Mugello holds a special place in Italian motorsport lore. Known the world over for the legions of fans who cover the hillsides of this classic Italian venue in canary yellow once a year to honor their modern-day idol, Mugello breathes the kind of myth that can come only from a track whose motor-racing roots have burrowed deep into rich Tuscan soil for over 100 years.
You have to go back to 1914 to find trace of the first race held here in the glowing valleys and hills half an hour north of Florence—a race that thundered up into the mountains in a time when the sport was in its infancy. Since then, Mugello has been making heroes.
Mugello’s glory years came right after the War during the Golden Age of Italian motorsport, a time when Italy’s proto-stylists of the wheel dominated this 66km road-race that swept up the Apennines from Scarperia to Firenzuola and then razor-cut its way down through the dusty, blind turns and cliff-hugging bends of the legendary Futa Pass.
A quick glance at the winners of the Mugello race in the ’20s is a name-by-name roll call of Italy’s finest maestros of the wheel, heroic men who taught the world how to race at speed: Campari, Brilli Peri, Ascari, Borzacchini, and local lad made good, Emilio Materassi. Mugello has always treacherous place, and one that has earned its honored spot in Italy’s racing firmament.
Part of that incredibly brave generation was also a young man named Enzo Ferrari who—despite winning three grands prix in 1924—could not quite win that season’s Mugello race. Enzo’s decision to quit racing around that time—right when he was offered a full works drive for Alfa Romeo—proved judicious: every single other driver on that list would meet his end behind the wheel of a racing car. History, and everything we know of motorsport, could have been so different had Enzo not taken that decision—a decision which no-one at the time could understand, and one that he never explained throughout his life.
But Ferrari and Mugello, these two key parts of Italian motorsport, would be reunited again—albeit 60-some years later.
The fans that have been turning up at Mugello for a hundred years have always been pure racing aficionados; they will measure a driver not for their ability to win, but for their ability to race. They love their racing heroes here, the head-down spectacular drivers who know how to entertain with their skill and, most of all, their bravery.
Mugello’s star, though, dimmed throughout the ’30s as Italy and the world’s motorsport attention turned to the Mille Miglia (that would use some of the same 66km course on its way down to Rome), and it was only in the ’60s, with the end of the classic 1,000-mile race, that Mugello was revived in a series of races from ’64 to ’69 that saw drivers do eight laps around that arduous track for full factory works teams from Porsche, Alfa, and Ferrari.
And just as Mugello had enticed the last great generation of Italian superstars, the mid-’60s yet again saw Mugello introduce Italy to its new generation of sportscar aces: Merzario, Giunti, Nino Galli and, of course, the inimitable Sandro Munari who would light-up those mountains like no other—a man who quickly became the darling of the Mugello fans.
The race was on the official schedule for the 1965, 1966, and 1967 World Sportscar Championship, but the tragic events of the 1970 race during open practice (that would see the roads remain open for regular traffic) brought the curtain down on that classic track forever.
A new start
In truth, that race was already an anachronism, and the local racing fraternity had been actively scouring for a site on which to build a new permanent facility for some time. The tragedy of 1970 sped things up, and by 1971, a large plot of land was secured in Barberino di Mugello, about five kilometres east of the original road circuit. Work began on the track in 1973 and, in June of 1974, the Circuito di Mugello opened its doors for its first-ever race, an F5000 event that had far more fans flocking to the hillsides and grandstands than the facility could hold.
It was an immediate sensation; with a really long front-straight that fed into an uphill right-hander where you’re just tempted to brake later and later every lap, and with the rest of the lap dominated by a series of super-quick turns going up and around and down valleys and hills, it wasn’t long before the big series came to town including the World Championship for Sportscars.
But despite its top-level license, Mugello could never attract Formula 1, and with world sportscars and GT racing in decline, the early ’80s saw the track fall into an abyss—quite literally, as plans to flood the entire valley in order to create a reservoir for Florence’s drinking water reached an advanced stage of planning before, in 1988, the circuit was saved by none other than Ferrari.
Ferrari bought the track outright for use as an extra test-track for its F1 program alongside Fiorano (also in the Ferrari Essentials Pack) and immediately set to work to create a world-class racing and testing facility.
The old Armco barriers were removed and replaced with concrete walls, run-off areas were extended, and a new state-of-the-art pit and paddock was built alongside a tower that stored all the technology needed to make this one of Europe’s most sophisticated testing venues.
The result of Ferrari’s remodeling of this classic venue was ready for the opening of the 1991 season, and Mugello never looked more resplendent; an exciting, fast track in one of the world’s most beautiful locales, it was soon capturing interest from not only world-class racing series, but world championship motorbike manufacturers, too.
With its definitive, old-style contour and fast corners tied to deep braking zones molded to first-rate facilities, Mugello has become one of Europe’s top-level racing tracks. The track enjoys a busy schedule with the FIA GT championship, the Ferrari Challenge, and the 12 Hour of Mugello sportscar race and dozens of local series mixing it up with its unrivalled claim to be the home of Italian motorcycling.
This 5km long track with tremendous elevation changes is a true driver’s circuit, an exciting and intoxicating place that mixes speed and thrills in equal measure—as the Formula 1 establishment discovered when they turned up for testing in 2012.
“I did 10 dry laps today around Mugello, which is the same as doing 1,000 laps around Abu Dhabi track in terms of satisfaction,” said Mark Webber at the time, while team-mate Sebastian Vettel bemoaned not having the track on the F1 schedule: “It’s an incredible circuit with a lot of high-speed corners.”
But Formula 1 deemed the track a little too dangerous for racing; despite its safety records, this is a menacing place with some of those walls a bit too close for comfort when you’re in top-gear down by the end of that long front-straight.
Mugello retains that special “something” from a racing world that is quickly vanishing; a track that will honor skill and bravery in much the same way as its fans will do the same on any summer Sunday afternoon when they set-up camp on the hillsides under that hot Tuscan sun and cheer for heroes made in Mugello.
The Project CARS 2 Season Pass offers all four DLCs plus the Motorsport Bonus Pack, all at a discounted price.
The Ferrari Essentials Pack is available now for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and (PC Steam).
*The Pista di Fiorano is a Ferrari-only track, both in real-life and, of course, in Project CARS 2.