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The desire for speed has been rooted in the DNA of people from Imola since ancient times. In fact, in 80 A.D., during the ancient Roman civilization there was an amphitheatre in Imola where two-horse chariots would race. Maybe this was a sign heralding a …. racing future!
Well-known all over the world thanks to the renowned motor competitions it hosts, for more than 50 years Imola’s “Enzo & Dino Ferrari” International Racetrack has played a crucial sports, historical, cultural and economic role for its surrounding area and for the whole country.
Excellence was achieved back in 1981, when the Racetrack hosted the San Marino Grand Prix for the first time, regarded as one of the most spectacular races in the Formula One World Championship calendar. In fact, in a survey conducted by FIA (Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile) in 2005, 35% of enthusiasts all over the world declared that their interest in Formula One was closely linked to the presence of the “Enzo & Dino Ferrari” circuit in the Championship calendar.
The evocative strength of this name is tied to a number of unforgettable events that, in the collective imagination, have turned the Racetrack into a paradigm of the motoring world. Besides the emotional side, the facility and organizational structure have always shown an excellent innovative capacity and technical preparation at world level.
The origins of Imola’s Racetrack are recalled as follows by a very special witness, Enzo Ferrari, in a book he wrote in 1980:
“My first contact with Imola dates back to the spring of 1948. […] From the very first moment I considered the possibility to turn that hilly area into a small Nurburgring due to the natural difficulties condensed into the circuit that was going to be built, thus offering a really demanding track for men and machines alike. Imola racetrack’s proponents felt reassured by my opinion. In May 1950 the work started. I attended the ceremony in which the first stone was laid by Lawyer Onesti under the aegis of CONI (Italian National Olympic Committee) that granted 40 million Lire: I believe this was the first contribution the Committee made to motor racing. A small Nurburgring – I was saying to myself that day looking around me – a small Nurburgring, with equal technical and spectacular resources and an ideal track length. My idea became a reality over the decades that have elapsed since then”
Upon completing the work, the track was tested on 19th October 1952 by drivers Ascari, Farina and Villoresi in Ferrari, Bertocchi in Maserati, Masetti in Gilera and Lorenzetti in Guzzi, while on 25th April 1953 the circuit was inaugurated with the Coni Grand Prix, a motorcycling Italian Championship race won by Masetti and Lorenzetti. In the same year, the Racetrack's management was entrusted to E.S.T.I. (Imola’s Sport and Tourism Body), with Tommaso Maffei Alberti as President.
The following year the “Coppa d’Oro Shell” race was run for the first time. Promoted by Imola’s Motor Club, it was the most popular motorcycling competition for more than 20 years, with amazing success among the public. In 1954 auto racing arrived in Imola with the “Conchiglia d’Oro Shell” Grand Prix, promoted by the Automobil Club of Bologna and open to sports cars only.
Umberto Maglioli in Ferrari crossed the finishing line first and two future protagonists of the world auto racing history were well classified: the Englishman Colin Chapman and the Australian Jack Brabham. Another big name of the world of auto racing, Bernie Ecclestone, competed in Imola in 1956, in a motorcycling race on a Norton Max.
On 21st April 1963 Formula One made its debut on Imola’s track. On that date, the first non official race took place in Imola – although without the participation of the Ferrari team. The race was won by the “Flying Scot” Jim Clark on the Lotus Climax BRM which allowed him to become the World Champion at the end of the season. On 7th September 1967 the MotoGP landed at the circuit on the Santerno River with the “Grand Prix of the Nations”, while 1972 was marked by another successful motorcycling idea: Checco Costa invented the “Daytona of Europe”, that is the legendary 200 Miglia brought to the other side of the Atlantic.
After extensive upgrading works of the circuit and the construction of a new pit building – at that time it was the most modern in Europe – in September 1979 another Formula One Grand Prix was held. The race was not valid for the World Championship but it was attended by all the teams taking part in the championship. The winner was Niki Lauda on Bernie Ecclestone’s Brabham. Since then – for more than 25 years - Formula One settled in Imola, where in September 1980 the first GP valid for the World Championship took place: the 51st Italian Grand Prix. In 1981 the San Marino Grand Prix was established in Imola so that Italy started to host two races of the Formula One World Championship every year: the San Marino GP in Imola in spring and the Italian GP in Monza in September.
The name of the Racetrack was definitively changed in 1988 after the death of the “Drake”, while since 1968 it had been named just after Ferrari’s beloved son Dino, who died at a tragic young age. In 1995 the Tamburello and Villeneuve corners were replaced by two chicanes to reduce the track speed. Again, starting from 1996 and in the three following years, the MotoGP came back to Imola with the “City of Imola” Grand Prix. Still on the subject of motorcycles, in 2001 the spectacular and exciting Superbike World Championship made its debut in Imola, confirming the primary role played by this racetrack as a venue for great international motorcycle races as well. In 2004 the circuit hosted the FIA European Touring Car Championship (ETCC) for the first time dedicated to touring cars and the FIA GT World Championship. Both events were held in 2005 as well, this time with validity for the world championship.
