IX Gran Premio Siracusa
An Interesting Race
Siracusa, Sicily. April 25th.
Two major changes were made at the Siracusa G.P. this year, firstly the race was for F.2 cars and secondly the date was changed from the usual Sunday fixture to a Saturday one. These changes were brought about by looking forward and backward, the forward look being to 1961 and the new F.1 rules of 1,500 c.c. and the backward one to the fact that April 25th was a national holiday in Sicily in celebration of the 1945 liberation. With the 2½-litre Formula nearing the end of its run, the Siracusa organisers, like many others, decided to give encouragement to Formula 2 in preparation for the new Formula and in consequence held the ninth G.P. for 1½-litre cars over the natural road circuit just outside the town, putting all their efforts into ensuring they had a representative selection of cars and not a monopoly of one make.
With Aintree the weekend before and Silverstone the weekend after there was not too much time for prospective British competitors and six of them solved the problem by chartering a plane and flying five Coopers and a Lotus out to Sicily and back, the rest of the competitors going by road, boat or train.
The first practice session was held on Thursday afternoon and was a thoroughly miserable affair with wet roads and rain most of the time, so that apart from drivers having to learn the circuit and adjust their cars to it the slippery surface prevented any very fast times. The record for the circuit was set up in 1957 by Moss with a Vanwall in a time of 1 min. 54.3 sec. and last year the best lap was by Musso with a Ferrari in 1 min. 59.1 sec. so that under perfect conditions it seemed reasonable to suppose that the best F.2 cars should approach a 2 minute lap. On the wet surface the best times were being recorded by Masten Gregory driving Alan Brown's Cooper-Climax, Bueb with one of the British Racing Partnership Cooper-Borgwards and Behra with a works Ferrari Dino V6 and by putting in a lap at the very end of practice as the roads began to dry the Ferrari driver scored best time with 2 min. 06.7 sec. Rob Walker's Cooper-Borgward with its special five-speed gearbox was ready to go but Moss was late in arriving so it did not practise, and Brabham was ready but his privately-owned Cooper-Climax was held up by the Customs as it lacked certain vital paperwork. Campbell-Jones had not arrived with his early Cooper-Climax, having been involved in an accident on the way through Italy, but Wicken, and Dodd were out in Coopers and Hill, Halford, Zimmermann, Piper and Maria de Filippis were out in Lotus cars and Seidel and Heinz in Porsches.
Friday proved to be a much better day and, though not warm for Sicily, conditions were good for fast driving and all but one of the seventeen entries were ready for practice, the missing one being Bonnier who never showed up at all. Bueb and Wicken were soon circulating in the pale green Cooper-Borgwards and Moss was out in the dark blue one, the three fuel-injection engines sounding pretty healthy though the bumpy surface was not proving too kind to the Cooper road-holding. Behra was not too happy with the disc brakes on the works Ferrari, complaining of a front one locking all the time, though even so he was going pretty fast. The works Lotus of Graham Hill was delayed in starting practice as there was trouble in the positive-stop selector mechanism for the five-speed gearbox and the two other long, thin Lotus cars were having similar troubles, one being John Fisher's 1958 Motor Show car, driven by Halford and the other Piper's 1958 ex-works car. Meanwhile Gregory had gone out and in a very few laps had clocked 2 min. 05.0 sec. and Behra was not far off this in spite of his brake troubles. Moss could not challenge them and stopped to have the shock-absorbers changed and meanwhile Behra was down to 2 min. 03.0 sec., the Ferrari now behaving itself. Brabham was quietly learning the circuit and with very little fuss was approaching Gregory's times, while when the Lotus went properly Halford was challenging. Moss came out again and was soon faster than Gregory and with some very consistent lappery gradually knocked off tenths of a second until he got down to 2 min. 02.7 sec., which was f. t.d. Behra and Gregory sat back to watch this, with the idea of going out again in the final few minutes of practice, but they were forestalled by Seidel who burst the engine of his brand new central-seat Porsche RSK and poured oil all round the circuit. so that serious practice faded out early leaving Moss with the leading position.
Having just the one race, of 55 laps, on the programme there was no great rush on Saturday afternoon and mechanics had plenty of time to get their cars ready and filled up with straight petrol from official tankers under the watchful eyes of scrutineers. Although the sky was cloudy the roads were perfectly dry and with no bright glare from the sun conditions were ideal for racing as the 15 cars were lined up on the starting grid at 3 p.m. before the usual large and excited crowd of Sicilians. The cars were in the following order and drivers were paraded past the Tribunes in groups of nationality accompanied by flags and national anthems.
