Adamo’s Rally Italy reflections part one – 1985

The Sanremo Rally had a profound effect on the current Hyundai boss that year, even if childhood idol Lancia missed out on victory

1985 Sanremo Rallycopyright:Mcklein

It’s early Monday September 30 and Andrea Adamo’s gone missing. He’s nowhere to be seen and the good folk of Cuneo’s Instituto Tecnico Industrial are getting a touch concerned.

Worry not, he’s found. He’s hiding behind a door with a radio clamped to his 14-year-old ear. Henri Toivonen is just settling his Lancia 037 on the startline of the Perinaldo opener of the 1985 Rallye Sanremo. How on earth could anybody consider double mathematics more important than that?

Somebody did. Adamo had accompanied his father – a technical scrutineer – to pre-event scrutineering the previous day. But that night, much to his frustration, father and son Adamo had headed north for work. And school.

Few – if any – in the current World Rally Championship have an appreciation and understanding of all things Italian in our sport like Hyundai Motorsport director Adamo. So, we asked him to pick three pivotal and personal moments in Italy’s WRC history and tell us about them.

The first of those memories is the penultimate year of Group B. Surprisingly, it’s an event that wasn’t won by Adamo’s Lancia countrymen. It’s 1985 and the only victory for Audi’s Quattro E2. This car is known commonly as the Sport S1, but it was homologated the E2.


Photo: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

It was a German car driven by German driver Walter Röhrl. Through his career at the very top of rallying, Röhrl was the very antithesis of the flamboyant Italian heroes Adamo had grown up with.

“Ah,” said Adamo, seeing this one coming. “Don’t forget, Walter won Monte Carlo in a Lancia in 1983.  After this, he could do whatever he wanted. I could forgive him, even if he kissed my mother!”

What made the 1985 event special was Adamo’s first encounter with these machines he’d only dreamed of. And heard about on Radio Monte Carlo.

“Thinking,” he said, “about that event later was still emotional for me because it was the first time, honestly, that I was seeing those cars very, very, very close. Because my father was working as the scrutineer, I was able to go in there [to scrutineering] a little bit, but to keep out of the way.

“I had the close memory of Toivonen – I was imagining that he would be much taller. I remember [Markku] Alén was very tall, Walter was very tall and I remember [Timo] Salonen smoking waiting from the scrutineering to finish.

“I think for the drivers it was very boring, but for me it was incredible. Today, you don’t see the drivers and co-drivers going to scrutineering, they’re still busy with the recce. But, if you forgive my heart to beat a little bit in the past, I would like these days to return today. Maybe I am an old young man, but I liked watching the cars so close.

“For me, it was a bit of the core of the rally. And I was there and I had a notepad and a pencil and I had all the autographs of all the drivers. I remember I had the Toivonen autograph and Ninni [Russo, Lancia’s legendary team manager].”

Twelve months earlier, Lancia men Miki Biasion and Attilio Bettega had been able to lead through the Ligurian asphalt leg, before Ari Vatanen’s Peugeot 205 T16 hit the front and stayed there on the dirt.

Any hopes of a similar demonstration of rear-drive asphalt prowess from Lancia’s fizzing supercharged 037 were short-lived in 1985.

“Lancia was still pretty convinced it would be able to dominate the asphalt,” said Adamo. “In reality, they weren’t there at all in the first leg. It was all about [Peugeot driver Bruno] Saby and Walter.

“This was difficult for me to accept. We had gone home on Sunday night, I had school on Monday and school was like the job in our house – it was the priority. In those days in Italy you had the radio and there were three journalists travelling through north Italy to follow the rally.

“Three times a day they were doing a special program for some minutes, updating about the rally results and some interview to let you know what has happened.

“It was eight in the morning, I remember because I started school at 8.15, so I had the radio just at the last moment and then, when class was starting I was thinking: “F*****g hell, it’s starting, it’s starting!” Then I tried to listen to the next [bulletin] at 1230, but I finished school at one o’clock – so I was hidden somewhere at school listening. The last one was at 6.30, so it was OK.

“It was amazing for me to follow this thing with Radio Monte Carlo, listening for the stage times. When I hear some people saying today they’re at home and listening to the split times, I think: “You don’t know how lucky you are!”

“Honestly, if I was like them today – with all the tools they have to follow the rally – I don’t think could ever get my school final exam, because I would have lost all my time following these things and without studying.

“But for Lancia it was difficult. I remember a story from the time about the Pirelli [tires] and there was something about the wide track on the Peugeots when they came to the gravel. I have been told this story that they couldn’t be really competitive on the gravel because they were wider than the [ruts in the] road and always fighting a little bit. I heard from Monsieur Le President (FIA president Jean Todt) that he sent the cars back to Tuscany after the event to test more to understand why they didn’t dominate the rally.”

Ultimately it was Röhrl and the spectacular, big-winged Audi that did dominate.

“The Audi was homologated from the first of August that year,” said Adamo, “and when the team was in Finland for 1000 Lakes, Walter was already testing in Siena. He was driving there for three weeks.

“For me, I was suffering then like I suffer now if Hyundai isn’t winning. I expected Lancia to dominate on Tarmac, but when they didn’t it was a big drama for me. I was going to my father and asking him: “Why? Why? Why?” Now, of course, I understand why it was impossible for the 037, but then I was a passionate 14-year-old and I could understand nothing why Walter was winning.

“But the first time to see those cars, that was special.”

Tomorrow we step forward one year. For 1986, Adamo makes it stage-side to one of the most politically charged rounds in the history of the World Rally Championship.