Nardo test track is the home of supercars… and Ford Transits
Nardo is a name in the automotive world that is synonym with high speed nirvana. Located on the southern tip of Italy this perfectly sculptured, banked circular track of more than 12 km in length, allows for theoretical speeds of up to 500 km/h to be maintained safely. The large “wall of champions” sign post at the entrance to the facility makes no secret of the records set at the facility – displaying speeds in excess of 400km/h achieved by exotic machinery including Le Mans racers and tuned supercars.
Apart from high speeds this facility is also ideally located for manufacturers to conduct their hot climate sign-off testing on the latest models concerning hardware and software. Ambient temperatures can easily exceed 40 °C and automotive engineers dressed in t-shirts and shorts will try their best not to be cooked alive while carrying out various tests in and around the facility. Although dressing down is acceptable due to the high temperatures, I remember a stern warning about wearing spaghetti shirts…
Inside the circular track are a number of garages allocated to specific manufacturers. The most exotic Italian and German brands will proudly display their emblems on the outside. The early morning tranquillity of the Italian countryside is normally shattered when one of the latest supercar prototypes fires up and bellows a war cry to the world. This normally signals that a high speed session on the test track is about to commence. Later on in the day more machinery will make their way to the track to join the musical symphony of Lamborghinis, Ferraris, Porches and even Ducati motorcycles…
The main circular track consists of six lanes – four on the banked section and two inner lanes behind a low concrete wall to divide the high speed vehicles from the commercial variety. At the time I was a calibration engineer on the Ford Transit project and therefore limited to the inside lanes shared with large trucks and other diesel consuming transporters.
One of our tests involved pulling a dyno-trailer (trailer with braking capability) to ensure that full load can be applied at a set speed. During one such test a number of laps had to be completed at exactly 80 km/h. Imagine starring at a road that never ends in sweltering heat while logging data on a laptop – exciting is not a word that would spring to mind.
The afternoon got decidingly more interesting when a Ferrari F430 Scuderia prototype joined the track and stopped next to the low concrete wall in the inside lane. What followed was a number of full-bore acceleration runs up to approximately 200 km/h before stopping at maximum deceleration – just to repeat the whole manoeuvre again. As luck would have it we would just pass the Ferrari when the acceleration run started and have a front row view of the car accelerating and passing us – accompanied by the most pleasant aural performance imaginable. This continued for the rest of the laps we had to complete and let the record clearly state – the sight, sound and smell of a Ferrari doing what it was designed for can never become dreary.
Driving the humble Transit delivery van for many more years to come during my time at Ford I could not forget the time it had the most amazing Ferrari soundtrack ever!