Interview – Armando Trentini
Breakfast with Armando

Sitting in the media center about to take a bite of my blueberry muffin, I look up to see Armando Trentini…says Ken May.

“Is this a good time Ken to have our discussion?” Hoping that neither a blueberry is stuck to my front tooth or shoots out and nails him, I nervously said sure, and fumble for my note pad and recorder.

dailysportscar.comKM: Armando, how did you get started with your racing career?
AT: OK, I have always been interested in racing, although I have played many sports, like soccer and tennis, but when I finished college, my father gave me an Alfa Romeo. In 1968 I ran my first race and the next two years raced for Alfa, then raced Formula series starting with Formula Ford, Formula 3 and 2.

KM: What college? Perhaps Ohio State?
AT: No, not Ohio State, University of Rome (close Ken! Ed.), but just for the 1st year. After that, I went to an art school. It was there where I fell in love with fine art. In fact, I still collect and distribute fine art (in Houston).

KM: Who were some of the “great” racers you have competed against?
AT: Well, in F2, although I finished 14th, it was the biggest for me because when you look at the starting grid, the names that were on the starting grid, Niki Lauda, Graham Hill, Jody Scheckter…so I am dating myself you see. Plus the Brambilla brothers, and many other great ones.

KM: What year was that?
AT: 1973. at Imola.

KM: No wonder I don’t remember Armando, I was 10!
AT: (Smiling) Careful Ken, you be nice….

KM: Describe the racing back then, meaning the level of skill with the drivers, the courses, fans, etc.
AT: It was most dangerous, definitely most dangerous…..you didn’t have the track safety as you have today, fans and workers were much closer, the tires were the tiny type of tire, the cars were not constructed with safety measures like today….we just didn’t know.

KM: How about the skill of the drivers? How would you compare them with the skills of today’s drivers (both Formula 1 and sportscars)?
AT: They were very good drivers, fabulous drivers, with great talent. I think if you compare with today’s drivers, and not taking away anything from the drivers of today… nothing at all, I think the skill of the drivers of the past was higher because if you look at the skills of the drivers at the time, it was higher, because if you look at the speeds of the car back then, they are close, but the tire differences, the technology, was far different. So, you really needed to drive the car in a completely different way.

KM: With all of the great tracks you have raced throughout the world….can you pick your top three?
AT: Top three? Lets see…that’s a tough question…top three….
I like Imola..it was very challenging…Brands Hatch…..um, Nurburgring..the track was just so long...

KM: How about in the States (North America)?
AT: Definitely Sears Point, Atlanta….Mont Tremblant.

KM: Well…coming from Ohio….
AT: You like Mid Ohio….good interesting track, but I like VIR more…I like a track with difficult cornering…lots of up and down….Watkins Glen is fantastic…

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KM: Moving ahead to “present day”, what got you involved with being the North American distributor for Picchio?
AT: The reason was that I was working for Momentum cars in Houston, I am the test driver, so I test drive all of the cars….and I am still doing that…during the weekend… but four years ago, I thought we should look for a car we could sell in our dealership. I went back to Italy, naturally, I wanted a car from my roots, I was looking around and started with Osella, as I raced with them in the Can Am series, but they were kinda of ‘ya, but we don’t know….’, so I went to the Picchio factory.

KM: Are the reports true about the Picchio factory?
AT: Absolutely..Their factories are out of this world. They are like little Ferrari factories..They have at least 20 engineers, they study every single part of the car….stylists…just an incredible effort…so I started working with them. And finally I was able to obtain the North American distributorship (Momentum). Now last year, they decided they did not want to race any more, so I found myself in the situation that I had to liquidate all of the cars Momentum had and on top of that was this contract with Picchio. So, Picchio had seen what I had done for them and offered me this opportunity and I took it…so I am now the sole distributor of Picchio in North America.

KM: OK, so, there are two types of Picchio race cars now…
AT: Correct, the SRPII and the new Daytona Prototype.

KM: How many prototypes are actually built and ‘race ready’?
AT: Race ready? We have this one that is racing right now, another one, at the shop in Virginia..that one could be put together in 60 days, maybe less. It is in parts, but it is complete….and there is another one that is about 1/3 prepared and it is in Italy and that one can be ready in about sixty days….

KM: Well, I will take out my checkbook (tried this at Putnam Park for the Multimatic)…
AT: I know, I read that……

dailysportscar.comKM: ….what is the amount and do I get a ‘race show special’?
AT: (Laughing out loud) …well… this is really interesting, we have a promotion right now, that if you want to buy the first Maserati engined car, that will be $349,000…race ready…meaning engine, electronic data… everything…you take the key and go.

