51st Targa Florio

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Porsche win again

Cefalu, May 14th.

That Porsche won the annual dice round the Sicilian mountains was no surprise for they invaded the island in force, determined not only to win the 2-litre Prototype class but also the overall classification. For this purpose they had three new cars with the 910 type of space frame chassis and fibreglass bodywork, fitted with 2.2-litre versions of the horizontally opposed 8-cylinder air-cooled engine that dates from their abortive Grand Prix days, now much improved and running on Bosch fuel injection. The drivers for these cars were Mitter/Davis, Herrmann/Siffert and Hawkins/Stommelen. In the 2-litre Prototype category and also acting as “back-up” cars to the 8-cylinders, were three 910 cars with 6-cylinder fuel-injection engines, driven by Cella/ Biscaldi, Neerpasch/Elford and Maglioli/Schutz, the last two being so tall that they had to run with the roof of the cockpit removed. Ferrari sent one 330P4 car for Vaccarella/Scarfiotti, an open model said to be the Daytona-winning car, and an 18-valve, fuel-injection Dino V6 for Klass/Casoni. They loaned their “apprentice driver” Williams to a private team to drive with Venturi in a 12-valve carburetter Dino V6. Backing up the works P4 against the Porsche team was the Filipinetti 330P3/4 driven by Muller/Guichet, while in opposition to everyone was the 2F Chaparral that raced at Spa, complete with “wing,” driven by Phil Hill/Sharp, an entry that was admired by everyone for its sporting attitude of “Hell, let’s have a go at the Targa Florio while we are in Europe.” 

The Scuderia Autodelta were out in force with an entry of four Tipo 33 cars, challenging the Porsche team strongly and also in the running for an overall win. These were driven by de Adamich/Rolland, Bonnier/Baghetti, “Nanni Galli”/Giunti and “Geki”/Todaro, and were all of the standard V8. engine, 6-speed gearbox pattern, with large air intake above the open cockpit. All the other classes were pretty poorly supported, though there were three of the new 2 o.h.c. 4-cylinder Fiat 124 Sports taking part. British entries were “sporting” rather than “competitive” and comprised two B.M.C. entries, one an M.G.-B hard-top and the other a special lightweight M.G.-B GT coupé with overbored engine of 2,004 c.c., the first driven by Hedges/Poole and the second by Hopkirk/Makinen. The “dayglow” works Austin Healey was driven by Aaltonen/Baker and a private Sprite by Wheeler/Davidson, Epstein and Dibley had the former’s Mk. III Lola-Chevrolet coupé, and Worswick and Bond had one of the former’s collection of ex-works Austin Healey 3000 “iron sports cars.” There were five Renault-Alpines competing, all entered by Regie-Renault, ranging from a production Group 4 coupé 1300 through an R8 with Gordini twin-cam engine to the 1 1/2-litre Group 6 Prototype car.

This year the Friday practice was obligatory and times were recorded for everyone, whereas in previous years practice was optional, but even so the race was run in the usual way of starting the small cars first and everyone going off at 20-second intervals as from 8 a.m. on Sunday morning. The practice day was blazing hot and most drivers contented themselves with one lap, so that by midday everyone had had enough. Needless to say, Vaccarella was fastest in 37 min. 12.4 sec. in the P4, closely followed by Scarfiotti (who had been training with a Fiat Dino Coupé) in 37 mm. 53.6 sec. Gunther Klass having left the Porsche team after a dispute proceeded to “needle” them by making third fastest time with the works Dino Ferrari (38 min. 13 sec.) while Leo Cella was next and faster than all the other Porsche drivers on his first outing with the German team (38 min. 34 sec.), Then came Phil Hill with the Chaparral in 38 min. 39.6 sec, and of particular interest was de Adamich with an Alfa Romeo 33 in 38 min. 46.4 sec. However, the Alfa Romeo team were not too happy as two of their cars broke the front, suspension and another broke in unofficial practice so a wire cable “safety device” was fitted for the race to catch the hub and stop it breaking away completely! Also the gear-change mechanism was not all that could be desired. Apart from these troubles they were certainly going fast.

