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      Ninni's WRC starts
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  Home > People > Team managers > Russo, Ninni
Ninni Russo
Team manager, Fiat (1979-1981)
Team manager, Lancia (1982-1992)

Nobody is born as team manager and such is case also with Ninni. His involvement with motorsports began in 1960s when he became involved in a reliability trials at a request of a friend who needed a timekeeper. For Ninni, this was more of an opportunity to have fun and see Italy far and wide rather than burning desire for competition. As it often happens, one thing led to another and this rather innocent hobby changed when another friend, Alcide Paganelli, got invitation to drive official Lancia in 1968 San Remo Rally (then known as Rally dei Fiori) and he asked Ninni to be his co-driver.

Success soon followed and already in 1970 Alcide and Ninni won Italian national championship title with Fiat. All in all, they competed together eight years before Paganelli was offered a PR job at Fiat group and he retired from competition. Ninni then teamed up with Maurizio Verini and co-drove with him until end of 1978. At this point it was his turn to receive a job offer when Cesare Fiorio told him to "stop co-driving and start taking care of the team". Convinced that he was right man for the job, Ninni accepted the offer, starting on a path that would come to an end only when Lancia stopped rallying in 1992.

Fiat Group, which owns both Fiat and Lancia, had combined their two competition departments into one (see Abarth) and Fiorio had become it's director. Department designed, prepared and ran cars for both Fiat and Lancia marques and also for some privateers. Same core team competed both in WRC and European Championship as well as in selected national rallies too. Managing such an array of variables required strong set of organizational skills but also helping him along was Ninni's familiarity with the team thanks to his long history with it.

As a team manager, Russo's job was to plan and execute day-to-day running of team. That is to say, strategic level decisions like hiring drivers or deciding which events team would attend were handled by Fiorio while engineers designed the cars and attended the test sessions. Practically everything outside these fields was Ninni's turf, mainly team logistics and servicing planning and co-ordination.

During those times, servicing was free which meant that teams could employ as many mechanics and vans as they wanted, could service cars where and how often needed and had no limits to spare parts or tyres. Only practicalities (and team budget) were the limit, so cars were routinely serviced before and after each stage. For basic servicing on each event, team had up to 10 to 12 of service units which consisted of one service van and one tyre van each. In addition, there were several so called "fast service cars", powerful station wagons which could handle emergencies better than more cumbersome vans. Later, Lancia was also first team to use helicopters to move mechanics where needed.

In fact, Lancia was in forefront of innovation in many areas. For example, they were first team to use aircraft as radio relay stations and first to have doctor and physiotherapist in the team. One of the rarer and most ingenious ideas was mid-stage tyre change. Lancia was still using rear-wheel driven 037 when Audi had 4WD quattro and in wintry conditions of Monte Carlo 1983 it might have been impossible for 2WD car to reach the finish in tarmac tyres. Then again, on dry sections tarmac tyre was much faster and it was decided to change from slicks to studs in the middle of the stage. Russo says that it wasn't the first time either, during his co-driving days they had done same in the extremely long stages of Morocco Rally.

With Lancia, Ninni experienced the WRC in it's many guises. These included three different eras in terms of regulations from the original Appendix J, the classic Group B as well as the long running Group A. Those years brought joy in terms of championship titles: one for Fiat in 1980 and seven for Lancia - of which six were consecutive - as well as five drivers' titles. But also sorrow in tragedies of 1985 and 1986. However, such difficult moments gave more strength to carry on.

Although Lancia's interest waned towards the end, Ninni's role remained as before. Even in 1992, which was Lancia's final year of official participation in WRC, Russo was team manager even though he shared position with Jolly Club's Claudio Bortoletto. Next year Lancia's WRC operation was run entirely by Jolly Club while Fiat's competition department team - and Russo with it - switched to circuit racing under Alfa Romeo banner. That lasted until 1998 when Ninni moved back to rallying to manage Fiat trophies and customer operations.

Finally in 2001 Ninni left Fiat group, with which he had been involved with all his active career, and joined ISC. David Richards had bought the promoting company and was looking to expand popularity of WRC. One of the avenues to achieve that was to improve the image of support championships (then PWRC and JWRC, later also SWRC) and Ninni was hired as WRC Support Championships co-ordinator. He held this post until 2012 and currently works as FIA and WRC teams relations officer in Rally Sardinia organisation.

Written with kind help of Ninni himself.

WRC starts:25
first: Monte Carlo 1973
latest: Great Britain 1977
Best result: 2nd (Portugal 1974)
Ninni Russo
Ninni Russo
Nationality: Italy
Birthday: 30-Nov-1939

Ninni Russo with Alcide Paganelli
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Ninni Russo with Alcide Paganelli during one of their rallies in Fiat 124, time and event unknown. Click picture to see larger version in a pop-up window
Ninni Russo
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During his years as team manager with Fiat and Lancia, Ninni was famous of keeping in touch with everyone via radio or early mobile phones. Click picture to see larger version in a pop-up window