KM: So if I had the appropriate licence, I could go out and start racing….
AT: Correct.

KM: “First purchase of Maserati engine”? Um…still no buyer?
AT: …you take the key and go.

KM: So if I had the appropriate license, I could go out and start racing….
AT: Correct.

KM: “First purchase of BMW engined car”? Um…still no buyer?
AT: Yes, the first one is still for sale..that one will be ready in 20 days!

KM: 20 days??
AT: No..No..No, That is 60 days!…at the normal price of $394,000.

KM: And for $349,000 with a Maserati or $394,000 for BMW….I’ll take one with the BMW flavor….what else do I get besides the key?
AT: Nothing right now, as there is only one car, but once we get 3-4 cars on the track, we will have a trailer with all of the parts…not bodywork, but all of the other parts will be for sale at the race.

dailysportscar.comAt this point, Christie Hyde, Public Relations Coordinator for GARRA, stops over and jokes with Armando and tells him to make sure I get everything straight and to watch what I am writing and recording!

KM: Are you seeing ‘momentum’ growing for your car and for the series?
AT: Definitely…First of all we have to continue to grow the interest in the series….after the last race at Phoenix, people are starting to realize these cars are not so slow…..and on top of that, it is fun, fun, fun racing…door to door racing…just imagine if you have 16 of those cars on the track!

KM: When will we see this, not if, but when?
AT: Well, you see, the problem is the people who have shown interest, they are sitting on the side and are saying let’s see what has happened and what is going to happen…if they don’t jump in, nothing will ever happen.
They have to jump in NOW and do it. The formula is right….the price of the car, some people say is too expensive….yes, but think of the maintenance of the car. For example, with the BMW engine we have, we haven’t done anything major with it…knock on the hood…but the maintenance is so low, you save money there. Plus the beauty of this car is that next year, the car will be good….the year after, the car will be good….

KM: Does your phone ring then on a weekly, bi-weekly basis on interested customers?
AT: It never rings…..you have to go out and look for the buyer. That is what I am doing right now….

KM: Are there prospective clients here this week?
AT: Yes, there are. There are many clients here…many are interested in the Maserati deal…many are with Ferrari and they want to stay loyal to the factory….so, the possibility is here, the question is when will the wheels go in motion to start buying the cars….I am sure it will happen and when it does, it will be fun!

KM: Without breaking any confidentiality, are there any “big names” in the racing world discussing with you or is it more of teams currently running in GARRA and wanting to move up to the DP class?
AT: Up to now, it has been teams wanting to move up…but there are others, from other series (ALMS) that have shown interest….I don’t want to get into the middle of the battle between some……….

KM: Well, since you did mention the American Le Mans Series, this is a series I am more knowledgeable about…Is there any chance of a ‘Picchio type’ car running in the ALMS?
AT: Yes, sure…we are thinking about that right now. Matter of fact, these cars basically originated from a street car….we are looking at the street car in the GTS class…

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KM: Do you have a time frame?
AT: No, not yet, we are too involved with the Daytona Prototype project…Picchio has spent a considerable amount of money on this project…We need to sell some cars to break even, then after that we can go to the next project.

(I think how ironic, for the GTS class in the ALMS to grow, the DP class in GARRA has to grow……)

AT: American Le Mans I think is a great series, and I don’t particularly like when there is the battle of words on the web.

KM: You hear or see any of that?
AT: Too much of it, especially on the web, it gets silly. And yes, before you ask, I read many forums (smiling)

AT: Do you think teams like Audi just put their cars on the track, with no testing? No, Audi and their budget ran them in Germany before bringing them to race.…with us, there was no time. The rules were done, the racing was going to start at the next 24 hour, the rules kept on changing until practically 4-5 months before Daytona 24 , so the builders had to stand by, then rushing to build the car to race….but now you can see the cars are getting faster and faster, more reliable, and great racing….so comparing the two is no good, totally different.

KM: You mentioned the internet and the forums….you obviously read dailysportscar..right?
AT: Of course….The whole arguing of which series is better is such a waste of time….racing is racing….the cars just look different.

KM: How do you respond to someone who says, not so much with the Picchio, but with the DP class as a whole, the cars are ugly and the greenhouse is designed too big and the cars are too slow.
AT: Well, you know, I understand and agree with comments that the greenhouse is bigger than other prototypes, but you see, the greenhouse was designed for safety….you can smash our car against the wall and the driver can walk out. Now we like to give some good racing for sure, but we have to think of the safety of the drivers…and different driver sizes…
Have you sat in the car yet?

KM: Not yet, plan to this afternoon….
AT: After you do, tell me what you think….

