Alfa Romeo challenge strongly
Cerda, Sicily, May 5th
When the Alfa Romeo team withdrew from the Monza 1,000-kilometre race it was clear that they were putting all their efforts into the Targa Florio, with every intention of challenging the Porsche team, and taking on the role normally occupied by Ferrari. Even before practice this feeling was strong on the island of Sicily, and on the Friday before the race the official practice saw Alfa Romeo in third place behind two Porsches in the 3-litre class and comfortably heading the works Porsche in the 2-litre class. Sicily seemed very strange without the scream of 12-cylinder Ferrari prototype engines, but the red Alfa Romeos made up in colour, if not in noise, so that local partisan enthusiasm was strong, especially as Vaccarella was driving for Alfa Romeo, although much allegiance was torn, for Scarfiotti was driving for Porsche. On the first lap of practice Scarfiotti, in a 2.2-litre Porsche 8-cylinder, caught up with Vaccarella in the 2½-litre V8 Alfa Romeo and in the ensuing patriotic dust-up the Porsche went off the road and was completely ruined, luckily without injury to Scarfiotti. The Porsche team had a spare car that had been used all week as a practice car by all the drivers, so that was tidied up and fitted with a new engine and replaced the wrecked car on race day.
Although race day was fine and sunny a strong wind was blowing down off the mountains and across the sea-level straight, which made 160 m.p.h. on the narrow road decidedly tricky, but did not trouble the cars anywhere else. Of the 67 cars in the starting list all but one were lined up on Sunday morning at 8 a.m., the missing one being a 910 Porsche driven by local drivers, which crashed in practice and was beyond immediate repair. As is traditional in the Targa Florio the cars left at 20-second intervals, the smaller and slower ones first, the larger and faster ones last, and a row of ten Zagato Lancia Fulvia coupés set off at 8 a.m., all driven by Italian drivers. These were followed by a mixed group of old and new Alfa Romeos, a 1600 Porsche and two Fiat 124 Spiders, all in the 1,600-c.c. GT category. The 2-litre GT class consisted of six 911 Porsches driven by a mixture of Italian, Swiss and French drivers, and would have been a very easy class for a pair of good British club drivers to win. Two 1,000-c.c. Abarths went next, one driven by Calascibetta, a Sicilian who would take a lot of beating by British amateur drivers, and then went a row of 1,300-c.c. Abarths, among them a standard Group 4 Austin Healey Sprite, entered by Healey and driven by Aaltonen, with Clive Baker in the pits to take the second driving stint. Among the Abarth drivers was Virgilio, another Sicilian, who would take some beating on his home ground. Two old, but still incredibly noisy, GTZ Alfa Romeos followed and then the “up-to-5-litre” Group 4 class started to leave, the time being 12 minutes past 8 a.m. The Porsche Carrera Six of von Wendt looked incredibly fast after the small cars, and he was followed by Hopkirk in the B.M.C.-entered M.G.-B GT coupé, Drury in his GT40 Ford, repaired after its Monza accident and resprayed white by a local paintshop, Piper in Vestey’s Ferrari LM and Worswick in his Austin Healey 3000. A mixed bag of five cars took off in the 1,000 c.c. Prototype class, among them Wheeler in his Austin Healey Sprite Special, with Lotus Elan front and rear suspension, dry-sump B.M.C. Formula Three engine, with down-draught inlet ports and twin horizontal Weber carburetters. In this group was a Mini-Cooper Special with the engine at the rear that was so much like a Unipower that Andrew Hedges was trying hard not to look.
