On the eve of the Ferrari Racing Days at Spa-Francorchamps, we meet the head of Ferrari Attività Sportive GT, Antonello Coletta, to talk about Corse Clienti and draw up an initial assessment of a very complicated year, not only for the racing world.
However, despite the difficulties Corse Clienti was among the last activities to stop and one of the first to restart. This was due in part to the adoption of a strict safety protocol inspired by “Back on Track” also used in Ferrari’s factories. The Ferrari Challenge Europe is back in Italy after the long lockdown period, the North American series was among the first to return to the track and the UK the first to open its doors to the public, albeit in limited numbers. This significant milestone allowed the participants in the Prancing Horse one-make series to start their 2020 racing season, which sees, among others, the début of the new 488 Challenge Evo. We start our interview right here, from the restart of racing activities.
“We were the last to stop”, says Coletta. “We were in the United States in Austin, in mid-March, with an F1 Clienti and XX Programme event. On our return, it was decided to call a halt to motoring activities, and much else, worldwide. We continued working from home without a break throughout the lockdown period, to be ready for the restart. We had imagined two or three different scenarios for possible dates and consequent Corse Clienti activities calendars. There was no real break, but we can say that we worked to adapt the facilities so that we would be in top condition and immediately operational when they gave the green light”.
Antonello Coletta was born in Rome in 1967. After studying Economics and Business at the University La Sapienza (Rome), he made his début in the world of motorsport in 1991 as Sports Director for the Forti Corse team, then involved in Formula 3 and Formula 3000. Also as Sports Director, he joined Peugeot Italia in 1993 and Alfa Romeo in 1995. He arrived at Ferrari in 1997.
Your overwhelming passion for racing has deep roots…
“I can say that I’ve been in the racing world most of my life. Already at the age of nine to ten, I had an incredible passion for racing. When I was ten and a half years old, my father gave me a go-kart, and I started racing very early, which was rather unusual because there were no categories for that age. I continued racing until I was about 20. With no way forward, but still animated by this great passion, I managed to stay in the milieu. I started working as sports director in Formula 3, then in Formula 3000. I also worked with Peugeot as sports director in Superturismo [Italian Touring Championship], then Alfa Romeo and then for Ferrari, where I have worked since 1997. I’ve had a lot of jobs, especially in the early years when I coordinated the Ferrari Challenge and then the Historic Challenge. In the meantime, I was organising some of the most important events of the time. These included F1 presentations and the production car press launches. Times were different. The team had fewer people, and we were trying to optimise our in-house resources. Then I had the idea to bring the Formula 1 Clienti racing cars to the track. In 2003, I was appointed head of the Corse Clienti department, which at that time included the three Ferrari Challenge championships (Europe, Italy and America), the Historic Challenge (Europe and America) and Formula 1 Clienti. Back then the GT world was also part of Corse Clienti, and we were racing the 360 and 575. Then in 2006, we launched the XX Programme. It was another very special idea because we created a previously inexistent segment that many people are still trying to copy today”.
A structure that has not only consolidated but has grown strong with the support of customers… And, with it, your responsibilities within the Company.
“It’s true, we have increased the number of activities and initiatives, such as the Ferrari Challenge Asia Pacific, although in the meantime we were forced to suspend the Historic Challenge. Around 2009-10 I became head of Ferrari Classiche, holding the role for four or five years, until, in 2014, on top of my job as head of Corse Clienti, I was appointed head of sports activities which also included the F1 sports management that I continued with for a year. Then I went back to handling Corse Clienti and Competizioni GT competitions which we had decided to hive off from Corse Clienti. We needed to develop, grow and hive off this department from all the other activities. Then I joined the board of directors of the Mugello circuit in 2014, with my responsibilities also including the Fiorano circuit and the Drivers’ Courses”.
You are the head of two independent, but interconnected, business units, Corse Clienti and Competizioni GT.
