A passion for Martini Racingby Rob Widdows on 27th September 2013
When you think of Martini do you think of the drink, or the racing colours? I suspect that the majority of you will choose the latter. Along with the Gulf livery, Martini is surely the favourite of fans throughout the world, those famous stripes adorning some of the most successful race and rally cars of the last 50 years.
A week ago I was sipping the drink, along with 699 other people, on the lawns of Villa Erba on the shore of Lake Como, there to celebrate the 150th anniversary of this famous Italian beverage. In next month’s magazine we will have a full report with photos of the cars chosen to represent Martini’s racing heritage. To whet your appetite, among them were Lancias Stratos and Delta Integrale, a Gordon Murray Brabham, a Porsche 917 and the stunning new 918 hybrid supercar from Stuttgart.
Martini is as well known for its rallying as it is for its racing and so I was anxious to track down double World Champion Miki Biasion who carried the colours to so many famous victories in 1988 and 1989. For an Italian it was that bit more special to drive with the stripes and this quiet, intelligent man will forever be associated with red, white and blue Lancias.
Biasion retired after the RAC Rally in 1994 but keeps closely in touch with the sport and remains a hero for all of us who saw him drive at the height of his career. Clutching a cocktail, he spoke about his long association with this very Italian company.
“Well, I was part of the Martini racing life for eight years, and driving with those colours was the most sparkling time of my career. And even now, although they are not involved in the top categories, they are still remembered by the fans. For an Italian driver to race for Martini Lancia was like a promotion, a dream come true, and you had become a part of the history of motor sport, you know, you had arrived at the top of your sport. The Delta was the best known car of the time, with so many wins, and I’d been involved closely with its development, so it was lucky, was good timing to be with Lancia at that time. When I see the cars lined up here at this party it brings back so many memories, brings a bump to my heart, and always my favourite was the Safari rally, such a big challenge, and there is nothing like that any more in the modern sport. Is sad, I think.”
So what does he think of the WRC we see today?
“The championship is still important, of course, but totally different, especially perhaps because of Sébastien Loeb who has been so far ahead of the rest. Never be in doubt that he is exceptionally talented, very special, no question, but of course he has had the best team and the best car, and that is what you need to prove your talent. I would say the lack of competition was not so good for the sport and the other big problem is that the drivers don’t have any contact with spectators like we used to have when we stopped for service between stages. In those days, we met the fans at the service, but now the drivers are more like Formula 1, they are superstars and they have lost the contact with the fans. I think there is less passion, less chance of an autograph, things like that.”
Many WRC fans will agree with that. And there will be more from Biasion, and from the ever-popular Emanuele Pirro, another man in Martini colours, in next month’s Motor Sport. Meanwhile, time for a cocktail, time to savour the sensational cars that carried the colours.