Ferrari Debacle and Porsche Walkover
Palermo, Sicily, May 24th.
When Vicenzo Florio died early this year it seemed that a chapter of motor-racing history would come to an end, for since 1906 he had been the leading light behind the organisation of the Targa Florio, a race usually reckoned to be the toughest test of man and machine in European racing. However, his confederates on the organising committee were reluctant to see the race disappear with the passing of its founder and felt that he would have wished for it to go on, and they were fortunate in that one of Florio’s nephews was eager and willing to take the place at the head of the organisation. Under the name of Vicenza Paladino the 43rd Targa Florio was run and the traditional race through the Sicilian mountains was continued this year.
Although there was a pretty fair list of 48 starters there was support from only two big manufacturers for this event, which counted for the Manufacturers’ Championship. Of the 48 cars it was certain that the winner would come from either the Ferrari team or the Porsche team, each one having some private owners to give them support. From Maranello three V12 Testa Rossa 3-litres were entered, to be driven by Behra/Brooks, Gendebien/Phil Hill and Allison/Gurney, while a fourth car was being looked after by the factory, this being the 2-litre V6 Dino 196 used for test at Le Mans and raced at Monza recently. It was entered by the Scuderia Eugenio Castellotti, a private Italian organisation set up to commemorate that colourful Italian driver, and for the Targa Florio the drivers were Cabianca and Scarlatti. Swelling the Ferrari ranks, but unlikely to win, were two private Testa Rossa 2-litre four-cylinder cars in the hands of Starrabba/Lo Coco and Cammarata/Tramontana.
From Stuttgart came two Porsche RSK models, with the new wishbone rear suspension and fitted with 1,600-c.c. Spyder engines, driven by Maglioli/Herrmann and Bonnier/von Trips. A third factory car was a normal RSK 1,500 in the hands of Barth/Seidel, and to complete the team there was a Carrera G.T. in the hands of Pucci/von Hanstein. As a strictly private venture Paul Strahle entered two cars, prepared and maintained separately from the factory cars, the first being a Spyder RS model of 1957 and the second a Carrera G.T., these being driven by himself and two other Germans, Linge and Mahle. The organisers were a bit chary of allowing three drivers to share two cars and insisted on a fourth at scrutineering, so Strahle found a local boy with an F.I.A. Licence named Scagliarini, who was roped in to make up the number. In actual fact he never even sat in either of the cars throughout the day’s racing, Strahle, Mahle and Linge doing all the driving, as originally planned, but, nevertheless, Scagliarini received much praise in the local papers and on the world news services!
To complete the list of faster cars there were two old A6G 2-litre Maseratis, one belonging to Scuderia Centro-Sud driven by Boffa/Drago and the other a private one of Selimecos/Vaccarella, the rest of the entry being small sports cars or Gran Turismo cars, including a whole row of Alfa-Romeo Giuliettas. There was one lone British car, an Austin-Healey Sprite driven by Wisdom/Cahier, but being painted red the local peasantry assumed it to be an Italian car.
In previous years there has been no official practice, all learning of the 72-kilometre circuit having to be done on the open road, as did all testing of the racing cars, but this year there was an innovation in that the circuit was closed on the Friday before the race for an official practice. Due to various delays the roads were not closed for very long and few drivers managed more than one lap, so that as an official practice day it was a bit of a waste of time, but at least it was a gesture. As always, the factory drivers spent a week or ten days before the event driving round and round the mountainous circuit in any car they could beg, borrow or steal, with an occasional lap in a works hack racer or an actual racing car. Porsche brought along an old RS Spyder as a hack and the Strahle team used a spare Carrera. By the end of the week it was clear that the Porsches were going to be a serious challenge to the Ferraris and it was by no means certain that it would be an Italian victory, especially as the 3-litre cars would have to make an extra pit stop against the small cars.
Headquarters of the organisation is at Palermo, some 30 miles along the coast to the west of the circuit, but headquarters of the racing teams was at Cefalo, about the same distance along the coast to the east, and everyone stayed at the Jolly Hotel. Until darkness fell on Saturday evening Ferraris and Porsches would roar out of the town, scattering the local populace, as last-minute checks were made on this or that, and at 1 a.m. on Sunday morning transporters set off for the pits to deliver tools, tyres and equipment. The start was due at 5 a.m., not long after dawn, as every finisher had to complete 14 laps and some of the slower cars would take 14 hours or more. With such a long lap both Ferrari and Porsche sent a truck with two mechanics and tools and spares out into the mountains to a road junction about half-way round the circuit.