The Corse Clienti world consists of the Ferrari Challenge championships, Drivers’ Courses, the XX Programmes and F1 Clienti. The GT racing world groups together all the endurance and non-endurance racing car activities. So we deal with the design of the model, developing it, selling it, after-sales and extreme competitions such as the World Endurance Championship in which we have almost always taken part, being among the founders. The Fiorano circuit is also part of Competizioni GT and, since last year, we have added the Club Competizioni GT project. We strongly believe in this initiative which aims to bring the most beautiful racing Ferraris of the last thirty years back out on track ”.
In his career at Ferrari, in 2014 Coletta was appointed head of Scuderia Ferrari’s sporting activities. This is an important role that for many people represents a point of arrival. However, Antonello saw it as an opportunity to use the experience to bring to Formula 1 the extensive knowledge he had acquired at the helm of Corse Clienti.
“I arrived in F1 almost by chance, I didn’t look for it. I was involved at the beginning of the 2014 season, which was one of the most difficult ever for the Ferrari team. Top management had the feeling that it was going to be a problematic season. In fact, during the season we changed three Team Principals, and during that period one of my tasks was to embark on a general reorganisation that would see the light of day in 2015. What did I learn? I think, with a touch of pride, that more than learning, I had the luck and freedom to put into practice many organisational models that I already knew and had developed in our activities. Undoubtedly the aspect of Formula 1 that fascinated me the most is the high technology. Anyone like me who is passionate about technology can only be struck by its technical extremes and that not even the tiniest detail is neglected to improve the performance of the single-seaters ”.
Returning to the world of Corse Clienti, you can’t help but notice how the Maranello-based company has created a true path into the world of racing for customers who plan to spend their weekends on the track. The path has a name: Corso Pilota, the driving courses that the Company organises for its customers.
“We can say with some satisfaction that Ferrari is the only manufacturer with a comprehensive path, and this path starts with the Drivers’ Course, open only to customers. There are all the various types of courses that we usually hold at our Fiorano circuit or at Varano near Parma, which is perfectly set up for drivers’ courses. In addition to the track, we also run special courses, such as On Ice courses in places like Cortina, Cervinia or Livigno, or the so-called Limited Edition, which take place in more glamorous contexts and are only held at circuits near major cities.
The success of our courses is such that we also replicate the basic levels of our programmes in the United States, with the same methods and the same European organisation. As I said before, our “journey” concludes with the last level of the Drivers’ Course, the preparatory one for entering the Club Challenge or the Ferrari Challenge. From then on, the driver has all the technical tools to know how much they want to commit themselves to the world of racing. At that point, they can also continue behind the wheel of our GT3 or GTE cars”.
Let’s talk about the Ferrari Challenge, an initiative that has written the history of gentleman’s racing and more…
The Ferrari Challenge is currently the world’s longest-lived one-make trophy. If we also consider the specific features of the cars racing in it, this isn’t insignificant. I say this with great pride and satisfaction because I believe that one of the most important features of this championship is its credibility; we have always been very clear in all our choices, all our decisions. We have never privileged anyone. We have always done our best to ensure that every competition down the years has taken place as correctly and safely as possible.
So, this credibility is due to the professionalism of all our workers. It is due to people who have been working within this championship for many years. Not only I who have been following it since 1997, but also all my collaborators, some of whom have been with me for almost twenty years, others for fifteen, others for ten. They are highly specialised professionals who have become a real point of reference for all our customers, who see all the organisational staff of the Ferrari Challenge as people who are almost more like friends than acquaintances. They are people who they trust in everything and for everything”.
The term supply chain, used previously, is entirely appropriate, as Nicklas Nielsen demonstrates.
