“San­remo re­turn is un­likely but nec­es­sary”

Motor Sport News - - Rally News - DAVID EVANS

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.

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