It’s the one question on every World Rally Championship fan’s mind right now: will we get a season-finale?
Teams and drivers haven’t the time to concern themselves with such debate. They’re preparing as if Monza Rally is going ahead. They have to.
Us fans aren’t in the same position. We can speculate until the cows come home.
I’m sure there’s some of you out there that would gobble up daily updates on the season-finale’s likelihood to proceed. Based on how hungry some of you were for Ypres bulletins before its unfortunate demise, there would be some appetite for it.
I don’t have a banquet of positive updates on the table for your consumption. But perhaps I can offer you some crumbs of comfort in these trying times: Tuscan Rewind.
A little under two weeks before Rally Monza is scheduled to conclude the WRC season, Tuscany hosts the Italian national championship season-finale. And as the organizers of Tuscan Rewind have been stressing repeatedly, cancellation is not currently on the cards.
We’ve been here before already this year. Red flags began waving as to Ypres’ viability when two key warm-up events for WRC teams – South Belgian Rally and Hemicuda Rally – were both canned at the last minute. A week later and the main event was off. If Tuscan Rewind is forced to cancel, it’s a bad sign for Monza’s hopes.
It’s apt that Montalcino, a hilltop town that houses the rally headquarters, features an imposing fortress which overlooks much of the rally’s competitive mileage. Because anyone daring to suggest Tuscan Rewind will be canceled is going to get run out of town by the organizers. Or fed to the lions.
“OGNI ALTRA NOTIZIA NON PROVENIENTE DALL’ORGANIZZAZIONE E’ DA RITENERSI INFONDATA,” came the official word from Tuscan Rewind, in shouty all-caps.
“Any other news not coming from the organization should be considered unfounded,” is what that says, in response to predictable gossip that the season finale would be canceled.
So, the organizers are confident. Should they be? And if they’re right to be confident, what could that mean for Monza?
November 3 provided some hope. A DPCM (Decree of the President of the Council of Ministers) issued by prime minister Giuseppe Conte laid out clearly what sports would be allowed to run.
“Only events and competitions – recognized as being of national interest by order of the Italian National Olympic Committee (CONI) and the Italian Paralympic Committee (CIP) – concerning individual and team sports organized by the respective national sports federations, associated sports disciplines, sports promotion bodies or international sports bodies, inside sports facilities used behind closed doors or outdoors without the presence of the public are allowed.”
ACI is the national motorsport federation in Italy, so both Tuscan Rewind and Monza Rally are in the clear. And while Tuscany was elevated from being an ‘orange zone’ to a ‘red zone’ on Sunday – bringing it on a par with Lombardy, host region of Monza Rally – it makes no difference to whether the rally runs or not. The rules for running professional sports stay the same regardless of each region’s classification.
There will be no fans stage-side per the decree, but Tuscan Rewind has a green light. On what should have been the second day of Ypres Rally, we’ll instead get a potentially thrilling conclusion to a hotly contested Italian national championship. If the rally goes ahead and avoids any last-minute changes of circumstance, of course.
While Belgium has started to gets its COVID-19 infection rate under control since implementing lockdown, Italy has failed to cope by comparison. Its daily case rate is almost 10 times what it was at the peak of Italy’s devastating first wave back in March. And it continued to trend upwards since the Ypres cancellation.
As much as the Tuscan Rewind organizers might want to feed doubters to the lions, whether it goes ahead or not is to a certain extent not up to them. Italian Prime Minster Giuseppe Conte could theoretically issue a new decree at any moment, shifting the goalposts for what sports are allowed to take place, how they’re allowed to happen and when. Or just ban them outright. This is the conundrum; it’s all good to go now, but what is Conte planning?
There are two prognoses, effectively. Firstly, the positive one:
Tuscan Rewind going ahead would be a positive signal for Monza. It’s also a worthy sporting contest to follow in its own right. Giandomenico Basso, a two-time European and three-time Italian champion, is four points up on Andrea Crugnola, who is chasing his first national title.
Thanks to the Italian championship’s co-efficient system, there’s a 1.5x scoring multiplier in effect this weekend. That means a win on the road for Crugnola gives him the title over Basso no matter what.
And the previous round, Due Valli, gave us a taste of what’s to come: Crugnola and Basso were nearly inseparable, battling over tenths of a second as they pulled way from the rest of the field. Crugnola then went off while leading, only for Basso to then rip a wheel off his Volkswagen Polo a couple of stages later.
Throw in a similarly close battle for the CIR Terra title – the biggest regional series for R5-category machines based in central Italy – between 11-time national champion Paolo Andreucci, Simone Campedelli and WRC2 regular Marco Bulacia, and there’s plenty of intriguing storylines to follow. So intriguing that we’ll be bringing you updates of the outcome on DirtFish this Saturday.
It’s not got the most ambitious itinerary, admittedly. It’s a single loop of three stages, repeated three times, over the course of a single day. But it’ll prove that it’s possible to run a rally in Italy in the midst of a second COVID-19 wave and bolster hopes that Monza Rally can proceed safely.
Now, the negative prognosis.
Certain regions of Italy are facing a catastrophe unfolding in their respective health systems. Campania, in the south of Italy, is one of the worst-hit, facing a situation that’s “out of control” according to Italian foreign minister Luigi di Maio.
Part of that region-specific crisis has been blamed on decades of economic inequality between the wealthy industrial north and poorer agricultural south. So while the north may be better equipped to deal with the crisis, it doesn’t mean Lombardy would escape strict new rules, especially if prime minister Conte elected to issue a new decree to cope with surging COVID-19 cases between now and the first weekend of December.
Therein lies the key complication for Monza Rally. Even without an emergency decree ahead of schedule, the decree which currently allows ACI-sanctioned rallies to take place in Italy expires on December 3. It will then need replaced with a new one. That puts Tuscan Rewind in the clear as things stand but it’s exceedingly awkward timing for Monza, as it falls on the opening day of the rally.
It might end up being business as usual for rallying; Il Messaggero, a Rome-based broadsheet, has said that Conte is hoping to progressively lift some restrictions as the holiday date approaches. There’s been no indication banning sport is on the agenda for now.
But Pierpaolo Sileri, the Deputy Minister for Heath, also highlighted the worst-case scenario.
“If the data were to force us to make all the regions red, it would actually lead to a national lockdown,” Sileri told La Stampa. “But if we opt for this solution only to silence the grumbling of the discontent, it would be a defeat for everyone.”
In other words, the Italian government doesn’t want a lockdown that by consequence would lead to professional sport being shelved again, unless its hand is forced.
Right now, seven regions are red, nine are orange and four are yellow – the last of which includes Sardinia, home of the most recent WRC round to proceed successfully. Tuscany and Campania both went into the red category on Sunday, joining Monza host region Lombardy.
Confused? Don’t worry. You’re not the only one. One of the Italian championship drivers we consulted struggled to make sense of it all either.
We are not fortune tellers here at DirtFish. Whether Monza proceeds as planned or not will probably continue to be debated until the cars have hit the stages. But right now, the legislation in place from the Italian government will allow Monza Rally to go ahead, at least in theory.
Like anything in this bizarre year, it’s about taking things one step at a time. If Tuscan Rewind proceeds smoothly, that’s another small step towards WRC getting its season finale. Nor will anyone in the vicinity of Montalcino be fed to the lions either.