See table representing grid formation.
The two Coopers in the front row were push started, Gregory having to be wheeled back on to the grid, while Moss made use of the reverse gear in the Colotti gearbox, and the Ferrari was started on an electric starter. As the flag fell Gregory jumped into the lead, but the superior gearbox ratios of the Ferrari and the Cooper-Borgward soon told and they both went by the American driver. All but the German driver Zimmermann got away, he being pushed off never to return, retiring on the opening lap. It was Behra who led, but only just, at the end of the first lap, followed by Moss, Gregory, Brabham, Campbell-Jones, Bueb, Wicken and the rest, with Halford bringing up the rear going slowly with a recurrence of his gear selector troubles. There was virtually nothing to choose between Moss and Behra and first one would lead and then the other and they were soon out on their own, while Brabham was sitting right behind Gregory, these two also drawing away from the rest of the field. Campbell-Jones was going extremely well in his drum-braked 1957 Cooper, keeping Bueb at bay until he lost second gear and the Brazilian driver Heinz was running steadily and regularly in his Porcshe. Halford stopped at the pits, had the gear-change remedied and retired on the next lap when an oil pipe tore out of an engine casting. Wicken was also in trouble on the Cooper-Borgward when his gear lever became disconnected and he lost a number of laps while it was fixed.
By 10 laps Moss and Behra were still nose-to-tail past the pits and passing and repassing on the back leg of the circuit and were 13 seconds ahead of Gregory who still had Brabham on his tail. Bueb was now fifth and Graham Hill was beginning to make up for a poor start and was now eighth behind Campbell-Jones and Heinz, having passed Piper and Munaron. It was not a Lotus day, for the Italian girl Maria de Filippis now came into the pits with oil pouring out and retired, but then Dodd had a ball-race break up in his Cooper gearbox which put him out and evened the score between Surbiton and Hornsey. On lap 12 the leaders lapped a group of tail-enders and Moss managed to give Behra the slip amongst the traffic and he pulled out a 3-sec. lead over the Ferrari, but it was not long before Behra was back with Moss, having turned a fastest lap in 2 min. 01.2 sec., and at 20 laps the Ferrari was in the lead by a length or two. Brabham had been baulked slightly when lapping a slower car and had lost contact with Gregory, but was still firmly in fourth place and Bueb was an unassailable fifth though Campbell-Jones was now down to seventh place suffering from a gearbox that was breaking up fast. Still there was nothing to choose between Behra and Moss and while the Cooper-Borgward might show a slight advantage on one corner the Ferrari would gain on the next and both drivers knew it was a case of playing a game of "foxing" and hoping to lure the other into making a mistake. On lap 30 Moss took the lead again and by chance gained a few yards as they lapped a slower car, whereupon he made the most of the opportunity and once more shook the Ferrari off his heels. Using 7,900 r.p.m. on the Borgward engine he increased his lead to 5 sec. and in trying to catch up again Behra spun and dented the nose of the Ferrari on a concrete wall. No damage was done and he managed to restart but the flying Moss was now 60 sec. ahead, and had put in a lap at 2 min. 00.9 sec. Just before this Gregory had overslid a corner and ridden up the straw bales and stopped at the pits to see if he had bent the rear suspension. It looked all right so he rejoined the race, but not before Brabham and Bueb had gone by, so we now had the interesting situation of Behra trying to regain the lead and Gregory trying to regain third place, neither of them having an easy task with only 21 laps to go.
At the back of the field Wicken was circulating regularly but not making up for his early pit stop and Piper came into the pits to repair a fuel leak from a carburetter union, while Munaron had lost a lot of time with some battery trouble on his sports Osca. Behra now used everything the Ferrari had got, screaming the beautiful little V6 engine to 10,000 r.p.m., while his gear-changes were a joy to listen to and he was lapping very close to 2 min., finally achieving this on lap 45. Moss was not waiting for him and though he was letting the gap close gradually he was complete master of the situation and by lap 48 when the gap between the Cooper and the Ferrari was down to 28 sec. he knew he was safe, barring accidents.
