The first races held with Henry Morrogh highlighted my potential and together with my family, we explored the possibility of racing in England, this being known to be the toughest in the world.
I had received a proposal to race with an English team this called Olympic Motorsport in order to participate in the British Formula Ford 1800 Zetec Championship.
A dream that became reality! My father decided to accept the proposal and this changed my life; I remember like it was yesterday, it was during February 1994. I received fax messages with a lot of information about the pre-season program, the tests, the races, the trips, everything! I then had gone to England to have my driving seat made and begin the first tests.
It’s nice to remember my emotions: the journey, the idea of going to a new and distant place, to do what I like and to the highest level of competitiveness, the desire to learn a new language, meet new people, everything was very exciting.
Landing at Heathrow airport, Chris Creswell (the owner of Olympic Motorsport) was waiting for me and with him my new teammate Omar Bettin; together we went to the Team’s workshop in order to make the seat fitting required for the car I was to be driving for the Championship.
I thought that making the seat was a simple operation, just a few minutes; instead I discovered that it wasn’t like that and it all became more difficult because I didn’t speak English, and the mechanics didn’t speak any Italian!
Making the seat to drive a racing car is the most important of the preliminary operations, it seems trivial, but it is of fundamental importance. The driver’s seat must be perfect; you must get the right height, the right distance from the pedals and from the steering wheel, and the possibility of moving your arms, as the body is bound by seat belts with a 6-point attachment.
After the operations in the workshop, we head towards Snetterton, a town in north-east London to carry out the first day of testing with the new race car. Gray sky, cold and raining, but the desire to start overcame the adversity of the weather, and so began my new adventure across the Channel.
The test was beautiful, Snetterton’s long straights and the lack of wings on my car allowed me to reach incredible speeds for a small single-seater, then fast corners, chicanes, all fantastic, I was happy and smiling. After the test I returned to Italy, I packed my bags, stocked up on food, loaded everything on the Fiat Tipo and left again.
The Team had prepared a Test programme before the beginning of the Championship to be held in Varano de’ Melegari (PR), Magione (PG) and at Paul Ricard at Le Castellet, south of France. After the tests, I would have continued the journey to England.
I decided to live in Brighton, a town on the coast in the south of London, and rented a room in an apartment to share with an English gentleman; learning the language as soon as possible was very important, and such a solution would surely have helped me.
Why did I choose to move to England to race with Formula Ford?
Simply because in England there are the most important racing car manufacturers, and only in my category there were 5 official teams. This raised the level of the competition, attracted drivers from all over the world and for me it would have been the best possible school.
The official teams were also manufacturers of their cars, the best were the Van Diemen, Swift, Vector, Mygale, Martini, and each of them used different engine manufactures to develop these engines such as Langford & Peck, Mountune, Zack and Solus Racing Engines.
The competition was tight, the teams were very strong and the drivers already had great experience in that car and this helped me to push myself constantly and continuously. I remember one day, we were at Brands Hatch, we were testing on the Grand Prix Circuit, after the morning test session Chris Creswell wanted to talk to me during the lunch break; I had no idea what he wanted to talk to me, but I was very curious.
We were face to face and he said to me: Jack (he called me that because I reminded him of Jack Russell!!!), you are very good, you drive very well, you have an excellent car control, but now it’s time to push, to go further! I was dumbfounded; I couldn’t understand what he meant. Then he continued: To go faster you have to push harder, stay longer with the throttle open; carry more speed into the corners so we can work on the car to take it to another level!
That day, those words had been carved in my mind were of fundamental importance, they represented the spring, the leap upwards, towards a higher level, after that day I was no longer the same!
From mid-season onwards, my confidence with the car and the experience had heavily affected the results both in England and around Europe, having also participated in the European Championship together with a couple of French Championship races.
The European Championship saw me among the protagonists at Spa Francorchamps in Belgium having qualified 8th out of 75 cars and managing to finish the race in 6th place, while in Zandvoort in the Netherlands there was a collision and I could not finish the race. In the French Championship I raced in the Grand Prix d’Albi, starting in the front row and playing the victory until the last laps against Ayari (French Champion) before retiring due to a clutch failure. Another memorable race in France was held near Paris, in Montlhery, an historic racetrack with very high parabolic corners and very fast chicanes. Never been on this track, qualified in 7th place, after about 8 laps I was leading the race!!! The breaking of the engine adaptor had put an end to the dreams of glory.
The 1994 season ended in crescendo, I was another driver, with much more experience and confidence, and this contributed heavily to the decision to repeat the Formula Ford Championship again with Olympic Motorsport for the following year.