2009 Targa Molise

Charlie Magee

Besides playing up the economic benefits of the rally, Niosi plucked at her listeners' heartstrings by explaining that she'd promised her father that she would promote a race in honor of his grandfather's roots in Ripalimosani. This was the clincher for Riccardi, who'd staged the first Rally di San Giuliano del Sannio in honor of his father. So he agreed to mount the Targa Mille Molise, and maybe - maybe - Niosi would have to come up with $15,000 in funding. Niosi contacted Adam Bruce, a partner of AutoStream.com, a motorsports media production, sponsorship, and distribution company, who brought on Royal Purple as a sponsor. Bruce's friend, Park, agreed to rent a race car from Rally Point, one of Italy's top rally-car preparation shops. Bruce also got road-racing legend Steve Millen to commit to run the rally, which promised to lend the event credibility while raising its profile.

Then, disaster. Barely a week before the event, Niosi was told that, for various reasons, the race was being canceled. Niosi was undaunted. "I was not going to acknowledge defeat," she says. "No matter what roadblocks were thrown in my way, the race was going to happen." She convinced Riccardi to merge the canceled Targa Mille Molise with the already-scheduled San Giuliano del Sannio rally. This meant no stages in or around Ripalimosani, as originally planned, nor would the rally cover 1000 kilometers, as advertised. Instead, the competition driving would be limited to six stages covering a grand total of fourteen miles plus about fifty additional miles of transit stages on public roads.

Millen had to cancel, but Park re-upped for the new dates. Two days before the rally, he secured his FIA license after a brisk classroom course and the briefest of medical examinations. (Essentially: Do you have a detectable pulse? Yes? Then you're good to go.) But because the race car arrived late, he and his Italian navigator, Barbara Perugini, rented an anemic Fiat Punto to reconnoiter the course and practice their cross-cultural communications - a critical task in a pace-note rally. And it wasn't until the day before the rally that he finally got his first seat time in the car he'd be racing.

Rally Point provided Park with a 2.0-liter Renault Clio Williams whose interior had been gutted and retrofitted with a Magneti Marelli digital instrument cluster, race seats, and assorted go-fast modifications. The engine had been overhauled to raise its output from 140 to 230 hp running through the front wheels, and the stock transmission had been replaced with a Sadev sequential gearbox. Park wasn't allowed to recce the rally stages in the race car, so the team found a secluded country road for a shakedown. As owner Armando Colombini made the initial run, we heard fast, clean shifts punctuated by glorious staccato cracks - as the antilag system shot a burst of fuel into the exhaust to keep the revs up - echoing through the trees. "In Italy," mechanic Paolo Pierotti said with a smile, "if the car does not make a bang, it is not a good car. If it makes a bang, it is beautiful."

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