Turn at 100 k.p.h with a G-force of 5… Primrose Hill’s speed junky gets her highs on the water.
The Mole decides he would rather not be battered in Chiara Rossi’s powerboat, but would graciously drink a glass of rather special Chianti selected by her.
For many of us in Primrose Hill twenty-nine-year-old Chiara Rossi is the charming assistant manager of Negozio Classica, the wine bar in Regent’s Park Road. But she is rather more than that. She is well on the way to becoming a qualified sommelier; is a more than decent photographer; plays tennis, swims and cycles; and plays electric guitar. But also her team, Rossi Racing Powerboat, represents Italy in international competitions.
Chiara and her brother Massimo were brought up in a tiny town near Venice. Her father, Stefano, was the manager of an assistance marina; and her mother, Patricia, was a chef. As a child Chiara travelled with her father when he competed in powerboat racing around the world: South Africa, Florida, Sweden, Norway. Before long she was sitting on her father’s lap taking the controls of his boat, and by sixteen she was competing.
Two years ago Chiara took a break from working in a bar in Venice to come to London for two months to improve her English. She came across Negozio Classica in Notting Hill, asked if they had a job and started working there. Negozio Classica is part owned by Tuscany’s Avignonesi winery and was set up to showcase the full range of Avignonesi wines in the best way possible – serving them by the glass. Avignon in Italy? How come?
It’s a complicated story. In 1305 a deadlocked conclave finally elected Clement V, a Frenchman, as pope. He refused to move to Rome and set up his court in the papal enclave at Avignon, where it remained for the next 67 years. If you visit Avignon, forget about the bridge that ends incongruously only halfway across that stretch of the Rhone. Instead, visit the astonishingly opulent papal palace. A total of seven French popes reigned at Avignon until 1376, when Gregory XI moved his court to Rome taking with him some noble families of Avignon. One of those families was the Avignonesi which separated into three branches, in Rome, Siena and Montepulciano.
The Avignonesi’s cellars are among the most ancient in Italy. The Palazzo Avignonesi was built according to a design by Jacopo Barozzi (called Vignola) in the second half of the XVI century (what we’d call the seventeenth century) and it has always been the cellars’ headquarters.
The Falvo brothers, owners of vineyards in the municipality of Cortona, took over Avignonesi in 1974 and re-founded it investing greatly in viniculture, selecting the local varieties and introducing classical ones such as Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet, Merlot and Pinot Noir. Then, in 2009, Avignonesi was acquired by Virginie Saverys who introduced organic and biodynamic farming methods and acquired additional vineyards and a state-of-the-art winemaking facility in the Montepulciano appellation. That’s why we have a little bit of Italy on Regent’s Park Road. And not long after joining Negozio, Chiara transferred to Primrose Hill and has been a part of the community ever since.
Let’s get back to the powerboat racing. It is an expensive sport: the boat and all the trappings cost in the region of £60,000, and then there is the team. In Chiara’s team her father is the mechanic, her brother Masssimo is the radio-man and there are two other mechanics, all of whom have to be paid. So obviously sponsorship is essential. Her Italian sponsors are Favian Variatori, TS Informatica and ABC Logistic.
Fine, you have a team and sponsorship, but how on earth do you prepare for a powerboat race when you live in Primrose Hill? “I have to rely on the team and give them my complete trust, so that when I arrive the day before the race I know that everything is ready. In the weeks before, I focus on what is in front of me: mentally visualising the cockpit and the controls, seeing the course, racing round it in my mind. I have studied videos of previous races, I have studied the opposition. I am mentally ready. I leave Negozio at 2 a.m., get on the flight to Milan at 7 a.m. and am meeting the team at 10 a.m.”
Eventually she has registered, the technical scrutineering is complete, she has been round the course, she has taken part in the boat parade, and she is in her boat. What is it like? “The boat is small, 4.3 metres in length. It consists of a cockpit and an engine with a fibreglass streamlined body that allows the boat to surge, water-planing and bouncing over the waves. Along the shore of the lake there is a timber walkway and twenty boats are lined up, each held in place by two of the team. You are strapped in the cockpit, helmeted, oxygen-connected. It is a hot Italian day, 45 degrees in the cockpit. Then the starter gun goes, the mechanic yanks the starter just as you do with a lawn-mower, and with a deafening roar the boats leap forward, up to 100 k.p.h in the six seconds to the first turn, which you take with a G force of 5.5 or 6.0. You can’t see a thing because of the spray. A 50-second lap. Then you do it again for 45 laps.”
The rewards are not great. If you race outside Europe, the organiser pays everything: flight, hotel, container transport for the boat. If you come in the first ten you might get 2-3,000 euros, but that goes nowhere near paying for fuel and spare parts. It’s the drug that’s important. If Chiara does not race for two months, she feels withdrawal symptoms. And this is just Formula Two. Her ambition is to progress to Formula One, where the real professionals race for real prizes.
Chiara’s Facebook entry for 12 July 2015 reads: “Getting better and ready for the next race after an unlucky weekend in Brindisi. Thanks to all my team, my family, my sponsor, my friends, Bergamo Scuba Angels and all the people who helped me!”
Already Chiara is a two-times bronze medal holder as part of the Italian team in the Italian championships. Her twin ambitions are clear and specific: she wants to be a fully qualified sommelier recognised by the Italian Sommelier Association and WSET with her own London wine-bar; and she intends to be a gold medal winner in the Formula One world championships. No question in my mind. Watch this name: Chiara Rossi.
Article by The Mole on the Hill
Photography by Lars Christiansen