ETCC champ Brancatelli has returned to the circuit in the past few years and, now 67, he’s taking it just as seriously as when he was racing professionally
Narrowing down highlights from the 2017 Silverstone Classic is no easy task.
As part of Williams’ 40th anniversary celebrations, the team was running its 1992 championship-winning FW14B Formula 1 challenger. Meanwhile, Group C cars were battling in the pouring rain and fading light, and the Tourist Trophy races’ multi-million-pound grid was as exciting as ever.
In both Super Touring Car Trophy races, Gianfranco Brancatelli was involved in a mighty duel with Mark Wright. In their flame-spitting Ford Sierra RS500s, fighting over the tarmac as if it were for genuine touring car honours, they provided the standout racing action.
Running in the slower Group A class, the pair’s dice wasn’t for an outright podium. Rather they were battling for a class win, sitting on the cusp of the overall top ten – yet that did nothing to detract from the spectacle.
The Classic was part of 1985 European Touring Car Champion Brancatelli’s racing comeback that’s picked up momentum in the past couple of years. In his 16 years away from the circuit, it’s clear the Italian has lost none of his F1 racing and Le Mans podium-finishing spirit.
‘Last year a gentleman from New Zealand called me and said he had bought a car that I raced,’ says Brancatelli.
‘That was the BMW M3 from 1987 that I raced with CiBiEmme and Johnny Cecotto in the World Touring Car Championship. I didn’t know what I could do. But I took the challenge and said: “OK, I will come”. So I went to New Zealand last year, then we went to Silverstone and did very well.’
Following his return, he was then reunited with an old 500bhp favourite.
‘Peter Sturgeon decided to buy the Sierra Cosworth in which I won the Spa-Francorchamps 24-hours in 1989. We won four races in New Zealand early in 2017, and then we won at Silverstone, Nürburgring and Oulton Park.’
Brancatelli continues: ‘The car feels like an old friend – but a lot of stuff is different, like the tyres. It is different when you race for a professional works team and when you race like this. This car was brand new for the 24-hours at Spa, and the Eggenberger team rebuilt the car after the race. It was in a garage for maybe five or six years, then it was sold to a collector in Switzerland. The car just stood for 20 or 25 years.’
It may have been out of the limelight for two decades, but the Bastos-liveried RS500 Brancatelli shared in ’89 with touring car greats Win Percy and Bernd Schneider was warmly received by both its driver and the spectators.
‘The sensation is special, and so many people come to see us at the racetrack. It’s a beautiful combination to have back together. It’s not the complete team from the 1980s, but the two most important parts – myself and Rudi Eggenberger. That makes something really special for historic touring car racing.
‘I was retired and so was Rudi. My last race was in 2000. Of course I thought my racing was finished after 16 years. I never went to see any race and I’d never been on any circuit. But this is something that makes the person younger again.’
Now he’s back in the driving seat and showing instant competitivity, it’s clear that Brancatelli is taking his return seriously. To him, it’s no mere nostalgic run-out.
‘To go back racing, you need to be in good physical shape and you need to have a competitive spirit. If you fail in one of those, there is no way. I feel the same responsibility to drive at the limit, just as when I was paid by a works team. I did not miss racing when I was away, but since I’m back I have to do the best for myself.’
Images courtesy of Jakob Ebrey