The call came from James Breakell of Breakell racing just a week ago. A driver for the F1 support race at Monza had pulled out last minute and James needed someone in the seat. We’ve had some successes in the past so he called me and asked if I could step in.
An agreement was quickly reached and I was to be on the grid at Monza.
I arranged flights and rented an apartment right next to the Royal Park in Monza. The driving started with a visit to the excellent twenty one performance simulator to start the process of learning the circuit. I also hooked up Monza on the Asseto Corsa rig at home.
Upon landing at Malpensa I went straight to the Autodromo Nazionale Monza to meet with the team and for my kit to undergo scrutineering. There had been so many covid hoops to jump through with special FIA exemptions to join the grid and that continued at the circuit.
I had a seat and tech fitting in the car on Thursday afternoon with my engineer Josh Smith. Some changes were needed to the seat in the Breakell racing Radical SR3 RSX and Josh set the car up with some of my preferences – for example I like the last two led’s on the shift lights in blue and the dash set on predictive lap so I know how I am getting on.
Friday morning saw me in the car for 30 minutes practice which is not a lot for a circuit that is completely unknown to me. Monza is all about the brakes. Long thundering straights followed by really heavy braking zones into tight chicanes. We had a problem, the brakes on the car were not at par. I had to get on with it as 30 minutes is not enough time to pit and make changes to the brakes.
After practice Josh took the brakes apart, they were slightly glazed. Her serviced everything, put new rear pads in and bled them for me. The car was really getting thrown around on the bumpy tarmac in the high speed section through Curva del Seragglio which I was maxing out at 226 kmh. James Breakell softened the rebound on the rear dampers which helped.
Qualifying was mid afternoon Friday. We drove down the pitlane and parked outside the Alfa Romero F1 team garage waiting to be allowed onto the circuit. I'm not sure if the person responsible for Alfa Romeo's playlist in the garage had a sense of humour but as soon as we parked up, Andrea Bocelli's 'Con te Partiro' played loudly out of the speakers. Loosely translated, it means "time to say goodbye". After the issues earlier with the brakes in practice, it brought a smile to my face just before I took to the track.
I managed to qualify 4th in class 14th overall and a laptime of 2:00.344 although it was a bit of a struggle. The brakes issue in practice meant I was really on the back foot and circuit time is everything. I wasn’t unhappy with my time which was five seconds quicker than I had gone in practice now I could really lean on the brakes.
Friday night we all went out for pizza to a fabulous place in Monza. I understand that at least one of the boys got lost in Milan that night.
Race 1 was scheduled for lunchtime Saturday. Turn 1 at Monza is notorious, hard braking down from 225 kmh to about 40 and then circuit narrows right down. I predicted it would be a mess and I was right. I had dropped into this seat as someone else had dropped out at the last minute and didn’t feel it was fair to bring the car back to the team in pieces. I had therefore decided to conduct a cautious start. I was sitting in the car in the paddock and Team Boss James Breakell came over and said to me that he would far rather the car came back with a few dinks and scratches and I had a go. Right, game on. I have a very aggressive tyre warming strategy which seems to work and I tend to start well. We left the paddock and sat on the grid at Monza, this was quite a moment for me. Id been to the circuit twice before, once when in Milan for work some years ago with our technical director Richard Brunning and we had decided to pop over to monza to see the circuit. When we got there we found that someone had left a gate open and we were able to take the rental car onto the old banking. We were doing ninety along the old banking when the phone rang. It was the 1996 Formula 1 World Champion Damon Hill. He asked what we were up to and when I told him he laughed and said 2you’re going to get arrested”. Then the car blew up from oil starvation, a penalty of asking it operate at 45 degrees on the banking.
We then embarked on the warm up lap and as we came through Parabolica on our way to the grid I really lent on the driver next to me, which was quite an aggressive move but served me well as the lights turned green I charged down the middle of the pack. As predicted turn one (known as Variante) was carnage. I managed to pick my way through gaining 7 or 8 places. I gave a couple of those back during the race as most of the cars in the race were Revolution (Class A) cars and significantly faster than the radical I was driving. I spent the next 35 minutes thundering around Monza which turned out to be quite a technical circuit. My favourite part was driving through Ascari which was really rewarding and I have decided that we must replicate that corner somewhere one day on a go-kart track.
Saturday night saw a fast run up to Lake Como to visit with Enea Brenna of Tibikart which is always a beautiful trip up into the Alps with dinner on the lake and then the ferry back down to Milan.
Race 2 was on Sunday morning, F1 race day. We were out just after 09:00 and again to sit on the grid was special. I have to admit that my head was not entirely in the game and I got caught napping a bit at the start. I managed fifth in class and to get my lap time sub two minutes on the predictive which was a target I had set myself.
In the afternoon I settled down in a grandstand with all of the team to watch Danni Ricciardo’s great victory. My top speed through the speed trap was a whisker over 226 kmh. his was 345 kmh! Food for thought!
Big thanks to Breakell Racing James Breakell, Josh Smith and all of the boys, Autodromo Nazionale Monza, Sports Prototype Cup, The FIA, James Gasparotti, Gary Paravani, Sports Prototype Cup and everyone else who helped with the Monza adventure.
Next on my bucket list – Daytona International Speedway.