Spidertrax | Thom Kingston | CC BY 3.0
Finally getting settled back in from our trip to Italy, and man what a blast! The 2015 Maxxis King of Italy kicked off this year’s European Ultra4 Racing Series, and its beautiful landscapes and ever so tasty food did not disappoint. We were out there in typical fashion, working tech with teams and taking a few pictures along they way. We’ll be sharing more photos later on, for now I’d like to introduce you to Robb Pritchard. Robb and his team of World4x4 video masterminds knocked out video segments as the race unfolded. These videos do not disappoint, and we’ll be sharing those here along with a race recap by Robb Pritchard himself.
Maxxis Tyres King of Italy 2015. Day 1
The off-roading extravaganza that is the King of the Hammers and the Ultra4 racing series it has spawned isn’t just an American thing, for the second year it’s an international series and the three European rounds, in Italy, Wales and Portugal, are every bit as intense and brutal as the ‘King’ with the best off-roaders from a dozen countries smashing their equipment at the unforgiving scenery hoping they’ve built something strong enough to take it. The opening action for 2015 saw crews from as far away as Malta, UK, Portugal… and even Kansas, come to fight for the crown. And we were there to see it all.
It was a portentous prologue. The tuned V8s roared up the valley outside Varano de’Melegari and were answered by the rumble of thunder from the gathering storm. It seemed the gods of off-road were ready for the Ultra4 Europe season to kick off. 26 teams lined up for the start under the Maxxis arch, although there were a few mechanical casualties before the flag even fell. But after the prologue it seemed that last year’s story would continue as first and second were the local heavy-hitter Roberto Ciani in his stunning self-made buggy and American Levi Shirley in the world’s fastest rent-a-car. Ciani was the closest rival the Lucky Dog champion had last year but niggling new-build problems on his brand new truck cost him the win. This time the car has a year’s worth of testing under it and he was going for the win… and he was the only one to qualify in under 10 minutes.
Just a couple of seconds behind were 2014 runner up Jim Marsden, fresh from winning the Croatia Trophy, and Euro Fighter builder Rob Butler. With Axel Burmann in his newly re-built Goat and Nicolas Montador in a newbuild it was going to be a very close race.
Maxxis Tyres King of Italy 2015. Day 2
4 laps of a 15km course in the morning and another 4 in the afternoon might not sound too bad when you consider the 210 mile King of the Hammers, but the Italian course was brutal and just like the mother event, it was a story of attrition.
Like Backdoor in Johnson Valley there was a severely tough climb that crews had to do once in the 4 laps. The top starters headed up it at the first opportunity and so it was Belgium’s Axel Burmann who came through at the end of Lap 1 first with 5 minutes on Holland’s Jaap Betsema in his monstrous D&G Tuning Fire Ant… but Levi was on a mission. First victim though was local hero Ciani. He’s the fastest drive in the field but speed is not the only virtue needed for Ultra4 racing and perhaps a little over-exuberance put pay to his chances as after just 1km he hit a jump hard enough that the wheel broke the chassis and took out the power steering cooler. This is a car with a lot of potential and I hope to see Roberto at more races this year.
But if Levi thought he’d been given a free pass he was mistaken. A slight misfire in qualifying called for a wiring loom change… but the new one got caught up in the belts and the Maxxis Euro Fighter spluttered to a halt. Levi did a great job fixing it at the side of the course with whatever tools were to hand, like some of his stickers, but was disturbed by having to winch new leader Montador back onto his wheels. The tip-over looked innocuous enough but the shock to the transmission travelled up through the gearbox to snap a rocker in the engine.
Quite incredibly Levi managed to get going again but tripped over a slower car and rolled heavily enough that he decided to call it quits and that left team mate Rob Butler in the lead with Axel Burmann enjoying a reliable car for once close behind in 2nd… until the rear diff blew a few km from the end of the last lap. Crawling through in two wheel drive cost 40 minutes, but the problems weren’t over yet…
Jim Marsden was also in the hunt until a $2 bolt sheared in the gearbox and seeing as they have another race to win in just a week they decided not to risk the truck for small points.
Maxxis Tyres King of Italy 2015. Day 3
It was just 4 more laps between either Rob Butler or Axel Burmann today but the battle was over almost as soon as it began for Axel as dragging the Goat through the last lap yesterday with just front wheel drive put a lot of stress on the transfer box and it snapped just a few hundred metres from the line.
Levi was back in the race with a repaired truck and was hunting for the podium but with the DNF penalties it was going to be a tall order… but the effort he put in to claw as much time back as he could was still spectacular to watch.
Rob was driving a controlled race out front but it was anyone’s guess for second. Levi got the fastest time for the 4 laps but eventually it was the third Euro Fighter of Portuguese driver Filipe Guimaraes who came in ahead of Neville Ciantar in his Land Rover V8 powered buggy. For the Maltese driver getting to stand on an Ultra4 podium was a dream come true.
But on the top step was Rob Butler. The new King started off small, running Suzukis that got more and more modified until they became a single seater ‘moon buggy’ and then the mighty Spider 9 powered Euro Fighter. In 2014 Levi won 3 out of the 4 races in it and now in 2015 Rob is a winner in his own right and can proudly join the likes of Slawson and Campbell by winning in a car he designed and built.
There was champagne in the sunshine as a new king took his crown, one who engineered his way there as well as drove.