Monza, the world famous race track close to Milan, northern Italy, home of the Parabolica, the Ascari, the Lesmo and many adventures.
If only that old super fast and two-Parabolica-ed layout was still used...
I got the chance to be a guest of AF Corse during one of their racing efforts in the International GT Open European championship, where they filed the usual army of Ferrari 458 GT (GT2 specs) and Ferrari 458 GT3, courtesy of a good friend of mine and middle man in this invitation, Manfro.
So as soon as someone says Ferrari, Monza and "are you in?" in the same sentence you can't help but simply say "hell yeah!". Fast forward to a rainy Saturday morning with not so chilly temperatures, the autostrada towards Milan was more crowded then predicted, and the rain was only getting worse. Of course the next day the weather was going to be wonderful, but we didn't know that... We arrived at the track, parked the car and as soon as the door was barely open, you could already hear the music of racing engines of various ethnicities clearing their throats. Another plus to the Monza race track is that it has a park all around it, meaning there are empty fields of grass and tall wild tries from hundreds of years ago as the frame to this picture. The track has been here for the good part of the last 92 years, and the funny thing is that a few years ago residents from the nearby houses were up in arms against the "noise pollution" of the racing track. Now, I'm not exactly the right person to question what is the right level of noise a race car should produce, but my opinion in this debate is actually very simple: unless you're 95 years old and have been living here for the last 95 of them, the track stays and so the race cars. If you moved here even just 30 or 10 years ago, you knew full well what you were going to face any given Sunday (another movie reference, at least this time it's not Micheal Bay...). Eventually they managed to put a limit to the maximum days permitted to "non complying cars", also known as damn-F1-cars. F1 cars which just got relatively quieter thanks to the new V6 Hybrid Turbo DRS ERS Whatever era, so I guess the party could be on full year now? Not with testing ban unfortunately.
Let's try to get back on topic.
The International Open GT championship is the kind of place where you'd find two kind of drivers and teams. Gentleman drivers living the dream and feeding their passion for racing and speed off their hopefully hard earned money, and official entries and drivers from major championships using these second tier events as training and probably a way to pay the bills as well.
When even the main GT championships are struggling to survive (cue, FIA GT1 and GT2 champhips) you get the picture. One could argue that if everyone could get their act together and put all eggs in a single basket we might get an awesome championship with a tremendously large field of cars. The thing is, you'd also get a tremendously different level of performance and speed on the track, with time gaps between the best and the worst cars/drivers measurable probably in something like a dozen of seconds per lap, at least. That's a potentially dangerous situation and would never work, but I think that having the same organization running something like 2 or 3 classes divided in the same number of races at the same location the same day could help. That's not a simple task either as indeed no one is thrilled by the mixture of the Daytona prototypes with Le Mans cars in the United SportsCars Championship in North America, but I know I love Le Mans and even the 24 Hours of the Nurburgring. Talk about performance differences there!
With the USCC they probably went a bit too far over there though, mixing something strictly American (the Daytona classes) with something imported from Europe (the late American Le Mans Series). I've no idea what they are trying to achieve, but we're never going to see a Daytona Protype at Le Mans any time soon, while only privateers could afford the ALMS. Heck, only privateers are running any endurance championship all around the world. The World Endurance Series itself is grabbing headlines only because of Audi and Toyota, but hopefully Porsche can add some competition and coverage as well, with others hopefully interested to come in. I don't consider Lotus a real factory entry as their name is actually Kodewa, running a modified Lola B12-80 car with a Judd engine, paying for the rights to use the Lotus banner. Kodewa being nothing else than the racing arm of one Colin Kolles, of HRT F1 team fame for most people out there. As with the HRT team, all of his recent efforts have been, let' say, sub par ("French" for "half-assed"), including the last two years running the LMP2 "Lotus", or the attempt to field two Audi R10 TDI in the European Le Mans Series in the past, everything seasoned with a constant lack of results. He seems to have the money, but not much else so far. I'm not thrilled by their motorcycle adventure either, once again called Lotus in the form of the CT-01. I actually hope Lotus come back to its sense soon and stop renting its name right away, Formula 1 team included. Let's call it Genii Racing, as it should. Once they got their name back, they could even think of releasing new cars again (not the Danny Bahar plethora of look-alike non-running concept cars perhaps).
End of the second off-topic diversion.
When I'm at a racing track I always lose any interest in what's happening on the track, who's fastest, who's first and the likes. I'm more interested in what's going on in the pits, the up-close action, the last minute checks on the cars, the pit-stops. Indeed following the action on the track is much more difficult when you're there. There is no on screen graphics to tell you the lap times or the drivers' order, and in GT and endurance racing, after a few laps the lapping starts and the cars on track start to mix, the slowest being in front of the fastest cars and you soon don't understand a thing about what's going on. Hearing the speaker and his live commentary is impossible, giant screen are cool but not very helpful, so you just sit back and enjoy the show, whatever it is. I eventually figured a long time ago that if you want to follow a race, you are better off at home with your super HD live feed eating taco chips or popcorn. If you want to experience the racing stuff, get yourself a pass from the paddock asap, especially for GT and endurance races.
