Italian Connection a roaring success
- 23rd June 2010, 3:56pm
Since its inception three years ago, the Italian Connection Trophy, a 3-day Sydney to Melbourne motoring extravaganza linking the Sydney suburb of Leichardt with its Victorian counterpart, Carlton, via 1200 kilometres of classic rally country, has been all about raising money for charities.
This year was no exception, with the targetted charity being the Duchenne Foundation whose aim is not only to find a cure for this debilitating disease, but to make its young male victims, many who will not make it past their 20th birthday, more comfortable in the remaining years of their lives. In an interesting link to Italian cars, it is not widely known that Dino Ferrari was lost to Duchennes some years ago and as a result his father set up a special research unit in Italy to help find a cure.
Classed as “the most worthwhile charity you’ve never heard of”, the Duchenne Foundation this year was the recipient of close to $25,000, thanks to the fundraising activities of the 26 competitors in the Italian Connection Trophy who rattled tins, conducted auctions and generously put their hands in their pockets to help in research to find a cure. It was the competitors’ way of combining the support of a worthwhile cause with three days of touring over some scenic back roads linking the two capitals.
The event started in Leichardt’s famous Italian district in Norton Street, and specifically in the magnificent Italian Forum Plaza, where the eclectic collection of Italian and European cars were lined up amongst hordes of Vespas and Lambretta motorscooters and classic Fiats, Alfa Romeos, Maseratis, Lamborghinis and the like. At exactly 9.30am on a sunny Friday in May, the noisy cavalcade of cars and motorbikes left the Forum to join regular weekly traffic on their way south and the rally proper on what was to be the first of six divisions in the 1200 kilometre interstate journey.
Leaving the Hume Highway at Campbelltown, the route led over some sparsely-used roads through Picton, Thirlmere and Hill Top before heading into the mass of scenic roads found in the Southern Highlands around Mittagong and Moss Vale. After an easy start, the navigators began looking for and recording a list of observation questions, the answers to which determined which crews were on the correct route or not. It was to become a team effort between driver and navigator to determine just who was the most observant. With lunch beckoning, it was back onto the Hume Freeway at Marulan and a short drive down the highway to Goulburn and a chance for crews to sate their appetites and replenish their cars with fuel. Most crews were “clean” (no points lost) at this point but that situation was not to last much longer.
Heading further south after lunch, the route left the Freeway in search of typical country roads through typical NSW country towns – Parkesbourne, Gunning, Jerriwa, Dalton and the like. There was little rest for competitors – being vigilant without losing too much time was the aim. On through Yass, Jugiong and Coolac, the Autumn-colored country opened up the further south that the route led, with rolling hills and green crops lining the route. By late afternoon as the sun was setting, crews reached the overnight stop at Gundagai, on the banks of the mighty Murrumbidgee River, where they booked into their motel accommodation and readied their cars for the first of two exciting motorkhanas, the first conducted under floodlights in Gundagai’s main street.
The chilly night air kept a few spectators indoors, but there was a healthy crowd on hand to see the drivers trying their hardest to record fastest time. With all their energy for the day expended, a meal and get-together of townsfolk at the local Services Club topped off an enjoyable and challenging day.
Day Two, Saturday morning, dawned fine and sunny after a frosty sunrise and by 9.30am all the crews were on the road once more in search of the promise of more great drivers’ roads. They weren’t to be disappointed either, as the route led east to Adelong and into “driver’s heaven”, the 55 kilometre run through Greenhills Plantation to Rosewood, a favourite scenic touring road just begging to be driven. Turning west, the Hume was again joined, this time at Little Billabong, just a few kilometers from the lunch and refuel break by the big submarine at Holbrook. Several crews were still “clean” with many others blotting their copybooks with incorrect answers to the list of questions. Still, nobody seemed to mind too much.
A stand-out performance was that of Tiina and Angela, two complete novices representing the Duchenne Foundation in an Alfa Romeo kindly supplied by the Australian distributors especially for the event. This year’s Italian Connection was the first navigational rally they had ever been in – and they were already vying for first place!
