The circuit of Mugello

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June 6th

ALTHOUGH the race on the circuit of Mugello, north of Florence, had International status the entry was almost entirely National, the exception being Mike de Udy and David Piper with the former’s Porsche 904. However, the entry was not the important part of the race, it was the circuit and character of the event that was significant, for it was open-road racing in the heart of Italy. At one time there were numerous open-road races on long mountainous circuits such as the Giro di Calabria, the Coppa Dolomiti, the Giro di Umbria, the Giro di Toscana and so on, as well as the Giro di Sicilia and the legendary Targa Florio, and they all built up to a climax that was the Mille Miglia, or 1,600-kilometre race around the whole of civilised Italy. After the 1955 Le Mans catastrophe the Italian Government put on a righteous front, like the French, the Swiss and the Germans, and said in a loud voice “No more racing on public roads,” but like all the other Governments, except the Swiss, they had second thoughts and added “Well, at least not for sports cars of more than 2-litres” and later they thought again and added “except for the Mile Miglia and certain other exceptional races,” so that within a few months everything returned more or less to normal. Then came the 1957 Mille Miglia accident and as the smell was now on their own doorstep the Italian Government said “All racing on public roads will stop,” and this time it did, so that all the long-distance open-road races died with the exception of the Targa Florio which put up the plea that it was a closed circuit race, and anyway it was in Sicily. On the Adriatic coast the Pescara Club got away with some “closed circuit” races on their long mountain circuit, but all the true open-road races, or Giro’s, died.

Now in Firenze, or Florence as the English insist on pronouncing it, the Automobile Club had been active in reviving an open-road race on a circuit in the mountains between Firenze and Bologna near Barberino di Mugello. This long-distance mountain race had been going strongly in the nineteen-twenties, until 1929, but after that the Fascist Government controlled Italy and Count Ciano wanted an important race in his area and prohibited the Circuit of Mugello and inaugurated the Coppa Ciano at Livorno, not far from Florence. It was not until 1955 that the Firenze Automobile Club were strong enough to revive a race on the Circuit of Mugello, though they had organised the Mille Miglia control at Firenze. It was unfortunate that they held their event just before the fateful Le Mans of that year, so that the revival of Mugello was dead almost as soon as it was born. After that came 1957 and the end of all hopes for Mugello, added to which came the growth of popular motoring in Italy and the virtual impossibility of closing the public roads for motor racing due to the chaos and inconvenience it would cause the non-sporting section of the community. However, this increase in private motoring brought good with it for it made essential the construction of new motorroads, or Autostrada, and eventually the Autostrada between Bologna and Firenze was completed, which meant that traffic over the old road across the Raticosa and Futa mountain passes dropped to a minimum. It is certainly true that out of evil will come good, for with the rise in motoring population came the Autostrada and with the coming of the Autostrada the old road was not so vital and the Firenze Club set in motion the wheels to get it closed for a motor race. From the top of the Futa pass down almost to Firenze was one leg of the historic Circuit of Mugello and in 1964 they got permission to close the roads for a small National event for GT cars, reliving once again all the glories of the Circuit of Mugello.

This year they got International status for the race, as well as it counting towards the GT Championship for Class II cars and with the success of this year’s event they hope to get promoted to a full-blooded event the equal of the Targa Florio, in status if not in fact, for nothing can hope to challenge the Targa Florio in character and tradition. The work done by the Firenze Automobile Club might well encourage other clubs who have been forced to remain dormant since 1957, and where the ever-extending Autostrada are making the old roads superfluous, there may well be other opportunities for reviving open-road racing. Few drivers who have taken part in a race on the ordinary Italian public roads, closed to normal traffic, will deny the satisfaction and feeling of real motor racing, just as anyone who has seen a racing car in full flight on the everyday roads will never be really satisfied with artificial circuits, however good they may be. The granting of an International permit to the XII Circuit of Mugello may well be the turning point in a revival in Italian motor racing circles.

