Interview with Dindo Capello

An Italian in America

The gentle hills of Langhe (in the north-east of Italy), renowned for their vineyards and hazel groves, are the wonderful and natural context where one of the greatest drivers in the Italian motor racing was born and grown up, one of the few ones who achieved success without counting on any munificent sponsors for tobacco, oil and coffee. A professional who has been able to take up challenges increasingly new, by winning on this side and, above all, on the other side of the Ocean, keeping, however, his remote ancestors' pride of being a "langhetto" (native of Langhe) and his love for his place of origin. He is a man who, after winning at Sears Point in 2000, has observed how Napa vineyards surrounding the circuit reminded him his home vineyards in Santo Stefano Belbo. An Italian named "Dindo" Capello.

His curriculum

Born on 17th June 1964 in Asti, but still resident in Santo Stefano Belbo, Rinaldo Capello, known as Dindo, has started his racing career driving go-karts, then he moved to Formula Abarth in the 1983-1984 two-year period, and Formula 3 from 1985 till 1989, category in which he won in the prestigious GP Lottery of Monza. At the beginning of the 90s he took part in the Italian "Tourismo" Championship (Group A Italian champion in 1990) and afterwards at the "Superturismo" Championship, where he won the title of Italian champion in 1996 in an Audi A4, after scoring the second place in the previous year behind Emanuele Pirro. The results obtained till that time and the Audi managers' esteem opened the door to him in 1999 on Le Mans project, thanks to which in the following years he may take part in major Endurance races in Europe and U.S. Among the most important wins we can include three "24 Hours" of Le Mans (2003,2004,2008), four "12 Hours" of Sebring (2001,2002,2006,2009), five Petit Le Mans (2000,2002,2006,2007,2008) and two championships of American Le Mans Series (2006,2007).

The interview

Behind every driver there is the history of a family involved or keen on motor racing. What kind of family context was Dindo Capello's?

The first who was involved in the engine world was my grandpa who, in those days when cars were still a luxury that only few people could afford, decided to buy a certain number of Lorries to set up a transport company. During the war he was deprived of everything and thus in the early 50's he had to start all over again by opening also, among other things, an Elf petrol pump with a workshop to supply and repair his own means of transport.

Did this kind of involvement go on with your father?

Only in part! My father studied to become a professional accountant, but he kept on being an incontestable fond of the engine world, mainly Formula 1. The elderly of the place still remember that he was only fourteen-year old when he took the train alone to go and see the Italian GP of Monza; those were the days, when certain things were still possible! Can you fancy something of the kind nowadays?

It would be unimaginable, but in this way he had the chance to be present at the exploits of the drivers who went down in history!

He was certainly stricken, just enough to have the permission, when he came of age, to go to the Grand Prix of Italy in place of the area manager who was in charge of the Elf petrol pumps; by that time the French mark make stood out on the bodies of Ken Tyrrell racing cars.

In that spirit we are inclined to think that he welcomed your choice of running.

I'd rather say that he didn't hinder me! Father was a pragmatic person and knew well the way things were going. I still remember that, after first good results in Formula 3, he repeated that I hadn't to deceive myself because however skill I might be, if I didn't carry a "suitcase" with me the possibilities of a bright career would be nearly at an end. On the other hand, those were the years in which some young drivers spent a hundred and fifty million lire on running the world championship, while I was receiving 200,000 lire from my father on every race weekend. It was always he who forced me to finish secondary school (Dindo took a diploma of Accountant, editor's note), swapping it with his permission and support to go on racing.

What was your first drive experience?

On my twelfth birthday, father took me to the track of Nizza Monferrato where, for the first time I had a chance to test myself at the wheel of a go-kart: first I drove a less fast kart, the ones for hire, then they gave me a 100 cc, whose acceleration made me have an indescribable feeling. At that moment I understood what my future would have been! All that I did till that moment, football and motocross, was devoid of interest and, every Sunday, I used to ask my father to take me onto the track to drive. However, to tell the truth, that one wasn't the first experience at the wheel of a four-wheel vehicle: when I was eight-year old, in a corner of grandfather's workshop, I found a Fiat 500 fitted by Giannini: the car bought by my father as soon as he got the driving licence, and with a mechanic's help I managed to get it to start. To be allowed to drive the car without letting my parents know it, I waited until they went to bed and I went down into the workshop to drive it to the local football field!

