The Italian Job
The Nürburgring-Nordschleife is something special, they say. The mighty 15-mile-long road course consists of more than 150 corners; some claim it takes years to learn the track before you can be successful around it.
However, it seemed that nobody had told Nicola Larini, the little, smiling Italian who raced for Alfa Romeo in 1990s’ DTM.
Ahead of the fifth race of the 1993 season, he had never raced at the Eifel track, his sole experience amounting to a mere 15 laps. In a. road car.
“Alfa will never stand a chance at the Nordschleife,” mocked the Italian marque’s rivals, despite the fact that it had won all four opening rounds that year.
Larini summarily proved them all wrong, commandingly winning both races held during the ‘Großer Preis der Tourenwagen’ on 10 June 1993.
Alfa Romeo’s 155 V6 Ti was immediately quick in DTM, winning its first race here at Zolder
Indeed, fans still get misty-eyed when watching the footage on Youtube, which shows the boxy red car virtually glued to the track on a blisteringly hot and sunny afternoon.
After this pair of wins, Alfa Romeo’s head of motorsport Giorgio Pianta compared Larini with another of Italy’s motorsport great: “He’s racing here for the first time and wins straight away – just like Tazio Nuvolari in the past.”
For the brand from Arese near Milan, entering DTM in 1993 started a fresh chapter in its already impressive motorsport heritage. In fact, one could argue that we might never have heard of Ferrari had it not been for Alfa Romeo.
After all, it was using an Alfa that Enzo Ferrari achieved several race wins as a driver and, when he established his own team Scuderia Ferrari exactly 90 years ago, he successfully campaigned Alfa Romeos for a decade before building his own cars after the Second World War.
In the 1930s, Alfa Romeo was successful in endurance races such as the Targa Florio and the Le Mans 24 Hours. And, in 1950, Giuseppe Farina won the inaugural Formula 1 World Championship title driving for Alfa. A year later, Juan Manuel Fangio repeated the feat before the marque bowed out of the World Championship. In the 1970s and ’80s, Alfa Romeo was again involved in Formula 1, achieving a modicum of success as both an engine supplier and a works outfit. The late Niki Lauda took the marque’s final two grand prix wins in 1978, when it supplied 12-cylinder engines to the Brabham team.
Niki Lauda won two races in 1978 in an Alfa Romeo-powered Brabham, including this controversial victory at Anderstorp in the BT46 ‘fan car’
Racing tin-topsIn the 1960s and the first half of the 1970s, Alfa Romeo was very successful in touring car racing, its GTA model a regular winner in various championships. Building on these achievements, Alfa Romeo also launched its own one-make series with the compact Alfasud model in the 1970s. It was in this competition that current ITR chairman Gerhard Berger scored his first race wins. The GTV became Alfa Romeo’s next race winner on the international touring car stage with four European Championship title wins.
Caption The veritable Alfasud featured in a one-make series during the 1970s
The GTV was also the first Alfa Romeo model to race in the DTM in the series’ inaugural 1984 season. This was the result of a coincidence, as driver Peter Oberndorfer recalls: “I was looking for an engine to race in Formula 3,” he remembers. “So I went to the German Alfa Romeo importer and was told they had no interest in Formula 3. But then I was asked whether I wanted to race in this new production touring car series instead. I had Dr. Helmut Marko prepare a GTV for me, and that is how it all started.”
First DTM successes
Oberndorfer gave Alfa Romeo its first DTM podium finish by coming third in the second round of the season at Hockenheim, then added a win in the first race of the double-header at the same venue in August.
“It was a beautiful car,” he recalls. “It was very well prepared by Marko, and we even managed to beat the works cars when they came to race at Hockenheim.
“Too bad I was punted off in the second race there, otherwise I would have gone down as the overall winner and would have ended higher up in the championship as well.”
Oberndorfer soldiered on for another two years with his Alfa Romeo GTV in the DTM, accompanied by the occasional cameo from other drivers, most notably 1986 champion Kurt Thiim, with the 75 Turbo in 1987, but it wasn’t until 1993 that Alfa Romeo embarked on a full-bodied works campaign in the series.
Having already wrapped up the title in their domestic championship with the four-wheel-drive 155 the year before, Nicola Larini and Alessandro Nannini were the works-drivers for the Alfa Corse team, with another pair of 155s run by German operation Schübel Engineering for Christian Danner and driver-engineer Giorgio Francia.
It would go on to write an unforgettable chapter in the DTM history books.
The 155 saves the series
Alfa had started development of its DTM car in February 1992, holding its first test that September. Importantly, the arrival of the Italian brand proved to be crucial in saving the series when both Audi and BMW announced their withdrawal in ’92.
Their departure left Mercedes as the championship’s only remaining experienced manufacturer to take up the newcomer’s challenge. In addition, several privateers rounded out the field with Ford Mustangs, BMWs and Opels – but they were never in contention for race wins or top positions.
Given its lengthy gestation, Alfa’s 155 V6 Ti proved quick straight out of the box.
Larini (left) and Nannini (right) injected Italian flair and passion into the DTM
Larini kicked off the season with two victories at a torrential Zolder. The Italian was also successful at the Nürburgring and Wunstorf, and duly followed up with those two aforementioned victories at the Nordschleife, followed by the Norisring.
Further wins followed at Donington, where Christian Danner had won the first race with his Schübel-run Alfa, Diepholz and Singen.
With such complete domination, Larini wrapped up the title with a round to spare, at Avus in Berlin. Team-mate Alessandro Nannini, meanwhile, made up for a year full of bad luck by taking a pair of wins at Hockenheim’s season finale.
“Alessandro is responsible for the PR, I take care of the victories,” Larini said smilingly after Alfa Romeo’s successful debut season.
Poor reliability hurt Alessandro Nannini’s title hopes, but the Italian nonetheless won 14 races for Alfa between 1993 and ’96
The winning habit
The following year, Nannini responded with five wins to Larini’s four. Stefano Modena followed up with victories at the Avus to add lustre to Alfa Romeo’s success in the series, but Mercedes claimed the title with Klaus Ludwig in the new C-Class.
In 1995, Mercedes was again the car to beat, but Larini (once), Danner and Michael Bartels (two apiece) all still collected silverware for the Italian marque.
In 1996, the DTM having been transferred to the FIA-sanctioned International Touring car Championship (ITC), Nannini won seven races, including clean sweeps at Estoril, the Nürburgring and Magny-Cours. Tarquini took the spoils in the second race at Silverstone and there were two wins for Nicola Larini, including one on home turf at Mugello.
Larini’s win in the second race at São Paulo, where Opel’s Manuel Reuter wrapped up the title with one round to spare, turned out to be the final victory for Alfa Romeo in the DTM to date.
Driving a Schübel Engineering-run car, Germany’s Christian Danner won three DTM races in the 155, including this victory at Norisring in 1995