Fabrizio Giovanardi: La storia di Piedone - Intervista di Davide Cironi (SUBS)
Davide Cironi: Let's start from the beginning. How did it start? Fabrizio Giovanardi: It started out more as a joke, rather than a real will to race. I came from the Modena area where everyone clearly loved cars, racing... I raced on a dirt bike, so it had nothing to do with racecars.
Then me and Andrea Montermini (that we all know also because of his experience in Formula 1), who lived here as well and with whom I was friend, started playing with RC cars. From that moment on, the escalation began: he was a true enthusiast, maybe more than I was, he wanted to buy a go kart... After a while we found one, we went to buy it and brought it home. All hell broke loose: his dad did not want to hear a thing about it, let alone mine. They were people who worked in the pottery business which had nothing to do with cars and racing was a taboo.
So Andrea gave up, while I convinced my dad to take me to one race. We went to the old track of Vado, near Bologna. We drove there on a Sunday morning with this slapdash go kart, I didn't even know if it could race. It was a classic Club race and that was my first experience, so much so that it didn't last long: ready, set, go... and the kart decided to stop. My dad came and said: "Ok, we had fun". That's it.
My will to race stopped in that moment: I've always been interested in ski, bicycle races... It was in my blood. After a couple of years, a promotional class called Kali Kart was born (now it's called CRG): in this category, karts had gears because there was the 100cc class with single-speed, the top category from which many drivers later managed to go to F1, like Senna for instance. These karts were powered by a 125cc engine with gears, single brake like the 100cc class and they were all the same.
I thought: "Why not? Let's try". My grandpa and my ex-girlfriend's mom gave me some money and I was able to start competing for this trophy. I finished third and won a chassis for the classic 125cc class, I don't remember the exact name... I built this kart and attended the last three races of the "Trofeo delle Industrie" in Parma where official drivers raced too.
Somehow or other, during these few races I managed to annoy the official drivers of Tony Kart who was in its early days. Tony Kart was born that year because Robazzi took over old Tony's company and he asked me if I wanted to race for his team. I said "I have no money, but it's not my problem! If you want to, I can come and race". My story started there and I won everything possible for the next two years: from the Italian Championship called "Club Azzurro", to the World Championship, where Tarquini used to dominate.
I won that too and thanks to my uncle, who raced in rallies, I got closer to the sponsor world (completely different from today's one, it was easier back then) and debuted in Formula 3. I raced for Prema for two years and the last race was crucial for the final result: me, Naspetti and... oh God, I can't remember... Martini! Not Pierluigi, he was probably a relative. I don't even remember the name, just think about how many years have passed! I finished third, 2 points behind the first driver. There the high-level car racing period began: I started racing in Formula 3000, I won the second race in Vallelunga...
I want to make a little digression on this: those were 3 suffered years because of questionable team choices, budget... I realized the jump to F1 was too wide and the "Clean Hands" scandal came out, so Italian drivers were in the crosshairs. There were 12 Italian drivers in F1 and after that scandal, they basically disappear.
The wind had changed and I had the opportunity to race with Peugeot in the Italian Touring Car Championship which had two categories at the time: S1, where Ravaglia and the top brands races, and S2, less elaborate. Peugeot, which came from rallies where Aghini was racing with the 405, entered this world. That is when my professional car driver career began.
Davide: Then we get to the Alfa Romeo years. How did you meet? Giovanardi: I gave BMW and Alfa Romeo a hard time with my Peugeot. Those were the booming years for touring cars and the companies were looking for results, better performance and looked around for drivers. Peugeot at the time was evaluating the stock of the situation, their efforts were concentrated in the 24h of Le Mans, while Alfa Romeo believed in touring cars, there was the DTM, the Superturismo...
and I had the chance to enter the Alfa Romeo world. I actually did not enter straight away: there was Nordauto in Italy which managed Alfa racing cars and programs for the Italian championship, while Alfa Corse raced in England with Tarquini where they won the BTCC, but later left because of problems with the rules. Davide: So what was your first championship behind the wheel of an Alfa? Giovanardi: 1995... Davide: What can you tell me about that car? Giovanardi: The 155 was a more difficult car to develop compared to her rivals.
