The story that follows is a diary of the 4 days spent at Ferrari’s 20th Anniversary celebrations for the F40.
I arrived at Maranello on Friday afternoon, having taken the train down from Milan to Modena. It is actually quite an easy trip and the train was even on time. From Modena, Maranello is a 15-20 minute cab ride. My F40 had been shipped directly to the Fiorano track, which is where I was told to go for the initial check-in. After circling the factory once, the cabby got directions and we were able to find the track entrance fairly easily. Once inside the gate, and now on the holy ground of the Ferrarista, I decided to go take a quick look at my car to make sure it had arrived in one piece. The grass lot that had been set aside for the F40s was to the left behind the main guard house. When I arrived, there were about 15 F40’s parked side by side, with more on the way. In the shade of the Ferrari factory, seeing so many F40s in one place seemed very natural. After a quick once over, it was back to the main complex for final check in and tour through the Ferrari complex.
The official event kick-off started that night in an auditorium next to the new Classiche workshop. After a welcome speech by Jean Todt, in which he mentioned that he has an F40 and has no time to drive it (he did sound quite disappointed), we were given a more detailed brief by the Classiche staff on Saturday’s regulatory rally and Sunday’s events at Mugello. At the conclusion of the briefing we were ushered next door for a reception in the new Classiche workshop. After another short speech, in which everyone was encouraged to have their F40’s officially certified, the covers were removed from all the cars undergoing restoration and certification. It was really both an amazing and quite interesting sight. The workshop was so immaculate, I would have been happy to dine using any of the tools. Many of the models were exactly the ones you would expect to see, including several early 50’s models, three 275 GTBs, several 365 GTB/4 Daytonas, a 512 BBs, an F40, an F50, a few 250 Lussos, a 250 SWB, a 250 TdF, a 250 GTE, a 330 GTC, a set of Dino 246 GTs, and then amazingly a pair of 400i’s. It just goes to show the passion any Ferrari can generate for its owner. Not drooling on any of the perfect paintwork required intense concentration.
In an amazing display of cruelty by the Classiche Division, after only half an hour, they announced we had to leave for dinner. I think most of the group would have been quite happy to starve if it meant we could spend a few more hours enjoying all these amazing Ferraris. Dinner was held across the street from the main factory gates at the Ristorant Cavallino. Given how famous this place is, expectations were quite high. While the walls are covered in Ferrari memorabilia, the stuff that comes on the plates is much closer to Fiat quality. I would not go back next time I find myself in Maranello. The best part of the meal was that the service was efficient, so we were out of the restaurant in time to get a good night’s sleep in preparation for Saturday’s early start.
The alarm clock went off early Saturday morning. The Regulation Rally start time was 9:00 AM, which meant we all had to be in our F40’s by 8:30 AM. It had rained overnight and when we arrived at the Fiorano track all the cars were covered in a fine mist. Talking to a few of the other guys (yes, all the “Pilotas” were male) on the way to the track, it became clear that most were not particularly interested in winning the rally (i.e. achieving/keeping to the posted times for the different stages) but were quite keen on a spirited drive up through the mountainous Tuscan countryside before heading down into Florence. The average speed for the 170 KM rally was listed as 48 kph, which we all figured we would exceed by just a wee bit.
With all the F40’s wiped down and warmed up, we pulled out of the parking lot and headed up onto the Fiorano circuit. We were then lined up in our assigned starting order with a minute gap between each F40. After idling for 15 minutes waiting to go, I was finally off for a lap around the track before heading back out through the gates onto the streets of Maranello for a brief jaunt before cutting directly through the factory and onto the road leading out of town. At each one of the intersections, police had traffic stopped so we were able to roll right on through (a fantastic experience). Despite the minute gap between cars, after about 5 kilometers four of us were running in a tight convoy. The first stage basically ran from Maranello through four or five towns before heading out on the highway for 30 kilometers. When we entered the toll station before the highway we were instructed to run straight through the express lane. We all ran up the entrance ramp in convoy and hit the highway moving smartly. We must have been quite a sight as one young boy looked like he was going to break his nose by mashing it against the rear window of his parent’s Range Rover. The 48 kph average speed went right out the window as traffic was light on the highway and, well, the turbos needed proper exercise. The F40 is truly an amazing piece of engineering and the contrast between us and everyone else on the highway made this blazingly clear. When we would start to take off, all the other cars just became little dots in the rearview mirror.
The highway stage ended far too quickly, and we were waved off and up into the mountains. The next 100 plus kilometers would be run exclusively in 2nd and 3rd gear. The road from the highway exit to Florence was cut straight though some of the most scenic areas of Tuscany. As there was barely a single piece of straight asphalt in this stage, a great deal of concentration was needed to navigate the terrain. Running an F40 skillfully through the hills is an exercise in controlling the boost, being gentle on the brakes, and balancing the car between hands and right foot. The key is to get into a good rhythm and let the car run. As the police closed most intersections as we ran through, this was made much easier as you did not have to worry about constantly stopping and starting for lights and incoming traffic.
