2018 Modena Cento Ore – track and field with classic cars

“Racing is life, everything before or after, is just waiting”. Those famous words, spoken by the king of cool, Steve McQueen, in the 1971 film Le Mans, really do say it all! And it is a sentiment perfectly illustrated by the Modena Cento Ore, this year held for the 17th time. The Modena Cento Ore is a speed adventure in Italian style, packed with hard track races, twisty special stages and mountain hillclimbs — a thrilling experience complemented and enriched by gala dinners and five-star hotels! The event is certainly pretty hard to resist, as shown by the fact that most of the entrants have been coming back for years, drawn by its magic and unique mix of different types of fun and enjoyment. Between the various racetracks and hillclimbs the entrants get to travel through gorgeous scenery on some of central Italy’s most beautiful roads, through the Futa Pass, to Forte dei Marmi, Mugello, Monza and Florence.

This year’s Cento Ore, from June 5th to 10th, saw 104 cars taking their place at start. The entrants came from 19 different countries, some of them from as far away as New Zealand and Brazil. The standard of the cars taking part was pretty high, the entrants in the racing class including rare Ferraris, some still in perfectly original condition and boasting impressive racing palmares. There was also quite a large Porsche turnout, this year being the 70th anniversary of the Stuttgart firm, and some rare pieces, such as a Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe, one of the only six ever built. In the Regularity Class, a number of teams fought it out to the very last 100th of a second — quite surprising really, after driving about 700 kilometers.

Modena Cento Ore 2018 – The evenings

As organizer Luigi Orlandini says, “We all believe that racing is everything. At the Modena Cento Ore, we simply make sure that the before and after part are cool and fun too”. The gala dinner at the Teatro della Pergola in the heart of Florence, with the tables arranged on the stage at the end of the opera performance, and the beach party at the Bambaissa beach in Forte dei Marmi, are just two of the wonderful memories that the entrants will undoubtedly take away with them and cherish. And the fact that these special evenings are savored just after parking a smoking hot racing car in the downtown of a magnificent city like Florence, or an exclusive beach resort like Forte dei Marmi, only adds to the magic. Just to underline this contrast, in Florence, as some of the entrants, having managed to take a refreshing shower, were leaving the hotel to go to dinner, elegant in black tie or long dresses, others, having been grappling with technical issues, were only just arriving, still in their racing gear, hot and sweaty from the tension of the race. There was something rather surreal about their encounter in the hotel lobby!

The tracks of Modena Cento Ore

Monza, Varano de Melegari, Mugello and Modena are the four racetracks used for the 2018 Modena Cento Ore. While Mugello is the one the entrants (especially those driving very powerful cars) love the most, because of its speed and configuration, the ingredient added by Monza is tradition — after all, it is one of the world’s oldest and most legendary racetracks. Moreover, Monza had a fantastic surprise in store this year: the racetrack’s “Sopraelevata”, the infamous banked corner, used until the 1960s (before being closed because it was too dangerous), has recently been restored to allow cars to use it, albeit subject to speed restrictions. Although still usually closed to the public, the Modena Cento Ore entrants were given the opportunity to use it, and thus to join the very “exclusive club” of drivers who have been lucky enough to drive on Monza’s “Sopraelevata”. This experience made the day in Monza very special indeed.

Moving on, the Varano de Melegari, close to Parma, is a smaller racetrack than Monza or Mugello, but it is quite technical to drive on. Situated only a few hundred meters from the Dallara factory, it is often used for testing and is therefore shaped to challenge a car’s chassis and handling. Fun to drive on, it gave the smaller, lighter, more agile cars the opportunity to outshine the big-engined ones better suited to the long straight stretches of the Monza and Mugello tracks. The Modena track, formally Autodromo di Modena, actually situated in nearby Marzaglia, is a new track, just a few years old. Despite its great location, in the heart of “Motor Valley”, it is too twisty, narrow and short to give classic car drivers the level of fun they are after. For this reason, the organizer, instead of the usual grille start, with all the cars together, preferred to opt for a sort of “special stage on track” solution, with the cars lapping the track one at a time. Modena really deserves something better.

