Naples, May 8th.
As in 1953 the arduous Circuit or Posillippo, on the outskirts of Naples, attracted the Continentals more than did the flat wastes of Buckinghamshire, and the Lancia and Maserati teams preferred to race in Southern Italy rather than in our own International Trophy meeting at Silverstone.
The Posillippo circuit is through the streets of a suburb of Naples, high up on the hillside overlooking the picturesque bay of that town. The 4.1 kilometres used for the circuit contain all manner of corners, steep gradients, both up and down, very little straight, and abound in natural hazards such as trees, kerbstones, concrete walls, drains and gutters, lamp-posts and so on; while the surface is such that a strong suspension system is most important. In fact, a “street race” in the true sense the the words.
The small, but select entry consisted of Ascari and Villoresi on Lancias, with Castellotti as reserve driver; Behra, Mieres and Musso with the factory Maseratis; Taraschi with his nicely rebuilt V12 Ferrari: Scarlatti with one of the old Formula II Ferraris, with 2.1-litre four-cylinder engine; Volonterio with an early Formula 1 Maserati, with 1/4-elliptic rear end; and Whiteaway with his H.W.M. AIta.
Two practice periods were allowed, but only the second one counted for starting times, and Behra and Mieres needed all this to learn the circuit, it being their first visit to Naples. The other three fast drivers were well versed in the difficulties of the seemingly never-ending corners and the steep gradients, having raced on the circuit in previous years. No factory Ferraris were present and the situation was similar to Pau last month — a straight battle between Lancia and Maserati. During the official practice period it was Ascari who set the pace, the Lancia not being changed from Pau and being the one used there by Villoresi, with the wide-spaced de Dion tube anchorages. Musso was in great form, seeming to like the difficult circuit, but he could not approach Ascari’s times, while the other three were some way behind. The rest of the runners were naturally much slower, but the two Ferrari drivers showed almost equal ability on their very different cars. The H.W.M. was slow and had trouble with its ignition timing, while the private Maserati seemed to be coasting down the hills.
In view of the afternoon sun becoming unbearably hot in this part of Italy, the race was started at 11.30 a.m. and in the front row of the uphill start were Ascari, Musso and Behra, with Villoresi and Mieres just behind, their respective lap times being 2 min. 08.1 sec., 09.5 sec., 10.9 sec. , 11.0 sec. and 11.9 sec., the rest being nearly 20 sec. or more slower. The Maserati team were using the same cars as at Bordeaux, but they could not repeat their performance and it was Ascari who leapt away into the lead as the flag fell. Whiteaway was in trouble with fuel-feed and drew straight into his pit, to lose 17 laps while the fault it as located. As the cars appeared at the crossroads at the end of the first half lap the Lancia was still leading, followed by Musso, and at the end of the lap these two were already a long way ahead, with Villoresi, Behra and Mieres behind, then Scarlatti and Taraschi having an interesting private duel and Volonterio being a lonely last. He was not lonely for long, however, for by the third lap Ascari had overtaken him, making up one whole lap in three! Villoresi had a wild slide at the crossing, which allowed Behra to slip by into third place, but then the Frenchman clouted a kerb and buckled the rear left wheel and hub. He drew into the pits at the end of lap four and lost five laps while the complete hub was changed, rejoining the race in last position, with the exception of Whiteaway who was still at the pits, having only covered 200 yards of the race.
It was interesting that in practice the old lap record, set up by Ascari in a 2-litre Ferrari in 1953, was not approached, the time being 2 min, 7.7 sec., which he made in the fury of trying to catch Farina after a surprise pit-stop. By lap 10 of the 1955 race, to be run over 60 laps of the circuit, Ascari had 9 sec. lead over Musso, and was increasing it steadily, without making any great efforts, so that there seemed little likelihood of any new records being set up and he was lapping around 2 min. 13 sec. The order remained the same until lap 15, when Mieres came into the pits with an oil leak, and this let Taraschi into fourth place just ahead of Scarlatti, these too still continuing their private duel, with the 12-cylinder Ferrari in front. Mieres rejoined the race again but was not happy, and on lap 23 returned and the car was withdrawn.
Whiteaway had now begun to race, but he too was soon back in the pits, and all the while Ascari, Musso and Villoresi circulated on the same lap, with Behra making up some ground but not gaining on the leader. Observing the uphill corner at the cross-roads, where the surface was smooth and a bit slippery, it was noticeable how the Maseratis had the rear wheels break away quite early, and they went up the hill on left lock correcting the tail-slide. The Lancias, however, showed no inclination to break away either front or back, until a point was reached where the whole car suddenly slid bodily across the road in a matter of two or three feet, with all four tyres at apparently the same angle of slip, which is my theory for the reason Lancia took so long to get their cars into the Grand Prix held last year: the drivers had to learn to drive them.
The race now became a procession, with the exception that Scarlatti got his four-cylinder Ferrari past Taraschi’s 12-cylinder, and then drew away to a very respectable lead. Whiteaway was beginning to go motor-racing now, but was still calling at his pit at odd intervals to try and make the Alta engine work, while Volonterio was continuing his unhurried pace. On lap 48 Ascari came up behind Villoresi, having made up a complete lap, and in getting past he recorded the fastest lap tor the race, in 2 min. 10.6 sec., but this did not stand for long. Behra was beginning to learn his way round the circuit and he caught up with Musso, though still many Iaps behind, and after following the Italian for some time, learning the best way round, he went past and set up a new fastest lap in 2 min. 9.1 sec., but still nowhere near the record.
With no apparent effort Ascari reeled off the remaining laps and led Musso home by more than half a lap, with Villitresi in third place, both Lancias running perfectly throughout the race and showing great promise for the Grand Prix of Europe in two weeks time, their fortunes being recorded elsewhere in this issue. There they will be up against the Mercédès-Benz team, with the new very- short car with outboard brakes, if it proves successful, and the Ferrari team.