XII Siracuse Grand Prix
A well deserved win
Siracuse, Sicily, April 25th
By some strange piece of disordered thinking on the part of the Italian Federation in Milan the Imola and Siracuse organizers were both granted Formula One races with dates only four days apart and nearly 800 miles separating the two towns. In consequence of this there was a lot of overnight driving starting off immediately after the Imola race, and the Centro-Sud mechanics even had to go back to Modena, change the engine in Bandini's Cooper and then make the journey to Sicily. Originally Team Lotus had thought of going, but changed their minds in favour of Aintree, much to the disgust of the Siracuse club, and Ferrari also scrubbed his lone entry so that the race was left to private-owners. The flat-8-cylinder de Tomaso was expected to make its first race appearance in the Sicilian event but that also was scratched, while someone optimistically entered Phil Hill on a Lotus but he was still in California.
The resulting field of ten cars was made up of Bonnier with Rob Walker's Lotus-Climax V8, the new Type 24 that Trintignant had raced briefly at Pau, Anderson with his Lola-Climax V8, Collomb with his Lotus-Climax V8, de Beaufort with his orange Porsche, Seifert with his Lotus-B.R.M. V8, Abate and Bandini with the Centro-Sud Cooper-Maseratis, Joseph Siffert with his Lotus-B.R.M. V8 fresh from his second place at Imola, Starrabba with his Lotus-Maserati and Wicky with his ex-Bowmaker Cooper-Climax.
At first glance, with a complete absence of works runners the race looked like being a fiasco, but in fact it was the most unpredictable event, for it was to be run over 56 laps of the Siracuse circuit, which is very fast, a distance of 308 kilometres, this being a long way for those cars that had already done Pau and Imola on the two preceding weekends. On paper Bonnier was a certain winner, but he was driving a virtually untried car, as he had blown up the Cooper at Imola and there was no question of just changing engines. Siffert was a likely winner on driving but his Lotus-B.R.M. V8 had been driven pretty hard at Imola and another 300 kilometres was expecting a lot from the reliability viewpoint. Anderson was in the running as he was known to have restrained himself at Imola with this race in view but like Siffert's car the Lola was on its third successive race without an overhaul. Bandini would certainly drive fast enough to win, but his car had had a hurried engine change and the new engine was not especially good so the most likely winner was de Beaufort, his old 4-cylinder Porsche being noted for reliability even if it was not very fast, but yet again it was a car that had already done two full length races without the engine being looked at. The possible outcome was wide open and it was truly anyone's race and the slowest could easily be the winner.
Last year the Siracuse Grand Prix had to be cancelled, for the first time since its inception in 1951, and as for the years 1959 and 1961 it was being held on Thursday April 25th as this was a public holiday in Sicily to celebrate the first Allied landings during the past war. There should have been practice on Tuesday, but at that time the short leg of the 5.5 kilometre circuit was still torn up and the work of relaying had not begun. However, by Wednesday afternoon it was finished and practice began at 4 p.m., this single session counting for the starting grid positions. Apart from a little widening on parts of the short leg and the erection of some iron guard rails in place of the stone walls on both sides of the road leading to the corner before the pits, and some more on the right of the road after the pits, the circuit was unchanged and the lap record still stood to Stirling Moss with a Vanwall in 1 min. 54.3 sec.—173.288 k.p.h.
For the private owners a lap in 2 min. was going to be fair enough, especially with only one practice and the new surface on the short-leg of the circuit. It was overcast and cool for practice and all ten runners were out, Bonnier being anything but happy in the Lotus 24, struggling to break 2 min. 15 sec. and not trying very hard on the corners so that for a long time he was being beaten by all sorts of unlikely people. Siffert was making the most of his opportunities for it was his big chance and he was soon lapping around the 2 min. mark and made best time at 1 min. 59.0 sec. Anderson was making good progress and got down to 2 min. 00.1 sec. without taking his V8 Climax over 8,000 r.p.m. as he wanted to make sure of finishing the race, and de Beaufort was pressing on happily. The trouble with the Rob Walker Lotus was pretty nebulous and seemed more likely to be concerned with Bonnier remembering how many bad accidents had happened with Walker-owned Lotus 24's last year. For a long time he was slower than de Beaufort, but finally managed 2 min. 00.3 sec. which was not too impressive. Collomb had borrowed another transistor box for his Climax V8 which cured his Imola trouble, but then he had the external gearbox-selector shaft break; the two Centro-Sud cars were going alright but were naturally not fast enough to cope with V8-engined cars on this 100 m.p.h. circuit. Seifert was still trying to learn how to drive his Lotus-B.R.M. V8, but was badly in need of help.
On Thursday it was still cloudy and cool in the afternoon when the drivers and their cars paraded out of the paddock behind their national flags in front of a grandstand packed with spectators in spite of there being no star runners in the starting list. The ten cars were lined up in the unusual order of two spaced widely apart on the front row and two close together on the next row and so on, and Siffert and Anderson were on the front row.
