A Porsche Monopoly
The Targa Florio is not so much a race as a state of mind and a drive down through Southern Italy and along the fantastic northern coast road of Sicily puts you well into the atmosphere that can only be Targa Florio. No matter how quietly you leave Messina, heading west for Palermo, the mountain roads soon get into your blood, as does the approaching awareness of the Targa Florio, and if you do not get involved in a hair-raising dice with a local “sporty boy”, which is hard to avoid, the mere nature of the road tends to lead you on until tyres are screaming and rock walls are getting perilously close. The pre-race centre of the Targa Florio used to be Palermo, but with increasing chaos in the city traffic the organisation moved out to Cefalu, a few miles from the Circuit of the Madonie where the race is held. Known as the Little Circuit of the Madonie, it is 72 kilometres (44 miles) to the lap, and not to be confused with the real Circuit of the Madonie, on which the race used to be held in early days, which was many times longer. Official practice is held on the Friday before the race, allowing all day Saturday to prepare for the 10-lap event, which takes more than six hours to run, but most drivers are out during the days before practice, trying to learn the way round, trying out their cars and generally getting into the spirit of the Targa Florio.
Alter the usual dice from Messina I arrived in Cefalu amidst the biggest confusion imaginable. There were factory Porsches and private Porsches everywhere, the Dunlop Service trucks were surrounded by people and tyres, practically every car seemed to be carrying a racing number, the sun was shining, the flowers were in full bloom, local farmers were still riding on donkeys or mules, Redman was just setting off in the “hack” factory Porsche 908 for an unofficial lap of the circuit, Porsche 911 coupés were blazing away up the road, and in the midst of it all the local bus was trying to turn a sharp corner and had become completely wedged among the casually parked cars, and the driver was hooting away furiously on his two-tone vacuum horn. I parked my rather hot and breathless Lotus Europa and smiled happily; it was Targa Florio time. The only thing missing was the shrill scream of a Prototype Ferrari going up the road, for Maranello were giving the race a miss, due to the Monza 1,000-kilometre race and the Spa 1,000-kilometre race being in close proximity to the Targa Florio, one immediately before and the other immediately afterwards.
Porsche entered one of the largest factory teams ever seen, with six open two-seater 908 models, with flat eight-cylinder 3-litre engines, and in addition to all the official factory drivers, with the exception of Siffert, who was in Barcelona at the Spanish G.P., they co-opted numerous Porsche drivers from among their racing customers. The factory drivers were Mitter/Schutz, Redman/Attwood, Herrmann/Stommelen, and last year’s winners, Elford/Maglioli. The two German drivers, von Wendt and Kaushen, who have been doing good work for the Porsche name in racing over the past two years, were given the fifth 908 and the sixth was driven by Larousse, the Frenchman, and Lins, the Austrian Porsche privateer. In addition the factory were running a 911R for Spoerry/Toivonen, this being a racing version of the 911 Group 3 car. The only opposition to Porsche for an outright victory was a lone 2½-litre Alfa Romeo 33 from Autodelta, driven by Vaccarella/de Adamich. Backing up the factory Porsche team were two private 2.2-litre 907 coupés, one the Manfredini/Selva car, that had blown up its 2-litre engine in the Monza 1,000 kilometres, and the other the car of Koch/Dechent.
The 2-litre category had a varied and interesting entry of 13 cars, the best of which could easily figure high in the overall results. Top of the list were Nicodemi/Jonathan Williams with a 2-litre eight-cylinder 907 Porsche, Pinto, E./Alberti with a private Alfa Romeo 33, and Spoerry/Toivonen with the 911R Porsche. Mark Konig’s two Nomad-B.R.M. V8 cars, the original coupé with 1½-litre B.R.M. engine for Baker/Jackson, and the very neat open car with 2-litre B.R.M. engine for himself and his wife, were entered and the works Lancia team entered two riotous-looking 1.6-litre Fulvias with the tops cut off and tiny aeroscreens, for young Maglioli/Pinto, R., and Munari/Aaltonen. There was a yellow Unipower for Hedges/Forester, the much-modified Austin-Healey Special, with cross-flow B.M.C. engine of Wheeler/Davidson, a Ferrari Dino, an Alfa Romeo TZ2, an Abarth and a French device called a Fournier-Merc powered by a Gordini-Renault engine.
