In 2021, the Autodromo Internazionale del Mugello will host the 24H SERIES for a seventh time, more so than only two other events to-date. But what is it about the Hankook 12H MUGELLO that enthuses drivers so much, and how much has changed since the inaugural edition in 2014?
As of this weekend, the Hankook 12H MUGELLO has now been held under the CREVENTIC banner seven times since 2014. And while the Hungaroring and the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya predate Scarperia e San Piero’s Autodromo as the 24H SERIES’ first European events in 2008 and 2011 respectively, only CREVENTIC’s tentpole events – the Hankook 24H DUBAI and the Hankook 24H BARCELONA – have been organised more times.
The secret behind such longevity? Well, a solid relationship between CREVENTIC and management at the Autodromo Internazionale del Mugello management team is as good as any place to start, right?
“Our relationship, as it is with most circuits, has always been strong,” CREVENTIC’s technical coordinator Gerrie Willems explains. “We always feel very welcome at Mugello, as do the teams, and open communication with the circuit is at the heart of that. Every year, planning and preparation of this event is done with the right, positive mindset, and you can’t get a better foundation to build an event on than enthusiasm from all parties!”
“Still being on the 24H SERIES calendar seven years after that first race is a sign that a shared path has been taken between the Autodromo Internazionale del Mugello and CREVENTIC,” explains circuit CEO, Paolo Poli. “The event has grown from every point of view – organizational, sporting, and media coverage – and this has only increased its appeal among the participants, attracting more and more manufacturers as a result.”
Of course, even Gerrie and Paolo may admit that the response to the first Hankook 12H MUGELLO on 14-15 March 2014 exceeded expectations. One month ahead of the green flag for example, the preliminary entry list already boasted 50 cars representing 13 different car brands. On top of that, although Mugello had hosted European Formula 2 and the World Sports Car Championship among other series during the ‘70s and ‘80s, the Tuscan circuit had yet to host an international race that lasted for 12 hours. Plus, while it’s a mainstay of many 24H SERIES events today, Mugello 2014 also marked the first time the ‘overnight intervention’ was used during a CREVENTIC event. True, purists baulked at the prospect, and it was a decision partially based on local noise restrictions, but it also kept the competition tight by allowing team personnel a few hours of uninterrupted rest.
Before the green flag had even dropped then, the inaugural Hankook 12H MUGELLO was a toe-in-the-water exercise for multiple reasons.
One that, happily, proved successful. Reigning Hankook 24H DUBAI winner Stadler Motorsport secured pole position ahead of the AF Corse and Scuderia Praha Ferraris, the trio engaging thereafter in a heated battle for the opening four hours. Ultimately though, the Stadler Porsche was unable to preserve its tyres as effectively as the AF Corse Ferrari, and despite a grandstand finish – after a late race splash-and-dash, Stadler’s Adrian Amstutz began hauling in new leader Aliaksandr Talkanitsa Sr. by more than a second per lap – AF Corse held on to win the inaugural Hankook 12H MUGELLO. Fun fact, with a charging Amstutz falling just 5.417s short at the line, Mugello 2014 remains the closest finish to-date in the 24H SERIES. A fitting tribute on the circuit’s 40th anniversary.
Admittedly, while the experimental race format and mixed strategies were both contributory factors to a competitive endurance race, so too was the circuit itself. Indeed, those distinctive elevation changes caused by the local topography has made the Mugello’s Autodromo one of the most oft-requested venues for drivers.
“Mugello is a fascinating circuit simply because it is so challenging,” Gerrie continues. “The high-speed corners tend to flow up and down through the hills, so you really get to see the speed of the GT3 cars. But they also demonstrate how finely balanced the Porsche Cup cars are, and TCR cars have plenty of traction out of the hairpins. So it’s a very challenging and interesting circuit for our drivers to experience, regardless of what category they’re in, and that’s a big reason why we enjoy having Mugello on our calendar.”
