Motor sport has often thrown up fascinating characters and none more so than Don Sergio Mantovani who died this weekend at the age of 92.
Don Sergio, often confused with the Maserati racing driver of the 1950’s, Sergio Mantovani, arrived in Modena as a young priest in 1959 and was originally adopted by both Maserati and Ferrari and so began his interest in grand prix racing and in particular the drivers. He would travel to some of the races and Enzo Ferrari became a very close friend of his.
When I say character, consider this, in the grounds of the Church of Santa Caterina alla Crocetta he asked permission to knock down a chapel and tower but was refused: so he knocked it down anyway to make way for an old peoples’ home and was promptly put on trial and fined 30 million lire. He was sentenced to ten months in prison and Enzo Ferrari said he would have his meals sent into him if he actually went to prison but the sentence he received was suspended but it was retained on his police record!
He was particularly friendly with one of our late Grand Prix Drivers Club members, Luigi Villoresi and when Villoresi was in his ‘80s he moved into the retirement home run by Don Sergio and the priest told me Luigi was forever getting into trouble by driving his motorised wheelchair around and terrorising the other residents.
Most of our Club members who attended the special service held at Santa Caterina in memory of Maria-Teresa de Filippis two years ago will remember Don Sergio’s moving address.
He will be remembered not only in Modena but all over the motor racing world for any driver who raced for Ferrari or Maserati must have met him at some time or another
Speaking personally I found him not only fascinating but great fun with a streak of determination in him that faced up to authority and a good and positive representative of his religion.
Our good friend Matteo Panini who had been a great help to Don Sergio in his last few years despite all his other businesses, attended the funeral of Don Sergio and has written the following: An English translation from Google Translate follows it.
Era il cappellano dei piloti.
Lo scorso 17 Settembre a Modena è stato celebrato il suo funerale. A 91 anni dopo una lunga e vittoriosa corsa della vita ha tagliato il traguardo.
Sembra strano ma è certo che questa bandiera a scacchi l’abbia proprio cercata specialmente in questo ultimo periodo dove il suo stato di salute era molto compromesso.
Le macchine da corsa oltre a essere oggetti meccanici che trasmettono forti emozioni, sono anche oggetti spirituali. Chi le guida o chi le ama soltanto entra in spiritualmente a contatto con la macchina stessa o con il pilota. C’è un matrimonio profondo fatto di umanità e passione violenta.
Don Sergio Mantovani è stato per tutti un padre capace di farci vivere al meglio questa spiritualità fatta di ottani, persone e pistoni.
E’ stato il nostro confidente, colui che aggiustava il motore dell’anima con un sorriso o con una semplice carezza sul viso.
Entrato in Maserati come Cappellano del lavoro ben presto diventò il Padre di molti piloti anzi oserei dire di tutti i piloti.
E’ stato il confidente speciale per Fangio e Villoresi. Ha voluto bene ad Alboreto e a Villeneuve e ovviamente a Maria Teresa.
La lista dei suoi piloti sarebbe troppo lunga da scrivere ma ho l’idea che sia completa. Non ne ha mai dimenticato uno.
Con il Drake aveva un rapporto forte e aspro, che sfociò nel più simpatico soprannome da chiesa: “Don Ruspa” ottenuto grazie alla sua azione di demolizione di una vecchia torre per far posto alla sua amata Casa della Gioia e del Sole.
Don Sergio andava sempre a dire Messa a Imola e a Monza, quando c’era il Gran Premio. Senna andava puntualmente ad abbracciarlo.
Quando banditi feroci sequestrarono il padre del povero Elio De Angelis, lui si offrì in ostaggio al suo posto.
I criminali lo minacciavano con il fucile e lui rispondeva raccontando la parabola del figliol prodigo.
Era davvero un pilota dentro, un pilota della vita e ci mancherà tanto.
Google Translate translation
He was the chaplain of the pilots.
On September 17th in Modena his funeral was celebrated. At 91 years after a long and victorious race of life, he crossed the line. It seems strange but it is certain that this checkered flag has really looked for it especially in this last period where his state of health was very compromised.
Race cars, besides being mechanical objects that transmit strong emotions, are also spiritual objects. Those who drive or those who love them only enter spiritually in contact with the car itself or with the pilot. There is a deep marriage made of humanity and violent passion. Don Sergio Mantovani was for all a father capable of making us live this spirituality made of octane, people and pistons. He was our confidant, the one who adjusted the motor of the soul with a smile or a simple caress on the face.
When he joined Maserati as a labour chaplain, he soon became the father of many pilots, and I would even dare to say of all the pilots. He was the special confidant for Fangio and Villoresi. He loved Alboreto and Villeneuve and of course Maria Teresa.
The list of its pilots would be too long to write but I have the idea that it is complete. He never forgot one. With the Drake ( Enzo Ferrari) he had a strong and harsh relationship, which resulted in the simplest church nickname: “Don Ruspa” obtained thanks to his demolition action of an old tower to make room for his beloved House of Joy and the Sun.
Don Sergio always went to say Mass at Imola and at Monza, when there was the Grand Prix. Senna promptly hugged him. When fierce bandits kidnapped the father of poor Elio De Angelis, he offered himself hostage in his place. The criminals threatened him with the rifle and he answered by telling the parable of the prodigal son. He was really a pilot inside, a pilot of life and we will miss him so much.