The Italian, the Count and a swift exit from Le Mans...

One of the lesser known – and in my view rather underrated – international racing drivers of the early 1960s was the Italian Carlo Mario Abate. Driving most notably Ferraris owned and entered by the youthful Count Giovanni Volpi di Misurata’s Scuderia Serenissima organisation, Abate quite regularly gave a good account of himself.

Fifty years ago this season he won the over-2½-litre Gran Turismo Coppa d’Oro di Modena in a Ferrari 250GT, and then placed second in the sister 2-litre sports car race, driving a Maserati ‘Birdcage’. Into 1961, he clocked third-fastest time in the Le Mans Test Weekend driving Serenissima’s Tipo 63 ‘Birdcage’ V12, shared the second-placed Ferrari 250GT SWB with Trintignant in the Trophée d’Auvergne at Clermont, and won the GT race supporting the German GP at the Nürburgring, where he had previously finished fourth in the ADAC 1000Kms, co-driving with Colin Davis – son of pre-war Bentley Boy and Sports Editor of The Autocar, ‘Sammy’ Davis.

In 1962 he won the 300km Trophée d’Auvergne in Volpi’s Ferrari 250GTO, from five more Ferraris, Tony Maggs in the Essex Racing Team’s Aston Martin DB4GT… and with Alan Rees’s Essex-entered Lotus 23 in a startlingly cheeky second place.

At Reims in 1963 Abate won the 25-lap GP support race in Serenissima’s elderly – but powerful – front-engined Ferrari 250TR/I. He’d also had a handful of F1 outings in assorted Serenissima entries when, early in ’64, he was invited to try a works Ferrari 275P in the Le Mans Test Weekend. He co-drove with Ludovico Scarfiotti, winner of the previous year’s 24 Hours in partnership with Lorenzo Bandini in a works 250P.

Scarfiotti set fastest time of that wet weekend, but soon afterwards it all went wrong for Abate in the same car, as he hit a particularly deep puddle at high speed and aquaplaned tail-first into the roadside bank entering the Dunlop Curve. C M Abate is one of those very pleasant Italian sportsmen who bowed out gracefully, and has seldom discussed his racing career since. Recently, recalling that Le Mans crash, he said: “I was lucky, it could have been a lot worse. I ended up with a fractured jaw, a broken rib and some contusions. It took me a while to recover, but it was a turning point in my life. I was already considering stopping racing and concentrating on my job [insurance]. Dragoni of Ferrari kept calling me for a while, offering a contract, but I ended up quitting and concentrating upon business.”

So that’s what happened to Carlo Mario Abate. I had often wondered…