However, he could not linger for on lap 49 Behra turned 1 min. 59 sec., so Moss also had to lap in just on 2 min., but in spite of the crowds urging Behra on to greater things Moss was unruffled and completed the 55 laps just over 22 sec. ahead of the Ferrari. Somewhat overshadowed by this excitement Gregory had caught and passed Bueb but had failed to catch Brabham, and Graham Hill had disappeared from the scene in a series of wild swerves when the right-hand rear hub race collapsed on the works Lotus, while Piper finished slowly as the front of the chassis had broken on his Lotus, only pivot pins and pipes holding the whole thing together.
IX Gran Premio Siracusa -- Formula II -- 35 Laps -- 302 Kilometres -- Dull and Dry
1st: S. Moss (Cooper-Borgward) 1 hr. 53 min. 6 sec. -- 160.477 k.p.h.
2nd: J. Behra (Ferrari V6) 1 hr. 53 min. 28.4 sec.
3rd: J. Brabham (Cooper-Climax) 1 lap behind
4th: M. Gregory (Cooper-Climax) 1 lap behind
5th: I. Bueb (Coopoer-Borgward) 1 lap behind
6th: B. Heinz (Porsche RSK) 2 laps behind
Fastest lap: J. Behra (Ferrari) 1 min. 59.0 sec. on 49th lap -- 166.587 k.p.h.
Notes on the Cars at Siracusa
The lone Scuderia Ferrari entry was a new 1959 car with space-type chassis frame using large diameter bottom rails and small diameter superstructure, the engine, gearbox and transmission being developments of last year's car. Front suspension was by double-wishbones and coil springs and similar springs were used for the de Dion rear suspension, while Dunlop disc brakes and tyres were used, with Borani wire wheels. The three double-choke downdraught Weber carburetters were covered by a Perspex hood, open at the front, and a wrap-round Perspex screen was used.
The Walker-entered Cooper-Borgward was a 1958 chassis fitted with the sports Borgward fuel-injection, 2 o.h.c., 16-valve, 8-plug engine, ignition being by twin coils and a battery mounted in the nose of the car. The Colotti-designed five-speed and reverse gearbox being attached to the German engine by a special cast-aluminium bell-housing and the gear-lever working in a tiny open gate on the right of the driving seat. The other two Cooper-Borgwards were 1959 cars and utilised the normal Cooper gearbox, all three cars having identical engines, intake systems and exhausts, with the throttle butterfly in the large air duct by the driver's left ear. Of the more normal Coopers, with twin-cam Climax engines, Brabham had an ex-works car from last year running as a private owner as the works are concentrating on F.1, Gregory was driving Alan Brown's 1958 car, Dodd had the ex-Sopwith 1957 car with leaf-spring front suspension and Campbell-Jones had a similar early car with drum brakes.
The single works Lotus entry driven by Graham Hill was the latest 1959 type car with reversed front suspension, the anti-roll bar now being to the rear and the brake calipers and steering mechanism being in front of the axle centre-line. The bulkhead is reinforced by a sheet steel hoop and the layout of the frame tubes have been radically altered. The positive-stop gear selector mechanism has been revised and the lever operates a straight rod instead of a kinked one and the driver sits in a bare glass-fibre bucket seat. A major alteration has been made to the rear suspension, the fore and aft location of the hub now being taken by a triangulated member below the drive shaft, without the use of the long thin radius rod previously used. The John Fisher equipe had two cars running, their old 1957-type car driven by the Italian girl Sig. de Filippis and the 1958 Show car driven by Halford, while a similar car, with the long cigar-shaped body, was owned and driven by Piper, his being the first of the streamlined Lotus cars driven last year by Graham Hill. Although like all the other Climax engines Piper was using two double-choke S.U. carburetters he tried out a set of the latest production Weber double-choke carburetters during practice. A fifth Lotus was a very early single-seater owned by the German driver Zimmermann who was worried by overheating and had fitted an enormous header tank above the engine. Munaron had a normal sports/racing Oaca left-hand-drive two-seater and to complete the entry were two private Porsche RSK models, Heinz having a 1958 left-hand-drive two-seater and Seidel a 1959 car with the optional central seating position in which the steering column comes through an alternative hole in the dash, the pedals are repositioned, the gear lever moved to another bracket on a cross member, a single seat is fitted in the middle and an aluminium cockpit cover is fitted, having a wrap-round screen and a new engine cover is fitted having a central headrest and bulges over the carburetters.—D.S.J.