Coppa d'Italia

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The show goes on . . .

For the inhabitants of Padua, the third weekend in April is now traditionally announced by the roar of racing engines and the sight of fabulous historic cars. It is time once again for the Coppa d’Italia, a competitive annual event whose large and varied grids are a fitting tribute to its founder, the late Giulio Dubbini.

After Dubbini’s untimely death in August last year, any doubts that this round of the FIA European Historic Rally Championship would die with him were quickly quashed, and enthusiasm for the 1989 event was as high as ever.

Lining up for this fifth Coppa d’Italia on the Sunday morning start-ramp were no less than 146 entrants, with superb machinery spanning the years 1931-1965. From Britain there were 16 cars, amongst them Malcolm Young and myself in his 1963 MGB. Registered 665 FXF, this B has been a racer all its life, having originally been built for Jennifer Tudor-Owen as a works replica.

Keeping us company was 8 DBL, no doubt familiar to many as one of a series of numbers adorning the Abingdon cars of the Sixties, and a veteran of such classic events as the Targa Florio. Driving this MGB were Colin Pearcy and Doug Smith.

Alas, any hopes Malcolm and I had of repeating our fifth place in the Period F Sports/GTS and GTP T8 Class (up to 2000cc) looked small, with five Elans and the rapid TVR Grantura of Tony Binnington and Rob Grant in the same class. Competition in the other 17 classes was also going to be high, though for overall honours it was generally accepted that either an Elan or an E-Type would emerge victorious at the end of the four days. These Lotuses and Jaguars were in abundance, as were assorted variants of Alfa Romeo Giulietta and Porsche 356. There were also ten Ferrari 250 models plus a 275, a 330, and 860 and 750 Monzas (the latter over from the USA), two Tojeiro Bristols (Britain’s Jeremy Agace again competing in LOY 500), two AC Ace Bristols and three 1900 S Alfa Romeos.

The format remained much as last year — a mixture of ten serious hill-climbs and four circuit races divided into four stages over the four days. Between the actual competitive sections competitors had to navigate themselves using the tulip maps provided, through time controls which ensured open road driving did not exceed 50 kph.

For the first of the first day’s four hillclimbs our MGB performed well, but thereafter it refused to run cleanly, and by the second day the only useable power was between 5000 and 7500 rpm. Nonetheless on all but two hills we managed to keep a few seconds ahead of the Pearcy/Smith MGB, though on the track at Misano Malcolm eventually had to give in to the latter’s extra power after a good battle, the B duo finishing fourth and fifth against some stiff opposition from a grid comprising various classes.

For my own first race at Magione (drivers tend to alternate on the hills and the races) I had a great time, finishing second having started from the penultimate row and beating three Shelby Mustangs in the process! What it could not contend with, however, was the incredibly rapid Volvo P1800 of Schaper/Brieskorm which the next day at Mugello even beat the Mustangs on that circuit’s formidable straight.

The weather in Italy in spring is as changeable as that of Britain, and the third day’s first two hills were run in the rain. Poor wipers, a greasy surface and 200ft drops with no barriers certainly get the adrenalin going, and both MGBs put in times which maintained their consistent running in the thirties in terms of overall position without penalties.

The last day’s hill, however, one of the most tortuous and demanding at 12km long, was something of a disaster: we were going extremely well when suddenly Malcolm managed to kick on the fire-extinguisher system, instantly dousing my crutch and the intake trumpets of the car’s Weber carburettor in freezing extinguishant! With the throttle kept to the floor, the engine eventually returned from one to four cylinders after a stop of nearly two minutes.

he Hadfield/Schryuer Elan S1 led the final race, again at Misano due to difficulties with Imola, from start to finish, having recovered from rolling on its side on the previous day’s wet second hill. That Volvo was there again, too, taking second from Pearcy. The fourth-placed Cobra had just about been within my grasp thanks to better handling, until our now very poorly engine revealed 10 psi oil pressure through Misano’s sweeping bends. So we cruised home, mindful of the 100-odd miles back to the finish in Padova.

There, the heavens again opened, the downpour more akin to the tropics than Europe. All was going well until some 500 yards from the finish when we took a wrong turn in a pedestrian precinct and took the exhaust clean off. We finished with me leaning out of the passenger window dragging the entire exhaust system alongside the car as Malcolm gunned the MGB the wrong way up a one-way street!

Alas our four-minute lateness cost another two minutes in penalty points, and we eventually finished 78th overall and sixth in class, out of just 96 finishers (the TVR was among the retirements). It’s not just competitive, it’s also tough on the cars. Colin Pearcy and Doug Smith were classified 94th, but they did beat that Volvo, which lost a day sourcing a fault and changing a gearbox.

Predictably, an Elan won, the superbly prepared and run example of “Amphicar” and Schermi just 7.9 seconds ahead of the Jaguar E-Type Roadster of Ceccon and Ragazzi. Just two cars broke the Elan/E-Type sequence in the top ten, the very rapid TZ1 Alfa Romeo of Chiapparini/Baribbi finishing fourth and the Ferrari 250 SWB Of Ghiraldelli/Dubbini (founder Giulio’s son) tenth. To give an example of how serious some competitors are, the winning Elan had its differential ratio changed no less than six times! PC

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