XI Gran Premio Siracusa

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An unbelievable race

Siracusa, Sicily, April 25th.

This year the Siracusa Grand Prix was held on the unusual day of Tuesday, it being a public holiday in Sicily to celebrate their liberation in the last war. Having it on this day also meant that a number of drivers and cars that had competed at Aintree the previous Saturday could be flown over to compete in the Grand Prix. The first practice session was on Sunday afternoon and saw thirteen of twenty-six entries turn out, the most important being the two works Porsches driven by Bonnier and Gurney, these being the two cars they used at Bruxelles earlier in the month, and the American driver had flown to Sicily directly after the Aintree event. The Scuderia Ferrari had entered their new 120-deg V6-cylinder rear-engine car for Ritchie Ginther to drive but had to withdraw it at the last moment due to oil scavenging troubles during testing at Modena. However, they arrived with a 60-deg V6-engined car of the 1961 rear-engined type and this was on loan to Giancarlo Baghetti, though the Scuderia were looking after it.

Last winter all the various Scuderias or Racing Teams in Italy got together to form the Federation of Italian Scuderias Auto Mobili, or FISA for short, and it was agreed that promising Formula Junior drivers should be assisted. Enzo Ferrari agreed to provide a Formula One car for the use of the chosen driver in selected events. After much argument Baghetti was chosen, having been outstanding in Italian Formula Junior races with a Dagrada-Lancia, and Siracusa was one of the selected events; so instead of battling with his team-drivers Tavoni had the job of nursing along the new boy. This was the first racing appearance of the 1961 Ferrari and though it followed the lines of the F2 car used last year it was an entirely new car. The front wishbones were forged while the rear ones were of welded tube construction, and the chassis frame was of large-diameter tubing like a Cooper rather than very-small diameter like a Lotus. The layout was a space-frame with the engine behind the driver, coupled to a 5-speed and reverse gearbox, on the end of which was mounted the flywheel and clutch, exposed to the air. At the extreme end of the mechanism was mounted the hydraulically-operated plunger which depressed the toggles of the clutch assembly, the drive from the engine passing right through the gearbox/differential housing to the clutch and then back into the gearbox. The toothed flywheel and clutch body were in one unit and the starter motor was on a cradle on top of the gearbox and engaging with the toothed flywheel; the 12-volt battery was carried at the front of the chassis, behind the oil tank, the two of them being mounted behind the water radiator and above the rack-and-pinion steering mechanism. The short steering column passed through a chassis cross-member and was carried in a bearing mounted behind the instrument panel, and fuel tanks formed the cockpit sides, the seat being well padded, and there also being blue upholstered pads along each upper chassis tube just below the driver’s shoulders. A 10,000-rpm indicator faced the driver, the gear gate was on the right and a curved Perspex screen extended along both sides of the body. The nose cowling was very low and flat and extended forward into a pointed snout with two “nostrils” to take air into the radiator, while the rear of the body finished in a blunt end fitted with horizontal slats. A Perspex tear-drop covered the three double-choke downdraught Weber carburetters, a small opening towards the front on each side allowing air into the engine. At the rear of this Perspex cover and on each side were Perspex scoops directing air down into the bowels of the rear end to cool the inboard-mounted disc brakes. The front discs were hub-mounted with the calipers mounted at the front, and naturally Borrani wire wheels were used. The two exhaust manifolds ended in long tail pipes stuck out way behind the car and for the first part of practice they had Italian “Snap” exhaust boosters on the ends, but these soon gave way to normal Ferrari shallow megaphones.

