Featured: What It's Like To Spend A Race Weekend With A Bizzarrini 5300 GT

What It’s Like To Spend A Race Weekend With A Bizzarrini 5300 GT

By Andrea Casano
December 1, 2020

Photography by Andrea Casano

It’s safe to say that anyone who grew up with an interest in cars has entertained a dream of racing them for a living at some point, but besides the act of racing itself, I think that wearing wreaths, hoisting up trophies, and spraying champagne are not the only rewards. Once you’ve made a name for yourself in the sport, doors open up to other areas of automotive nirvana. In the case of this story, it takes the form of a Bizzarrini 5300 GT at Monza.

During this year’s historic race weekend at the infamous Italian circuit, I had the good fortune to have met—at first just through social media—an extraordinary person, racer, and owner of one of the most renowned restoration workshops in Italy.

Some of you may know of Nicky Pastorelli already from his time as a Formula 1 test driver, but his full career in cars has seen him in everything from touring cars in Europe to open-wheelers in America. In other words, the guy knows how to drive a race car. Some professional racers coldly treat their machines as nothing more than tools to do their job, but Nicky is a consummate enthusiast; when we speak on the phone he is exuberant, knowledgeable, sentimental, and just downright enthusiastic. We talk about cars, bikes, restorations, racing, and everything in between. There is no faking this kind of interest.

Eager to meet him in person, when I arrived at Monza I hurried through the eerily crowd-less venue to the pit area, where I found myself welcomed by the DHG Team along with the team of Pastorelli Classic Cars, the two groups working in harmony to prepare the beautiful Bizzarrini for a weekend of racing. After circling the big GT while dodging the jacks and hoses and mechanics that surrounded it, I’m greeted a few seconds later by a friendly hand clamped on the shoulder. “Hey, Andrea! I’m Joost from Pastorelli Classics. Nicky is coming soon, but in the meantime if you want I can tell you more about the car. It belongs to the DHG team [of which David Hart is the owner and driver], and Nicky’s role in this project is bringing them knowledge, experience, and his driving skills to improve and develop the car’s setup and performance for the weekend.”

Soon after my debrief from Joost, we meet Nicky, suited and ready for the first round of free practice. He confers with the mechanics for a few moments before sliding into the low-slung sports racer, starts the engine, gives it a few “how do you do” revs, and makes his way out into pit lane. The always-compelling sounds from the big American V8 leave us all smiling and craning our necks to watch the car for as long as we can, although we never lose track of its noise.

And we aren’t alone in doing so. As the Bizzarrini makes its way onto the historic circuit, there’s not a single soul in view who isn’t tracking its progress. It’s a head turner, a neck breaker, an irresistibly pulchritudinous piece of machinery. It’s like sitting in an outdoor cafe in Milan sharing some drinks with my friends as an elegantly beautiful woman walks past; there’s no choice but to put a pause on the conversation.

The “Bizza” has the same effect on people. It’s a very pretty car, but it is so much more than that. It has character, charm, and a lot going on beneath the surface. Giotto Bizzarrini is often chiefly credited with his work on the Ferrari 250 GTO and at ISO, but his solo career at Bizzarrini produced nothing short of masterpieces in their own regard. If the 5300 GT were originally powered by a Bizzarrini-designed engine rather than an American V8, there’s little doubt that it would be mentioned in the same sentences as the legendary GTO. But with that said, it wouldn’t be the same car, and there’s something about the American power plant nestled under the svelte bodywork that make this car even more interesting.

My thoughts are drowned out with each pass of the Bizza by the pit wall as Nicky completes his warmup laps, and I watch as Joost, the mechanics of the DHG team, and the car’s owner and driver, David, prepare for the driver changeover.

David is a passionate guy as well, a true gentlemen driver and connoisseur that doesn’t shy away from a race track. Before racing with the Bizzarrini, he formed a strong background as a gentleman driver, starting in the 1980s in cars like the Alfa Romeo GTA, Ferrari F40, and later the Porsche GT2. In the 2000s he also competed in the FIA GT series and at the 24 Hours of Le Mans before making the switch to classic car racing again in 2012 with his team, DHG.

David is happy to share his enthusiasm with like minds, and although I didn’t want to bother him too much right before he went out on track, I take the opportunity to ask him about why he chose the Bizzarrini for his collection.

“It’s one of the most beautiful cars ever built, its lines are still up to date. I’ve always been fascinated by the genius of Giotto Bizzarrini. Making very few changes made the car even more powerful and balanced than it was originally, and if I must point to one ‘defect,’ it is the overheating of the brakes. But remember that we are talking about a car from 1965 that is able to reach the threshold of 300kmh!” he says.