There was to be yet another motorkhana later that afternoon, so competitors enjoyed a short break at Holbrook before hitting the road again. Heading west, then south, the twin cities of Albury-Wodonga were soon reached before competitors headed deep into the picturesque Kiewa Valley. A fabulous collection of drivers’ roads were on offer through more rolling hills and lush valleys, but there was no time to be wasted. All too soon the day’s drive was over and the bustling township of Myrtleford beckoned where the annual La Fiera Festival was in full swing.
Another motorkhana, set in the middle of town and right outside the local police station, was laid out for some late-afternoon action. Not only did the competitors enjoy the exercise, so too did a crowd of over 1000 people who pressed up against the barriers to watch the classic cars go through their paces, and to soak up the addictive smell of rubber. A hot meal and a warm bed ended Day 2, the promise of an early rise and yet more competitor-friendly driving coursing through their consciousness as sleep finally came.
A picture-postcard heavy white frost and temperatures below zero greeted crews as they gathered for breakfast under the shadow of a towering Mount Buffalo, a reminder (if one was needed) that this was true Victorian Alpine country. But there was little time to enjoy the view – there was some serious driving and more challenging navigation facing the competitors. Most were happy to have a closed car to ride in but there were several hardy souls who chose to drive with the hood down, and paid the price with sun burn.
The historic town of Beechworth, bustling with tourists, was the day’s first port of call but time to explore this historic gold rush town was denied. As the roads wound their way around the maze of boutique wineries in the Ovens and King Valleys, the hum of finely-engineered engines could be heard echoing deep into the hills, stopping passers-by in their tracks. The steep climb up to the hamlet of Tolmie in the mountains above Whitfield enabled drivers to let off a little steam as they pressed on along one of the state’s classic touring roads, but the drive ended far too soon – a refuel stop and lunchbreak and an ever-ticking clock at Mansfield beckoned.
With over 1,000 kilometres having passed beneath their wheels, there was just a further 250 to go before it was all over for 2010. Still, there was no rest for anyone just yet. There were yet more observations to be recorded, a roadbook followed and a classic car to be pointed in the right direction, with its sights on Melbourne and the finish. More exciting bitumen roads, built obvious ly with classic cars in mind, were provided by the Clerk of Course whose aim was to leave a lasting good impression on the 26 satisfied competitors.
The Yarra Valley which the rally passed through, provided a stark reminder of the devastating 2009 bushfires, as the route led through blackened forests yet rapid re-growth.
King Lake, Yarra Glen and Whittlesea came and went, and is wasn’t long before the busy Sunday afternoon suburban traffic reminded everyone that the finish was in sight. One by one the tired but satisfied crews arrived at the Piazza Italia in Melbourne’s Lygon Street, to be flagged in by event promoter, Robert Gunn, happy that his classic rally contingent had arrived safely.
That night’s Presentation Dinner was a gregarious affair where patrons were able to enjoy some wonderful Italian food and some premium wines while the leather was chewed and the final results were calculated and announced in the cosy atmosphere of Café Italia.
It had been a long haul from Sydney to the rally’s final destination, but the event was voted a resounding success, not just because of the wonderful camaraderie amongst the crews, or the quality of the roads, but because of the very welcome fundraising efforts of the competitors towards the Duchenne Foundation’s on-going research.
Would the crews do it all again next year? The answer appeared to be a resounding “yes” from all concerned. From an organiser’s and promoter’s point of view you couldn’t ask for more than that.
If you would like to be part of this great event, call the promoter, Robert Gunn, now on (02) 9544 1531 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. But hurry – places for the 2011 event will be very limited. Many of our regular competitors have already indicated they will be competing next year so it’s a case of ‘first in, best dressed’.
TOP 10 RESULTS
1. Dominic Votano / Kim Votano Renault Clio Sport
2. Ian Allison / - Lindsey Cox Fiat 20V Turbo
3. Tiina Raikko / Angela Solomou Alfa Romeo 159
=4. Jon Dickson / Ivor Davies Lancia Fulvia HF 1600
=4. John Carigliano / Demmi Carigliano Porsche 911 Carerra
6. Peter Doig / Guy Vicars Alfa Romeo 156 GTA
=7. Warren Smith / Tony Metcalf Fiat 20 V Turbo
=7. David Judd / Robyn Judd Fiat 124 Spyder
=7. Charles Di Petta / Matthew Di Petta Alfa Romeo 1750 GTV
=7. Luke Faccini / George Pandaleon Alfa Romeo 159
- Jeff Whitten
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