After testing days, here come first races: have you any special souvenirs of your debut?

My debut was on the next year in the regional race "100cc cadetti" on the Viverone track: it was a wonderful experience because I started from the second row and finished fourth ahead of drivers with much more experience than I had. I have been driving go-karts for other four years with good results, but I lacked the money to take part in the world championship where the drivers, who were in a position to enter, were the same drivers regularly defeated by me in Italy. On the other hand, I used to go to races carrying the kart on the roof of my father's car and, often, with not even a mechanic's help. As matters stood, the only chance was to move to racing cars.

How did this move occur?

It was thanks to Gianfranco Palazzoli who convinced me to join the federal school Csai of Misano, where I drove Alfa Gtv cars and the Formula 3 ones. At the end of the six-day course instructors insisted on my doing everything possible to go on running. On that circumstance I had the chance to meet Angelino Ravaglia who gave me the opportunity of racing for Formula Abarth without guaranteeing an economic contribution. There were two seasons in which I alternate excellent performances with results that weren't always up to them, but they allowed me to have much experience that, perhaps, I hadn't fully developed in driving go-karts. With 50 competitive cars on track at every race, the number of crashes that saw me as a protagonist was rather high, but the only true mistake I made it was at Mugello, when on the first lap and having still with cold tyres, I managed to fully take the bend on the Arrabbiata, finishing off-track disastrously. There I was really ashamed! Later on, however, some good places and the win didn't fail to arrive.

1984 – Dindo Capello with Formula Fiat Abarth

At that moment of your career you were supposed to go to Formula 3, but in 1985 you started again in Formula Abarth scoring two poles in a row.

Actually I entered the first two races of the championship feeling demoralized because I considered that my apprenticeship in that category was completed. In winter I had an opportunity to test Formula 3 of Racing team and I had immediately understood that this kind of car suited my drive characteristics; once again my budget was lacking and had to start the year in Formula Abarth. But, luckily, the team called me for a new test on the circuit of Misano when the season has already started and the times set by me convinced the managers to give me a car to go on with the championship, even if it was a car with minor performance than the cars driven by my team-mates. However, I managed to score pole position making my debut and, at the end of the year, when they gave me the new car I took pole, gained a win in elimination heat, and a second final place behind Alex Caffi.

Remaining in Formula 3, the following years saw you be the centre of the market, all the more because in 1987 you managed to join Coloni that was the Italian strongest team by that time.

It was a very odd period, when everything seemed to me to go wrong. In 1986 I had to be the first driver of the so that I even refused Pavanello's offer but, at the end, the team chose Giovanna Amati who brought a lot of money. I was saved by Ferdinando Ravarotto, the man who had launched Piquet. Ravarotto offered me an old Ralt, in which we succeeded in giving ourselves some satisfaction and finishing sixth in the championship. The next year, not taking my father's advice, I accepted Coloni's offer, the team in which everybody would have run; on the contrary, partly because they were preparing a debut in Formula 1, partly because the team lost, one by one, the contacts with suppliers, I found myself in running with a Reynald chassis that was anything but competitive and a ridiculous budget which even prevented me from only cutting a fine figure. Today I still believe it has been the biggest mistake in my entire career, the one that probably compromised my future in formulas.

The next year, even if you hadn't great motivations after such a difficult season you went back to Ravarotto's team, obtaining the best results in your career with Formula 3.

At the end of 1987 I lived a period of crisis and it was thanks to "Saint Ravarotto" who hired me again for the next season. Perhaps the results of that year didn't change my career, but they gave me great satisfactions and, above all, cheered me up. In particular, I remember the Grand Prix of Monaco, where, although I was only qualified 19th due to an earthed wire problem of the battery, during the race I managed to catch the fourth place thanks to a breathtaking passing series and, among other things, setting the best lap time. It was beyond doubt that it remains my finest race! Then there was the lottery GP of Monza where, after struggling for a long time with Mauro Martini to score the third position, I took advantage of a collision between Naspetti and Morbidelli at the last lap to finish on the top of the podium. Also the next year I ran some races in Formula 3 but, after seeing the failure of Pavesi's project for F3000, my future drive in the single-seaters was at that time compromised.

Montecarlo 1988 – Dindo Capello with Dallara 388 Alfa Romeo

Looking through the classifications in those years of propaedeutic formulae, both on Italian level and international one, we have a feeling that not necessarily best drivers were rewarded. To give an example, the protagonists of Monaco 1988 were Bertaggia and Artzet, while, among the losers, it was given major importance to the names of Hill, Herbert and Alesi.

