KING OF THE ROAD

FAIL­URE, DIS­AP­POINT­MENT, BRO­KEN DREAMS – NONE OF THESE THINGS SOUNDS LIKE IT BE­LONGS IN THE STORY OF FER­RARI. BUT THE SITE OF THE FOUNDER’S THWARTED AM­BI­TION TO BE A GREAT RACER IS THE PER­FECT PLACE TO DRIVE THE 488 SPI­DER, AND BE THANK­FUL ENZO CHAN­NELLED

The Australian - Wish Magazine - - MOTORING - STORY JOHN CAREY PHO­TOG­RA­PHY TOM SALT

At first, Enzo Fer­rari wanted his name etched in sil­ver rather than spelled out in chrome. The burn­ing am­bi­tion of the young man from Mo­dena was to be­come a great racer, a win­ner of tro­phies. In­stead, his name be­came the badge worn by some of the world’s most de­sir­able cars. Late in his long life, Fer­rari con­fessed to an Ital­ian in­ter­viewer: “Volevo es­sere un grande pi­lota, e non lo sono stato.” I wanted to be a great racer, and I wasn’t one.

The low line of moun­tains ly­ing be­tween Bologna and Florence is part of the north­ern Apen­nines, the range that puts the knee-to-toe bone in the Ital­ian boot. The area played a part in sour­ing Enzo’s dream.

Be­tween World War I and World War II one of Italy’s most im­por­tant races was the Cir­cuito del Mugello. Run on a 66km loop of public road tem­po­rar­ily closed for the event, it was named for the re­gion in which it was run. Through the 1920s Enzo Fer­rari com­peted here six times, al­most al­ways in Alfa Romeos. He never won. His best re­sult was a sec­ond place in 1921, but bit­ter dis­ap­point­ments were more fre­quent. Three times Fer­rari was forced to re­tire.

The race hasn’t been run since a brief re­vival in the 1960s, but the roads mostly re­main as they were. And they’re the per­fect place for a poignant pil­grim­age in some­thing wear­ing a Fer­rari badge.

The 488 Spi­der is the maker’s most se­ri­ous open-top car. Press a but­ton and its metal roof re­tracts, let­ting in the sound of the en­gine and swirls of scented Tus­can air.

It seems right to drive the Spi­der open; the cars Enzo raced here were roof­less. But here the sim­i­lar­i­ties end. There’s a vast tech­no­log­i­cal gulf be­tween the 488 Spi­der and the Alfa Romeos he drove. It’s like com­par­ing a wind-up gramo­phone to an iPhone play­ing mu­sic through Blue­tooth speak­ers.

The 488 Spi­der, and the closely re­lated 488 GTB coupé, mark an im­por­tant step for Fer­rari. Both are pow­ered by a 3.9-litre V8 with twin tur­bocharg­ers. The last Fer­rari launched be­fore 90-year-old Enzo’s death in 1988 was the F40, a low-vol­ume pro­duc­tion ex­otic with a twin-turbo V8 de­vel­oped from a rac­ing en­gine. In the decades since, the com­pany’s lead­ers re­sisted tur­bocharg­ing for road car en­gines.

It was im­pos­si­ble, they said, to de­liver a truly Fer­rari driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence with a turbo en­gine. Their pre­ferred path to power was sky-high en­gine revs, and the wail­ing ex­haust sound they pro­duced. The way such en­gines in­stantly re­spond to the tini­est change in pres­sure on the ac­cel­er­a­tor pedal would be di­min­ished by us­ing tur­bocharg­ers, they added. But tur­bocharg­ers im­prove an en­gine’s ef­fi­ciency, and this is a sub­ject not even Fer­rari can ig­nore these days.

So the engi­neers sought the best tur­bocharger tech­nol­ogy avail­able when de­vel­op­ing the new down­sized V8, co­de­named Tipo 154. Then they spent years work­ing to make it rev high, like a Fer­rari should, and re­spond with the pre­ci­sion prized by Fer­rari driv­ers.

It’s hard to fault the re­sult. Press the red starter but­ton on the steer­ing wheel, and the en­gine wakes with a snarl. Tap the right-hand pad­dle shifter to select first gear, and gen­tly press the ac­cel­er­a­tor. It’s best to wait for clear road ahead be­fore giv­ing it more – things hap­pen very quickly when the right-hand pedal is pressed.

Es­pe­cially in the lower gears, the force of the Fer­rari’s ac­cel­er­a­tion is lit­er­ally breath­tak­ing, and the sound it makes ap­proach­ing its 8000rpm limit is spine-tin­gling. As if the shock and awe of the 488 Spi­der’s straight-line per­for­mance wasn’t enough, it also seems to have steer­ing and stop­ping su­per­pow­ers. It’s a car made for curves, and the Cir­cuito del Mugello has plenty.

The cir­cuit links two moun­tain passes. From Scarpe­ria (30km north of Florence) it heads north over the Passo del Giogo to Firen­zuola (around 70km south of Bologna). From here the an­ti­clock­wise route swings west, then south, to climb the famed Passo della Futa.

The Futa’s renown is a re­sult of its in­clu­sion in the Mille Miglia, Italy’s great road race from Bres­cia to Rome and back (fea­tured last month in WISH). Though last run as a com­pet­i­tive race in 1957, the Mille Miglia

It’s best to wait for clear road ahead – things hap­pen very quickly when the right-hand pedal is pressed.

lives on to­day as a clas­sic car pa­rade that takes days in­stead of hours to com­plete.