The rules were based on the stock cars and there were limits: the base project was older than BMW's or Audi's, so trying to compete with them with such strict regulations was a hard task and the slyness of the team and technicians was crucial to get to their level. We managed to reach it and they had to work hard to get to us. Clearly Audi's or BMW's investments on touring car races were not the same as Alfa Romeo's for Superturismo, because they were focused on DTM. Davide: The DTM years. From 1993, when Alfa Romeo took Germany by surprise... Why not choosing Giovanardi? Giovanardi: Giovanardi actually got this close to DTM because after joining Nordauto in 1995, I had the chance to do a couple of DTM races... one and a half, I should say. Some drivers did not attend the races, there were official and semi-official drivers...
So I got the chance to race in Nuremberg 1995, but I was unlucky because despite not having the last evolution of the car, I was first and two laps ahead, but the car broke down. Everything was going right, but then... things went the other way, so much so that... let's call it, the politics back then did not make it "the right time" for me to keep on racing in the DTM.
Davide: ... and still it wouldn't have lasted long because in 1996 the ITCC was closed. Giovanardi: Yeah, in retrospect my choice, despite being forced (because I wanted to race in DTM, it was the top touring car category) was right because DTM later died... They killed it to take the budget to F1. Davide: So Alfa's focus on racing moved to FWD and one year later the 156 was born. Giovanardi: Yes, the production of the 155 ended.
Alfa Romeo's interest in racing kept going after the DTM was cancelled and Fiat money went to F1: technicians from both Alfa Romeo and Nordauto came back to build the new 156. A car that in my opinion wrote an important story because Superturismo was still followed by the enthusiasts. Davide: ... and I was among them for sure because I watched every single race and sometimes I rewatch them.
I'd like to hear the behind-the-wheel perspective... Giovanardi: I don't want to defend my generation, but I think many skilled drivers were racing at the time. If we draw a line, the 90s drivers are still the ones to beat: I'm talking about Gabriele Tarquini who won the World Championship at 56. This means the old school was based on will: you really wanted to race and did everything you could to climb, despite being a hard path because there were just a bunch of championships and everybody went there. I don't even know how many categories there are today, but you find yourself with 20 champions in 20 classes and this lowers the bar in my opinion, especially in touring car races where you need character and experience (unlike F1 where speed is more crucial). There is a bit of scattering... and that experience and evilness
(because I use to call it that way and trust me, you needed that determination) is still paying off. It's a shame for young drivers because it's not easy for them to find and learn these things: the school has changed and nobody teaches them anymore. Davide: You used a lot of evilness against BMW and Audi... Giovanardi: It was more of an "all against all" thing, it was not just Audi or BMW, but that's how it worked: the first one to "slap" brought the result home. There were also more freedom: I don't understand all this supervision from these guys behind the monitors, who, with all due respect, make some situations embarassing: accusations, reports, investigations... "You touched him and ruined his decal" "You broke his bumper".
At the time our bumpers did not last the whole race... ... and it was fine, it was the way we rolled and was part of the racing charm. Today these limitations affect the drivers. You are behind the wheel thinking: "What can I do? If I touch him, I'm going to damage my bumper and I'll have to go back to the pit" ...
This is not racing, this is not the touring car championship. Luckily things are different in F1 after that driver came... What's his name? The Red Bull driver... Davide: Verstappen Giovanardi: Exactly. He is determined at least and sometimes even tell them to go to hell.
He at least shakes things up inside all this "glassware", I would say... Davide: True Giovanardi: In my opinion at least. Davide: In fact those races were followed by a large number of enthusiasts.
Also because the competition started and you didn't know what to expect at the first corner... Giovanardi: ... but that was the beauty of touring car races Davide: Exactly...
