By the time these words are read the Mile Miglia will be taking place. There seem to be three methods of attacking this most difficult of races, the first being to rely on one’s knowledge of natural terrain together with reflexes conditioned to Italian roads, the second to spend weeks circulating round the course learning every part, and the third is to make no attempt to learn anything, on the principle that a little knowledge is dangerous, but to look at the map and rely on good luck and judgement.
The first method seems to be the province of the Italians; they spend most of their lives on Italian roads, and some, like Taruffi and Musso who live in Rome, have to traverse some 300 miles of the course every time they go to race in other countries. Consequently drivers in this class need not do a great deal of practice and can leave a great deal to conditioned reflexes.
The second category is exemplified by the Germans, Mercedes-Benz in particular, who start training some five months beforehand and the drivers can cover as much as 10,000 miles during practice for the event. The English Aston-Martin team also apply this method, though to a less severe degree. The third method is essentially for the private owners who can barely afford the time or money for the race itself, let alone any training, though this has applied to some English factory teams before now, but this method has never produced a winner needless to say.
Passing through Modena recently a quick visit was made to the Maserati factory where mechanics were putting the finishing touches to the first of the new 1.5-litre sports Maseratis. There was only one car assembled, but a row of chassis frames was completed and engines and gearboxes were being assembled. The four-cylinder engine is built on similar lines to the bigger six-cylinder models, with twin ohc, two double-choke Weber carburettors, two plugs per cylinder and dry sump lubrication. The main chassis frame is of large diameter tube construction with the body frame, of smaller tubing, welded in as part of the main frame. Brakes are hydraulic, very similar in pattern to those used on racing cars, while at the rear de Dion suspension is used, in conjunction with a transverse leaf-spring, and the de Dion tube is located in its centre by an enormous A-bracket, the feet of the A being very wide apart and pivoted at full chassis width. The four-speed gearbox is integral with the clutch housing and bolted to the rear of the engine, so that a straightforward crown-wheel and pinion housing is used, mounted on the rear of the chassis.
The two-seater bodywork closely follows the lines of the well-known 2-litre sports cars, but with right hand steering, while the tail contains fuel and oil tanks in the extremity, with a spare wheel over the rear suspension. The engine has shown great promise and great hopes are held at Modena that it will show the way to the remarkable Oscas and the 550 Porsches.
Maserati’s other hope for the Mile Miglia is the 3-litre model, which might provide an outright winner in the hands of Vittorio Marzotto and Luigi Musso, for it will be remembered that they were second and third respectively, last year, driving 2-litre cars. This larger Maserati uses a chassis frame that is identical in construction to the Grand Prix chassis, the suspension and the brakes being the same. The six-cylinder engine is outwardly the same to look at as the Grand Prix engine, as is the gearbox/differential assembly mounted at the rear. Again, the 3-litre sports car is quite literally a Grand Prix car enlarged by half a litre, with the frame widened to permit the carrying of a passenger. There is nothing ‘thinly disguised’ about its Formula One parenthood, in just the same way as Mercedes-Benz have done with their Type W196 Formula One car to make the new sports 300SLR. The racing car of today is certainly the sportscar of tomorrow.
Porsche do not intend to run any factory-entered 550 models this year, as having sold a dozen or more to European competitors they maintain it is unfair for the clients to have to compete against factory cars. Also they must be fairly confident that the standard 550 Spyder model will give a good account of itself in non-professional hands. Calling at the Monza Autodrome recently gave an opportunity of not only seeing Ascari circulating in a Grand Prix Lancia, for the firm do a great deal of testing on the Italian track, but also to see the work in progress on the same high-speed circuit. This new construction is an oval piste de vitesse, using for one side the existing straight past the pits. Going the same way as the existing track the new road being built curves off to the right just before the Grande Curva of the Grand Prix circuit, and then curves on a very big radius curve, beyond the pave corners, brings it back to join the straight behind the pits.
At the moment the mechanical shovels and lorries are at work levelling away the ground, but already the path for the new road has been cut through the woods, so that it is possible to get a good idea of the general layout and it looks very likely that an existing Grand Prix car will be able to take the curves on full throttle, so that, allowing for loss of speed due to tyre scrub on the curves it should be possible to lap in the region of 150-160mph. This new venture should be finished before the end of the season and it will be possible to use it either as a full-throttle test track, or to incorporate it with the existing Monza track to lengthen the Grand Prix circuit.
Modifications and improvements to other circuits continue apace and one that will be very popular with competitors is the building of a tunnel under the track at Le Mans. This will connect with the paddock, which is on the inside of the circuit, and will mean that anyone who breaks down during the 24-hour race will be able to drive home before the end of the race, if they so desire. Until now, once behind the pits at Le Mans you are imprisoned there until the race is over, unless you care to walk home. While on the subject of Le Mans it is worth remembering that 1956 sees the 50th anniversary of the Automobile Club de l’Ouest, and one of the things planned for the 1956 24-hour race is a procession of genuine Le Mans cars of the past.