Alfa Romeo's 4C launch at Balocco

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Andrew Frankel

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This is why I love Italy. Last night we turned up at the Balocco test track to attend the press conference that preceded driving Alfa Romeo’s 4C coupe today. These events are usually excruciating, not least because the accepted protocol is for the presentations to take the form of reading out the press materials you’ve already read. Journos fight for the seats at the back so they can nod off unnoticed.

But not this time. Alfa had thoughtfully built the room in which the conference was held over the track with the circuit running through the middle of it. So as various luminaries took turns to explain how they’d help create the 4C, said 4Cs kept appearing in the room and screeching to a halt before executing full bore launch control getaways inches away from our noses. And then, just as we thought the fun was over, an entire fleet of 4Cs appeared into whose passenger seats we were invited. Then at carefully timed intervals we cannoned off into the darkness.

I must say that as I sat there watching a bloke called Emanuele find his way around an unlit Balocco apparently by sonar it did occur to me that this could not possibly happen anywhere else in Europe. There we were honking along what I presumed to be a straight at 150mph before Emanuele dabbed the brake and flung the 4C unsighted into a 100mph left hand kink. I wanted to be terribly impressed, but in truth I was trying harder not to throw up. I’ve raced around many tracks at all hours of the day and night, but never been a passenger. It is an immensely disconcerting and disorienting experience I’ll not be repeating.

But somehow, here, it was almost worth it. I learned nothing about the 4C last night except that it was fast and made a lot of noise which I could have guessed without being reduced to a gibbering wreck. But the idea I loved. Someone at Alfa Romeo would have had the thought, pitched it, had it approved without it ever occurring to any of the parties involved that perhaps a disclaimer should be signed, a helmet worn or any attention be paid at all to the health and safety issues potentially arising from driving cars flat out through a building full of people or flinging them around a test track in the middle of the night that’s scary and dangerous enough in broad sunshine.

It’s an attitude that suits the character of the car well for it too is flawed in its thinking, emotional in its creation and executed with a panache and abandon you’ll find nowhere else in the world. Quite cleary Alfa’s attitude was that this was their test track and these were their cars and no one was going to tell them how they should or should not be driven.

I’ll write extensively about the 4C in the next issue of Motor Sport but suffice to say here the car is often adorable, occasionally irritating, sometimes frustrating but always interesting. In other words a proper Alfa Romeo, something that I, like you, have waited far too long to see.

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