Ahead of the European season opener, Joe runs through the Autodromo’s motor racing heritage, and explains what else the region has to offer our competitors this weekend.
Buongiorno! Welcome to my favourite part of the whole world: Tuscany, Italy, and the Autodromo Internazionale del Mugello.
Is it really over two months since the 24H SERIES family were together racing around the clock in Dubai? Plenty of time then to get the cars into the workshop and prepare for the first European round of the 2021 season. Well, you may be surprised to hear that having plenty of time is indeed not the case. Teams have been hard at work having just recently received their cars back from the Middle East after a long ocean voyage.
A 24-hour race week will punish any race car, but Dubai especially so. With an abundance of track time always being made available to competitors by the series’ organisers, the cars are in need of a complete overhaul: refreshed engines, gearboxes and suspension components as well as a fresh lick of paint. Getting rid of the dents and scrapes of a very competitive Hankook 24H DUBAI is of the utmost importance, though some would argue not quite as important as the cars having the correct setup when they are wheeled out onto the track in Mugello.
GT3 cars are the fastest class in the 24H SERIES and are still quite a sight to see racing through the sequence of 'Aribiata' corners, and the challenge of that optimum laptime will always be a draw for spectators and competitors alike in every class of the series.
Motor racing has always been a feature in this region of Italy. As you make your way from your hotel to the track this week, driving through the villages of Scarperia, San Lucia and Viola (to name just three), consider that these are the very roads on which the first road races took place back in the 1920s. Italian opera singer Guiseppe Campari won the first two ‘Mugello Grand Prix’ in 1920 and 1921, but alongside a love of speed, Campari had two other passions: food, in great quantities that he loved to prepare himself, and, of course, the opera. Blessed with a great Baritone voice from 'the depths of his expansive paunch', he continued singing professionally as well as being a racing driver.
After a break, the road races were revived in Mugello in 1955. From 1964 to 1969 the race consisted of eight laps of the 66.2km road course through the aforementioned villages, and from '65 to 67' the race was an actual round of the World Sportscar Championship. The last of those championship scoring events saw the Porsche 910 of Udo Schutz and Gerhard Mitter take the victory.
Unfortunately, the 1970 event was the last of the Mugello Road Races to be held. A serious accident in the village of Firenzuola took the life of a seven month old baby, and destroyed the reputation of the event. I would suggest that the main contributory factor of the accident was that it occurred during a private test session on the course as the roads were only closed off to the public for race and qualifying days. Insane by any standards, let alone those of today. The driver by the way spent two months in prison.
It was sports car legend Arturo Merzario that took the last of the victory spoils of road races at Mugello with back-to-back victories in 69' and 70' in an Arbarth 2000 single-handedly peddled by the diminutive Italian. We did not have to wait long for motor racing to return to Mugello as 1973 saw construction begin on the current closed circuit. The current track lies 5km east of the old road circuit and was opened in 1974. Racing has continued ever since and there is a definite sense of motorsport culture and history wherever you go in the locality.
The crowning achievement came last year when the Autodromo hosted a round of the 2020 Formula 1 World Championship, which also qualified as Scuderia Ferrari’s 1000th World Championship GP participation. Ferrari were, however, unable to stop the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton taking victory on his way to a record equaling seventh F1 World Championship. Still, what a spectacle those Formula 1 cars must have been around the majestic sweeps and undulations of the 5.2km course for those lucky enough to attend.
Adding to Mugello’s competitive history, the 24H SERIES has ran the Hankook 12H MUGELLO almost every year since 2014. Always a popular venue for competitors, I'm pretty sure I am not alone in my perception that this is not all to do with the layout of the track. Be honest, who doesn’t love Italian food? And wine? In Tuscany? We know Guiseppe Campari certainly did!