Olivier Beretta Race of My Life – Rolex Daytona 24hrs – February 5/6 2000
This article first appeared in the September 25th edition of Autosport magazine
I am lucky because I have had a wonderful career in motorsport competing in a big variety of categories and teams. So there are many races I remember very fondly and with some big successes.
But the one I remember so well, for a real contrast of reasons, is the 2000 Daytona 24 Hours. Most people will remember it for the first ever time a GT car won the race. It was a massive achievement against some strong prototype competition from Riley & Scott, Lola, Ferrari and Cadillac.
But I also remember it because it was already one of the toughest races to compete in, but in 2000 I added to that by contracting chickenpox the day before the race!
My team mates were very good. Dominique (Dupuy) and Karl (Wendlinger) were a pleasure to work with. The problem for me was my health because just before I flew to Florida I knew there was a chance I could get chickenpox from my own child. I was frantically asking my own mother if she could remember if I had already had it when I was a kid. She wasn’t sure, so I thought maybe it will be ok.
Sure enough the day before the race I started sweating and feeling really bad with a big fever. I looked in the mirror on race morning and there was the evidence all over my skin! No hiding place. Shit!
I knew that Hugues (De Chaunac) could swap the drivers around the car or even leave me out completely, so I had to prove to him and the team I could be on the pace. It was a massive effort as we were fighting with one of the Corvette entries. I felt so bad but the one thing that helped was it happened to be one of the coldest Daytona’s in years, so I was lucky in that respect.
The prototypes all fell away and going in to the last hour we started to have a problem with the gearbox. Everyone was really tense and we were not sure if we were going to finish.
We just made it, Karl in particular doing a fantastic job. The margin was about thirty seconds which then was the closest finish in the history of the race.
Nobody expected a GT car to win that race. To do it in an American classic like the Dodge Viper was fantastic. It was also great to win it for Hughes De Chaunac and the ORECA organisation that I had raced for four years already.
The team celebrated like crazy. Me? Well, I was so sick and exhausted that I couldn’t really enjoy the moment as I should have done. I went to straight to the airport and fell asleep in the lounge. I looked so bad that I was worried they would not let me fly back to Monaco!
But I had that watch in my luggage so I was still able to manage a big, big smile.
About Olivier Beretta
The Monegasque was a race winner in French F3 and European F3000 in the late 80s and early 90s before making 10 Grand Prix appearances for Larousse in 1994. A long sportscar career started in 1995 which has brought six GT class victories at Le Mans and multiple FIA GT and ALMS class titles.
Photo with thanks to Peter May