SPORT ET COLLECTION/500 FERRARIS AGAINST CANCER 2020

Marc Sonnery

Volume 45 Issue 20

Sep 26, 2020

The 26th edition of this popular event was rescheduled from early June to the weekend of 10-13 September. It is a miracle that it was possible for it happen at all as a few weeks before permission would not have been received from the authorities.
Organizer Jean-Pierre Doury fought hard for that. Conversely a few weeks later due to COVID-19 infections rising after the summer holidays the window of opportunity would have closed again with restrictions; albeit not total confinement, expected in October.
Due to quarantines, the usually numerous British contingent, lead yearly by veteran Ferrari privateer racer David Piper

     The 26th edition of this popular event was rescheduled from early June to the weekend of 10-13 September. It is a miracle that it was possible for it happen at all as a few weeks before permission would not have been received from the authorities.

 

    Organizer Jean-Pierre Doury fought hard for that. Conversely a few weeks later due to COVID-19 infections rising after the summer holidays the window of opportunity would have closed again with restrictions; albeit not total confinement, expected in October.

 

     Due to quarantines, the usually numerous British contingent, lead yearly by veteran Ferrari privateer racer David Piper could not attend. Likewise, a couple of actual race series, based in the UK, including one of the vintage F1 championships, had to be cancelled. With about 95% French attendance, there was still a number of plates from Belgium, Germany, Holland, Luxemburg, Switzerland and Italy.

 

    As per mandate, a maximum 5,000 people were allowed on the track property from the Thursday test day to Sunday. In view of this ceiling, the event had been advertised locally less than previous years to avoid disappointment.

 

    There was attendance counting at the entrance, but at no time did I see a line being held back. Masks were of course mandatory, along with distancing, but thankfully all duly cooperated and there were no Covidiots objecting.

 

    Everyone got a forehead temperature scan upon entry and as of Sunday morning medical personnel reported zero suspected cases to me. Needless to say, attendance records were not about to be broken this year as about 30% of the usual attendance was missing, both in terms of cars with about 100 Ferrari owners cancelling their participation and crowds were down by about the same percentage.

 

    Still it was a major victory to be there; everyone was happy and the concerns about such a late summer date and miserable weather were unheeded: we got bright sunshine and another heat wave.

 

      In a nutshell, four days of track time sessions separated by classes to keep group speed consistent, beautifully named Pozzi, Francorchamps, Filipinetti, Maranello and yes, Chinetti, are the core of the event. Mix in demonstrations by guests of honor in special cars and incredible aerobatics displays before adding the touch that gives the event its name and more importantly its purpose. Funds are gathered for the CHU (University Hospital of) Poitiers, a leading facility to facilitate research projects.

 

     How are funds collected? Most Ferrari (as well as Porsche, Maserati, Lamborghini) owners volunteer to take members of the public out on rides in some dedicated sessions. Those spectators who wish such a ride pay the organizers at a dedicated ticket booth. They then line up in the pits waiting for their turn, are supplied with a helmet, helped to strap themselves in the car, “Hello Sir” “Hello Madam” and off they go for a few laps. All of the proceeds go to the charity. Each year a consistent € 300,000 is gathered, but this year it will be less due to the circumstances.

     As of last year, the 25 previous editions totaled € 4.75 million, a mighty and noble effort. The count for this year is not yet known as we close for press.

 

     As per tradition, Friday evening track sessions are run late into the evening until 11 p.m. This is not just unusual amongst track days in any country, but pretty unique, made possible by the fact that no homes are situated near the circuit. Try that at many tracks where decibels are restricted even during the day...and there would be trouble.

 

     The star Ferrari this year was the 1953 340 MM S/N 0294 AM of Roberto Crippa. It was at least its third participation in this event.

 

     A factory car in its very first event, the 1953 Mille Miglia, it was driven by Luigi Villoresi with co-driver Pasquale Cassani, but the pair were eliminated in an accident.

 

    Its second and last outing as a Scuderia Ferrari entry after repairs just two weeks later on May 9 was with Mike Hawthorn driving at Silverstone for the International trophy. The Brit with his caustic humor and trademark black tie won.

 

     The factory sold it in early June to Swiss privateer Hans Ruesch who promptly took it to the Isle of Man for the British Empire Trophy. He came in third in the trials on the daunting open road course and was again third in the final. Closer to his home in the Vue des Alpes hillclimb in Switzerland near Neuchâtel, he came in sixth overall and won his class.

 

     Then his luck turned decidedly sour. After a minor crash at the Circuito di Senigalia on Italy’s Adriatic coast he had a major accident at Merano. Ruesch was unhurt after flying in the air during the crash and landing on hay bales; in fact he lived to the ripe old age of 94.

