Gianpiero Moretti, who helped define the term "gentleman racer" in sports cars, died Jan. 14 at the age of 67 at his home in Milan, Italy, after a long illness.
"He was definitely a great guy," said Kevin Doran, who partnered with Moretti for seven seasons. "He will be missed."
The founder of the MOMO racing products company, Moretti first raced in the 24 Hours of Daytona in 1970, when his underfunded Ferrari team finished 32nd. He returned in 1979 and narrowly missed victory. Carlos Facetti put his Jolly Club Porsche 935 on the pole and led the race, but the car blew an engine.
Thus began a series of frustrations for Moretti, who made winning the 24 Hours at Daytona a personal quest, while also becoming a popular contender on the IMSA Camel GT tour.
Moretti knew that 1998 might be his final opportunity to challenge for victory at Daytona. With time running out on his racing career, he persuaded Ferrari to build him a car that could race and win in America. The result was the Ferrari 333SP, prepared for Moretti by Doran – a man with plenty of winning experience at Daytona. Moretti had finished seventh in the car in 1997 but knew the following year would be his best chance to finally win the coveted Rolex Daytona Cosmograph.
"With all the money I have spent at Daytona, I could have bought 1,000 Rolexes easily," Moretti said on the eve of the race. "But I wanted to win this race."
Moretti recruited drivers Didier Theys, Mauro Baldi and two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Arie Luyendyk. Also fielding Ferraris were Andy Evans and Wayne Taylor, with Max Papis securing the pole for Evans' Scandia Ferrari. The race had its share of drama to set the stage for a popular ending: After falling 18 laps down early in the race, Moretti's MOMO Ferrari came back in the closing three hours to take the lead.
With just minutes remaining, Moretti had his car brought to the pits and slid back into the cockpit so he could take the checkered flag. Moretti (second from left, ABOVE) finally won his Rolex on his 15th try in what remains one of the most popular victories in the race's history.
Moretti continued to be a regular on the IMSA Camel GTP circuit. He played a role in the revival of the Six Hours of Watkins Glen, suggesting that the event be reborn during his retirement tour in 1995. When Watkins Glen International officials agreed, Moretti was good for his word. He returned for the 1996 event and won with co-driver Papis.
"Gianpiero helped launch Doran Enterprises to a professional-level sports car team," Doran said. "Getting together with him and Momo brought our team back to pro racing after Al Holbert's death."
One of Moretti's close calls in the Rolex 24 came in 1996, when the Doran-prepared Momo Ferrari he shared with Bob Wollek, Theys and rookie Papis finished 65 seconds behind Wayne Taylor's winning Riley & Scott-Oldsmobile.
Moretti's colors will be carried in the 50th Rolex 24. Moretti founded the Italian racing-equipment company MOMO (for Moretti-Monza) in the 1960s; this year, the NGT Motorsport Porsche GT3 will be painted in Momo's traditional red and yellow scheme for the upcoming race to ensure Moretti will be there in spirit.