There is not a month that passes without news of yet another motor sport success for Maltese drivers or riders abroad. At Italian or British national championship level this has become a common occurrence, but at international level too the Maltese are making their presence known these days, and in particular in the international drag racing scene.
As I write this monthly piece on Wednesday the 13th September news is still making the rounds of Duncan Micallef’s great European Championship win last weekend at Santa Pod in England. Duncan has had a superb 2017 season, so much so that by the penultimate round of the championship in Hockenheim, Germany, three weeks ago, he literally just needed to place and collect a few more championship points in order to be crowned European Top Fuel Champion 2017. And again at Santa Pod, all he needed was to place in the top three to assure himself of the championship, but Duncan is a racer, a real racer, and to real racers there is only winning. Second is the first loser.
So I make no apologies for taking this opportunity to publicly congratulate Duncan and the many other Maltese motor sport enthusiasts who make us so proud to be part of that great Maltese motor sport community. And if Duncan’s outstanding success at Santa Pod last weekend wasn’t enough, Simon Giordmaina’s drag racing motorcycle, driven by Franklyn Borg made the fastest quarter mile pass in Europe, in it’s class, on the Saturday, but unfortunately had mechanical problems on Sunday. It doesn’t get much better than that.
In the United Kingdom too Malta is regularly represented, and with constant success. Zach Zammit recently spent a very successful weekend at Britain’s Shelsley Walsh hill climb, where driving a friend’s single seater racing car he managed an excellent second place in class, regularly setting times well below the previous class record. On the British circuits too, we hear of success after success for Maltese drivers. Josef Calleja only races in UK these days, but more often than not, he is the class of the field in the British Time Attack championship with his potent Subaru Impreza, and Honda Civic cup racers. Rodren Vella and Bernard Galea have had their fair share of success, their most recent being another win at the fast Rockingham circuit.
Sicily, due to it’s proximity to Malta, and also thanks to the support given to the motorsport fraternity by Virtu Ferries, is becoming a more and more popular venue for Maltese racers, so much so that hardly a weekend goes by without a go kart meeting, or a motorcycle race meeting, or a time attack, or a circuit race meeting, or a hill climb being held somewhere with Maltese participation. Perhaps the most popular is the Racalmuto Time Attack Championship which regularly boasts over a dozen Maltese competitors among its 150-strong entries.
But this time of the year is Hill Climb season in Sicily so quite a few Maltese drivers gear exclusively for the five CSAI hill climbs held annually between August and October. The 2017 season started off with the return of the 7.2km Val D’Anapo Sortino hill climb near Syracuse in which two Maltese drivers competed, these being myself and Mark Micallef who finished an excellent third overall. Just three weeks after that, the most popular Sicilian hill climb with the Maltese, the Coppa Monti Iblei at Chiaramonte Gulfi was held for the 60th time, and this year again seven Maltese drivers took the ferry across to Pozzallo to compete.
Speaking personally, this was one of the most enjoyable motorsport weekends in many years. The seven drivers gelled. We went there as a team, the Malta team, performed there as a team, won there as a team, and returned victorious as a team. Which is how it should be. Everybody helped each other; we pitted together, we were like one big happy family, and our Sicilian friends noticed this and were full of praise for the “simpatici ragazzi Maltesi”.
At Chiaramonte, again, Mark Micallef drove his turbocharged Radical Suzuki to an excellent fifth place overall and another class win. Just out of the top 10, and second in a very competitive class for 1600cc single seaters, Air Malta captain James Dunford drove his Radical Suzuki excellently all weekend, taking a large chunk out of his previous best times from last season in the process.
Noel Galea, now on his third appearance at Chiaramonte was, again, fastest saloon. His excellent time of three minutes, one sec will be the biggest incentive for him to return next year to break that magic three minute barrier with his potent Opel two litre engine Escort. Edward Calleja was having no luck at all at Chiaramonte last year, with all sorts of mechanical problems hindering the progress of his pretty, orange Lotus Elise, but his luck changed for the better this year and he was able to improve his time on all four runs and finally take that elusive class win.
The two new boys this year were Didier Bugeja, driving a Peugeot 106, and Etienne Grech, driving a Citroen Saxo, both competing in the highly competitive 1600 E1 class. Etienne’s weekend was punctuated with minor mechanical upsets, leaving him somewhat disappointed after all the effort that goes into preparing a car for such a big event, but Didier’s was the exact opposite. He was quick from the word go, and finished an excellent thrid in a class of some 20 very competitive drivers; and this on his first visit to Chiaramonte. I know one person who won’t be missing it next year.
Of my own performance I don’t suppose I can be my own judge. This was my eighth Coppa Monti Iblei so I certainly did have knowledge of the road in my favour, but recent modifications to the car, more specifically a return to Dunlop 10-inch tyres and wheels, gave me such confidence in the car’s handling, and this allowed me to take big chunks out of my time on every one of my four runs.
On hills that one takes part on regularly, such as this one in my case, there is a benchmark from year to year. That benchmark is your previous year’s best time. Mine was three minutes 31 sec, so that was the time I wanted to beat. I felt the car was good enough to get me under the 3.30 mark, so imagine my delight when by the end of Saturday’s practice I was already down to 3.26. And that time tumbled by a further four seconds by Sunday evening, leaving me with a best of three minutes 22.4 sec. So my target for next year has got to be under 3.20. Having now had time to study my on board camera coverage of that final run, I believe this time should be easily achievable. But perhaps the cherry on the cake was the fact that in two events in succession I didn’t even need to open the tool box once. It was just a case of fill the tank with fuel, start up and go.
And so to the next one, which is another of my favourites, namely the Coppa Nissena, this year in its 63rd year, making it Sicily’s oldest, and also its fastest hill climb. Last year was my first time competing on the beautiful 5.3 km hill from Capodarso to Caltanissetta, and my best time was three minutes 03, so it’s not hard to guess what I’ll be aiming for this year. It will be all over by the time you read these lines, but I’m sure I’ll have plenty to write about it in next month’s article on VIDA magazine.
The Coppa Nissena falls on the last weekend in September. It is followed just one week later by round six of the 2017 Racalmuto Time Attack championship, and then just one week after that we are at Racalmuto again for round three of the Campionato di Velocita, and we top the month off with the last of the season’s hill climbs, the 7.4 km Giarre Montesalice Milo, which I will be competing in for the fourth time. It’s going to be a busy month, but I’m looking forward to every little bit of it.
© 2017 – VIDA Magazine – Joe Anastasi