Giovanardi: Absolutely... I lived just one final race for the world championship, with Peugeot, Monza 1994 if I'm not wrong. The 5 best cars started from the grid, but there were 40 cars in total. The first corner was a frenzy: 25 people hit the wall.
Same thing the following year in England and then again... then there was too much interest and they shut the lights on the championship. Those were impetuous years behind the wheel. Today you need to think, reflect, watch your mouth, be careful to your driving...
It changed, a lot... it's a shame. Davide: Technically speaking, how was the 156 D2 and later the Super 2000? Giovanardi: Well, the 156 Superturismo was still a true car because it was based on true rules, there was still a technology research and I'm not talking about electronics because there was not much, but mechanically speaking, those N/A engines had to pull and rev high, the materials got better, racing gearboxes, custom ratios because the range of use of a naturally-aspirated engine is limited... It was a true racecar and even the tire manufacturers invested a lot: Michelin, Dunlop, Yokohama fought to get some results as well. Everything was maxed out, we spent weeks to test different tires... Then everything fell apart, car companies had less money to invest or changed strategy, they became interested in soccer or sailing or cricket... restrictions came and Super 2000 was born.
Super 2000 in its early days was... ... a banal car in my opinion. Coming from Superturismo, we found ourselves with a street car basically: low power, stock suspensions, heavy, small brakes... it was limited. Even that did not last long because everybody wanted to win: BMW does this, Alfa does that... "Those who steal are robbers, those who don't are..." I won't say the word! This escalation led to an improvement and the championship became interesting.
Again, it lasted 3/4 years and then they closed it and I went to England. Davide: Pros and cons between the 156 D2, so we are talking about the beginning, and its rivals. Giovanardi: There was a limit due to the project because yes, it had a double high wishbone front suspension but it was not a true "wishbone": the higher arm was small and did not give us room for settings. Compared to the 155 it was far sportier. It was lower, more aerodynamic... I think the base project was right, but on the other hand foreign car manufacturers invested a lot of money, like BMW who had a great car, even in its stock form. That was the true challenge. Davide: I will always remember the BMWs leaving the grid first and then at the first corner...
Giovanardi: This is FWD vs RWD. It is obvious that under acceleration, a RWD car does not spin the tires while a FWD one tends to, especially with 300 horsepower. So we had to be careful with the accelerator, clutch... there were no controls, so you had to be good at feeling the traction and leave the grid as fast as you could. The car was fast though. I think it was faster than the BMW, especially in the early laps. We burned tires more easily due to the front load, so during the final laps we had to dust off the tricks of the trade to win the race and therefore the championship.
Davide: Alright: the last corner of the last race, 1999. Giovanardi: Let's step back first. This is what happened: before the Vallelunga race, there was Monza's one and before that, BMWs were far ahead on the chart. Me and Naspetti had 60 points of difference. There were two races: a long and a short one, the lengths were different as well as the points you got (40-20).
We went to Monza and we knew the championship was over: the point gap was too large. The race started and I took the lead... At some point, after the straight (there was still the Variante), I saw a Castrol sponsor on the right and another one on the left...
Naspetti and De Simone hit each other at the first corner! That time I recovered something like 40/45 points and the next race was Vallelunga. To win the championship we had to win both the races... Me and Nicola, who was my teammate at the time, made a plan.
To be absolutely sure to win the championship, I had to win both the races. Nicola took the lead, I was following him... a misunderstanding, I don’t know: Nicola won the race. I finished second with the BMWs behind. Last race, I could do nothing but win. I had to. And Naspetti had to finish second.
It was the longer race, the BMWs were behind us on the grid. Me and Nicola were in the front row. Ready, steady, go... and they overtook us. We did a couple of laps and the safety car came out. De Simone was behind Emanuele (Naspetti) and started going more and more slowly, even though the rules said "no more than 5 cars of distance between the drivers". More and more slowly...
The race restarted and Naspetti was 4 seconds ahead of De Simone... I saw red, completely lost it. Ready, go... I slipped on the inside of the Roma corner where I leaned on De Simone to overtake him.
