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 success in 1949. Among the pioneers to have contributed to Ferrari's nine wins between 1949 and 1965 figures John Baus. He served as the go-to man for his two primary mentors: Briggs Cunningham and on the Ferrari side, Luigi Chinetti.
A true friendship formed between Cunningham and Baus, before the opportunity presented itself for Luigi Chinetti to get to know this man in the shadows, an efficient and formidable negotiator, adept at cultivating the art of secrecy, much like the Italian-American, himself a wily and unparalleled tactician.
After a stint in the Marines, John Baus orchestrated the arrival at Le Mans of Briggs Cunningham who joined him from 1950 to 1963. The weekend before the 24 Hours, John and his wife Skippy fully welcomed the American team to France either at Le Havre as it disembarked from the Liberty of the French Line or at Cherbourg from the Queen Elizabeth of the Cunard Line. The undertaking required significant logistical means: Cunningham arrived first at the 24 Hours to handle the semis that had transported tires and spare parts frome the U.S., all of which had been negociated beforehand by John Baus.
After the Cunningham retired from competition, John Baus - an avid fan of vintage races and a jury member at the famous Pebble Beach Concours d’Elégance in California - became an invaluable collector of classic cars for his American friend when he opened his own museum in Costa Mesa, California.
Then a new and fruitful collaboration was born through the increased involvement of Luigi Chinetti and his North American Racing Team (NART) in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Success was quick to come. In 1965, the fourth win for Chinetti (three as a driver and the last as a team owner) was secured by the 250 LM driven by Jochen Rindt and veteran driver Masten Gregory (10 participations). Cheering on the car that would end of breaking down shortly after the checkered flag, the team gave Chinetti an unexpected victory, the ninth and still last one for a Ferrari at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Though less performant than factory cars, the Italian auto got Baus recognized for his organizational abilities and his effectiveness in recruiting talent. The Chinetti-Baus duo remained intact for 20 years with a fifth victory in 1971, a class win that time, for Luigi Chinetti, Jr. (a.k.a. "Coco") along with Bob Grossman at the wheel of a Ferrari 365 GTB4, finishing fifth overall.
Though traditionally the NART brought "paying" drivers from the U.S., most of the line-ups were formed at Scrutineering by many young French drivers whom Luigi Chinetti and John Baus had faith in, allowing them to compete at the 24 Hours of Le Mans at the wheel of a Ferrari without financial backing. John Baus' talent was the ability to bring together driving duo that were consistent, complementary and ultimately successful.
As they aged, Chinetti and Baus began to enter only one or two cars. But, still just as passionately involved, John would spend the night watching Skippy and Yvonne Fraichard take turns against the stopwatch. He continued to handle collection cars destined for big-time American collectors, and up until his death in 2003 (one week difference with the passing of his great friend Briggs Cunningham), he returned loyally to Le Mans in his old, tired Citroën. He is one of the passionate men who helped create the legend of Le Mans, for that we owe him a great deal, and he was also in his own way a major player in Ferrari's legacy at the 24 Hours.
Click before for previous installments in this series about Ferrari pioneers at the 24 Hours of Le Mans:
Ferrari pioneers 1949-1965 (5) - Thirteen drivers for nine wins
PHOTO (Copyright - Archives/ACO): At the 1964 24 Hours of Le Mans, under the leadership of Luigi Chinetti and John Baus, the North American Racing Team (NART) entered two of the 1964 version of the legendary Ferrari GTO, with an ninth place finish for Bob Grossman and Fernand Tavano (#27 pictured here).