Italy’s Dolomites Are The Perfect Backdrop To A Winter Rally
Photography by Federico Bajetti
The Winter Marathon is a grueling regularity race held in the cold and snowy Dolomites of Trentino. If you want an idea of what it’s all about, think of the race as the opposite of a Concours d’Elegance: dirt and salt accumulating on the car is not even the least of a competitor’s worries. Alberto Vesco, the organizer, doesn’t even really bother with weather reports in advance of the event.
Despite the absence of snow below 2,000 metres (6,560 ft.), the race is a proper marathon held in winter. Trust us, the strong and icy wind will remind you that summer is still a long way away. Rather than being a classic car rally, the Marathon could just be one of the most adventurous classic car trips you might experience. That, of course, is if you’re not like our friend Jethro Bronner.
“Whatever will be, will be,” seems to be the motto of the crowd that every year gathers at Madonna di Campiglio for a day of historic competition in one of the most hostile environments a car can encounter. The temperatures go from -4 degrees Celsius (24 °F) at the start and go well below 10 (14 °F) when racing on the mountain passes. Some people are brave enough to go without a roof for the entire length of the race!
The roads are not cleaned to welcome the breathtaking sight of many millions’ worth of vintage metal, and there is salt, ice, bumps, dirt, and a lot of stones hitting the cars.
Perhaps the Winter Marathon is the car event that collectors hate to see, and hardcore enthusiasts love to watch. The race begins on Friday afternoon, and it ends at 2 a.m. on the next Saturday after going through more than 1,000 metres (3,280 ft.) in elevation change, via a tour of six mountain passes and dozens of special regularity stages.
Cars range from the usual Porsche crowd to pre-War Italian sports cars, Lancias Aprilias and Balillas to the ultra-cool Saab 96, Skoda Felicias, and robust Volvos. Narrow spiked wheels are the law, and even through salt accumulation and the difficult carburetion tuning needed, almost all cars made it to the finish line.
Following these races is no joke, either, and it makes the Mille Miglia a much easier race for spectators—with warmer weather and dry tarmac as the only surface encountered.
If you’re a bit obsessed, though, bundle up: the Winter Marathon is the event for proper enthusiasts.