And then flat out to get to Emanuele. But it was 4 seconds ahead and I knew that lap after lap, BMW's tire advantage would have increased. So I went all in and started recovering 2 tenths, then 3, other 3...
I was 2 seconds behind him after 5/6 laps. We got to the Cimini corners, he probably saw me coming and went haywire. He lost all his time advantage in a single braking. I was behind him before the two Cimini corners,
I accelerated and touched the BMW's rear bumper. He couldn't accelerate: at the time you braked before the Cimini corners and then accelerated all the way to the Roma corner (there was not the new part yet), so you got to the Trincea, an odd counterslope corner and you came fast with 5th gear in, unlike today's 3rd gear... He started accelerating between the two Cimini, but I hit him again.
The BMW started to swerve again, preventing him to accelerate. I went on the inside, cut through the grass and leaned on Emanuele. We were side by side, he hit me and drag me to the motorcycle track.
My blood was boiling in that moment and made the Trincea on the outside: if he wanted to, he could touch my car and I would have gone completely straight to the Tornante (and therefore straight into the ambulance). He probably did not think about it and raised the foot from the pedal. That's when the race ended. We had won the championship... Davide: I remember the Italian Championship, but I didn't follow the English one much...
Giovanardi: The English championship is a world on its own. The media interest is also different: we are talking about high levels. Aside from the fact that every single thing that races in England brings at least 20/30k people to watch it, let alone the touring car championship that has an history too: it's a 60/70 years old championship. Car companies, sponsors and tv are interested in it.
It was a beautiful experience, very hard at first because I came as the "national champion" and found myself in England, without knowing a single track nor the language or the uses... nothing. I was forced to go because Alfa Romeo decided to leave in 2005, officially talking. I found myself for a series of coincidences in the place of Yvan Muller, who was leaving Vauxhall to go to Seat, that entered officially in the world championship. So the first year was not easy at all. The car was based on an old project that was dying off: I'm talking about the Astra. The Vectra was coming and investments were obviously lacking for the old model.
That year I understood I had to hit before the others hit me! I walked in on tiptoes but Giovanardi, who came as a winner, had to be "slapped". Until one morning, when I said: "Ok, enough". And I started to slap them... Then with the Vectra I won the 2007 and 2008 championship.
I didn't win the 2009 edition because of a series of misfortunes, but I could have. Then the crisis hit and General Motors took a considerable hit. Vauxhall is just a rebadged Opel, a GM brand. Again, everything fell apart. End of the story.
Davide: Why English people still love watching racing events? As you said before, if they raced with wheelbarrows, they would still watch them... Why it is not the same in Italy, where in theory there is more culture and love towards motoring sports? Giovanardi: It's a matter of mentality. Or at least this is how I see it, even from the outside.
Even for F1 teams, the racing world spins around little realities, all interconnected. There is no "expert": everybody needs the help of different companies. This means that in terms of promotion, you're not doing it for yourself, but for a world: the world of motoring.
Think about vintage cars, those who restore cars or even airplanes in England: there's a world (and a business) behind and everybody wants it to survive. Europe is different, there are different car manufacturers in a large area where we speak different languages, we have different cultures and interests and this means everyone cultivates it in his own way: this is the reason why only the top levels of motoring survive (F1 etc) Davide: After all this, there was an attempt... Giovanardi: A backfire Davide: Indeed. I followed it and I would like you to talk about it because it was kind of a controversial ending.
Giovanardi: Well, it was controversial for those who lived it from the outside. Those who lived the golden age of touring cars like you might wonder why. Let's say it was a challenge between me and the team who was ready to face this new world touring car championship called WTCR, where TCR cars race, is a championship that was born to be accessible to everyone. Cheap cars, deeply derived from the stock model, a limited development (and therefore the cost is too). An intelligent formula in my opinion.
