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APRIL 24, 1995

What you may not know about Imola

The Autodromo Enzo & Dino Ferrari at Imola, 20 miles to the south-east of Bologna, Italy, is the home of the San Marino Grand prix, even though San Marino - an independent republic which comprises of 23 square miles of land and is completely surrounded by Italy - is nearly 50 miles away.

The race is so named in order for Italy to host two World Championship Grands Prix every year. Imola was the idea of four motorcycle enthusiasts in the late 1940s. One of them was a surveyor with the Imola works department, and the town paid for the construction of the track, on the principle that it would be used for testing by the local car and motorcycle manufacturers such as Ferrari, Maserati, Osca and Stanguellini. The track was opened in April, 1952, but, apart from a few motorcycle races and an annual sportscar meeting in the mid-1950s - known as the Shell GP of Imola - which featured local heroes such as Luigi Maglioli, Cesare Perdisa and Eugenio Castellotti, it remained a backwater.

In April, 1963, a few F1 teams visited Imola for a non-championship race called the Shell Gold Cup. Jim Clark came with his Lotus-Climax 25 and qualified 2.5secs faster than his team mate Trevor Taylor. The field included such famous names as Jo Bonnier in a Walker Cooper-Climax, Jo Siffert in a Scuderia Filipinetti Lotus-BRM 24, and Lorenzo Bandini in a Cooper-Maserati, but Clark led flag to flag.

Thereafter Imola sank back into obscurity until the summer of 1968 when an intelligent local came up with the idea of naming the track after Enzo Ferrari's son Dino, who had died of leukemia in 1956. That decision guaranteed patronage for Imola from the Old Man of Maranello, and within a couple of years international races began to arrive. Clay Regazzoni won an F2 race there in 1970 and John Surtees did likewise in 1972. Two years later international sportscar racing returned for a race which was won by the Matra of Gerard Larrousse/Henri Pescarolo. During this period the track was largely rebuilt and a vast three-story race control building was constructed.

In the autumn of 1979, F1 returned for the Dino Ferrari Grand Prix, a non-championship event which was won by Niki Lauda in his Brabham. A year later Imola hosted the Italian GP, which was won by Nelson Piquet in a Brabham. Few will forget Gilles Villeneuve's enormous accident that year in the kink before Tosa corner. It was so dramatic in fact that the corner was later named after Villeneuve. In 1980, Imola hosted the first San Marino GP and has been in the World Championship ever since. In 1982, there was a memorable fight between the Ferraris of Didier Pironi and Gilles Villeneuve after the British F1 teams boycotted the event. After the race, Villeneuve swore never to speak to his team mate again, nor did he for he died a fortnight later in practice for the Belgian GP at Zolder. A year later Gilles's friend, Patrick Tambay, took Ferrari No 27 to a symbolic and emotional victory.

In 1985, Elio de Angelis was awarded his second and last Grand Prix victory at Imola after Alain Prost's winning McLaren was disqualified for being underweight.

With F1 cars of the 1980s, the track had little run-off area and there were some enormous accidents: Nelson Piquet was lucky to emerge unhurt when a tire blew at high speed as he went through Tamburello in 1987; Gerhard Berger was saved from the flames of his wrecked Ferrari at Tamburello in 1989 by vigilant marshals; but Imola's good fortune came to an end in 1994, when Villeneuve Corner claimed the life of Roland Ratzenberger during Saturday qualifying, and Ayrton Senna was killed at Tamburello on the Sunday.

In the last 12 months the track has been completely rebuilt as a result of those accidents.