On 19th November 2006 at 4:14pm, the old pit building was demolished using 700 sticks of dynamite. 3,000 people silently crowded the Rivazza hill to watch the explosion. The circuit and its adjoining facilities underwent a renovation and upgrading plan that came to an end in September 2007. The plan was overseen by a well-known German architect, Hermann Tilke, who specialized in the construction of car racing circuits. The pit building was completely rebuilt: now there are 32 pits (as opposed to the previous 18). A much more spacious paddock and a new Race Control Centre were also created. The latter, designed in compliance with the most advanced criteria, houses some offices, the race management centre, the time keeping room, the loudspeaker announcements room and a VIP lounge.
These works were followed by other interventions that were carried out at a fast pace during the summer of 2008, aimed at redefining the pit lane entrance layout, broadening the Piratella corner’s run-off area, and re-asphalting the part of the track running from the pit exit all the way to the Tamburello Corner. Moreover, a number of safety elements were added such as kerbs, grassy dividers and tyre barriers. On 6th March 2008, an agreement for managing the circuit for a 30-year period was signed.
The Municipality of Imola, owner of the circuit, entrusted its management to Formula Imola S.p.A. which officially re-opened the racetrack on 3rd May with the event entitled “Imola is on track again”. This two-day festival offering music, sport, shows and gastronomy played host to 38,000 people wishing to join the party and, above all, to once again set foot inside the city’s most representative facility.
The first sports event held in the new racetrack was the World Touring Car Championship (WTCC) race in September 2008. Due to its great success, the WTCC race was confirmed in 2009 and took place on 18th, 19th and 20th September. In summer 2009 the new Variante Bassa chicane had to be built to comply with the homologation requirements of the International Motorcycling Federation (FIM). This intervention neutralized the slight right bend characterizing the track designed for cars. It is found opposite the pit lane and, from a sports viewpoint, provides an additional technical value to the track, making it more competitive and exciting. The building of this new chicane was completed on 7th June and the new track was tested by the Superbike champions on the occasion of the official practice held from 14th to 16th July for the upcoming Superbike World Championship run in Imola from 25th to 27th September 2009.
2010 marked the official re-launching of the Enzo and Dino Ferrari International Racetrack of Imola. The sports season was opened by the Toro Rosso racing team that performed an important test in view of the imminent Formula One World Championship. Then, in April, it was the turn of the cars taking part in the Superstars Championship, followed by the International GT Open race in May. Before the summer break, the spotlight was on the most important car racing event at national level, namely the Aci-Csai Italian Championships. In September two major events were held: Crame, one of the leading trade fairs of second-hand and vintage cars, motorcycles and bicycles; and the SBK World Championship, won by Max Biaggi on Aprilia, the first Italian rider to conquer the world title in this category. Finally, the first edition of the 200 Miglia Revival was a huge success, thanks to the participation of unforgettable champions in this famous competition created by Checco Costa, the racetrack’s founder. On 22nd December, during the Shareholders’ Meeting of Formula Imola, the new company’s ownership structure was defined: Con.Ami became the majority shareholder.
If in 2010 the Racetrack’s activity received a new impetus, the 2011 calendar featured even more prestigious events. The first race, run in March, was the GP2 Asia Series: Imola’s circuit was chosen to host the final round since the Bahrein GP had been cancelled for safety problems resulting from social unrest. In May two spectacular events were held: the International GT Open and the 500 Miglia of Imola Endurance, an absolute novelty in the 2011 calendar; in July two chief events took place: the 6 Hours of Imola, featuring the Le Mans Series cars and the Aci-Csai Italian Championships; September was a busy month as usual thanks to the Crame, and the Superbike World Championship; while in October the Racetrack hosted two events dedicated to vintage cars: the 2nd 200 Miglia Revival and the 1st Luigi Musso Historic Gran Prix100 Miglia Revival.
In August 70% of the circuit’s road surface was re-asphalted.
In the same month, the Racetrack obtained the renewal of the “1” Homologation by FIA (Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile), which is also necessary to host a Formula One race.
As regards the morphology of the spaces and complementary facilities, the circuit has always been considered at the cutting edge in terms of flexibility and functionality. It can host not only high-speed car competitions but also other motor and non motor sports events, as well as musical and cultural events, and it can be hired by companies for a number of purposes, above all for testing the vehicles of the most prestigious car and motorcycle manufacturers.
The multi-purpose use of the circuit is also one of the most significant drivers for the development of the racetrack’s industrial plan which aims at making the most of the real estate, territorial and organizational value of this facility. The purpose is that of ensuring benefits for the ancillary activities in the surrounding area and generating revenue in a steady and programmable manner.