So much so that there are national championships attended by 30/40 cars, so I think the vision of the creator was right. When this world championship was born, I said "Alright, I can try again" given that I would have found the same opponents: Tarquini, Muller, Thompson or the latest winners of the WTCC. Drivers of a certain caliber. "I won't be out of tune. I still want to race" I thought.
I had to find the way to enter the championship and Romeo Ferraris was interested in this adventure. We talked about it and said "Ok, let's try". In hindsight, we would have raced against skilled rivals because Hyundai was obviously not official because the rules do not allow it, but... almost. I know my people, you know? We all know Tarquini, engineer Adamo came from Alfa Romeo and is now running Hyundai's racing program, so I knew it would have been a tough adventure, but I've always liked challenges, so I tried. The truth was different though: the level was high, it was difficult at the beginning, but we had the will to develop the Giulietta (despite being a 10-year-old project) as much as we could.
The strict rules did not help: the car is homologated for 3 years, so theoretically you cannot modify anything. If you develop the car following a goal you have in mind and the goal changes in the meantime, you cannot modify the car. So it's difficult. But as I said, we tried. After half a year we tried to make a quantum leap by following the rules, we rebuilt the front suspension and after that, the car did quite good: I finished 4th in Czech Republic. Things started to become interesting in terms of future development. We later went to China and unfortunately different events (the distance or the so-called bad luck) led to poor results.
Two hard weekends with 6 last places on the starting grid. That's when I decided together with the team that there weren't the conditions to keep on going. Different views... As good friends, they kept their adventure going, while I chose to focus on something else. Davide: A question I always ask: what was your favorite racecar? Giovanardi: Oh God, the 155... because it was... hard.
And I've always liked difficult things. Ironically the 156 was more of a racecar, but its performances were... too high. I suffered less on it. While the '55 gave us unique satisfactions against Audi and BMW, with a car that was... ...dead: the project was 10 years old, it already did everything it could, but still... something was pulled out of the hat anyway. I think it is the most fun car I have ever driven in my whole life.
Davide: Is there a car you wanted to drive but didn't have the chance to? Even a very old one? Giovanardi: Well, cars I didn't have the chance to drive... I lived difficult years because racing is never improvised. You do not walk in saying "I can do everything": it doesn't work. I had some problem with the Astra in the early days because it was not built around my driving style: Yvan Muller was great at driving on ice. I don't like ice, I hate the cold, so... it was like wearing a dress that is not your size:
racing is the same, the car has to be built around you when possible. And that is what makes the difference. Between a professional driver and another, if we stick to turning the wheel and pushing the pedals, there is not a huge difference to say "That one sucks, while he's a hero". It's a number of things. If you put on a dress three times larger than your size, you are not comfortable.
Davide: I didn't mean a car you had problems with. I meant a car you saw and thought "I would like to drive it". Any category, any year... A car that made you say "I would have liked to be the one behind the wheel" Giovanardi: If I have to be honest, I would have liked to go rallying! Because there improvisation was something deeply present (at the time, today is different...) I had the chance to do a couple of rallies and I had fun because everything is improvised and I've always been a great improviser... No math, no tactic: we'll see what to do as we go along.
Davide: It's never too late Giovanardi: to go rallying? Today's rally is different, there's electronics... At the time drivers crossed the finish line 10 minutes after each other. Today we are talking about tenths of second... Davide: Something is wrong, huh? Giovanardi: What do you think is wrong? Electronics, that filters everything and aligns everyone. Everybody is good... They did it for motorbikes, look at them: what do they complain about? Electronics... Davide: We all complain about it...
Giovanardi: And I think a bike, with or without electronics, you still need to be gutsy to ride it, but still... TAC. "Two lines of software and everything works" as a friend of mine, an electronic engineer, said Davide: Alright... Giovanardi: Let's put our hearts to rest because we'll soon get drones on wheels.
And goodbye to the drivers... ... we won't need them. Written and directed by Davide Cironi with Fabrizio Giovanardi Filmed by Francesco Colantoni Translated by Elia Pozzani For more contents and photos feel free to check out our website WWW.DRIVEEXPERIENCE.IT