ITALY REGAINS THE TARGA FLORIO
Varzi, on an Alfa-Romeo, wins by a narrow margin. Buciattis second and third. FIVE years ago, in 1925, Ettore Bugatti decided that he would run his cars in the Targa Florio, and having come to Sicily and seen the classic road race, he very definitely conquered. For two years, in 1925 and 1926, Constantini, that Italian wizard of the Madonie circuit, drove a 2 litre Grand Prix type Bugatti to victory ; thenins1927 Bugatti decided to
build a special model for the race, the 2,300 c.c. type, and another Italian, Emilio Materasi, carried off the trophy ; again in 1928 Albert Divo, who although a Parisian is often claimed as of Italian origin, won the race on the same type of car, and repeated the performance last year on a 2-litre model. Thus for five long years Bugatti had won, and in spite of the fact that Bugatti himself is an Italian who merely decided to build his car in Germany and now finds himself doing it in France, and that all his victorious drivers were more or less Italians, it was felt in the peninsular that while the cars carried the French colours to victory every year, the national prestige was suffering. After six years of defeat (for a German MercecRs won in 1924), Italy had got to win her own great road race !
It might have been supposed that after his long succession of victories Bugatti would have been content to rest on his laurels ; but this is not like the Molsheim manufacturer. He knew that in this 21st Targa Florio which was run on 4th May last, Italy was going to strain every nerve to win ; but he merely welcomed the competition and prepared the more carefully. Four 2,300 c.c. cars, the model which was specially designed for the Sicilian circuit, were got ready, and their drivers were carefully chosen. Albert Divo, winner of the last two races and holder of the Targa
record, had one car, Count Conelli, who has had experience of many Targas, the second, Louis Chiron, the Monegasque driver who has so often proved invincible on Bugattis, the third, while the fourth car was entrusted to Williams, who although having no previous experience of the Sicilian circuit is famed for his versatility, and could be counted on to adapt himself to this course over mountain roads, which is quite unlike any other racing circuit in the world.
Against this formidable team Italy had made her preparations. Alfa-Romeo, the great national champion, was of course her chief hope. In 1928 the Milanese firm had attacked Bugatti with the 1500 c.c. 6-cylinder model, but Campari had only been able to finish second ; last year the 1,750 c.c. model had been entered for the fray, but the late Count Brilli Pen, the first home of the team, had been beaten by two of the Bugattis ; this year it was felt that something more must be done. Signor Jano decided that he would use two of the veteran Grand Prix racers, the cars which first made the name of Alfa-Romeo famous by their victories in 1924 and 1925 at Lyons, Spa, and Monza. Two of these straighteight 2-litre racers were therefore rebuilt and fitted with lower gear ratios and standard type radiators to give the extra cooling necessary for several hours of low-gear work under the fierce Sicilian sun. These racers were to be driven by Campari and Varzi, while Nuvolari, Maggi and Ghersi were to handle 1,750 c.c. machines.
When the Grand Prix racers arrived in Sicily, however, they were found to be too fast for the circuit, very difficult to handle and liable to become unbearably hot owing to the gear ratio being too high. No lower ratio was available, and Campari declared that on the Sicilian circuit these cars were impossible. Not so Varzi, however. This young and determined driver was of the opinion that he was cheated out of victory in the recent 1,000 Miles Race, because in order to prevent internecine strife, Signor Jano, head of the Alfa-Romeo team, had told him that his team-mate Nuvolari could not possibly catch him, whereas in fact he had a lead of several minutes. Now he saw a chance of getting a car for the Targa which was capable of nearly 120 m.p.h., and he did not care if he did get roasted. Signor Jano agreed with Campari that no man could stand five laps of the Madonie Circuit on such a car, and it was finally decided to hand Ghersi’s 1,750 c.c. car over to Campari and to keep Ghersi in reserve to take over from Varzi when the latter was forced to give up. Thus in the end the Alfa-Romeo challenge to Bugatti took the form of one Grand Prix racer and three 1,750 c.c. cars.
As well as Alfa-Romeo, Maserati had entered a team of cars for the Targa. These were straight-eight racers of a new type, the engine size having been increased to 2,400 c.c., and the cars were driven by Ernesto Maserati, Borzacchini, Arcangeh and Fagioli, the Maserati “aces.”
The third Italian team for the race consisted of three O.M. cars, one of which was driven by Minoia, the holder of the lap record for the circuit, and the other two by his famous team-mates Morandi and Balestrero. These cars were of the quite normal 2,200 c.c. supercharged 6-cylinder type, and their performance in the race was one of the surprises of the event.
The remainder of the entries were of a more or less amateur character and consisted of Bittmann (Bugatti), Ruggeri (0.M.), Ippolito (Alfa-Romeo) and Neuzioni (Maserati). Nineteen starters is not a great number for the Targa Florio, but it was obvious that the struggle was going to be as keen as any in former races.
Thus on the morning of the 4th May these nineteen cars were drawn up by the starting point near Termini, ready for the fray. The starter dropped his flag and Borzacchini, who had drawn Number One in the race, shot off on his 8-cylinder Maserati. The others followed at minute intervals, and the Twenty-First Targa Florio had begun.
Three kilometres from the start Fate overtook Maggi’s Alfa-Romeo, and Balestrero apparently never got further than Polizzi ; thus two of the Bugattis’ adversaries were out of it already. The latter team, however, realised that they were not going to have things all their own way, and decided to make an early bid for victory. The lap record for the Madonie curcuit stood on the morning of the 4th May at 1 hour 25 minutes 15 seconds, a time achieved by Minoia on a Bugatti last year. On the first lap of this year’s race Louis Chiron, Albert Divo and Count Conelli all proceeded to beat Minoia’s record, and the race seemed to be theirs. What was the surprise of the Bugatti team therefore when it was found that all three of the remaining Alfas had beaten Chiron, their best man ? Italy was triumphant. Six cars had beaten the lap record on the first circuit ; this was going to be a race indeed !
The performance of Varzi on the big Alfa-Romeo was truly marvellous, and on the first lap he had broken the record for the circuit by nearly 4 minutes. Too late the Bugatti team realised that the Alfa-Romeo threat was very real indeed. But his initial eclipse only spurred Chiron to greater efforts. Setting out on the second lap at great speed, he succeeded in passing both Campari and Nuvolari and improved on his time for the first lap by 48 seconds. Varzi with marvellous regularity did not vary in his time by as much as 6 seconds.