If there is one sport that has a large variety of disciplines, it is motor sport. And we Maltese excel in all – from drag racing through circuit racing, hill climbing, drifting, on road or off road racing on two or four wheels. You name it, we’re there – despite our total lack of local facilities.
Nearby Sicily is littered with motor-racing circuits, and boasts some of the nicest and most challenging hill climbs in Europe. The size of Malta limits us in this respect. It is frustrating, and yet, we excel in whatever discipline we compete in. In fact, we only possess two fixed motorsport facilities in the whole island – these being the MDRA’s excellent drag strip at Hal Far and the ASMK’s off road facility at Ta’ Qali. We have been promised an “on road” racing circuit by successive governments for as long as I can remember, and that’s over 50 years now – but that’s all they have remained, empty promises.
But finally there is a ray of hope, for work has already started on the resurfacing and improvement of the excellent hill from Migra Ferha to Mtahleb. This road was built in the early 70s by the Italian Military Mission, and one of the conditions set out in the original
agreement between the mission and the Malta government of the day was that this 1.5km stretch of road would be repaired, updated, and resurfaced at least once every 25 years. Now, after 45 years, it is finally getting its first serious bit of maintenance. The road was originally inaugurated with a motor sport hill climb in 1975, organised by Alfred Farrugia’s MACRA – the local FIA representatives at the time, and officially opened by the transport minister at the time. A number of Italian motor clubs and drivers were invited, and these duly turned up to make this an unforgettable event. Mtahleb has since been hailed as Malta’s number one hill climb and is used regularly for such events by both local and Sicilian drivers despite its rapidly deteriorating state. Now, at last, something is finally being done about it. But not without the usual opposition from those who call themselves
environmentalists, but those who are in fact no less than a load of old bores.
No sooner had work started on the cleaning up and preparation of the area that complaints started appearing in the local press from the usual sources. Misinformed complaints at that.
Photographs of the lower paddock area being resurfaced started appearing on Facebook and other internet sites, all complaining about the ruining of the area. Some writers have never been there in their lives, but it is cool to complain. One ‘gentleman’ actually wrote that now that the road is being resurfaced it will be accessible to the masses – his own pompous choice of words, and he will no longer be able to walk there in peace. What a bloody cheek! I consider myself an environmentalist; I dislike concrete monstrosities, but I am able to differentiate between that which is good and necessary, and that which is bad and constructed, solely in the name of greed.
I recently had occasion to speak to the project manager responsible for the present rehabilitation work that is going on, and he has assured me that there will be no encroachment on areas that have hitherto been unsurfaced, and that the scheduled work involves simply cleaning and repairs of water drainage gutters, repairs to road boundary walls and resurfacing of both the hill, and the access road from the Rabat end. For those motor sport enthusiasts who know the hill, the “start” will now be returning to its original position 150 metres before the first hairpin bend, and the finish will be placed some 100 metres following the left hand hairpin after what is the present finish. This will bring the hill’s total length to two kilometres.
On behalf of all local motor sport enthusiasts, I would like to take this opportunity to thank all those persons who have worked tirelessly to finally manage to persuade the powers that be to rehabilitate Malta’s finest motor sport venue.
Since my last article a month ago, a number of Maltese enthusiasts have visited Sicily almost every weekend for one form of racing or another, the writer included. I am drafting this article on Friday 17 November looking to the sad prospect of two potentially great local motorsport events about to be ruined by the inclement weather. As I write, it is raining heavily, and I feel sorry for all the people that have put so much effort into the final event of the local drag racing year, which is supposed to happen this weekend at Hal Far. The new MDRA committee has been working overtime, improving an already excellent facility and
they certainly don’t deserve this.
The other event scheduled for this weekend is the ICC’s Gnejna Hill Climb. I was racing in Sicily last weekend at the penultimate round of the Racalmuto Time Attack Championship, and I plan to visit again in exactly a week’s time to participate in the last round of the Gran Premio di Velocita. It is also at Racalmuto’s superb Autodromo Valle dei Templi, so with a weekend to spare, I have decided to enter the local hill climb at Gnejna, more than any other reason to show my support for the hard working committee. I haven’t competed in a local hill climb since 2002, when I was forced to stop due to health problems. I restarted four years ago as a pensioner, but am enjoying every minute of it. If the car is right and I am fit, I will not hesitate to compete in any event, local or foreign. Just one problem – as I write these words, with just two days to the hill climb, I am sick in bed with a nasty about of flu. Just my luck!
The seventh round of the Racalmuto Time Attack championship went “swimmingly” well for the 17 Maltese competitors that made up the 75 driver entry. This event was open to single seater and sports racing cars, as well as the usual touring car groups. Four Maltese drivers snapped up the occasion to use the hours of track time for testing and development. Kenneth Micallef was on his first visit with his smart Dallara Honda, and improved with every session, learning both the track and the car in the process. Joseph Caruana (Formula BMW Yamaha) and Fabio Baldacchino (OMS Suzuki) have been to Racalmuto before, so with them it was a case of improving on where they left off, which they both succeeded in doing. But the biggest improver, surprisingly, was engineer Ivan Paul Deidun, who with a car he designed and built entirely himself, posted a lap time of 1min 01.2 sec, which has only been reached by three or four drivers since the track first started operating 10 years ago.
When he got out of the car and was told his lap time, he was ecstatic, and so he should be. That lap time was the talk in all the garages in Sicily on Monday morning. I’m glad I had copies of the official results because there were quite a few of my friends that just couldn’t believe. Just for comparison’s sake, pole position for the last round of the circuit championship there, was taken by a car worth more than half the Maltese entries put together, and that was a 1min. 02.8sec.
I’m sure that 1.01 lap of Ivan will be on everybody’s minds during qualifying next weekend.
© 2017 – VIDA Magazine – Joe Anastasi