Gabriele 1

From racer to rider

Celebrated motorsport driver Gabriele Gardel has changed lanes for the Harley® life 

Tucked away in southern Switzerland, in the Italian-speaking city of Lugano, there resides a rather unique Harley® dealership that encapsulates its owner’s passion.


Designed as a 3D version of the legendary Daytona US race circuit, Harley-Davidson Lugano is the brainchild of Gabriele Gardel, who spent more than 20 years competing at the highest level in motorsport. At his peak, he won the GT1 class at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and represented the racing royalty of Ferrari and Aston Martin.

The racing drug

Gabriele’s passion began early, and saw him go-karting competitively from the age of 10. “The noise, the smell, the racing… it was like a drug, I couldn’t stop!” he enthuses.

Despite his father steering him towards academic study, he followed his instincts and pushed back. “He wanted me to get my degree, but racing was so important to me I just couldn’t commit to anything else. I ended up dropping out of university,” he says.

Gabriele turned professional in 1996, progressing from go-karts to Formula Three, and finishing second in the Italian Championship in his first year.

In 1999, he moved to the celebrated Benetton team in Germany, once home of none other than Michael Schumacher. The next port of call was GT racing, where he was crowned FIA GT world champion in 2005. 

But the best was yet to come. In 2010, Gabriele and his team won the GT1 class at the legendary 24 Hours of Le Mans. “This was definitely my career highlight – to win Le Mans is something very special. I’ll never forget it until my dying day!”

Changing course

However, after investing his heart and soul in success on the track for so long, Gabriele felt he was ready for a change in direction. “Motorsport had been my life for 22 years, and it was time to think about doing something else.”

Gabriele’s other long-term passion is motorcycles, and Harley-Davidson® motorcycles in particular. Combining the design skills he learnt at university with the engineering knowledge gleaned from his motorsport days, Gabriele started customising bikes. “I just love working with Harleys. There’s so much history there, and creating something one-of-a-kind is really fun.”

He then hit upon the idea of creating a destination where Harley enthusiasts could not only bring their bikes for servicing or customisation, but where they could also eat, drink and socialise with other riders.

Dreaming of Daytona

Keen to incorporate a motorsport theme into his project, Gabriele turned to his architect wife Linda, who had the inspired idea of building the dealership in the shape of the famous Daytona race circuit.

“Daytona is close to my heart: I’ve raced there several times in my career, and it’s also famous for its annual Bike Week. I presented the concept of the ‘Daytona Diner and Dealership’ to Harley – a destination that would welcome riders from across Switzerland and beyond. They really bought into it!” 

Today, the Daytona Diner sits in the same premises as the dealership, and offers food, drink and live music with an authentic ‘riders pub’ atmosphere.

Cutting-edge custom

Within the dealership itself, comprehensive customisation services are offered alongside the usual maintenance and repairs. These include bodywork, airbrushing and bike wrapping, a technique adapted by Gabriele from his time in motorsport that sees the original paintwork covered with an adhesive film. This can be removed without damage later on.

“A lot of customers ask for a motorsport theme. They know there’s a huge amount of experience that runs through the workshop team. We have mechanics who’ve worked with the likes of Ferrari in F1 and the Maserati race team, so we try to bring in those influences,” explains Gabriele.

For this charismatic thrillseeker, who’s currently riding a customised Road King®, two wheels are very much the future. “Riding and working with Harleys is so inspiring, it’s such a unique motorcycle company. Motorsport was my life for so long, but now Harley has well and truly taken over.”