in Austria Johnny was involved in a very horrible multiple crash against his fault and he broke his left arm in several places.His chances for a title in 1977 were gone. Johnny came back at the Swedish GP where he finished 2nd behind Barry Sheene in the 500cc. At the Finish GP on the Imatra circuit he won the 500cc race. One week later he proved the world he still was one of the best riders and won both the 350cc and 500cc on the circuit of Brno in Czechoslovakia. He finished 4th in the 500cc world championship. Nobody knows what would have happened if he didn't crash in Austria!!! I think he could have been world champion in both 350cc and 500cc. In 1978 Cecotto was on factory Yamaha's for 500cc and 750cc. He had withdrawn from the 350cc. He formed a team with Kenny Roberts and Takazumi Katayama but conditions in the Yamaha camp weren't friendly. Johnny raced for the official Japanese Yamaha factory while Roberts drove for Yamaha USA. But they had to battle a legion of Suzuki's driven by Sheene, Hennen, Hartog, Lucchinelli, Baker (who was fired by Yamaha after 1977 with no clear reason) and others. Johnny did withdraw in 4 races with mechanical problems but managed to finish in top 7 places in the other Grand Prix races. His best result was a fine victory at Assen during the Dutch GP after a battle with Roberts and Sheene. He finally finished in 3rd position at the end of the season in the world championship 500cc. The title went to his rival of the "Yamaha factory team" named Kenny Roberts. With 10 points distance Johnny's fellow  Barry Sheene was second in the championship. Also in the 750cc Johnny had to battle against Roberts. Although he won 3 races and finished 2nd in 3 others, his championship title wasn't secured till the last race at Mosport Park in Canada. He managed to finish 5th and gained 6 points enough to take his 2nd world championship title of his motorcycle racing career. In 1979 we saw Johnny again race in 500cc and 750cc with Yamaha. His machines promised to be better than ever. But once again at the Salzburgring in Austria bad luck stroke him. He fell on the wet track and was hit by the machine of Gianni Rolando and his kneepan was splintered. He had to recover for a few months and missed 4 GP's. He did return in Opatija at the Yugoslavian Grand Prix but had too much pain and obstacle from his knee to make good result. This lasted the whole rest of the season and therefore he didn't get any good results. He also lost his 750cc title to Patrick Pons and finished 3rd in that championship. Yamaha lost fate in him and so he had to start on a production Yamaha in the 500cc in the 1980 season. His chances were very little. The best result he managed was 4th place in the first Grand Prix of the season in Italy. In the 350cc in which he also participated while the 750cc was abandoned, he had some good results. But technical failures with his Bimota Yamaha made his chances increase for the title. He could do no better than finish in 4th position at the end of the season. Meanwhile Johnny had one eye fixed on car racing for years now. And so he soon was going to make a dreadful decision for all motorcycle racing enthusiasts. Click below here to go to the Formula Racing Career.....

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