Now the more serious competitors were beginning, with the start of the 2-litre Prototype class, which contained 14 cars, among them a possible outright winner of the 52nd Targa Florio if the over-2-litre cars ran into trouble. The Swiss-based Piccionaia Racing Team had two Porsche 910 cars, driven by Nicodemi/Facetti and Alberti/Marchesi, and the Belgian V.D.S. team had two Alfa Romeo “33” cars driven by Pilette/Slotemaker and Trosch/Gosselin. There were two works Landis Zagato 1401 coupés with an extra transfer box in the transmission operating on the upper three ratios of the normal 4-speed gearbox, giving a choice of seven speeds in effect, but, in fact, being used as a low set for the mountains and a high set for the long fast sea-level straight, the change being effected by an extra lever on the cockpit floor; these were driven by young Maglioli and Crosina and Munari/Pinto. A rally-type works Lancia 1401 coupé was driven by Pat Moss and Signorina Facetti, and there was the J.C.B.-entered yellow and red M.G.-B of Brown/Fall, the drab-green Nomad of Konig/Lanfranchi and a smart red Dino Ferrari of two Swedish club drivers. Excitement rose as the first Autodelta works Alfa Romeo “33” set off driven by Baghetti, followed by Ignazio Giunti in a similar car and a little later Lucien Bianchi in the third car. These were all 1968 cars with rear-mounted radiators, but they had the oil radiators mounted in the nose for this race, with a duct sunk into the top of the body panel, the hot air escaping out through the front wheel arches. Since last year the suspension members were completely redesigned and from previous testing and official practice they all seemed strong enough to combat the Sicilian roads. The springs and shock-absorbers had all been stiffened considerably so that, although they did not have much in the way of suspension by circuit-racing standards, they were very controllable and predictable on the bumpy Targa Florio course, Giunti having got round in 38 min. 03 sec., a bare minute off the lap record, and faster than any 2-litre Porsche, even the works 910 driven by Steinemann/Lins, the car that finished ninth in the B.O.A.C. 500.
All the foregoing cars had left at regular 20-second intervals, and now there was a five-minute break before the five over-2-litre Prototypes started, with Vaccarella on the line in an Alfa Romeo “33” with 2½-litre V8 engine like the one used in Tasman racing by Gardner. Unquestionably hot favourite with the crowds, Vaccarella stormed away at 8.25 a.m. and 20 sec., intent on not making a nonsense like he did last year in the Prototype Ferrari. Hardly had the sound of the 2½-litre Alfa Romeo gone than Herrmann was away in the first of the 937 Porsches, with 2.2-litre 8-cylinder engine and short-tailed body, the nose painted blue for recognition. Next away was Elford in a similar car, with yellow front, but with a hole cut in the roof to allow room for his co-driver Umberto Maglioli to get in the tiny cockpit without his crash-hat touching the top. Then Siffert was away in another Porsche, green-fronted, and finally Scarfiotti in an orange-fronted 907, this being the rehashed practice car, and after that all was relatively quiet around the pits apart from the strong, hot wind that had torn down flags and banners and was blowing paper and hats about and making things very uncomfortable for the pit crews. The Porsche people sat quietly at one end listening-in on their short-wave radio to their post at Polizzi, up in the mountains, hallway round the 72-kilometre lap, while Alfa Romeo were at the other end hoping that all their pre-race efforts were going to show some reward. Little did Porsche know that at that very moment Elford, their fastest runner in practice, was in trouble, for just after Cerda village, a few miles from the start, the centre-lock nut on the right rear wheel had come undone and the wheel had slid off the driving pins, just as had happened to Bradley at Monza. He stopped and tightened it up with the huge socket spanner carried in the nose of the car with the spare wheel and carried on to Polizzi, where he stopped to have a new nut fitted. But Porsche troubles were far from over.
The Zagato Lancia of Giacomini/Barbasio was the first to complete lap one, having started half-way down its class, and then cars came through in quick succession, none of the British club drivers really being in the running in their various classes. The Austrian driver, Rudi Lins, in the works 2-litre 910 Porsche was leading the 2-litre class with a standing lap in 38 min. 41.1 sec., and he was 11 seconds ahead of Giunti in the first Alfa Romeo. Vaccarella was well up with a lap in 37 min. 29 sec., but Scarfiotti had caught up and with a lap in 37 min. 07.6 sec. was leading the Alfa Romeo by 22 seconds on time, though still behind on the road, having started 1 min. 20 sec. after it. Behind them all Elford was in more trouble with the same hub nut coming loose again, this time with disastrous results, for it happened on a fast bend and the sudden loss of drive sent the car all over the road and it struck a rock with the right-hand front wheel and burst the tyre. A lot of people would have given up then, but not Elford; he tightened the nut again, fitted the spare wheel, threw the tools in the passenger seat and charged off again. Little did he know that he was not alone with his Porsche troubles, for Siffert had the outer taper-roller race on the right-hand front stub axle seize-up and mangle itself to pieces, and he arrived at the pits with everything blue and smoking. Mechanics set to work to change the complete upright and stub assembly. Elford arrived in a great flurry while they were working, hot and sweaty and somewhat irritable, had a new front wheel fitted, a new spare inserted in the nose, all the nuts tightened with the compressed-air impact-spanner, the fuel tank topped up, and he then roared away some 18 minutes down on schedule but determined to set up a new lap record even if there was no hope of winning the race.
