“The best thing to sell cars is a stopwatch saying that you’re faster than the other guy.”
– Giampaolo Dallara
Dallara is a force in modern motorsport but typically prefers to let its customers bask in the limelight. The company’s work is seen by millions and relied upon by the hundreds of drivers who put their safety in the hands of Dallara engineers. Dallara designs have won the Daytona 24 and 24 Hours of LeMans. A Dallara first won the Indy 500 in 1998 and has been IndyCar’s exclusive manufacturer since 2012. Dallara open-wheel cars have dominated Formula Three championships around the world for decades.
Recently, Speed Journal Principal Jeff Francis journeyed to Dallara’s headquarters near Parma, Italy. This is the final of a three-part series, sampling the Dallara Stradale, the company’s road going race car. In the first part, the Speed Journal goes back in time for a look at Dallara’s founding and history. The second part explores the Dallara Academy that explains the science behind race car design and engineering.
A Dallara Showcase
After a morning touring the Dallara factory and Academy, the passion and pride of the Dallara staff to produce a car wearing a Dallara badge shone through. The Dallara Stradale is the culmination of five decades of automotive expertise and engineering. Dallara primarily serves to support clients. Household names in road and race cars engage Dallara to help design their cars and manufacture carbon fiber parts. The Stradale is Dallara’s opportunity to produce a car of its own design wearing its own badge.
The company’s founder, Giampaolo Dallara, remains an active presence and has a home nearby. His vision and leadership for the company played a strong role in the car’s origin story. Dallara would like to grow its business by making specialty high-performance cars of its own. In addition, the Stradale is a rolling demonstration of Dallara’s capabilities and the perfect marketing platform for its other services. The Stradale was designed and refined using the same computers, wind tunnel, and simulator as used for client projects.
The Stradale results from a specific technical brief issued by Mr. Dallara. He wanted a car that he could drive from his house in the Varano village to the Cinque Terra, park the car at Porto Venere and take a Venetian taxi to enjoy fine seafood on Palmaria Island. He would return from lunch, take the car to the Mugello track and beat everyone, and then come back home.
Mr. Dallara wanted something basic and light – no doors, stereo, or navigation. It should only have equipment needed to drive the car. The Dallara team met the challenge and delivered a signature yellow Stradale on November 16, 2016, Dallara’s 80th birthday.
Dallara kindly arranged for Francis to drive the Stradale in the afternoon, but a walk down the assembly line came first. The Frabbrica Dallara facility is devoted to the production of the Stradale. The location has spiritual significance for Dallara – it was Dallara’s first location after moving from Mr. Dallara’s home. The same building also houses everything needed to support the Stradale including relationships with dealers, a service center, and a place to welcome clients and guests.
The spotless production line is clinical and well organized. A single column of Stradales in various stages of assembly were surrounded by tools and parts. Unlike mass production high volume assembly lines operated by robots, people moved the cars between stations and fasten parts together. The physical touch of Dallara staff retains a connection to the long tradition of hand-built machines born in this region of Italy.
To start the process, a bare carbon fiber chassis comes from the sister Dallara Compositi facility near Parma. The same people make the Stradale chassis undertake carbon fiber projects for customers such as Bugatti and HAAS Formula One. Technicians spend two days adding various components to the bare chassis to begin turning it into a car.
At the second station, rear and front clips are attached along with plumbing beneath the car. After two more days, the chassis moves to the third station where power train and suspension join the party. The potent 2.3 liter 4-cylinder supercharged engine starts life as a Ford Ecoboost engine before Dallara modifies for its purposes.
The fourth station is all about handling. Suspension and weight balance are tuned and prepared for the road. The Stradale has over 2gs of lateral grip which is firmly in race car rather than road car territory. Aerodynamic shaping of the nose, flat floor, and rear diffuser glue the Stradale to the pavement. Adjustable suspension lowers the car two centimeters for the track to make even more downforce.
The final station adds interior pieces and the bodywork. Each chassis is built to the specification of each client. Once finished, each car goes on a shakedown road trip. A customer can collect their car at the Dallara factory or at an authorized dealer. The low volume means the Stradale was not engineered for every market around the world. Authorized markets include Europe, Switzerland, Japan and the United Kingdom.
