Rally di Roma DirtFish diary: Catching the action

There were delays, but international rallying returned in style near Rome

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Word of the day today? Delayed. Stage one? Delayed. Stage two? Delayed? The whole afternoon? Hugely delayed. This diary? Delayed.

Apologies for that final delay. Partly my fault. Partly the fault of Andrea Crugnola and Adrien Fourmaux, who halted stages one and two when they binned their Citroën C3 R5 and Ford Fiesta R5 MkII cars respectively. An hour was lost with each shunt.

That’s why team DirtFish is sitting down to its pasta 50 minutes before today becomes tomorrow.

It’s impossible to feel anything but sympathy for the organisers of Rally di Roma. Yes, the stages were narrow and they understood that an accident of any significance could block the roads, but they put their faith in the drivers keeping their cars on the straight and narrow.

In one of the funniest interviews I’ve seen in a very, very long time, Craig Breen put the whole morning into context.

“Sucky calves,” he said. “Sucky calves put out for grass and mad for bulling.”

Loosely speaking, this is about a bunch of young things finally being let off the leash and making the most of their freedom. Rally drivers in coronavirus-enforced lockdown made the analogy an entirely worthy – as well as witty – one.

Every now and then – actually much more often than that – Breen finds parallels which strike right to the heart of the matter. How Colin Clark didn’t follow sucky calves is beyond me.

No matter. Six stages ran and, 133 days on from Rally México, we found ourselves watching Rally1 cars rocket off the line. The European Rally Championship action has been entertaining, but it’s still the World Rally Car that has the hairs on the back of the neck standing to full attention.

Jammed in by queuing rally cars at the start of SS1, getting back to the rally base in Fiuggi for lunchtime service was out of the question. Finally freed from a logjam of fever, we headed for pizza.

For the first time in Italy, pizza simply could not be found. Just like Rome and its Colosseum on Friday, the streets were empty, the restaurants barriered – the people, like the pizza, nowhere to be seen.

Heading back to stage one was a scene similar to a novice road rally, with competitors from all three rallies – the Rally de Pico national event, RallyStars Rome Capitale and Rally di Roma – heading in every direction. It was ever so slightly crazy. But oddly endearing in its apparent eccentricity.

And the feeling is the same for this rally: Fuiggi first-timers Colin, Heikki and I have fallen for the place and the race. Our hotel is quirky, old Italian cool and the place is just beautiful. Mountains replace the rolling hills of Lazio and Rome, with all its gladiatorial madness and breath-taking history is just down the road. And the people are so nice.

First thing this morning, the boys wanted to film the opener for their video in a café at the side of the road on the way to SS1. One espresso in and a member of the local carabinieri stepped out of his office for the same reason. He loved the rally and wanted to know everything we knew. And what we were up to. Once the cars started coming and Heikki pushed the button on the camera, a local Fiat Stilo pulled up outside the café and ruined the shot.

“Eh Bruno!” cried our new found friend. With some flat-chat Italian and a degree of arm-waving, Bruno was moved along rapido. And the film made.