The 39th Targa Floria youth to the fore
This year, the age old Targa Florio took on a new lease of life as it became an event counting for the manufacturers' world championship of sportscars. With the situation very open between Jaguar; Ferrari, and Mercedes-Benz, the race took on the position of the final decision for the honours in this championship. Mercedes-Benz went to Sicily in full force, while Ferrari did the best they could and Jaguar did not bother to compete, so the final issue lay between Maranello and Stuttgart.
The Targa Florio must rate as the toughest motor race remaining in the international calendar, and this year he length of the race was nearly doubled, to comply with world championship regulations. At the best of times the Sicilian roads are far from perfect, and recent bad weather played havoc with them. Cloudbursts washed mud and rock on to the roadways as fast as they could be cleared, and throughout the day before the race, local labour worked endlessly to try and keep the roads clear.
It was the big boys that really stole the show, and after Luigi Piotti (Ferrari Monza) and Mario Ricci (Gordini 3-litre) had gone, the first Mercedes-Benz left with Stirling Moss at the wheel, to be co-driven by Peter Coffins.
After the surprise of Collins as co-driver to Moss, was the sight of Desmond Titterington going next, also in a 300SLR Mercedes-Benz, to be assisted later by John Fitch. Next went Carroll Shelby with a Monza Ferrari from a private stable and then Fangio in the third Mercedes-Benz, with Kling standing by as co-driver. There followed the main opposition: Eugenio Castellotti with a works Ferrari Monza 3-litre with Robert Manzon as co-driver, followed by Luigi Musso with a lone Maserati 300S with Luigi Villoresi in reserve, and finally went the works Ferrari Monza 3-litre of Umberto Maglioli/ Sergio Fighinolfi.
There was a total of 13 laps to cover and no driver was allowed to drive for more than five laps in a row, on account of the gruelling nature of the course. From the start, Moss seta cracking pace, for MercedesBenz had given their drivers complete freedom, unlike the organised Grand Prix demonstrations. During his fourth round, Moss became a little too confident and made a mistake which, on this circuit, meant he found himself well and truly off the road, in a field and nearly over a precipice. Local peasantry manhandled the Mercedes-Benz, now rather bent on one side, back on to the road, and Moss arrived back at the pits, now in fourth place, sadder but wiser. Though bent, the car was driveable, and Collins took over, setting off at a fantastic pace to try and regain the lead.
This error had let Castellotti into the lead and he quickly refuelled and handed over to Manzon, while Musso gave the big Maserati to Villoresi, who did not get far as the rear axle then broke. Now the race developed into a close personal battle between the Mercedes-Benz team drivers unrestricted by the hands of Neubauer, with the lone Ferrari well amongst them. Collins was in terrific form, having learned the circuit thoroughly by dint of sheer hard work, and in four meteoric laps caught and passed Kling, now taken over from Fangio, and Manzon over from Castellotti, as well as the Titterington/Fitch Mercedes-Benz. At the end of the eighth lap the car was back in the lead, but not before he too had gone off the road and wrecked the nose of the car, and he handed it back to Moss to complete the remaining five laps.
With the free hand they were given, nothing could stop these two youths, and Moss went faster and faster, outpacing everyone, including Fangio.
Almost everyone had made solid contact with blocks or bridges and Fitch backed the rear of his car against a concrete post before handing back to Titterington to cover the last five laps. These two were well matched, in contrast to Castellotti and Manzon, between whom there was quite a difference in lap times.
Providing Moss had no more excursions off the road, victory was assured, and Fangio was in second place, after Manzon burst his tyre and had to change it out on the circuit. He then stopped at the pits and, amid wild screams ofjoy from the enormous crowds lining the roadside, Castellotti set off on the last three laps, ahead of Titterington but not close enough to Fangio to be a menace. Anxiously everyone waited the final 45 minutes while Moss completed his 13th lap, fortunately, just before darkness began to fall. The two young Englishmen achieved a sweeping victory gained on pure driving skill and added their names to the honourable list of Targa Florio winners, after running one of the hardest and toughest races experienced for many years. In contrast to the battered and bent winning car, that of Fangio and Kling had only one slight graze and a dented wheel rim, but Fitch had made a thorough job of demolishing the rear of the body of his car. Castellotti and Manzon had rubbed both sides of the Ferrari, and Francesco Giardini finished with one headlamp pushed sideways.