XIII Gran Premio Roma

Marimon has his First Grand Prix Win

Castelfusano, June 6th.
Every weekend in the summer months the populace of Rome go to the Mediterranean coast to the holiday resort of Ostia, and as most of them use their own transport, from Aurelias to Lambrettas, there exist two roads that run direct from Rome to the coast, a distance of some 12 miles. Not content with this, the Italian authorities built a new highway that runs in a straight line, in true Roman fashion, across virgin countryside, and this is a modern double-track road that finishes up in a vast carriageway with six traffic lanes, but no centre strip, that forms the last three miles into Ostia, onto the promenade. It is part of this six-lane road that the Automobile Club of Rome used as a basis for an entirely new circuit that was completed last month. Approximately 2 kilometres of the magnificent highway was used for the main straight, with the start and finish area situated half-way along it, the course then turning right just before the promenade along e new wide road, right again up an existing tree-lined avenue to a series of very fast right and left-hand curves past Castelfusano, from which the circuit takes it name, along a short straight and round a fast banked curve onto the main highway again, the complete lap measuring 6.950 kilometres. In many ways this new circuit resembles the pre-war Tripoli one, for it is flat and has only fast curves rather than corners, and before practice began it was pretty obvious that lap speeds were going to be well over 100 m.p.h.

Most unusual for an Italian Formula I race, there were no official Ferraris running and Maserati seized the opportunity and put in everything they had. There were four 1954 cars running, three red ones driven by Marimon, Mantovani and Musso, and Stirling Moss with his green one, fresh from his Aintree victory. Schell and Mieres had their privately-owned cars, the 1953 chassis with 1954 engine, and de Riu had a rather rough-looking 2-litre 1952 model. There were two Gordini 2 1/2-litre cars, driven by Behra and Simon, being the two cars that had run at Bari two weeks earlier, Behra’s Aintree car going to Chimay. Rozier and Manton had their private 2 1/2-litre Ferraris and they were the mainstay of the opposition from Ferrari. There were also three locals none of whom had had any Grand Prix experience and seemed only interested in posing as racing drivers. They all had Ferraris, Serena having Whitehead’s original short-chassis, swing-axle car with, a 2-litre V12 engine: Carlo Mancini had a 1950 Formula II car, and Guido Mancini a 1953 Formula II four-cylinder, but all three were in bad trim and had obviouslv not been raced for some time. A fourth local was Taraschi with a super-charged 750-c.c. Giaur, that was well turned out and looked like a toy alongside the 2 1/2-litres, it had a four-cvlinder Giaur engine, developed from Fiat, with a Roots-type supercharger on the front of the crankshaft and a huge Weber carburetters. A Tubular chassis carried Fiat-type front suspension and a one-piece rear axle suspended on coil spring. The driving seat was set to the left of the transmission and the whole car was nicely proportioned for a 750 c.c.

There were t wo practice periods on the day before the race and the first saw Marimon making fastest lap in 2 min. 17.1 sec., a speed of over 106 m.p.h., with Manzon 0.1 sec. slower, and Behra 0.8 sec. slower. The Maseratis were bIowing rather a lot of oil about the place, mainly from the oil tank breather, and every time a car stopped at the pits there was a great deal of mopping-up being done. In the afternoon the local drivers appeared and did a few hesitant laps, the four-cylinder Ferrari splitting its gearbox casing, while the others never ran properly. Moss was having trouble with a magneto and Maseratis arrived late in the proceedings, having been sorting out their morning troubles, which included a split casing on the rear of Marimon’s car. The Giaur was running very well and making a nice “supercharged” noise and Rosier frightened his mechanics by cutting the engine of his Ferrari as he went past the pits; they thought it had blown-up, but the driver was only coasting as he was about to run out of fuel. Eventually Moss got going and on his third practice lap turned in 2 min. 17.3 sec., only 0.2 sec. slower than Marimon who had been going round and round for some time. Just before practice ended Maseratis sent Marimon out again and this time he really tried and did 2 min. 15.4 sec., but Moss had given them quite a shock. He, however, was quite content with his time, knowing his own capabilities, and a front row position on the grid was what he was interested in.

