Interview with Alfa Romeo Star – Giampiero Simoni

Giampiero Simoni made his BTCC debut in 1994 for Alfa Romeo, who were also making their debut in the championship. The Italian driver has moved across from Formula 3000 and was racing a touring car for the first time.

Tody, we chat to Giampiero and look back at his time in the BTCC.

Giampiero, thanks for joining us at today to talk about your BTCC career! You joined Alfa Romeo in 1994, moving from a career in F3 & F3000. What made you make the move to the BTCC and switch disciplines from single seaters to touring cars?

“Well, I moved from Formula 3000 to the BTCC because I had no funding to continue in single seaters. It was not easy to find a single seater drive without funding and the BTCC deal didn’t need sponsors, so I signed to the team!”

How did the deal with Alfa Romeo and Alfa Corse happen?

“At the time Alfa Romeo were looking for a young driver to drive with Gabriele. I also knew all the tracks on the calendar from racing in Formula Ford back in 1989, so it was easy to sign the deal. Also, I have to thank Nicola Larini, who put in a lot of good words for me with Alfa Romeo!”

Alfa Romeo debuted in the BTCC with a raft of aerodynamic additions to the 155, which caused a huge amount of controversy – did you expect there to be as much arguing about the wings as there was?

“I have to be honest with you, the car in 1994 was fantastic both with and without the aerodynamic kit – it was very fast. Sadly, the other teams did not accept Alfa Romeo arriving into the UK championship and starting to win races straight away!”

How long did it take for you to get used to driving a FWD touring car, considering you had only driven single seaters until this point?

“It was tough – I only had 2 days of pre-season testing with the car before the start the season. Luckily, I was able to have a great feeling with the Alfa Romeo 155 straight away and qualified 4th for my first race.”

In your first few races in the championship, you had a few run ins with Paul Radisich in the Ford Mondeo – How different was the style of racing in touring cars compared to single seaters?

“Ahh yes! In the first few races I did have a little problem with Paul! But this is motorsport and it happens. Of course, the racing style is nothing to compare with the single seater type of racing. It is totally another world in a touring car!” 

Giampiero Simoni beats Patrick Watts to the line after recovering from a Lap 1 incident with Paul Radisich, which damaged the front end of his 155.

How much of a difference did the front and rear wings make to the car? How much faster do you think it made the car? When we spoke to Gabriele, he said it was the front differential that was key to your performance, rather than the wings.

“Yes, I am absolutely agreeing with Gabriele on that one. For the Alfa Romeo 155, the big difference was the differential and not the aerodynamic kit. That is what made the car very quick in 1994.”

At Oulton Park, things came to a head – Ford and Vauxhall were leading the protests against your cars and your team’s response was to pack up and leave the circuit before the weekend started. How did you view this sitation at the time?

“At the time, Giorgio Pianta, who was boss of Alfa Corse, decided not to race that weekend. It was his decision and he didn’t agree that the organisers wanted to remove the aerodynamic kit when the Alfa Romeo was homologated with it. It was totally his decision.”

Your team mate Gabriele Tarquini, had driven a variety of touring cars before joining the BTCC. How was your relationship with him and how much did he help you adapt into the car and team?

“I first met Gabriele when I was 12 years old and I think I was a really good team mate to him in 1994. But, if I am honest, everything I learnt during the season, I had learnt by myself.”

As the 1994 season progressed, you were rarely off the podium and took your first victory in the series at Donington. A proud moment in your career?

“Yes, but I could have won more! I was leading and in front a number of times that season, but the team asked me to let Gabriele by to help him with the championship. This happened at Snetterton, where I was first and also in 2 races at Brands Hatch, where I was first and I let him to pass for the championship! So I was good team mate for the team and Gabriele.”

Approaching the 1995 season, Gabriele left the series to go to the ITC and you were going to be leading the Alfa Romeo team for the season – what were your expectiations going into the season?

“In 1995, the car was exactly the same as the 1994 car. There was not any development, so it depended on what improvements the other teams made. Most of the other teams made good improvements to their cars, that’s why we were less competitive! Also when Gabriele arrived back at Oulton Park to help me and Derek Warwick, there was not any difference.”

Simoni driving the less competitive 1995 Alfa Romeo 155 at Silverstone. (Photo by LAT Images)

You were teamed up with ex-F1 driver Derek Warwick for 1995 – how was your relationship with him and what was he like as a team mate?

“Oh, I will never forget Derek. He is a fantastic person – we had a great experience together in 1995 and we got on really well. I have to say, 1994 with Gabriele and 1995 with Derek was a really fantastic experience for me.”

How different were the 1994 and 1995 Alfa Romeo 155s? What caused the drop in competitiveness?

“Well, like I’ve already said, the main problem was that there was no development at all on the Alfa Romeo 155 for 1995. We could lose 3 or 4 tenths per second to the other teams and that means you’re starting from 10th instead of maybe 5th the year before.”

Did you prefer driving the cars with less aero in 1994 or the full winged cars in 1995?

I prefered driving the cars without the extra aero, for me it was much nicer to drive the car without the aero, because I don’t think they needed the aero.”

After the Silverstone F1 support meeting in 1995, Alfa Romeo moved you away from the BTCC into the DTM. Was this move something you were happy with? Or did you want to stay in the BTCC for the rest of the season?

“I was, but at the end of the 1995 season, I made the big mistake of not looking to find a new team and ask around for a seat, mainly because of my shy character. At the end of 1994, I had a chance to join Williams and Renault. They offered me a contract to drive with them & I refused it to stay with Alfa Romeo. Looking back, this also was a big mistake, but this is life!”

In 1995, your results were excellent. You were taking the 155 to positions that it didn’t really deserve to be in, frankly. How did you rate your 1995 BTCC season?

In 1995, I did my best. I was faster than my team mate, Derek Warwick, but that wasn’t enough for me to find a new seat for 1996. Alfa Romeo also withdrew from the BTCC, so there was no question of me returning with them.”

Did you ever get an offer to return to the BTCC? Is that something you would have liked to do?

I didn’t recieve any offers at the end of 1995, which was my big problem, because being quick in the car isn’t enough, you must have good relations outside of the car too. I didn’t do enough on that side to be offered a seat somewhere for 1996.”