Air vs. Land: The Long History of Races Between Aircraft and Sports Vehicles

In 2004 an Italian F-104 of the 10° Gruppo "raced" a Ducati 999 in Grazzanise AFB, in Italy. (Image Credit: Troupe Azzurra)
In 2004 an Italian F-104  of the 10° Gruppo  "raced"  a Ducati 999 in Grazzanise AFB, in Italy.  (Image Credit: Troupe Azzurra)
In 2004 an Italian F-104 of the 10° Gruppo “raced” a Ducati 999 in Grazzanise AFB, in Italy.
(Image Credit: Troupe Azzurra)

This article was inspired by a recent stunt organized by FortyOneSix.com ahead of this weekend’s Goodwood Festival of Speed, where a Range Rover Sport on occasion of its unveiling went head-to-head against a Spitfire TR 9.


The Range Rover Sport’s 510-horsepower supercharged V8 engine was pitted against the Spitfire’s 1,750-hp supercharged V12. The aircraft in this video, SM520 started life as a Spitfire HF IXe high-level fighter in November 1944. In 1948 it was sold to the South African Air Force and eventually became one of several Spitfires lying derelict in a metal scrapyard at Maitland, Cape Town. It was rescued in 1981 and in 2002 was converted into a replica of a TR-9 two-seat trainer, of which a handful were delivered to the Royal Netherlands Air Force after the Second World War.

The Spitfire was flown by Matt Jones of the Boultbee Flight Academy in Chichester, which is where SM520 is now based, while Jaguar Land Rover chief vehicle integrity engineer Mike Cross was at the wheel of the Range Rover Sport, a five-litre supercharged V8 with 375kW on tap.

The race between an airplane and a car or motorcycle is something that has been done since the first days of aviation. It is believed that the first race between an airplane and a car was organized in 1910.

C. K. Hamilton on his biplane, racing Kjelson on an S.P.O. car at Atlanta Speedway in Atlanta, Georgia.
C. K. Hamilton on his biplane, racing Kjelson on an S.P.O. car at Atlanta Speedway in Atlanta, Georgia.

A 1910 issue of Flight Magazine described the race thusly:“During the three day motor ace meeting on the Atlanta, Ga. Speedway held on May 5th, 6th and 7th 1910 some diversion to the ordinary car racing was provided in the form of some exhibition flights by Mr. Charles K. Hamilton with his biplane. What purports to be the first flyer versus automobile race took place on one of the days when Hamilton raced Kjelson, on a sport car for 4 miles, or twice around the track. The airman kept close to the ground and not more than a few feet separated car and flyer any part of the distance. The airplane won in the final stretch by a few feet, the time for the 4 miles being 5 minutes, 6 seconds. Previously Hamilton had made one circuit (2 miles) in 2 minutes.”

Fast-forwarding  few years and we get to probably to one of the most famous ‘competitions’ between an airplane and an airplane. On November 21, 1981 over the runway of the Istrana-Treviso Air Base, a unique race took place: the fastest car in Formula 1 of 1981 season, and the fastest fighter of Italian Air Force, the F-104. The car was driven by mighty Canadian F-1 driver Gilles Villeneuve who won the match vs the Starfighter.

Some years later on September 17, 1989, the Italian Air Force decided to gave as gift an F-104G painted in Ferrari team red to commemorate the race. This Starfighter had the fuselage numbers 4-27. The number 4 was for 4th Wing and 27 was the race number of Villeneuve´s F-1 Ferrari. Now this F-104 G rests in Fiorano autodrome, owned by Ferrari.

The F-104 dedicated to Ferrari and the unforgotten victory of Gilles Villeneuve on display at  Fiorano autodrome, Ferrari's test track.
The F-104 dedicated to Ferrari and the unforgotten victory of Gilles Villeneuve on display at Fiorano autodrome, Ferrari’s test track.

The picture we have chosen to open the article with portraits an Italian Air Force F-104 was painted with the red, white and black colors of the 10° Gruppo and boasted a flashy “999″  in homage to the 9° Stormo and to celebrate the twinning of the squadron with the Ducati Racing Team. The “999” is a famous model name of Ducatti used by the Italian Racing Team which sports a similar colour scheme to the one devised for the special Starfighter. The specially painted aircraft was then raced against a Ducati 999 in an event held in Grazzanise on Oct. 14, 2004.

Here in the states, a P-51 Mustang was raced against a Ford Mustang at an air show in St. Cloud Minnesota.

2 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. Collings Foundation Holding Race of the Century Event July 27-28th
  2. Lamborghini VS Sukhoi 29 at Warbirds Over Wanaka

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


*