I’ve been intending to do a trip to Italy in my GT3 ever since I bought the car in Jan 2007. It’s been over 18 months of unparallelled ownership and I simply cannot think of anything that could replace it, short of another one (and yes, I’m looking). But this trip to the legendary Monza race circuit started to nurture itself in free fall fashion about 7 months ago.
A friend contacted me by text message “Monza, July”. It was all the words I needed and in my haste, I was the second person to sign up for it. Not only was Monza on the cards, but we were to travel via the Simplon Pass in Switzerland, do Monza, return via the Nurburgring and come back home thoroughly fucked.
Day one was, as first days always are, an exciting, adrenaline fuelled occasion. Date and time set, we all meet at the Euro-tunnel to commence the first part of our journey. 30 Porsche’s, Ferrari’s and Lamborghini’s are always a treat for onlookers as when you’re in such an electric group of cars, everyone’s a showman and revs, blips and throttle nailing becomes obligatory. Once through, we’re on our way through France cruising through the Autoroute at relatively low speeds.
Europe has wizened up to the UK exodus that occurs weekly and it’s no longer a green card zone where speed limits don’t apply and the police are simply tourist attractions. Big fines are common with impounded vehicles and overnight stays in lockups a frighteningly frequent occurrence. After first hand tales of totalitarian law enforcement, we are acutely conscious of our speed. Well, for a while at least.
With so many potent cars on tour, it’s not long before the speeds gently start to ascend and whatever the lead car sets is almost immediately followed by the cars in tow. A short while later, radio’s are going and 5 cars have already been pulled over by the French police. We rein our enthusiasm back in again and make a steady beeline to the Swiss Alps.
It’s near impossible, and often discouraged, to maintain a large group of cars in convoy as we attract an unfeasibly large amount of attention. We are not gumballers or Cannonballers and would actually hate to be associated with the neanderthal, retard activity of racing across the continent. We blame them for the recent rise in harsh policing of European roads, and not without merit. They are dangerous, carefree and boisterous and their lack of any financial sympathy means a speeding fine is simply a road toll. As a result, it’s not long before we splinter into a group of 5 cars.
As the breathtaking vistas of the Alps in the French/Swiss/Italian region begin to draw themselves, the hypnotising landscape soon ensures that despite sat-nav technology being what it is, a closed road means we fast become lost in back roads that sat-nav simply doesn’t recognise. And so begins the most incredible two hour detour I’ve ever experienced. What I can only describe as a 150 mile lap of the Nurburgring, we are tossed from side to side as the hot sticky asphalt melds our tyres to become Siamese in an astonishing balletic dance that has us across the finest mountain pass roads I’ve ever experienced in my life – bar none. Fast sweeping 130mph roads meet with tight, 2nd gear hairpin tracks as we negotiate turn after turn after turn.
At the peak of the summit, we park our cars and look across Lake Geneva with sweaty palms, beating hearts and the focused clarity only adrenaline can provide. If I were to die right now, I’d be happy and only now do I truly recognise the term “motoring nirvana”. That night, in Switzerland, I am often awoken just before drifting off as visions of late braking, understeer and miscalculated turns pull me back from sleep in nightmarish fashion as I desperately try to fight off residue adrenaline. It appears to be a common malady over the next few nights.
Day two and we’re making our way to Milan in Italy, but not before we negotiate the legendary Simplon Pass. Our enthusiasm is apparent in our somewhat optimistic speeds through the beautiful valleys of Switzerland and unbeknownst to us, we’d gone through a Swiss speed trap and as we came to the end of the Autoroute, the Swiss Police force had kindly decided to throw us a welcome party by way of presenting a full force of armed personnel. How utterly delightful!
Conversing in French appeared to soften them and they turned out to be friendly and polite, despite the incredibly expensive fines. As I handed over my Am-ex, they ripped the slip in half and gave me a discount from 400 Euros to 150 Euros. Splendid chaps even posed for a photo! In total, from our group of nine cars, we estimate a windfall of approximately 4000 Euros – not bad for an hour’s work. We even made it on to the Swiss Police website
Following the signs to Simplon, it’s difficult to imagine anything beating my experiences of the day before and my fears are largely realised as despite the odd moment of freedom between bends and overtaking opportunities, there are seldom moments of solitude as the road appears to be filled with slow moving traffic generated by lorries and coaches. Reaching the summit, the sudden drop in temperature is violent and t-shirts are no longer appropriate. It’s a disappointing experience but I imagine it had a very hard act to follow from the day before. In its stead, we enjoy spaghetti bolognese on the peak with a cup of coffee.
