Dallara, the undisputed king of Indianapolis 500 (and not only)

Dallara, l'indiscusso re della 500 miglia di Indianapolis (e non solo)

May 13, 2019 257 ITA ENG

To our memory, we don't think that it ever existed in any world-class sports competition a dominion equal to that for years exercised by the Dallara, Italian excellence, in the Indianapolis 500, the more than a hundred years old mythical car race, the most famous in the world in the collective imagination of insiders, enthusiasts or just curious.

The 2019 edition of this world-class event dominated for years by the Italian Dallara will be held on 26 May, and that is why we are particularly proud and happy to host for this new interview a true icon of Made in Italy automotive, a great Italian who has been successful throughout the world and especially in America: the founder of Dallara Automobili, Cav. Giampaolo Dallara

Cav. Dallara, you worked at Ferrari, then at Maserati, then at Lamborghini, then at De Tomaso. In 1972 you decided to set up your own business, and created Dallara, which since then has been winning in every possible sector of motor racing. We can say that you perfectly embody the Italian excellence in the automotive sector. What differences have you found between these Italian champions?

Ferrari was and is the emblem of racing because it embodies the production of exceptional cars. I remember that with regard to road cars it was said: "there is the prince of Belgium, or Roberto Rossellini, who came to pick up the car". There were people who queued up to come to Maranello to visit Ferrari and shake Enzo Ferrari’s hand, to meet and talk to those who built the most beautiful and performing cars of the time, in addition to the fact that they were the machines that won races around the world. Enzo Ferrari had an incredible ascendancy that made you feel awe-inspiring: maybe it wasn't so for great personalities, but you always felt like an apprentice towards him. I also owe an incredible debt of gratitude to Ferrari, because it was from them that I learned to love competition and arrived in the United States thanks to the collaboration with Piero Ferrari. Also in Dallara, part of our credibility came from our subsequent collaborations with Ferrari, which in my opinion contributed in an incredible way to the reputation of all the high-performance motor racing in Italy.

Maserati had a great master of technique, Arcieri, an engineer from Parma, too. I got there too early, because I still had a lot to learn at Ferrari, but I was in a hurry to get on the track and Maserati gave me this opportunity. At the age of 25 I was sent to the United States to follow the Cooper Maserati that had Roger Pesca and Bruce McLaren as its drivers, in a completely different way from how things are done now in racing: just think that the entire Maserati group was made of 5 people. There was Omar Orsi, a great businessman who had been working from scratch: orphaned, he managed his father's scrap recovery business. Omar's father, Adolfo Orsi, had started after fortunately meeting by train a person who had contacts with the administration of the Italian Navy in East Africa, who told him that there was a ship in the port of Massawa, semi-sinked that had to be transported to Italy. So Adolfo decided to go there, straightened out the ship and put it on the track, virtually what happened recently with the Costa Crociera. The ship was brought all the way to a shipyard in the city of Rijeka, Yugoslavia, and from there the story of the fortune of the Maserati owned by Orsi started. Adolfo Orsi was a man of incredible kindness, like a grandfather: an all-round entrepreneur, like when during the war he built electric trucks for urban transport, as well as a factory of motorcycles, spark plugs and the Modena steelworks, also owned by his family.

I liked them, but I was looking for races, and when they stopped doing them I went to Lamborghini, who was a great fan of racing and, despite wanting to do, told me that he had to give in to the production needs of the commercial car for budget problems. Lamborghini too represents the kind of entrepreneurs who no longer exist today, that is to say those who were formed from scratch. He started as a soldier on an island in the Aegean after September 8 1943 (the day when Italy signed the armistice with the Allies during World War II) to modify trucks, then to produce tractors for the first mechanization of agriculture in Italy. A genius who had a sense of intuition: the structures were so lean at the time that he decided to entrust the responsibility for the presentation of his cars to a 27-year-old, or even less. An incredible courage, the result also there of the proximity, even if only geographical, with Ferrari.

So Lamborghini could not engage in racing: I had the opportunity to learn how to deal with streetcars, with good results, but the desire to race led me to De Tomaso. There I found a very different culture: Alejandro De Tomaso was Argentinean but he moved to the right place to find the right technicians and component suppliers to make cars of this kind, with really interesting insights. He was in fact the first to make cars with the load-bearing engine, the structural engine. Despite some vibrations, his Formula 3 cars and also the De Tomaso Vallelunga had this engine rigidly mounted. It arrived even before Chapman in Formula 1 with the load-bearing engine.

