Franco Cortese was born on February 10, 1903, in Oggebbio. His name is linked to Ferrari, since he was the first driver to have brought it to the debut and the first victory in his history, and to the Mille Miglia, which sees him at the start fourteen times. In the Italian race he made his debut on March 27, 1927, proving to have the mark of the champion. Paired with Baronicini, at the wheel of Team Italia's Maserati, Franco finished eighth. Only in his second race, in the Coppa Ciano he is third, winning the first podium of his career.
A year passes and Franco returns to the Mille Miglia, always with the Italy team, who changes his teammate alongside Cucchia. This time he is unable to reach the finish line, due to a technical problem that forces the two Italian drivers to get out of the car. These performances did not go unnoticed, and in 1929 Alfa Romeo hired Cortese to compete in the Mille Miglia. Driving the 6C 1750 SS, paired with Guatta, he is close to repeating the placement of two years earlier, crossing the finish line in ninth position one hour and twelve minutes behind the winner and teammate Campari. Franco tries again in the following season.
Flanked this time by Ghersi, he finished fourth, obtaining the best result up to that moment in the Mille Miglia completing the four of a kind at the Quadrifoglio, fifty-eight minutes behind Nuvolari. Three months later, at the beginning of July, taking part in the first race abroad, the 24 Hours of Spa, he once again showed off all his talent, finishing second paired with Iwanoski. In 1931 Cortese bet everything on the Mille Miglia, but compared to the previous year he crossed the finish line twelfth. The following year, IRI bought Alfa Romeo and decided to invest in series production, rather than in racing, entrusting the complete sports management to Scuderia Ferrari.
In the meantime, however, Franco will be able to cancel the disappointment of retiring from the 23rd Targa Florio, given that he will be in France to participate in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Paired with Guidotti, the two start strong and immediately take the lead, giving life in the early hours to a good duel with Minola's other Alfa Romeo who, in an attempt to take the first place off the track, ends up off the track. The two Italians remain leaders until the early hours, when in his turn Guidotti has to go to the pits due to a problem with the windshield, returning to the track in third place. During the night, another twist characterizes the race: last season's winners Lewis and Essendon also have a technical problem, so Cortese and Guidotti move up to second position, while Alfa regains leadership with Sommer and Chinetti. Franco, together with his teammate, tries to take advantage of Chinetti, no longer able to take over from Sommer due to fever, and with fast laps they reduce the disadvantage. Just when the engagement seems within their reach, some problems force them to make more pit stops.
Despite the desperate attempt to recover, the number 11 Alfa Romeo crossed the line in second position, two laps behind Sommer. Cortese, despite having seen the victory closely, can be satisfied as he succeeded where many of his colleagues had failed, to get on the podium at his first participation in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. In 1933, Cortese will get a good second place in the Mille Miglia, paired with Carlo Castelbarco, twenty-seven minutes from Nuvolari. Over the next two months, Franco tried to score an encore at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, but from the start of the race, paired with Chiron, the two were slowed down by some technical problems. Only thanks to the Italian's stint, during the night they climbed up to second position, and after a problem at the first light of dawn on Sunday in the car of Nuvolari-Sommer, they take the lead. The twist comes in the morning.
Cortese, overtaken by Nuvolari at the break, wants to regain leadership, but loses control of the car due to a tire failure, and is forced to retire as he sees the chance of winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans vanish for the first time. After a sabbatical year, in which Franco runs and wins the Targa Abruzzo, he returns to the Mille Miglia in 1935 with an Alfa from the Scuderia Ferrari, paired with Francesco Severi, but does not repeat the performance of 1933, as he only reaches the finish line in eighth place. The next edition of 1936 will also be negative, as he will face a retreat, but he repeats himself at the Targa Abruzzo, where he crosses the finish line in first place.
In the following season, Franco will again be engaged full-time in motor racing, and will be able to improve the placement of the previous edition of the Mille Miglia by finishing sixth. 1937 will continue finishing seventh at the Tunisian Grand Prix, but the situation changes will take place at the Targa Abruzzo, where he not only gets back on the podium, but returns to victory again. At the same time, together with Giovanni Lurani, Eugenio Minetti and Luigi Villoresi, Franco Cortese founded the Scuderia Ambrosiana, named in honor of the patron saint of Milan, Sant'Ambrogio, whose colors of the cars are black and blue, the social colors of the 'Inter, Milan football team. The car used is a Maserati 6CM, with which Cortese made his debut at the 2nd Valentino Grand Prix, retiring.
After a series of unfortunate results, Cortese will take another victory at the Val d’Intelvi Trophy, in 1938, and then repeat himself driving the Maserati on the Varese circuit. The good moment continues with the double at the Targa degli Abruzzi and the victory of the Italian sports car championship, while in the last match of the year, at the Tourist Trophy, he retires. In the following two years, with the Second World War in progress, Franco's commitments will be sipped. At the Impero circuit, in 1939, with an Alfa Romeo of the Scuderia Ambrosiana, Cortese finished in third place, while on the occasion of the XIX Coppa Ciano, the XV Coppa Acerbo, and the XXXI Targa Florio, with the Maserati 4C, will take second place. The commitment on the Sicilian island will be the last before the forced stop, due to the war, and six years of inactivity.