It appeared that the two works Porsches would have little opposition during this first practice, with all the “fast-boys” still flying out from England, but first signs of alarm were when Gendebien with an Emeryson-Maserati of the Equipe National Belge tried to follow Baghetti with the Ferrari and the red car just disappeared into the middle distance. After a few cautious exploratory laps and looking a little worried by the responsibility put upon him by FISA, Baghetti began to lap at 2 min 02 sec, which was quite a bit faster than Gurney or Bonnier. The fastest ever lap of Siracusa was set up by Moss with a Vanwall in 1957 at 1 min 54.3 sec, and the fastest by a 11/2-litre was last year by the same driver with a Porsche in 1 min 57.6 sec during practice and 1 min 58.8 sec in the race, this last time constituting a 11/2-litre lap record. While Gurney and Bonnier were thrashing round trying to get under 2 min Baghetti was getting on with learning to drive a Formula One car and had got down to 1 min. 58.8 sec, equalling the 11/2-litre lap record ! The Ferrari sounded wonderful, revving up to 9,000 rpm, the gear-changes snicking through with hardly any change in the exhaust note and the car looking remarkably steady. Gendebien was trying all he knew with the Emeryson but could only achieve 2 min 01.6 sec, while Gurney eventually got down to 2 min 00.1 sec, and Bonnier had to settle for 2 min 02.1 sec. Of the other drivers practising, Bandini was going well in the Centro-Sud modified Cooper-Maserati he drove at Pau, and the other Centro-Sud car had been fitted with a new-type Maserati engine and was being driven by a complete newcomer discovered by Signor Dei, one Massimino Natili, who had a very smooth and relaxed driving style. Trintignant was doing his best with a Cooper-Maserati fitted with a Colotti gearbox and entered by the Scuderia Serenissima, and Scarlatti also had a go in this car. Mairesse and Mauro Bianchi tried Gendebien’s Emeryson, the second ENB car awaiting a gearbox, and other drivers practising were Boffa with a scruffy old green F2 Cooper-Climax, Maugeri with an immaculate red F2 Cooper-Climax that had been brought to Sicily by Pippbrook mechanics, Seidel with his ex-works Lotus-Climax, Pirocchi with an F2 Cooper-Climax and Prinoth with an F2 Lotus-Climax.

This first session ended with the shy 25-year-old Baghetti looking a little bewildered at having made FTD, but the feeling was that it was only temporary for tomorrow the aeroplane full of “aces” was arriving, these being Brabham, Moss, Clark, Surtees, Graham Hill, Ireland and Brooks, and they would sort things out. The only disturbing thought was that Baghetti had beaten Gurney and Bonnier with works Porsches, and they were accepted “aces” !

Next morning, Monday, April 24th, a Bristol Freighter opened its maw and spewed out Brabham’s new works Cooper-Climax straight from its win at Aintree, two Yeoman Credit Cooper-Climax 1961 models, two tatty old Team Lotus cars, and two sleek BRMs with Climax engines, all from Aintree as well. The Lotus-Climax that Moss was to drive was already at the circuit having arrived by lorry from Vienna, it being the same car he had used at Bruxelles as well, so it was now a bit tired. Yeoman Credit had their new Cooper for Surtees with their own body fitted which had a smaller radiator opening, a sleeker nose, much smaller and more raked windscreen, narrower body sides and a tail without a fin that was wrapped very tightly around the engine and gearbox. The result was a car with a much sleeker profile than the normal 1961 Cooper and a lower frontal area. This was its first race appearance, though it had been used in practice at Aintree. Their other car was a standard one, already raced a number of times by Salvadori. The new works Cooper appeared virtually the same as the 1961 production Coopers, though it had a flatter nose and different shaped Perspex around the cockpit and its Climax engine had the fuel pump mounted under the two Weber carburetters and driven by a V-belt and pulley from the crankshaft, instead of being bolted to the end of the inlet cambox. The Team Lotus cars were looking well-worn and this time Clark had the one with the canted engine and the Weber carburetters enclosed and Ireland had the car with the upright engine.