As different cars stopped for gas and coffee at different times, the make-up of the convoy was constantly shifting. By the time I started the decent into Florence, there were five of us in procession. We had lost our Police protection in the mountains and hitting the mad traffic of Florence, a city populated with random one-way street teeming with American tourists obliviously wandering down the middle of them, was quite an experience. Fortunately, as we hit the 1st square we were waved into a parking area. As soon as eight of us had arrived, Police on motorcycles pulled up and indicated that we were to follow them. Back we plunged into the traffic which now parted (barely, as every kid on a scooter wanted to come up for a closer look) and we headed into the center of the city aiming for Piazza Ognissanti. Upon arriving at the Piazza, we were given instructions in formation parking, which given how well a F40 maneuvers at low speed with the not so great rear and 3 quarters visibility, was quite a sight. Despite the challenges, everyone pulled it off and Ferrari got its PR shots. We now had a couple of hours off before having to report back for the sprint up to Mugello.
Leaving Florence, we were split into groups of six with a Police escort in the front and rear. The pace set was moderate, so everyone could enjoy seeing the convoy of F40’s running through the city and then through all the small towns along the route. In several places clearly, the message had gotten around that the F40s were coming as it seemed the entire town was out on the sidewalks waving as we went by. It was a wonderful experience for all-a Tour de F40. The trip up to the circuit took about 45 minutes.
Upon entering the Mugello Circuit, we were waved into a parking area for a short break to allow everyone to get ready for the open track session. Up went the front hoods, and out of the limited storage space came the racing boots, helmets, and in a few cases in-car communication systems. Engines fired back up, and we snaked our way into the pit lane. The first lap was behind a pace car to allow everyone to get a feel for the layout of the track. Coming off the last curve, I could see the pace car pulling into the pit lane and with no further ado everyone started taking off down the straight. The noise of 30 plus F40’s thundering down the Mugello straight on full boost is ungodly. The straight is not long and the first couple of cars looked to be going into the right hander a bit hot. Brake lights lit up and a shower of rubber descended on those of us in the next group back. At this point, I decided to drop back to put some space between myself and the testosterone-soaked front group. After a couple of laps, the F40s had spread out on the track, clustered into groups of 2-3. I was then able to focus on driving quick, clean laps and hitting the apexes. Life does not get much better than this. The open track session ran until dusk and was followed by a joint dinner with the Ferrari Historic Challenge drivers.
A truly great day.
Sunday started off on a more relaxing note. With several shuttles up to the Mugello Circuit to choose from, the day did not start off in a mad rush. The morning program consisted of a series of Historic races. The cars of several of the grids were stunning, living pieces of history. Seeing Ferrari’s finest from the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s being driven full out is simply fantastic. In one case, realizing that the car taking the inside track on the first corner was worth somewhere north of $10 million just made it even that more phenomenal. Walking the pit lane was better than being in any toyshop that I remember as a kid.
The major activity for the F40 group was the official parade lap after the morning racing program. We were all instructed to be in our cars 15 minutes ahead of time. As the cars were now parked in a giant U in front of the hospitality center, mayhem ensued as everyone decided to start up and head on their own directly for the gate to the track. What ensued was a giant F40 traffic jam. The net result was that we all sat for ten minutes while it got sorted out. Once on the track, we were organized in three rows behind a pair of 599 GTBs with a camera van in front. Strict instructions were delivered not to overtake the 599 GTBs, and off we went for a couple of PR laps for Ferrari. It was interesting to see which drivers where camera hungry and who could have cared less as different F40s jockeyed for front position as we moved around the circuit. At the conclusion of the second lap, the camera van pulled into the pit lane and the two 599 GTB’s took off at full throttle. The net effect was that of a red cape in front of a bull. Off everyone went to give chase. Looking back now, it is amazing that there was not a major shunt as half the field seemed to arrive at the first corner at the same time. I ran two laps at a good clip before exiting the track. Several others stayed on for longer sessions but as my helmet and head were not in the same location, I decided to get off while still in one piece.
Officially the parade lap ended the F40 event. At this point it was time to pack up, bid farewell to a few new friends and head out for the long drive back. It was a great weekend and the Ferrari Classiche Team was wonderful. To a person they could not have been nicer, more helpful, and great to deal with. Hopefully they will organize more events like this in the near future.
Now began the long journey back. While I had shipped the F40 to Italy, I decided to take the opportunity to give it a good long run and drive it back over the following day and a half. The objective for Sunday was to make it just north of Nice and then into Madrid by Monday evening. About half the F40’s seemed to leave at about the time I did. For the first hour of the drive, I was on my own, heading north at a solid pace on one of Italy’s rougher highways. After a quick stop for gas, I pulled back onto the highway and immediately picked up one of the other F40’s. We then ran in tandem for the next couple of brisk hours before splitting as I was headed west towards France and they were continuing directly north. During this run, we basically just sat in the left lane and had traffic very politely move out of our way. Driving a Ferrari in Italy is a wonderful experience as almost all other motorists seem to both respect and enjoy seeing these wonderful cars running on the open road.