Having seen the Targa Florio from the pit area in the past, I decided this time to go out into the wilds, so set off at 2 a.m., before the roads were finally closed, to join the mechanics at their mountain depot. All through the hours of darkness spectators’ cars were driving up into the mountains to watch the day’s racing, and at 3.30 a.m. no further access was allowed to the circuit, every sideroad and cross-road being patrolled by marshals, police or the army, while a network of army radio covered most points on the 72 kilometres of rugged mountain road. As dawn broke the vastness of the mountains became apparent and the road could be seen winding down one side of a huge valley and then climbing up towards our vantage point, the cars being in sight for something like three miles during which they would negotiate more than 25 corners, ranging from tight hairpins to 80 or 90-m.p.h bends, yet this was only a tiny fraction of the fantastic circuit on which the Targa Florio is held.
Meanwhile, down by the sea the 48 competitors were lining up for the start, cars starting at 30-second intervals from the tiny 750-c.c. Gran Turismo cars up to the 3-litre sports cars, the first one being away at 5 a.m. and the last one at 5.41 a.m., there being a few minutes’ gap between each class. Up in the mountains the clear, early morning stillness was suddenly broken by the staccato crackle of a Dyna-Panhard engine and the Laureau/Jeager D.B. coupe could be seen making its way across the valley, and from that moment on the Sicilian mountains rang to the noise of racing exhausts. In the 1,300-c.c. G.T. class, Colin Davis driving a white Giulietta had already passed a number of cars that had started before him, and the yellow Zagato Giulietta of de Leonibus/Peroglio could be seen climbing the side of the mountain, but after disappearing round one bend there was an ominous thud and the Targa Florio had claimed its first victim; somewhat bent, it appeared later but retired after one more lap. Shortly after 5.45 a.m. the little Healey Sprite of Wisdom buzzed its way happily up the mountain, and a few minutes later the first of the potential winners could be heard coming up the hill and Barth went by in a works Porsche. Just before this the two G.T. Carrera Porsches of Strahle and Pucci had gone by, sounding terrific and sliding the hairpins in true Gran Turismo style, and the noise of healthy flat-four Porsche racing engines was already making its impression on the Sicilian peasants. Mahle followed in the 1,500 RS and then came Bonnier in the works 1,600 RSK, Maglioli in a similar car and Boffa in an old six-cylinder Maserati sounding in excellent fettle; and then in quick succession Behra Gendebien and Gurney in the three works Ferraris, the V12-cylinder engines being heard right across the valley.
Knowing their starting time and taking checks as each car passed by, calculation showed that there was little to choose between Bonnier and Behra, while Gendebien and Gurney were less than 10 sec. behind, but on the fast straight leading back to the pits the more powerful engine in Gurney’s car showed up and he was leading at the end of the first lap. Back in the mountains a check on the lists showed that Cabianca had not gone by in the 2-litre Ferrari; he appeared very much later with all the tail of the car blackened from a fire which had started shortly after leaving the start. He was very fortunate to be able to put it out and was now trying to make up time, but any hope of challenging the works Porsches in the 2-litre class was gone. Next time round Colin Davis was even further ahead of all his Giulietta rivals and Pucci had caught and passed Strahle and was leading him by a minute on the road, having started a minute and a half behind him. Bonnier was going incredibly well and leaving Maglioli way behind, and was now ahead of the Ferraris and making up sufficient time in the mountains to prevent Gurney or Behra catching him on the 6-km. straight. Before completing the first lap Gendebien heard a rumbling from the rear axle and stopped when he reached the pits, never to restart for the crown-wheel and pinion had broken, and one of the favourites was out. The rough and tough Sicilian mountain roads were taking their toll and an 8V Fiat and a G.T. Ferrari coupe had fallen by the wayside, and on the third time round Starrabba ran off the road in his four-cylinder 2-litre Ferrari Testa Rossa and the car caught fire as he jumped out; the pall of black smoke being seen rising from behind the hills as the car burnt completely out.