Later in the day I did sit in the car and could barely get in and out and got my leg stuck and fell out! Obviously there is a trick to getting in and out as obviously I violated every step along the way…and even without wearing a helmet, hit my head on the top roll bar…I have a bruise to prove it. I guess Price Cobb won’t be calling me for a fit test in the near future!

KM: A lot of discussion has been around the regulations for the DPs: if there was one regulation you would like to see looked at before 2004, what would that be?
AT: Nothing, I would leave the car just like it is, with maybe minor details…maybe a little more freedom with the aerodynamics, but no, generally the car is very well designed…

KM: How about more horsepower?
AT: That is another question that I see coming up frequently…..FIA in Europe is reducing the speed everywhere, few may realize that, so…now we have a car (cars) getting really fast, you can see that the GTs can barely keep up with the cars, it is getting so fast and so good, speed is not so important….why have 20 more MPH where a year from now or so, we will have to take it out because of FIA rules?

KM: So, If I was an interested buyer wanting to get into GARRA, why should I go spend money for a DP, when I can go our and purchase a GT car that is “almost” as competitive as the current class of DPs….in fact, considering a GT Porsche just won the only 24 hour race here in the States, I should look there…right? Sell me why I should buy a Picchio….
AT: OK, well…Porsche has been there for 20+ years, it does not need any more development and yes, while they did win Daytona, and they have an excellent team, excellent drivers, they had excellent driving, I am sorry to say, it was really because of luck…..The Daytona Prototypes were not ready to race there….we will see next year what is going to happen! You see already at Homestead, at Phoenix, and now here this week, the top four cars are Prototypes…..and they are running away.

KM: Speaking of Daytona, I went there for the first time this year and while I thoroughly enjoyed my time there, the number of DPs was disappointing. If you had a crystal ball and can give me a conservative prediction, how many DPs will I see there next year?
AT : Conservatively? If people finally jump in the series and orders come in and in time to get the car ready…I’d say……maybe…8 or 9. I would see around 15 in the middle of the season.

KM: OK, can’t forget to ask about Phoenix…..great start of race, great door to door racing….what was up with the flashlight?
AT: (Huge smile on face) Well, that was a pain for us….in the beginning, we took the lead and started to pull away….the problem was the first issue was a defective tire….we lost the lead, but came back and got the lead again…and we were all sure that was our race…The car was fast and reliable….The light went out because the bulb burnt out….Darren Law was trying all of the switches inside to get it back on…but the bulb burnt out, so we didn’t want to change it as we had already lost so much time…so the rules say you need a light…and if you read the rules, it doesn’t matter if you point it up to the sky, you need it in the front….

KM: Who came up with that idea?
AT: I don’t know as I was in the tower…not pits…but when I heard, I just said great (laughing) get the car out!

KM: Any concern with the drivers’ safety?
AT: No, the track is very well lit…no problems. The light is really for the car in front of you and maybe for officials…but no, no problem with Darren.

KM: Do you know why they both burned out? Nothing to do with electronics?
AT: We believe when the first bulb burned out, it shorted the other bulb.

KM: Two more questions, talk to me about your drivers….Darren Law and Andy Lally……..
AT: The BEST! Super! You can give any car to Andy he can drive it fast, and he can fly…Darren also…great driver…

KM: Why was Andy’s name not on the driver line up until yesterday?
AT: Phoenix?

KM: No here…
AT: Honestly, I do not know, that is up to Paul..it is his team, his car, I don’t put my nose in that….it is his decision.

KM: OK, last question, I was instructed by Malcolm to ask you about Picchio the bear…what is going on…does he have any brothers or sons that want to get in the car?
AT: No, definitely not. Picchio started out as a Porsche bear, in Canada, when I raced with Porsche, and I think he never really liked that, and of course with the accident in Virginia….we didn’t make it public, but he lost his head in the accident and we had a funeral and that was it for the bear!

KM: Well, keep your eye out for another type of animal near your car, as there are rumors around the track about an “Ohio State Buckeye”..
AT: OK, if he is fast…we will talk to him……….

With that, I shook Mr. Trentini’s hand and thanked him again for a wonderful history lesson and update of his efforts with Picchio. He truly is a humble, down to earth man, who has created a fan for the Picchio.

As a follow up to the interview, Armando stopped by my work area several times throughout the weekend just to talk and have a drink…..he then took my lap top and showed me his web site with pictures from his racing days and I found myself talking to him as if we had known each other for years….I may now have to take him up on his offer to visit him during GARRA’s race at VIR…..
Ken May

Link to Armando Trentini's website.

 

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