The race was to be over 56 laps and at 3.10 p.m. a good start was given and everyone got away, Siffert taking it easy on his gear changes so as not to overstress his 6-speed gearbox and in consequence Anderson led away, and was still leading at the end of the first lap, but then Siffert took the lead and these two drew away from the rest of the field. Bonnier lay third for two laps until de Beaufort passed him and two laps later Bandini passed Bonnier, so either the Swede was not trying or there was something wrong, for by repute he should have been leading the race. That there was nothing very obviously wrong with the Lotus V8 was indicated by the fact that Bonnier did not come into the pits to complain. The race settled down very quickly with Siffert pulling gradually away from Anderson, who was very content to sit in second position, and the two of them were rapidly drawing away from the rest of the runners, the young Swiss driver lapping in 2 min. 0.01 sec.
The first to fall by the wayside was Wicky whose old Cooper came into the pits misfiring and making the sort of noise that Reg Parnell would have described to the Press as "a tappet." On lap 11 Bandini came into the pits and leant smartly out of the cockpit as smoke billowed from under the engine hatch. There was no danger as it was oil smoke, a pipe having burst, but the Cooper-Maserati's race was run and this let Bonnier into a rather poor fourth place with Abate not far behind him. Siffert and Anderson were keeping a steady 14 sec. apart and de Beaufort lay 20 sec. behind the Lola-Climax V8, but was still losing ground, and Bonnier was 22 sec. behind the Porsche and then on lap 18 the Team Walker car came into the pits and while the driver complained of an obscure vibration in the back end, Abate went charging by in the old Cooper-Maserati into fourth place. The vibration appeared to be psychological, for the mechanics could find nothing wrong and Bonnier was sent back into the race, now next to last behind Starrabba. While this had been going on Collomb came in to retire for the third race in succession with his "new" Lotus-Climax V8, this time with a broken left front wishbone.
On lap 20 rain began to fall, and this altered the whole aspect of the race, for up to now it had seemed decided in the order Siffert, Anderson, de Beaufort and Abate, with Starrabba and Bonnier a long way back. With the rain Anderson began to slow down and on lap 26 de Beaufort sailed past him, both the Dutchman and the Swiss driver, who was still leading, being comparatively unaffected by the rain. Abate had started the race with a rather second-hand tyre on the left rear wheel and was sliding about in the wet, so the Centro-Sud team manager called him in and had another wheel fitted. As he accelerated away from the pits, still in fourth place, Anderson was approaching, now in third place. In an incredibly short space of time Abate caught up that whole lap and went by Anderson into third place. The young Italian's driving in the wet was most courageous and the crowd loved him for it. He was obviously enjoying himself enormously and though his pit kept telling him to slow down he went charging happily on very much at home on the wet track. Anderson was not at all happy in his Lola V8 as it tended to skate about on the puddles and he had no wish to skate into a stone wall so he was just touring round. All of which makes one have even more admiration for John Surtees for his driving at Nurburgring last year in the rain.
Siffert and de Beaufort were secure in first and second places, the outcome now being entirely one of mechanical reliability, but the young Swiss was driving safely and with good mechanical feel. Abate was keeping the crowds happy, lapping at 2 min. 18.0 sec. in the torrential rain and way back, many laps behind the leaders Bonnier was trailing along like an old woman, going even slower than Starrabba. His pit gave him some signals that shamed him into pulling his finger out and he managed to catch and pass the tired old Lotus-Maserati. For the last 15 laps the rain stopped but the circuit remained wet and the positions remained unchanged, and Siffert's mechanics kept their fingers crossed as he set off on his last lap and he crossed the line a jubilant and worthy winner.
After a miserable season last year trying to sort out the Lotus-B.R.M. V8 and a great deal of work in the winter to cure the various troubles, his second place at Imola and this victory at Siracuse were a great consolation, for on driving he should have won a minor Grand Prix long ago. A very dejected Bonnier arrived fifth and tried to turn off into the paddock without doing a slowing-down lap but his mechanics sent him on, and rightly so. A very satisfied de Beaufort finished in second place, his Porsche having finished three races on the trot, with complete reliability.
D. S. J.
In spire of innumerable difficulties the "Ente Autonomo Circuito Siracusa" held their XII Grand Prix, where lesser organisations would have given up in despair.
There was a vast crowd of spectators, even without Team Lotus being present, or Ferrari or A.T.S., so the race must have showed a profit as there were four lots of "maximum price" starting money that did not have to be paid.
In 1953 a Swiss driver from Fribourg won the Siracuse G.P., his name being de Graffenreid. In 1963 another Swiss driver, also from Fribourg, won the Siracuse G.P., his name being Joseph Siffert.
Past winners in the record books of the Siracuse race make good reading, Villoresi, Ascari, Farina, Brooks, Fangio, Collins, Musso, Moss, von Trips and Baghetti, good drivers all.