Vernasca Silver Flag Is a Classic Treasure in the Heart of Italy
The best secrets are kept a secret. I am conflicted on whether to elaborate, because I want to keep this secret to myself. This secret is comparable to being on vacation and finding your own secret, deserted beach. The white sand and blue ocean as your only neighbors seem perfect and too good to be true. The secret beach scenario is what the Vernasca Silver Flag is for me. After finding your own secret beach, the worst thing that could happen is that the beach becomes public knowledge, and the following year it is overrun with backpackers.
So bear with me—please be considerate and share this secret only with your most trustworthy Petrolisti friends.
The treasure of the Vernasca Silver Flag lies hidden in the heart of Italy, close to Piacenza, and about an hour drive from Milan. The atmosphere of the event is laid back in the way only Italians can do it. It is a celebration of Italian car culture, where you will find anything from vintage Bugattis to more modern F1 machinery. You drive what you bring. The rule is: If the car looks safe, it is safe (probably).
Participants aggressively attack the hill, with wives, sons, and daughters as their passengers. Where else would you see a McLaren M8F Can-Am wheel spinning out of the starting area with a seven-year-old girl as a passenger? It might seem odd, but it is oh-so right. The only common rule is fast and foremost to have fun. Some people drive with helmets and driving gear and some drive without. There are hard-core competitors who drive like they have just stolen their cars. After all, this is racing machinery and must be driven as such.
The event is entertaining and somewhat unbelievable, but after visiting the Silver Flag twice, I have yet to see any accidents.
Simply walking through the pits makes me, grown man smile, because of all of the surreal things I see. There are few people jump starting a racing Abarth SE 010 2000 Sport while smoking cigarettes, Alfa mechanics sipping on red wine straight from the bottle while adjusting 48 Weber carburetors, a Marciano 268A worth millions casually parked and unlocked at the curb, and and old woman flogging a Bizzarini prototype. It all seems perfectly cool and absolutely normal.
There are Porsches everywhere as 2013 is the 50th Anniversary of the 911, and as expected there are a few of Stuttgart´s finest present. (You’ll have to excuse me: However popular the 911 may be, we are in Italy and when in Rome…)
Attending the event is a form of time travel for me. My passions are ’60s and ’70s Italian race machinery, and for someone who thinks Carlo Chiti and Abarth are gods, the place is truly petroleum heaven. At sunset, I spend time with an Alfa TZ1 and a GTAm, where I drown in their exquisite details and also in the absence of stressed and overprotective owners. After all, if you are at the Vernasca Silver Flag, it is understood that you know what you are doing and that you respect the machinery and the people. I kneel down and feel unworthy in the presence of a Lancia 037 Group B, because it is a winner and deserves respect. Close by, I see Steve McQueen’s old Porsche 908 MkII, and I really think he would have loved being here—his laid-back attitude would fit right in. In these sterile modern times, the smell of petrol and Castrol R makes my eyes go misty with gratitude and nostalgia, and when the McQueen 908 stands parked next to a 910, something I have never seen in the flesh, well the word “special” feels pointless.
The track echoes the days of the now-extinct Targa Florio, It starts at the small village of Castell’Arquato, entering a long straight that now has “ slow down” cones to prevent outrageous speeds. The route continues through the small village Lugagnado Val d´arda, and if you stand there with your camera, you’ll feel instantly like you’ve traveled to 1960s targa. After the village, you take a hard 90-degree left-hand turn. This leads to a small bridge which is the start of a winding hill climb that frankly would scare the living daylight out of me to drive. The road is narrow and big drops are evrywhere. All in all there are about 11 kilometers of flat out driving. The race may be just for fun, but some of the drivers take the climb very seriously and aim to beat their previous years’ best effort. (Your biggest competitor is, as we all know, yourself.)
There is something here for everybody. Over 200 cars challenge the hill, but it never feels stressful. That is, if you do not count the Italian in the crowd who must have had one too many espressos that morning. Using his mouth, this enthusiast manages to create the engine sound of a sport prototype McLaren, which is impressive but definitely not a welcomed. The connoisseurs will feel at home here, but so also the enthusiasts. You can see pre-war race cars such as the Mille Miglia winner Tazio Nuvolaris’ Alfa Romeo 6C Zagato or Jochen Rindt’s Brabham F2. But for me the Alfas and Abarths are the most special. Cars that the normal enthusiast can aspire to own (an Alfa GTV does look a lot like a GTA). Racing pedigree touches hearts from all walks of life.
The cars are just a small part of what make this the Silver Flag so great: the Italian flair and enthusiasm truly shine here. Nobody does passion as well as the Italians. So if you want to do something really special next June, this event is it. Time travel back to the great days of motorsport, eat fantastic food, and drink refreshing wine. Enjoy life, but only bring the best of friends. Do not tell everybody; keep this treasure to yourself.
The Silver Flag really hits gold.
Photography by Christer Lundem