Stephen Errity, GT Correspondent
He tested for Minardi in F1, was the 2003 FIA GT1 champion in a Ferrari 550, the 2006 FIA GT2 champion in a Ferrari 430 and he also has two season of Grand-Am racing in a Daytona Prototype under his belt. But this year Matteo Bobbi takes on an entirely different challenge as team manger of the newly formed Vita4One Team Italy squad in the Blancpain Endurance Series. The all-important link with Ferrari is still there – the team runs a pair of 458 GT3s – but Bobbi isn't behind the wheel this season, at least in the races.
“I'm still driving in every test we do, to help the team, so I've not stopping driving. I had no opportunity to race for a competitive team this season, so that's how this arrangement came about,” he explains. "I've raced a lot in the past with Michael Bartels' Vita4One team as a driver. We built a very good relationship together, and last year we started talking, almost as a joke, about expanding Vita4One to Italy as well. But within three months, we'd secured the two Ferraris and two investors to get behind the team. Vita4One and Team Italy are two separate companies from a business point of view, but there's a lot of co-operation between us about all the details.”
The new partnership got off to a very successful start in Monza, with the #57 Ferrari 458 of Eugenio Amos, Giacomo Petrobelli and Alessandro Bonacini winning the Pro-Am class and finishing sixth overall. With that in mind, is mixing it with the leading Pro cars for an outright race win a target? “Not yet,” admits Bobbi. “We want to be competitive in Pro-Am, which is not easy – there's 50 in our class here, for example. So it's a big enough challenge to beat all them, and we want to do things step-by-step. We know the season will be tough. Monza went well, but it's already in the past, so now we're focusing on Silverstone.”
It's hard to believe that almost ten years have elapsed since Bobbi dominated the 2003 FIA GT Championship in a Ferrari 550 Maranello shared with Thomas Biagi. “I have very good memories of that year,” he beams. “It was my first season in GTs when I moved from single-seaters. It's nice, because my race engineer from that year, and also from when I was GT2 champion in 2006, is now engineering with Vita4One Italy.” Bobbi has also spent two seperate seasons driving in Grand Am – with Doran Racing in 2005 and Cheever Cheever Racing in 2008. “It was a huge experience for me as a person living in the States, and a very nice series to drive in, too,” he remembers. “The Daytona Protoypes are very different to a European-style GT. There's less power, but there's a lot of action during the races, so it was a lot of fun.”
This isn't the end of my driving career – just a pause
Another career highlight was 2009, when Bobbi raced a Lola prototype in the Le Mans Series for the Racing Box team. “Prototypes are the best,” he smiles. “Of course I love them and I love Le Mans, but it's hard to find an opportunity to race them. That was a great chance to be there at the top level. We won first race of the season in Barcelona and were competitive in Le Mans before the car failed.”
As mentioned above, Bobbi hasn't closed the book on his driving career yet, and we'll probably see him on track again before the season is out: “I will maybe do something at the Spa 24 Hours, perhaps with this team as a fourth driver. This isn't the end of my driving career – just a pause.”