 

     The car was badly damaged and then repaired at the factory where the front tube of the chassis had to be replaced and the car was then rebodied by Scaglietti as a Monza.

     Luigi Chinetti, the US importer in New York City, then acquired it in 1955 and after no recorded activity sold it in the USA to amateur driver Dieter Holterbosch, also of New York city.

 

     The owner then had it restored in the UK and took part in the Mille Miglia in 1986 and 1987. After passing through the hands of Arturo Keller and Brandon Wang it was sold in 1999 to Italian collector Roberto Crippa of Milan. He has raced it copiously in the Historic Ferrari Challenge, Le Mans Classic, CoppaInter Europa, Mille Miglia and came second in 2006 at one of the Finali Mondiali races at Monza.

 

     The 1950 212 Export Motto Spyder S/N 0094 E is a faithful visitor to Sport et Collection. Sold new in 1951 to Piero Scotti of Florence it was bodied by Rocco Motto’s Carrozeria in Turin. He specialized in aluminum bodies for racing Fiats, Alfa Romeos and numerous delightful Etcetterinis. S/N 0094 E is one of very few Ferraris bodied by his firm. He was respected for his skill and the Porsche factory hired his services to execute some particularly complex bodies.

 

     Scotti raced it extensively and, teamed with Amos Ruspaggiari, came in third overall in the 1951 Mille Miglia, before scoring the same result in the Coppa della Toscana. He won the Vittorio Veneto-Cansiglio hillclimb September 2. After a DNF in the Targa Florio, he stayed in Sicily for the Catania-Etna hillclimb which goes up the slope of the mighty 3,350 m/10,990 ft active volcano and won. He scored four more class wins and at least one overall victory at Messina Colle san Rizzo. He was thus Italian sports car champion that year.

 

     The car was then sold to faraway Argentina, acquired by Roberto Bonomi who won three races in 1952 at Buenos Aires with it. After that it had no less than seven other Argentine owners who raced it into the ground, its cosmetic condition progressively becoming appalling like so many cars in South America at the time.

 

     Then its savior arrived, without white horse but with a French accent: Antoine Midy. He bought it in 1984 and took it home to France. He got it sorted out but did not give it a speculative restoration; rather he tidied it up, keeping it as original as possible and began using it.

 

     The first event was the 1987 Mille Miglia where he lent it to Bonomi (perhaps a relative of the first Argentine owner) and Croce. He then took part in the 1992 Tour Auto, and the 1997 Monaco Historic Grand Prix. Two years later in 1999 he entered it in the wonderful and much missed Parc de Bagatelle Concours d’Elegance just outside Paris, before lending it for display at the Galleria Ferrari in Fiorano next to the factory. His last hurrah was the 2003 Tour Auto with Caron. In May 2007, Antoine Midy passed away.

 

     There was an attempt to sell it at the last Gstaad Bonhams auction in December 2008, but it did not quite reach reserve and the family decided to stick with it; son Emmanuel Midy lapping it with gusto at this event.

     Another 212 was present, the 1951 212 Inter Coupe Touring S/N 0167 EL, one of three right hand drive cars made by Touring. This one was built with an Aerlux glass roof.

 

     Very little is known about the life of S/N 0167 EL, supposedly it was discovered in Argentina in 1987. Its history is currently being researched by its owners who prefer to say nothing until they are sure. It was recently acquired by La Collection Anna-Lisa based near Lyon with .... seventy-one other cars! They are mostly Italian ones, now owned by French couple Patrick and Anne-Lise Duvarry. They named the collection after her first name, Italianized.

 

     Classic road Ferraris included two 250 GTE, one of which was owned by Simon Feldman who spearheads the French GTE group. A 330 GT 2+2 with 4-headlights was gorgeous in verde pino. Two 512 BBs attended. Among modern supercars, an F40 took part along with numerous challenge cars from all eras and recent GT class racers. In the paddock entire rows of V8 models of all eras could be seen, along with a smattering of V12s, from Daytonas to 812s. There were no older owners, the most vulnerable to the virus staying cautiously away, hence no 275 GTBs this year.

 

     Two Monza SP2 were present, one displayed in the bar club/shop area and one used during the Sunday parade next to the 340 MM and 212 ex-Midy. An 812 GTS was also shown.

 

     The star guest of the weekend was none other than Henri Pescarolo, the 77-year young four-time 24 Hours of Le Mans winner, a man of very few words. He is a bit of an institution with his 33 Le Mans participations, the all-time record, and feats of legend.

 

     One was driving a Matra 630 V12 at Le Mans all night in a rainstorm with no wipers in 1968, the only other time the race took place in September, like this year, due not to a virus delay but to the riots of that year. The wiper motor was inaccessible, the team and co-driver Johnny Servoz Gavin wanted to retire the car but he said, “no way!” He got out there and guessed his way round...remember that is when there were no guardrails and the Mulsanne straight was five kilometers long. Heroic bravery and they were back up in second place in the morning. A Sunday afternoon puncture just two hours from the finish caused terminal damage due to the flailing tire.

