A GT Victory
Sicily, April 26th.
This year the Targa Florio was notable for two outstanding things, firstly a powerful onslaught by Caroll Shelby and his team of A.C. Cobra-Ford V8 cars and, secondly, the complete absence of the works Ferrari team. After the races at Daytona and Sebring the Shelby Cobras were leading their category of GT cars in the manufacturers’ championship, and this encouraged the Texan to bring over a four-car team to do battle with the Circuit of the Madonie, with its 72 kilometres of rough mountain roads. At the same time Enzo Ferrari eyed the indications at Daytona and the results of Sebring, and decided that the outcome of the Le Mans 24-hour race in June was going to be more important to his sales of GT cars than a win in Sicily. In addition, his Grand Prix car-building programme was getting behind, and with Monaco and Zandvoort in the offing, followed by the 1,000-kilometre race at Nurburgring for his Prototype GT cars, his workshops were going to be busy enough without the added work of repairing the cars that would inevitably be damaged during the Sicilian race. With the participation of the Cobras being an unknown quantity in the Targa Florio it looked as though this year would be a walk-over for the factory Porsche team, who were entered in strength, not only for an overall win with one of their 8-cylinder Prototypes, but also a GT category win with the recently homologated 904 Carrera GTS.
Having got over the spell of bad weather that surrounded the Siracusa G.P., the island became its normal self with blue skies and hot sunshine, and the week before the race was typical Targa Florio week, with practice both official and unofficial taking place. On Friday the roads were closed for some hours but few cars got in any serious practice laps as far as the timekeepers were concerned, for most teams only had time for each driver to do a “standing-start-and-stopping-lap,” which did not show up well on the timing clocks. As the race is run on a time basis with starting order decided by numbers in order of classes, practice lap times do not count for anything other than team strategy.
At 4 a.m. on Sunday the roads were closed to normal traffic and anyone wanting to drive from Palermo to Messina, or vice versa, had to make a detour inland of many miles of mountain roads, or join the queue of cars that were waiting for the roads to open again in the late afternoon. By 6 a.m. all the competitors were assembled in confusion in the pit area and were having their tanks filled by the various petrol companies, and by 7 a.m. some semblance of order began to appear as the cars were marshalled behind the starting line. At 8 a.m. the first car was flagged away, being an Alfa Romeo Giulietta in the 1,150-1,300-c.c. GT class, it being followed 30 sec. later by the second man, and so on through the class. Giuliettas were not alone in this category for there were two René-Bonnets, two Alpine coupés and three Abarth-Simcas. In the 1,300-1,600-c.c. class were two of the new Alfa Romeo Giulia TZ models, with the tubular space-frame, independent back end with inboard disc brakes and chopped-tail Zagato bodywork. Both were entered by the Scuderia Sant Ambroeus from Milan, which was a thin veil over the fact that factory Alfa Romeo mechanics and technical people were looking alter the cars. In the 1,600-2,000-c.c. GT class the Porsche firm justified the homologation of the new fibre-glass-bodied 904 coupé for there were four privately-entered cars and two factory-entered cars, as well as the old-type Carrera with special body that competed last year. The red 904 kit the Scuderia Filippinetti, driven by Swiss drivers Rayers and Muller, led the class away at 11½ minutes past 8 a.m., and this class was followed by a trio of Lancia Flaminias. At 19 minutes past 8 a.m, the blue and yellow Ferrari GTO of the Swedes Norinder and Troberg took off, followed by two private 1964 Ferrari GTO models and four other private Ferraris. The two 1964 cars were obviously the Maranello hopes for a GT win and the owners were being assisted by factory personnel. At 23 minutes past 8 a.m. the grandstands shook as Phil Hill thundered away in the first of the A.C. Cobras, followed thirty seconds later by Gurney in a similar car. Then went Master Gregory in the third of Shelby’s team and a local Alfa Romeo driver who had been loaned a Cobra as part of Ford’s political strategy, and finally Hitchcock in his own private Cobra, all five of them being open 2-seaters that we used to call sports cars but are now considered to be Gran Turismo cars.
Until now there had only been one non-starter, though one or two of the cars had been hurriedly patched up after practice, and in the next class the only other non-starter was posted. This was the Brabham BT8 with 2-litre Coventry-Climax engine that should have been driven by Wilks and Epstein, but unfortunately during the official practice period something at the rear broke while Epstein was travelling at speed along the straight near the end of the lap and the car spun off the road, throwing the driver out with minor injuries and demolishing itself on a series of granite road-side markers; so badly that it was difficult to decide whether a rear wheel spring or suspension part failed first. The car was entered in a special Targa Florio class for sports cars up to 2-litres in which is put anyone who wants to enter a car that does not fit in with the normal F.I.A. Grand Touring and Prototype classes. This year the entry would have done justice to a V.S.C.C. Historic Racing Car event, for it contained a 200S Maserati, a Tipo 60 Maserati, an early 1,500-c.c. Osca, the inevitable 8V Fiat and an hill-climb rear-engined model Ferrari 196SP. Also in the class was the B.M.C.-Mini of Tones and Ratcliffe.