It's even better if you can get in touch with someone within the teams, who can show you the cars, the tech and have a chat about the funniest or weirdest things that happened, it will be a blast and you won't care at all about who won. If that how you're going to feel, you'll want to do it again soon.
I've found out about it in 2004 when I bought myself a 2 days ticket for the FIA GT Championship for the Imola (Italy) round where Maserati debuted the MC12 GT1. I wasn't paying attention to racing stuff at all in those days, so I've found out about it only a couple of days before the race. Bought the ticket, took my father's minivan and off I was for the race track. I've slept in the car in the closest parking lot to the track, had lunches at the track, tried to talk with as many people as possible and even got to shake hands with Michael Bartels after his victory in the Saleen S7 GT1 of the Vitaphone team. Because that's how the atmosphere is at these races, relaxed and chilled. Aside for some uptight security guys and some high class families of the drivers, it looks like the hillclimb round of the national championship taking place just next to your house, just with cars 10 times cooler, faster and more expensive too.
I've no idea who won this time, but the Ferrari 458 GT were flying. Also, the Porsche 911 RSR (typ 996 of course) sounded as mean as usual, a different kind of noise compared to the earthquake like sound produced by the Chevrolet Corvette C6.R GT2, but still awesome. The McLaren MP4-12C GT3 though wasn't making much of a racing sound while fast moving from one corner to the next, but it was definitely trowing flames out of its exhaust downshifting. The Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG GT3 was producing the usual baritone sound as per AMG tradition. The Aston Martin V8 Vantage GT2 on the other hand was the unusual suspect, overlooked often in front of a lot of cars.
A car that caught my attention, mostly because I knew it already but wasn't expecting to see it, was the Montecarlo GT W12, debuting in the International GT Open that very weekend in Monza. Running on LPG (as in liquefied propane gas), it was developed by the Italian-Monegasque owner and driver Fulvio Maria Ballabio working together with the LPG and methane injection system builder BRC from Cuneo (Italy), using an Audi A8 sourced W12 6 liter engine, usually running on petrol. It was slower than any other GT3 car, but I'm glad it was there. Diversity, experimenting, driving and racing for the sake of it and not just to grab headlines and to reach F1 status is what makes these events so awesome. You could say it's not worth the hassle if you're not going to even be there to try and grab a place on the podium, but I bet you'd change your mind after 10 minutes with these guys.
Even better, if you got the chance to work with them, in any team!
If you are there just to win, you're doing it wrong, and you're not a real enthusiast. Of course winning is nice, but I consider it as the icing on the cake. You never turn down a cake even if it doesn't have icing, right?
Now a technical bit of information. Differences between the GT2 and the GT3 cars? Well, without taking out the rule book, it sort of comes down to this.
A GT2 car has a single restricted air intake, indeed as you can see in the pictures, the Ferrari 458 Italia GT has a completely different air box compared to the road going variant, with a pretty restricting minimum intake manifold diameter and the obvious very long Venturi-like pipe to try and recover some pressure. Without entering annoying engineering calculations leaving Bernoulli alone, in the smallest diameter of the air intake, the pressure is converted into speed. Once the sonic condition of the fluid (air) speed in it is achieved, no matter what you try there is not way to increase the volume of air entering the intake in a given time frame. If you can recover some of that pressure, you might add a bit of air entering the cylinders. More air means more fuel, which means more power. Of course adding fuel without air is not going to help much. So that's how an air restriction works.
GT2 cars thought have completely new and purpose-designed and built suspensions to tackle the track, more aggressive rubber on the wheels (different in size) and a stripped down weight. GT3 cars have larger air intakes (you can see the GT3 airbox is divided in two as on the road going Ferrari 459 Italia) so more power. The rear wing is also larger and positioned higher facing a much cleaner air flow in all likely. You could therefore expect more downforce. The GT3 cars though are not as light as GT2 cars and the suspensions are the same of the road going 458 Italia. Both cars run racing brakes, but the GT2 got better ones.
All in all the GT3 are obviously slower and less extreme to handle than GT2 cars, without costing just as much tanks to more stock components. A simple formula that is doing great as GT3-spec championships are on the rise all around the world. Of course when a manufacturer comes into the picture with a car designed with no limits in mind and then limited to GT3 specs (looking at you, Audi R8 LMS), the costs consideration can get out of the window, but you'll never face half million euros GT3 cars, that's the price for GT2 cars. An unrestricted Audi R8 LMS can compete against a GT2 specs Porsche 911 RSR as seen a few years ago at the Nurburgring 24 Hours when Audi entered the picture.
I honestly can't wait for the ACO, FIA and USSC to get their act together and promote even better the GT3 rule book, perhaps entering them in the WEC and Le Mans. Would be great.
Also running, single-seaters from the Formula ACI CSAI Abarth. One thing I noticed about those, the drivers were so young they probably didn't have a driving license... or shouldn't have one. But that's probably just me playing the grumpy old man, or being jealous of their father's money. Probably.
Thanks again to Manfro and the AF Corse guys for yet another great racing day.
All Watermarked Pictures and Words Copyright: Damiano Garro for The Italian Junkyard, other pictures courtesy of WikiMedia
This article can be linked to from other websites but its content and the pictures can't be reproduced on any other website without my written permission