Although the weather was good for practice on Monday afternoon there was a terrific wind blowing, the gusts at times being really fierce and some of the cars were being blown about on the fast swerves. The boys from Aintree were all out promptly, making up for lost time, while the Scuderia Ferrari just sat and looked at their car and for once were not madly changing springs, roll bars and shock-absorbers the way they used to in the past. Baghetti had just got in and driven it with no complaints, no suggestions, no modifications, and it had gone fast enough. Obviously a lap in under 2 min was going to be essential but though everyone thrashed round there were no signs of anyone achieving this, for the high wind was presumably upsetting things. Moss was delayed by getting a puncture from a nail in his right rear tyre and shortly after Brabham suffered the same thing in his left rear tyre. Mairesse was out in the second Emeryson-Maserati and Munaron arrived with the Cooper-Conrero Alfa, and Trintignant was set back by an oil pipe breaking on the Maserati engine in his Cooper and flooding everywhere in oil. Yeoman Credit were really getting on with the job of practising and Surtees got down to 2 min 00.4 sec in the sleek Cooper, and Graham Hill was also getting into the groove with one of the BRM-Climax cars, so much so that as the wind dropped a little he got round in 1 min 59.9 sec. This seemed to break the spell and very soon afterwards Salvadori equalled this and Bonnier then did 1 min. 58.5 sec, at last beating Baghetti’s time of yesterday. The young Italian boy had gone out again in the Ferrari, circulating slowly at 2 min 26 sec, then speeding up to 2 min 05 sec. He passed Clark on the twisty part of the course and then accelerated away and leapt up the straight past the pits and returned a time of 1 min 57.4 sec, wind or no wind, and then did 1 min 57.0 sec just to show the first one was not a mistake.

The pace now became really hot but everyone was suffering at the hands of the Ferrari and as practice drew to a close the air became very cool and ominous clouds gathered, but before the rain came there was some very fast and furious motoring taking place. Surtees twice recorded 1 min 57.8 sec, Hill did two at 1 min 59.8 sec, and then did 1 min 58.1 sec, Brabham did a very unobtrusive 1 min 58.3 sec, and Moss scratched a 1 min 59.2 sec with a misfiring engine. Ireland just missed bogey time with 2 min 00.1 sec, and Bandini did remarkably well to turn 2 min 00.4 sec in his Cooper-Maserati. Gendebien’s practice ended in a flood of oil when a pipe burst on the Maserati engine, and meanwhile the Scuderia Ferrari sat about quietly watching the fun, after their new-boy had done his 1 min 57.0 sec. Right at the end of practice and a lap before the rain started Gurney put all he knew into the Porsche and got round in 1 min 56.9 sec, to snatch FTD from the Ferrari. While the American and the Porsche had obviously been stretched pretty near the limit it was equally obvious that Baghetti’s limit could not possibly be equal to that of Gurney’s as the Ferrari did not appear to have been stretched, so as the rains and storms came everyone packed up with puzzled frowns on their faces and the feeling that things would have to be different in the actual race, a new young driver like that being quite unable to challenge the stars at race-tactics, even if the Ferrari was that much faster.

At 3 pm on Tuesday a crowd estimated at 50,000 had filled the circuit and after a parade of national flags and a parade of sporting Alfa Romeos driven by some of the drivers, the racing cars were allowed a lap or two to recce the circuit and then they formed up on the grid , with a rather apprehensive Baghetti in the middle of the front row surrounded on all sides by famous names.

Everyone started their engines on the electric starters and the field of 19 cars got away to a perfect start to begin the 56-lap race over 308 kilometres. It was Surtees who took the lead and at the end of the opening lap the order was Surtees, Gurney, Bonnier, Ireland, Brabham, Graham Hill, Baghetti, Moss, Salvadori and the rest, so already the Ferrari driver seemed to have been put in his place. On the next lap Gurney took the lead from Surtees and the first seven cars were all nose-to-tail with little to choose between them, except that Baghetti had passed Hill and Brabham in one lap. On lap three Surtees was back in the lead but Baghetti had passed Ireland. On lap four Gurney was leading again from Surtees and Baghetti was right on Bonnier’s tail and on lap five he passed the Porsche and was third. Half way round lap six the crowds shrieked with delight when the loudspeakers said that Baghetti was in the lead, and at the end of that lap he was well and truly in the lead, having passed Surtees and Gurney just like that. From seventh place on lap one the Ferrari had moved up to first place on lap six, passing two works Porsches, works Cooper, Lotus and BRM and the very fast Yeoman Credit Cooper-Climax, and Baghetti did not look at all ruffled or disturbed at having done so. These seven had left the rest way behind by now and the race was virtually over, providing the Ferrari kept going and Baghetti did not do anything silly, except that Gurney did not consider it over, and he drove really hard and hung on to the Ferrari, the two of them drawing away from everyone else. On lap 10 Surtees was overdue and he came into the pits with no fuel pressure, the pump spindle having broken, so the broken pump was removed and seeing another pump lying in the garage behind the pits, amongst Brabham’s things, the Yeoman Credit mechanics borrowed it and bolted it onto their engine. What they did not know was that it was a pump that Brabham had taken off his engine just before the race, as it was defective, and replaced with a new one. Surtees shot back into the race, but did not finish that lap as the car died on him quite soon with no fuel to the carburetters. Meanwhile Gendebien had been in and out of the pits and finally retired the Belgian Emeryson-Maserati.

