By Michelle Hambly-Grobler
Photos by Bernina Gran Turismo & Michelle Hambly-Grobler
"Where do you go to my lovely, when you’re alone in your bed?", Peter Sarstedt‘s epic song is looping through my head as I drive down into the fabled beauty of Saint Moritz in Switzerland.
The air is crisp and the sun is glinting on the snow on the Alpine peaks surrounding the town. As an ambassador for the BGT (Bernina Gran Turismo) 2019 I reach my destination on an impossibly perfect autumn day. The start of 3 epic and unforgettable days is about to commence.
Audi Sport Quattro - perfect for this weather.
First on the agenda, however, is a quick lunch stop at the Alpine Hotel Lej Da Staz, overlooking a lake and then a refresh before the welcome cocktail party. Then follows a big moment... an introduction to "my" magnificent Jaguar XK 120 in the grounds of the Hotel Kempinski and meeting Kurt.A Engelhorn, my host, and the Spiritus Rector of the Bernina Gran Turismo. What a way to seal my first day in St. Moritz!
Our magnificent lodgings for the weekend is a fabled 14th century farmhouse which has been converted into a lodge with 10 rooms and the most impressive breakfast room which is candle lit and so cosy and welcoming you don’t ever want to leave.
A copper bath and wood burning stove in the bathroom accompanied by the tinkling of the Swiss cow bells outside the window seemed almost surreal, it was so perfect.
True Heidi Country
Friday morning arrived bright and sunny and warm and the scruteneering, technical and administrative checks were conducted in front of the Hotel Kempinski - among the fine metal on display was the Ferrari Breadvan, 2 Porsche ST’s, an array of 911s and 356s. It was a display of vehicles that left me breathless with excitement.
Iconic vehicles such as the Audi Quattro, a Mini, and the Austro-Daimler which won the first Bernina Hillclimb in 1929 we’re on display for all to marvel at.
Hans Stuck and the legendary Austro-Daimler.
Soon the best part of the BGT was to be revealed - its people. The drivers and owners (or custodians) of these epic examples of automotive history are by far the friendliest, engaging and "abundant" people. The sheer knowledge, love and enthusiasm displayed by each and all is a testament to how cars unite and create a platform for expressing passion and sheer joy.
The transfer to the Ospizio Bernina (Bernina Pass) starting place commenced at around 2 o'clock and the classic steeds were garaged and put to bed for the big day to follow. A huge parking facility housed the majority of the cars and here the support staff and mechanics were doing their last checks and tuning for the Hillclimb.
Not something you see every day - Ferrari "Breadvan" leads the convoy.
"My" beautiful Moss Green Jaguar was in the hands of the the highly-skilled team of Cameron Engineering Motorsport Ltd. Little did I realise just how incredible Ewan and his team really were until Saturday afternoon, but more on that later!
The drive over the pass to La Rösa and my first downward journey on Friday’s practice session yielded both spectacular views and a magical drive. Upon arrival, we lined up one behind the other in numerical order. The Bernina Gran Turismo attracted 74 entrants this year.
Gian-Pietro Rosetti and his 1954 Maserati A6GCS Fantuzzi.
I received entry number 20 and therefore I could sit quietly, once in position, and peruse one after the other of truly awesome automotive art pieces drive past to take up their slots in the running order we had been allocated.
As the only female entrant I must admit to feeling both nervous and truly privileged to be among such a select bunch of true petrol heads.
On my first run I spoke my way all the way up the mountain. Shifting from first to second with a Mosh gearbox which has no synchromesh in first was tricky and it meant coming to a dead stop to go from neutral to first. Stationary means stationary!
Spectacular cars + spectacular roads!
I took the Bernina in second gear and made my way up the pass. The scenery was magnificent, but I could only steal quick glances as we were on a practice run. The drop-off on the sides is quite spectacular, so one has to truly focus to stay on the black stuff.
Being able to use both lanes made for great "apex hunting" and the Jaguar XK 120 is a powerful beast, with the brakes feeling sharp. On my first run I had my brain in "computer mode" - saving markers, barriers, marshals, fire stations, photographers, cones and 2 chicanes approaching the hairpin for future recall.
Seeing iconic cars such as the Lancia Stratos make the Bernina Gran Turismo a petrolhead's fantasy.
Cresting the top of Ospizio Bernina was a dream which started 3 years ago and it was so rewarding to reverse and park next to the Austro-Daimler of “Strietzel Stuck” and be greeted with a smile and a "well done - you made it!"
The day evaporated quickly and a stunning supper and welcome by Kurt Engelhorn at the Ley de Staz completed a picture-perfect day. The opportunity to meet fellow participants and brand ambassadors like Carl Magnussen sealed my belief in the culture of petrolheads worldwide.
Bugatti Type 35C on a mission.
On Saturday the completion runs were not without drama - I encountered a clutch problem whilst edging towards the start line on the second run and so I tackled it in second after a push from the folks at Cameron Racing. My heartfelt thanks to Ewan and his team of magicians for sorting out the clutch after the run.
Our gala dinner at La Rösa bore testament to Swiss hospitality and culinary expertise much to my food-loving, epicurean husband’s delight. The camaraderie, relaxed atmosphere and ease of interaction meant I felt I had made the most amazing friends from all over the globe.
Beautiful cats lined up.
Sunday dawned wet and exceptionally cold and visibility was so compromised by fog we were given a sighting lap and one competition run only.
A number of entrants elected not to race but as most of you know, nothing would deter me, and I received last-minute pointers from Hans, Fritz, Kurt and Claus before proceeding to the starting line.
Lining up at the start at La Rösa I could not see further than 3 meters ahead and for a split second I found myself seriously anxious, but thankfully that passed quickly.
Gian-Pietro Rosetti and his 1954 Maserati A6GCS Fantuzzi.
I edged nervously to the start, the flag dropped and I was on my way - me talking to my steed and concentrating hard on feeling the power and traction. I completed my run to doffing of hats by the marshals and relieved congratulations by friends and fellow drivers, making me feel like this was Bernina in all her glory. What an epic experience!
The race was stopped due to poor visibility after my ascent and it was decided to wait for a clearer passage before others could follow.
Finishing touches for Michelle's steed for the Bernina.
Racing resumed after 2 hours and all the participants arrived safely at Ospizio.
A prize-giving in a village square in blazing sunshine and filled Prosecco glasses ended a memorable day.
My results in the regularity garnered me a trophy which now takes pride of place in my loft in Cape Town. As an ambassador I can only attest for the sheer brilliance of the organisation and quality of all participants.
Bernina Gran Turismo 2020 - PorschegirlCT is ready!
Find out more about the Bernina Gran Turismo here.