Franco Cortese: The Very First Ferrari Driver

Franco Cortese: The Very First Ferrari Driver

Quick and eager, Franco Cortese was a notable Ferrari driver and will always be remembered as ‘the first one’.

In hindsight, driving for Ferrari might just be his proudest achievement.

Italian racing mogul

Born in 1903 in Oggebio, Italy, Franco Cortese started his professional racing career aged 24. He entered the first edition of the Mille Miglia driving an Itala 61. Together with his teammate M. Baroncini, he finished 8th. Cortese would go on to finish the tough race 14 times, a record that still stands as of today a record that technically still stands today, as the event hasn’t been held since 1957.

Alfa Romeo 6C 2300 - Franco Cortese

Franco Cortese in the Alfa Romeo 6C 2300 (1938).

Other big achievements before teaming up with Enzo Ferrari include podiums in the 24 Hours of Le Mans and first places in the Coppa Acerbo. He also got to drive early Alfa Romeo and Maserati cars, helping to establish the young automakers.

In 1936, Cortese founded Scuderia Ambrosiana together with fellow Italian racing drivers Giovanni Lurani, Eugenio Minetti and Luigi Villoresi. They raced in blue and black, inspired by the colours of Inter Milan. In the early years, the team primarily drove the Maserati 6CM but were never able to win a race. Their first race win came in 1946 when they drove a Lancia Astura to a first place in Modena. A one-time Formula 2 entry was realized in 1951 at the Italian Grand Prix of Monza, but their used Ferrari 166 F2 was unable to complete the race.

Ferrari 166 F2 - Franco Cortese

A surprising Targa Florio victory came in 1951 when the team entered a Frazer Nash into the Italian endurance race. Franco Cortese drove the British car to first place with an average speed of 76.5 kph (47.5 mph).

Piacenza 1947

Franco Cortese already raced with Scuderia Ferrari in 1935, where he drove an Alfa Romeo 6C 2300 together with Francesco Severi to an 8th place result. Then, in 1947, when Enzo Ferrari decided to start a racing company under his own name, signing Cortese was rather big news. He was a big driver back then, with a large racing record. Another selling point for Enzo was the fact that Cortese helped sell machine tools that the Ferrari factory built during the Second World War. The decision was made definite after Cortese won the 1946 Egyptian Grand Prix, beating the almighty Alberto Ascari.

Ferrari 125 S - Franco Cortese

Ferrari sent a contract Cortese’s way in April 1947 and offered him a seat in the upcoming Ferrari 125 S. He signed it and the rest is history…

Scuderia Ferrari built and prepared the Ferrari 125 S for a race in Piacenza, Italy, on 11 May 1947. The team’s initial plan was to enter with two cars, but after the second driver, Nino Farina, refused to race, only one Ferrari was used.

1947 Circuito di Piacenza

Cortese’s misfortunes in the race began almost immediately, as the car could not reach it maximum potential due to an overfilled sump. He pulled into the pits and his team drained the excess oil. He then re-joined and was gaining speed and positions until a broken fuel pump forced Cortese to retire the race altogether.

1947 Rome Grand Prix

Just two weeks later, Ferrari was back on track. The team entered the Roma Grand Prix and Franco Cortese was back behind the wheel of the Ferrari 125 S. It went better than expected, and Cortese completed 40 laps with an average speed of 88.5 kph (55 mph) and ultimately achieved Ferrari’s first victory.

1947 Rome Grand Prix

A week after this victory, Cortese and his team entered the car in a race in Vercelli and won again. Four races (a first place, a second place and two DNFs) would follow before Ferrari updated the 125 S and named it the Ferrari 159 S. The car was fitted with a larger engine and minor visual changes. Cortese drove the car to a second finish in its first race at Pescara, trailing only Vincenzo Auricchio in his Stanguellini.

Cortese as Ferrari driver

Cortese’s focused then briefly switched to other automakers, such as Frazer Nash, Alfa Romeo and Fiat, before fully returning to the Prancing Horse in 1953. His first drive back with Maranello was in a Ferrari 250 MM with Bruno Sterzi. The pair finished 8th during the 10 Hours of Messina.

Ferrari 250 MM - Franco Cortese

A Ferrari 250 MM, similar as to what Cortese drove.

Looking at his racing record, it could well be that he preferred driving open-top cars because his subsequent entries were either in the Ferrari 166 MM or the 500 Mondial.

Ferrari 500 TR - Franco Cortese

Cortese during testing of the Ferrari 500 TR.

He won the 1956 Italian 2.0-litre sports car championship in a Ferrari 500 TR, with three race wins. His last race was in October 1958 at Innsbruck, Austria, piloting his Ferrari to a 7th place finish. In total, he entered 58 races with a Ferrari, and below is a complete overview of those entries.

