With a 2014 WorldRX/EuroRX round at Franciacorta near Brescia RallycrossRX promoter IMG has announced to bring our motorsport back to Italy, where the town of Gropello-Cairoli hosted a total of four ERC rounds between 1977 and 1980.
Apropos Italy: Not many motorsport fans know that the first ever Rallycross on the European continent was a demo event at the ‘Autodromo Vallelunga Piero Taruffi’ at Vallelunga in Italy. On Monday June 2 1969 [Italy’s ‘Republic Day’] the so-called ‘Trofeo Italiano di Rallycross’ made part of a European Formula Ford Championship round at the in 1951 built racing venue about 30kms north of Rome. Invited by Ford of Italy and the UK a handful of British drivers went down to demonstrate their new sport Rallycross that came into being on February 4 1967 at Lydden Hill. However, the first true Rallycross competition on the European mainland was held just five days later, on Saturday June 7, at a deserted WW2 airfield near the town of Venlo in Holland.
After another eight years, in which the inaugural European Rallycross Championship had been organised in 1973, in 1977 the Italian club AC Pavia [also known as organisers of the famous ‘Rally 4 Regioni’] joined the European Rallycross Association (ERA) to host the first European Rallycross event in Italy. The venue was the ‘Rallypista Santo Spirito’ at Gropello-Cairoli near Pavia, about 60kms south of Milano. A total of 42 competitors took part in ERC Round 3 of 1977, the A final was won by Norwegian Per Engseth (Porsche Carrera RSR), ahead of the two Austrians Herbert Grünsteidl (Alpine A310 V6) and Franz Wurz (Lancia Stratos HF 3.0). Hero of the almost 10,000 spectators became a by then completely unknown Norwegian by the name of Martin Schanche. The Ford Escort RS1800 driver had been invited by his compatriots Per Engseth and the late Einar Sande to follow them to Italy, where he participated in his first ever ERC round. After Schanche found himself off the track, after an attack of Austrian Andy Bentza, during the next straight confrontation the “wild man from Tana” pushed the Bentza Lancia Stratos HF 2.4 into the greenery. While the crowd went mad to cheer up the “brave Stratos killer”, the Stewards of the Meeting were all but happy and excluded the “mad Viking” from the event results.
From 1978 on Gropello hosted for three consecutive years the second round of the European championship; the series was run with two different car categories now. Swede Åke Andersson (Porsche 911 3.0) claimed victory of the 1978 Grand Touring Car Division A final, Einar Sande (Porsche 911 3.2) made it to runner-up and Dutchman Jos Fassbender (Alpine A310 V6) finished in third place. Victory of the Touring Cars class fell prey to Finn Antero Laine (Saab 96 V4), Martin Schanche (Ford Escort RS1800) became second and Per Engseth (Volvo 343 Turbo) third.
The 1979 Italian ERC round saw in Anders Hultqvist (VW 1303S Turbo) a new rising star from Sweden. The Volkswagen campaigner dominated the Touring Car class by setting twice a fastest time in qualification as well as winning the A final from his compatriot Lars Nyström (VW 1303S Turbo) and Martin Schanche (Ford Escort RS1800). Swede Olle Arnesson (Porsche 911 3.5) picked the laurels of the GT Division, followed by Per Engseth (Porsche 911 3.3) and Andy Bentza (Lancia Stratos HF 2.4).
On April 20 1980 it was for the last time that the European Rallycross circus made its guest appearance in Gropello and Italy. Crossing the Alps in springtime, to attend a race with only a very few Italian drivers involved, was for most of the Scandinavian ERC regulars a rather uninteresting story. After Martin Schanche (Ford Escort RS1800) was attacked by three Volvo drivers the Norwegian hit back in the all decisive A final by scoring one of the best victories of his whole career. Per Engseth (Volvo 343 Turbo) claimed the silver medal, Anders Hultqvist (Volvo 343 Turbo) made bronze his. Victory of the GT Division was bagged by Olle Arnesson (Porsche 911 3.5), German Heinz Bubetz (Porsche 911 3.0) reached the chequered flag as runner-up and Andy Bentza (Lancia Stratos HF 3.0) completed the winners rostrum as third.
During the Group B era in Rallycross [1987 till 1992] there was some brief interest at Piancavallo in the Italian Dolomites, over many winters known for its Ice Racing events, to organise Rallycross races during the summer. However, those plans eventually remained in drawers and ever since the four FIA EuropeanRallycross Championship events at the ‘Rallypista Santo Spirito’ Rallycross did not return to Italy, for more than three decades now.
Top photo: His 1980 overall victory at Gropello-Cairoli was one of the best wins in Martin Schanche’s career. © EL/ERC24
Moving pictures from the 1969 Rallycross show-event at Vallelunga in Italy.