Nicky, just returning to the pits, climbs out of the cockpit and confers with David, sharing his impressions of the car and the circuit. Almost as soon as Nicky exits the car, the DHG team is surrounding it once more, taking their readings and making their adjustments before David’s outing. In a moment of déjà vu, the Bizzarrini draws all eyes to it as it slips down pit lane once more.

Once his helmet is off, I ask Nicky his first impressions of the car, and with a wide smile that I haven’t seen leave his face all morning, he answers that “It’s spectacular! Beautiful to drive, and very precise in corner entry, but there is still some things to improve.”

The first day of practice ends with Nicky and David’s times in front of their class, behind them a row of Shelby Cobras ready to challenge the next day’s proper race. David and Nicky stay in the pits after the track time is over for the day, debriefing and comparing with the mechanics, sharing their driving impressions, and making tweaks to the setup for the race day ahead.

During this, David tells me that he’s raced a lot over the last years with his own Cobra, winning nearly everything he could enter. He felt he was ready for a new challenge, namely making this Bizzarrini as successful in historic racing as his tried and true Shelby. With the expertise and input from Nicky, he’s well on the way toward achieving it.

With David and Nicky occupied once more, Joost is happy to fill in and give me some history on the Bizzarrini 5300.  “The road versions were powered by a V8 of Chevrolet derivation and capacity of 5385cc, with a four-speed gearbox that transferred the 365hp to the rear end. Later, Bizzarrini marketed modification packages for the cars, and it had become the custom of many owners to upgrade their Bizzarrinis to make them even faster and more high-performing. It is a special collector for for the four Weber 45 DCOE carburetors that allowed the Bizzarrini to reach 400hp and travel at about 300km/h. The same kit can be found on both road and competition versions.”

With the sun sinking into a sliver, I leave the boys in the pits to their work, and I renew the appointment tomorrow morning for the race. As I make my way home for the night, I look back for a moment to catch another glimpse of the car and the crew, and I realize how lucky I am to live such an experience, and how shared passions can shorten the distances between people who have never met before.

At 8am the next morning, I’m back at the track, eager to watch the main event. Monza just seems to be waking up, and in the pit lane I can see a very light fog enveloping the circuit, catching and turning the sunlight into a dreamy, diffuse array of citrus colors.

I take the time before the cars line up to ask Nicky a few more questions as he is carefully checking over the car. Perhaps my question was a bit too broad—”How was your passion for racing born?”—because Nicky responds at first with a small laugh, telling me that “We need to take a little step back! My passion for racing was started at a very early age. Having a father that raced when I was a kid—who also had a Maserati dealership in The Netherlands—I basically grew up between cars from the moment I was born. I can remember having no other real interests as a kid other than cars and racing, so we can say my passion for racing was born almost at the same time that I was. Racing means a lot to me, as it has always been a huge part of my life, and the most important thing in life. When you’re young and become a professional racing driver it means your life only exists in racing, and everything that goes into making that happen. If you than put the feeling of racing a car, any car, on the limit, it’s simply the greatest feeling in life you can imagine.”

Soon enough it’s time to make the last preparations to the car and get it out on the track. David gets in the and leaves the pits to line up on the grid, the crew looking on with rapt attention. Heat waves simmer off of the surface as the sun bears down on the scene. Once the car is positioned the two drivers of the DHG Team exchange a few final words of advice, and back behind the wall the tension is ratcheting steadily up as we check our watches and the race clock over and over again. I can barely make out David’s helmet inside the Bizzarrini, and I imagine his eyes are fixed on the first chicane after the long straight.

The green lights finally blaze, and early on the Bizzarrini is at the front of the pack with David setting a record lap of the race in the process. About halfway through, however, another car spills its oil and David is involved in the slick aftermath to the extent that the car must be withdrawn. Thankfully, without material consequence to the beautiful bodywork or carefully tuned mechanicals.

It’s not the ideal result of course, but sometimes that’s just the course that a race takes. Even though you cannot prepare for every possibility, all the work that DHG and Pastorelli Classic Cars have done in the lead-up to the race is not in vain. As David tells me, “I’m very competitive so I always try to win, but besides that I also make sure to enjoy every minute of it. Monza is a very nice, fast track with a lot of history, and it’s a pleasure to race here.”

At the end of the day, with the pit lane emptied of activity, I ask Joost if we can place the car in the center of the stillness to get a few final shots. The lines of Bizzarrini only seem to improve with every new viewing angle, and in the golden hour this effect is only amplified. As the sun sets, the metallic grey bodywork absorbs the colors of the sky as if the natural and manmade beauty are a singular object. After a few minutes of photos, we realize that the remaining teams in the pits have formed a crowd around the car, which signals that it’s time to turn off the camera and enjoy the splendor without the filter of the viewfinder.

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