Roberto Angiolini, who headed up Jolly Club – one of the most famous privateer teams in the history of rallying – died last week in his native Italy at the age of 75 from complications of COVID-19.
His team, synonymous with Lancia, ran drivers of the calibre of Carlos Sainz, Miki Biasion, Didier Auriol, and Alex Fiorio. Under Angiolini’s leadership, Jolly Club proved that it was more than capable of taking on the established World Rally Championship manufacturer teams, and also attracted iconic sponsors like Martini, Totip and Repsol.
Jolly Club’s best result in the drivers’ championship was third overall in 1988 with Fiorio, and again in 1991 with Auriol. The team was also fifth in the 1993 manufacturers’ championship, entrusted with the Lancia Delta programme after the factory team withdrew.
That season was also the year in which Sainz drove for Jolly Club. While the partnership didn’t yield the results the then World Rally Champion might have expected, the Spaniard remains fond of his time with the team and Angiolini – as he recalls below.
The conversation was a difficult one. Carlos Sainz was genuinely torn. Totally undecided. He was a world champion on the move. For 1993, Jolly Club would replace Toyota as the Spaniard’s home.
In modern times, it was a move not dissimilar to Sébastien Ogier’s 2016-17 shift from Volkswagen Motorsport to Malcolm Wilson’s private M-Sport team. For Ogier four years ago, it was a gamble that paid huge dividends. For Sainz, it would be the first season in which he hadn’t won a WRC round since 1989.
But while he didn’t win rallies, he did win friends. And Roberto Angiolini was one of those friends he would never forget from his time at the charismatic Italian’s team.
“It was special to work with the people from Lancia and people from Jolly Club,” Sainz told DirtFish. “Roberto was not so much in the front line of running Jolly Club, that was more Claudio Bortoletto, but Roberto was the boss who made the deal. I knew him from when he was bringing Jolly Club to compete in the Spanish championship and, I have to say, he was 100% committed to bringing me to the team.
“He was a good guy, a clever guy who was quick and nice. He took me to Abarth, he introduced me to all the people there, to all his team members – he was somebody who really loved Spain. I feel so sorry for the whole family, for all of his people.
“He did a lot for me. OK, we didn’t get maybe the development we thought we would with the Lancia [Delta HF Integrale] and maybe from a sporting way it probably wasn’t the best year or the best decision to go there. But it was an opportunity to work with this team and these people and I’m happy for that.”
The decision was one which took the world of rallying by surprise.
Sainz recalls that difficult conversation.
“At the end of 1992,” he said, “I was talking with Ove [Andersson, Toyota Team Europe team principal] and he came to me and said: ‘Carlos, things are not looking so good regarding Repsol…’ He told me that Toyota in Japan had made a worldwide deal with Castrol. I asked if this was something to do with money, but when he told me every new Toyota in the world would be filled with Castrol oil, I knew it couldn’t be changed.
“This was such a difficult decision. I loved Toyota and to work with Ove, I had won the championship with them, but [Repsol] had supported me so long and helped bring me to the world championship. I decided to stay loyal with Repsol and this meant going to Lancia.
“It’s strange how things come around though. Now [in Formula 1] I see Günther [Steiner] a lot and we can talk about the old days at Jolly Club and the good days with Roberto.”
Steiner, who is now the Haas F1 team principal, was technical manager with Jolly Club from 1991-1993.