from Autosport 13 November 1980

Sweet Tasting Success

Lancias dominate Giro d'Italia - Patrese/Alen/Kivimaki win - Porsche 935s fail - Bettega's supercharged Lancia second

 Report by Martin Holmes

Italy is the only country in Europe where a memory of road racing still lingers. The country that once ran the Mille Miglia, together with countless smaller road races, still refuses to let the memory die and the compromise dreamed up to allow the continued nostalgia and excitement is the Giro d'Italia. Conceived eight years ago simply as a series of circuit races, it has gradually developed to a point where, this year, it was a six-day tour using 16 stages in addition to seven races. Starting and finishing at Turin, heart of Italy's motor industry, the Giro has various halts to break up the route, which stretches down as far as Rome.

For the 1980 Giro, the theme of last year was developed still further using single cars that are driven alternately by racing and rally drivers; leading names including Michele Alboreto (European F3 champion), Riccardo Patrese, Eddie Cheever, Arturo Merzario and the racing motorcyclist Johnny Ceccotto. And the cars themselves were divided not only into Groups 1 to 4 as usual on rallies, but also into special G5 and G6 (prototype) classes as well.

The excitement in the early stages of the event runs at fever pitch. This year the most powerful rally car was the Moretti Porsche, rated at 748bhp - twice the power to be found in any other rally car - but clearly some unusual conditions are laid down. The stages are specially smooth (a lot of Italian asphalt is indeed quite rough) and the weather must be good. When the cars arrived at the last stage on the first night the drizzle had turned to fog, and immediately the stage was cancelled.

Another special feature of the Giro is the free transport sections between the end of some legs and the start of the next, like the system in the cyclists' Tour de France where the journey can be made in your own time, enabling more servicing time as the cars are not in parc ferme. The event is well financed, with most of the promotion being undertaken by the motor industry in Turin and also the wine industry in the Piedmont region.

Lancia entered three of their Beta Monte Carlos, smart in their new Martini colours, and with one of their cars fitted with a 2-litre supercharged engine, rather than the usual 1425cc engines with turbos. Already Lancia are planning a new racer: an 1800cc car with 500bhp or more, based on the existing chassis, and some aerodynamic experiments were being made on this event. The rally drivers found the racing-tune turbo engines difficult to use, and Attilio Bettega's engine with supercharger had the advantage of low-down torque. In addition Fiat had a faithful 24-valve Stratos, which is kept only for the Giro; this G5 car develops well over 300bhp and, according to driver Tabaton, was by far the best Stratos that he had ever driven.

The rally started on a Friday evening from Turin, with a series of special stages in the hills south of the Lombardy plain, before reaching Bologna at dawn on Saturday morning and then the racetrack at Misano, near Rimini. The sort of confusion you can only find in Italy accompanied the start. The organisers select their own starting order (not by reference to starting numbers - the same procedure also being applied to the grid positions for the opening race) and, promptly at 6.30pm, Markku Alen drove his Beta off the starting ramp, in the huge covered arena at Palazza Vela.  Suddenly, all hell broke loose. He was stopped midway down the road by angry television men and was pushed back to the ramp again. Alen and Kivimaki sat patiently inside the car while the worst of the Italian fury blew itself out. Six minutes later the starting procedure was re-enacted!

The special types of cars demanded extra care on stages. Roads leading up to and away from stages were blocked, and often stages were stopped shorter than specified. The drivers themselves found new troubles. Bettega arrived at the finish of the first stage, after a bad run, saying that the noise inside the car stopped him hearing a word that co-driver Bernacchini had to say, so he drove by sight and memory. And then Jean-Marie Almeras arrived very late having been off the road again when he could not hear his co-driver 'Tilber'. For Almeras this was the end. Not only had he lost oil (which then caused other cars to spin) but his steering was too badly damaged to continue. Darniche's car went on to three cylinders (in fact, after the road sections, all the Lancia Betas had to have their plugs changed).

Alen was quickest on the first stage, the second was cancelled before the start, the third and fourth went to Tabaton with his Stratos. Alen was quickest on the fifth. When the rally arrived at the start of the sixth, in the fog-bound hills of south of Maranello, the crews were told the conditions were too bad for high speed driving. At the end of the four stages that were actually run, the leaders were Tabaton and Perissutti with their old Stratos at 29m 45s, leading G5. Second was Alen (30m 03s), then Darniche (30m 32s), Busseni (best G4, Porsche 911SC, 31m 05s), Capone (31m 28s) and then 'Lucky' with 31m 33s.

