The reason for the surprise is that twenty year-old Derek has only been racing for one year and that he had never seen the track at Mugello or the car he was to race in. Look to US Ferrari Challenge Wrap-Up for a write up of the final race of the US Ferrari Challenge series to see how Derek fared in his 348 ride this year on this side of the pond. After that race in Texas Derek joined his Dad on a trip to Italy. Phil Hill was going over to race Brandon Wang's 1957 TR in a historic race coincident with the Ferrari Challenge International Finale at Ferrari's Mugello race circuit so Derek went along, sans 348, to see how he could do against the Europeans.
Derek in the pits at Mugello in front of 3 of the American entries. Gerry Jackson's Nicole Miller-painted 348 is easy to identify.
A few other American 348 Challenge Drivers went over as well, and brought their cars, but neither US F355 winner Peter Sachs nor US 348 series winner George Robinson were among them. Not bringing his car could have been a blessing or a curse. Unlike the US series, in Europe lots of drivers race in F355s so the 348s are really outclassed. Additionally, the US-spec 348s are even at a disadvantage to the European 348s due to about 200 extra pounds of bumpers and doors. Fortunately, Ferrari has an F355 car that they use as a loaner and they let Derek use it for the weekend.
The American drivers contingent in Italy (left to right) - Mario Bommarito (FNA's liason for the Americans), Phil Hill, Larry Wahl, Bruce Jamison, Derek John Hill, Paul Frame, and Rick Smith. Not pictured are Gerry Jackson and Steve Earle.
The racers were grouped into four classes: Eastern, Western and Southern Europe, plus an American/Japanese class. Interestingly, because all the American and Japanese competitors had 348s, Derek was placed into the South European class. This would put young Derek right in the middle of the notoriously aggressive Italians.
Derek's number 27 loaner F355 at Mugello.
Before the actual race weekend, the American and Japanese competitors were given a chance to practice at the official Ferrari test track - Fiorano. This was where Derek would have to acclimate to his new ride. And acclimate he did. All of the technicians and drivers were skeptical of Dereks's abilities at first but after a few orientation laps to the new track and new car, he began whittling down his lap times. By the end of the session he was over 5 seconds faster than every other driver (though they were in 348s remember). Remember - this is a kid who, despite his lineage, drove his first car race less than a year ago.
His parents didn't encourage him towards racing and hoped that he'd see "what an idiotic occupation car racing is." It seemed to be working. He began driving carts less than 2 years ago and his Dad made certain that he wasn't in a competitive cart, in hopes that he'd get it all out of his system and get a real job. That was until he met Andy Evans in Monterey last year at the FCA National Meet. Andy asked him what he planned to with himself and quiet Derek answered as most teenagers do with some sort of "I dunno" answer. Andy offered him an opportunity to test drive a Kudsu/Buick World Sports Car at Phoenix and Derek wisely took him up on it. Apparently, Andy made some sort of side bet with Leigh Miller that if Derek could achieve a predeter