Alessandro Balzan, affectionately called “Ristretto” by Scuderia Corsa team owner Giacomo Mattioli, is not your typical Grand-AM racer. Ristretto means “short but powerful” in Italian espresso parlance. It is precisely this blend of power and compactness that has helped the native of Rovigo, Italy lead the driver championship points for over half of this season’s Grand-AM Rolex GT class. His eight top five finishes in just ten races in his first season of US racing has made him a rising star. Alessandro’s calm demeanor and welcoming smile have also won him many fans on both sides of the Atlantic. Combine that enthusiasm with his great sense of humor and you begin to see what makes Alessandro Balzan so special.
1. How did you get into racing?
I started racing go-karts in 1989 when I was 9 years old. My brother was racing before me and so my dad decided to buy a mini kart for me to follow him at the races.
2. So, is your family a “racing” family?
Sure, even if my dad never raced himself (he’s a bad driver!!) he and my uncle were passionate about Formula One, and at the time they would often go to watch the European Grand Prix of F1. My brother started to race go-karts too and then he discovered his real passion as a kart mechanic. In fact, when i started motorsports racing with Formula, he was the mechanic for Robert Kubica, Lewis Hamilton, Nico Rosberg and Patrick Long too. Now he’s the team manager of a Go-kart racing team in Italy.
3. It must be interesting being involved in racing since childhood, do you have any funny stories to share?
I have many stories, but I think the funniest is the first race I did when I was 10 years old. We were 12 drivers and the track was in the center of the town where I live. After the race started I was 6th, not so bad for my first ever race but I was very far from 5th and 7th. It was really boring, so I decided to stop the kart in the middle of the race. My brother and my dad were worried that something had happened to me so they started to search for me. I was at the bar where we usually get breakfast! They asked me what happened to the kart, If I crashed or had some engine problem, so I replied that the race was really boring and there was no sense in go on because i wasn’t able to win! They were shocked.
Another crazy thing is how we would travel to the racetracks in the first few years. We had a Jeep Cherokee with my dad driving and my brother in the passenger seat. The go-kart was in the back of the car with me sitting in it for 1-2 hours! I lived in that kart. It was a real passion.
4. Jumping to today, you’ve won 5 championships in the last five years. What’s your secret?
Sure, I’ve had fantastic teams and cars to reach it. But the secret is the people around me, first of all Alice, my girlfriend, she is younger than me but she was a professional skater, with her I m much calmer now than before! I was quite aggressive. And of course my brother and my dad who really taught me to use my brain in the race and not only my foot!
5. What are the differences between the US and European racing?
First of all the racetracks are very different. Not a lot of run off area and very fast corners. The drivers are different, some are very aggressive and some are very professional. It’s really good to know about them on the track so you know what to expect. What I love here are the fans coming to watch races, they are really passionate! In Italy we only have Soccer…
6. During your first year with Scuderia Corsa, you experienced several teammates: give me an adjective or nickname to describe each of them.
Alessandro Pier Guidi: “PierGoogle”, he googles everything
Olivier Beretta: extremely detailed oriented, maybe too much for me
Marco Frezza: good looking but not the best looking
Jeff Westphal: THE best looking
Leh Keen: too tall for his own good
7. As we head into the last race with you just four points out of the championship lead, how are you preparing for the race at Lime Rock?
It’s great to be here and to be able to fight for the championship. This gives me the “energy” for the final race! Relaxing in the morning in Modena and running in the afternoon!
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