On lap three there was little to choose between Behra or Gurney, but neither of them could catch the flying Bonnier, even though the Porsche was not opening up too cleanly from the slow corners, but once the revs, were up the little silver car fairly stormed up the mountain-side. Ferraris were very unhappy, for apart from losing one car so early, having their 2-litre delayed and the remaining 3-litres unable to catch the 1,600-c.c. Porsche, Behra was due to stop at the end of lap four and hand over to Brooks, whereas Bonnier was going on for five laps before stopping. As Behra came slithering and sliding down the winding mountain road back towards the sea he lost the big Ferrari on a left-hand bend, went sideways off the road, hit a ditch and rolled completely over, to finish upside-down in a field. Undaunted, the tough little Frenchman got out from underneath the wreckage, miraculously unhurt, gathered together a horde of local peasants and between them they rolled the Ferrari back onto its wheels, and by one of those fantastic peculiarities of the motor car it started up and Behra drove on. Back at the pits the Ferrari team were anxiously awaiting their number one car and Brooks was ready in helmet and goggles. As time went by and the car was obviously long overdue Brooks began to resign himself to not having a drive, but then Behra arrived in the very bent Ferrari. All four humps over the wheels were flattened, the windscreen was smashed, the Perspex cover over, the carburetters was broken, the headrest was dented, the tail jagged and torn, and the right-hand exhaust pipe was trailing, yet the car sounded very healthy and Behra insisted that it handled all right! Brooks was just thinking that they could “throw that heap of junk on the scrap-heap” when he realised that it had been refuelled, the loose bits had been torn off, the exhaust pipe wired up, and Tavoni was shouting to him to get in and go on racing, which, being a works driver, he had to do. The Scuderia Ferrari troubles were by no means over, as Cabianca had retired with gearbox trouble and Gurney finished his four laps with a grinding noise coining from the rear axle, sounding like another crown-wheel and pinion gone, so the car was given to Gendebien to take round and see how bad it was and Allison joined Phil Hill and Scarlatti in not getting a drive. The Porsches were now in full command, Bonnier handed the leading car over to von Trips. Maglioli gave the second place car to Herrmann and Barth gave the 1.500-c.c. car to Seidel, and to complete the Porsche sweep the Mahle/Linge RS was fourth and the two Carreras fifth and sixth, no one else being within striking distance. Poor Brooks in the tatty Ferrari was nearly 20 minutes behind and on his second lap he slid straight on at one corner and smashed the front end in. He managed to get to the Ferrari mountain depot and straighten things a bit but the body frame was fouling the steering and though he got back to the pits that was the end, for his rear axle began to make noises and the third crown-wheel and pinion was on its way out. Gendebien did not have to go far in the Gurney car to know what the trouble was so he toured round for a lap, stopping every now and then to talk to people and sit in the sun and watch the race, eventually getting back to the pits some three hours later.
The unhappy Ferrari team were imprisoned at the pits, which are on the inside of the circuit, and had to watch Porsches in the first six places, the infuriatingly flat-sounding Spyder exhaust notes sounding continuously all round the circuit, for if an RSK wasn’t going by then a Carrera was. However, they had some consolation when Herrmann did not reappear after taking over from Maglioli for only 17 kilometres after the pits his gear-change gave trouble and then the engine broke and he stopped out in the wilds, so the order was Bonnier/von Trips, Barth/Seidel, Mahle/Linge/Strahle on their 1,500 RS, Pucci/von Hanstein and Mahle/Linge/Strahle on their Carrera (sic). There were still plenty of other cars going round, but none with any possibility of challenging the Porsches, so the German cars settled down to cover the laps without straining things too much. The two works cars were so far ahead of their rivals that every now and again one or other of the team would stop off where Herrmann was stranded and give him food and drink carried out from the pits. Round and round stormed the five Porches, stopping occasionally to refuel or change drivers, and slowly the hours and the laps ticked by, the midday sun being unbearably hot and the clear blue sky making the rugged mountains look truly magnificent. The crowds in the hills had their picnic lunches, the rich Sicilians in the logias opposite the pits took their time over lunch, and all the while the Porsches went round and round with never a moment’s hesitation, and the Ferrari team just had to sit and watch and wonder what Sig. Ferrari was saying back in Maranello.
In the G.T. classes the Carini/Prinoth Zagato Fiat had taken the lead after the works D.B. had been delayed by mechanical trouble and later the D.B. retired, leaving the pretty little pale blue Zagato on its own. In the Giulietta category Colin Davis and Sepe were way out on their own and holding an excellent place in the general classification, while of the two G.T. Ferraris that started only one was left running. Surprisingly, both old A6G Maseratis were still running and sounding remarkably healthy, though the one driven by Selimecos/Vaccarella had been bounced off rocks right, left and centre, and was running minus its bonnet and boot lid, and the tail was a jagged mess almost trailing along the ground, yet the engine sounded wonderful, while the 2-litre Ferrari of Cammarata/Tramontana was still going well and was unmarked.
