At the MXGP of Italy, as a spectator we’re served up a spectacular show in an amazing setting and a facility provided by the Autodromo Internazionale Enzo E Dino Ferrari. Building a dirt track on top of an actual road course is no easy feat, and so we wanted to hear the behind-the-scenes story of the Italian Grand Prix. And who better to tell us than Roberto Marazzi, the general director of the track, and Umberto Estense, president of Formula Imola.
Building a dirt track on top of a road course is a big undertaking. How did the idea come about?
Umberto: Imola and Motocross are more connected than most people would think. The first motocross event was held at Imola 71 years ago. Organised by one of the original founders of the track, a course was set out in the Aqua Mineral Park. Since then, there has been a good connection between motocross and the circuit, although never on this scale before.
When were things set in motion?
Umberto: This is the second time we have organised the MXGP of Italy. Last year was the first time and it being the result of a great collaboration with Youthstream and our partner Off-Road. The 2018 edition was a great success and the feedback was very positive. For an organisation like ours, it’s not such a huge challenge to create big events because we’re used to organising events like WorldSBK and in the past Formula One. So, this is definitely one of the reasons why the collaboration was such a success. This year is an evolution of the event held last year. Unfortunately, we had a bit of a setback because of the absence of Toni Cairoli, so the attendance was a bit lower than expected, but the Slovenian fans here to watch Gajser made up for that.
How much effort goes into building an MXGP-track, do you have some numbers?
Umberto: The track is made up of 18,000 tonnes of dirt and the goal was to build it in just a couple of days.
Roberto: The biggest challenge, even bigger than building it, is cleaning up afterwards. Next weekend there is another event on the track. However, the racecourse will be cleared in about two days. To restore the rest of track and paddock to its original state takes about four to five extra days.
The thing I notice most in motocross is the open atmosphere which is something that is often lacking in other motorsports.
Umberto: Yes, absolutely. I’d like to think that motocross keeps the original spirit of motorsport alive – where everything is open and accessible, where spectator and athletes meet. People want to see the cars and bikes. This is something like the essence of MXGP and it is also the spirit of Imola.
Have you developed a passion for off-road racing yourself now, being so involved with MXGP?
Umberto: Actually, I already had one. I grew up attending motocross events with my father as he was the importer of a bike brand called Montesa. So, for me this was going back to my roots because motocross has always been in my blood.
Imola is an amazing facility but it’s also a track haunted by the memory of the accident of Ayrton Senna. How do you approach this?
Roberto: Since that moment, Imola and the Tamburello corner will always be linked with Ayrton. We treat this as an opportunity for fans to have a place to remember Senna. That’s why we have the museum dedicated to his memory.
Speaking of this track, it’s definitely an old school track. Many tracks have undergone changes due to the pressure of safety concerns.
Umberto: Yes, we have definitely been subject to pressure from various federations to change the lay-out of the track. Of course, safety is very important, but so is the heritage of the track.
Roberto: At Ferrari, they once said: “The Imola circuit is the perfect challenge for car and driver. This track still separates the men from the boys.”
Coming back to two-wheeled motorsport, the WorldSBK event is also one of the highlights of the year for Imola. Was does this event mean to you?
Superbike has been a part of Imola’s history for a long time now. We like to think that the spirit of Superbike was born here at Imola with the 200 miles race. Since then, the championship has come a long way especially with Dorna getting involved and turning it into a true spectacle. For Imola it’s the biggest weekend of the year, as is the case for WorldSBK, because the attendance figures are always very high.