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2016 King of Italy Race Recap

June 18th2016
 By Robb Pritchard on 2016-06-18T12:19:57-06:00 | King of Italy |

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Off Road The Planet | Robb Pritchard | © 2016 All Rights Reserved

While the King of France last month will be remembered with an involuntary shiver from all the rain and mud the Maxxis tyres King of Italy in the rolling hills of Varano de Melagari was blessed with gorgeous sunshine and the type of big fluffy clouds that photographers always love in their photos.

Fans of King of the Hammers will perhaps have mental images of unfeasibly large rocks that the cars are somehow able to drive over and big rooster trails kicked up through the barren desert, but if you’ve ever seen a postcard from anywhere in Europe you will know it doesn’t look anything like that here. We have mediaeval villages with castles and countryside vistas that inspire painters to be landscape artists which moonscape race track aficionados really dislike and there was a bit of half-hearted grumbling about the entire race course was laid out in a stunning valley on the banks of a gorgeous wide river meandering through the ancient hills. Someone had to deal with all the complaints from the press about how the backgrounds of their photos would be full of vineyards, grand hillside villas and the occasional mediaeval monastery.

Each lap was 11 km long and the crews had three hours to race in the morning, then an extended break, as the Italians like to have a bit of a rest around midday to go for a coffee and argument or two with their neighbours. There was no complaints as race car drivers never turn down an opportunity to tinker (or furiously try to fix things depending on the state of the mechanical components). A three-hour conclusion would determine who would be the King of Italy… and it probably wouldn’t be an Italian.

For the last couple of years. Local driver Roberto Ciani has always been in the thick of the battle for the lead… at least for a lap or two, but this year his car was broken before the start and that left the two top spots to the top two teams from King of France to carry on where they left off. It was an invitation they took up quite seriously with Portugal’s Emmanuel Costa getting around the short but appallingly picturesque qualifying course 14 seconds ahead of France’s Nicolas Montador. That gave him pole position, which, starting two at a time, he duly converted into a first corner lead… which soon became advantage of a few minutes… And then a few more minutes. And those who perhaps fancied themselves as rivals found themselves being lapped until the car throwing up well-fed hamster size rocks ahead was Montador. That meant that he could slow down… and proceeded to drive the rest of the laps that if represented in dance form would involve him skipping around in a circle, poking his tongue out and waggling his fingers by his ears.

In fact he found that driving slowly was more of an issue as his suspension had to work harder when it was dropping into all the holes rather than when it was flying over them. Something to do with physics, I think. Montador had no answer and settled into 2nd in that particularly French style of capitulation while the others concentrated on splashing through the water, creating patterns of spray and rainbows, the like not normally seen by legal means.

Belgium’s Axel Burmann was happy to finish and without a hint of sarcasm his co-drive Tom Olieslagers can’t actually remember that last time they managed to finish a race. They are happy with 5th. One spot ahead is the young Jelle Janssen who took a 3rd in France that surprised him more than anyone else. Proving that result was no fluke here he finished a fine 4th. Jaap Betsema is one of the most popular drivers in Ultra4 Europe and is so friendly that he bounds up to random press guys and gives them bear hugs on the finish line. My T-shirt helped absorb some of the moisture from his dripping wet race suit. This is his first podium since he winched his way through the Scottish bogs in King of the Glens two years ago.

And it’s no exaggeration to say that 1 and 2 were decided in the first few hundreds metres. Montador has a very capable and very reliable car that will soundly beat anything on the continent… apart from Costa’s car. Costa himself is well used to driving on courses that actually have big stones on them and his only issue for the whole day was trying not to drive to slow… An absolute masterclass and everyone else has a long way to go to get anywhere near him.

The King of Italy is from Portugal.