PH visits hallowed ground: the road that catered for Enzo Ferrari's first ever motorsport event

By Dan Prosser / Saturday, October 30, 2021 / Loading comments

From the archway outside the factory on Via Abetone Inferiore I could turn left, which would take me towards Ravenna on Italy’s east coast. Or I could go right, picking up the autoroute to Parma over in the west.

Like a drifter at a crossroads with nowhere in particular to be, I’m unsure which way to go. If I turn right and settle onto the autoroute I’ll have the morning sun on my back heading west towards the hills and a promising looking mountain road. But as I sit in this Ferrari Roma at the factory gate waiting for the light to turn from red to green, I’m tempted to head east.

It was Tolkien’s Gandalf who once said ‘…at dawn look to the east’. Compelling stuff. Imagine ignoring the advice of an actual wizard. Mind you, does one man with a long beard and a pointy hat command more reverence than a policeman, a cowboy, a construction worker, a Native American, a soldier and a chap dressed head to toe in leather? With the Village People’s catchy refrain ringing in my ears, I wonder if I should indeed go west.

Decisions, decisions. The east has its merits, for it was on the outskirts of Ravenna during the 1923 Savio GP that an ambitious young racer called Enzo became a Grand Prix winner. Ferrari won the race in his Alfa Romeo and was invited to meet Count Enrico Baracca and Countess Paolina Baracca by way of reward. It was the Countess who urged Ferrari to embellish his cars with an image of a horse rearing up on its hind legs – the same image her late son, the First World War flying ace Francesco Baracca, had painted on his plane’s fuselage.

The Cavallino Rampante has since become one of the most famous automotive emblems in the world (Enzo added a yellow background for his home town, Modena, and tweaked the horse’s tail so it was high in the air for good luck). I could go to Savio and tell that story, explaining too that Ferrari met Tazio Nuvolari for the first time in that same place just a year later. I could amble along Via Enzo Ferrari on the fringes of town and reflect on all that he and his company would achieve in the century after that race was won.

But that stroll would only last 30 seconds or so because Via Enzo Ferrari is just 80 metres long. My reflections wouldn’t get much past the founding of the Scuderia in 1929. And the road borders a rather uninspiring municipal car park, all of which seemed like reason enough to turn right.

The autoroute between Modena and Parma is arrow straight, only bending reluctantly around Reggio Emilia. If any Ferrari was built to romp along the motorway – to cover ground at speed, its occupants within a bubble of calm – the Roma is surely it. With 620 turbocharged horsepower it thunders by slower traffic like a non-stop train rushing through a provincial station, although on this smooth surface there’s some tension in its ride, even in Bumpy Road mode. I hear the wind finding its way by the door mirrors.

Nevertheless the Roma makes light work of the hour’s drive to Parma, where I turn towards the coast. On this sunny but hazy day the hills in the distance almost blend into the sky, looking like they’ve been watercoloured in. That’s where I’m heading.

At Fornovo di Taro I cross the Taro river, almost completely dry after a hot summer, and moments later the SS62 begins to climb. It folds back on itself, switchback after switchback, like a ladder resting against the hillside. I see it right away – a vast Polo Mint by the side of the road, black writing all the way around its perimeter: 70 Anniversario della prima corsa di Enzo Ferrari Parma-Poggio di Berceto, 5 Ottobre 1919-1989.

Right here, 102 years ago, Enzo Ferrari fulfilled a lifelong ambition and competed in a motor race for the very first time. The sign was erected 70 years later to commemorate the occasion and it stands proudly on the hillside to this day.

I stop for a photo, turn around to take in the same vista that Enzo would have seen all those years ago – the trees may have grown up or been cut down but the hills won’t have moved, although I doubt he’d have been admiring the view back then – and continue along the route of the Parma-Poggio di Berceto hillclimb.

Held on and off between 1913 and 1955, the event was a 30-mile time trial from the outskirts of Parma in the lowlands to the town of Berceto high in the hills. It was run on gravel until the roads were paved. Those switchbacks just outside Salita are immediately recognisable from the few photographs and bits of footage that exist today, the SS62 scaling the hillside in great sweeping arcs and tight hairpins now just as it did back then.