You're quite right! The problem of Formula 3 of those years was that the winner was always the driver who ran for the team favoured by the best contacts and that fact, in my opinion, has contributed to the failure of category. I still remember that, making the trip to Hockenheim to take part in Formula F3 Eurochallange, two Alfa Romeo managers spoke in glowing terms of a French driver: it so happens that on Sunday he dominated the race setting the best top speed, although he was running with loaded stabilizers. It was also odd that, after some brief appearances in F3000, they haven't heard any more about him.

When your career in single-seaters was over, you moved to Italian tourism, and to the cars you have called "cars with trunk": a change that at the beginning didn't satisfy you so very much.

I joined the tourism owing to an offer made by Emilio Radaelli, manager responsible for the sports programmes of Volkswagen and Audi in Italy, but I have to admit that at the beginning it seemed to me a stopgap: I didn't yet realize that my revival would have started just from there. I ran in a Volkswagen Golf GTI winning the title at debut, while during the two next years I took part in the "Superturismo" Championship with the same car obtaining good results. In 1992 I also raced in the Porsche Carrera Cup to substitute Alex Zanardi after his bad crash: out of the five races that I ran I took two Pole Positions and a win.

1992 – Dindo Capello in the Porsche Carrera Cup

In 1994, after relishing the chance to have been running since 1992 in the "Superturismo" with a BMW, .you signed with Audi Sports Italia to race the Italian "Superturismo" in an Audi 80 four-wheel drive.

That's was the time when things were finally looking up: in September 1993 Audi went to Monza to prepare the tourism world championship which had to be run just on the circuit of Brianza area and, it was fated to happen, that Frank Biela, the team leader, should be injured on the eve of the practice. As I was left with only Stuck for testing, managers asked Radaelli if he could put two drivers on their disposal. With Beppe Gabbiani I reached the motor racing circuit where for two days I had been testing both the base car and the up-dated one. Officially, it had to finish all there but, unexpectedly, few months afterwards Audi decided to enter with its own cars the Italian championship on the next year. Moreover, it was decided that a car would have entered by the Audi Sports Italia that chose just me as a driver; of course, my contract provided that I had to support the drivers of Audi Motorsport, but I didn't worry too much about it. The most important matter was that I should have taken part in an ambitious project.

You have been second to Pirro for two years and then, with the help of his moving to the German championship, you got the promotion to the first driver for the 1996 season. In that season you won the championship at the last race after that, in the first part of the championship it seemed you shouldn't have any rivals.

In 1996 I signed my first two-year contract with Ingolstadt and the championship started really well with six successes in the first eight races. Later the BMW suddenly displayed a speed performance as striking as incompatible with the rules and Naspetti and Cecotto recovered the classification so that Emanuele became leader at the last but one race. On the eve of the last race which had to be run at Vallelunga, Radaellli said he wanted to appeal against BMW wiring because the rules had probably been tricked, a matter that was just confirmed by a worker of the Bavarian Company. BMW entered the race with a good seven cars, while Audi placed Pirro and Peter beside me and Yvan Muller, my team mate. Pirro and Peter, moreover, remained out of the first positions in both races. During practice I managed to set the second best time and in race I finished second before my competitor for the title. In race 2 things changed for the better, with Naspetti who was penalized because of a stop-go following to a bump into Yvan and I, who enjoyed driving the last laps of the track because I was aware of fully deserving the title, in spite of whom had gone beyond what was allowed by regulations.

Vallelunga 1996 – Dindo Capello is celebrating his win on the podium of the Italian Superturismo Championship

In the next two years, you went on the adventure with the Italian "Superturismo" in an Audi A4 gaining some excellent wins, but unlike your old team-mates you didn't run in foreign championships.

To tell the truth, I would have liked to run the German championship, but, at that time, it was started the Audi prototype programme for Le Mans and all of us began concentrating on it. We couldn't repeat the results of the previous years in the Italian "Superturismo" because rules were getting more and more anti-Audi, so much as that in 1998 the four-wheel drive was even suppressed.

Anyhow, you arrived at Le Mans in a McLaren F1 GT2 which was entered by Dr Thomas Bscher.

