Italian Motorsport’s Pioneers: Michela Cerruti

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. Michela Cerruti.

Let’s start with a suggestion: what is your first memory of a racing car? How did you feel driving it?

It was 2008 and Romeo Ferraris was ready to go back to racing. That day we were on track, and I sat behind the wheel of my first racing car, a Renault Clio that had raced in that year’s monobrand championship.

It is worth saying that it all started with a driving course I had done with Mario Ferraris, who then thought it was worthwhile for me to race, and it all started like this. Apart from that course, I had no technical background or previous experience, so I trusted my instinct; subsequently we have more and more improved my skills and I got to grow a lot from this point of view.

If I had to mention one thing that struck me more than others, I would say the noise. The road car is completely different, everything seems muffled. Instead, on top of a racing car you are alone with the engine, with no controls nor soundproofing, and nothing else you are normally used to. Long story short, there is nothing but a lot of fun.

What does motorsport represent for you today?

For me today it is a huge part of my life, after having been the only one for many years, with 90% of my time spent around between races, even in different championships, and the remaining 10% dedicated to the little private life I had left. Now things have changed, also because I moved a little further out of the car, dedicating myself to managerial, logistical and organizational aspects. This percentage has been further reduced since 2019 with the arrival of my baby, but it remains and will always remain my favorite part of the job, because of the passion that binds me to it.

Sometimes I’d really like 36 hours’ days, but it is not possible, so I learnt to select my activities, giving a priority to each of them, from my son to the job with Romeo Ferraris and Sky for Formula One and Formula E, to name just few.

You have an unbelievable palmares, which counts participations and victories in different championships, from the beginnings in the Italian Tourism Endurance Championship (CITE) to the Auto GP Championship, passing through the Italian Gran Turismo Championship and the Blancpain Endurance Series. Which category and which car did you feel yours the most?

I have no doubts about this: BMW Z4 GT3. I loved it from many points of view: it was a car that suited my characteristics as a driver, and with it I raced many different races and championships to which I am very fond: the 24 Hours of Spa, the 24 Hours of the Nordschleife, the Italian GT and the Blancpain World Series among the most important.

I have always been a big fan of endurance races and of the 24 Hours. There is a whole preparation behind to try to get to the race weekend in the best way possible, between targeted trainings – both physically and mentally – simulator sessions and the run-up to get the right rest, that actually never comes because between rehearsals and journalistic commitments, a very few time is left! But all this is then rewarded by the enormous satisfaction you feel when you finish it, which I assure is really exciting.

You recently drove the Giulia ETCR, after following the start of the project and the subsequent development of this prototype. What sensations did it give you?

The first thing that strikes you about an electric car is the absence of sound, which is an element that surrounds you and that gives you a lot of guidance in terms of driving. It must be said that I had already unmarked this element with the very first generation of Formula E, when I was personally involved on track. On the other hand, I have to say that I had to get used to the absence of the gearbox, because it is such a deep-rooted automatism that it’s something very difficult not do deal with.

Beyond that, driving the Giulia ETCR was really cool! Firstly, it’s an incredibly fast car, with a searing acceleration that doesn’t make it feel heavy (as it actually is) thanks to its very low center of gravity and an extremely precise front end. On the other hand, braking is a critical phase of the lap due to the weight of the car which in this phase, unlike what I just said, is really evident. Overall, the more you drive it, the most you’d like to drive it.

As for the electrification of racing cars, you have already had experience in Formula E in 2014. What do you think of this attention to zero emissions, which Motorsport is increasingly demonstrating, and which now translates into ETCR, the first electric championship for touring cars?

The future is going, at least partially, in the direction of electrification and environmental sustainability, so I think it is a normal and right trend to follow and develop also in motorsport. Certainly, it is a new technology, which when applied to the racing world experiences a great power boost; the downside is a still very massive development to be done concerning the sustainability of the event as a whole and the weight reduction management. It must be said that Formula E has made great progresses from this point of view, but it is mainly due to the fact that it is now a proven championship; the Pure ETCR aims to follow this same path, but we are only at the first edition, so we will see in the future what developments will be implemented.

We were talking earlier about the Giulia ETCR project, for which Bercella designed and built the bodywork and the innovative battery pack frame, which distinguishes your car from its competitors. How did the first meeting between Romeo Ferraris and Bercella happen? How did you understand that we were the right partner for such an innovative project?

Our history with Bercella began 10 years ago with the Superstars Series and since then we have always had great pleasure in continuing this collaboration, first of all for a matter of product, materials and output quality. This point above all was fundamental in the Giulia ETCR project because the competition is represented by large car manufacturers and we, despite the inferiority of funds and personnel, wanted to design and create a product that was up to our competitors, being efficient and competitive at the highest level, and thanks to Bercella we successfully achieved this goal.

Moreover, in the world of Motorsport it is difficult to find truly reliable realities for quality and timing, for example, and for Romeo Ferraris it was really imperative to be able to count on these characteristics in our suppliers. A partner like Bercella is perfect from this point of view, and in fact it has proved to be really reliable for the correctness of the components supplied, allowing us not to “waste” precious time in critical phases, such as now at the beginning of the championship, and last year for the presentation of the car. Last but not least, an Italian partner is always an added value to any type of project, so we strongly wanted Bercella also for this reason.

This is, among other things, one of those projects that started just before the 2020 lockdown, obviously suffering all the inconveniences. What was the key to still being able to put the car on track within the set times?

Covid certainly had a huge impact on the timing of the project because at the beginning everything was really at a standstill all over the world and inevitably this also had an impact on the championship as well as on the manufacturers. In fact, 2020 was set to be the “year zero” of the Pure ETCR, with several promotional events worldwide, which served to raise awareness of this new niche in Motorsport, but which obviously did not happen.

In general, this project took a lot of adaptability, for all parties involved. But the results see us ready for the challenge at the dawn of the championship.

One of the hot topics of the racing world is the continuous search for performance, lightening the cars without penalizing safety. It is undeniable that carbon fiber is the most suitable element to achieve this result. How are you working on this with Bercella? Is there a weight reduction strategy going on in some areas of the car?

Carbon Fiber is certainly one of the key elements of the entire Giulia ETCR project. Without the malleability and structural properties of this material, many things would not have been possible. This is even more so, given that the prototypes are really heavy (we are talking about 1.800 kg) and the weight management becomes even more crucial in the pursuit of performance.

But in the end, we are also at target with the weight, and carbon was certainly the winning weapon to achieve this goal, especially since all the cars start from the same starting point concerning the power of the batteries, so it will be very interesting to understand how thin the line between a good performance and a winning one is.

Concluding, let’s look at the future: what are the challenges that await us, both as companies and as manufacturers, in the coming years?

Now it is imperative for us to focus on the present because we are facing a whole new thing, with respect to which, however, we are confident that we can also have very positive repercussions in the future, first of all with customer racing. At the moment we are concentrated on the first race and on the championship, but with good results and with excellent suppliers like Bercella, we really hope to be able to think of a long-term project.