“The annual Coppa Nissena hill climb at Caltanissetta is quickly becoming my favourite for a number of reasons. It is so blindingly fast and flowing.”

Talk about absolute opposites! I can’t think of a better example than the last few weeks; bright one moment and dull the next. That’s life I suppose.

The annual Coppa Nissena hill climb at Caltanissetta is quickly becoming my favourite for a number of reasons. It is so blindingly fast and flowing. The entry is always superb since it qualifies as a round of the Italian National Hill Climb Championship, and when God made that hill, he must have had the hill climb fraternity in mind. Either that, or God was a hill climber himself; 5.2km of heaven. There is no better way to describe it.

annual Coppa Nissena hill climb at Caltanissetta
Ryan Mangion was just getting into the rythm of things with his Norma Honda at Caltanisetta until he clipped a barrier on his
very last run.

When the Mini ran faultlessly all weekend, it added to what can only be described as one of the best weekends of the year. I was trying some new camshafts on the car too, so my first couple of runs were somewhat ‘tentative’, spending most of the time looking at the
car’s instruments and listening to the engine note. It had developed from a tenor to an alto, screaming its way to the rev limit of 8700rpm through every gear, with plenty
of punch to boot. By Sunday evening, I had knocked a full seven seconds off my previous best time from last year’s race. It doesn’t get much better than that.

I was joined at Caltanissetta this year by father and son racers Jes and Ryan Mangion; Jes driving his ex Maurice Caruana Lotus Elan, and Ryan getting more confident in his superb Norma Honda 2000 with every outing. While they both thoroughly enjoyed the hill and the weekend in general, they both encountered problems in the race. The Elan broke its gearbox on one of the runs reducing Jes to a spectator on Sunday, and Ryan clipped a barrier on one of the many super fast corners on his last run on Sunday, bending a suspension wishbone. Pity.

annual Coppa Nissena hill climb at Caltanissetta
My little Mini behaved superbly throughout 3 consecutive weekends of racing.

Just one week later, I was at Mtahleb. Extremes? Maybe, but fun nevertheless, even if going from 5.2km of the bliss of the Coppa Nissena at Caltanissetta to the 2km of Mtahleb could be seen by many as a bit of a letdown. We were all given to understand that the artificial chicane placed along the top straight some years ago had only been positioned there because the surface had deteriorated to the extent that it had become dangerous
in that area. Now that the whole road had been excellently resurfaced, one imagined that such a chicane would be surplus to requirements.

Most people know how I feel about chicanes. In short, they encourage more accidents than they save. Hopefully, now that a number of local federation officials have visited a large selection of ultrafast hill climbs in Italy, and never seen a chicane there, they might have a change of heart. It can only make things safer.

A week after Mtahleb, we were on the Virtu Ferry again, heading for some circuit fun at the Autodromo Valle dei Templi di Racalmuto. For the third weekend in succession, the Mini ran faultlessly, to the extent that on a very ‘raw’ track following the summer break, I was one of the very few people to improve on my previous best lap time, during round five of the circuit’s annual Time Attack championship.

I knew that round five at Racalmuto may have been my last race meeting of 2018, as I had finally been told that the date for my TKR (Total Knee Replacement) surgery would be in the latter half of October. I put the Mini away, and started planning for a somewhat different few weeks, without cars, and without bikes – something entirely new, alien, and unnatural to me. Unfortunately, the loss was to be even greater than that, and on Friday
the 12th October my mother passed away peacefully, at the remarkable age of 98.
As I write these lines on my hospital bed at Mater Dei just six days later, I have finally had my surgery, and am slowly learning to walk again… with crutches. I’m in good company here, and just yesterday, my nephew Matthew was also in the same ward, having surgery in his knee, too. The competitive element is back. We’ll see who can do the quickest lap around the orthopaedic ward using crutches!

annual Coppa Nissena hill climb at Caltanissetta
Matthew Zammit’s performance at the biannual European Hill Climb Masters was simply ballistic.

In between the confusion, and the highs and lows of the last week, there was also plenty of motorsport to follow, both locally and on mainland Europe. In Malta, the annual Mdina Grand Prix was being held, comprising a hill climb at Mtahleb on Thursday, a concours on Friday, qualifying around the Mdina circuit on Saturday, and racing on Sunday. I am proud
to say that I was one of the organising triumvirate that started offball this around the Valletta bastions in 2006, together with French promoter Thierry Giovanoni and Charles Zahra. I never imagined that it would mushroom to this.

Also happening in Gubbio in central Italy was the biannual Hill Climb Masters in which nine local motor sport friends participated with great success, including my afore mentioned nephew, Matthew. I wanted to follow that too, of course, so decided beforehand that
Saturday morning would be spent in Mdina, and on Sunday I would follow coverage of the Masters in the comfort of my own home.

I had the next ten days planned out nicely, and then it all went haywire. In the space of an hour, I received excellent news from Mater Dei hospital informing me that the date of my operation had been brought forward to Monday, and then the dampener… the news
of mum’s passing.

It’s a funny world, a world of fast changing circumstances. We must move on, so unless I make an incredible recovery and manage to participate in the last round of the Racalmuto Time Attack championship in mid-December, the Mini’s next outing will be the first events of 2019, for which a calendar still has to be set. Let’s just hope we have some co-operation from other organisers, both locally, and on the continent, so that we will have as little date clashes as possible.


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