Porsche had intended that Bonnier should do the last four laps, but having so much time in hand they let von Trips do the last two, and as he went by the pits for the last time victory seemed certain, for he only had to tour round, comparatively speaking, but it still meant 72 kilometres of rugged mountain road, with the surface varying from smooth tarmac to loose gravel and the going from barren open country to narrow village streets. At the mountain depot von Trips was overdue and when he eventually arrived he was going slowly, and Barth was only 20 seconds behind him, instead of two minutes, but it was not planned this way, for the leading RSK was in trouble and something had broken in the back suspension. One of the rear wheels was no longer maintaining its proper position and von Trips was driving gently, hoping to complete the lap, while back at the pits Bonnier was preparing to enjoy his share of the victory. With a mere 23 kilometres to go the broken suspension collapsed completely and von Trips came to a bitter halt and had to watch Barth go by into the lead and win the 43rd Targa Florio. It was not only the leaders who had trouble on their last lap, for the little Healey Sprite, which had run so regularly, broke its throttle connections on its 14th lap but managed to finish, nevertheless, and on some parts of the circuit little showers of rain fell which caught some drivers unawares. Boffa went off the road a number of times in the Centro-Sud Maserati on his last lap, but did not damage the car, though Cammarata bent his 2-litre Ferrari in all directions in the last half-lap and wept bitterly when he reached the finish, having kept the car unmarked for nearly 1,000 kilometres.
The 43rd Targa Florio had lived up to the tradition of this historic event, as being a feat of endurance and driving ability rather than a race, and though bent and battered cars could be seen in all directions there was no one hurt, which is something else remarkable about the Targa Florio.
Targa Florio — Sports-Car Championship Event — 14 laps — 1,008 Kilometres — Very hot
1st: E. Barth/W. Seidel (Porsche RSK) 11 hr. 02 min. 21.8 sec. – 91.310 k.p.h.
2nd: E Mahle/P. Strahle/H. Linge (Porsche RS) 11 hr. 22 min. 20.8 sec.
3rd: A. Pucci/H. von Hanstein (Porsche Carrera) 11 hr. 31 min. 44.4 sec.
4th: P. Strahle/E. Mahle/H. Linge (Porsche Carrera) 11 hr. 36 min. 10.0 sec.
5th: A. Boffa/P. Drago (Maserati A6G 2,000) 11 hr. 41 min. 20.0 sec.
6th: Sepe/Colin Davis (Alfa-Romeo SV) 12 hr.02 min. 09.0 sec.
Devotion to duty was shown by Hans Herrmann, who stayed with his derelict factory Porsche for 13 hours in case the Sicilian bandits robbed it of vital parts.
After saying he would not drive in sports-car races, Tony Brooks agreed to do the Targa Florio as he felt it was a challenge to his driving ability.
Dan Gurney was having his first European drive with Ferrari this year and made an excellent impression, being remarkably at ease in the big 3-litre car.
Some notes on the cars in the Targa Florio
The Scuderia Ferrari put all their efforts into their 3-litre cars, these being V12-cylinder models, with single overhead camshafts to each bank of cylinders, six double-choke Weber carburetters and a five-speed gearbox integral with the rear axle. Front suspension by double-wishbones and coil-springs followed last year’s cars, though a radical change to the de Dion rear end was the fitting of coil springs and telescopic shock-absorbers, and Dunlop disc brakes and Dunlop tyres are now standard wear at all the corners of Ferrari racing cars. All three cars were right-hand drive and had four long tail-pipes ending in megaphones, while the carburetter intakes were covered by a Perspex bubble. The car driven by Gurney had larger-choke carburetters, smaller megaphones and modified valve timing and gave not only more b.h.p. than the others but over a wider r.p.m. range. This was the car used for the tests at Le Mans in April and, like the other cars, suffered from very inadequate steering lock, not so much from the point of view of negotiating tight corners but for correcting high-speed skids, it being too easy to get the cars in a slide and to have used up all available lock.
Two of the factory Porsches were the new RSK chassis tried out at Sebring and Spa, having independent rear suspension by a system of triangular links and radius-rods and utilising coil-springs, as on the F.2 car that appeared at Monte Carlo. These cars were fitted with roller-bearing 1,600-c.c. engines and the new RSK five-speed gearboxes. The car driven by Bonnier/von Trips had slightly modified front suspension, in that the trailing-arms were not so far apart vertically as on the standard RSK, this being done to try and cure a slight wander at very high speeds. The winning car was a works RSK from last year, having the old type of low-pivot swing-axle and a roller-bearing 1,500-c.c. engine. It was an identical power unit that was fitted into the works Carrera, and both this and the Strahle car had special gear ratios allowing first, second and third to be used in the mountains, these ratios being very close, and a high fourth gear being kept for the six-kilometre straight, when a speed of over 120 m.p.h. was attained using 7,500 r.p.m in top. Such was the reliability and ruggedness of the Carreras that they were driven back to the Jolly Hotel at Cefala after the race, and next morning I was able to borrow the works car for an hour or two and thrash it up into the mountains. The engine went so easily to 7,500 r.p.m. that the rev.-counter had to be watched all the time and the lower three gears were rather like those in a good racing motorcycle gearbox and a real joy with the 130-b.h.p. of the Carrera engine. Later that day both Carreras were driven back to Stuttgart by way of Italy and the Brenner Pass — Gran Turismo cars indeed. — D.S.J.