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Roberto Gior­danelli and his Porsche 968 Sport

911 Porsche World - - This Month - Words: Johnny Ti­pler Pho­tog­ra­phy: Roberto & Jane Gior­danelli

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

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