Yes I did, Audi decided that both Biela and I needed some experience for the next year and in order not to put much pressure on us, they organized a "disguised" debut, even if Frank couldn't run due to family reasons and was substituted by Pirro. In qualifying we managed to set the 20th best time and in race we were forced to retire because of the car owner's mistake when we were placed fourth preceded by Porsche and Nissan.

What were your impressions making your debut on the circuit of Sarthe?

I should say that everything changed very rapidly! I remember when I came into the track for first laps, I wondered why had I to do it: I arrived at the full straight of Hunaudières, I saw that digital speedometer showing 305 km/h and, suddenly, I felt the displacement of air caused by a Toyota that had just overtaken me. A rather unpleasant feeling! Then, however, after a couple of hours, I began to understand I liked that kind of car and the track as well, recording also the fastest lap made by a Mclaren F1 on that circuit.

Le Mans 1998 – Dindo Capello with McLaren F1 GT2

On the next year here came the Audi R8R in which you ran at Sebring and Le Mans scoring a third and fourth place.

That was my first season in prototypes and the results obtained were encouraging, above all if we consider the standard of the car, a kind of laboratory: on the other hand, it was also for Audi an entire new experience and nobody aimed at striking results. Later, in race the problems followed one another to such an extent to force us to change the gear a good three times, till the last of which when we opted for the hand version; it was in those conditions that I managed to record the lap best time for the R8R.

Le Mans 1999 – Two Audi R8R cars at pits during the French marathon.

Thus, here comes 2000, when Audi displayed that kind of war car named R8. In the same year your adventure started in the American Le Mans Series (ALMS).

The experience of the previous year allowed Audi, with Dallara's co-operation, to design a car which had been winning for a good seven years and permitted us, as its drivers, to capture many successes in America, where was run the most important championship on prototypes in the world. As for me and McNish it was a year that I would divide into two parts: till Nürburgring the results were less good than expected, later on, starting from Sonoma we scored a series of six wins out of eight races which allowed us to gain first two places in the final classification. Also Le Mans wasn't too bad if we consider that I was leading the race for a short time before going back to pits for a gear problem, and finishing the race at the third place.

That year, just at Nürburgring, you have been protagonist of a particular episode.

I would say it was a tragicomic episode! Starting from pole position, my first pole in prototypes, I lost some positions at the start owing to cold tyres but, very soon, I recovered positions up to take the lead thanks to a good overtaking to Letho's disadvantage: however, on the following braking, I found the brake pedal gripped by something. After some instants of confusion, I realized that it was the headrest which went off and slid under the pedals. In any case it was an unlucky race because, later on, Allan had a rather bad accident that obliged us to retire.

Also on the next year things started very well capturing a series of five wins in as many tests as in the ALMS and taking Pole position at Le Mans but, at mid-championship something stopped working.

Beyond the scored wins, 2001 was a very hard year to me, as I passed through a crisis under physical and mental point of view because of the time of zone and I have always run below my standards. Even at Le Mans, notwithstanding Pole and final second place, I never managed to have the right feeling with the car, getting also frightened in the rain more than once. Difficulties also went on the next year, in spite of another Pole at Le Mans and five wins in the ALMS. As a matter of fact besides my feeling often tired, I had sudden fits of giddiness that limited me and in order to solve them I came to the conclusion that I had to undergo an operation on my nose and have constant eardrum check-ups. Finally, I got real benefits when I decided to put myself into Roberto Manzoni's hands, the athletic trainer of Rocca and Compagnoni.

In 2003 there was finally the first win at Le Mans in a Bentley Speed 8, an impressive victory that allowed you to succeed Barnato and famous Bentley's boys.

That year Audi decided to invest on Bentley's make and I, with Kristensen, was selected among the drivers who had to bring the car to success. The race was a real easy run even if, before starting, I was much worried because the setup had been fully changed with respect to qualifying tests and the rear side of the car bellied on long straights; on the grid mechanics were obliged to an extra-work to solve the problem. We had also run the 12 Hours of Sebring in a Bentley, but a technical problem had relegated us to the line-up bottom, from which we recovered up to the fourth place.

Le Mans 2003 – Dindo Capello with Bentley Speed 8

As soon as Bentley experience was over you went back to Audi with Goh team; besides, obviously, winning the French marathon for the second time.

