So much has been happening this month on the roads, on the circuits, and on the hills – I don’t
know where to start?


Traffic seems to be one of the main talking points in Malta right
now, so here’s my view of a few causes of the problem – not that
anybody is going to listen of course, or even agree. I’ve been
driving cars and motorcycles, locally and on the continent legally
for 54 years, so I’ve seen a thing or two. I remember racing on the
coast road in the 60s – illegally of course – from Baħar iċ-Ċaghaq
to Kennedy Grove, and not meeting a single car en-route. It was
a regular affair, with Sur Salv Caruana, God bless his soul, timing
us from the passenger seat. No seat belts, no crash helmets –
nothing. Try that today! But of course, in those days there weren’t
much more than 20,000 vehicles on the island. Today, we have
over 200,000 with some 40 new vehicles being registered every
day.

Giarre
I was out of luck at Giarre, the Mini going extremely well
till it finally succumbed to transmission failure.

To be fair, our road network has also improved accordingly, so
where lies the problem? Why the constant traffic jam? I have my
own ideas, but the powers that be are not going to agree with
me, for they are not really interested in solving the problem if it
means less income, or less votes. In my opinion, the problem is
not so much the number of vehicles on the roads, but the type of
vehicles, and the manner in which they are driven. I will explain.
Malta’s fastest roads have a maximum speed limit of 80 kph, so
does one really need a dirty, great barge of a car that wastes fuel,
pollutes the air, takes up more space, and does 180kph? Wouldn’t
a little 1000cc or 1300cc car take you from A to B in a shorter time,
and at a lower cost? Wouldn’t it also be easier to park, and take up
so much less valuable space? So why do people have this fixation
about driving clumsy, big barges. Is it an ego thing? They are one
of the many causes of the problem. The size of our trucks and
buses is another. A few years ago there was a law that restricted
both to a certain size and weight. What has become of that law?

Matthew Zammit was voted DRIVER OF THE DAY at Europe's longest hill climb.
Matthew Zammit was voted DRIVER OF THE DAY at
Europe’s longest hill climb.

The next problem is the drivers themselves, most of whom
have absolutely no idea. They drive in the middle of the road,
and they drive as though nobody else is sharing the road with
them, oblivious to other road users, and totally inconsiderate
and selfish. They don’t use their mirrors, they don’t use their
indicators, and half the time they have no idea where they are
actually going.
And then there are the councils. In my opinion, half the traffic
congestion in towns is caused directly by the incompetence of
the councils. Take Mosta as an example. In the Mosta Square area
there are at least six unregulated pedestrian crossings within the
space of 200 metres. Now, as far as I know, it is the experts in the
local councils that decide, in their wisdom, about such matters. At
least with regulated (timed) lights, the traffic flows for a certain
amount of time, but with unregulated lights where every Tom,
Dick, and Harry can bring traffic to a standstill at the press of a
button, or worse still by just walking straight onto a crossing and
expecting cars or bikes to stop instantly, the traffic spends more
time at a standstill than it does moving. Do pedestrians really
need a crossing every 30 metres? Remove half the unnecessary
crossings in Mosta and you will remove half the traffic problem.

Congrats reciprocated between overall winner Cristian Merli and Matthew Zammit.
Congrats reciprocated between overall winner Cristian
Merli and Matthew Zammit.

The same applies to so many other towns and villages.
Back on the open road, it is the slow and selfish drivers that
share the blame. However, not just the drivers. How many times
do you law abiding citizens slow down from what you consider
a perfectly safe and sensible speed, for speed cameras? What
does this mean? It simply means that the cameras are also a
cause of slowing the traffic down unnecessarily. There are fast
new bypasses with a pathetic speed limit of 60kph. Now we all
know that speed cameras, all over the world, are not actually
there to slow the traffic, but they are nothing but speed cows.
Why else would the authorities put a speed camera on a perfectly
safe, open dual carriageway? In my opinion, only one camera in
the whole of Malta serves the purpose of making the road safer
for – the one in Attard.

In short, if the traffic was allowed to flow at a decent speed, traffic
jams and congestion would be reduced. Yes I know some drivers are                      pathetic, but all the supposedly traffic calming obstacles
and obstructions in our road network certainly don’t help.

From the public roads to the hills, and on this occasion the
17km Trento Bondone hill climb held annually in Northern Italy.
Trento Bondone is the longest hill climbs in Europe, and forms
part of the annual FIA Hill Climb Cup, as well as the National
Italian Hill Climb Championship. This year’s edition has a very
special significance for Malta and Maltese motor sport, for this
was the first occasion in which a Maltese driver participated
in this event. If I say that young Matthew Zammit made his
mark there on that sunny weekend, I would be understating
the facts enormously. Matthew not only raced there, but he
won his class, and he finished an incredible 8th overall from
over 250 cars driven by the cream of European hill climbers.
His performance, in a car he had never driven before, was so
outstanding that he was awarded the ‘Driver of the Day’ award.
It doesn’t get much better than that, for Matthew got more
mentions in the Italian daily press than he did in Malta’s. What
a sad state of affairs, but then I suppose we have grown used
to that.

Nello Lo Nigro and Concetto Fara just can't do enough to help us.
Nello Lo Nigro and Concetto Fara just
can’t do enough to help us.

The hill climb season has started in nearby Sicily too, and on
both events held to date, Malta was again represented. At the
Vale D’Anapo Sortino hill climb near Syracuse, Noel Galea took
a very merited class win driving his Mk 2 Ford Escort in the
Silhouette class, on his first attempt at the very demanding
hill West of Syracuse. I was hoping to participate at Sortino
too, for the 3rd or 4th time, but had to give it a miss due to
clashing dates with other events, but I did enter the 20th Giarre
Montesalice Milo hill climb just a couple of weeks ago, for the
5th time. My Mini broke a drive shaft coupling on my first of four
runs, and as luck would have it, on that occasion I had forgotten
to pack the two spare drive-shafts I have carried with me at
each event in the last four seasons. That’s sod’s law. It meant
I was a frustrated spectator for the rest of the weekend, but it
certainly wasn’t for want of trying, for no sooner had I returned
the Mini to the bottom paddock, Sicilian friends, Nello Lo Nigro,
Matteo Vasta, and Concetto Faro, all racers in their day, and
now preparing cars for their respective sons to drive, pounced
on it in order to try and get it fixed for the remaining runs. Now
that’s what I call real friends.

As I write these lines, midway through July, preparations are
starting to be made for the 61st running of the famous and very
popular Salita Monti Iblei at Chiaramonte Gulfi. Alex Zammit
and I both made our Sicilian hill climb debut on that lovely
5.4km hill in the Iblei mountain range way back in 1978.
I have participated there on nine occasions since, and this
year will be joined by another nine Maltese racers in what is
definitely the favourite hill for Maltese drivers. Over 200 drivers
from all over Sicily and Italy are expected to enter this year’s
event to be held on the last weekend in August, so competition
will be tough, but I suppose that’s the way we all like it. The
tougher the competition, the greater the satisfaction, and the
bigger the win.

© 2018 – VIDA Magazine