Driving an Alfa Romeo, one of several in the event, Sydneysiders Lido and Sylvia Russo have taken out the inaugural Italian Connection Rally from a small but classy field.

The 3-day, 1200 kilometre event which linked the Italian precinct of Sydney (Leichardt) with its counterpart, Carlton, in Melbourne, proved to be an enjoyable rally that used some of the best roads between the two capitals.

Starting in Norton Street, Leichardt, on Friday, May 23, in front of a large and enthusiastic crowd of spectators, the event immediately headed south down the Hume Freeway to Moss Vale, the long line of classic Ferraris, Fiats and Alfa Romeos causing plenty of interest through towns en-route. Passing through Sutton Forest, Penrose and Bundanoon, the rally rejoined the freeway at Marulan, finally arriving at Goulburn, via Bungonia, for lunch.

Stars of the parade of cars were three Ferrari F430s driven by former Formula 2 Champion, Lucio Cesario, Tony Cascone and Alf Merlino, and were the centre of attention wherever they stopped. Peter Parussolo’s tiny 1955 Fiat received just as much attention as the Italian supercars as it slowly plodded its way around the course, but surprised many with its eventual effort of covering the entire route under its own steam.

The afternoon’s run to Tumut used sections of the old Hume Highway over the Cullerin Range before visiting Yass and Gundagai, finally arriving at the first overnight stop at Tumut, just on dusk.

The following morning crews headed to the Tumut Airport for a go at the first of four motorkhanas on the strip’s bitumen apron. A large crowd of enthusiastic locals were on hand to watch the action and marveled at the difference between the Ferraris and the event’s smallest and oldest car, the 1955 Fiat 1100D.

By mid-morning crews were on the road again, this time heading further south through beautiful autumn countryside around Adelong, Batlow and Tumbarumba. The route led into the reaches of the Upper Murray Valley where some real drivers roads were found to excite drivers who marveled at the scenery unfolding in front of them,

With lunch at the small township of Corryong over, the route led west towards Albury, using roads through the Shelley Plantation, the climb over the Granya Gap, and the run around the edge of the almost-dry Hume Dam through Bethanga. Crossing the border into Victoria, crews had to follow the prescribed route through Kiewa, Yackandandah and Beechworth, arriving in Myrtleford to a rapturous welcome by the large, local Italian population.

There was still fierce competition for the top placings, and a number of crews, including Craig Walsh/Gordon Lennox (Porsche), Arnold de Antonis/John Dickson (Alfa Romeo), Tony Cascone/John Baressi (Ferrari F430) and Enio Briglia/John Carigliano (Alfa GTV) were among those so far without loss of points.

A further motorkhana in front of a huge crowd in the car park of the local Italian Savoy Club was hotly contested, with eventual winners, the Russos, proving far too quick for everyone else, to gain an advantage that would prove invaluable later in the event. Craig Walsh (Porsche 911 4WD) clipped a cone, instantly removing his clean sheet status from the scores.

Back on the road again, the route led through real wine growing country in the King Valley before ascending the mountain ranges through Tolmie and Powers Lookout. The threat of black ice on sheltered sections of the road kept drivers on their toes, but by Mansfield fine, sunny weather had removed all threats of slippery conditions.

With crews required to arrive in Melbourne by mid-afternoon for post-event celebrations, it was soon back on the road, heading south once more through spectacular countryside to Bonnie Doon, Yea and Flowerdale, before joining Melbourne’s busy Sunday afternoon traffic to get to the finish in Melbourne’s Italian heart, Lygon Street, Carlton.

Thousands of people were on hand to see the cars arrive behind a flotilla of tooting, flag waving Vespa and Lambretta motor scooters and motorcycle riders, and there was a real carnival atmosphere as each car entered the Piazza Italia to a welcome by Lord Mayor, John So.

The inaugural Italian Connection Rally, designed to raise much-needed funds for a very worthwhile charity, TLC for Kids, as well as linking Sydney and Melbourne Italian communities, was voted a resounding success in more ways than one and, given the success of the first event, looks certain to be repeated again next year.

1.     Lido Russo/Sylvia Russo        Alfa Romeo
=2.    Lucio Cesario/Simon Chiarelli    Ferrari F430
=2.    Craig Walsh/Gordon Lennox    Porsche 911
=4.    Arnold de Antonis/John Dickson    Alfa Romeo
=4.    Ian Allison/Warren Smith        Fiat 20V Coupe
=4.    Tony Cascone/John Baressi    Ferrari F430
=7.    Charles Parisi/Joe Parisi        Alfa Romeo Spyder
=7.    Enio Briglia/John Carigliano    Alfa Romeo GTV
9.    Ben Doig/Peter Doig        Alfa Romeo 156
10. Peter Parussolo/Rennie Vecchies    Fiat 1100D
11.     Vera-Ann & Ken Hannaford    Triumph TR7 Pro    

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