Racing through Mugello

Adam Wenger
May 15, 2008

Standing alone in the middle of a picturesque, dandelion-covered meadow, I welcomed the greatly overdue spring sunshine. With an abandoned farmhouse on the horizon  and the smell of fresh grass permeating the air, I had to remind myself that I wasn't lost in the hills of Tuscany: I was standing in the heart of the International Mugello Racetrack. And the meadow I happened upon was not merely another gorgeous Tuscan hill, but a natural grandstand that overlooked the circuit.

 

After a few moments of silence, the roar of a motorcycle's engine came to life, shattering any last sense of displacement. With the head of public relations, Riccardo Benvenuti, as my guide, I was given a taste of all things Mugello. From the racetrack, motorcycles and crew, to the surrounding valley and city of Scarperia, it was a day to be remembered.

 

The circuit-complete with 15 turns, each rich with its own history-is located just 30 km north of Florence, in the city of Scarperia, the knife and blade capitol of Italy. Home to the nation's Motorcycling Grand Prix, an event that typically attracts 500,000 to 600,000 people from across Europe, the Mugello Racetrack is quite the impressive sight.

 

While the Grand Prix easily draws the largest crowds, the track offers much more than one weekend of racing. Over the course of the year, it stays open for 300 days, hosting various activities and events. Owned and operated by Ferarri, the racetrack is also used as a testing facility for Ferrarri's Formula 1 team. And while I had the bad fortune of missing him, Michael Schumacher is said to visit the site regularly.

 

In an effort to better share the thrill of racing with those who might elsewhere be able only to watch on TV or in person, the Mugello frequently invites motorbike enthusiasts to race through each of the 5,245 meters of track. Still, as important as the joy of racing is to the Mugello organization, safety is its highest priority. Flying around on a motorcycle at over 250 km/h is, as Benvenuti put it, not as safe as playing chess. Nevertheless, out of a pool of roughly 60,000 racers a year, there is typically no more than one fatality each season, making the Mugello one of the safest circuits in Europe.

 

Most Americans tend to associate racing with NASCAR. When it comes to motorbike, however, oval racetracks give way to graceful turns and hills, and beer guts and burgers move aside for the sharply dressed and a three-course meal. Getting a behind the scenes look at how the Mugello operates, I was stunned by the number of women who worked there. In Benvenuti's office alone, there were three women working for him, each one as passionate as the next about the sport. There are even two women drivers on the circuit, with one hailing from Tuscany.  

 

Not everything was quite so different, however. As I walked through the paddock where all the racers and crew gathered in their assigned lots, prepping for the race, I came across a number of sights one might expect to witness at a track: a pair of men pushing a cart of wheels down the road; a racer changing into his skin-tight gear; a stiletto-clad, big-breasted woman attempting to drive a miniature motorcycle. Just replace the motorcycle with the hood of Jeff Gordon's car and you never left Alabama.

 

One undeniable bond between the two sports is the passion of those involved. In America, thousands of young kids grow up riding go-karts and idolizing Dale Earnhardt, hoping one day to make it to Daytona. In the world of motorbike racing, Italian youth go the tracks with their fathers, ride smaller-engine bikes, and dream of riding in the Grand Prix.

 

What really makes the Mugello Racetrack so special is its location. Described by Benvenuti as a valley for sports, the Mugello valley is a treat for both the active and passive visitor. Aside from the gorgeous hills and villas, there is the Golf Club of Poggio and the impressive Lake Bilancino, the latter of which is home to both national sailing events and a lively nightlife.

 

As for the racetrack itself, the goal of the organization is to create a space that can host many events without being exclusive to racing. In line with those aspirations, the racetrack will be hosting a four-day dance and electronica festival over the summer, which Benvenuti hopes will be the start of something new and great for the Mugello. Although many visitors might think Florence is all Tuscany has to offer, Benvenuti hopes people will understand that there is more.

 

Indeed, a trip to the Mugello Valley should enlighten any traveler looking for a unique and exciting alternative to Florence. Getting to the circuit from the city center is simple. A 7-euro round-trip SITA ticket will take you to the San Piero stop, leaving you just outside the Mugello. One quick bus ride later and you'll be at the racetrack, engines roaring and bikes flying, a true feast for all your senses.

 

 

Italian Grand Prix-Moto GP World Championship will be held at the Mugello Circuit from May 30 to June 1. For more information, visit www.mugellocircuit.it. To get presale tickets, go to www.ticketone.it.

 

 

 

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