 

     In 1969 Matra had the Mulsanne (a public road) closed for aerodynamic tests but alas the 640 was flawed and at top speed he took off like a plane and crashed into the trees; he was badly injured and severely burned. After long hospitalisation a year later, his first laps in a racing car took place at Pierre Bardinon’s Mas du Clos circuit. He came out of this near miss with a permanent lopsided grin which somehow compliments his smart aleck humor.

 

     I had always wanted to ask him about his single Ferrari drive at Le Mans, with Mike Parkes in a Scuderia Filipineti 512F in 1971 (one of nine that took the start that year) and he kindly shared his memories of that year, he was then twenty nine:  “I was very honoured to be invited to drive for the Swiss Filipinetti team a prestigious well run one and to share a car with Mike Parkes who was a very respected driver, he had driven for Ferrari in F1.”

 

     “Likewise, the 512 Ferrari was already a legend in its own time. That car (chassis 1048) had been modified by Parkes, a talented engineer, by fitting it with a Porsche 917 windshield; the idea was that it was narrower than the standard one and hence would give better top speed. We did not have measuring equipment to assess this exactly, but it had to produce a slight improvement on the Mulsanne. [Note: this is why the car was known as the 512F, F for Filipinetti. It also had a one-piece rear wing.] For the race we were not there to make up the numbers, we had decided on a judicious rhythm to see who was where near the end. All was going well but during the 13th hour Mike went off track at Maison Blanche. He managed to drive slowly back to the pits but there was a lot of damage so that was the end.”

 

     On Saturday as per tradition there is a touring rally that winds through the bucolic Poitou-Charentes Limousin region. It is very popular with twisty roads, scenic countryside, almost zero traffic, charming villages and spectacular castles. No less than 200 cars take part, waved off by the speaker one-by-one in the village square of nearby L’Isle Jourdain. This is a popular sight and half the village gathers in a friendly atmosphere to see the cars drive off after a brief interview by the speaker.

 

     Almost 100 Ferraris took part such as a plexi-nose Daytona, 512 BB, 330 GT 4-headlight, several 246GTs, a good number of V12s from 550 to 812 along with herds of V8s from 308 GT4 - one of whom used racing tires on the road in his stripped-out roll-caged track special! - to 488s including a Novitec with flared wheel arches and huge tires. A handful of newer Lamborghinis, many Porsches and English classics made up the numbers.

 

     This year the route went north of the local main city of Poitiers and took in Château de Dissay during a catered - but dry - lunch, the historic town of Chauvigny and the twists along the Vienne River valley.

 

     Near the entrance of the paddock in front of the bar club/shop area was the concours display. This featured serious classics from various marques, including the previously mentioned two 212s, a Lusso, the two 250 GTEs, an Iso Grifo Can Am 7-litre with pop-up headlights and big hood bulge, an orange Miura SV from Italy, an Aston DB5 fresh from the Tour Auto and a DB3 replica.

     It was time for the gala dinner beside the paddock in a huge tent.

 

     Jean-Pierre Doury got an ovation for managing to save the event, with the authorities’ permission for 5,000 spectators by instigating a strict protocol which was respected by all. Consider that the 24 Hours of Le Mans a week later was to be held without any spectators. Best of Show was the 340 MM.

 

     Of course, guest star Pescarolo gave a speech, much shorter than those of the hospital directors, with his characteristically dry wit, concluding that  “Since the majority of my brothers and sisters were decimated by cancer maybe this event and the research it allows will help me die from something else.” No one could say it better.

 

     Sunday featured a lunchtime parade on track with every Ferrari present and only Ferraris as per tradition along with incredible aerobatics displays, first with two Rafales, the leading edge Air Force jets by Dassault Aviation, absolutely awesome to watch with a deep reactor sound reaching into the distance.  The Air Force aerobatics team also performed amazing stunts with three propeller planes, even writing a heart of smoke into the cloudless blue sky. 

 

     This edition was of course impacted in terms of Ferrari numbers and public attendance with 20 to 30 percent less than usual but it is a miracle it could take place at all. For yours truly and for countless others it was simply the first track event of the year. To sit in the grass at the back of the circuit under beautiful oak trees watching V8s and V12s howl away towards the horizon on the long back straight was truly wonderful, an almost forgotten pleasure and the best possible post-confinement medicine.

 

     The 27th edition of Sport et Collection will take place June 3-6, 2021 and should feature the races initially planned for this year.

 

     If you are in Europe at that time it is not to be missed. It is about a four-hour drive south of Paris or two-and-a-half-hour trip from the Bordeaux airport.