"Then we’d drive through the fading light for around 140 miles to Bologna, then nearby Imola, where there would be a time trial the following morning on the famous Enzo and Dino Ferrari circuit.
"The event is technically a regularity trial: you have departure and booking-in times on every one of the 12 major sections, and there are much shorter and rather difficult time trials scattered along the way. Most people make the effort, but a few just go for the thrash, and who can blame them?
"The 24 hours after registration and scrutineering passed in a blizzard of gala dinners, pre-start lunches, fettling sessions and crowded parades through old Brescia – until at last, as the sun faded, we rolled awkwardly but in strict number order on to the raised starting platform (too steep for a Ferrari F430 spoiler) and were flagged away."
The route ran through the evening through Italian towns where adoring supercar fans lined the streets. The first run ended at 2am before an early morning time-trial around Imola. After that, it was south to Urbino, Spoleto and into Rome.
"For this year’s Ferrari participation," says Cropley, "the organisers decided on something exceptional: the most lavish high-speed tour of old Rome imaginable – into St Peters Square, past the Spanish Steps, around the Coliseum, along the Via Veneto and touching at least half a dozen more of those Roman landmarks you see on postcards. Trouble was, we arrived as the Roman traffic, en masse, was heading home.
"It could never have worked in any other European country. Given the well-deserved reputation Italians have for bending rules, it’s amazing that it worked here. But a battalion of motorcycle cops made it work.
"They opened a path for our 127 Ferraris by blowing shrill whistles non-stop while storming at high speed between intersections, often standing up precariously on the footpegs of their Moto Guzzis as they stormed over the cobblestones to chase away errant Fiats. It was Rendezvous meets The Italian Job."
The following day was a final thrash north ending in a journey through Maranello and a timed lap of the Fiorano circuit.
Reflecting on the trip, Cropley said: "In two ways we learned that the F430 is an especially durable Ferrari: first, because our car did not develop so much as a rattle despite non-stop potholes, ruts, cobblestones and high-speed bumps; second, because owners or former owners we met kept telling us of their happy experiences with 430s and kept complimenting us on our choice.
"For the first one or two of them, I confessed that the car wasn’t mine, but pretty soon I gave that up. My pride in our faithful, travel-stained F430, whether I owned it or not, could not have been higher."
You can read the full story of Steve Cropley's epic trip in the Ferrari F430, plus see more of the stunning pictures, in this week's Autocar magazine, which is on sale now.
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