Now strapped in, I lay seemingly near-horizontal in the seat, surrounded by chassis tubes, Alfa bodywork stretching worryingly widely to either side. The engine started easily once the fuel pressure had built up, and I stalled it only twice as I manoeuvred out of the paddock bay. Delicacy was duly learned with the short-travel, surprisingly light, very definite clutch. En route to the bottom of the hill, I found all four dog-clutch gears. Looping round to point back up the hill, I discovered just how vast is the turning circle.
Driving it at low speed, thus far, showed that the engine couldn't take big throttle openings unless the the revs were well up, as you might expect when a red line is set at 11,500rpm. How close to that heady speed would I dare to go? One of the Centro Storico mechanics had counselled caution: 'You might want to limit yourself to 5,000rpm,' he said, 'because it suddenly gets fierce after that.'
Maybe I could experience that ferocity in an exploratory practice start, just so I knew what to expect, but no. A car was marooned on the right side of the track, just before the start line, so I would get just one stab at a decent launch. What was behind I had no idea, because motor racing's tallest-ever rear view mirror was pointing up at the trees. I was in my own bubble, despite the marshals and spectators all around. Then the flag dropped. This was it.
Lots of revs, judged by sound and some guesswork, clutch up hard. Kapow! The engine note stayed approximately constant, suggesting I'd hit about the optimum blend of torque and traction, and with a hard-edged, crackling shriek the Alfa rocketed off the line, tyres combusting. The traction turned to a searing slither to the right, so I eased off a little, accelerated again with a touch more finesse, and found second gear with a clunk of dog-teeth.