Sunday was typical of “sunny Italy”; the Romans had filled Ostia to overflowing and as the race was scheduled to start at 4.30 in the afternoon a big crowd attended the event. The start was actually at 5 p.m., by which time all the grandstands were well filled, and before the racing cars were taken out to the grid three demonstration runs were made. The first was by a 1911 de Dion Bouton, which rumbled round for a lap on its solid tyres, then a 1933 Monza Alfa-Romeo 2.3.-litre, in original sports-racing trim, was driven round by the Rome Alfa-Romeo agent; this was a fine example of a Monza and was reputed to have been owned by Nuvolari himself. Finally, and so impressive as to be almost “out ofthis world,” was a run by the new Fiat turbine car. This beautiful two-seater coupé, finished in cream and scarlet, with chrome-plated wire wheels, massive finned alloy brakes, two big tail fins and a Motor Show finish, was driven by the Fiat specialist and one-time racing champion Salamano. As it went past t he pits, every bit as fast as the Formula I cars, it gave a fascinating glimpse into the future. After a parade of the flags of the competing nations, accompanied by their National Anthems, the serious business of the Grand Prix commenced. It was to be competed over 60 laps of the circuit and on the front row were Marimon, Manzon, Moss and Behra, followed by Simon, Schell and Rosier. The only non-starter was Mancini with the four-cylinder Ferrari and fourteen cars left the line, Marimon making a very slow getaway while the blue cars of Behra, Manzon and Simon leapt into the lead followed by Moss. By the end of the second lap Marimon had taken the lead from Behra and from then on he was unassailable, piling up a steady 2 seconds a lap over the Gordini. Moss was being content to sit back for a time and watch, for 60 laps on such a fast circuit could easily cause engines to break. After a slow opening lap Mieres suddenly produced terrific form and swept past Schell, Moss, Simon and Manson in quick succession and on lap nine was lying third. Manson then had a go and shook off Mieres and Simon, and on the 10th lap Moss moved in, passed Simon and was about to take Mieres when the Argentine’s engine lost power and he came into the pits at the end of lap 13. The plugs were changed, but the engine did not show any improvement and the car was withdrawn. Mantovani had already called at the pits to change a plug, the long full throttle sections causing havoc, and on lap 15 Manzon came into the pits with his exhaust pipe adrift and this let Moss into second place, some 45 sec. behind Marimon, who was lapping most regularly, for as Manzon stopped Behra broke a stub axle and managed to bring the Gordini to rest out on the circuit without damage, but out of the race. At 20 laps things had sorted themselves out and Marimon had built up his lead to nearly one minute, Moss was comfortably ahead of Simon, who was followed by Schell, trying hard, Musso, who was not very fast, Mantovani and Manson making up for time lost at the pits and Rosier bringing up the rear; all the local boys having disappeared within six laps of the start. It was now Musso’s turn for trouble and he went by in a cloud of smoke caused by oil leaking onto the exhaust pipe and seemed content to go on like that until the Maserati pit flagged him in and spent a long time repairing the leak.

Just after half-distance Mantovani came in again for a plug change and the repair to Musso’s car having proved ineffective he retired in another cloud of smoke. Marimon was still way ahead, but his exhaust note did not always sound crisp; though Moss’ was perfect, he could not make up any ground on the Argentine driver. Simon then came into his pit complaining that the engine did not seem right and Behra and the lone mechanic with the Gordini team fiddled about with the fuel feed; then Behra set off in the car, but a misfire soon made itself apparent, though he continued to circulate. Manson was working his way steadily up towards the front when the Ferrari began to overheat and he stopped to take on water, but only one more lap showed that damage had already been done, and he withdrew. With 10 laps to go to the finish Moss lapped Schell and only he and Marimon were on the same lap, Schell being followed by Mantovani, Behra and Rosier. On lap 51 Behra was lapped by Moss and the Frenchman tucked in behind the Maserati and got a useful tow in the slip-stream, but on the next lap Moss had dropped back and signalled to his pit that all was not well with the rear end, he completed the following lap very slowly and came to rest just before the finishing line with the final drive bevels chewed-up, his idea being to push the car over the line and be classified, for Marimon was now on his 55th lap. Unnoticed, due to this incident, Mantovani was rapidly catching Schell and they crossed the line two Laps behind the leader, but only 0.4 sec. apart, Marimon having won at 170.907 k.p.h. (approximately 106 m.p.h.). Of the 14 starters only six finished, and of those only Marimon, Schell and Rosier had run non-stop. Moss was certainly the most unfortunate driver, having been robbed of a certain second place, and the crowd showed their appreciation, many of them remembering his heroic drive in 1950 on the old Rome circuit with the 2-litre H.W.M. In the opening stages of the race Marimon had recorded fastest lap, on his 14th circuit, thereafter he was able to take things comparatively easily, to win his first. Grand Prix, a well-deserved victory and not before its time.