YOU AND YOURS
Roberto Giordanelli and his Porsche 968 Sport
Roberto Giordanelli is a lovely guy who wears his petrolhead heart on his sleeve – or his Sparco driving gloves at least; he’s driven more exotic machinery than most of us could muster in several lifetimes. He embraced Porschedom relatively late on, though. ‘It took me 50 years to bond with a Porsche,’ he declares, ‘so that tells you that I am not your average aficionado of things Stuttgart.’ After driving many classic cars and historic racing cars, it wasn’t until the early ’80s that he owned his first Porsche: a 912. ‘Someone told me they’d got a 912 gently rotting away in their garden, and I thought it would be a shame to let that happen, so I nursed it back to life, drove it around for a while and sold it on. As much as I like the simplicity of the 912, they’re just not fast enough.’ There’s no 911 in his back story: Roberto’s subsequent Porsche acquisitions have all been front engined: ‘In the early ’90s my activities shifted from classic car and race car engineering to being a professional test driver and writing for various performance car magazines. This got me into countless quick Porsches, including hot 911s and even a couple of 959s. It was around then that I bought my next Porsche, which was a 924 Turbo. I liked mastering the turbo lag and the sudden rush of torque, a feature that’s extremely handy when racing turbocharged cars. The 924’s handling also suited my driving style.’ Then, at the turn of the millennium, he swapped the 924 Turbo for a 944 2.7. ‘The 944 was civilised, nicely styled and could cover huge distances effortlessly. After a few years of enjoyment someone made me an offer, and I sold the 944, and then I had a Porsche-less gap of about ten years before buying my fourth Porsche, which was the red 968 Sport. This came about at the same time as I was racing and aiding the development of a client’s racing Porsche, a reincarnation of a 968 Turbo RS. The factory made four 968 Turbo RS race cars, and this particular one is a replica of the 1994 Le Mans race car.’ (Roberto refers to the yellow Seikel Motorsport car that ran in GT2, driven by Thomas Bscher/lindsay OwenJones/john Nielsen – qualifying 39th and crashing out on lap 84.)
The romantic Italianate nomenclature – which could easily be that of a dashing ’50s racing driver – is perfectly genuine: Roberto’s father was an Italian army officer who came to GB in WW2 as a POW after El Alamein, marrying an Italian girl (Roberto’s mother) and settling in London rather than returning to post-war Italy – and indeed Roberto has always lived in Britain. Inevitably then, you’ll not be surprised to discover a long chain of Italian vehicles in his historical roster, ranging from Lambretta scooter to Maserati Bi-turbo.
As he says, Porsches came into his life relatively late in the day. Roberto is a mechanical engineer with 50 years’ worth of motorsport experience, who’s built racewinning cars for himself and numerous clients. He did four seasons in the Maserati Trofeo Championship and three races for Lamborghini in the Blancpain Championship. His chequered career encapsulates a glorious array of cars, including several Alfa Romeos comprising Giulia Sprint GTA, T33 and Giulia Ti Super, plus Lotus Elan 26R, Motorsport Elise, Lamborghini Miura SV, Jaguar E-type and an amazing 5.0-litre Cooper-maserati Type 61 ‘Monaco’, to name but a few. His current steed is a Lister-chevrolet ‘Knobbly’ sports racer, an even wilder beast, the exDean Van Lines car from 1958, which he races at events such as Goodwood Revival’s Sussex Trophy for pre-1961 sports-racing cars. His motoring-led CV also extends to track tests in several F1 cars including a couple of Ferraris and, talking Italian, he has tested road and race cars at Ferrari’s private test track at Fiorano, as well as going testing privately with the Maserati Corse works team.
Then comes the bombshell – for 911 buffs, at any rate. ‘I’m not a fan of rear-engined cars,’ he says. ‘They just don’t feel right to
me. I understand the reason Porsche persevered with them: massive corner-exit traction, and that gives you your high-speed down the straight, and that gives you your good lap time. Take off the electronic traction control on a modern 911 and, say you get a fright in mid-corner, the instinctive reaction is to lift off – and of course you mustn’t do that in a 911 – and you’re back to the bad old days of 1968. It’s a different matter if you’re at somewhere like Dunsfold aerodrome where you’ve got lots of run-off space. There’s no denying that, over the years, Porsche has performed wonders with the 911, but when they become electric, will the 500kg battery pack be bolted to the back bumper as well? Anyway, suffice to say I’m not a fan of the 911; I’m a front-engined man. Mid-engined is OK, but I’m really a front-engined person. You can get away with murder with them; you can push them and slide them; any car that you can drive at the limit without it biting you is great, whereas anything that’s going to kill you when you’re on the limit, you stay away from the limit – and that means 911s! I bet not that many modern 911 owners switch off their traction control.’