Back on my own again, I almost immediately ran into a rain storm. Despite popular myth, the F40 is not unmanageable in the rain. You just have to be careful and stay off the boost. Drive carefully and you should be ok. That having been said, while switching highways, I did hit a massive puddle on one off ramp that was hidden in the shadows. Aquaplaning in an F40 is not for the weak of heart. Luckily the road was straight, I was going straight, and the tires found tarmac again quickly. As a result, the underwear stayed clean. The moving showers lasted for about an hour before blue skies and the Alps beckoned ahead.
Within minutes of the sun reappearing and a final change of highways, I ran into another convoy of F40s. I pulled alongside the lead car and we exchanged hand signals, agreeing to stop soon for gas and to make further plans. This agreed, I dropped into the middle of the convoy and off we went. After roughly 45 minutes, the lead F40 put on his turn signal, indicating that we were to pull into the next service station. This we did, making quite an entrance into the parking area, with the three of us lining up parallel to each other. Within seconds a large camera phone-carrying crowd had gathered with different people taking turns having their pictures taken posing in front of the F40s. My favorites were the two guys who lay down in front. It was quite a scene. After a bit of discussion, we decided the best bet was to drive into France, get off in Monaco, and head into the center for dinner. Shortly before leaving, we were joined in the parking lot by several representatives of Italian law enforcement. It turned out that they were as excited as the rest of the crowd to see the three F40s. We were given strict instructions to floor it leaving the station, and hit the highway moving quite smartly. What a great country for driving. We followed the officers’ instructions to the letter and with the help of some of their friends clearing cars out of our way on the highway, we made great progress for the rest of the trip in Italy. The highway for the last 50 kilometers before the French border is basically a series of tunnels joined by bridges. The wail of three F40s in a tunnel running at high speed was spine-tingling.
Passing into France, our speed immediately dropped by a third. The French police are not known to be car enthusiasts and according to many of the stories circulating lately, seem to have a particular affection for pulling over Ferraris. With stories of car seizures and heavy fines bouncing around our brains, none of us had any interest in enhancing the French Treasury. The highway between the border and Monaco cuts directly through the mountains along the coast, affording spectacular views in some areas, especially at sunset.
With the sun finally disappearing over the horizon, we pulled off the highway and began the decent into Monaco. This is basically a long series of fairly tight S turns that take you from the mountains down through the heart of the Principality to the water. We passed the border control officer without incident (border control is a policeman standing in the middle of the road who waves as you drive by) and headed toward the Casino. The Casino was the target destination as it has guarded valet parking in front and the restaurant was very nearby. Even in Monaco, street or garage parking is not really a smart option for a convoy of F40s.
Upon arrival, the head parking attendant immediately came bounding out into the road to greet the lead car. Instructions that the three of us wanted to park were quickly delivered, and his assistants immediately started moving other cars out of the way and to more distant spaces to make room. Net conclusion: it appears that Monaco’s parking Darwinism rules state that the F40 sits atop car food chain. We then all pulled ourselves as elegantly as possible out of the cars and headed off to the bistro. Exiting an F40 is always a challenge given the very wide sill, lack of door handles, and low ride height. It is more an exercise in pouring yourself onto the asphalt than climbing elegantly up onto the sidewalk. As we left, roving packs of tourists descended on the cars to have their pictures taken with the cars. Over dinner we could see the camera flashes going off on a regular basis. After dinner, it was time to part and head to the hotel which was located just north of Nice. A quick stop for gas and then a short run to the hotel ended another fantastic day.
The final day began early as I was determined to clear the Nice and Cannes area before rush hour. The day started off cool and crisp with just a smattering of clouds in the sky, perfect conditions for driving. I hit the road early and made good time despite being very conscious of keeping it near the speed limit. This turned out to be a wise decision. As I cleared the second set of toll booths, there were a small army of police officers pulling cars over. In France, they will hide a radar gun several miles back up the highway and then pull you over at the next set of toll booths. The next several hours were uneventful, and as I crossed into Spain a light rain started. With short stops for gas, nature, and food, the miles fell away quickly. The afternoon drive was as unremarkable as the morning other than it being done more quickly. The highway that runs from Barcelona to Madrid was deserted. In areas it has been recently repaved and is a joy to drive. In others it is flat-out horrible, and you really need to be careful not to bottom out in the potholes and depressions. Without pushing it, I arrived at the final destination well before both dinner and sunset. The total distance covered since leaving Mugello was just over 1,100 miles. Not bad for a day and a half drive.
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