Lancer vs Lancia: Spending The Day With Two Rally Legends On A Frozen Field In Italy
Photography by Andrea Klainguti
Winter is that time of the year when I miss my hometown in the Swiss mountains the most. With all the snow-covered roads and severely scenic landscapes, there are just so many more opportunities for great motoring images and stories compared to the busy city life I find myself living most of the time.
Back home for the recent holiday season though, I recalled the days I spent with the A112 Abarth and the Porsche 912 featured on this site last winter, and I was hoping to find another cool story on snow during this visit. Turns out I was in for a treat: a good friend called and asked if I wanted to join for a day of testing on an ice track. I immediately said yes and packed my gear, the destination being just across the border in the alpine town of Livigno, where a family of car lovers operate a perfectly prepared ice track, open to everybody looking to learn or master the fine art of driving sideways at speed.
The already promising day was made even better when I saw the cars that were brought along for the testing: a 1999 Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VI, and a gorgeous 1975 Lancia Stratos HF Group 4, considered by many as the ultimate pre-Group B rally car, and a personal favorite of mine. This particular example was sporting a unique Chupa-Chups Livery, a cool addition from the owner that would not have been out of place in the 1970s, the decade when this car was the dominant force in rally sports.
The reason these cars are testing? The upcoming historic version of the Rallye Monte Carlo starts at the end of this week, and will see the lollipop-liveried Stratos among the competitors—what better place for a shakedown than an ice track? While the owner and pilot is a very experienced and skilled racing driver, a little test to confirm that man and machine are both ready and in synch with one another is always a prudent idea—imagine that, sliding an old Italian rally machine around in the snow and calling it a practicality!
After arriving at the track, studded race-tires (with a much narrower track than normal) were fitted in order to slice through the ice and have better control and traction on the slick surface beneath the powder and slush. Both cars were let out on the track simultaneously, so I positioned myself at different corners throughout the day, always knee-deep in the snow waiting patiently for the cars to drive-by and take a shot before the wake of snow swept over the scene. I tried to keep warm by running from one spot to the next, but it didn’t help much against the cold and I was happy to rest in the heated cabin in between sessions.
It was well worth it though: both cars were a sight to behold, and because they represent pinnacles of the sport from different eras, having them appear together in tandem opposite lock slides over the icy felt more like a situation contrived in a video game. Watching the cars crest a hill together before dropping down a few gears and transferring weight to the opposite side was the highlight for me, while the tighter sections of the track were churned up into great waves of snow.
The evolution that took place over 30 years of changes in rallying regulations and technology was definitely noticeable, especially when watching both cars in action lap after lap on the same course with no distractions.
The Evo VI is perhaps one of the most desirable iterations of the Mitsubishi Lancer: it’s the last model without ABS, and with its 280bhp and 373Nm of turbocharged power coupled to a mechanical differential, it’s capable of carrying massive amounts of speed in perfectly controlled, seemingly endless slides. But for me, there’s just something indomitable about the silhouette of a Lancia Stratos leaning on its suspension, emerging through a cloud of snow accompanied by the Ferrari V6 hitting its rev limiter. It’s a sound that could be heard from any spot on the track, echoing off the mountains in the valley all day and still ringing in my memory as I write this.
Before the end of the day, the testing turned into a fun and relaxed afternoon spent with good friends alternating seat time on the track, topped off with lunch and some beer before returning home to the other side of the valley. In my book, another day well spent in the mountains, and one that I would gladly freeze for all over again.