This was the first time RACC had been in charge of a Classic car Rally and, given its extensive experience in organising leading automobile events, the event looked sure to be a success.
There was a broad scope for admissions: from 1947 to 1986. I opted for one of my favourite cars, which, unfortunately, I had not used for almost 2 years. A few days before the race, I decided to prepare it and check that everything was working properly. Obviously it took some effort for it to start up after such a long period of lethargy, but when it did it afforded me a huge smile.
I realised that the roadworthiness certificate was out of date, and when I went to renew it they found that the front brakes were imbalanced. Fortunately, the vehicle passed at the second attempt, after putting right a small loss in a cylinder which had soaked the drum with brake fluid and compromised braking efficiency.
The closer we got to the day of the Rally, the more excited I got. For me, it would be a great test for one of my favourite races, the Mille Miglia, and the ideal scenario to debut with a Blunik (for experts in regularity, this is the best thing to achieve high precision in time-trials). I would also be accompanied on this adventure by my Italian friend Daniele Rizza. We struck up a great friendship after attending the Mille Miglia last year. This was the first race we competed together at the wheel, and it undoubtedly will not be the last. Apart from being an outstanding mechanic and a wonderful driver, Daniele is also one of the best restorers in Italy, and is in charge of preserving important collections such as the Bulgari collection from his facilities in Rome. Daniele came out to Barcelona the day before the Rally, time enough to check and test the vehicle.
We did a few kilometres, went over the spare parts list, installed the regularity devices and ensured everything was in place ready for the race.
Everything seemed ready and in order. And we decided to spend the night in Barcelona to avoid the hellish morning traffic.
Dawn on the day of the race was dark and it was raining incessantly. Over the course of the short ride that separated our hotel from Plaza de la Catedral, we knew intuitively that the braking was imbalanced, but this time on the opposite side. Before completing the checks and entering the “parc fermé”, we removed the wheel to try and solve the problem in extremis. All our efforts were in vain as we got soaked in the rain, and we came to realise that the race was going to be much more demanding than we had envisaged. Moreover, we didn’t have time to programme the computer we were going to use to time the regularity stages, and, as if this wasn’t enough, we also discovered that the spare wheel was losing air, meaning a puncture would put us out of the race.
However, we didn’t let any of this put us off, as we were determined to enjoy ourselves to the full.
They gave us number 58, one of the last ones, which was somewhat surprising considering we had the oldest car in the event. We also realised that the averages for our category were not far from the higher averages assigned to more powerful, modern cars, meaning our chances of finishing in a top spot in the overall standings were almost nil. In this regard, the RACC showed a complete lack of sensitivity to the old vehicles, simply due to ignorance on its part. More accustomed to organising competitions with modern vehicles, it was obvious that they were inexperienced in this area. (This should not be understood as criticism; we are simply outlining our experience in the hope improvements can be implemented in future editions).
The wait before the starting podium was, as always, long. More even so when you start at the back. The only positive aspect was that the rain had mostly cleared when we reached the starting line, meaning we were able to drive for 800 km under clear skies. Driving a convertible is always much more pleasant, especially when the roads and landscapes are good. This is one aspect the organisation got spot on. Even my Italian co-driver was in awe, repeating over and over; “…ma è bella la Catalonia…”
We started the race almost an hour after the first car, while the difference in speed between the first vehicle and ours meant the pack of cars would stretch out over the course of the stage. Nevertheless, we started with great enthusiasm, and the fantastic sound of the untiring straight-six engine gave us an extra dose of morale and satisfaction as soon as we pressed the accelerator.
We completed the first link section without any incidents, apart from the aforementioned problem with the brakes and the fact that the surface was difficult due to the constant rainfall throughout the day.
We arrived at Gallifa (an small village 45 km away from Barcelona) to contest the first special stage, eager to do well but knowing that we could not take any risks. Moreover, we didn’t have any instruments for measuring time and distance. But the feeling you get from a vehicle you have travelled thousands of kilometres in (including 3 Mille Miglias) makes everything worthwhile.
We started the stage and everything started to change.
Somewhat surprisingly, the car started to run exceptionally smoothly. The brakes began to work in unison. The clouds started to break up and let the sun shine through. Everything seemed very familiar. I went back to believing in magic. Indeed “Blue Beauty” never ceases to surprise me. Maybe this car is capable of regenerating itself, or perhaps it simply needs the indulgence of racing and of feeling useful… Whatever it is, it oozes generosity, filling its occupants with pleasure and satisfaction. It was a special moment, truly magical. When I arrived to my home town, the sun had completely appeared, tingeing the landscape gold. My uncle winked at me from up above. It was a wink which told me to have a good time. And that is what we did.
The next stage was in the Circuit. Who could fail to have a great time with a Grand Prix circuit to enjoy all by yourself over several laps?
We followed the road book as day gradually gave way to night. Darkness is far from being the best ally for the timid headlights of a car from the 1940s, and nor was it our intention to increase our average speed in the special stages in the downhill sections, but, nevertheless, we overcame all difficulties to perfection. Everything was going swimmingly, until what was inevitable given that the team is made up of two pilots with very little experience in navigation happened.
We got lost.
We missed one sign before reaching Osona Circuit and we almost ended up in Ripoll (Almost 40 km far away). Although we made a U-turn and found our way back onto the right track, it was too late and we were unable to contest the last 3 or 4 night special stages; we also had the maximum penalty imposed on us, which is why we decided to head over to the end of stage hotel.
We took everything in good humour and decided to refocus our goal, although we remained committed to having a good time. The chance of achieving a good position in the regularity standings had disappeared, which is why we decided to try for a more feasible but no less ambitious challenge: to lift the trophy for finishing the race with the oldest car.
On the second day, the weather was great and our Alfa Romeo was true to form, performing like a true champion. We had a lot of fun on the mountain roads that cross between Catalonia and France, until we arrived at Perpignan. Daniele took the wheel in the intervals and saw for himself my poor skills as a co-driver. But we enjoyed every minute of the amazing music of the untiring engine of the 6C 2500 SS. A car to fall in love with not just for its beauty, but also thanks to its efficiency.
Hours passed by, kilometre after kilometre, whilst the light slowly disappeared. When we arrived back in Barcelona it was already dark and the adventure had seemed all too short. “Blue Beauty” is addictive and I found myself using it almost every day during the weeks after the I Rally Catalunya Històric, where, apart from the trophy for the oldest car, we won our own prize for having the most fun.
*Many thanks our sponsors: Chopard España, Fund Drive Investments, APT Performance, Cristalmina, CarrerasCars and GentlemenDrive Magazine. Not forgetting Daniele Rizza and his team at Carrozzeria Rizza in Rome.