Race of My Life – Didier Theys

This article first appeared in the 11th April edition of Autosport magazine

Watkins Glen 6 Hours – 23rd August 1998

“I could have chosen fifty races for the one I consider to be the Race of May Life. Many from the junior formula’s I competed in and also from CART too are memorable. But the one I really remember most fondly is the Watkins Glen 6-Hours race in 1998 when I shared a Ferrari 333SP with Mauro Baldi and dear Giampiero Moretti, who we sadly lost last year.

“My main memory from the race was a really epic fight with James Weaver in the Dyson Riley & Scott for the lead. James is an old friend of mine and we have known each other for years. James was one of my first friends in racing back in 1978 when I came to the UK to race in Formula Ford. We even shared a house together for a year or so, in Thruxton along with Mike Thackwell who was the big up and coming superstar then. We had some great times there as we were all very different personalities but somehow we all got on so well.

“Racing with James was always fun and competitive. He was a gentleman off the track and on it he was tough as hell but always very fair. He was someone you could really trust going wheel to wheel with and then often had a beer afterwards. Watkins Glen in 1998 was a perfect example of that.

An ecstatic Giampiero Moretti celebrates Daytona 24hrs success at the start of an epic 1998 season. Didier Theys to his left plans more success in the Ferrari 333SP. – Photo courtesy of John Brooks

 

“So, some twenty years after sharing digs together in rural Hampshire, there we were racing each other at Watkins Glen. It proved to be a real dogfight. Mauro and Giampiero were up against Butch Leitzinger and Andy Wallace in the earlier stints and I think we pretty much did two hours each in the car. When I left the pits just ahead of James, he was right there on me straight away. From the look of it, he didn’t look like he was going to remember our friendship with too much warmth from that point on!

“The pressure he applied was intense but I dug deep and the 333SP was a pleasure to drive at the limit that day. We were neck and neck until the chequered flag but it was a nice clean fight between us. We were so evenly matched that it took all my concentration to hold him off, I was really pushing hard and he made me work for every ounce of that win. Even without someone like James right on your tail, it took special focus to drive a Ferrari 333SP around the Glen.

“Although the pressure was all consuming, I still managed to enjoy the fight and just the sensation of fighting with James at this magnificent circuit. We won by 0.6s, it was very close and there was never any chance to relax at all.

“Afterwards, James and I shook hands and had a good laugh about some of his attempts for the lead and also my defensive moves. It was all clean racing though. With James it always ended the right way, with us having a joke and often a drink afterwards. Like it should be.

“It was the end of an unbelievable year for the Doran team and Giampiero in particular. We did the unofficial triple-crown together, winning Daytona 24 Hours, Sebring 12 Hours and the Watkins Glen 6 Hours. After that race Giampiero stopped competitive racing.  It was a wonderful feeling having won those great races in one season and I will never forget it, mainly because of the people involved in that particular race at Watkins Glen.  James and Giampiero, two of the best guys I ever met in racing and a pleasure to go racing with them.”

Didier Theys

Theys was among a group of talented Belgian drivers that emerged during the late 70s and early 80s. Cutting his racing teeth in FF1600 in the UK, he quickly rose up through F3, F2 and then in to CART, starting 47 races between 1987-1993. A successful sports car career followed and reached a peak in 1998 with a triple crown of victories at Daytona, Sebring and Watkins Glen. Theys (56) retired in 2009.

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