Where the Mille Miglia dashed north over the Passo della Futa on the way back to the fin­ish line in Bres­cia, the Cir­cuito del Mugello went in the op­po­site di­rec­tion. South from the sum­mit, the route passed through San Piero a Sieve, where the driv­ers turned left for Scarpe­ria.

Scarpe­ria is to­day the prettiest place to stop on the Cir­cuito del Mugello. This small town has a 500-year his­tory of blade man­u­fac­tur­ing. Ar­ti­san knife-mak­ers still work here, their wares dis­played in shop win­dows on the main street dom­i­nated by the tall, square bell­tower of the Palazzo dei Vi­cari, a Medici strong­hold.

This is also the town clos­est to the modern Mugello race­track. The Fer­rari-owned cir­cuit is used for For­mula One test­ing, though the cars don’t race here. But Mugello is the home of the Ital­ian Mo­tor­cy­cle Grand Prix.

The old Cir­cuito del Mugello’s longest straights are be­tween San Piero a Sieve and Scarpe­ria. At the speed limit, the 488 Spi­der feels like it’s doz­ing. Soon, the road be­gins a snaking climb to the 882m-high point of the Passo del Giogo and the Fer­rari comes alive. This is a car that can sense its driver’s keen­ness. Leave the seven-speed dou­ble clutch transmission in Auto mode, and pick up the pace. Within a few hun­dred me­tres, the soft­ware will recog­nise the raised level of en­thu­si­asm be­hind the wheel, let­ting the en­gine rev higher be­fore shift­ing up a gear and mak­ing snappy, per­fectly timed down­shifts when slow­ing for the next bend.

While the 488 Spi­der’s bril­liance shines bright, the land­scape ap­proach­ing the top of the pass is steep and som­bre. It’s a re­lief to crest the top and be­gin the de­scent to Firen­zuola. The name means “Lit­tle Florence”, but there’s no re­sem­blance to the Tus­can cap­i­tal.

Most of Firen­zuola was flat­tened by ar­tillery and bombs in 1944. It was through these hills in the late sum­mer of that year that the re­treat­ing Ger­man army set up its fi­nal great de­fen­sive line of the Ital­ian cam­paign, hop­ing to block the Giogo and Futa passes to ad­vanc­ing Al­lied armies. Many thou­sands of Ger­mans who died in the fierce and pro­longed fight­ing are now buried in an im­mac­u­lately tended war ceme­tery at the Passo della Futa. When Amer­i­can units even­tu­ally punched a hole through the Gothic Line at the Giogo Pass in Septem­ber, the Ger­mans re­treated to the heights above Firen­zuola.

While the lit­tle town may lack beauty, it’s not a bad place to eat. The riches of Emilia Ro­magna are the other side of the Apen­nines – not for noth­ing do Ital­ians call Bologna La Grassa, The Fat – so the sim­pler style of Tus­cany reigns in Firen­zuola.

Stroll by Da Barba, a mod­est eatery off the main square on via Al­le­gri, and you may spy a crew of chatting women hand-mak­ing the lo­cal spe­cialty: tortelli Mugel­lani, pasta squares filled with potato, pars­ley, gar­lic and a touch of nut­meg, served with a meat ragù.

Be­tween Firen­zuola and the 903m top of the Passo della Futa is the most de­li­cious part of the old Cir­cuito del Mugello to drive. It’s speed­ier, with wider curves and a bet­ter view. But be sure to pause at the Passo della Futa bar-restau­rant-ho­tel, run by the Po­letti fam­ily since 1890. By the door to the bar is a plaque in mem­ory of the Cir­cuito del Mugello lap record set in 1970 by Ital­ian driver Gio­vanni “Nani” Galli. He wres­tled a Lola racer round the 66km course in un­der 30 min­utes, for an av­er­age speed above 130km/h.

The bar’s walls are cov­ered with pho­to­graphs of the Cir­cuito del Mugello races dur­ing its 1964-70 re­vival. The sim­ple restau­rant serves a Floren­tine spe­cialty: bis­tecca alla Fiorentina. The big T-bone steaks are cooked on a grate over an open wood fire.

On a wall down the road at the sum­mit of the Futa, large bas-re­liefs com­mem­o­rate driv­ers of the kind Enzo Fer­rari wanted to be, in­clud­ing Cle­mente Bion­detti, four-time win­ner of the Mille Miglia.

In the early 1930s, Enzo Fer­rari, failed racer, be­came a suc­cess­ful race team owner. And as Italy raised her­self from the rub­ble of World War II, he turned to man­u­fac­tur­ing, his firm even­tu­ally mak­ing cars that can con­quer the cir­cuit in a way he never could.

De­scend­ing the Passo della Futa, the 488 Spi­der is a blue blur, the slant­ing sun­light now and then glint­ing off the seven lus­trous let­ters on its en­gine cover.

The road be­gins a snaking climb to the 882m-high point of the Passo del Giogo and the Fer­rari comes alive.

The 488 Spi­der on the Cir­cuito del Mugello and pass­ing the restau­rant at the Passo della Futa

In and around the town of Scarpe­ria, the prettiest stop on the route

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