But when in 1946 he got back in the car on the Lancia Astura of the Scuderia Ambrosiana, he will prove that he has not forgotten how he drives, as he won two races in Modena, and obtained his third win of the season at the Luino circuit. These performances convince Ferrari to hire him. Enzo Ferrari had interrupted his collaboration with Alfa in 1937, creating Auto Avio Costruzioni, and at the end of the war he decided to start building racing cars again, and ask Cortese to take care of both the testing of his cars and the role of runner. Ferrari debut takes place on the Piacenza circuit. During the race, after an accident in practice, the second driver Giuseppe Farina pretends to change cars, as he is convinced that his teammate's was better set up, but Ferrari refuses and sends him away.
This strong gesture comforts Cortese, who was initially not convinced of the engagement of him. However, due to a problem with the petrol pump, Franco will be forced to retire, but ten days later he will repay Ferrari's trust. In fact, at the Rome Grand Prix, he will forever link his name to the red, taking it to victory for the first time, ahead of Barbieri's Maserati by eleven seconds. That is not the only satisfaction of the year, as he will climb the top step of the podium also in Vercelli and Vigevano, while in Varese the poker will drop. In Parma, on the other hand, he will have to surrender just over a second behind Tazio Nuvolari, and be content with completing the Ferrari one-two.
The same placement will be obtained at the Pescara Circuit, reaching the finish line 7.2 seconds behind Auricchio's Stranguellini. The only disappointment of this season to be framed will come in the last race, held on the roads where Enzo Ferrari grew up, in Modena, as Cortese will be forced to close the year with a retirement. In 1948, on the other hand, will be negative. In fact, Cortese will not see the checkered flag at the Targa Floro, the Mille Miglia and the 24 Hours of Spa. In 1949, Ferrari's reliability problems forced him to another disappointing season, retiring again to the Targa Florio and the Mille Miglia. The only satisfaction he will take away at the wheel of the Bristol in the Tuscan Cup, finishing eighth, and testing the 125 F1, that is the first Ferrari Formula 1 model, along via Abetone, which from Maranello continues towards Modena.
Later, with the Ferrari 166 F2, he will give life to one of his most beautiful victories, at the Naples Grand Prix. Here he gives life to a great challenge with Moss, and crosses the finish line in first position, making the Prancing Horse fans explode on the Posillipo circuit. However, this last difficult two-year period convinces Franco to abandon Ferrari, preferring to continue to compete in some single races, or with the Scuderia Ambrosiana, with which he will return to win in Pergusa and the Targa Florio in 1951. In 1952 he returned aboard an Alfa Romeo, and like twenty-three years before, on his seasonal debut he crossed the finish line in ninth position at the Giro di Sicilia.
Along the lines of the last editions, things will not go well at the Mille Miglia, in which he is forced to park the 1900 along the route, but Cortese will redeem himself at the Caserta Circuit, climbing on the podium and finishing second with a Frazer Nash, while at the next Targa Florio retires. The 1953 season restarts as it closed, not passing under the checkered flag at the Tour of Sicily, while at the Mille Miglia which this year decides to compete with Fiat, it does not go beyond the fourteenth position.
The disappointment grows at the end of the Targa Florio, following the umpteenth retirement of him, but it is when he returns privately at the wheel of a Ferrari that Cortese will give the turning point to his year. After eighth place at the 10 Hours of Messina, the Italian driver wins on the Senigallia Circuit, and also climbs on the podium, finishing third and second at the 12 Hours of Pescara and at the Gold Trullo. The good moment is interrupted in the last race of the season at the Supercortemaggiore, where he retires. The beginning of 1954 will also be very difficult. At the Tour of Sicilia, like the previous year, he fails to reach the finish line, and with the Ferrari 500 Mondial he is the protagonist of another Mille Miglia below his expectations, finishing in fourteenth position.
Disappointment that continues even at the Naples Grand Prix, as he is forced to retire. The redemption comes in the week following the Bari Grand Prix, when Ferrari returns to let him drive the 166 MM/53 with which he finishes in third place, repeating himself on the Caserta circuit. Subsequently, he will get on the podium again on July 4, 1954, after finishing in second place the Grand Prix on the Collemaggio Circuit. The season ends as it started, with a sixth and a fifth place at the Messina 10 Hours and at the Senigallia Circuit. In 1955 Cortese's program will be greatly reduced.
Returning to driving Fiat like two years before, he obtained an unsatisfactory placement in the Mille Miglia, where he reached only forty-sixth place, while when he got behind the wheel of the Ferrari 750 Monza he was fifth, making a good performance in the SuperCortemaggiore, contrary to what happens at Oulton Park International and in the Targa Florio, where in both cases he retires. Also the following year Franco will not be able to be competitive in his last Mille Miglia, worsening the result of the past edition with Fiat, crossing the finish line in 97th position. The music changes once again as he sits in a Prancing Horse car. With the new Ferrari 500 Testa Rossa, in the space of a week, he climbs the top step of the podium in Opatija, and makes an encore at the Caserta circuit, where he will win his last career victory.
The Supercortemaggiore will once again be bewitched, closing it out of the top ten in eleventh position, but in mid-July it cancels the disappointment by making its last great performance, climbing on the podium at the Reggio Calabria Circuit where it conquers the second position and the championship for cars with displacement two liters. Franco Cortese will end his career with the Grand Prix raced in Innsbruck, where he reaches the finish line in seventh position, and will retire with sixteen wins, thirty-four podiums and four pole positions. Although the Piedmontese driver is not remembered as a driver of great value, his name will still remain engraved in history as the winner of the Mille Miglia, his favorite race, but above all for his role as a rider who first led to the triumph the Ferrari.