GALLERY: The Bergamo Historic Grand Prix Is Your Intimate Alternative To The Mille Miglia And Co.
Photography by Rosario Liberti
These days the idea of Italian road racing takes a few different forms. The Mille Miglia, the Targa Florio—these modern “retellings” hark to the legendary routes through cobbled city squares and along rolling meadows taken at speeds well in excess of a hundred miles per hour—are one version. They have built upon the mythos, becoming not just an homage to these great races that characterized the peak of 20th century motorsport away from the circuit, but as time has continued to separate the originals from the contemporary versions these have now grown to be something almost entirely new. Now you’ll find modern supercars joining the processions en masse (they aren’t eligible to participate in an official sense, but seeing as the whole point is public roads there’s not much to do in the way of keeping them away), and while the addition of these brand-new Ferraris and Lamborghinis act as proof of enduring support for races like the Mille and the Targa, there’s no denying the fact that things like this take something away from the idea of recapturing the original entry lists.
I’m not trying to bash those events—it’s inevitable that in a stacked calendar of vintage racing events each year there will emerge a popular set that draws larger crowds and followers along—but if you’d prefer a decidedly more historic scene there is another type of event. They are lower in key, smaller in scope, shorter in duration, but events like the Bergamo Historic Gran Prix seem to possess a deeper authenticity for precisely these reasons. And as you can see, it’s not like we’re dealing with a few Fiats and nothing else. There are serious cars at play. Serious bikes too.
The Gran Prix traces its roots back over 80 years to the time of its original format (today there is no all-out competition among the walled city of Bergamo like it was when contested by the likes of Nuvolari and co., because that would surely be tempting fate), and in an odd twist of tradition the revamped historical version has far more history than the race that occurred in 1935. That’s because the automobile race only occurred in 1935, just a single running at full speed (motorcycle events continued on afterwards for a time). Today its participants follow pace cars for their laps instead of a frenzied pursuit of the checkered, but it’s not really about the lap times here. There are plenty of historical racing series and one-offs that take place on regulated circuits if that’s the kind of thing you’re after, but when it comes to atmosphere the Bergamo GP is bested by few.
This is where you come to listen to punchy fours echoing off of Venetian walls erected hundreds of years ago. This is where you come to watch a Ferraris and Formula Alfas jouncing over cobblestones next to Gileras posted up next to cafes and rows of restored Porsches. This is where you come to find the mixture of iconic vintage sports cars and the pieces of automotive history that are kept alive by a select few devotees. Where history is present but not puffed up. There’s simply no need for amplification, it comes naturally.
I thoroughly enjoy the fanfare and sense of occasion inherent in the bigger, longer events that I attend, but I’ve been coming to Bergamo for a few years now and can say that while it cannot replace such races, it surely supplements them. If you’re looking for a more intimate affair, I’d add this to your list. Usually there’s a degree of negative correlation between access and quality, but I think the photos from this year’s Gran Prix will prove that such a relationship does not exist in this case.