The Awakening of the Alps – Bernina Gran Turismo

Six o’clock in the morning at 2,300 metres in the middle of the Swiss Alps, surrounded by 80 historic racing cars – welcome to the Bernina Gran Turismo.

It is below zero degrees on this Saturday morning when we leave the Ospizio Bernina. A few stars still twinkle in the sky and absolute silence surrounds us. The mountains around us seem magical and somehow threatening. But only a short time later, threatening turns into breathtaking when the first engines start in the hall, warm them up and the unfiltered sound of an old Formula 1 car wakes up not only the Alps but also us for good.

As the race cars gradually roll out of the garage, the orange mountain peaks glowing in the morning sun in the background, the familiar smell of petrol and oil immediately hits our nostrils – the bone-chilling cold suddenly faded out. While we stroll past the top-class cars – we are not sure if this is not just a dream – the teams are still checking their cars, measuring the air pressure, adjusting the fine details and mentally preparing for the 5.7 kilometre long track. A short driver briefing, and even before the sun fully appears over the mountains, the motivated drivers start in a convoy to the starting point. Even on the way down a few hundred metres to “La Rösa”, you can guess what fireworks of driving dynamics and deafening noise will be set off here over the next few hours.

Thin air.

Before everyone makes their way to the start and lines up, it is already time for the qualifying heats. Just a moment of silence, and the whole mountain resounds with the unmistakable sound of an old formula racing car, open intake, no muffler, just pure. The echo makes the sound reverberate from the starting point all the way up to us at the finish bend. The driver throws the car into the bend with all his might and charges through it, making you wonder if the mountains aren’t about to collapse. Rarities such as the “Blitzenbenz”, or Bugatti Type35 followed by Porsche 550 Spyder and Lancia Stratos, but the drivers give themselves nothing, taking every centimetre of the pass peppered with hairpins and hairpin bends, even in the training run.

The high altitude air is not only an additional strain for the riders, but also some carburettor engines sometimes stop for short moments – shoot out – but still no reason for the riders to pedal slowly.

The mixture of cars and their ambitious drivers, coupled with the backdrop of the Swiss Alps, makes us lose all touch with reality. When do you see an original 911 RSR from 1974, which incidentally set the fastest time, racing up a mountain pass?

The variation ranges from muscle cars and hotrods to classic sports cars like the 911 ST and Alfa Romeos to modern-day hypercars like the Bugatti Divo. The mix of sound experiences is simply perfect, turbo chattering five cylinders, screeching V6 naturally aspirated, V8 bubbling,… the mix leaves nothing to be desired.

No holding back.

And regardless of the make and especially the value – they drive as fast as they can, no holding back. Some of them even exceed the liability limit, but apart from one incident, which fortunately remains a fender bender, the race proceeds without incident.

The spirit of historic motorsport – it is lived here, by the drivers, the marshals and also the fans spread out along the track at over 2,000 metres. 

The Bernina Gran Turismo, a unique event – and we’ll be back!

Fotos & Text: Andreas Griesbeck –