Gran Turismo. It’s that joy of a drive that engulfs an entire day, or more, behind the wheel of an effortlessly cool mechanical marvel. With enough power to spare, with views to kill for. A special blend of power and luxury, of sports and pleasure. One of the greatest motoring joys there can ever be. And one that Bernina Gran Turismo just took it to another level.
Take the Gran Turismo experience. Condense it. Add a massive mountain. Or two. Bring more cars. Some 70 of them. An airport. Sprinkle a couple of classic F1 cars. And a Type 35. Keep up with the basics. One legendary pole of luxury, the Grand Hotel Des Bains, in stunning St Moritz. One cradle of adventure, the Ospizio Bernina, sentinel to one of the mythical Alpine passes. The results? Oh, wait, we’re only just beginning here. This is a complex recipe.
On my morning back from Bernina, the London skyscrapers looked ridiculously small. As I had my coffee, overlooking the Thames, my mind started to trace an invisible outline of the Alpine pass over the top of the City. The pass winds its way through some colossal rocks. Cars feel engulfed by the scenery, mere moving dots on a majestic stage. From behind the wheel of our Giulia QV, courtesy of Alfa Romeo Switzerland, the track feels short and snappy, a brisk and rewarding drive.
As exhilarating as that drive is, for me, the mountain had to be experienced the old fashion way. On foot. Yes, a lungs full of fresh Alpine air is a blessing in itself, but this only tell half the story. Nowhere else you have the chance to see those cars from the variety of angles and lighting conditions. Nowhere else can you experience the sound reverberating off the cliff faces, the highlights sparkling off the brightwork, the unbelievable approach speeds. The connection with the driver and the car is unrivalled.
And, as a photographer, you share one more thing with the drivers. You are on a mountain. It is dangerous. Slippery. With and endless abyss on your side. Sharp rocks, thorns, water streams. The altitude can also play with your mind. You need to treat the mountain with the utmost respect. As you get into the trance of the panning shots, perched perilously above the strip of asphalt, you feel like the drivers feel. Brave.
For the first days, fortunately including our recon day, the weather was superb, The only risk was sun exposure, but that’s a good risk to have, compared to the alternatives. Initially, the pass makes its way through forests and pastures, lined with picture perfect Swiss houses and unimpressed bovines. A real size train set, complete with its own red, iconic, Bernina Express.
Then, all of a sudden, the landscape opens up. You find yourself in the surreal, barren land of the moss covered rocks and juniper bushes. Look beyond the track and you can spot horses dotting the grasslands. And all around you, the snow covered mountain peaks. An unbelievable place to be. A nightmare to photograph, as the feeling is very hard to translate in single shots. You just have to be there.
As Claus put it, this is a drivers’ event. Yes, as a spectator, this is a bucket list experience. But the drivers make it a what it really is. On Sunday, the weather turned. Cold. Wet. Foggy. Not in any way the weather that makes you want to go for a drive. From the cosy confines of the Cafe in the Ospizio Bernina, the fire in the driver’s hearts was burning ever brighter. When the call came, the army of race suits boarded their cars and got the race under way, impervious to the weather. They were not doing this for the trophy. There were not that many spectators to impress. And us, the media, were never going to make them famous for it. They went for it because this is what they love. It’s true what they say. Only Bernina Gran Turismo.