Roberto reveals more of his present Porsche road car. ‘So, my current Porsche is the 968 Sport. For anyone unaware of the Sport, it is actually a Club Sport with a few creature comforts factored back in. The factory made 1963 Club Sports, and the Club Sport was a bare-bones trackday machine with performance modifications to the suspension and wheels. The UK market requested some Club Sports with a few everyday essentials, so the factory took 300 cars off the Club Sport production line and installed a few practicalities like the rear seats, electric windows and central locking, and this resulted in the best of both worlds.’ As it rolled off the same production line as the Club Sport version, the 968 Sport is designated in the same run of chassis numbers. Seat upholstery is different from both the standard 968 and the 968 Club Sport, with cloth material specific to the Sport, and because of the additional electrics the larger wiring loom is fitted.
‘Buying the 968 Sport was the result of an offer I couldn’t refuse. The car was not advertised. It had been in very long-term ownership of a neighbour who’d pampered it. It has only covered 60,000 miles, and it still looks to all intents and purposes like brand new. A deal was done and I owned my fourth, and best, Porsche to date. I feel most comfortable in front-engined cars, especially if they have a wide power band. I like the balance, style, handling, practicality, easy servicing, and adequate urge of the 968 Sport. I spend a lot of time on race circuits in horrendously fast cars, so on the public highway I don’t want a supercar. The 968’s 0–60mph in 6-seconds and 150mph top speed is easily fast enough. It’s fair to say that a bond exists between me and this car. It lives up at our house in Scotland, but will come south for a holiday in the Autumn.’ I totally get where he’s coming from with the 968, having pedalled a Club Sport around Abbeville race track; it works beautifully on a circuit, yet is impeccably mannered on the road – and the faster that road, the better.
Another string to his bow is in-car driver training, race-craft instruction, and handling analysis. Roberto uses Racekeeper comparative data-logging and video so the
Any car you that can drive at the limit without it biting you is great
pupil's strengths and weaknesses are quickly identified, allowing both driver and instructor to focus on making improvements as necessary. His protégés include Jodie Kidd, who joined him in the Maserati Trofeo Challenge series. He’ll also provide input on set-up to maximise handling and performance potential, based on his engineering background and vast experience of setting up his own and other people’s race cars. He has also done a fair amount of scribbling in his time too, mainly penning articles for the Auto Italia organ.
Notwithstanding a life spent hurling sportsracing cars and single-seaters around – from Group N Fiat Uno Turbo to F1 Ferrari 126C4 (ex Michele Alboreto), and Austin Westminster A105 to Ford Falcon Sprint – it’s instructive that the car Roberto has selected as his regular challenge is the ’58 Lister Knobbly (chassis BHL110), a fifties handful if ever there was one, running on narrow-gauge 6.00x15 tyres; it’s the real deal, too, raced in period by Bill Pollack and possibly A.J. Foyt. Why not a Jaguar engine, rather than the (correct) 500bhp 358cu-in Chevrolet V8? The disparity in running costs: ‘People often ask me about the differences between a Lister- Chevrolet Knobbly and a Lister-jaguar Knobbly; both cars have similar weights and power, but Jaguar engines are now being super-tuned to deliver very high power, to the point of detonation. Here’s the financial comparison, though: Jaguar race engines cost £70k and D-type gearboxes cost £20k, whereas a reliable race-spec Chevy V8 costs £30k, and a bomb-proof Chevy gearbox costs £2500.’ He’s racing the Lister Knobbly at the Revival as guest of Lord March, and, as he says, ‘A top-ten finish is okay. A top-six would be more than okay!’ Why so overly modest? Roberto is not alone in having noticed that historic cars are now significantly quicker than they were, back in the day: ‘Each year the lap times of the fastest cars get inexplicably quicker, and so Goodwood has announced that only cars with current FIA papers can race, and that they will be closely inspected at post-race scrutineering. It’s largely because modern technology is employed in the settingup of engines and suspension systems, and high-tech damper dynos can propose perfect spring and damper geometry that trial and error can’t match. Then, once all the analytical monitoring equipment is disconnected, you have a quicker car than it ever was in-period, yet externally they look the same. Add to that the modern data acquisition from testing, and the quick cars have another string to their bow as well. So, I am competing with the best of the best, who’re supported by armies of clever engineers.’ A realistic take on contemporary motor sport. And Roberto is pragmatic, too; he may not care for the handling of a 911, and he’s not afraid to say so. He’s sussed what a great car the 968 is instead. PW
He doesn’t care for the handling of the 911 and he’s not afraid to say so
Roberto Giordanelli and his Porsche 968 Sport. He’s a fan of front-engined cars, and doesn’t much rate the rear-engined antics of the 911
Middle: 968 interior is functional. Chunky steering wheel is allied to terrific steering feedback. Six-speed gearbox a delight to use. Right: 968 Sport got rear seats of a sort
Multi-faceted and multi-talented, Roberto can count engineering, race car build and prep, driving, writing and track instruction as part of his CV
The 968’s styling is a long way from the 924 and takes it cues from the 993, which was the 911 model contemporary to the 968 at its launch
Left: Roberto at Goodwood Revival meeting driving his Lister Knobbly. 968 engine is unusual in being a big capacity 3-litre four-cylinder lump. Torque is strong, yet it’s still eager to rev. Power is a healthy 240bhp