The whole ‘Chiantishire’ thing was lost on Markku Alén. Tony Blair? Polly Toynbee? Their Tuscany meant nothing to the Finnish rally legend. Same place. Different priorities.
For Alén, Tuscany was all about hustling Lancias through some of the most challenging and picturesque special stages of the season. Northern Italian wins in a Stratos, 037 and a Delta S4 helped bestow God-like status on one of the sport’s most charismatic and best-loved drivers.
I had, of course, reported the Sanremo Rally as a journalist many times. But I hadn’t covered a proper Sanremo; I hadn’t done pre-1997 version which combined the asphalt of the Ligurian Alps with the Tuscan gravel. In the main bit of the Italian boot, I’d been as far south from the north as Bologna and as far north from the south as Rome. The middle bit, I missed out.
Alén couldn’t understand that.
I’d like to think a conversation with an motorsport icon influenced my decision to top-to-bottom France and head to Toscana via Monaco and a quick dash over the Col de Turini. Well, if you’re going all that way, it seemed a bit silly to miss out the world’s finest display of supercars (even if they were in a zoo rather than their natural habitat) and one of planet Earth’s most epic stretches of winter tar (which is still pretty tidy in the summer). The car of choice was a Skoda Superb SE L Executive 2.0 TSI 280PS 4x4 DSG.