On lap six Brabham, Graham Hill and Ireland had come to grips for fifth place, which became fourth when Surtees stopped, and out in front Baghetti was going calmly round keeping just in front of the ever-forceful Dan Gurney, with Bonnier firmly in third position but losing ground to the leading pair. The three British drivers racing for fourth place were having a splendid battle, the Cooper, Lotus and BRM, all with Climax engines, being very evenly matched. Some way back came Trintignant leading Salvadori, followed by Mairesse leading Moss, the RRC Walker Lotus misfiring just the way it had at Bruxelles, even though it was supposed to have been cured. Behind, Brooks was just keeping his BRM in front of Clark’s rather tired Lotus and the new young Italian driver Bandini in a Cooper-Maserati, while the tail-enders were all being lapped. Trintignant’s efforts all went up in a cloud of’ smoke when an oil pipe burst on his Cooper-Maserati and almost at the same time Brooks stopped in a shower of bits and pieces as his Climax engine literally burst its seams and rods and pistons and broken crankcase were everywhere. Up at the front of the race Gurney was doing a wonderful job for Porsche, pressing on the Ferrari as hard as he could, and by 20 laps Bonnier, in third place, had been left way behind. However, young Baghetti was doing an even better job for Ferrari and not letting Gurney worry him at all, always keeping just enough in front without taking any chances or straining the engine. Although at this point Gurney got pretty close to the long tail-pipes of the Ferrari it was not for long. Ireland appeared to be winning the British race for fourth place, holding it from lap 11 to lap 19, but only by a length or two from Brabham and Hill, but he was having a bad time as the throttle was not shutting quickly and he had to keep hooking it back with his foot. Then the fuel pressure began to rise from its customary 2 or 3 lb/sq in to 10 and before something burst he stopped at the pits on lap 20 and also had the throttle spring strengthened. This dropped him back to thirteenth place and though he got going again it was not for many laps, for the throttle stuck again and he went into a corner too fast and hit the straw bales, returning to the pits with a bent front suspension to retire.

For a short while Moss had got past the Emeryson of Mairesse, but soon the Belgian was back in front and on lap 25 the leading Ferrari and Porsche came up behind to lap them. This happened on the twisty leg of the circuit before the bend entering the pits straight, and in the ensuing melee Gurney saw his opportunity and nipped into the lead, and as they finished the lap the silver Porsche was some yards ahead of the red Ferrari. It looked as though Baghetti had made a fatal mistake for at the pace Gurney was driving it seemed unlikely that the new boy would catch him, let alone pass him. In the short space of one lap, a mere 5 kilometres, he not only caught the Porsche but passed it and returned to his comfortable 100 yards lead ! He now drew away from Gurney and by lap 29 he had 5 sec lead. All this time they had been lapping faster and faster and the race average was getting higher and higher, and they now lapped Salvadori. However, Gurney refused to give up and pressed harder than ever, slowly but surely gaining a little ground on the Ferrari so that by lap 36 he had got within striking distance, being only 1 sec behind, Or a bare length or two, but the remarkable Baghetti had the situation well in hand and just accelerated away to a 6 sec lead without the slightest sign of distress. Lesser men would have given up but Gurney just refused and clung on at 5 to 6 sec distance, and they now had 60 sec lead over Bonnier in the second works Porsche, who was in turn comfortably ahead of Brabham and Graham Hill, who were once more in close company, having been apart for some time. Poor Moss was having an awful time in his misfiring Lotus-Climax, being lapped by nearly everyone, and on lap 44 the leaders lapped him for the second time and on the next lap they overtook Jimmy Clark for the third time. Way at the back of the field Pirocchi was making regular stops for water, the head gasket on his Cooper-Climax having blown, Boffa was creeping round with a slipping clutch on his Cooper-Climax, and Mairesse was in the pits a number of times changing plugs and fiddling with the carburetters.

