Autodelta transmission and differential design operations
...he was not yet 17 when he joined the Alfa Romeo racing department in Settimo Milanese and never left...
Entering as a simple junior technician and... after a 33 year period retired as the engineer in charge of the transmission and differential design operations department ...Giovanni "Gianni" Arosio joined Autodelta in 1967 and retired there in 2000, became an intregal part of the many Autodelta successes in GTAm, GTAJ and T-33 series of cars during the 'Autodelta Golden Years'. He had seen it all from the inside... hundreds of races, many trips, all of the various drivers, designers and millions of individual memories and stories of those who lived and contributed to making an important part of the history of motorsport.
Mr. Arosio recalls...
“I joined Autodelta for a three-day job trial in July 1967. I was only 16 years old and after a few days I turned seventeen...the minimum to be hired and from that moment I started my career with the racing team which ended on November 1st 2000.
Autodelta was preparing the GTA at that time. There were cars in every corner of the workshop, arms were needed to work and deliver the cars to customers. My memory of the first day at Autodelta is indelible: I opened the door of the racing department, in the middle there was the 33 Stradale with Franco Scaglione checking the measurements of the bodywork!
The car was beautiful and I immediately knew I was in a special place.
I’ve had great luck in life… I did the job I always dreamed of doing and in this job I touched progress in the automotive and mechanical fields with my hands.
Working in an official, serious team allowed me to professionally deal with many innovations.
From the 1960s to the end of the second millennium, progress had made great strides… from drum brakes, to discs, to anti-lock systems; from naturally aspirated engines to turbos. The ignition system design had passed from the distributor to the electronic ones, to double ignition evolving into systems integrated with the power supply that has passed from the carburetors to the various injection systems.
The transmissions have gone from H-gearboxes to sequential ones and currently electro-actuated, with all-wheel drive systems ”.
The racing mechanic must have special skills.
“The racing mechanic is a particular person: he has a bug in his brain, which always pushes you to sacrifice your life, your family, your friendships just to be there, on the track.
When I was 17 my friends went to the cinema, to the dance hall, but I was in the workshop or on the track with wrenches in hand just to get the car going fast, to make a driver win. I did the first race three months after hiring in with Autodelta, the last in 1996 as an Alfa officer, then I continued helping preparer and driver friends and still today I teach young people in a professional school who want to enter the world of technology competition.
That bug always gnaws at you inside, even when you come back from a hard and crooked trip, after a few days you can't wait to be there again, on the track, for a new adventure, where things, methods and working times seem absolutely crazy normal. Where adrenaline, a sense of duty and the spirit of competition make you overcome tiredness, cold, heat, hunger, sleep.
There are not many skills that make the difference with a normal production car mechanic, but some are fundamental.
Apart from the spirit of sacrifice and the desire to work, he must have an enormous speed of intervention and the ability to focus, analyze and resolve the problem according to the intervention time available. To do this, he must know by heart the operations he must carry out and know perfectly the car and the part on which he has to work. When you have very few moments to intervene and solve the problem you must be able to have an absolute immediate concentration, no doubts and no uncertainty.
Intervening, when you have a few minutes at the end of a qualifying session during a pit stop or the other parts of a rally…does not grant any excuse, either you know how to do it or you are not up to your task. All this translates into great professionalism and constant training on the work to be done.
I've always told my colleagues and the young people I teach: mechanics is a science, it's serious stuff, it's not the mechanic's wife!”.
A long career with the racing team of Settimo Milanese.
“When I arrived in Autodelta it was the period of the GTA, in the various versions of 1.6 liters, GTA Junior, and GTAm. Then came the prototypes with the 33/3 in various versions, from the 2-liter up to the supercharged version.
There was the Rally events with the Alfetta GTV, in the middle the Alfasud with its trophy, finally the F1… first as an engine supplier to Brabham, then with the cars desired by Chiti, both aspirated and turbo, single-seaters with the ground effect where aerodynamics were essential.