It was a year beyond expectations, given that the Japanese team for which I was running, had a budget decidedly lower than the English team and the American one that were sharing the other R8s. As far as LMS is concerned, although we hadn't gained any win, we arrived second in the championship thanks to two second places and a third one. While, at the 24 Hours, after a brake problem which obliged me to go off-track at the Dunlop bend, we took advantages of the other drivers' troubles to take the lead with a good margin of time. We ran the only risk at my last pit-stop, when the car caught fire due to the mistake made by the mechanic in charge for refuelling: that day I ran a very serious risk because, after trying to get out from the car, I slipped again into the cockpit to continue the race but, in that difficult situation, I didn't manage to lock my belt, without it, I ran a full turn of drive!

Le Mans 2004 – Dindo Capello with Audi R8

After a year devoted to DTM with Joest team, you returned to prototypes in 2006, winning the ALMS title in an Audi R10 diesel powered, while at Le Mans a technical problem cancelled every chance of victory.

The DTM year was poor of results both for me and my team-mates, as we entered with the version of the past year and we entirely lacked experience. I was offered the possibility of running at Le Mans in the R8 Oreca team but, at the end, our sponsor claimed a team formed exclusively by French drivers and, in all sincerity, with hindsight, it was better like that. The following year, after leaving DTM, we started the adventure with a diesel powered, thanks to which I scored the win at its debut. Winning that Sebring gave me an unbelievable joy because, in some way, I had my name written in the history of motor racing. Then, please remember that after that race, we ran the three following races of ALMS championship in the R8, a car that we brought to victory both at Huston and Lime Rock, the last race before its final retirement to the R10 advantage. On the contrary, Le Mans was in that year a rather frustrating race: after taking Pole position, the third one in my career, we noticed a fuel problem which forced us to a 20-minute pit-stop. At the end we fished third.

2007 is the year of your second title gained in ALMS, but also of Le Mans real disappointment

It's simply indescribable! Even today when I think of it I've a mixed feeling of rage and incredulity: we lost a race we deserved to win and all that for a stud nut! And to think we were leading by four laps, something that at Le Mans, at mid-race, nobody had ever seen for years.

It was a real pity because up to that moment every thing had been coming near to perfection.

In my opinion it was the best competition I've ever raced! Starting, in a light rain, I had managed to take the lead taking advantage of a trajectory error made by Bourdais on the Dunlop bend, afterwards we had no longer let other drivers the first position. Both my team-mates and I were running very fast without errors. Then at the pit-stop we had to replace the rear tyre and, later on, we had lost it at 200 km/h on Indianapolis bent. There I got such a fright!

On the next year you were somehow rewarded for the unexpected win at Le Mans preceding the favoured Peugeots.

In all honesty I don't consider it as a reward. In that case it was a racing behaviour which was an exemplary conduct both from the point of view of driving ability and strategic choice of a mixed setup that allowed us to recover when it started raining.

Le Mans 2008 – McNish, Juttner, Capello, Ullich and Kristensen are celebrating their victory

It was in the same year that you have also won the 1000 km of Silverstone and Petit Le Mans, a good way to finish your experience with the R10.

Two excellent wins for two different reasons: the former because it improved the LMS season that till then hadn't been so exciting, the latter because I was co-driver of Pirro, at his last race in an Audi.

In 2009 we have the R15, the car built to fight against Peugeot on equal terms. The project started in the best way with the victory at Sebring, then something didn't go in the right way and at Le Mans you didn't manage to oppose a resistance to Peugeot.

At Sebring the car performance was very good, above all if we consider that its development was still delayed owing to the weather conditions we found during our winter tests. In that win the funny thing was that all over the race we have been fighting in the 908HDi, with very successful actions of overtaking and keeping a crazy pace. We had trouble immediately afterwards, in the development stage when the car, instead of improving, has started having every kind of problems, only solved by the end of 2009 when, at Petit Le Mans we have newly fought, on equal terms, against our rivals.

Now it only remains to ask you for the 2010 forecasts.

This year I've much trust in the car because it has been designed on the basis of a very valid project and we have understood the 95% reason why it didn't work in the past season: the target is to bring Audi to victory again at the 24 Hours of Le Mans and Le Mans Intercontinental Cup, but knowing the attitude of Ingolstad Company, they will leave "no stone unturned".

Asti 2010 – Dindo Capello and Marco Zanello on the day of the interview
Marco Zanello

Photos reproduced in this article are property of Dindo Capello, who has permitted their reproduction. For further images please apply to Capello's official website:

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