Finally came the two Prototype classes, the first for 1,000-2,000-c.c. cars, and this contained two factory-supported special Lancia Flavias, the flat-four engines having double-choke downdraught Weber carburetters, a Le Mans coupé Alpine-Renault with Gordini 2-o.h.c. engine, driven by the Bianchi brothers, Paddy Hopkirk with a works Healey Sprite open 2-seater, and two factory 8-cylinder Porsches. Barth/Maglioli had a production 904 fitted with the 2-litre flat 8-cylinder engine, the only alterations from the normal 904 being different gear ratios in the 5-speed gearbox and the use of rubber “doughnut” universals inboard on the drive-shafts instead of the Renault flexible Hooke joints. The other works Porsche was last year’s open 2-seater Prototype 8-cylinder, driven by Bonnier, with Graham Hill as co-driver. The second Prototype class was 2,000-3,000 c.c. and contained two A.T.S. rear-engined coupés, with V8-cylinder 2½-litre engines, these being driven by Zeccoli/Gardi and Baghetti/Frescobaldi; this was the competition debut of these cars from Bologna.
It was now 8.33 a.m. and 64 cars had started out on the first lap of the 72-kilometre circuit that had to be covered ten times, and it was not long before the first of the small cars returned and roared by to complete the opening lap. Naturally, overall positions could not be determined until the time-keepers had clocked everyone for the standing lap, but it was pretty obvious that Rosinski in the little French Alpine, with push-rod o.h.v. hemispherical head Renault engine by Gordini, was giving the Giulietta drivers a bad time, leading them all by well over a minute.
As was to be expected, Bonnier was leading overall, in the open 8-cylinder Porsche, followed by the second 8-cylinder works Porsche, and then came Gurney leading the Cobra attack, followed by Phil Hill, with the Ferrari GTO of Guichet between them. An Italian driver, Viannini, was leading all the 904 Porsches, while Gregory in the third works Cobra was way back. Bonnier’s lead did not last long for half-way round the second lap a driveshaft coupling broke and he was stranded out in the mountains at the Bivio Polizzi refuelling depot. This left Barth and Maglioli in the 1964 the 8-cylinder 904 coupé in command, for neither of the 1964 Ferrari GTO coupés nor the open Cobras could get anywhere near it. However, Gurney was doing his best with the Cobra but his task was pretty hopeless, and Guichet was driving his borrowed GTO very well, so although Porsche looked all set for the outright win, Ferrari hopes in the GT category were being upheld by the private owners. At the end of the third lap both Gurney and Hill made a pit stop, for fuel and tyres and to hand over to their co-drivers, but the scene was comic rather than efficient, and they lost a great deal of time. Before the stop the two Cobras had been third and fourth, but two of the 904 Porsches that were running through to four or five laps now overtook them. The 904 that was leading on lap one had been going a bit too fast and had crashed and damaged the front end, so that Bulgari was now leading from Pucci, the latter in one of the works production cars, while one of the Lancia Flavia coupés got between the two Cobras thanks to running non-stop for four laps. Of the other Cobras, Gregory’s had split a radiator connection and after a new radiator had been fitted Innes Ireland went off in the car, and the two Sicilian drivers Arena and Coco in the fourth car were finding it a bit of a handful after their Giulietta. Hitchcock crashed his Cobra on lap three, smashing all the front in but kept going and handed over to Tchkotoua, who pressed on with the battered car.
Two American drivers new to Europe took over the Cobras of Hill and Gurney, Bob Bondurant taking over from the former and Gerry Grant from the latter. Of the two, Bondurant was much the quicker driver and during his spell of driving he gained back all the ground that Phil Hill had lost. Meanwhile, ahead of them everything was going wrong, for on lap five Maglioli had a spring unit break and this spun him into a wall, damaging the left front corner of the car, but he was able to limp round to the pits, but dropped from first place to sixth place, which meant that Bulgari was now in the lead with his 904 Porsche, having got up to second place on the previous lap thanks to a non-stop drive and consistent lapping. Guichet had handed over the GTO Ferrari to Facetti, but the latter was a lot slower than the Frenchman, so they were behind Bulgari’s 904 Porsche. As the young Roman came along the final straight at the end of lap five, now in the lead of the race, he found the Porsche would not steer properly, and when he stopped at the pits to hand over to Grana, his co-driver, they found that the rear of the chassis frame had broken in two and the near-side rear wheel was leaning drunkenly inwards, so their moment of glory was short-lived and Facetti in the 1964 Ferrari GTO was now in the lead, but he was not to know it for he did not complete lap six, the rear axle giving out on him. This let another 904 Porsche back into the lead, this time the works one that Pucci had been driving and had handed over to Colin Davis after four laps. Davis was going very well and at the end of lap six had over 5 min. lead on Gurney, who was back in his Cobra and still driving hard, but he could not make up for the time lost at the pits. Phil Hill had also taken over again but his car was feeling more peculiar than usual, for a rear suspension wishbone had pulled away from the chassis, and though he limped round for one more lap he finally had to retire. The Gregory/Ireland car crashed when Gregory was driving due to a suspected steering failure, and the Sicilians had been driving their Cobra with a broken oil pipe, so that they finally came to a stop when it seized up. Colin Davis made his seventh lap in 41 min. 10.8 sec., which was the fastest of the day, in spite of what the timekeepers thought about Bonnier’s first lap in 41 min. 16.2 sec., and this put him well and truly in the lead, so that it was a simple matter for Baron Pucci to complete the last two laps. Gurney’s Cobra was showing signs of breaking up like Hill’s had done, so that he was forced to ease up, and the 1963 works Porsche Carrera, driven by two young Germans, Klaas and Neerpasch, now came into second place.