In 1972 I decided to set up my own business: there was the possibility of consulting at that time with Lancia on Stratos, which allowed me to support my family. In the beginning we were just two, we did things in a minimalist way, very small. The collaboration with Lancia was fundamental and gave us the guarantee of a client with long-term programs, which allowed us to make some investments.

You were born in the province of Parma, where Dallara is based. Ferrari is in Maranello, Maserati was founded in Bologna and now has its headquarters in Modena, Lamborghini is based in the province of Bologna, De Tomaso was based in Modena. If we add Ducati in Bologna, Pagani in the province of Modena, Malaguti in the province of Bologna and perhaps I forget someone ... it cannot be a coincidence. A lot of pilots also come from these areas. What is the reason why Emilia Romagna, the so called Motor Valley, is the land of excellent cars and motorcycles?

There was and still is a beautiful liveliness, in a fertile land like Emilia Romagna, which actually includes the northern part of Modena. I remember when I arrived at Ferrari there was an engineer named Chiti, a Tuscan from Pistoia. When I was a university student, he was an assistant in the course of car engines at the Politecnico di Milano, but the people responsible for the design were respectively for the engines Rocchi, and for the chassis there was Sallarani. Both came from the Reggio Emilia workshops, where they had built what they say was one of the most beautiful fighter planes of the last world war: the R 2000. So in Emilia Romagna there is also the culture of mechanics that came from Reggio Emilia, where the Landini tractors, which are still made today, were produced. It was and still is a land of engines. 

When it comes to the Motor Valley, an important factor has always been the desire to be able to do as the greats we mentioned and to compete with them. I remember a great competition in Maserati and Ferrari: they took the technicians away from each other. And it's a good thing, because that's how they both grew up. When I arrived at Lamborghini, they were already working on the design of a car with two young chief designers from Modena, even younger than me, who after studying as industrial experts had done two or three years of fast apprenticeship in Abarth. It's a region with engines in its blood.

There was really everything there: there was the Moto Morini that won a lot, while moving more on the Apennines, in Porretta Terme in the road that goes from Bologna to Tuscany, there was also the DEMM (Dadi and Matteuzzi) that also won several Italian titles. DEMM built gears for tractors. To make people understand what it means to have this diffusion: in Lamborghini there was a differential mounted by the company Sainsbury, which was also mounted by Jaguar, but it was very noisy. At that point Lamborghini proposed to go to DEMM, which already provided them with differentials for tractors, with the hope of finding good ones also for cars. All the differentials of Lamborghini cars for the front engine were built in Porretta Terme by Dadi and Matteuzzi. The same applies to the gearboxes, built in Bologna by the company Cima, which still exists and which also supplied the parts to Ferrari. We can say that the Motor Valley was and is the Silicon Valley of mechanics.

In 2012 Dallara opened an office in Indianapolis, not far from where the mythical 500-mile race takes place. This center is much more than just a sales office, right? Can you describe it to us?

We always had one of our spare parts distributors there, but it was just a base with our own office. Then it became a headquarters where we design and build carbon components, we build components for niche manufacturers, we have the service for the teams that use our cars, which are now many: not only the Indy, but also the IMSA and the Daytona Prototipe, those that run the 24 hours of Daytona and the 12 hours of Sebring.

So our headquarters in Indiana is not only a center for the distribution of spare parts, it also has a “motor culture”: for example, there is the simulator twin of the one we have here in Italy. Being close to the end user, we can better understand his needs. We also have contacts with the great American manufacturers who are interested in racing. Just to mention one, it happened with General Motors for the Daytona Prototipe program, where we made a car for them that gave us great results: for three consecutive years we won the 24 hours of Daytona and it's a great satisfaction for us.

You are the founder of an Italian company that is a leader in its sector worldwide. How would you describe the relationship between Italian creativity and American pragmatism? We have seen how it is a perfect marriage in different areas, does this also applies to your area?