There was the adventure with F. Indy, finally the various tourism and super-tourism championships, ending with the winning adventure of the DTM of the 90s. The advantage of being in Autodelta / Alfa Corse was to build the racing cars, then to create the car directly, then later to manage it on the track.
In Autodelta everything was done… especially in the period of the 33/3 prototype… from the construction of the chassis, to the engine and all the mechanics, as well as the fiber bodywork. At Autodelta we were in the ‘university of mechanics’, but we didn't know it. We realized it later, when we collaborated with other teams, with other realities than ours… we were at the forefront.
Since 1971 I have worked in the transmission department, Ing. Chiti and I gradually became the manager of the entire department, including the suspensions and brakes of Alfa Corse. Over the years I have managed several cars on the track as a car engineer. The latest experiences were with Tamara Vidali in super-touring and in 1995 I was responsible for Michele Alboreto's car in the DTM. During that period I did an infinite amount of races, from the track to rallies, endurance races and even an off-shore European with “Tibidabo”, Pesenti drivers, father and son, who mounted two engines from the Montreal. When I had time, I also followed my friends in their private races, like Peo Consonni or Giorgio Francia."
Ing. Carlo Chiti was a great character, a great engineer, designer, creator, but obviously he had his flaws.
Sometimes he surrounded himself with people who were not up to the task, especially in the sports and commercial fields. Ing. Chiti was apparently gruff, always shouting with everyone…but he was a very good man, very human for those who knew him well, behind the scenes, in his everyday work. He trusted me, it was a great virtue for those who worked in Autodelta, and I had full confidence in him, we respected each other a lot.
He did not have a simple character, but from the human point of view he went out of his way for his men. He was a real leader. He had a hundred ideas in a minute. He always needed to have technicians by his side who could interpret his intuitions and make them feasible. He had to be caged, he needed a shoulder that had the practical sense of the work and made that constant volcano of ideas that he gave birth to viable.
When there was a problem, he came directly to the workshop to discuss with the workers to understand how to solve them directly, often skipping hierarchies. Despite his gruff approach, he always kindly asked you for work, he never forced it on you and when he saw the resolution of a problem done by a worker he recognized the merit.
Sometimes Chiti gave too much importance to the various tips that came from Maranello, taking them all for granted. During the Formula One period, someone said that in Ferrari they wanted to fix the flywheel with an elastic joint and Chiti immediately wanted to make the change, with the result that we lost three Grands Prix due to the rubber joint that could not withstand the stresses in the race. Chiti had made up his mind to fix the flywheel to the crankshaft with an elastic rubber joint to absorb vibrations, have two fewer main bearings to have less friction and gain five horsepower. An idea that could not work and so, when prompted in the race, the joint yielded with the appropriate consequences.
Chiti was fired at the end of 1982, the Alfa management had never really liked the choice to enter Formula One, the results did not come and they asked for Chiti's head. It should also be noted that the top management of IRI were concluding the agreement for the sale to Fiat and in Turin they did not like to have Alfa in competition with Ferrari. Chiti's torpedoing must be seen in this general context, like that of Ducarouge who had designed the machine."
When Ducarouge arrived, Alfa in F1 made a qualitative leap.
“Gerard Ducarouge was a great designer, a great technician. He designed the carbon frame, the first in Autodelta, it was very beautiful and valid, it had absolute stiffness values, one of the best in all of F1.
Ducarouge was not a centralizer, he arrived in the morning, went through all the departments, from the frame builders to the gearbox to the engineers, personally verifying the work done and continuously discussing all the problems encountered with the department heads and with the workers who had carried out the work.
As a person he was very polite and respectful of work. He came from Ligier and with his arrival Alfa made a real leap in technical quality. He was of aeronautical extraction, like Chiti, he was a great expert in aerodynamics and the technology of air flows. He arrived at Alfa in the middle of the 1981 season, before the race in Zandwort. He immediately changed the rear suspension of the car. Those assemblies had been made from titanium and were installed on both cars due to the heavy stresses suffered at the Tarzan corner. At Monza with the modified car we were third overall… then…. the connection on the gear lever broke, a truly inexplicable break, never happened before.