A Costruzioni Meccaniche Nazionali test driver at the time, Ferrari campaigned one of its 2.3-litre cars in the 3-litre category, eventually finishing a creditable fourth overall. The event was won that year by the Fiat Grand Prix machine of Antonio Ascari, father to Alberto, in a time of 38 minutes.

This is the sort of road we just don’t have at home – marble smooth, except in the few areas where the asphalt has subsided slightly, and invitingly wide its entire length, so you never worry about oncoming traffic. It has the signature flow of a continental mountain road, corners pouring into the next, one constant radius curve followed by another, meaning you can lean on your car and feel its balance. There are tight and twisty sections that let you use all of the grip, plus faster stretches where you can get into the higher gears and really unleash whatever performance you have beneath your right foot.

This mightn’t be the region’s best driving road – there are villages dotted along it and isolated buildings between those, meaning it’s not exactly deserted – but it’s so much more rewarding than all but the very finest roads you find in North Wales or throughout Scotland, its sweeping corners more enjoyable than the tricky, jerky, jinking, badly surfaced B-roads that characterise most of the UK’s countryside network.

The Parma-Poggio di Berceto was very much a hillclimb, but for miles at a time the SS62 plunges downhill as it reaches from one peak to the next. It tumbles downhill then climbs again through more switchbacks, and I’m looking out for any other indication that a very significant motorsport event was once held here: the remnants of a grandstand, some painted kerbstones… But there’s nothing. Aside from that Polo Mint at the start of the climb, it could be any other Italian mountain road – until, just like that, the SS62 could only be the route of the Parma-Poggio di Berceto.

I come around a left-hander just as the road enters Berceto, the small town at the end of the hillclimb course. The sign that welcomes you reads ‘Poggio E. Ferrari Berceto’ with the Cavallino Rampante right there in the middle. A couple of hundred metres along the road in the middle of the town there’s a sign 10-feet high marking the location of the finish line, commemorating the same 70th anniversary at the Polo Mint.

It notes the exact hour and minute Enzo crossed the finish line, adding that he was 21 years old at the time. Ferrari’s emblem is right there in the top right-hand corner. There are three period photographs of the hillclimb attached to railings nearby, plus a tiled plaque showing Enzo’s image – that very famous photograph of him as a young man at the wheel of an Alfa Romeo. According to the date on the plaque, it was placed there only a fortnight before my visit.

I read the sign as best as my non-existent Italian allows, gaze at the images and wander briefly around the town, glad that its people have bothered to pay tribute to the motor race that once ran through here and the poignancy of this place for one of Italy’s most celebrated sons.

But now the run back along the SS62 in the opposite direction and a chance to really test the Roma’s mettle. I’m in Race mode but still with the dampers in their softer setting. The road surface is smooth, but I like the way the body leans in corners and rises and falls slightly in sympathy with the road in that setting. There is still plenty of body control – in fact it’s iron-clad – but that little bit of body movement makes the car feel alive.

On 20-inch Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tyres there is as much grip as you could ever need on the road, the front end holding a line through corners so insistently my confidence soars. I would like just a little more from the steering, a slightly crisper sense of connection to the front axle, but its accuracy, weighting and rate of response are faultless. You position this car exactly where you want it.

With the V8 mounted well behind the front axle line the car’s balance is delicious, making it feel planted in long corners and agile in tighter ones. Away from a slow corner there’s enough power and torque to agitate the rear axle, so you either modulate your throttle applications, hold a gear higher through the apex or just plant your right foot and ride it out.

At the top of second and third gears the acceleration is so fierce you forget you’re driving a grand tourer – in those moments the Roma feels as much an out-and-out sports coupe as it does a GT. The engine is superbly responsive and shift speeds from this new eight-speed dual-clutch gearbox are savagely quick, with perhaps too much of a kick in Race mode.

The Roma is fearsomely rapid along the SS62, but also rewarding and exciting to drive. I hadn’t expected such poise and precision from Ferrari’s newest grand tourer, nor that it would have a slightly wild side. On the run back to Maranello it’s comfortable and undemanding, and I’m glad I decided to turn right and head west.


  • 2021 Ferrari SF90 Assetto Fiorano | PH Review
  • Ferrari 488 | PH Used Buying Guide
  • 2021 Ferrari Roma | PH Review

Source: Read Full Article