“The Hankook 12H MUGELLO is certainly one of the flagship competitions on our 2021 sports calendar,” Paolo adds, "and I believe the reasons for this are varied. First of all, the layout of the circuit. Mugello is an old-style track and unique on the international scene as the configuration has not changed since 1974. That’s the benefit of being in an extraordinary region like Tuscany.”
With interest suitably piqued, the entry list had ballooned from 37 to 72 cars for the second edition in 2015, with entries registered from all over Europe, the United States, Australasia, and even India. Notable entrants included inaugural Hankook 24H DUBAI winner Duller Motorsport on its first 24H SERIES run in five years, HB Racing Team Herberth and Scuderia Praha (both of whom would make seismic impacts in the 24H SERIES standings in the years that followed), and MARC Cars Australia in its first developmental season with the bespoke Focus V8. On top of that, and with the 24H SERIES now fully certified by the FIA, championship points were also up for grabs for the first time at Mugello. In just 12 months, the stakes had risen exponentially.
Playing to the Italian crowd, Black Pearl Racing by Rinaldi secured pole position on the very last lap of qualifying, Scuderia Praha completing an all-Ferrari front row. A second consecutive Ferrari win was not to be though, HB Racing Team Herberth instead producing a flawless run with its Porsche 911 GT3 R from the second row to secure its first 24H SERIES win (of many) in only its second start.
Brutally, having starred one year earlier, the prancing horse wouldn’t rostrum at all on its home track in 2015: accident damage meant Scuderia Praha fell back into the mid-pack in the opening hour, while a spin from Black Pearl Racing in the closing stages effectively handed the final podium spot to RAM Racing, from which, ironically, the Ferrari had snatched pole position the day before. On top of that, Car Collection Motorsport, another future class champion, looked set to claim A6-AM victory only for suspension failure to strike just two hours from home.
Just like that, a trend for late-race drama had been set at the Autodromo.
Fast forward to 2016. Amidst the 64-car field, 2008 Formula 1 Canadian Grand Prix Robert Kubica lined up for his maiden endurance race with Poland’s MP Sports, while American entrepreneur Jim Glickenhaus entered two fully-carbon SCG 003Cs for Scuderia Cameron Glickenhaus’ first race outside the Nürburgring (both would unfortunately be felled by gearbox failure, although the American team did run as high as 2nd). In the race itself, attention soon shifted to Herberth Motorsport – out before half distance with suspension failure – and polesitter GRT Grasser Racing Team, whose run was stymied by a puncture, a spin, and a broken fuel valve that briefly caused the Lamborghini Huracán GT3 to catch fire!
The biggest talking point though was V8 Racing’s shock first win with the Renaultsport R.S.01 after long-time leader Optimum Motorsport ground to a halt on-track with gearbox issues with just 90 minutes left on the clock. Worse was to follow just moments later unfortunately when an unsighted DINAMIC SRL Porsche 991 Cup steamed straight into the back of the stranded Audi at high-speed. Fortunately, both Optimum’s Ryan Ratcliffe and Giovanni Berton escaped serious injury, though the incident was a reminder to both CREVENTIC and Mugello that safety standards at the event must always remain a priority.
“Safety is, and always has been, CREVENTIC’s number one priority with the 24H SERIES.” (Gerrie). “We’ll always encourage our teams and drivers to enjoy their racing, and we’ll do everything we can to promote a high level of competition. But the racing must be safe, and incidents like 2016 just drive us more to make our standards even higher.”
Lady luck once again left Herberth Motorsport high and dry in 2017 when the Porsche 911 GT3 R, by now a Hankook 24H DUBAI winner, retired after just two hours with engine failure. Admittedly, even at this early stage and despite the Ferrari fluffing its start, the race already belonged to Scuderia Praha: after four hours, only Forch Racing was on the same lap, and come the chequered flag, Scuderia Praha had led all but one of the 218 laps completed on a scorching hot Saturday afternoon during which the Czech team and fellow prancing horse runner Octane 126 has comfortably set the pace. Three years after the inaugural event, Ferrari was a winner again at the Hankook 12H MUGELLO.