“That’s right, Nicklas is the perfect example of Ferrari philosophy, but he’s not the only one, of course. He began to make a name for himself in the Ferrari Challenge and, win after win, title after title, he became an official Ferrari Competizioni GT driver. He has always been very attached to the Challenge world, so much so that on more than one occasion he has played the role of Race Advisor in the race management of one-make races as well as being Technical Advisor in Club Competizioni GT events. This aspect too, truly unique in one-make championships, testifies to the close relationship between the two strands of Attività Sportive GT. In general, we are delighted to see that drivers who have stood out in our championships are very competitive at the wheel of our GT3s and help enrich Ferrari’s roll of honour, as it confirms the intensely formative nature of the Challenge”.
It is precisely the relationship with sports customers, fundamental to Ferrari’s DNA, that has made it possible to restart with numerically interesting grids.
“Yes, also because for us, the customer is the focus of our work. We are always ready to accept any kind of suggestion to ensure that the championship is always in keeping with the times, which are very difficult for the world economy and for motorsport in general. These are new challenges that we want to overcome, as we have done over the years. We are not arrogant in saying that, in all these years, we have always been a reference point in the world of one-make series with a large number of cars and we were so again at the restart after the pandemic lockdown. I reiterate a point I made earlier: we were able to restart like this due to the credibility we have built up over the years”.
In the era of communication, The Challenge has always enjoyed excellent media visibility.
“We must always try to do our best, at all levels, including communication. In terms of the media, we have always had television, we have almost always had live coverage on the main European networks, and excellent global coverage. This consideration applies not only to the European series but also to the US series.
We are doing our utmost to highlight the activities of our customers on the track, using all the technological means available. I believe this significant result to be one of our most outstanding achievements over time. I like to point out how, during this difficult period, we have always opened the doors of our track events to the media, albeit in limited numbers to ensure social distancing and general safety”.
Speaking of customers, there’s the world of F1 Clienti and the XX Programmes on the track which, as previously mentioned, was a brilliant idea that many are still trying to imitate today.
“They are two exceptional programmes, really unique when you think how many years we’ve been running them, how many times others have tried to copy them and that we’re still here, a point of reference while the others have either given up or are just starting now. That makes us very proud. Sometimes great ideas arise out of almost trivial hunches. As for F1 Clienti, we already had a Formula 1 workshop in Corse Clienti with three mechanics who assembled these cars for collectors who bought them to put them in their garage. At the time, hardly anyone could take them out on track”.
Where did the idea of F1 Clienti come from?
“One day, we sold a single-seater to a customer who liked to drive on the track. We gave the car to him in England as part of a Historic Challenge at Donington. When he went on track during the lunch break, or between one session and another, we saw an incredible interest, as was only to be expected. I still remember all the people who clung to the fencing to see this single-seater lap. The idea, therefore, came from the understanding that there were customers who, along with being collectors and enthusiasts, enjoyed using the single-seaters in their natural habitat, the tracks.
If I remember correctly, the first real F1 Clienti event was at Laguna Seca in 2004. It was a wonderful event. We were the first to be excited.
At the start, there were a dozen or so of us, with the mechanics dividing themselves between the various single-seaters running non-stop between the various pits. Then we gradually improved and organised ourselves to meet customer needs. Today, the Corse Clienti workshop that manages the XX Programmes and F1 Clienti cars is an incredible place with more than fifty people working there, with a very professional structure and organisation”.
Alongside F1 Clienti, XX Programmes is another Corse Clienti flagship. What is the genesis of this project?
“The XX Programmes arose from an idea to create a different project, which would focus on the customer and that, thanks to the customers’ perceptions, skills and needs, could support us in the development of future supercars. To do this, we had to go on track, and the idea was a programme that, with cars that were really special and produced in minimal numbers, an organisation that had to border on perfection and almost maniacal exclusivity, offered our customers memorable on- and off-track experiences.
The programme started amidst general scepticism, and I remember very well how people thought we were crazy. However, after a tricky running-in period, we can say that the XX Programmes are a unique phenomenon, where anyone who is part of this exclusive club feels like an exceptional customer”.