Hundreds Of Horsepower Racing Under Storm Clouds At Imola Is My Dream Come True
Photography by Armando Musotto
The sounds and smells of motorsport have a way of distorting time—not necessarily bringing you back to the era when vintage cars weren’t vintage—but witnessing them in person makes the last time you did so feel like yesterday. It brings me back to my time at the Targa Florio Classica (where I wished it was the “real one,” but still enjoyed it, as usual), but going to a place like Imola is different. Obviously it’s a race track instead of a street course like the Targa, but to call the place simply a “race track” is not enough. To me and many others it stands among the great temples of speed still in use around the world, and a visit to the charming town of Romagna for the classic racing weekend has been a longtime member of my bucket list.
My arrival saw the town embracing me with cold fog and near-continuous rain, exactly what a southerner like myself needs to break the rhythm of heat and beaches. Sunshine is nice, but monotony always kicks in. As I do in my life generally, I crave the rainy and dark elements in motorsport, and for an event like this I would have happily waded in wet shoes through the snow for the weekend.
It was three days of fire, and sometimes in a literal sense. The skies opened and poured their contents on us, but there’s nothing some good Tortellini, red wine, and petrol burnt in anger can’t fix. I liked the rain anyway, so it was an excellent weekend fulfilling the high standards I’d set for it.
Immediately arriving to the racetrack on Thursday, the tranquility is noticeable, that intrinsic sense of Zen’d calm that pervades the Romagna arena; people are walking about, the elderly are shouting at each other a little bit while they play cards, and I sip a cold beer in front of the starting line enjoying these moments almost as much as those about to come. Everything is almost empty and mostly quiet, but you can feel something bubbling.
It’s the next day that all of this changes. The dome of atmosphere above the circuit fills with dark clouds and the engines begin to spew their sound, roaring loud enough to send echoes pin-balling through the city. It’s a wonderful feeling and I don’t want to wake from the dream I’ve landed in.
I pinch myself a few times half joking but semi-serious in the back of my head where superstitions and such are born, and then an official yells at me to return to the pit lane. It’s all true after all. Listening to the famous engines that molded me into the enthusiast I am today is an inspiring moment that I only hope to translate through the photos I had come to take.
And in the exact moment when I connect my mind to the camera and start to look through, literally, a different lens, the batch of cars in front of me leave the grid, only a large cloud of dust and a good, strong scent of fuel remain in their place. The tires scream on the asphalt that’s already been witness to many great battles in this sport. The track, like any in motorsport, but to a degree like few others, becomes an arena for battle against oneself as much as it is against others. The cars are still battling today, and in their advanced age you can’t believe how fit they still are. I can’t spot many people driving like it’s a demo lap, and there are some fierce battles for position not only among the front runners.
Finally, the sun ends its arc for the day relative to our little spot on the globe, giving us even dimmer light underneath the black clouds that have accompanied us throughout the weekend. The weapons are laid down as the cars leave the track for the night, and friendship triumphs as in a knightly duel. I love classic events for this reason: true competitors on the track, immediate friends off of it, and if you think about it, in today’s day, that’s an especially wonderful and rare thing to share with people.
The clouds rise threateningly in the morning on Saturday, and I wake up early hoping for a sunrise but am treated to more of that damn fog instead. I don’t mind though, as it suits the place. In the collective imagination, a race track is a colorful and exciting thing, but for the way I see things, Imola is more brutal. A bit darker, harder, a container for things you’d rather not see but can’t look away from.
The heroes of yesterday are back to chase each other again, raising enough water to have me fully soaked by nine in the morning. Maybe some sun would be welcome at this point, I concede, but I still enjoy the impact of these wonderful cars, their aura fused with water, changing the way they look, sound, move.
It is with last Cobra crossing the line, under pouring rain, that this Imola Classic closes, ending for me what has been a rather holy year of historic racing weekends in Italy. This is certainly among the best, with 225 cars, a historic venue, a welcoming land, great food, really, all the perfect ingredients for a holiday in Italy whether you live here or not.
Next year the Italian stage of the Peter Auto series will move from Imola to Monza, from one hallowed location to another. I am already documenting some of the food in the area, and I look forward to the time when the cars come to town and call me back again.