The road sections were an adventure. G5 and G6 can never have to travel country lanes at any other time of the year and the rallying inexperience of many of the racing enthusiastswho entered cannot have helped ease the conditions. Of the 79 starters, 66 cars made it through that night but another ten were to retire at the first race, Misano.

Fifteen laps faced the cars, which were divided into three different races. The weather was dull and wintry (the event was beingheld a fortnight later than normal) but Moretti was in his element. With an ease which an extra 250bhp over his rivals gave him, the huge Porsche reached the end of the straights as the other cars struggled to accelerate away from the previous corner. Only one car (the Lancia of Patrese, sharing with Alen) finished on the same lap. The race spelt the end for Cheever, at the wheel of Darniche's Lancia, when a hole appeared in the side of the block and he had to retire. Then Alboreto pitted the supercharged Lancia, luckily with only a throttle linkage problem, but still he lost two laps before being able to finish the races. Moretti slowed near the end with what sounded like valve trouble but, with the night free for working, the car restarted sounding perfect the next day.

Eight o'clock the next morning the cars restarted from Rimini, taking a route inland towards two daylight special stages and then the race at Mugello. At last the supercharged Lancia got going and quickly recovered from its lowly start. At Mugello the two leading Porsches were in trouble. Almeras had to stop twice to refill the car with oil, creating the most amazing smoke screens around the circuit, and then the Moretti car had to slow down as it too lost quantities of oil. With all this smoke hanging on the circuit it was difficult to tell what was happening, and consequently the leaders were never given the chequered flag at the end of the 15th lap until Alboreto, in the other Lancia, passed. Pirro, driving the Tabaton Stratos ran out of petrol in all this confusion and positions at the end of the second stage at Florence showed the Patrese/Alen/Kivimoki Beta Turbo in the lead 3 mins ahead of the Moretti/Schon/Radelli Porsche 935.

Jacques Almeras now had a major problem with his Porsche. The engine was badly damaged and his brother Jean-Marie had arranged for someone to bring a piston and cylinder from Montpelier to Florence during the night. In fact, when it arrived, the engine had already been stripped and rebuilt and, to everyone's surprise, he was able to make the racetrack at Magione the next morning. For Moretti the problem was terminal and he had driven too far without oil. At Rome, the three Lancias were in the lead; the Turbo ahead of the 24-valve Stratos with the supercharged car behind. De Vito's Ritmo was an excellent fifth, leading Group 2.

The next morning the event left Rome and headed back north again. First stop was Vallelunga and, soon afterwards, the Stratos of Tabaton/Pirro retired with cylinder gasket failure, leaving the Betas first and second. This was a long, hard stretch. From 1.30pm Tuesday, the rally went non-stop until Imola was reached 24 hours later, and the end of the leg was in Bologna at 6.30pm. At Imola Almeras was struggling round, with his engine poorly, when three cars came up to overtake. There was a collision. Almeras's rear wheel was pulled away and the overtaking Ritmo had suspension damage. After all the earlier trouble, the Porsche was now out for good.

The fifth and last leg started from Varano and, after a race at Monza, the cars drove to the finish at Turin. Alboreto had to stop at Monza when he had distributor trouble, and the problems for the supercharged car were not over. Driving on the Milan tangenziale an accident on the other carriageway sent a car flying into the path of the Lancia. Bettega (then at the wheel) was able to avoid it, but it then hit a Fiat service car following closely behind. Happily, no disqualifications were to mar the finish; the Lancia Betas, now in their Martini colours, had taken their revenge.

Results

  1. Patrese / Alen / Kivimaki  Lancia Beta Turbo  4h 25m 47.1s
  2. Alboreto /Bettega / Bernacchini  Lancia Beta supercharger  4h 40m 07.6s
  3. Pantaleoni / Meloni / Tedeschini  Porsche 911SC  4h 43m 25.2s
  4. Cerutti / Pardini / Stradella  Fiat X1/9  4h 46m 04.1s
  5. de Paoli / Pozzo / Ercole  Fiat Arbarth 131  4h 47m 38.4s
  6. Cecotto / Pittoni / Ravizza  Porsche 930 Turbo  4h 48m 05.4s
  7. Busseni / Rossi / Bondesan  Porsche 911SC  4h 50m 31.5s
  8. Sivel / Decourt / Jaubert  Porsche 935  4h 56m 08.9s
  9. Ruffini / Uzzeni / Bellosta  Porsche 911SC  4h 56m 12.8s
  10. 'Spiffero' / Elmer  de Tomaso Pantera  4h 58m 30.5s