It may seem a little hasty to conclude that without the “Gentlemen Drivers” of Ferrari’s formative years, maybe the Company wouldn’t exist today. Telling the story of some of these men allows us to understand why there are still now so many equally enthusiastic drivers lined up on the track, at the wheel of cars bearing the Prancing Horse
Estimated reading time: 10 minutes
Throughout Ferrari’s sporting history, a significant role has been played by the Company’s clients, those “gentlemen drivers”, who take full advantage of Maranello models to perform brilliantly in all motor sport competitions. This close relationship with these amateur drivers, for whom a Servizio Clienti department was set up in 1948 in Viale Trento e Trieste, Modena (managed by Enzo Monari, later taken over by Gaetano Florini), also represented a significant contribution to the brand’s finances.
However, before citing some examples, it would be useful to first look at what exactly is meant by the term “gentlemen driver” and what characteristics place them in this particular category. Firstly, they must be a successful business person or boast a large private income, but, above all, they have to be passionate about performance mechanics and combine a sporting spirit with a flair for driving. They must be able to endure fatigue, to overcome any difficulties encountered, often to act with the class their status bestows and to be ready for anything, willing to face the same risks as professional drivers. Of course, they aim to finish as high up as possible, but the most important thing is the actual racing itself, the best way to express their passion for cars. Back in 1947, Ferrari’s first customers were aristocratic gentleman drivers.
Among the early notables were the Besana brothers, Gabriele and Soave, wealthy confectioners, Count Bruno Sterzi, owner of a paper-making company, and Prince Igor Nikolayevich Troubetzkoy, winner of the 1948 Giro di Sicilia, along with Clemente Biondetti. The family of the Count and Countess Marzotto also figured among these drivers, four out of the five brothers trying their hand at motor racing. Giannino won the 1950 1,000 Miglia in a Ferrari 195 S Berlinetta, but became increasingly involvedin the family’s textile business, and was forced to withdraw from competition after 1953, although not before managing to win the Freccia Rossa again that year. His remarkable talent also showed on the difficult Rouen circuit, where, in 1962, he won at the wheel of a Ferrari 166 F2. His brother Paolo had a very good 1952 season, winning the tours of Sicily, the Dolomites and Pescara. They finished fifth together at Le Mans in 1953 in a factory-built Ferrari, but had to stop competing shortly afterwards, at their father’s request, to concentrate on the family business.
Count Giannino, as fast as he was impeccably dressed, will be remembered as the driver in the blue suit, who always raced in jacket and tie: ‘I raced like that because that was my normal working attire, and also, apart from the publicity for my fabrics, it meant I was always ready, if forced to retire, to take the train home… But above all I wanted to play down the danger and risk normally associated with motor sport. I wanted to show that a race could be run as recreation, a nice long drive along the Italian roads in a powerful car, but just for fun.’ To demonstrate this, he took part in his last 1,000 Miglia in 1954 with his charming 22- year-old sister-in-law, Gioia Tortima as co-driver.
Edoardo Lualdi Gabardi, another textile entrepreneur, was one of Ferrari’s most loyal customers. From 1953 to 1971, he bought and drove nearly 20 models, from the 166 MM to the 212 E, through the LWB, SWB, GTO, 196 SP, LM, and 206 S, claiming 76 victories on the way, mainly in ill climbing races but also on the track: ‘Work and racing both kept me extremely busy, but somehow I found the time! I mostly did hill climbing races, because there were more of them, and less on the track, for the simple reason that these were still quite rare. I met Enzo Ferrari in 1951, when I was 20. I went to see him regularly, we often ate together and he was always interested in my career. At the start, I had a mechanic to look after my cars, but later Ferrari took over everything. They kept the cars, got them ready and sent them out to me for the competitions.’
As for Paul Frère, Enzo Ferrari was unsure what discipline the Belgian driver was best at. An anecdote from the 1956 Belgian Grand Prix sums up the philosophy behind his driving: ‘Shortly before the race, the sporting director Eraldo Sculati phoned me to offer me the chance to drive [Luigi] Musso’s Lancia-Ferrari, as he had been injured at the Nürburgring. I refused and only went along to the track on the Saturday, as a journalist, with my mind made up not to take part in the race. But the temptation proved too strong and I went to see Sculati. I was more interested in trying out the car in a race context rather than really wanting to compete, more out of journalist’s curiosity than anything else. And that’s the real reason I started, alongside teammates [Juan Manuel] Fangio [Eugenio] Castellotti and [Peter] Collins, and I finished second behind Collins…’ The French industrialists Pierre Noblet and Jean Guichet also raced primarily for pleasure. Noblet managed the family’s textile factories and got to know Ferrari through his friends and fellow Italians the Marzottos, while Guichet was in shipping. These two men quickly gelled into a formidable team.
