Italian Motorsport’s Old Glories : Franco Bercella

Very few things are like the bond between the Emilians and the passion for engines, whether they are cars or motorbikes. And there are few places for motor lovers like Varano de’ Melegari, 30km south-west of Parma, where at any time of the day you can hear the sound of engines being pulled to their limits in the Riccardo Paletti circuit.

And it is precisely this passion that led to the birth of our company, here in Varano, 25 years ago.

Our feature dedicated to the (Old) Glories of Motorsport begins with Franco Bercella, founder and President of the company. In these pages we will see a succession of characters from the Motor Valley and beyond, who in one way or another have made their passion a life vocation to export Made in Italy worldwide, innovating and creating excellences.

What does Motorsport mean to you?

Motorsport represents the essence of everything that made me grow and made me the person I am today. It is a lifestyle, a passion rooted in me that began thanks to my dad when I was still a child. Growing up I had the opportunity to make my first experiences in the field thanks to the school and to the visits to local companies. After that, I took the first steps “playing” with the Composites and then thanks to the proximity to Dallara I have been among the first ones to see the evolution of the Carbon Fiber but above all to understand its potential, proposing myself as a constructor of components in Composite Materials.

What is the first thing you recall about racing cars?

As I mentioned earlier, I owe my passion to my dad who took me with him to see the car and motorcycle races here at the Varano circuit when I was five or six years old. However, I have a very specific memory related to Motorsport, and it is called VDM. Both then and now, often happened to pass by the racetrack and see the most diverse sports cars; on one of those days, in the early seventies, I saw the VDM, a prototype designed by Dallara.

Looking at it, it is evident that it was an extremely innovative car for the time. The most eye-catching feature is the presence of three seats in total, both for reasons of balance and for greater ease of frame construction. You can imagine why I was so impressed as a child…

What is the first car you have manufactured something for? What was the component?

In 1995 we manufactured the carbon fiber noses and the composites and kevlar chassis bulkheads for Dallara’s Formula 3 single-seaters.

Can you tell us about your experience with the evolution of Composites in the Motorsport industry?

Excluding the 1980s’ Formula One, the history of Composite Materials in Italian Motorport is closely linked to Dallara, which was one of the first companies to build carbon fiber frames for the racing sector. Luckily for me, living nearby, I had several friends and acquaintances who worked there, and therefore I had the opportunity to understand in advance the potential of those very rigid and light black materials that today, unlike then, we know so well.

What does the Motor Valley represents for a Company that is so rooted in its territory?

Our Motor Valley is teeming with passion, values and myths. The myth of speed and technology, the myth of so many drivers who have been here and fell in love with this place, because this is the effect it has.

At the same time, however, we feel the duty to represent this pride at its best by doing things that others don’t. Those who live here perceive this motion that challenges us to represent the territory in a certain way. And challenges must be won.

Moreover, as a company we have a strong responsibility towards our territory and it is our duty to do our best to ensure that what makes us great can continue to exist. Nobody knows what gave birth to so many Italian motoring excellences, all together in the Motor Valley, but what we are called to do is summarized in what I said above: continuous improvement both for us and for the reality that we are lucky enough to live in.

You have certainly been a Composites pioneer. How would you describe that part of your life and career?

It was a great challenge and a reason for continuous growth. In life you also have to be in the right place at the right time and having the opportunity to “exploit” the acquaintances I mentioned earlier, allowed me to understand composites while specializing in their processing ahead of times.

Not long ago, we published our first Formula One storytelling about the Carbon Fiber revolution that took place with the 1981 McLaren MP4/1. What do you think about nowadays’ F1? According to you, what will be its future developments?

In 1981 the use of carbon fiber was markedly pioneering while now it is an ordinary story! Composites have drastically improved the performances of the cars and the evolution of the production processes and technologies made the revolution possible. Now, automation allow companies, and even ours, to cope with the increase of the demand, both in terms of volumes and product quality.

How will Motorsport’s future be in your opinion?

We just spoke about 1981 and since that moment exactly forty years have passed. There is certainly still room for improvement, more or less wide depending on the developments that will come, but it is equally certain that the greatest steps forward have been made and will continue to be made in the safety area. Just think of some accidents in recent years, from that of Kubica in 2007 to the most recent one of Sophia Flörsch in the F3 race in Macau in 2018.

These accidents are impressive to see, the cars very often come out semi-destroyed, but this is where the most important innovation lies. In fact, from the 1980s to today, studies and subsequent developments have focused on energy dissipation, and that is why seeing some components disintegrate is a good sign, because they were designed for that. The watchword today is to design single-seaters in such a way to dissipate as much energy as possible, which in this way is transferred to the car and not to the driver.

It is also interesting to mention the contamination that exists with other sectors, for example the military one. I am referring specifically to the Kevlar or zylon ballistic protections that cover the frame, protecting the driver from perpendicular impacts, the most dangerous ones.

In conclusion, I refer to what I said a little while ago, because only continuous and constant innovation can lead to ever better and even unexpected results!