The pace of the leaders was getting faster all the time, their lap times being down to well under 1 min 57 sec, and the race average being faster than last year’s Formula Two lap record ! Still the gap was 5 sec between them for Baghetti had got Gurney well and truly sized up, and on lap 49 they lapped Jack Brabham, and on lap 50 they took Graham Hill, the BRM being in fourth place, but hardly had they done this than Hill came slowly into the pits with his engine making an awful noise, sounding as though an exhaust valve head had dropped into a cylinder. This was on lap 52 and the leaders had the end of the race in sight so Hill set off slowly to the sound of an awful clanking noise to complete one more lap and qualify as a finisher. On lap 54 Baghetti lapped Bonnier and Gurney would have done likewise, having just set a new fastest lap in 1 min 54.9 sec and reduced the Ferrari’s lead to 4 sec, but the Swede’s dignity would have been hurt and he stuck in the middle of the road so that the American could not get by. They went round on the last lap with Bonnier between the leader and second-place man, and Baghetti was flagged home to the almost speechless joy and delight of the Sicilians and the Scuderia Ferrari. Bonnier stuck in front of Gurney right to the finishing line, there being only two-tenths of a second between them in time, except that Bonnier was a whole lap behind. As if this wasn’t enough excitement, Moss coasted into his pit with a dead engine while Baghetti had been lapping Bonnier, for the magneto drive had sheared, so amid the clamour of acclaiming Baghetti the unfortunate Moss pushed his car over the line to be qualified as a finisher. Still the race was not over for Graham Hill’s engine had given up before he could limp round for his final lap and he was pushing the car home, but he was over three minutes late and amid the scenes of excitement over the Ferrari win, the BRM was lost in the crowd that as all over the track and the timekeepers did not see him arrive, marking him down as having retired. Even after the finish Baghetti still looked bewildered, as though the whole thing was a dream, as well it might have been, for he had soundly trounced all the reigning “stars” of the Grand Prix world in his first Formula One race.

Siracusa sighs

After the race a lot of people were heard to be saying, “What will happen when the Ferrari team drivers get in that car ?” They will probably want everything changed and it won’t go anything like as well.”

One wonders whether Team Manager Tavoni told Baghetti before the start, “Now, don’t worry, imagine this to be just another Formula Junior race, except that these drivers know what they are doing and it won’t be so rough.”

The Ferrari certainly looked like a racing car, and it sounded like one. It went like one as well.

The English will have to take their racing more seriously; you can’t race two successive events with the same engine without servicing it. Doing Aintree on Saturday and Siracusa on Tuesday is asking too much when the racing is serious.

The Walker Team will have to stop these pathetic exhibitions of “starting money” gathering or someone will suspect something. Goodwood, Bruxelles, Aintree and now Siracusa, it can’t all be “bad luck.”

Baghetti made one big mistake. After he had won the race and got the chequered flag he went straight-on up the escape road at the hairpin. Sheer relief, no doubt !

So much for this new Formula being slow and dull. This year’s race average was higher than the F2 lap record set last year by Moss, and Gurney’s fastest lap was only six-tenths of a second off the absolute lap record set up by Moss with a Vanwall; and as for being dangerous, as predicted by many well-known names, the only accident was Ireland’s mild one that had nothing to do with the cars being under-powered and too heavy.

“We were using last year’s engines,” said the British. So were Porsche and Ferrari. The Stuttgart 8-cylinder and the Maranello 120-deg V6 have yet to appear.—DSJ.