According to Enzo Ferrari, these two gentlemen were equal to their professional counterparts in terms of skill, courage and endurance, even if they dedicated little time to their passion. They always displayed excellent mechanical sympathy and often finished in strong positions, carrying off third place in Le Mans 24 Hours in 1961, and second place the following year. With such talent, Guichet ended up joining Ferrari as a professional in 1964. He was very proud of this and was victorious at Le Mans in 1964 and Monza in 1965: ‘At that time I was the only official Ferrari driver with a second job, owner of a ship yard in Marseilles. I was able to compete, because at the time I was still single and, instead of taking normal holidays, I took mine according to Ferrari’s schedule. When I joined Ferrari, I didn’t change my race philosophy, as I didn’t need the money to make a living. I was just as free in my response to the team as when driving my own cars.’
Prince Gaetano Starrabba di Giardinelli raced for nearly two decades. After starting out with Stanguellini, Patriarca, Lancia, and Maserati, he purchased his first car from Maranello: ‘My friend Luigi Musso introduced me to Ferrari in 1956, and I then purchased a 2.0-litre Testa Rossa. I really liked this car and with my friends Cortese and Munaron, we founded the Squadra Azzurra. Ferrari assigned me a mechanic and took care of our engagements. I remember that during a race at Monza, I came off the track quite violently. I was even left holding the gear lever in my hands, and when I returned to the stands, there was Enzo Ferrari, who very nicely said: “There’s one thing you must remember: cars can be rebuilt, but people can’t!” I had three Testa Rossas in all, and it was Enzo himself who advised me on the third. At the time I was living three months of the year in Modena, which was a really great time.’
Prince Starrabba then tried Formula One in a Lotus/Maserati and, like a good Sicilian from Palermo, continued to honour the Targa Florio (he won 14 of them) at the wheel of a GTO, LM or the 206S of his friend Clemente Ravetto. He went about his business with style and humility, and Enzo especially liked his fighting qualities. The Belgian Jean Blaton was another important gentleman driver. The boss of a public works firm, he gained an international reputation, joining Francorchamps. From 1957 to 1979, he drove the marque’s top models: 166 MM, 250 TR, SWB, GTO, LM, P4, BB/LM etc, under the pseudonym “Beurlys” so as not to mix business with pleasure, something which his father didn’t approve of at all. This passion for cars even led some drivers like Gianpiero Moretti to set up their own companies. While an amateur driver, he created a smaller steering wheel with a better grip than usual for the cars he drove. This lead to him to setting up MOMO (Moretti-Monza), and Ferrari itself would end up using it in its cars. ‘At the start, I was racing nearly every Sunday and running the factory during the week; no mean feat as we were growing fast. This didn’t prevent me committing myself still further by purchasing a 512 S to drive in quite a few international races.’ Moretti continued to race for Porsche, March and others, up to the 333 SP, a car he convinced Ferrari to build, always decorated in his red and yellow colours. Since 1994, he has had five successful seasons, including his career best result with the Daytona/Sebring double in 1998. The return of the GT category in the endurance races in the early 1990s marked the start of a new era for gentleman drivers, some of whom set up their own stables to become further involved in motor racing. Luciano della Noce, a Roman and a real estate developer in the civil sector, was the force behind the contracting of the F40s for four seasons from 1993 to 1996 with his team Ennea. The French businessman Frédéric Dor was one of the first to invest in the potential of the 550 Maranello competition version. To do this, he founded Care Racing and also drove regularly.
Finally, more recently, the actor Patrick Dempsey, a great car racing enthusiast, collector and stables owner, is a true Le Mans enthusiast. He finished 30th in the 2009 edition in a 430 GT2, and has just made a four-hour documentary on the race: ‘From a money point of view, it’s good to have a profession, which means I can look after my family. And acting and motor racing have a lot in common. In both cases you need to communicate and take advice in order to improve your performance. Motorsport keeps you humble and makes you respect other drivers. It keeps your feet on the ground. I love racing and if I had the choice between winning an Oscar and winning the Le Mans 24 Hours… it would be Le Mans!’
Da isuue n° 22 yearbook 2013