Rally di Roma DirtFish diary: Dinner and a rally show

A socially distanced dinner is the reward after a hungry rally


Like the best diaries, this one’s being written at bedtime. That’s not because I’m about to reveal a bunch of sordid secrets – more because it’s been a long day on the road without much typing time.

But what a road it’s been. North from Fiuggi after a slightly later start to Monday than originally intended, following a much later finish to Sunday than planned. That’s dinner with the Solbergs for you. The stories just kept on coming and, had the restaurant not turned the lights off, there’s a genuine danger we’d still have been there now.

Petter, Oliver, Aaron Johnston and the man responsible for designing, building and testing the Volkswagen Polo GTI R5 they’d just placed on the Rally di Roma Capitale podium, Gerard-Jan de Jongh were on very fine form. Great company. Great night.

Monday morning was all about heading north, passing Rome and on to Siena for a coffee with the man who guided a Ford-powered Benetton B189 to victory at the 1989 Japanese Grand Prix. Unfortunately, Sandro wasn’t grinding the beans at Nannini’s overlooking the Piazza del Campo. With or without the local Formula 1 hero, there was plenty of reminiscing about some of Siena’s finest motorsport moments in the 1980s – except the chat was more focused on regroups on Rally Sanremo.

Just a hop, skip and a jump from where espressos and a plate of cavallucci were consumed, Group B finery sat on an annual basis. The place hasn’t changed a bit and it didn’t take much imagination to see Hannu Mikkola stepping from his Audi or Markku Alén sitting aboard Lancia’s 037 eyeing the front differential on the surrounding Quattros with brooding envy.

I love the place.

From there, we were bound for an overnight in San Gimignano, arguably Tuscany’s most famous – certainly its most beautiful – hilltop town. Once again, a place which has featured on the Sanremo route. We were there to base ourselves at the centre of a loop of stages from the 1980s.

And our overnight halt ends at sunrise tomorrow morning, when we’ll tackle some of the classic gravel before heading north-west back to the town from which Italy’s most famous rally took its name.

The plan’s a good one for tomorrow evening: Colin Clark has never been to the world-famous Ristorante Dall’Ava, a fabulous, fever-packed place which just happens to sit slap bang in the middle of the San Romolo stage. When we left him in Fiuggi, Craig Breen was formulating a plan to join the table. Here’s hoping…

Sitting down with World Rally Championship royalty on two of the last three nights would be something of a coup for team DirtFish.

We’ll keep you posted.