At Alfa we did not yet have the technology of the skirts, Ducarouge brought his experience and above all the friction material to the ground. The side skirts were the fundamental element of the wing cars, the sealing on the ground was very important, ours deteriorated immediately and could no longer flow with the related consequences.
Ducarouge brought the ceramic material of the skate and the technology to make the flaps slide well.
The internal fluid dynamics also improved, simplifying and cleaning the bellies. The car immediately improved performance. Before his care, the car needed a lot of downforce to stay on the road, the ailerons were always heavily loaded to unload all the power to the ground with the consequence of developing lesser top speeds. After his treatment, the ground effect was finally exploited, we traveled with unloaded wings, significantly increasing top speeds and improving lap times. "
Important figures were the test drivers.
"Teodoro Zeccoli was the main test driver, he was the first. When I arrived in the second half of the 60’s he was nearing the end of his career.
Then he had a big accident on the Balocco track with the 33 prototype, he ran out of brakes and went off the track to over 200 per hour with various rollovers…hitting an earthen wall.
Among the test drivers I collaborated a lot with was Carlo Facetti and Giorgio Francia. Both great drivers.
Facetti was cruder than Francia, but both were children of the technology of their time. Facetti, when he arrived at Alfa, was getting older. He had raced a lot and with different cars. He had a great sensitivity, a great sense of mechanics and problem analysis, essential elements for a test driver. You don't need to be a very fast driver, someone from pole position to be a test driver, but you need great experience and analytical skills.
Francia came to Alfa as a young man, his experience was formed with more modern cars and more sophisticated technology, he has always been a fine test driver, even to the smallest details. Two great professionals, both Facetti and Francia…it was great honor to work for both. Francia has tested an infinite variety of cars, from touring to prototypes to F1, also passing through F. Indy.
We have been friends with Francia since 1975, I also managed him on the track in 1992 with the GTA, Giorgio was always “respectful of mechanics”.
When in an endurance race, he always turned the car over to the other driver in great condition. The car was never over used, the brakes, all the mechanics, the tires, were never worn, and yet he always went fast".
In Alfa, many drivers have passed in 30 years, from GTA to Formula One.
“Ignazio Giunti was the fastest driver with the 1.6 liter GTA, Gianluigi Picchi was the man to beat with the 1300 cc GTA Junior, Toine Hezemans was the top driver with the 2 liter GTAm.
Ignazio Giunti, in a race at the Nurburgring gave all his teammates 10 seconds per lap.
Another driver on the team complained to Chiti, that, in his opinion… the Roman had a much more powerful engine to go that fast. We swapped the cars in the night, changing doors with numbers and plates with chassis numbers. When he found out, Giunti laughed and the next day, in the race, he gave 11 seconds per lap to all the others with the former car of his teammate who had complained.
The Roman was a gentleman, son of the Roman bourgeoisie, but always jovial and playful in hand with all of us mechanics.
Jochen Rindt had been hired by Alfa in the early years of the GTA. I hadn't made it to the racing team yet, but there are many anecdotes from those years, and one in particular about the Austrian at Sebring.
The GTA already had disc brakes but the calipers were small and the pads, also small, could not last throughout the race. Rindt, in the last laps, found himself completely without pads, made a quick calculation that a stop to replace them would have canceled all the advantage he had accumulated, then he made the last laps of the race using the engine brake while climbing and leaning on the opponent's ass to decrease speed and be able to enter corners.
At the end of the race they checked the brakes, he had also worn out the support iron, he practically braked only with the hydraulic pistons directly on the disc. "
Many drivers have raced over the prototype years.
"With the prototypes of the 33 series, in my opinion the best driver I ever saw with the Alfa was Rolf Stommelen… fast, precise, perhaps not the fastest on the flying lap, but certainly overall the most effective in the race. He had an unspectacular driving style, but was fast, constant and always respectful of mechanics… an indispensable gift in the endurance races of those years… plus he was a true gentleman as a man.