On the second lap Scarfiotti increased his lead over Vaccarella to 28.3 seconds, but Giunti upheld Autodelta honours by taking the lead in the 2-litre class, by a slender three seconds over the works 910 Porsche, and with Siffert and Elford delayed this put the Alfa Romeo third overall. Piper arrived late at the end of the first lap, the throttle cable on the Ferrari LM having broken, and lost a lot of time while it was repaired. He eventually set off on his second lap, but, just after half-way round, the steering came adrift on a very fast bend and the Ferrari shot off down the hillside, end over end, coming to rest with a very battered and bruised David Piper inside, luckily with no serious damage; but this could not be said of Vestey’s blue Ferrari. Herrmann was not feeling happy with the steering on his Porsche 907 and had dropped down to fourth place, behind Lins, so the order after two laps was Porsche 907, Alfa Romeo 2500, Alfa Romeo 2-litre, Porsche 910 and Porsche 907, and before the start a lot of people had expected the four 907 Porsches to cruise round in formation!
On the third lap Vaccarella gained ground slightly and was only 20 seconds behind Scarfiotti, and before starting the fourth lap both cars stopped to refuel and change drivers, as did most of the other fast cars. Giunti handed over to “Nanni” Galli; Lins to Steinemann; Baghetti to Biscaldi; Bianchi to Casoni; Pitette to Slotemaker, and all were away with full tanks and racing as hard as ever. Vaccarella brought the 2500 Alfa Romeo in, the tanks were filled, and Udo Schutz roared away into the mountains, and Scarfiotti handed over to Mutter, gaining a few more seconds by the Porsche mechanics’ faster refuelling. Having filled the tanks on his emergency stop, Elford went straight through on his third lap and that constituted a shattering all-time lap record in 36 min. 02.3 sec., an average of 119.872 k.p.h., taking almost a minute off the old lap record. He still could not see any hope of really featuring in the race, but pressed on anyway, and on the fourth lap the whole situation changed. Only 14 kilometres after leaving the pits poor Schutz lost control on some loose gravel and slid into a wall and wrecked the Alfa Romeo; Elford had experienced a big hairy moment on this self-same corner, the only one that had really broken up badly, during his record lap, and Vaccarella had not warned Schutz about it. Hardly had the groans of the Alfa Romeo fans died down, than cheers went up, for it was reported that Mitter in the leading Porsche had stopped near Caltavuturo and was looking at the transmission. He got going again and stopped at Polizzi to report that the right-hand drive-shaft rubber “doughnut” had split, and as he set off again the Porsche radio alerted the pits, who got a complete new drive-shaft ready to fit. As the Porsche came into the pits and work started on changing the shaft it was still leading the race on time, but as the work proceeded and the minutes ticked by the Alfa Romeo “33” of Galli/Giunti was well away on its fifth lap, but still five minutes behind the stationary Porsche.