All the week the weather was superb and Sunday was no exception, the sun burning down on the 72-kilometre Sicilian mountain circuit making it very warm work for the drivers, especially those in the works coupés. Racing the Targa Florio does not call for ”aerodrome type” driving, on the limit of adhesion and with scientific exactitude but calls for sufficient speed and stamina to stay ahead of the opposition and above all else the ability to stay on the road and not make too many mistakes or break the machinery. It is a driving challenge rather than a racing challenge and you cannot see the opposition for it may have started 20 or 40 seconds ahead of you, or the same distance behind you. A driver just has to drive as hard and safely as he can, especially in the opening laps. Providing neither driver did anything silly it looked a foregone conclusion for the P4 Ferrari and all round the circuit there was wild enthusiasm for the local star Nino Vaccarella and everywhere were signs saying “Viva la P4.” It was Vaccarella who led on the opening lap, followed by Mitter (8-cylinder Porsche) and Muller (Ferrari P3/4), but on the second lap there was a gentle “crunch” right in the middle of the village of Collesano as the P4 slid into a low stone wall on a 25-30,m.p.h. hairpin and broke both off-side wheels and the front suspension. Vaccarella had “goofed” and you could almost feel the hush that fell over the circuit as the locals realised their hero was out of the race before it had really started. Little Herbert Muller from Switzerland, who won last year, took the lead on lap 2 with a record lap in 37 min. 09 sec., for Mitter’s 8-cylinder Porsche also failed to complete the second lap, ending up in a ditch. In the 2-litre class the situation was no better, for Klass led de Adamich by one second, but his enthusiasm also got the better of him and he struck the end of a bridge on the second lap.

Just as it was getting under way the race seemed to have fallen apart at the seams with three of the top runners derelict by the roadside. The Herrmann/Siffert 8-cylinder Porsche was in trouble with its gear-change and Hawkins was not really in his stride with the third 8-cylinder car. The 2-litre Porsches could not match the pace being set by de Adamich and the Alfa Romeo 33, and Phil Hill was being careful with the Chaparral as the team only have two cars in Europe and cannot afford to bend one before Le Mans. Muller continued to dominate the race until he handed over to Guichet, but meanwhile Hawkins was under way and had caught the leading Alfa Romeo but Cella was not far behind. On the third lap Bonnier had suffered a suspension breakage, as expected, and he toured back to the pits with the left wheel trailing and “Nanni Galli” was in trouble with misfiring on his Alfa Romeo. After the two drivers had each done a lap the Lola broke its Hewland gearbox and had been having oil surge problems so it was withdrawn and the standard M.G.-B was off the road. With Guichet not going as fast as Muller in the leading Ferrari, and Stommelen keeping up the pace that Hawkins had set, the 8-cylinder Porsche was closing on the P3/4 Ferrari and equally there were changes in the 2-litre class, for Schutz had taken over from Maglioli and was gaining on the leading Alfa Romeo as Rolland was not lapping as quick as de Adamich. The rest of the runners in the 2-litre class were having a hard time keeping up within 10% of the leaders and in the other classes entries were so small that it was a question of the survival of the fittest. The Ford France GT40 of Schlesser/Ligier retired when the former bent the front suspension on a rock, leaving the class to their second car driven by Greder/Giorgi. Journalist and Goodyear P.R.O. man Cahier and ski-champion Killy were leading their GT class with a 911S after the Buchet/Garant 911S Porsche dropped out and Maglioli’s young brother was leading the all-Lancia Fulvia GT class.

By the time Muller got back into the Filipinetti Ferrari, it was behind the Stommelen/Hawkins Porsche, and equally Schutz was ahead of Rolland, but Muller had not completed his seventh lap when their was a horrid grinding from the ZF gearbox/axle unit and he limped back to the pits to retire, leaving the 8-cylinder Porsche in the lead. The 2-litre Porsche and 2-litre Alfa Romeo made routine stops but both broke down on the eighth lap, the Italian car with broken front suspension and the German car with a suspected broken gearbox, so now the other two Porsches took over second and third places and the Chaparral was a slow fourth. At least it was still all in one piece, but on its ninth lap Sharp, who was driving, felt it begin to weave about when a rear tyre picked up something off the road and began to deflate. By the time he had stopped the tyre was a mangled mess and as the spare was for the front and not interchangeable he could do nothing but retire from the race. The third of the Alfa Romeos went off the the road with Todaro at the wheel, and the fourth one was spitting and banging its way round with something wrong in the ignition system.

Porsche were now in full command in the first three places, having been challenged on all fronts but having beaten the opposition down, and in fourth place was the old Dino Ferrari of Williams/Venturi, the last of the Maranello hopes. Hawkins was driving the last four laps in the leading car and was beginning to suffer from the noise and the heat and was losing concentration, but a violent bout of sickness made him feel better and he completed the tenth lap of the Targa Florio to win by 1 1/2 kilometres, having eased up considerably on the last lap, having plenty in hand. His co-driver, young Rolf Stommelen had driven laps 4, 5 and 6, splendidly on his first time out in a really fast works car. In third place was Neerpasch and Elford, the Rally driver taking part in his first serious motor race and making a fine impression, as he has been doing in small-time saloon car racing with a Porsche 911.

It had been a Porsche day all round and the local populace streamed down off the mountains still rather bewildered at Vaccarella making such a silly mistake, but the feeling all over was that there was always next year. The Alfa Romeo 33 team had made a very good impression in their first European race and no doubt Porsche will be keeping a wary eye on the red cars from Milan. Another Targa Florio was over and everyone was hot and dusty, weary and tired, but it is always worthwhile and everyone will be back in 1968 for the 52nd Targa Florio. – D. S. J.