The Autodromo di Pergusa, or Enna-Pergusa as it is known to many, is Sicily's most prominent track, a once high-speed blast around a natural lake that is now punctuated with numerous chicanes. Famous for its sometimes laid-back attitude to organisation, the track has recently endured a number of years in the wilderness but is now regaining its place on racing calendars.
The dust and the abrasive nature of the track tended to make the surface very slippery in the past (though a recent resurface has dramatically improved this) while the close proximity of the barriers and tyre stacks tends to add additional hazard, requiring strong discipline and concentration from drivers.
Today the Italian GT Championship is the highest-profile visitor to the track, alongside local racing series and general testing.
The circuit was built by the local municipality in 1951, using access roads around the lake. In its earliest form it was a high-stakes, flat out affair; effectively a modified oval with the added hazard of a trip into the snake-filled lake if it all went wrong. A rudimentary pit area backed directly onto the lake, which formed an ever-present backdrop to proceedings – and thanks to the area's sulphur deposits, occasionally filled the nostrils with a unique aroma!
Racing did not really get into its stride until the 1960s, when the non-championship Mediterranean Grand Prix was staged for Formula One machinery. Ferrari factory entries helped swell the crowds and saw victories for Lorenzo Bandini in 1962 and John Surtees the following year, before Jo Siffert took a pair of wins for BRM. In 1967 the event switched to Formula 2 rules and would remain a fixture on the European Championship for many years.
With speeds getting ever higher, the decision was take to add the first of several chicanes in 1970, the Proserpina Chicane brought the lap length to just over three miles for the first time. In another significant change, a new pit and paddock complex was built at the northern end of the circuit and the start/finish line moved accordingly. Temporary pit structures were used for a number of years before permanent concrete buildings were installed.
A second chicane complex was added in 1971 to slow cars ahead of the new start/finish, while the fast sweeper at the beginning of the lap served for a few more years until it too succumbed in 1976 to a chicane section. What was once a flat-out blast was now a sprint between stop-start corners, where braking and traction were as much at a premium as straightline speed.
World categories arrive
The World Sportscar Championship (for Group 6 cars) became a regular visitor in the second half of the 1970s, with popular home victories for the Alfa Romeo team in 1975 and '77. The circuit also saw victory for Lella Lombardi, who notably became the first female winner of an FIA-sanctioned World Championship race, alongside co-driver Enrico Grimaldi.
When Formula 2 was replaced by F3000 in 1985, Enna was duly incorporated onto the calendar. There was something of a holiday feel about the place, helped by the usually sweltering temperatures and the surroundings (the circuit and lake are part of a nature reserve). For the drivers it may not have been the most enthralling circuit but it was at least different.
The standards of organisation often left a lot to be desired, however. In 1988, Michelle Trollé rolled his Lola and was somewhat surprised to find the marshals hitching his car immediately to a tow truck to pull it back onto its wheels, with the hapless Frenchman still inside and gesticulating wildly. Thankfully he had not suffered any injuries which could be exacerbated by the hasty recovery.
Hasty was the exact opposite of what happened to Rubens Barrichello in 1992. After suffering brake failure at the exit of the first chicane, he spun off backwards into the gravel trap, only to find a truck attempting to extricate the earlier crashed car of Giuseppe Bugatti's from the tyre wall. Barrichello struck the front wheel of the truck with enough force to split his helmet in two, necessitating a trip to hospital. Sadly, the ambulance he was travelling in was itself involved in a collision en route, meaning that the Brazilian had the dubious honour of being checked over by medics at a nearby police station...
Sometimes even nature itself seemed to be attempting to subvert the racing action. During the F3000 race meeting in 1996, there was – quite literally – a plague of baby frogs, which invaded in their thousands from the lake. Pit crews, officials and journalists in the pit lane found it almost impossible to move without squelching a frog underfoot and out on the track it was no better, with some rather flat-looking creatures covering the chicane kerbing. Eventually they abated, leaving the pit crews with the unenviable task of cleaning out the cars of dead amphibians.
F3000 departs before the track falls silent
Perhaps it was these organisational – and natural – shortcomings which eventually saw F3000 move elsewhere for the final year of the series, though not before one further chicane had been added in 1995 to slow cars through the Curvone. With little room on either side of the track and the whole area being protected due to the nature reserve, the resulting chicane was clumsy and narrow, lined with stacks of tyres to prevent drivers cutting the kerbs. It would inevitably prove a frequent spot for drama.
Circuit bosses did manage to persuade the FIA GT Series and the ETCC to visit the track in 2002 and 2003 and the races passed without particular incident. However, in 2004, the FIA revoked the circuit's license until improvements could be made to run-off areas and other safety infrastructure. Although some work was carried out in 2005 – notably a tightening of the first part of the Proserpina chicane – there was insufficient funding to complete all of the required renovations immediately and the circuit fell silent to racing.
In the interim, the local authority used the circuit as an occasional venue for car rallies and other sporting events including a marathon, while it has also been the host of several pop concerts. Among those to perform at the circuit is Gianna Nannini, the sister of former F1 racer Alessandro Nannini and one of Italy's biggest music stars.
Renovations bring racing back
Finally in September 2009 the FIA approved proposed circuit modifications (mainly to kerbing and escape zones), which were duly carried out the following summer, allowing the circuit to be re-homolgated at FIA Grade 3, and there was talk of a round of the FIA GT2/GT3 series coming back the circuit that year. In the event the GT2 series never materialised and the track finally reopened for national level racing in 2011.
In October 2012, the circuit hosted the ninth round of Superstars touring car and GT championship – the first international event since its re-opening – while between 2103 and 2015 Enna-Pergusa held rounds of the FIA European Touring Car Cup. The track was resurfaced in its entirety in 2019, at which point the rather fiddly chicane on the pit lane entry was removed.
Exciting news came during 2020 that the Coppa Florio trophy was to be revived on October 10-11, with Autodromo di Pergusa as its host. It formed the penultimate round of the Crevantic 24H Series Europe, with a race over 12 hours (held in two six hour sections, a day apart) to win replicas of the original ‘Florio Cup’ in the GT and TCE divisions. The weekend began with a ceremonial ‘parade’ of racing cars through the mountains, on public roads, to Enna. Frédéric Fatien, Jordan Grogor, Mathieu Jaminet and Robert Renauer won both parts of the race to emerge as the Coppa Florio winners in their GPX Racing Porsche 911 GT3. Despite the race being a hit with competitors, it was not repeated in 2021.