24h Le Mans
07/11/2017 12:01

Ferrari pioneers 1949-1965 (1) - Luigi Chinetti 1949, the first win

In 2017, Ferrari celebrated its 70th anniversary. The first chapters of its stunning history unfolded at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, with a first triumph in 1949 thanks to Luigi Chinetti who had already claimed the top step on the podium in 1932 and 1934.

Ferrari pioneers 1949-1965 (1) - Luigi Chinetti 1949, the first win

In 1949, Enzo Ferrari created the 166 MM, a superb 2-liter V12 engine car bodied by Touring. Luigi Chinetti understood the auto's shortcomings (clutch and gearbox), so he devised a strategy all his own. First, to circumvent the ban and run a 166 MM at Le Mans, which Enzo Ferrari himself wanted to do, he had the car bought by a distant cousin of the Queen of England, Lord Selsdon a.k.a. Peter Mitchell-Thompson, already seen at the 24 Hours before the war at the wheel of one of the monstrous Lagonda V12s (fourth) in 1939 and as early as 1935 at the wheel of a Frazer Nash.

The second phase of the plan was even more diabolical. Fearing the fragility of the clutch and gearbox, Luigi hoped to find a way to run the car alone and could be found on Friday, the day before the big race, on the Maurice Génissel terrasse at the Hippodrome Hotel at the Hunaudières. There, joined by his teammate, a bottle of cognac on the table, they set their minds to their race strategy. But Luigi dutifully and discreetly tossed his glasses of cognac over his shoulder into Madame Génissel's hydrangeas. Legend has it that his teammate went to bed at the Paris Hotel around 11:00 p.m. and did not emerge until Sunday morning. He then headed to the circuit and took the wheel for a few laps after having been heavily instructed. Chinetti finished the race so stiff that the officials had to help him out of the winning car.

The impact of this first Ferrari victory was decisive for the Italian marque and sealed Luigi's fate with Maranello, for whom he became the official representative in the U.S. Over the course of the following three decades, under the banner of the North American Racing Team (NART), he entered so many Ferraris in the 24 Hours of Le Mans that he could have filled a year's field all by himself. As a result, he created some of the most legendary moments in the history of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, such as the battles between the official Ferraris and brothers Pedro and Ricardo Rodriguez.

In 1965, Ferrari clinched its ninth and final overall victory at Le Mans, with Luigi Chinetti as team owner, another legendary achievement and the focus of the next installment in this series.


PHOTO (Copyright - Archives/ACO): The name 166 MM - the first Ferrari to win at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, thanks to Luigi Chinetti - was in reference to the Mille Miglia Italian road marathon (Brescia-Rome-Brescia) from 1927 to 1957.

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