Italy 2013 Review

As a precursor to this blog, and for a bit of background behind the planning process, you may wish to read my earlier blog if you haven’t already done so.

Needless to say, our first visit to the legendary Monza F1 circuit had the entire BaT team so excited we’d been struggling to focus our attention on anything else all year. The combination of Monza and Mugello in the same week is something we’ve dreamt about for years but never managed to make a reality.

The week prior to the Italy trip was a frantic one to say the least. First off was my sister-in-laws wedding, a day that was far more stressful than my own wedding. During the week we had a track day at Castle Combe (fogged off until midday!) and a busy day at Donington Park (big corporate event using all 10 of our Caterhams). At the weekend I was racing at Anglesey in the Funcup with Sarah Reader and Platinum Member John Gilbert (finished 8th and 9th in the 2 x 3 hour races), before blasting back to the NEC in Birmingham with 24 members of the BaT team to see an awesome performance by Fleetwood Mac. We finally got to the Premier Inn at Luton Airport at around 2:30am Monday morning, knowing the alarm would go off at 5:30am for our dawn flight to Milan.

The formula we’ve honed over the last few years on our Iberia trip was followed closely, with the BaT team renting a few minibuses to transport the clients around from Airport to Hotel to Circuit and back. The first hotel was the Cosmo Palace in Milan – a 4-star hotel around 20 minutes from Monza Circuit. 50-odd clients and staff attended the reception dinner on the Monday night and the excitement over the following days activities was evident.

The track day at Monza went perfectly. The weather was on our side (dry and bright all day) and once we’d overcome a few “lost in translation” issues with the circuit, everything ran smoothly. The circuit itself was nothing like how I had imagined it. Having only ever seen the place on the TV for the F1 – it looked bare, even a little bleak with the advertising boards all removed. The history of the place is evident everywhere, but sadly it doesn’t give the impression of a well-maintained venue.

The Caterham R300 coped remarkably well round Monza – I was expecting to be on the limiter for far more of the lap than I actually was. The first chicane was a low-point on the lap, way too slow and disrupting the flow of the lap massively. Flat into Curva Grande was good with the wall to your right before heading to the second chicane – much more open and far nicer than the first chicane.

Then it’s onto Lesmo 1 and Lesmo 2. I failed to successfully navigate the first Lesmo at any point during the day – turning in way too early every lap and running out of road on the exit. I was expecting to see an accident at this corner – I’d consider it the trickiest on the track. Thankfully (other than a spin by a certain Platinum Member in his Radical SR3) we had no damage. The second Lesmo is easier, heading down the slight incline, under the banking of the old circuit and into the Ascari Chicane. Just before braking for the Ascari Chicane, I recommend glancing in the rear view mirror at the banking – it looks vertical from that angle!

The Ascari Chicane was the highlight of the circuit for me – especially in the Caterham – the change of direction suits the car perfectly and the amount of ground you close on the quicker/more powerful cars through here is incredible. Of course, once you exit Ascari onto the back straight you lose most of that ground again! Into the final corner (the Parabolica) to end the lap – again much slower than I was expecting in the Caterham – I had visions of it being a flat out corner – far from it!

Speaking to a few clients on the day, the circuit undoubtedly suited the quicker/heavier cars (Porsches, BMW’s, TVR’s etc) but regardless of what car you are driving, having exclusive use of the Monza circuit (indeed, the venue as a whole) is a mesmerising experience and one I won’t forget in a hurry.

Wednesday was a travel day and most of clients from Monza made their way down to Mugello. Even before we arrived in Mugello, it was apparent this was going to be a very special experience. We opted to sample the Futa Pass (one of Italy’s greatest driving roads). Sadly, we were in a 1.6 diesel Alfa rental car, so not quite the experience we were hoping for! The Tuscan hillside is beautiful and it’s well worth a visit to that part of the world if you’ve never been – even without the bonus of a track day thrown in.

The Park Hotel Ripaverde was another 4-star hotel, a little chintzy but the service was good and it was perfectly located for the circuit and walking distance from a few local Pizzerias. We dined in one such pizzeria – the lack of English speaking staff made it one of the most entertaining nights of our lives! Between the 15 staff we all picked up one word each from the waitresses persistent babbling and managed to just about decipher what she was going on about. Salient words were obviously Pizza Grande (Stuart Baines), Vino Bianco (Sarah, Spike and Amy) and Dolce Cioccolato (yours truly!).

On arrival at Mugello, you could instantly see why it’s such an expensive circuit to hire – the place was immaculate – quite possibly the cleanest/tidiest/well maintained circuit I’ve ever visited. Even during the sighting laps (in our trusty diesel Alfa Giulietta rental car) you could see immediately how incredible the track was going to be to drive at speed. In the Caterham R300, the circuit seemed perfect in every way – comparable only to Spa-Francorchamps in terms of flowing corners and elevation changes. The R300 was on the limiter on the straight, but only just – a relatively simple fix would be to run taller profile tyres (Avon ZZR’s as opposed to Avon CR500’s maybe).

In summary, Monza was a bucket-list venue, but not a circuit I’d be desperate to drive every year. Mugello on the other hand is right up there with the best, and if there’s any way we can make it an annual trip, we will.

In Pictures

A TVR enjoying the fast powerful Monza circuit, the historic banking, one of our Caterhams being driven round the picturesque Mugello circuit and sighting laps on the final day of the trip. .

Click thumbnail to view image.

Jonny Leroux
11 October 2013

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