visit to the Alfa Romeo Test facility in Balocco.
The Balocco track is the Alfa test or proving facility where new cars
and prototypes are put through their paces and developed.
extremely fortunate to be able to visit this facility as usually it is
totally off limits and inaccessible to the general public, with stern-looking
guards in place to enforce this rule. It is only that I have known Giancarlo
for several years that he was able to arrange for an exception to this
rule so we could get a brief glimpse of the test facility.
told me I'd need to rent a car to drive to Balocco which was an excellent
turn of events as we had used public transport excessively until then
and I was keen to try out the Italian roads and cars!
pictured the track as being rather close to the Arese plant - perhaps
bordering it but, it turned out to be some 70 KM away on the Autostrada
which links Milano with Torino. Giancarlo had scheduled some time for
us on Friday afternoon - and that particular Friday happened to be a just
this side of a long weekend in Italy. This meant that everyone in Milano
was trying to rent a car to drive out of the city that day. After trying
a few rental places, we were able to reserve a car for pickup at the Malpensa
airport early on Friday morning. In view of the demand, I felt lucky just
to get any car, I did not want to push my luck and insist on an Alfa.
we arrived at the airport the next day however, Avis was able to secure
an Alfa for me. This gray 147 1.6 Twinspark with only a few hundred kilometers
on the clock would be ours for the day. The Alfa 147 was nice to drive,
good power, great brakes and suspension - I'm certain they would sell
like hot cakes in the USA!. I'd have liked the V6 3.2 liter engine that
is also fitted to some rentals, but they are rather rare and expensive.
in Italy is interesting. The drivers are good and they really hustle.
The best illustration of this is when we saw an elderly lady hooting (honking)
at a distracted motorist who was not proceeding at the maximum speed his
vehicle was capable of. The freeways (Autostrada) were rather different
to what I was used to. When you enter the Autostrada, you have to stop
at a toll booth type device and pick up a ticket. When you exit the freeway
(at every off-ramp), a toll booth is set up where the distance traveled
is computed and you pay a toll accordingly. I anticipate that riots would
break out in Seattle if this were implemented here. The sign posting was
somewhat ... scant ... but once on the Autostrada navigation was easy.
On the autostrada, the speed limit is 130 km/hr (about 78 mph), though
most motorists did about 140 km/h and even then, many cars were going
much much faster. I spotted a couple of Alfa 147 GTA's in convoy &
decided they must have been on their way to the track - given the speed
and the yellow sticker in the back window.
Alfa Romeo 147 1.6 Twin Spark.
to Balocco. The town itself appears to derive much of its income from
rice farming as there were rice paddies seemingly on every bit of arable
land. I contemplated asking the owner of the local Tratoria about this,
but soon realized this would be entirely futile given the comedy which
ensued merely in the process of ordering bottled water - him misunderstanding
my non existent Italian and my incomprehension of his equally limited
at the gate at the appointed hour to security similar to what we had seen
at the Arese plant. No camera's are allowed in the track area as various
prototype cars (without camouflage) were plainly visible and Alfa Romeo
requires written authorization to publish photographs of the track itself.
Fortunately, I can show you these two photo's here:
is the 147 GTA which Giancarlo currently tests and develops. It has the
famous Alfa V6 3.2 liter, 24 valve, quad cam engine, producing 184 kW
(247 Hp). It is quite simply an incredible machine and certainly worthy
of the "GTA" moniker in that you can drive it to work on Friday,
race (and probably win) on Saturday. I'd like to own one someday!
inside the complex, Giancarlo explained that the old Balocco track is
still intact, but 2 new tracks had been built after Fiat acquired Alfa
Romeo. One of them is a high speed oval (mainly used for top speed &
endurance testing) and the other is a new, incredibly tortuous road course.
Many of the seemingly hundreds of corners are modeled after the corners
of famous racing tracks which allows Alfa engineers to tune their racing
car suspensions to suit a given track prior to even arriving there. It
was this track that we entered first, without ceremony whatsoever.. All
I can say is that the performance of the GTA is spectacular! Because we
were visitors (and so lacked some sort of insurance coverage), Giancarlo
held the speed to about 60% to 70% of the maximum potential of the car.
Even so, I do not think I have ever experienced a race track at such high
speed and with such tremendous cornering force. The first track had a
barrier (Armco) literally at the edge of the road so any error in judgment
would send the car into the Armco. Even so, I saw not one blemish on the
Armco which illustrates just how well a professional like Giancarlo, can
drive! The handling was so good that I was convinced it was a 4WD, which
it is not.
entered the High Speed, banked oval. After a couple of laps at over 250
Km/h, we exited because, as Giancarlo explained, "it was not very
Alfa track is a much more conventional in that it has generous run-off
areas. Because of this, members of the press are occasionally permitted
to test certain Alfa's there, and indeed, the track is even used by some
European car clubs for track events. I could tell that this was the case
since, in contrast to the new track, dark skid marks stood testament to
many cars having left the track in an unanticipated manner. Clearly the
work of rank amateurs :)
old track was exhilarating, and from an aesthetic and historic perspective,
definitely my favorite.
all, it was a very memorable day. My thanks again to Giancarlo for the
time he spent showing us this Alfa wonderland - as I told him several
times that day, he does have "the best job on earth"!
credits: Miss Jessica Johnson.