Back in Olbia for the first time since 2014, Italy’s round of the FIA World Rally Championship was another brilliant demonstration of what this sport means to these people. Look back through the history of the WRC and you’ll find much of it is written in Italian by Italians.
The Seventies belonged to Fiat, while Lancia and Miki Biasion ruled the Eighties and Nineties. From 2004 onwards, the island of Sardinia has provided one of the most deeply appreciated stops on the season-long schedule.
Meet Francesco. He spent much of the rally week sitting on a chair outside the service park. It’s what he does when the WRC lands into his backyard.
Video: Rally Italia Sardegna review
Adjusting a blue and yellow Subaru cap – the ‘Petter Solberg #03’ signature almost faded out of sight after, he reckons, 15 years in the sun – he grins a very wide grin.
“I wait [for] this time every year,” said Francesco. “I remember [Attilio] Bettega coming here with [Fiat] 131 in the Seventies. Beautiful driver. Costa Smeralda was big for here, grande rally. I thought nothing could beat it. Then world rally is coming… mama mia. For me this town is rally town, my town is rally town.
“Can you ’elp me? Don’t let the rally go back over there [to Alghero]. This is our rally, for us here. When the rally is here, the cars wake me up in the morning [going into service]. Can you imagine? The best way to wake up.”
Every now and then a conversation can make your day. Meeting a 78-year-old Francesco did just that. The appreciation and the emotion of the WRC across all of Sardinia is quite extraordinary.
But in no way surprising. Stages like Tula and Monte Lerno are some of the most challenging and charming of the season. Running in October last year was born out of Covid-19 necessity, but it really wasn’t quite the same.
This is a summer rally, best enjoyed at 30-plus degrees. And definitely best enjoyed when Francesco and his pals are allowed back inside the service park again.
“I don’t let this [coronavirus] stop me to come here,” said our new friend. “How could it?”
Settling back with a cold beer and a bowl of olives watching the sun go down over the terracotta roofs, it was impossible not to agree wholeheartedly. No matter which side of the island it sits, Rally Italia Sardegna always brings something special to summer.