If there is one hill climb in Sicily that appears to be everybody’s favorite, it is the famous Coppa Monti Iblei, held for the last 59 years at the little village of Chiaramonte Gulfi in the Iblei mountain range of South East Sicily.
The first venture by Maltese competitors to this famous hill climb dates back to 1978, when Alex Zammit and I were both offered racing cars by Sicilian friends, with which to compete. Alex was offered a red Alfa Romeo GTA 1300, and I was offered a 1300 Mini Cooper S. The whole thing was arranged by our mutual friend, the late Alfio “JIMMY” Vitale from Catania, a great racer himself, and a real friend.
Neither Alex’s Alfa nor my Mini had ever placed better than 4th in class in the hands of their owners, and the Alfa was way too low geared for Chiaramonte’s fast bottom section. But beggars can’t be choosers, and we certainly were not going to look a gift horse in the mouth. So come Saturday we both got on with the job; and with surprisingly good results. We were both racing in Group 2 for cars under 1300cc, a class of 33 competitors at the popular Chiaramonte hill climb, yet by the end of official practice on Saturday evening Alex was an excellent 3rd in class, and I was fastest with a time well below the 1300 Group 2 class record.
With 333 starters there was only time for 1 timed run on Sunday, so it was pretty much do or die. Alex managed a good clean climb, considering the limitations of his car to 4th place. I was doing fine right till the last corner when the engine cried enough – less than 100 metres from the finish. My immediate reaction was to put it into neutral and roll across the finish line. It was still good enough to place 3rd from 33, but it could have been so much better!
I competed at Chiaramonte for the next 4 years in succession, then for 1983 the CSAI changed the rules, and my car, together with hundreds of others, was suddenly deemed illegal. The result was an entry of just 56 cars for the 1983 event, as opposed to the 300 plus each year.
It was only 3 years ago that the Maltese finally decided to return to the Sicilian hills, and compete in the Italian CSAI hill climb championship. My brother David Anastasi, and Christian Tanti, entered the Coppa Monti Iblei in 2014, and I made my return, together with another 8 Maltese drivers, last year. The bug had bitten again.
Last month 8 drivers from Malta participated once again in the 59th edition of the Salita Monti Iblei with the usual success. Particularly impressive were Noel Galea, who made a time good enough to place his Escort as the fastest touring car from over 200 entries, and young Ryan Mangion, who needed bucket loads of natural skill to tame the power of his potent Escort – both winning their respective classes in the process. Darren Camilleri and James Dunford in their first experience in Italian hill climbs performed well enough to place in their respective classes, with Camilleri taking the class win, as did Mark Micallef and Joe Anastasi. Not so lucky were Edward Calleja and Jesmond Mangion whose weekends were both plagued with technical problems.
As we all walked out of the presentation of awards, silverware in hand, with the hundreds of race cars still parked in the main square and extending onto the main road, the talk was not of the success of the event at Chiaramonte, but: “Who’s coming to the next one at Monte Erice?”
Monte Erice hill climb, near Trapani on the North Western tip of Sicily, and the Coppa Nissena at Caltanissetta, in central Sicily, habitually take place on consecutive weekends. And Malta will again be represented in both. In fact the list for Erice includes Noel Galea, Ryan Mangion and myself, with the latter two drivers staying on for the very fast Coppa Nissena the following weekend; assuming our cars are still in one piece.
At age 70, I’m much looking forward to race in both.
© 2016 – VIDA Magazine – Joe Anastasi