Date

Event

Car

Result

14 April 1935

Mille Miglia

Alfa Romeo 6C 2300

8th

11 May 1947

Piacenza

Ferrari 125 S

DNF

25 May 1947

Rome Grand Prix

Ferrari 125 S

1st

1 June 1947

Vercelli

Ferrari 125 S

1st

15 June 1947

Vigevano

Ferrari 125 S Corsa

DNF

29 June 1947

Varese

Ferrari 125 S Corsa

1st

13 July 1947

Parma

Ferrari 125 S

2nd

20 July 1947

Florence

Ferrari 125 S Corsa

DNF

15 August 1947

Circuito di Pescara

Ferrari 159 Spyder

2nd

24 August 1947

Livorno

Ferrari 125 S

DNS

28 September 1947

Modena

Ferrari 159 C

DNF

4 April 1948

Targa Florio

Ferrari 125 S

DNF

2 May 1948

Mille Miglia

Ferrari 166 S

DNF

1 August 1948

Aosta

Ferrari 166 SC

5th

15 August 1948

Circuito di Pescara

Ferrari 166 S

5th

20 March 1949

Targa Florio

Ferrari 166 MM

DNF

24 April 1949

Mille Miglia

Ferrari 166 SC

DNF

2 June 1949

Rome Grand Prix

Ferrari 166 SC

3rd

11 September 1949

Italian Grand Prix

Ferrari 166 F2

DNF

26 July 1953

10 Hours of Messina

Ferrari 250 MM

8th

9 August 1953

Circuito di Senigallia

Ferrari 166 MM/53

1st

15 August 1953

12 Hours of Pescara

Ferrari 166 MM/53

3rd

23 August 1953

Trullo d'Oro

Ferrari 166 MM/53

2nd

9 September 1953

Supercortemaggiore Grand Prix

Ferrari 166 MM/53

DNF

4 April 1954

Giro di Sicilia

Ferrari 500 Mondial

DNF

11 April 1954

Coppa della Toscana

Ferrari 500 Mondial

19th

2 May 1954

Mille Miglia

Ferrari 500 Mondial

14th

16 May 1954

Napoli Grand Prix

Ferrari 500 Mondial

DNF

22 May 1954

3 Hours of Bari

Ferrari 500 Mondial

3rd

30 May 1954

Targa Florio

Ferrari 166 MM/53

DNF

13 June 1954

Circuito di Caserta

Ferrari 166 MM/53

3rd

20 June 1954

Imola Grand Prix

Ferrari 166 MM/53

8th

4 July 1954

Cidonio Grand Prix

Ferrari 166 MM/53

2nd

25 July 1954

10 Hours of Messina

Ferrari 166 MM/53

6th

8 August 1954

Circuito di Senigallia

Ferrari 166 MM/53

5th

10 June 1956

Opatija

Ferrari 500 TR

1st

17 June 1956

Circuito di Caserta

Ferrari 500 TR

1st

24 June 1956

IV Gran Premio Supercortemaggiore

Ferrari 500 TR

11th

15 July 1956

Circuito di Reggio Calabria (Handicap)

Ferrari 500 TR

DNS

15 July 1956

Circuito di Reggio Calabria (S2.0)

Ferrari 500 TR

2nd

22 July 1956

Bari Grand Prix

Ferrari 500 TR

6th

29 July 1956

Giro delle Calabria

Ferrari 500 TR

7th

18 August 1956

Pescara Grand Prix

Ferrari 500 TR

4th

26 August 1956

5 Hours of Messina

Ferrari 500 TR

4th

30 September 1956

Circuito di Sassari

Ferrari 500 TR

1st

21 October 1956

Rome Grand Prix

Ferrari 500 TR

6th

4 November 1956

Venezuela Grand Prix

Ferrari 500 TR

11th

14 April 1957

Giro di Sicilia

Ferrari 250 GT

-

9 June 1957

Monsanto

Ferrari 500 TR

9th

11 August 1957

Swedish Grand Prix

Ferrari 500 TRC

DNS

1 December 1957

Esso Vallelunga

Ferrari 500 TR

15th

13 April 1958

Coppa Shell Monza

Ferrari 500 TR

5th

27 April 1958

Napoli Grand Prix

Ferrari 500 TR

6th

11 May 1958

Targa Florio

Ferrari 500 TRC

7th

15 May 1958

Aspern

Ferrari 500 TRC

2nd

6 July 1958

Circuito di Sassari

Ferrari 500 TR

4th

20 July 1958

10 Hours of Messina

Ferrari 500 TRC

-

5 October 1958

Innsbruck

Ferrari 500 TRC

7th

Source: Wikipedia

Cortese’s later life

After retiring from racing, it’s said Franco Cortese became an advisor for car component manufactures. He passed away on 13 November 1986 in Milan.

Written by Max Lammers. Join our email list if you’re interested in receiving the latest on our online magazine and store.


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