GREAT RACING MARQUES.
By E. K. H. KARSLAKE.
THERE is no better answer to the arguments which one frequently hears advanced against the usefulness of motor racing, than to quote the case of the Alfa-Romeo. Quite apart from the technical advances which are brought about by racing, it is a significant fact that while some five years ago the AlfaRomeo was a comparatively obscure Italian car, it is no exaggeration to say that nowadays it is one of the best known marques in the motoring world ; and this rapid rise to fame is due almost entirely to the Milanese firm’s racing programme.
The Alfa car was originally an Italian edition of the Darracq, just as the Opel was once an edition of the famous French car made in Germany ; but it was not until the firm was taken over by the Italian engineer, Nichola Romeo, who is famous in railway circles, that the car which henceforth bore his name really started on its career of fame.
It is true that in 1919 three Alfa cars, driven by Campari, Franchini and rracassi started in the Targa Florio, but none finished the race or succeeded in figuring very prominently in it. In 1921, however, the car had become the Alfa-Romeo, and two 4f litre 6-cylinder models with Sivocci and Ferrari as their drivers succeeded in finishing first and second in their class in the big Sicilian race. The next year another attempt was made on the Targa Florio. Four cars were entered, one being of the 4i
litre type which had been raced in 1921, and the other three being 4-cylinder cars of 102 x 130 mms. bore and stroke (4251 c.c.). The 4i litre racer was handled by Campari, who had driven one of the Alfas in 1919, while Sivocci and Ferrari had two of the 4-cylinder cars. The fourth car was entrusted to Ascari, who now joined the team, and who had previously handled a Grand Prix Fiat in the race. On the first lap, he got into fourth place, and although there were some changes during the race, he was in the same position at the finish. The rest of the team all finished, Sivocci being ninth, Campari eleventh, and Ferrari sixteenth.
The reward for these efforts came in 1923 in the form of a victory for Alfa-Romeo in the Targa Florio. The winner of the race was Sivocci, who drove one of the ft litre cars ; and he was followed home by Ascari on a 3-litre 6-cylinder machine of 76 x 110 mms. bore and stroke, of the type which has since become the firm’s famous sports model. Count Masetti on a similar car gained fourth place. Alfa-Romeo thus secured an important victory which was to be the herald of yet more important ones in the future. After this victory, Alfa-Romeo entered four cars for the 1924 race, two being of the 3-litre type, and the other two 6-cylinder cars of 80 x 120 mms. (3619 c.c.). Their drivers were as before, Ascari, Campari and Count Masetti, and they were now joined by Louis Wagner. The race this year was for the Targa and Coppa Florio
combined, 4 laps of the Madonie circuit counting for the former and 5 for the latter. The Alf a-Romeos’ chief rivals in the contest were the 2-litre Mercies, and the 4-litre Peugeots.
At the end of the first lap Masetti was in the lead, with his team mates well up among the leaders. On the second round he dropped back to fourth, but Ascari came up to second place behind Werner on the Mercedes. At the end of the third round he was only two minutes behind ; and on the fourth and final circuit for the Targa, Ascari gained the lead. And then, 50 yards from the finishing line, his engine stopped, the car skidded wildly, and ended up broadside on to the road. A host of enthusiastic helpers pushed it up to the finish ; but it was too late, and Ascari had to be content with 2nd place behind Werner. Masetti and Campari finished 3rd and 5th in the Targa, and 2nd and 3rd in the Cup, while Wagner was tenth at the end of the four laps, and in eighth place at the finish To-day there is a monument by the finish of the Targa Florio course, to mark the spot where Ascari lost the race, probably in the most maddening manner that a race has ever been lost.
In 1923 Alfa-Romeo had decided to enter for the Grand Prix races, and a team of 2-litre cars were entered for the European Grand Prix, which was held that year at Monza on September 9th. These racers had straighteight engines of 61 x 85 mms. bore and stroke, with two overhead valves per cylinder, operated by two overhead camshafts. A rotary blower was driven off the front end of the crankshaft, and the engines developed 140 h.p. at 5,500 r.p.m.
