A trip to his favourite circuit proves forgotten, untapped ability can be found when you least expect it. Even at a marque race at Spa
Spa-Francorchamps is my favourite circuit, the most fulfilling of the 49 I’ve raced or tested cars on by miles, thus I never turn down an opportunity to visit. That the offer of a trip to June’s Ferrari Days came late only whetted my appetite further. And that’s before I knew I’d be driving a 612 Scaglietti out to Belgium, and a 430 back.
Despite the constant changes wreaked upon it by the demands of Formula 1, Spa is still a magnificent place. That my travelling companions had not been before merely heightened the pleasure. I love seeing the jaws of virgins drop when they clap eyes on the majestic topography of Eau Rouge for the first time.
How I envy those who visited Spa during the 1960s and 1970s, let alone raced there, before the fearsome old pine tree-lined road course was amputated and the new course opened 1979.
The focus of my recent trip was the Ferrari Challenge, a twin-pronged championship for the latest 500bhp 430s: Trofeo Pirelli for those taking it very seriously indeed and Coppa Shell for ‘gentlemen racers’. At 48, with 150-odd races behind me, that latter section looked mighty attractive. Especially as some of the drivers are rookies who started at the age of 60.
Unexpectedly, though, my historical interest lay behind the scenes, where I found vastly experienced Italian racers Enrico Bertaggia and Almo Coppelli working with the Ferrari Dealer Team GB effort.
Bertaggia, who plays a key role in managing the scuderia from its Silverstone base, was one of legions of talented drivers who did not get the breaks. In fact, as ’87 Italian F3 champion he had the task the following season of piloting one of the worst cars I ever saw – the F3000 Dallara. Not as bad as the horrific ‘F1’ Dywa, but that’s another story…
A far cry from Dallara’s current masterpieces, the 3087 was a vast truck of a thing, which looked like it ought to hinge at the nose and disgorge two Marches or Lolas. Enrico never complained while I was reporting on the International Championship, and his subsequent efforts on the outermost fringes of F1 (with Coloni) were even less rewarding.
After a few years of sportscar racing, the Venetian has found his forté now. Commuting from his home in Monaco, to do a job of which every little scarlet-blooded Italian boy dreams, erases the painful under-achievement of a talent which won the Monaco and Macau F3 races in ’88.
A contemporary of Bertaggia’s, with whom I’d crossed paths as a club reporter on Autosport in 1978, Almo Coppelli, also works for the Prancing Horse.
Privateers in need of top-drawer expertise to run and race Group C or GTP cars would do well to use the experience of Almo, and put him back in the cockpit as part of the package. It’s amazing how much forgotten, or untapped, ability you can find in and around the pits when you least expect it.