GALLERY: Go Behind The Scenes On Our Kessel Racing Film Shoot
Ronnie Kessel’s father Loris received an Alfa Romeo Giulietta from his parents as an 18th birthday present—an auspicious beginning to his automotive adventure. He used that car to get his racing license, and it evolved into a wide-bodied hillclimber of sorts, and his first competitive event was a timed sprint through the hills between Bormio and Stelvio.
He climbed hills for a time and raced in other local events until his manager found him a path to Formula 3 and then from there to F2, which eventually led him to an opportunity for a partial season of F1 in 1976—he raced in the top motorsport echelon for a little under a year and a half. This was the year of Lauda and Hunt’s close-fought tit for tat championship, and the same one in which Lauda would have his infamous accident in Germany. A few other notable names written on the fiberglass that year: Jody Scheckter, Mario Andretti, Jochen Mass, Emerson Fittipaldi, Chris Amon, and Ronnie Peterson. In other words, an amazing season and grid of drivers to be a part of. It was also a particularly perilous era for the sport, with the probability of major accidents and loss of life disconcertingly high from race to race.
Loris Kessel was not a poor man, but racing in Formula 1 required no small amount of capital in the 1970s, even if today’s budgets are many multiples higher. Without having major sponsorship or a drive with a works team, when Kessel raced it was mostly funded by his own bank account.
He didn’t race a full season, but he was able to become good friends with his colleagues, people like Clay Regazzoni and Ronnie Peterson, the latter becoming the namesake of Loris Kessel’s son, Ronnie.
Loris participated in motorsports for a while longer outside of F1, but by the late 1980s he began a pivot of sorts, closing one door and opening another. He wasn’t going to continue racing in contemporary cars, but he did buy a 1976 Ensign N176 F1 car to play with. It was an extra-special car to Loris, seeing as it was once driven by his idol, Clay Regazzoni. Beyond that, the sponsor was the same company that helped Loris find an entryway into F1.
20 years after buying it the nostalgia emanating from the machine had grown to the point where restoring the car and using it for historic events started to seem like an all but practical means of scratching the itch. Loris had passed away in 2010, but his son Ronnie decided to enter his father’s favorite car in the Historic Grand Prix of Monaco as a sort of tribute—a perfect second-life debut for a classic bit of F1 kit if you ask us, or anybody else—and he paired up with the Italian racing driver Alex Caffi to run the car on the hallowed circuit, winning their class in the 2016 edition of the biennial event.
Caffi, a former F1 shoe himself with more than 50 race starts to his credit, describes it as a time machine, a way to go back to a time in the sport when the driver was more connected to the car and the results were the product of talent more so than equipment. All we know is that it puts on a terrific show. Caffi is more than just a family friend though, and he actually used to race GT cars for the Kessel team in the 2000s after he retired from his F1 pursuits.
Today Ronnie and the rest of the Kessel team are continuing where Loris left off, with their attention split between classic cars, their modern counterparts, and of course, motorsport. With a restoration workshop, a modern dealership, and the racing team all bearing the Kessel name, it seems that that little Giulietta birthday present went a very long way indeed.