He was never wrong and always found himself in front, while apparently faster drivers were much less consistent and less efficient over the course of the race.
The various other drivers such as Pescarolo, Ickx, Laffitte, Peterson, Bell, Elford were all professionals hired for a period of time… or arrived only for single race.. got out of the cockpit and immediately went off to run elsewhere. Fast drivers anyway, but who had little connection with us mechanics. They were part of a group of professionals who were able to go fast by whatever means they had in hand, knowing how to make the most of their possibilities. "
The Formula One adventure saw Giacomelli, Andretti and De Cesaris, as well as Depailler.
"During the Formula One era, I assisted the various drivers such as Andretti, Giacomelli and De Cesaris.
Mario Andretti was a very good person, but when he arrived in Alfa he was now in the downward phase, Bruno Giacomelli was faster than he had been. Even if the strongest driver was De Cesaris. Andrea went like a missile, always on the limit, but always unlucky, he also understood mechanics, he didn't just go fast, as he seemed without knowledge. Even as a person he was a very good person, playful, always available with us mechanics, he reminded me a lot of Ignazio Giunti. I didn't know Depailler very much, he too was a great funny guy. "
Finally, the years with covered cars.
"The strongest with the Touring cars was Nicola Larini who joined Alfa in 1987 and was an official driver until 1996.
He was certainly number one in that category…, the man to beat.
Sandro Nannini was also strong, but he had problems in his hand and in any case Nicola was unbeatable.
I also managed Michele Alboreto with the GTA in the DTM. From the point of view of the results it was not a great experience. Michele had just returned from 20 years of Formula racing and was still driving a single-seater. He could not understand the driving of that car, he could not make it flow as one should do with a touring car. As a man, on the other hand, I have great memories of him, a true gentleman. I still jealously keep his helmet that he gave me with a special dedication and a model of that limited edition car he had built on purpose. I also worked as Tamara Vidali's car engineer, she was also strong, especially in the winding circuits. "
One of the plays was that of Depailler in Hockenheim.
"A lot has been said about the Patrick Depailler’s accident, with various hypotheses, the true cause of the accident could be found in the side skirts of that car. That year we still did not have the technology for the sealing of the skirts that wore out and deformed quickly, with the result being malfunctioning air direction and downward flow.
During those tests, probably due to a curb, a raised miniskirt remained, completely losing downforce in the corners. He entered the Ostkurve at around 270 km / h, as if everything were working properly. He lacked aerodynamics and flew out. The following year, even after that accident, Ducarouge arrived with ground effect technology and the car suddenly made the leap in quality. The French technician worked mainly on internal fluids, simplifying the air ducts and suspensions. At the beginning of 1981 we went to the races with boxes of springs to make the set-ups. After the ‘Ducarouge treatment’ we only went along with two sets of springs of different hardness, depending on whether you ran on dry or wet, and the car went much faster. "Tortuosi .
Among the various experiences there was that of supplier of engines to Brabham and the famous BT46B Fan Car, the car with the fan of Gordon Murray.
I worked and passed the time before the actual arrival of engines from supplier Brabham by making the transmissions myself along with my colleague Vittorio Berno.
We made the first self-locking adjustable in Formula One for Lauda's car: using a pin and a command from the cockpit we were able to vary the percentage of the self-locking device. On the Brabham BT46B with the fan, we mounted the breech of the gearbox with the shaft that transmitted the motion to the fan. The motion was taken from a gear shaft and through a cascade of gears it was transmitted to the fan.
As the number of revolutions and speed varied, the fan speed increased, creating greater suction at the bottom of the body. It had been Gordon Murray's idea, he had sent us the drawings to do the piece but without indicating the fan.
We mounted it in secret, without having any direct knowledge of its real use. We thought it was an experiment for some tests. When we saw the car with the fan mounted, we understood the South African designer's gimmick. "
Ing. Arosio in Retirement in Monza
Resting prior to the 1971 Sebring Twelve Hours of Endurance
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