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Gianpiero Moretti - Witness to the times, Part 1 of 4

by Paolo D'Alessio and edited by Louis Galanos
Monday, March 05, 2012

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A much younger Moretti with Paul Newman (R)
Fourteen years after MOMO made history with a win of the
1998 unofficial North American endurance racing Triple Crown; the Rolex 24 At Daytona, the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring and the Six Hours of Watkins Glen, at the wheel of the Ferrari 333SP #30 driven by Gianpiero Moretti, Mauro Baldi and Didier Theys, MOMO announced its return to a full endurance racing program in 2012 in the American Le Mans Series with the MOMO NGT Motorsport Porsche 997 GT3 Cup also carrying the famous #30. Earlier this year, the world of auto racing lost one of its most popular stars: Gianpiero Moretti, the man who founded MOMO and helped define the term "gentleman racer," passed away at the age of 71 in Milan, Italy. Thanks to Paolo D'Alessio, here is Part 1 of the true original story of his racing career, as originally published in Sports Car Digest on 20 May 2011.

Gianpiero Moretti is the last real "gentleman driver" of our times. During his 37-year career he took part in hundreds of races and drove over 40 different types of cars creating a long-lasting bond between himself and Porsche as well as Ferrari with whom he lived some unforgettable moments of his career as racing driver and businessman.

This is how Mister Momo, as he is now known, recalls those days and speaks about them, saying, "I have observed the Audi and Peugeot cars that have raced this year at Sebring: beautiful cars indeed, a spectacular fusion of technology and aerodynamics, but there is no comparison to my Ferrari 512 S of 1970!"

So says Gianpiero Moretti, the last gentleman driver whose name is forever linked to two legends of high caliber in worldwide motor racing namely, Ferrari and Porsche.

For decades he was an ambassador for Italy in the world (even though he has a Swiss passport) for the Italian way of living, Italian cars, Italian culture and the cult of beauty.

Today, at the threshold of 70 spring seasons and having hung up his helmet a dozen years ago, Moretti watches the racing world that was his world for four decades with the same passion. He knows he has left his mark in history as well as unforgettable memories with those who knew him or worked with him. He knows he played an essential role in the races which, in those days, were more important than Formula 1 today, but he has no regrets towards the racing environment that, over these last years, has changed so dramatically.

His career began long ago in 1961, when he first got into the driver's seat of a Lancia Appia Zagato to race both on track and in the uphill races. The then-political-science student at the University of Pavia showed how good he was at the steering wheel of a race car. He caught the attention of ASA builder, Giotto Bizzarrini, who even asked him to become their official driver for uphill races. However, nothing ever came of this offer mostly because he had two souls, that of racing driver and that of businessman.

Even though he belonged to a high-class Milan bourgeoisie family, Moretti didn't want to be financially dependent on his family and so, right from the beginning of the sixties, he started work building steering wheels for racing competitions. The insight that he had to reduce the diameter of the steering wheel and make the hand grip more ergonomic soon turned his part-time job into a real business.

The height of this transformation took place in 1964 when Enzo Ferrari, in person, ordered a leather steering wheel to be mounted on John Surtees' 158 F1. "I started working with Ferrari," recalls Moretti, "thanks to Eugenio Dragoni, then sports director of Cavallino, to build a leather steering wheel for the Formula 1 single seater. The steering wheel turned out to be a huge success and to top it off, John Surtees won the world title in 1964 using that steering wheel. From that moment on he became the official supplier of the steering wheels that Enzo Ferrari mounted on his cars. "The Drake (Enzo Ferrari) was a person of habit who wanted only wooden steering wheels with small handgrips."

In 1966 the business underwent a drastic change when Moretti founded MOMO Sas (the first two letters stand for "Moretti" while the second two letters stand for "Monza") which became to all intents and purposes the official supplier to Casa di Maranello. The Drake, who already understood the importance of "Made in Italy" at the time, decided to replace all the old English Les Leston steering wheels with the new national product. Soon the young Milanese company started supplying Dino, and other Gran Turismos of Cavallino. Trips to Maranello become ever more frequent and it was during those years that a friendship developed with Piero Lardi, who years later became known as Piero Lardi Ferrari. It is a friendship that continues today.

All racing drivers share the same deep passion for the 'reds of Maranello' but this dream only came true in 1970 when Ferrari started work on the 512 S two-seater prototype. In order to participate at the World Sportscar Championship, Casa di Maranello had to produce at least 25 models: some were used at the Scuderia modenese while others were sold privately. And it was with one of these 5-liter monsters that Gianpiero Moretti made his  worldwide debut at races that count.

Moretti speaks frankly of his experience at the 1970 24 Hours of Daytona, "Only now do I realize how reckless and irresponsible we were back then: before participating at the Daytona 24-hour race in team with my friend Corrado Manfredini I had done a mere three laps of the Modena race circuit at the wheel of the Ferrari 512 S. This being the minimum necessary to verify that everything is in working order but surely not enough to prepare oneself for such a hard race. We had no more time and even if we were behind on preparation we decided to head for Daytona anyway taking along only three mechanics. Luckily, once we arrived there, the guys from Ferrari gave us a hand. However, we learned the hard way what it meant to participate in a 24-hour race."

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