Elford stopped at the end of four laps, his shattering pace having got the car up to seventh place overall, and Maglioli set off with every hope now of figuring in the results thanks to the trouble the leaders had been having. Neerpasch had taken over the badly steering Porsche from Herrmann, but they were only just holding the pace of the 2-litre Porsche of Steinemann/Lins. The Porsche drive-shaft was changed and Mitter was back in the race, and during the fifth lap regained on the 2-litre Alfa Romeo most of the lost time in the pits so that at the end of the lap he was just over three minutes ahead. The Alfa Romeo had actually gone into the lead during the fifth lap for a short time, only to lose it when Mitter got going again. On time, at the end of five laps, which was half-distance, the Scarfiotti/Mitter Porsche 907 was leading the Galli/Giunti Alfa Romeo by 3 min. 09 sec., followed by the Casoni/Bianchi Alfa Romeo “33,” the Herrmann/Neerpasch Porsche 907, the Steinemann/Lins Porsche 910, slowed by an inoperative self-locking differential, the Baghetti/Biscaldi Alfa Romeo “33” and the Elford/Maglioli Porsche 907. Although this was the situation on time it was not in fact, for the leading Porsche came into the pits at the end of five laps, instead of going on by. The front brakes were sticking on and the engine was losing power, for the broken drive-shaft had flattened one of the tail pipes. A quick fiddling down by the pedals cured the sticking front brakes, and then the tail-pipe assembly was removed and a new one put on. While the old one came off easily enough, the hot pipes from the engine had expanded and it took a long time to get the new tail pipes on, the minutes ticking away and the slender lead being lost to the Galli/Giunti Alfa Romeo, and then second place to the Bianchi/Casoni Alfa Romeo; at which announcement a great roar of approval went up from the crowds. Alfa Romeo were first and second overall in the Targa Florio and “Nanni” Galli was hurling the car through the mountains, more than Alfa Romeo being at stake, he was upholding Italian racing honour against the might of the German Porsche team. Eventually the Porsche exhaust was fitted and Scarfiotti went back into the race, but the flattened pipe had caused overheating and soon after starting the seventh lap the engine succumbed shortly before Cerda village. All Porsche hopes now rested on the Elford/Maglioli car, which had refuelled after seven laps, and Elford was away to drive the last three laps. Due to refuelling stops the Casoni/Bianchi car led momentarily from Galli/Giunti, with Herrmann/Neerpasch third and Elford fourth now only 2½ minutes behind the leader and with three laps ahead of him. When Bianchi took over from Casoni the Alfa Romeo’s oil pressure was sinking fast and Giunti soon got back in the lead again, but Elford was catching at such a rate that victory was in sight no matter how hard the young Italian tried, and he was putting all he had into his driving, the Alfa Romeo standing up well.
Elford reeled off two remarkably consistent laps, within two seconds of each other on this tortuous 72-kilometre circuit and before the end of lap 9 he was in the lead, much to Porsche’s relief; Herrmann could not keep up with the two Alfa Romeos and the Siffert/Stommelen car, although going well, was much too far back to challenge. Alfa Romeo were well content to be holding second and third places, even though Bianchi was having an anxious time with the falling oil pressure. It was now all over, Elford completed his last lap without trouble and seemed almost incredulous at winning, having driven seven laps, while Maglioli had kept up the pressure on his three laps. The Porsche 910 of Steinemann/Lins had started its last lap, secure in third place, ahead of the ailing Alfa Romeo, only to have a driveshaft break, the lack of a self-locking differential giving the drive-shafts a hard time on the hairpins with furious wheelspin on the inside wheel. Herrmann stopped at the pits before beginning the last lap as he was sure the steering mechanism was falling off, but nothing could be found amiss so he went on, and during the last lap Siffert had an electrical bonfire behind the instrument panel and after stopping to tear off hot wires he finished the 10th lap very late.
Porsche solidarity and reliability was conspicuous by its absence once again and Alfa Romeo were able to put up quite a serious challenge, profiting from the Porsche troubles, so that the 52nd Targa Florio on the 72-kilometre Madonie mountain circuit lived up to its long reputation of being a motor race against the conditions rather than against mechanical opposition.
Of the British entries the Nomad was still running at the end, a long way back, having been delayed by a bolt coming out of the gearchange linkage just after starting a lap, so that Lanfranchi had to struggle the whole way round stuck in 3rd gear. The special Sprite of Wheeler had the Elan rear suspension mounting break up, the works Sprite was going well and Baker actually caught and passed the works MG.-B, but then had the engine seize-up, and the yellow M.G.-B went off the road when Fall was driving and broke its gearbox mounting. He got the spectators to get the car back on the road, returned to the pits, a repair was made, and the car was still running at the end. Worswick and Bond kept the Austin-Healey 3000 going, to finish 29th overall, but Drury’s Ford stopped out on the circuit while Sanger was driving it. Hedges and Hopkirk finished well up with the M.G.-B from the B.M.C. Competition department, but Pat Moss and her Italian lady co-driver were delayed by having to stop nearly every lap for water, as the head gasket was leaking.—D. S. J.