The five-time winner of the Le Mans 24 Hours talks about his love for historic racing while awaiting the last meeting of the season by Peter Auto on his home soil in Italy (Imola-Classic 26-28 October).
How did you become involved in historic racing? The first time was in 1995 right in the middle of my career. It was at the Mille Miglia, which I attended for professional reasons.
And you caught the bug straight away, didn’t you? I love the ambience at historic events; in particular those organised by Peter Auto. The open garages add great conviviality to the paddocks. It’s much friendlier than in modern racing where everybody stays in their own pit.
What’s the most amazing car you’ve driven in historic races? That’s a difficult question to answer as some were interesting because of their history, and others because of the fun I had driving them.
What car do you dream of trying? I adore the Ferrari 512M so I’d like to test its rival, the Porsche 917. This being said I never get tired of the Alfa Romeo 33/3 that I drive on a regular basis in CER 2. Imagining it on the narrow roads in the Targa Florio is incredible!
Do you drive a historic car in the same way as a modern one? Today, racing cars are predictable from every point of view. That’s not the case for the historic machines. Each car has its own identity and first of all you have to understand it, speak its language as it were, before thinking of pushing it a little. I never look at the stop watch; I have my own criteria: change down cleanly, spare the brakes, hone your lines. I evaluate myself after each corner.
So it’s a real philosophy… Yes. I also think that the mechanics must put themselves in the same conditions as those of the time. Today, we know a lot more about technology and aerodynamics than when these cars were designed. You have to ignore recent tools and try and set them up on a trial-and-error basis; that’s what the teams did at the time.
From the Lancia Beta to the Audi R8 some of the cars you’ve driven race in historic meeting by Peter Auto. Do you feel a surge of emotion when you see them? I was 19 years old when I made my Le Mans debut at the wheel of the Lancia in 1981. It was crazy! The old pits were still used, the Mulsanne straight had no chicanes, the signallers were at Mulsanne, etc. So yes, it does bring back great memories. I’m less enthusiastic about the Audi R8. Fifteen years ago it was modernity in a nutshell. And it’s still the case in my mind. So I have difficulty admitting that they’re now so outdated that they’re entered for historic events.
Can you say something about Imola where the 2018 season of the Series by Peter Auto ends? It’s a great idea to go back there as it’s in the heart of a region of real enthusiasts. And initially it was a road circuit and this type of layout is more authentic than those exclusively devoted to racing. It’s an undulating track, the town’s picturesque and the food’s great! It’s an ideal place for a weekend’s racing.
Born in Rome on 12th January 1962
37 F1 GPs between 1989 and 1991: 3 points scored
Italian Supertouring champion in 1994 and 1995 (Audi)
Winner of the Le Mans 24 Hours in 2000, 2001, 2002, 2006 and 2007 (Audi)
Winner of the Sebring 12 Hours in 2000 and 2007 (Audi)
Winner of the Petit Le Mans in 2001, 2005 and 2008 (Audi)
Winner of the American Le Mans Series in 2001 and 2005 (Audi)