Buyers in other markets aren’t left out. A track day special Stradale is called the EXP. Everything is pushed to the next level – one hundred more horsepower, fifty percent more downforce, and more lateral grip. The EXP is stiffer, lower to the ground, tailored to track use and available only in open-cockpit form.
Dallara plans to make only 600 total Stradales which means owners are unlikely to pass another on the road. The production line produces about ten new cars a month.
Driving the Stradale
After seeing how a Stradale is born, Francis got the chance to drive the final product. The afternoon started with a green paddle shift car and then switched to a black 50 year anniversary manual shift car.
Most manufacturers focus on producing cars for the street. Performance or track models typically use the street car as the starting point by modifying parts or removing weight. As a company accustomed to designing race cars, Dallara took the opposite approach for the Stradale. The Stradale was designed from the outset as a race car with items added to make it usable for the road.
The Stradale is not an afterthought or extension of another product line – it is a deliberate, intentional, methodical and thoughtful engineering achievement. Even with so much emphasis on Dallara’s race car credentials, the Stradale is still true to its name (“stradale” is Italian for “road”) and is a delightful car for the journey to the track and back home again.
The distinction was immediately clear. Initially Dallara team member Andrea took the controls of the green left hand drive machine and headed for open road. In just a few minutes from leaving Fabbrica Dallara, they passed through the little town of Varano De Melegari and the Varano circuit where the Stradale turned many laps in its development process. Within the Motor Valley where so many well-known manufacturers or suppliers are located, the scenic Ceno Valley and the winding two lane Via Provinciale road provided the perfect setting to enjoy the Stradale.
Andrea pushed as hard as prudence and road regulations would allow. The Stradale eagerly showed off its nimble handling, quick acceleration and strong braking. After a short demonstration, the pair switched places and Francis got a chance to drive. Within minutes, the smiles and laughter from the cockpit proved the point of the driving experience.
The versatile Stradale has four different configurations: a sleek barchetta with no windscreen, a spyder with a modest windscreen, a targa with T frame and windscreen (gullwing side glass removed) and a coupe (gullwing side glass installed). The side glass easily pops in or out. Each produces a unique experience. Customers looking for a bit more drama can add an optional wing. The Stradale looks sleek and smooth without the wing, but the wing looks purposeful and adds downforce. The green Stradale driven that day was in full coupe form with a wing.
For all of the different options, the Stradale has no doors. Entering low slung sports and exotic cars can be a challenge. The Dallara, however, is a bit different given its race car heritage. The rigid carbon fiber side panel protects the driver and passenger from side intrusions and does not move. Driver and passenger steps over them and into the cockpit. It is a very different entrance than the gymnastics required to fold arms and legs across a door sill inches from the ground.
The seats are fixed, but the pedals and steering column adjust to meet the driver. The immediate first impression on the road was the featherweight feel and direct steering feedback. The mechanical unassisted steering is precise and tactile and makes the driver feel directly connected to the wheels and the Pirelli tires. The Stradale requires no finesse or coercion – the lively steering almost seemed to anticipate driver input and point itself through the corner. The grip is stunning. Enormous downforce comes from a pure shape, formed in Dallara’s wind tunnel.
Almost everything is carbon fiber. The Stradale is a demonstration of Dallara’s expertise with carbon fiber. The chassis and body panels have a familiar fabric weave, adding strength and minimizing weight.
The Stradale comes armed with a few bits of modern technology in the form of launch control, anti-lock brakes and stability control. All operate at the driver’s option, so they are an assist rather than a hidden force struggling to assume control.
The pair passed the Castle of Varano de Melegari, situated in the Ceno Vally at the foot of Mount Dosso. The castle is part of a network of fortresses that looked after main transport routes between Tuscany, Emilia and Liguria regions for centuries. Since medieval times, pilgrims passed on their way to Rome and armies marched towards Tuscany. The castle added to the rich and scenic surroundings, but reminded the pair that their Stradale tour followed paths that many, many others had tread before.