As we migrate en mass through to the Italian border, the police and carabiniere do their best to remind us that they have been following our exploits across Europe and have strategically placed mobile speed traps from here to our destination in Milano. Turned out to be a sombre drive across the early part of Italy, but the incredible sights and heavy traffic removed any temptation regardless. There was still a lot of entertainment, or rather, entertaining to do! The traffic found great delight in our convoy and we aimed to please by the repeated show of engine song and bravado. Oh, a word of warning. If you’ve a Gallardo Superleggera in tow, tell him to get to the back of the convoy. Suddenly, GT3’s become decidedly average.
Day three and it’s Monza time, but not without some interesting Milano culture. It’s 7am and I’m making a solitary early morning departure from the hotel to get to the race circuit in good time as my rear pads need changing. As I approach a non-distinct corner in my travels, I notice an attractive woman standing on the side of the road. She’s got the smallest mini-skirt you can imagine, long slim legs and beautiful dark hair that has fallen down one side of her face. As she sees me she holds out her thumb in a polite request for a lift and as I slow down for a closer look, I clench my anus in fear, let out an involuntary yelp and drop a gear as I notice her cheekbones are a little too pronounced for the female variety. What attracts all the trannys to Milano is anyones guess but for the remainder of my time in Milan I reserve my judgement in ‘women’ until I’m absolutely sure.
Monza is the fastest race circuit I’ve ever driven on. It’s a combination of absolute throttle and absolute braking with no in-between. There’s no coasting, no feathering of the throttle and certainly no pussyfooting. It’s a power circuit for sure and the Superleggera shows the rest of the group a fast set of heels with its power advantage, balanced handling and outright competence. The GT3’s are also very well suited to the circuit, but it appears the Lamborghini is playing home terms today. Brakes are eventually destroyed by many people in the group as frequent braking down from 160MPH to 30MPH over and over again takes its toll on anything other than the most effective race prepared braking systems.
With the distinct lack of legislation and regulation in central Europe, there’s a much more primitive and uncontrolled nature to track-days. With no overtaking rules and only a polite request to not bump into anybody, it’s not long before it becomes race-like in its concept. Often we’re three abreast leading into bends in a race to outbreak each other and there are many instances of contact between cars – something I’ve not experienced before. Regardless, it makes it exciting and the fast paced race environment becomes competitive and risky, adding to the unique experience of Monza.
As always, I take my car away from the circuit early to avoid mishap. The car is not without injury though as a huge rock is thrown from the tyres of a GT2 in front and catapults itself directly into my windscreen, creating a 5 inch thick bullet-hole. I’m optimistic about it anyway as I needed a new screen having suffered many stone chips.
A sauna, jacuzzi and swim is followed closely by a fantastic meal at the Bulgari restaurant hotel in Milan. It’s an ostentatious affair that has all the glamour and glitz you’d expect from one of the finest diners in the heart of the fashion capital of the world. As we try to distinguish escort from wife, the evening is made complete as I drive Harry’s Gallardo back from Bulgari to our hotel. Driving through the heart of Milan in an Italian bred supercar is an experience I will savour for the rest of my life. As legends have it, I am greeted, cheered and championed as I ensure all ten vertically opposed cylinders are heard by the entire populace of Milan as I send glorious 5ltr notes ricocheting across tight, narrow cobble lined roads like a sound byte trapped in a pinball machine. Each corner has its voluntary marshal gesticulating the famous “wind-it-up” request only happily reciprocated by my right foot punching a hole through the footwell. Disappointment follows as we approach our hotel where my decidedly average white GT3 sits sulking in unloved fashion.
Day four and I’m travelling home. Harry and I leave the rest of the party to their devices as they plan and scheme the next leg of their journey to the Ring and then to Spa. For me, I’ve done both those tracks to death and frankly, I’m shattered. I drive the entire journey home to the UK in one sitting, covering 850 miles in just under 12 hours non-stop. I manage 3 fuel stops and a baguette in the car whilst driving at an average of 120MPH the whole journey, where appropriate.
I’m at home and the car is in need of TLC. I’ve booked it into the car clinic, it’s getting a makeover by my detailer and will soon sport a new windscreen. This is the epic journey of 2008 and I will take this to my grave.
Next stop, Imola?
Enjoy the pics, not many of track action – too busy driving it
Most were from in car, so apologies for boredom factor for some, but the scenery should say it all!!