On the day before the race, however, the drivers were given an hour for practice, and Sivocci on one of the Alfa-Romeos overturned on a bend and was killed. As a result of this the team was withdrawn ; and it was not until 1924 that the new racers made their first appearance. They were entered for the Circuit of Cremona on June 9th, and Ascari succeeded in winning the race at a speed of 98.17 m.p.h. In spite of this victroy, however, the Alfa-Romeos were not much favoured for the French Grand Prix at Lyon on August 3rd. A team of four cars were entered
with Ascari, Campari, Ferrari and Louis Wagner as their drivers ; but a few days before the race, Ferrari was taken ill, and there being no reserve driver, only three cars started. In the race, however, they soon showed that they were very seriously to be reckoned with. Ascari got into second place on the second lap, and by the tenth had captured the lead, with Campari fourth and Wagner sixth. Right through the race till the 33rd lap, or two from the end, he stayed in first place, and then his car began to slow, and he was passed by his team mate Campari. With one more lap to go Ascari pulled into the pits to change plugs ; but the work was obviously hopeless, for when he switched off flames shot out of the bonnet, and water streamed out of the end of the exhaust pipe. With one more lap to go, poor Ascari’s Alfa-Romeo had burst, and he was once more robbed of victory. Campari, however, went on to score a notable win, averaging 71 m.p.h. for the 500 miles ; Louis Wagner on the remaining Alfa-Romeo finished fourth behind the two 12-cylinder Delages. After this victory the fame of the Alfa-Romeo was
assured ; and the seal was set on their achievement in the Italian Grand Prix. The memory of that race is unfortunately marred by the death of Count Zborouski, but the performance of the Alfa-Romeo in it was magnificent. Four cars started driven by Ascari, Campari, Louis Wagner and the veteran Italian driver Minoia, who took Ferrari’s place in the team ; and the four cars finished solid in the first four places. Ascari, the winner, averaged 98.7 m.p.h. for the 500 miles of the Monza circuit, part of which is of a ” road” nature, and thus beat the 500 mile record for 2-litre cars set up on the track pure and simple at Indianapolis.
For 1925, the engine speed was increased to 6,000 r.p.m. and the b.h.p. to 170. Three cars were entered for the European Grand Prix, which was run at Spa in Belgium on June 28th, and so great was the reputation which the Italian firm had gained in 1924, that only Delage cared to face them. Ascari and Campari, as before, had two of the cars, and as Louis Wagner had joined the Delage team, the third car was entrusted to Count Brilli Pen. The race proved a walk-over for Alfa-Romeo, as none of the Delages completed the course ; Brilli Pen i also withdrew near the end with a broken spring, but Ascari and Campari finished, the former averaging 74.46 m.p.h.
That year the French Grand Prix was held at Montlhery, and the three Alfa-Romeos, with the same drivers, were entered for the race. Ascari took the lead at once, followed by Campari, and held it unchallenged for the first quarter of the race ; and then on a long gentle bend, which could just not be taken all out, his car got out of control, tore down the wooden fencing for 130 yards, and turned over in the ditch, Ascari being killed. Some rounds later, Campari and Brilli Pen i came in to the pits together, and learned that Ascari had succumbed to his injuries. They decided to withdraw, the drivers raced their engines for the last time, and then they were silenced for the day.
The Italian Grand Prix that year was lent a special interest by the entry of a team of 2-litre Duesenbergs from America. Alfa-Romeo also entered three cars, the third racer being driven by the young American, Peter de Paolo. In the race, however, it was soon apparent that although the Duesenbergs were about equal to Alfa-Romeos in maximum speed, they were no match for them on the road sections of the Monza circuit, and in the end Brilli Pen i and Campari finished first and second, the former averaging 94.76 m.p.h. De Paolo on the third Alfa-Romeo finished fifth. By their victory in this race, Alfa-Romeo secured the first Championship of the World, for which owing to Peter de Paolo’s win on a Duesenberg at Indianapolis, the American car was also in the running. With the introduction in 1926 of the 1500 c.c. limit for the Grands Prix, Alfa-Romeo decided to build no new racers, but,
rate to rest on their welldeserved laurels. The absence of any Italian cars certainly robbed last year’s races of much excitement and interest ; and anyone who watched the magnificent performances of the Alfa-Romeo in the latter days of the 2-litre rule, will hope to see them once more on the starting line in the Grand Prix races.