Dallara opted for an efficient and effective powerplant instead of a flashy twelve cylinder showpiece. The 2.3 liter Ford Ecoboost produces 400 horsepower from four cylinders and there is no hint of turbo lag. The Stradale strives to keep the reliability of a road car but the punch of a race car. The high power-to-weight ratio and short wheelbase combines to create an agile car with hefty torque at low revs. The motor is responsive and gives the lightweight Stradale a kick. Paddles allow quick shifts of the six speed single clutch automated transmission. Customers can outfit their own Stradale with a lighter manual shift, as Mr. Dallara prefers.
As quick as the Stradale goes, it can also stop when needed. The Brembo steel brakes instantly go to work. Just as on the race track, the brakes beg for hard pressure initially and then trailing off into the turn to maintain momentum. Pirelli was on the project early and did special development, but the perfectly sized tires are narrower than often found on high performance sportscars. The engineering optimizes the combination of suspension, braking and tires to avoid overly relying on one to compensate for the others.
The overall package inspires confidence. The Stradale is incredibly well balanced and planted, even while soaking up uneven road surfaces. The work done by Dallara suspension engineers and Pirelli tire engineers pays off in grip under braking, cornering and acceleration. The suspension is comfortable yet stiff enough to avoid undue weight transfer. While the trip through the countryside did not include race track time, it is easy to envision an amateur getting a taste of a true race car while the experienced driver enjoys finding the Stradale’s limits.
The cockpit is spartan, reflecting its obvious racing heritage. It has no gimmicks or unnecessary bits that could add weight or distract from the mission (although air conditioning adds weight, it is a concession to the mid-day Italian heat). The Stradale wraps its occupants in a blend of carbon fiber and stitched leather. It is a magnificent balance of form and function. It is exotic but not overdone. Like the exterior, the styling is clean and timeless and lets the driving experience take center stage.
Four point belts emphasize the racecar sensation, unusual for street cars. The seating position is very thoughtful and molded. The digital dashboard, visible through the race-inspired steering wheel, provides key data such as gear selection and RPM’s. The sight lines from the side mirrors are not only effective, they give a glimpse of the curves at the rear and the large wing. This is a performance car, but it has style.
The pair returned to headquarters and switched to a black 50th anniversary car with manual shift. The matte black coupe with champagne gold yellow interior had a different presence than the green Stradale. Mechanically, the limited edition was the same as the standard Stradale but adds aesthetic cues for a different look and feel.
The manual shifter was in a comfortable and natural position. Now familiar with the machine, Francis reveled in the soundtrack. The turbos whistled and pebbles pinged against the carbon fiber tub. The term “race car for the road” is overused and typically merely means raw speed, but the Stradale truly brings the race car experience. Short of wearing a helmet and watching for corner workers waving flags, a driver can’t get much closer to racing sensations. The Stradale fires up all the senses and engages with the driver.
Considering the rarity of other barchettas on the market such as the McLaren Elva and Ferrari Monza, the Stradale in barchetta form is a real eye opener. It is not available in the US, but something to be considered for those in relevant markets. For US customers, however, the EXP track day special strips out weight and adds horsepower and aero treatments. Dallara brought the EXP to several private events in the US in 2022 and looks forward to sharing it more broadly with the US market.
Inspired by Racing
After spending the day touring the factory and driving the Stradale, there was no question that the Dallara team met Mr. Dallara’s design brief. The car is enjoyable to drive on the road and the racing heritage comes through in every possible way. Mr. Dallara set the tone from the beginning when he left Ferrari, his first professional job, to be closer to racing. With the evolution of his career path and the Dallara company, that common thread keeps the company focused.
The Stradale is not only a proper birthday present for Mr. Dallara, the company could not have found a better way to show its skills to the world. Often, Dallara’s work is unknown or mentioned in conjunction with a customer, but having a product for road customers with the Dallara badge is a fitting milestone. The Speed Journal congratulates those customers fortunate enough and wise enough to put a Stradale in their garage and drive it as Mr. Dallara intended.
The Speed Journal would like to thank Dallara and the Dallara team for their time and hospitality.