Luigi Villoresi (1909 - 1997) - The Maserati Maestro

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Luigi Villoresi (1909 - 1997) - The Maserati Maestro

Luigi Villoresi

The 1935 Coppa Ciano Voiturette Event

Luigi Villoresi was born in Milan on 16 May 1909, and began racing in 1931 at the same time as his elder brother Emilio. In the 1935 Coppa Ciano voiturette event at Montenero his modified Fiat sports car was third, and the following year he was third again in the same event driving a Maserati. He showed his versatility in 1936 as a class winner in the Monte Carlo Rally.

In 1937, driving a Maserati 6CM (he remained faithful to the Maserati marque for many years), Villoresi won the voiturette event at Masaryk, his first major victory. The following year saw him winning the Albi Grand Prix, the Pescara voiturette race and the Circuit of Lucca. In a works 3-litre Grand Prix Maserati 8CTF he was second at Naples and made fastest lap in the Coppa Acerbo at Pescara.

The 1939 season was bitter: his brother Emilio was killed in an Alfa Romeo 158 at Monza. Nevertheless, Luigi decided to carry on his racing activities and his tally for the year was highlighted with victory in the South African Grand Prix, the Circuit of Abazzia and the Targa Florio.

After the War

Villoresi was quick to resume motor racing in 1946, now white-haired after a long period as a prisoner of war. He was one of the most accomplished drivers of the immediate post-war era, taking his works Maserati 4CL to victory in the Nice Grand Prix and Circuit of Voghera and placing second at Modena. He participated in Indianapolis 500-mile race in a 3-litre Maserati 8CL, being the only European entry to qualify, and finished seventh.

Together with Jean-Pierre Wimille of France, Villoresi was considered the best European racing driver. He was Italian Champion in 1947 and 1948. In 1947 Villoresi's Maserati 4CL took him to victory at Lausanne, Nice, Strasbourg and Nimes and the Buenos Aires and Mar del Plata Grands Prix in Argentina. His South American success was repeated the following year when he won the two Buenos Aires Grands Prix; he also won the first post-war British Grand Prix at Silverstone, won at Comminges, Albi and Penya Rhin and was second in the Italian Grand Prix and at San Remo with his 1½-litre Maserati 4CL T / 48.

Driving an 1100 cc OSCA he won the Naples Grand Prix. Now 39, in 1949 Villoresi and his 'pupil' Alberto Ascari, the 30-year-old son of famous pre-war exponent Antonio Ascari, joined the new Ferrari team. Villoresi had tremendous success with both Formula One and Formula Two models from the stable of the Prancing Horse, winning at Rome, Luxembourg, Brussels, Garda and Zandvoort. He was second in the Belgian and Swiss Grand Prix and third in the Daily Express Trophy at Silverstone. Earlier in the year he had finished second twice in Argentina and won the Interlagos Grand Prix in Brazil.

The Marseilles, Syracuse and Pau Grands Prix, Circuit of Genoa, Circuit of Senigalia and Coppa Inter-Europa at Monza

In 1950 Villoresi won the Buenos Aires, Rosario, Marseilles and Monza Autodrome Grands Prix plus the Circuit of Erlen; he was also second at Rome, San Remo, Mons, Zandvoort, Pau and Luxembourg. But then he had a serious accident at Geneva, crashing badly and being deposited in the middle of the track where fellow-Italian and arch-rival Giuseppe Farina had to crash to avoid him. There was talk that Villoresi would never race again, but his reply to the gossip was victory in the 1951 Mille Miglia driving a new 4.1-litre Ferrari 340 America. He also won the Marseilles, Syracuse and Pau Grands Prix, the Circuit of Genoa, Circuit of Senigalia and Coppa Inter-Europa at Monza.

A touring car accident caused him to miss several races in 1952, but he bounced back to win Formula One races at Turin and Boreham and was second in a formula fibre event at Silverstone. In a Formula Two Ferrari 500 he won at Sables d'Olonne, was second at La Baule and third in the Dutch and Italian Grands Prix. Now well over 40, Villoresi gave no signs of giving up race driving. He showed the old skill was still there by winning the 1953 Tour of Sicily and Monza sports car races, was second at Bordeaux, Casablanca and Buenos Aires and third in the Italian Grand Prix. In 1954 he was invited to join the new Lancia team alongside Alberta Ascari, but the new D50 Grand Prix car project was delayed until the very end of the year so from time to time Villoresi was 'borrowed' by Maserati.

In the Italian Grand Prix at Monza he drove one of his best-ever races, urging his Maserati 250F into the lead only for it to blow-up shortly after half-distance. His season was punctuated by another serious accident during practice for the Mille Miglia; Villoresi overturned his Lancia while trying to avoid a private car on the route of the famous 1000-mile race. His family begged him to retire. He refused. In 1955 Villoresi remained with the Lancia Formula One team, finishing third at Turin and Syracuse before the team pulled out of racing early in the year following Ascari's fatal accident.

The Rome Grand Prix

But still Villoresi carried on, driving a Formula One Maserati for Scuderia Centro-Sud plus an OSCA sports car. It was with one of the latter machines that he crashed badly in the October 1956 Rome Grand Prix, suffering multiple fractures of his right leg. Early in 1957 he reluctantly announced his retirement from racing after a 25-year career which included over 50 major victories. He was not quite finished, however. In 1958, at the age of 48, he drove a Lancia in the Acropolis Rally-and won. He died in 1997 at the age of eighty-eight.

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