This year’s event was open to Touring Cars, Grand Touring Cars, small sports cars, small Prototypes and the special Italian class for LM Ferraris, and it gathered 55 starters, from Alfa Romeo Giulia TT saloons to LM Ferraris, and including two Alfa Romeo GTA saloons and a GTZ from Auto-Delta, while the sports category allowed the local lads with old Osos, Birdcage Maseratis and the odd special to have a bash. Naturally, the powerful and strong 275LM Ferraris were unchallenged, Mario Casoni setting a cracking pace, relieved briefly for one lap by Antonio Nicodemi, for it was an 8-lap race on a circuit of 66.2 kms. (41 miles) in length. The circuit is roughly oval in shape, run anti-clockwise, like the Targa Florio, and it goes over the Passo del Giogo by way of an endless number of hairpin bends on a narrow rough road that would give the R.A.C. kittens and make the G.P.D.A. call a strike. Then it descends the other side of the pass on an equally tortuous road to the village of Firenzuola, and on the way down there is no room whatsoever for mistakes, nor is there anywhere for a “second chance.” On a slightly wider road it then climbs to the top of the Futa Pass and descends towards Firenze on the old Mille Miglia route, but running the opposite direction to that used in the last years of that famous race. At the village of Novilo the circuit leaves the main road at a hairpin and starts off again up towards the Giogo Pass, the start and finish being at this hairpin. While the outward run to Firenzuola is slower and more nadgery than Targa Florio going, the return down the Futa is very much faster so that the average speed is very similar to the Targa Florio. It is accelerating hard down a mountain side in a Ferrari or something similar that brings out the best in true racing drivers, and at places on the descent of the Futa the faster cars must have been reaching 520-130 m.p.h. When the Italians talk about a descent they mean a mountain-side, not something like the slopes of Brands Hatch or Oulton Park.

We watched part of the race on an uphill section that led into a fast blind bend round a brick wall, and later moved to a downhill section approached through a blind left-hander and the difference between those who knew where they were going and those who didn’t was as night and day. With a lap time of 35-40 minutes you have to be patient if you have a particular favourite, although cars are passing pretty regularly, having started at 30-second intervals, and there was plenty of interest in the various classes. Although there is no handicap in this sort of event, the slower cars go off first so that there is great interest among the spectators as to who is leading on the road, and whether the fast cars that started at the back can catch the slower cars that went off first. By viewing the whole entry as a handicap you also get a good overall picture of the race and a white Alfa Romeo Giulia TI Super saloon driven by a lad from Como had the crowd around us on their toes, for he was obviously not going to be caught by Casoni in the LM Ferrari. This Enrico Pinto’s driving of the Alfa saloon would have done credit to the British saloon racers and when he went by to end his eight laps, still ahead of the LM Ferrari, he got a routing, cheer, for there were many seemingly faster cars, like Alfa GTZ and Ferrari GTO that were caught by the LM well before the end.

There was one swarthy little Italian, who must have keen a Firenze taxi driver, who was almost off the ground with excitement and satisfaction at the sight of the leading LM Ferrari hurtling down the hill and taking a long left-hand bend with its inside front wheel trying to lift off the ground. After it had gone he would settle down on the gross bank for a nap, occasionally cocking an eye at a passing car, sometimes with disdain, other times with mild interest, depending on what it was and how fast it was going, but he never failed to anticipate the arrival of Casoni, at which he would lump up and almost hug himself with joy. We watched all this and thought how nice it was that the passing of a raucous and noisy 12-cylinder Ferrari could give one person so much enjoyment, and then realised that this was probably happening all round the 66-kilometre circuit, for 70,000 people had paid to watch this race, and most Italians just love Ferraris and the noise they make.

The Auto-Delta Alfa Romeo team ran into various small troubles so that Pinto, with his private Giulia saloon, beat them all in the general classification and he finished a worthy 4th overall, having driven the whole eight laps himself. David Piper started off well, leading his class, on the first time he had raced a Porsche, but was delayed by the petrol tank coming adrift and jamming the steering. De Udy took over for the second half of the race, but on the last lap the front suspension collapsed, as it did on an Italian-owned 904 Porsche. The circuit was very hard on the cars, but the three LM Ferraris that started finished 1-2-3 in line condition.

The race was run without incident or difficulty which should auger well for the future of the Circuit of Mugello, for we can stand a lot more of this open-road racing.—D. S. J.

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