You only have one chance to be a kid, really. During that fleeting time, your experiences present themselves as brand new, magnificent, always exaggerated—in the retelling, or in the moment itself. Approaching life with this attitude can lead to different outcomes depending on circumstance, but I’ve been living by the maxims of childhood mischief and wonder for a while now and I’ve found only good things at the end of the path.
I wrote ten different intros to this story over the course of three beers as I sat at home in Sicily with the sea in front of me and mountains to my back. It’s an amazing place to have grown up in, but one that isn’t without its troubles—tales for another day. In my household, conversation about motorsport verged on an ever-present piece of the dinner table. I lived with my father, who on an almost daily basis extolled the grand feats of Senna, Villeneuve, Ickx, Lauda, Piquet, Prost.
It’s probably no real shock then, that as I’ve grown my interest in such things has followed suit. My other passion is photography, and I’ve always tried to combine the two—thankfully, not a very difficult task! Cars and drivers and the sport of it all makes for wonderful subject matter, the real challenge is being in the right place at the right time. I suppose that’s true of life more generally.
I always wanted to have the opportunity to witness the motorsport world of the ‘70s and ‘80s, but the laws of physics say that’s not going to happen anytime soon. This world full of courage and arrogance and talent and humility is only available in the retellings of those who were so lucky to be there in the moment.
I’m not that kind of animal that likes cold. It’s late May in southern Italy, but still, I’d prefer a bit more heat. However, the sea in front of me relaxes the mind, puts the thoughts into motion and sometimes even into order. So with that said, let’s talk about the story behind these photos.
It all starts on a cold January evening. I’d taken a break from historic racing photography and was looking for an event that contained everything I’d been missing. Getting up to Goodwood is a bit too expensive for my pockets, and besides, it’s not like my home country is lacking when it comes to this stuff. Italy will be forever entwined with racing, but it seems that our cousins across the Alps have been doing more with the historic motorsport scene.
We have a few of our own though—the Targa Florio and the Mille Miglia are pretty well-known—but there are plenty of great weekends that go under the radar in comparison. It’s annoying to be assaulted with advertisements every time you flip open your laptop, but every so often one comes along that we’re glad to have flashing in our faces.
It’s called the Motor Legend Festival I said to myself, it’s in Imola, and I have no plans for the dates. I had to go. It was January, but my mind had already moved up to the springtime at Imola. It is one of my favorite circuits, and one of only a few major ones in the world to run counterclockwise. I couldn’t wait to be there. I booked my flights and rooms, called two friends who were happy to join me, and so the anxious wait began.
It’s funny how fast four months can pass, even with the typical time-slowing exercise of counting down to a date. I studied maps of the course to find the best vantage points, I determined where the sun would be for the best light, but despite my planning I didn’t feel ready to face the place with my camera. Like a well-prepared student before an exam, you’re always afraid that the professor will ask you for that one thing you didn’t study.
With the flat calm of Sicily as my companion I packed my suitcase for a weekend of the opposite, cleaned the lenses of my Fujifilm, put the important parts of my life into a backpack, and set off for the airport dark and early atfour in the morning. It was my first big motorsport event of the year, and I am happy to say I started off on the right foot. Despite the nerves giving me a stomachache in the airport, I sleep soundly the whole way. A form of teleportation.
I finally find myself at Imola at 11AM, after taking buses and trains that do nothing but raise my adrenaline as I mix in with the rest of the people who’ve come to see the spectacle of mechanical beauty.
As soon as I step out of the station, I already hear the roar of the engines, I see the articulated trucks of the teams heading to the racetrack, I see a city in fervor, almost like the San Marino GP of the ‘70s, it seems. This brings me closer to the past while adding even more anticipation to the very near future at hand. Anxiety flees to make room for adrenaline. I cannot wait any longer to give the camera’s shutter button the workout of its life.
The racetrack is perfectly presented, with the splendid light of the afternoon shining direct without any fog or mist to speak of. In the pit lane, the stewards leave space to view these authentic masterpieces of history; in front of me sits a Shelby Cobra, a 250, a Tyrrell in Benetton colors. I’ve come to the right place.
Regardless of where you walk off to, every so often you can hear the distant mutterings of starting cars in the pits, waiting for their time to brawl with the track. It’s a zen moment for me. The warm sunset and the cars. I can’t ask for more. I go back to the hotel exhausted but satisfied. Eating a piadina romagnola after a day like that was an incredible feeling of satisfaction.
Soon enough the alarm rings again, it’s six o’clock in the morning. Eyes wide open, heart already beating quite fast, I’m ready like a well-behaved soldier.
I didn’t want to focus on talking about the cars that we all know so well already, and I’m sorry if that’s what you were looking to find. My goal was to offer a perspective on what it’s like to plan and wait and plan and wait and then throw yourself completely into a single weekend of sport. I barely sleep, I save my money and spend it all, and I hope that in the end its worth it. That’s how the passion is passed on, and how it stays with us, I think. I imagine all of us have had this feeling at some point, this fixation on a single event, and I hope you will share your experiences with me in turn.
Three wonderful days pass at Imola, where I feel a swirl of senseless emotions. Where I mix between the fans, the photographers, and the pilots—more than 200 of them—to understand the entirety of this festival. Where I move between the Tosa, the infamous Tamburello, the Alta Variante chicane. Historical curves, tortuous and magnificent, which the cars and their drivers face with great courage, some with madness, I would say. It feels like the ‘70s.
I see the anger, the excitement of the drivers, the desire to challenge, to overcome themselves and each other. I feel like the lucky inhabitant of a time machine that’s brought me back to the heyday of the motorsport that occupies my thoughts so often.
Having witnessed all this, having my expectations met and exceeded, I was what you’d call a happy camper. More than that though, I was a happy photographer. The cars and the place were magical, but it’s the culture too, the new place, the exploration of location in a more general sense that bolsters the fun of photographing race cars. I love trying to relate to new people and new atmospheres. We all do things in our own way, but who do we learn this from? We aren’t insular creatures.
The Motor Legend Festival was pure old-school motorsport, put on stage among industry magnates, beautiful cars, and great drivers of the past and present in one of the most beautiful race tracks in the world. Perfection. Everything I could have asked for. All thanks to a little banner ad on the internet.
I know I’ll be back in this time machine next year, and if you’ll join me, I can promise it will be well worth it.