La Salita dei Campioni Trieste-Opicina Is A Delicious Italian Mouthful Of Tasteful History
Photography by Alberto Lucchi for La Salita dei Campioni
Air Show Photography by Stefano Salvini
Story by Francesco DiLauro
Trieste-Opicina was first raced in 1911 from the center of the busy coastal town of Trieste on the Northern Adriatic Sea (Trieste was at one time the main harbor of the Austro-Hungarian Empire under Kaiser Franz Josef), to a nearby village named Opicina in the hills surrounding the town. The first winner was Dr. Ing. Hieronimus Otto, driving a Laurin & Klement FCR 7-liter, and cars from all states belonging to the empire took part, making this a very big event indeed.
Nobody could predict this at the time, but soon winds of war blew away the Belle Époque, and with it, all hopes and illusions. Following WW1 and after fierce battles and fights in the hills surrounding the town, Trieste was conquered back by the Italians in 1918. In 1926 the race was reinstated.
Achille Varzi won there in 1929, and Tazio Nuvolari in 1930 at the wheel of the mighty Alfa Romeo P2 belonging to the then newly-born Scuderia Ferrari. Enzo was not a constructor at the time, acting back then as simply team-owner and boss. It was Enzo’s first important victory and he became very attached to the town and its race from then on. He and his team came back to Trieste every year since, collecting nine outright victories, the last of which in 1970 with Giampiero “Momo” Moretti at the wheel of the ultra-fast 512 S. Alfa has won five times, Porsche, Maserati, and Abarth each three times apiece, and Lotus, Gordini, Fiat, and Lancia also count more than one win.
During the Sixties, the race was nicknamed “La Monza in Salita,” as it was the fastest hillclimb in Europe at the time: Jochen Rindt, Arturo Merzario, Nino Vaccarella, Hans Herrmann, Johannes Ortner, Franco Bordoni, Umberto Marzotto, Carlo Facetti, Ignazio Giunti, Silvio Moser, Picko Troberg, Frank Williams, Jonathan Williams, Toine Hezemans, Dieter Quester, Piers Courage and many others that populate the land of the True Greats came here to conquer the hill.
The main appeal of this race—besides the high speeds attainable on some sections—consisted in the eclectic mix of participants, which ranged from the top works drivers to the young and impecunious hopefuls, as well as affluent businessmen and traders of the area challenging each other at the wheel. Above all, it was more or less a party for the entire population: rarely has the history of motorsports been so tightly interwoven with the life of a town than here.
Motorcycles were also admitted in a separate class in some editions of the race, which soon reached cult status.
At the beginning of the 1970s, the oil-crisis was looming alongside the lobbies that formed and began working against the race’s continuation: in particular, a serious accident to an Austrian car was taken as an excuse for halting the race after the ’71 – edition. This era was not the brightest for the historic race’s future.
But it was not the end: for 46 years, the name of the Trieste-Opicina Hillclimb has been kept alive by a bunch of enthusiasts, who yearly organize a commemorative regularity run. At the end of 2016, the Mayor of Trieste and a group of city councilors declared to the same group their interest in a new event on closed roads. Not exactly a race, but an invitational for cars and bikes built between 1911 and 1971, possibly of the type and model that had raced in period or with drivers at the wheel who had actually been taking part in the race in period.
La Salita dei Campioni Trieste-Opicina 2017 was born and organized in only three months.
Almost spontaneously, after blowing away the cobwebs, drivers and owners of cars materialized from Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Austria, Germany, UK, Switzerland, and elsewhere, and the limited numbers suggested from the authorities for this inaugural event (30 bikes and 60 cars) were soon met.
Andrea de Adamich, Phil Read, Eugenio Lazzarini, Pierpaolo Bianchi, David Pendleton, Sandro Baumann, and Erich Glavitza soon confirmed their presences. A full team of pre-war Alfa Romeo cars (1924 Targa Florio RL, 8C 2900 Mille Miglia “Botticella,” 1750 Zagato, 1750 Gran Sport, and a 6C Villa d’Este) were announced and confirmed too. Following this, the partnership from FCA Alfa Romeo was secured and the new Stelvio and Giulia Quadrifoglio were proudly displayed during April 1st and 2nd, the days of La Salita.
Abarths, a full team of ten of them, Steyr Puchs, Oscas, Gianninis, Lancias (two Stratos, two Fulvia 1.6 HFs, one Fulvia Zagato, and one Flavia Zagato) were present in force alongside Bizzarrini, Stanguellini, Lotus, Amilcar, Fiat, and Porsche making for a good showing. Among the bikes, Benelli was the featured marque this year, with all three four-stroke World Championship bikes performing faultlessly up the hill.
Besides Anna, Emilio, Stefano, and Francesco who are strictly speaking the organizers, all classic car clubs in town made themselves available pro bono: more than 150 marshals were out on the road, in Lower Paddock, at the start or at the finish for the safety of drivers and mechanics. And in the skies above Trieste, the big surprise was the fly-bys of three WW1 planes belonging to the Jonathan Foundation, which maintains and restores them in a nearby airfield.
Above all, at the start there was barely a dry eye in sight: everybody was here for having fun of course, but those 46 years had been particularly a long time and the emotion was deep for all involved in the event including of course, the spectators.
Following an estimated attendance of over 20,000 people, the Mayor of Trieste, Roberto di Piazza, has already confirmed plans for the 2018 edition to be held again on closed roads: for 45 bikes and 100 cars this time.