Goodwood events are always full with the great and the good from the world of motorsport. Inspiring men and women who have made achievement their life’s work, living life in the fast lane in a way that us mere mortals can only dream of. One such personality is Mr Marc Gené, best known for his ever-present role as Ferrari’s test driver.
Ferrari test driver Marc Gene has the best job
Yep. He gets paid to wake up every day and drive a whole host of the world’s most exciting and iconic red-liveried race and road cars ever designed all around the world. Pretty tough, eh?
Parking the glib attitude for a moment, meeting Marc at the Ferrari F1 paddock at the crack of dawn on Sunday morning at Goodwood SpeedWeek presented by Mastercard quickly shows us why this man is one of the most respected and experienced drivers on the planet.
“I’m well aware that I’ve got a dream job. Other drivers have had very successful careers in Formula 1 in particular, but my career has been long. At my age now, to do the job I do, is really a dream. Normally in F1, drivers may still be around at 40, 41, like Kimi. But those guys are the exception. I’m 46 and still get to drive these amazing machines which people pay millions of Euros to experience.”
The modest Spanish racing driver started his F1 career at Minardi, before opting to become a test driver at Williams in 2001. Here he was employed for four years. A stint which saw him replace Ralf Schumacher at the 2003 Italian Grand Prix where he collected four points in an impressive fifth-place finish. As is the way with modern F1, the seat was not safe for long, pushing Marc to pursue new opportunities.
“I actually sent a fax to Jean Todt. Luckily for me Ferrari were looking for a test driver at the time. There was a tyre war going on with Bridgestone and Michelin which meant there was a lot of testing. They needed someone with a lot of tire experience and knowledge. So It was right time, right place. My debut at Ferrari was testing Michal Schumacher’s F2004, which is arguably the best F1 car in the history of the sport.”
It’s one of many highlights Marc has in his arsenal of motorsport memories, which is stacked full of escapades behind the wheel of over 40 different Formula 1 machines. From 1950 Alfa Romeos all the way up to the modern prancing horse thoroughbreds, such as the Ferrari F60 he was demonstrating at SpeedWeek. Marc has even driven Ferrari V8, V10 and V12 F1 cars back-to-back in one day, perhaps one of the only people ever to do so.
“Ferrari has such fantastic motorsport heritage. It’s the best company in the world to work for to get these unique driving experiences.”
It’s this understanding of Ferrari’s alluring power that has put Marc within the centre of the marques Corse Clienti programme. A package that allows a very exclusive list of deep-pocketed clients to buy and drive a suite of Ferraris. Ranging from their XX programme cars to Ferrari F1 weaponry.
“Originally, special customers were purchasing these cars to essentially build their own personal museum pieces. But one day, a client approached us suggesting they would like to be able to drive a car. Ferrari saw the business opportunity and potential in creating a department where we can give this service to people. That was around 2003/4 when Ferrari started to put in place Corse Clienti. I was invited by Jean Todt and Stefano Domenicali to go to a test with this client to give him some advice how to drive and it all started growing from there. Now it’s a huge department for Ferrari.”
Far removed from your average track day, Corse Clienti is one of the most immersive racing experiences available to non-racing drivers. Marc is the man responsible for helping Ferrari’s clients get comfortable behind the wheel. No small feat…
“It’s a huge challenge to help inexperienced drivers with the F1 cars. For a lot of people, the F1 is a big thing. A big jump. We need to make sure they feel happy enough to drive the car. Even just easing out of the garage. Sometimes I have to work hard psychologically. Reassuring them that they can do it, that the car is very stable. Only twice I’ve had clients that were simply not comfortable enough, it was such an assault on their senses that it was too much for them.”
Watching Marc fly around the Goodwood Motor Circuit this weekend, we can hardly blame them. It’s sometimes easy to forget how brutal F1 cars are. Even the modern platforms with their stability and downforce still rouse a primal reaction across all the senses. And that’s while watching from distance, let alone being sat in the things.
“With the XX it is different. It is a car that instantly feels more familiar, a bit more like a road car. You can instantly see that clients feel more comfortable in the XX. There are a lot of electronics increasing control. Clients with an F1 may be 20 or 25 seconds off my lap time, but in the XX they are within three-seconds of me. Almost all of our clients are able to drive that to a high level.”
We imagine Marc might be being a touch modest with those margins, but it must be a hugely rewarding experience for clients to learn the ropes from not only a seasoned F1 driver, but a 2009 Le Mans winner also. An accolade which Marc again puts down to a case of right place, right time.
“I was extremely lucky. F1 testing started to reduce around 2007, which was also a time when I started developing the Ferrari simulator. I could see that I was doing less and less real driving, and one day I read that Peugeot was entering Le Mans. So I decided to contact them.”
Asking permission first from his employers Ferrari, Marc quickly had approval from Jean Todt, his very understanding boss.
“He was previously the Sporting Director of Peugeot. So when Peugeot contacted him to ask for my services, he was happy that his old company was asking for his driver. He made it very easy for me. Ferrari saw it as a positive, because it kept my driving standards very high, by competing at Le Mans.”
“As the years go by, I realise more and more how important that win was for my career. Winning in France with a French manufacturer, breaking Audi’s streak of wins. Honestly, it was the only time in my career where I have cried in the car from emotion. I drove the last stint and It was so, so intense. You work for that one race for an entire year. It was an amazing feeling.”
You get the impression that most of Marc’s days are so full of other-worldly experiences that he’s almost spoilt for choice when trying to pin him down on other special moments. But as Emerson Fittipaldi casually walks past us in the paddock, Marc is reminded of another one.
“One day I did an exhibition with a 2007 F1 following Emerson Fittipaldi around Montjuïc in Barcelona with his Lotus. We were both there together and that was a very special moment. It was my home and an open road that I had driven many times in my life. In Spain Emerson is a legend. So to be on track with him was incredible.”
Driving with his hero again this weekend as part of the 70 Years of F1 Tribute will be only Marc’s second time on the Motor Circuit, despite 20 appearances at Festival of Speed presented by Mastercard. Yet he’s not letting that slow him down. The man is still absolutely flat out, delivering a seriously professional job while proving that he remains one of the top drivers on our planet.
Closing our chat, we ask if there’s much else he wants to achieve. And it’s a surprising answer. “It is my dream to one day own a Ferrari. Sooner rather than later hopefully. I want to wake up every morning and enjoy it like a beautiful painting, sat on the driveway.” Ferrari’s greatest ever test driver, modest as ever, currently drives a family-friendly Alfa Romeo Stelvio. Perhaps he’s worried about bringing his demanding work home with him…
Photography by Pete Summers, Jordan Butters, Tom Shaxson, Jayson Fong and Nick Dungan.
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