John Bowe on Italian racing cars

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Australian motorsport legend John Bowe has a long association with Ferraris and tells why he loves Italian racing cars...

John Bowe on Italian racing cars
John Bowe

 

JOHN BOWE ON ITALIAN RACING CARS

I have always loved Italian cars, not to mention Italian clothes, food, wine and, of course, the girls, although I have to say that I’ve had more success with the cars than the girls! And the cars have, in many cases, owed their existence to competition. Fiat, Alfa Romeo and Maserati all made their names on the track but it was Ferrari that took the ‘road cars exist to fund the racing department’ mantra to extremes.

Old Enzo was an engine man. "Aerodynamics is for people with bad engines," he once said to journalist Paul Frere. He got a few calls wrong, missing the mid-engine revolution of the late-50s, but you know what? I reckon the last front-engined Grand Prix Ferrari was the most beautiful racing car of all time. There have been so many other Italian race cars I’ve seen in action; it’s like living the dream. The beautiful little Alfa Romeo GTA that Alec Mildren ran for Kevin Bartlett springs to mind; so pretty, and all-aluminium. My favourite of all time is the Ferrari 250 LM, run by Scuderia Veloce for Spencer Martin. I can still hear the howling V12 as it flashed past the pits at Longford. I used to hang around the SV pit and they would shoo me away from the car, I loved it that much!

Since the mid-’90s I’ve been lucky enough to have lived my very own Italian dream, racing 355, various 360, 360 GT, 430 Challenge and GT3, and finally the awesome 458 GT3 car that I share with owner Pete Edwards in the Australian GT series. We had a great win in the Bathurst 12-hour race this year, ably assisted by the legendary Craig Lowndes and Finnish ex-F1 driver Mika Salo.

I also did some races in a couple of Lamborghini GT3 cars. These are awesome cars too but don’t have the heritage to create the passion in folks that the Prancing Horse does. For this issue, I’ve had the privilege of pedalling magnificent recreations of Ferrari Testarossa and Maserati Tipo 54 sports cars, the Maser similar to the one legendary driver Stirling Moss used at the very last Mille Miglia.

It’s impossible not to get excited about the beautiful Ferrari 333 SP, built in the ’90s to win in America and which also did a couple of Le Mans races. It proved a real pleasure to drive, with loads of grip, a cracking sequential gearbox and the most amazing sound from the F1-derived V12.

Then how could I forget the amazing F40 Le Mans car I drove at Winton about 10 years ago? With twin turbos and the attitude dialled up to 11, it was all aggression; snarling and popping like a dragon. I took my youngest son Alex for a few laps, and it called time by spitting a wheel off. Typical temperamental Italian!

Out on the rally stages, it was Lancia who starred. The Fulvia, Stratos, 037, Delta S4, 4WD and Integrale models were all champions. Fiat was also successful with its Abarth-prepared 124 Spyder and 131 Mirafiori.

As a racer, we tend toprioritise effectiveness over aesthetics but Italian cars just manage to get under your skin. When I seriously think back on all those years of Italian race cars, there is one term that strikes me; ‘passionately characterful’. Long may they reign!

 

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