A bold experiment, during which CREVENTIC attempted to host a 12-hour GT race and a 24-hour TCE endurance race concurrently at Silverstone, meant Mugello slipped off the calendar in 2018. Despite this, Italy retained its presence on the calendar with the Hankook 12H IMOLA, as it had done the year prior with three events at Mugello, Imola, and a TCE-only run at Misano.
After all, a 24H SERIES calendar without Italy, a veritable mecca of motorsport? Surely not…!
“I think an opportunity to have a good race in every European country would be attractive!” (Gerrie) “But of course, Italy is motorsport-minded and Italy has many great circuits. It’s very reachable for all drivers and teams in Europe. There’s great food, great weather, great hospitality, great racing heritage, you name it. That’s a lot of great ingredients for a successful race.”
Of the 56 cars entered for the 2019 race, six of them were Ferraris, a record unmatched at any other CREVENTIC event before or since. Fired up by its ‘home fans’, and despite stiff offense from series returnee Barwell Motorsport (2nd place for the Lamborghini ensured the event’s first Italian 1-2) the now renamed Bohemia Energy racing with Scuderia Praha cruised to a commanding second event win, its first of an eventual four in succession en-route to that year’s title. It was a similarly spirited run in TCE too for erstwhile TCR teams’ champion Autorama Motorsport by Wolf-Power Racing.
Ironically, with Herberth Motorsport finally back on the podium (its first at the event since its win in 2015), 2019 marks the only time a Mercedes-AMG failed to finish inside the top three at Mugello, despite Stuttgart’s three-pointed star locking out the front row of the grid. SPS automotive performance lasted just 19 laps before its suspension failed, while fellow front row starter Hofor Racing, which claimed its second consecutive class win at the event, slipped down the order to 4th.
2020 though would prove perhaps the greatest anomaly of all Hankook 12H MUGELLOs to-date. Covid’s ever-strengthening grip meant the Autodromo’s traditional opening slot in March was bumped back to November, while the logistical nightmare surrounding travel and accommodation saw the entry list plummet to just 17. On-track drama persisted, nonetheless – Herberth Motorsport’s second event win was blighted by its sister Porsche losing 2nd place to gearbox failure inside the final hour – but that was far from the big story, as Gerrie explains…
“At the beginning, it was obvious with all the unknowns surrounding Covid that we could not run the race as normal. We weren’t willing to take any risks. But when lockdown ended and it was safe enough to hold races once again, we tried to look at the situation from the bright side and explore all possibilities. We were in close contact with Mugello for many months, and that meant we were updated regularly on the health and safety protocols being introduced in the country and the region. Again, having a good relationship with the circuit really paid off in that regard!
“We were quite surprised actually just how much feedback and appreciation we got from the teams, and even though these are exceptional times, it was comforting to know that, if we could create an environment that was safe for everybody, our competitors would support events held behind closed doors. This was extremely difficult to pull off, but we were very happy when we managed to pull it off. In the end, having those six races in 2020 was a major achievement for us.”
Which brings us to 2021. The Autodromo Internazionale del Mugello, now back in its traditional spot on the calendar, is set to host the seventh edition of the Hankook 12H MUGELLO, barely five months after hosting the sixth! Things appear to be returning to normal though after the 2020 ‘blip’. Three Ferraris will form part of a 50+ grid in Tuscany, and rather than casting minds back across a season in the bag, teams and drivers will again be looking ahead to the five remaining rounds on the 24H SERIES calendar.
Will there be drama? Of course. Italian heritage and charisma? Almost certainly. Just the latest chapter in the storied history of the Hankook 12H MUGELLO that, hopefully, won’t be drawing to a close any time soon…
“You never know how these things will turn out year after year, but there’s a great chance Mugello will be on our calendar for many years to come.”
- Words – James Gent
- Images – Petr Frýba and Eric Teeken
You can also check out this article in our magazine for the 2021 Hankook 12H MUGELLO, available for digital download below.