Racing Piaggio Ape Three-Wheelers

These pickups teach Italian racers—ask Valentino Rossi!

“The Ape is the standard pickup truck in Italy. It’s where the racing drivers start off. Valentino Rossi learned on one,” says Steve Dennis, a Piaggio Commercial UK publicist. “Scandinavians have snow and ice. Italians have unstable Apes.”Dom Romney

It started as a publicity stunt. In 2012, to promote Piaggio’s Ape Cross Country, the Italian scooter firm hatched a cheeky plan: Take its three-wheeled runabout, add a smattering of go-fast kit, and establish a new spec racing series. The Piaggio Ape Racing Championship was born.

The Ape Racing Championship was born in 2012. Conceived as a publicity stunt, the series featured Piaggio’s humble three-wheeled runabout, plucked from its work-truck roots and dropped into spec racing events. The madness kicked off, appropriately, with a Le Mans-style running start.Dom Romney
As British racing regulations are pursuant only to two- and four-wheeled vehicles, there are no seatbelts and only minimal policing of on-track shenanigans.Dom Romney
Piaggio pulled factory support in 2014, and the Ape Racing Championship officially disbanded soon after. (Though, Dennis notes, not before winning a PR industry award for most creative marketing program.) Unofficially, the series lives on through Red Letter Days, a rent-and-race program at Rye House, the 0.62-mile karting circuit in Hertfordshire, an hour north of London. There, for a reasonable sum, you can do wheel-to-wheel combat in a track-prepped Ape. What’s it feel like? Dennis compares the sensation to racing “a sail dinghy crossed with a sidecar motorbike.”Dom Romney
“It’s pretty safe,” says Dennis. “We’ve only had three rollovers so far.”Dom Romney
Red Letter Days’ banner package is an enduro. It consists of three stints, each lasting 40 minutes, with pit stops for rider changes. (Getting back up to speed often requires some pushing.) According to Dennis, there’s no need for refueling; the Ape’s unmodified tank, which holds about 3 liters, is more than enough—even for the “fastest guys” who turn 1m02s laps while averaging 38 mph.Dom Romney
These Apes aren’t stock. They’re not exactly dialed-in either. Basic modifications include a tuned exhaust pipe, an oversize Dell’Orto carburetor, and a performance engine kit from Malossi, which increases displacement from 50cc to 112cc. The four-speed transmission has a “heavy-duty clutch” that “cost about $10” and lower gearing, while the rear suspension is removed entirely. Crucially, the front roll bar is fitted with casters, so riders can carry speed while tipping the body through corners.Dom Romney
British racing regulations are aimed at two- and four-wheeled vehicles, so the Apes at Rye House get a pass. That means minimal policing of on-track shenanigans. Also, no seatbelts. “It’s pretty safe,” Dennis says. “We’ve only had three rollovers so far.”Dom Romney
Few machines do more with less than this two-stroke, scooter-based rig. They get the job done on rural farms and around town, trucking flowers and delivering groceries and hauling tradesmen. But charisma is truly the Piaggio’s métier. To that end, these racing Apes might just be the finest examples of the breed.Dom Romney