The life and achievements of legendary Ferrari Formula One designer Rory Byrne were celebrated during an evening of Italian food, Ferrari racecars and old friends reunited at the Sharnbrook Hotel.
Sixty-nine-year-old South African Rory Byrne designed Formula Ford, Formula 2 and Formula 1 racecars, enjoying a stellar career that culminated with him being offered the job as Scuderia Ferrari’s chief designer in the Nineties.
He had moved to the UK in the Seventies, as the ‘place where to go if one is serious about motorsport’.
Long-term friend Kevin Blair met him at the local pub in Little Staughton back then: he introduced Rory to the Ciampi family, who own and run the Sharnbrook Hotel, in 2011 during the venue’s Bedfordshire Italian Car & Bike Day.
A day spent playing cricket was followed by a visit to the hotel’s car show, where Ferrari was the guest marque, and Rory Byrne’s presence delighted the Three Shire Ferrari Club members who came in droves to meet their hero.
Some 170 guests attended the ‘F1 Evening with Rory Byrne’ dinner at Sharnbrook on Saturday, October 19, with entertainment and informative talks about the past and future of motorsport, gaining an understanding of the automotive industry’s deep roots in the area and meeting arguably the most successful racecar designer of all times.
On their arrival – and some braved the rain by bringing their classic Ferraris – guests were greeted by the sight of three important race cars, for whose design Rory Byrne was responsible: two 1970s Royales Formula Ford and one Ferrari F1 (2006), all artfully parked in the actual dinner suite.
It took eight people to squeeze the vehicles into position, and the most-asked question of the evening was, “how did you get that car onto the stage?”
It is not hard to see the appeal of an evening where the real taste of Italian food mixes with the opportunity to meet one of the real giants in the motorsport industry: ex-partners and colleagues of Rory Byrne stood up to express their appreciation for his work and celebrate a lifetime of achievements.
Only two years ago, Mr Byrne was in charge of the whole Carbon Fibre Chassis Design team responsible for the Ferrari supercar of the decade, the “LaFerrari”, which was launched at the Geneva motor show this year.
With some 20,000 Italian families living in the area, and given the passion and enthusiasm most Italians nurture for cars and motorsport, the Formula One evening with Rory Byrne was an opportunity to add to the hotel’s busy calendar of car-related events, which did not start this year: the first Italian Car and Bike Day was held in 2007 - with the firm rule that, unless the visitors’ cars were Italian, they would have to be parked outside in the fields.
Soon Aston Martin owners complained about the harsh treatment, and the hotel responded with its first ‘Classics at The Sharnbrook’ show in 2009 - with Aston Martin as the guest marque.
The Supercar Sunday event followed in 2011.
A true ‘petrol-head’ family, the Ciampi clan organises official car events four times a year and started a new series of Formula One evenings in 2013.
Although Rory’s contract with Ferrari ended in 2006, he remains an independent consultant to the sportscar manufacturer, and extended an invitation to Maranello (where Ferrari is based) to Ciro Ciampi, general manager of the hotel, to Ciampi’s immense delight.
The evening was sponsored by HR Owen, the London-based dealer of prestigious car brands such as Lamborghini, Ferrari, Maserati and Bugatti. Appropriately, two Ferraris, a sleek California and the pretty 458 Italia, adorned the venue’s patio, greeting all visitors on the night.
Pictures by Abraxus Photography and Simon Lines.