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. In a curious twist of fate, as a team owner, Luigi Chinetti secured what is to this day Ferrari's last overall win at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
In 1965, the victory of the North American Racing Team (NART) was Ferrari's ninth at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Effectuating a stunning climb, the 250 LM that Luigi Chinetti had entrusted to Jochen Rindt and Masten Gregory was pushed so hard the mechanics dared not inquire about the tachometer! After all, Jochen Rindt was a sprinter and Masten Gregory was competing at his 10th 24 Hours of Le Mans. The car gave up just a few dozen meters after the finish line when the bevel exploded. But no matter, the win was as beautiful as it was unlikely, and Chinetti was delighted to snub the bookies in such a fashion.
Subsequently, Luigi's loyalty to the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the Automobile Club de l'Ouest was matched only by his admiration for the pre-war French drivers who were to remain his friends. In 1971, he had the great pleasure of watching his son Luigi, Jr., nicknamed "Coco," win with the new Ferrari 365 GTB/4 a class victory representing the NART (fifth place overall).
Toward the end of his life, he would sometimes call the ACO on Sunday to announce his arrival. He would take a nighttime flight from New York, rent a car at Roissy early in the morning and we would luncheon at the Hunaudières at Maurice Génissel's establishment on rillettes, roast with sautéed potatoes and a traditional cake of caramel-soaked cookies. It was a pure delight to listen to Luigi talk about his experiences at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and Maurice recounting all the lies he had heard in his place - a true driver headquarters for decades - over the years. Invigorated by all the memories, Luigi would return to Connecticut that same evening.
Luigi Chinetti was also named an Honorary Citizen of the City of Le Mans, and today the main square in front of the entrance to the circuit bears his name, and well-earned tribute to an extraordinary and singularly charismatic man. Here's to all those whom have made the 24 Hours of Le Mans legendary!
Click before for the first installment in this series about Ferrari pioneers at the 24 Hours of Le Mans:
PHOTO (Copyright - Archives/ACO): Five years ahead of the win for Masten Gregory and Jochen Rindt, the North American Racing Team (NART) of Luigi Chinetti claimed its first podium finish at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, with second place for Ricardo Rodriguez and André Pilette.