With so much trouble among the fast cars some new faces were appearing on the leader board, and as Gurney lost ground the Alfa Romeo TZ of Bussinelio and Todaro moved up into third place. This hot little 1,600-c.c. Giulia had been running like a train, and its team-mate, driven by Thiele and “Kim,” was not far behind. On the ninth lap the Cobra team’s radio station reported that Gurney was finished, his rear suspension having broken, so the pits staff began packing up, but Gurney had not given in and he appeared some time later. Finding his pit deserted, he set off on the last lap with his rear wheels pointing in different directions! In the Porsche pits there was an air of satisfaction, for though the works prototypes had broken down they had a production GT car in the lead, with an older model in second place and another 904 model in fourth place, while the 8-cylinder car of Barth/Maglioli had been repaired and was running again, but too far behind to hope to get anywhere. Their satisfaction was suddenly jolted when Neerpasch arrived with a buckled left rear wheel and very few brakes, having made heavy contact with a rock. The wheel was removed and it was found that the brake caliper had been broken from its mounting and a fractured pipe was letting all the brake fluid run out. A new pipe was fitted, some more fluid poured in, another wheel put on, and he set off to do the last lap with three brakes and one just flopping about on the disc. This stop allowed Bussinello in the Alfa Romeo TZ to take second place, followed by the Linge/Balzarini works 904 Porsche and the other Alfa TZ. Pucci was still going well in the leading 904, but the Linge car was far from happy, for it had had a steering bush seize up on the opening lap and though it had been freed with liberal applications of oil it did not feel right, and during the penultimate lap the rear suspension mountings were beginning to break up, which made the handling feel very odd. As Bussinello came down the mountain side towards Campofelice, now securely in second place, he had a tyre burst, and though it did no damage the time taken to fit the spare wheel was enough to let the Linge/Balzarini Porsche go by.
A deliriously happy Baron Pucci finished the 10th lap, the winner of the 48th Targa Florio, his own local race as he lives in Palermo, and a very contented Colin Davis greeted him, having done four of the ten laps and got the car into the lead. In second place were the fortunate pair Linge/Balzarini with another 904 Porsche, and the beautiful little Alfa Romeos came third and fourth. In fifth place was the not very brilliantly driven Ferrari GTO type 1964 of Ferlaino/Tamarazzo, and thanks to them Ferrari gained more points for the Category III Gran Turismo Championship. Altogether twenty-seven of the sixty-four starters finished the race, of which only ten completed the full distance, many of the others being outside the time limit. Of the little cars the Alpine GT of Rosinski led all the Giuliettas for three laps and then the right rear wheel pulled off its fixing bolts and the disc brake caliper was damaged beyond repair. The Proto-type Alpine of the brothers Bianchi completed nine laps but was delayed by a broken fan-belt and later by a rear radius arm bolt breaking. The Austin Healey Sprite was driven in a very spirited manner by Paddy Hopkirk and it skittered and hopped all over the place until the rear axle broke on the fourth lap; and the Mini of Rupert Jones and Harry Ratcliffe had a front wheel fall off, so that the car skated along on its suspension and damaged itself. The very fast Abarth-Simca 2-litres of Spychiger and Hans Herrmann both broke their gearboxes, and, surprisingly, the old Tipo 60 Maserati of Boffa/Govoni was still running at the end, its only real trouble being a split exhaust manifold.
Another Targa Florio was over, as rugged and destructive as any in the past, and the sun had blazed down all day for a change; a production competition GT car had won and undoubtedly vindicated Porsche’s policy of development through racing. The Cobra challenge had been strong while it lasted, but the Targa Florio circuit is a little different from specially built tracks or aerodrome circuits, but they had lasted longer than many anticipated. The performance of the Alfa Romeo Giulia TZ models was outstanding and many Alfa Romeo enthusiasts must be hoping for a 2-litre version to appear, for it would be a serious challenge to the Porsches. The race had been full of interest in spite of the absence of the Scuderia Ferrari cars and the Maranello firm had been lucky to gain some championship points with privately owned cars. Of the A.T.S. cars one can only say that it was an achievement to get two cars to the starting line, but neither lasted very long, both suffering from engine trouble. Inevitably some drivers prepare for the Targa Florio and do not get a drive, and this year Graham Hill was one of them, having practised assiduously during the early hours of the morning, only to have the car retire on the second lap, before he had even sat in it. But that is only one of the many trials and tribulations of the Targa Florio and the fact that the whole event is unpredictable is what makes it so fascinating.—D. S. J.