Former Minardi pilot Paolo Barilla is celebrating his 49th birthday today!

Paolo Barilla

An heir to – and now co-director of – the Barilla pasta empire, Barilla decided at the age of fourteen that he wanted to become a racing driver. After success in karting, he graduated through the junior ranks, winning races in his maiden season of Italian F3 at the age of 20.

He progressed to Formula 2 driving for Minardi in 1982 alongside Alessandro Nannini, but it was in sports cars that he found his niche, winning the 1985 Le Mans 24 Hours with Klaus Ludwig and ‘John Winter’ in a Joest Porsche.

His desire to become an F1 driver still lingered, and he tested for the Toleman team that year. Having won more races in IMSA and the World Sportcar Championship, he moved to Japan, dabbling in Group C, Formula 3000 and the World Touring Car Championship.

It was as a spectator at Suzuka that he bravely rescued Denmark’s Kris Nissen from his burning car, diving into the flames in his civvies to rescue a fellow driver.

Barilla was signed as Minardi’s test driver for 1989, standing in at the 1989 Japanese GP for the injured Pierluigi Martini. He would qualify 19th on debut – impressive in a field of 39 entrants – but retired with a clutch failure.

Barilla drove full-time for the Faenza team the following year, but he was never on Martini’s pace and was shown the door before the season’s end where he was replaced by Gianni Morbidelli.

Despite some testing work for Bridgestone in a Reynard F1 prototype, Paolo’s motorsport career wound down fairly quickly after that and he returned to the family empire, overseeing the company’s personal sponsorship of Alessandro Zanardi as part of its push into the US market.

Barilla Pasta

We wish Paolo a very happy birthday today!

[Images via F1 Facts and Nine Cooks]

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Richard Bailey

Founder & Chief Editor at MotorsportM8
Hasn't missed a Grand Prix since 1989. Has a soft spot for Minardi. Tattooed with 35+ Grand Prix circuits.

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