Hillclimbs – reviving a classic motorsports discipline

Back in the days when there were fewer dedicated racetracks available, hillclimbs were as famous, if not more famous, than track championships. Enzo Ferrari actually made his debut, as a racing driver, in a hillclimb, specifically, in the Parma to Poggio di Berceto (some kilometers away in the Apennine mountains). To give the drivers plenty of opportunities to race, the Modena Cento Ore programme included a long list of hillclimbs (officially called special stages on closed roads), at least two for each day of the event. In the end, these stages were the ones that produced the biggest upsets in the classification, because we are talking about roads that are very difficult to drive on, where every small mistake is liable to have a huge impact (sometimes even on the body of the car!). Being, as a rule, quite twisty roads, they were more suited to the needs of rally cars than circuit racers, and thus gave these smaller cars the chance to demonstrate their potential supremacy, in these stages, over cars like the Ford GT 40, Porsche 911 RSR and Shelby Cobra, both in the open and in the Daytona Coupe configuration

The cars of Modena Cento Ore

Even though it is 17 years old, the Modena Cento Ore is still a growing event, as the current professional organizers took over only a few years ago. Its success is measured not by the number of cars entered — indeed, for some years now, it has been limited to about a hundred entrants — but by their average quality: the 2018 selection, topping the already spectacular 2017 line-up (which had included a Ferrari 250 GTO), comprised the most amazing classic racing cars, including a hyper-rare Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe. Funnily enough, this car, the hottest of the 2018 event, was originally created specifically to compete against the 250 GTO, last year’s top car. Only six Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupes were built in total, all created and manufactured by racer and car genius Carroll Shelby in his Venice (CA) shop. Chassis #CSX2300 was built in 1964 and originally leased by Alan Mann Racing to Ford France to be raced, painted in white, with red and blue stripes, in the 1965 Nürburgring 1000 kilometers, where it finished 3rd in the GT 3 class and 12th overall. It was returned to Alan Mann just after the race, and immediately afterwards to Shelby’s shop, where it was repainted in the traditional Guardsman Blue Metallic with a white stripe. The car remained in Shelby’s ownership until the 2000s, when it was sold at auction and entered a private collection. It was wonderful to see and hear this car, both on the racetracks and thundering through the mountain stages.

The Ferrari 250 GT SWB “SEFAC” (chassis #2445 GT) was another stunner, and it provided a perfect reminder that classic cars, even immensely valuable ones, really can be used on roads and tracks, giving their drivers a huge amount of fun. The sight of them is also amazing for onlookers. Probably the best engine sound of the event was that produced by one of the rarest Ferraris of the 1960s — a 250 SWB with the much coveted SEFAC specification and the specially requested alloy body. Finished on April 1st 1961, it was delivered to the Garage Francorchamps, in Belgium, and made its racing debut on 14th May, in the SPA GP, where it finished 9th overall. An intensive racing career followed, in Belgium and in France, including the 1962 24 Hours of Le Mans, where it recorded a DNF because of a serious crash at the Arnage corner. Subsequently sent to Piero Drogo’s body shop to be fixed, it was given a quite different looking body and never returned to racing. After being sold in the USA, and some decades later returned to Europe, it was restored in 2016, and now sports its original body style once again; in the same year, it received Ferrari Classiche certification. One of the most recent cars taking part in the Cento Ore was a 1982 Lancia Rally 037 Stradale, completely original but for the seat and seatbelts. A symbol of the Rally evolution of the 1980s, the 037 won, with the Lancia Martini works team, the 1982 Rally Championship, the very last time a Group B car without 4WD and Turbo engines achieved this feat. The Stradale, which is very rare indeed, considering that only 200 037s were built and many were used for racing (some of them transformed for this purpose), is a perfect youngtimer, and a wonderful car to drive. So much so that its British owner drove it all the way from England to the start in Monza, raced it, and then drove it back all the way back again! Interestingly enough, a number of entrants drove their cars to the race and then back home again, showing that a well-tuned classic can cover long distances without too many problems.

Miracles do happen

It would be silly not to admit that an event as grueling as this is bound to result in mechanical problems for some cars, and that a good team of mechanics is absolutely fundamental if an entrant is to have a chance of victory or even, in many cases, of finishing. To acknowledge the expertise of these professionals, a special trophy is awarded to the technical team that pulls off the “miracle” of the event. “You only have a look at the mechanics around,” says Luigi Orlandini of Canossa Events, “to realize how much effort they put in and the level of responsibility on their shoulders. They work around the clock, mostly in parking lots if not at the side of the road, and we all recognize that it is mainly down to them that, over the four days of the Modena Cento Ore, we lose an average of only 20% of the cars.” The 2018 “Mechanical Miracle” was performed by Brits Richard and Sarah Walbyoff, who were looking after the 1965 AC Shelby Cobra 289 driven by Mark Freeman and Mike Ellis. At the end of Day 1, the Cobra’s engine had a serious problem, but instead of pulling out of the race, they managed to track down a replacement engine in England, get it shipped to Italy and, still during the night, fit it under the bonnet of the Cobra, having the car ready to start the following morning as though nothing has happened. What a crew!

All photos courtesy of the author.

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