“Sanremo return is unlikely but necessary”
Will it happen? What’s going on with the funding? Does this rally really have a future in the World Rally Championship? All are questions leveled at one WRC round in the last month or so. In an effort to find out a bit more, I took my passport, the keys to a Skoda Superb and headed for the hills. No, not China. Toscana. Tuscany. Northern Italy, for many the true home of this nation’s round of the world championship. It was Markku Alen who convinced me I had to do it (“Beautiful roads, hey, go and drive, go and drive…)”. So I did. Armed with a few roadbooks from years past, I headed south.
I had intended to write this column about China, but trying to get the inside line from Beijing has proved more than a little bit challenging.
Instead, I’ve decided to investigate Italy’s round of the championship. Sardinia, we’re reliably informed, is finished. The money’s all gone. For the WRC to survive, it has to move back to the mainland.
And it will. And it’s not like we haven’t heard that before, is it?
But this time it does seem like there’s more to this one; local media are reporting the end of the line for the island’s 12-year WRC adventure. There’s part of me that would be sad about that: Costa Smeralda has a great history in our sport. But Sanremo has an even greater history.
And a proper, pre-1997 Sanremo has an even greater history.
The 1996 event was the last to make the long drag around the coastline hugging autostrada to Tuscany. After that, it was all-asphalt, then came oblivion. When David Richards said gravel rallying was the future, Sardinia put some money on the table and Italy sold its soul.
And it’s only after visiting the places Alen talks of with such emotion that, after my experience, I can start to understand. The roads south of Florence, north of Montalcino, east of Volterra and west of Arezzo really are something.
It’s not hard to imagine a World Rally Car sliding between the cypress trees, blowing up a dust cloud to contrast perfectly against an autumnal sunset.
Stopping for a coffee in San Gimignano, I met a local photographer who worked on the rally through the Eighties. His local newspaper doesn’t fund a trip to Sardinia, but he’s never forgotten what he saw.
“Quattro,” he said. “I know I should say Delta or Lancia, but quattro. The noise. The noise… this place? This place died a little bit when the rally left. Now, my children, they don’t even know about the rally. When I was working, Siena, Firenze (Florence), Pisa, Torino everywhere stopped for the rally.”
The chances of returning the WRC to these parts, I’m told, are slim. But it’s hard to think of a more worthy place. And you’re right, Markku. Bellissimo.