Yes, and I would add that fortunately we Italians, in addition to creativity, also have the habit and the ability to work well in small series. Once upon a time we use to call this “manual skills”, because maybe a piece was made on a lathe, or by hand. Today it can no longer be defined as such because even the smallest piece must be designed and built on the computer, but we have observed - at least in our area of the Motor Valley - the custom to work quickly on small series and this helps us a lot and gives us advantages. Every day I'm realizing more and more of how much we've been able to do from the first evolution from conventional mechanics to computer-assisted mechanics. Now it's the last phase, where we're all working hard, that is mobility that will be more connected, with some remaining part of autonomy, that will allow us to use the car in a completely different way.

As for America, I think it always takes a very careful and critical eye, as well as the strength and humility to think that everywhere there are those who know how to do things well and so it is a matter of watching, confronting and learning from what others do. I can say that all my life I have continued to look very carefully at what others do, coming to understand often that others had perhaps found solutions that I had not thought of. My reference has always been Colin Chapman, who has always managed to do things simpler or with a few pieces less than I thought. Now, this concept concerns the car of my generation, the mechanical one. But the references are the same: we Italians do good things as the Americans do. It's about seeing what others are doing and comparing them with ourselves, trying to find the right synthesis with balance.

Is there anything Italian you would transfer to America, and vice versa?

I see incredible enthusiasm in so many young Italian people and I don't know if it’s the same in the United States, and at the same time I see there a great pragmatism that maybe sometimes we Italians lose. But it’s hard to generalize: I don’t see everywhere the enthusiasm of the young people who work with me, they absolutely have an incredible passion.

Let's talk about the Indianapolis 500, perhaps the most famous car race in the world. Since 2007 Dallara has been supplying exclusively the cars that take part in it. In addition, since 1997 you have won fourteen Indy Championships, twelve Indianapolis 500 and collected over 300 victories. It is a crazy, unprecedented, total domain...

Something strange happened: at a certain point we actually became a single brand. We have continued for years to challenge ourselves with GeForce: especially in the initial phase both would win every other year. The losing team would multiply its efforts to be successful the following year. Then we made it, because actually all the brands of the cars are Dallara: now the challenge is to be able to make all the teams and drivers happy so that they do not have the temptation to reopen the market. So you have to serve them well as technical assistance, supply of spare parts, exchange of technical information. All this in a short time and at an adequate price, because more than ever before there is an incredible attention to costs.

A few weeks ago the Formula E Grand Prix was held in Rome. Is the future of mobility electric? What are Dallara's plans in this regard?

Not in the coming years, but in the average time, probably the whole market will go electric: there are those who say that we will get there by using, in the transitional period, hydrogen cars. The need to protect the planet from pollution takes us in that direction. There are still important steps to be taken to learn how to produce electricity in a non-polluting way. In the meantime, we should find solutions that allow us to build machines that require less energy to provide the necessary performance, and we will have to learn to make them lighter and more aerodynamic. We are aware of this and we have a group working in this direction: we are happy to do that, because it allows us to provide what we know how to do well, namely the chassis part (the carbon structures) and also to understand closely and from within where it will end up. The path will be irreversible: mobility will be electric.

Will we still drive in the future?

It is likely that for the daily use of mobility to go to work or similar things, the cars of the future will be self-driving and not owned. At the same time, I think of everyone who rides a motorcycle on the weekend to have fun: that's not mobility of necessity, that's where the journey is the important thing. Those who have those motorcycles have not bought them to move from one place to another, rather to experience the pleasure of the open air or the different route. I think there will always be room for cars that allow people to exercise the taste they feel when driving.

Cav. Dallara, our last question concerns Italy. You have seen our country in many situations, and you have lived through decades with great personal and team success. How can we put the incredible Italian creativity, ingenuity, willfulness and resilience to work together and improve the future of this extraordinary, complicated country?

From my experience I can tell you that the students who come out of our universities are good, and above all they are prepared to learn: fundamental quality in a world where technology changes and will continue to change with incredible speed. This is a very positive aspect, we are at a very high level from the point of view of university preparation and we also have on our side some very good examples of vocational schools. We will have people prepared for a changing world.

Then there is certainly a need for the country to make a move and for politics to be noble and to take care of the future. In this regard, I can tell you that I have a lot of respect for many politicians I've had the good fortune to meet, who try to do their job well and spend themselves for the country. But there is a need to make far-sighted choices that will lead the country to grow, that will know how to win consensus without making promises incompatible with our resources. There is a need for a change and I would like to see more young people involved in the rebirth of our country.

 

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