All the Group 4 cars over 1,600 c.c, were lumped together and the class contained the Scuderia Filipinetti Lola T70 for Bonnier/Muller, the two Chevron-B.M.W.s of Enever/Brown and Clydesdale/Berney, a production Alfa Romeo 33 from Autodelta for Giunti/Galli, who drove so well last year, a similar car belonging to Zadra, an Abarth 2-litre of the German I.G.F.A. team driven by Bitter/Kelleners, an old Porsche Carrera Six, a Simca-Abarth and a Porsche 910. The smaller cars and GT cars were mostly driven by locals, but among them were Beding/Capell with an Austin-Healey Sprite, Markey/Martin with a Nathan-Imp, Smith/Faure with a Triumph TR 2½-litre, Margulies/Mackie with a Porsche 911, and most of the good European Porsche 911 drivers.
Practice day was very hot, the Sicilian sun blazing down from a clear blue sky, and everybody was away smartly for one lap, the co-drivers doing the second lap, and then activity faded a hit as the sun rose to midday. As can be imagined, it is not possible to let 83 cars loose on the 72-kilometre circuit without some damage being done. There had already been some during the preceding week and Spartico Dino had written-off the Alfa Romeo 33 he should have been sharing with Casoni in the Autodelta team. Before lunch on Friday Jackson had crashed the Mk. I Nomad-B.R.M. beyond repair, “Nomex” had crashed his orange Porsche 910, Redman had flown off the road in a works 908 Porsche and Elford had crashed the training 908. Elford had just done a fast lap with Dunlop tyres on the training car and changed to Firestones for a second lap, when he lost control on some loose gravel and struck a guard-rail very forcibly. Porsche settled on Dunlop tyres for all their cars for the race. Practice lap times are not significant as the entry start in race-number order and this year the order was being reversed, with the fast cars going first instead of last.
There was ample time before the early Sunday morning start to mend those cars which could be mended and put right any faults that had shown up in practice. The first Nomad could not be repaired, nor could the Porsche of “Nomex” or the Alfa Romeo of Dini, so his partner, Casoni, was put in with Zadra on his private Alfa Romeo 33. For the first time ever Dr. Ferry Porsche was visiting the Targa Florio and he was given the honour of starting the first car, which should have been the 907 of Manfredini/Selva, but things got a bit chaotic at the start and by some strange decision the first car away was the 2½-litre Alfa Romeo of Vaccarella! Pits and starting line being almost the same no matter what the circuit, I opted to watch the race from Collesano, the first village on the descent from the half-way point at the Polizzi fork. It was another blazing hot day, even at 8 a.m., as we waited in the forecourt of the Agip petrol station at the end of the village, on a sharp left-hand bend. The start should have been at 8 a.m., which meant the first car would be at Collesano about 8.30 a.m., and at 8.25 a.m. everyone was tense and ready for the first sound of a racing engine in the surrounding mountains. At 8.35 a.m. there was a feeling of anxiety until someone produced a portable radio and we heard that the start had been delayed until 8.25 a.m. and that Vaccarella had been first away. Everything was very peaceful until 8.53 a.m. when we heard an eight-cylinder Porsche charging down the mountain-side, heading for the village. The engine note rose and fell as the car negotiated the sharp bends into the village, and the police waved everyone back from the edge of the road. At 8.54 a.m. a Porsche Spyder with blue recognition marks on the nose burst into view from the main street and came through the left-right-left swerves towards the filling station at an alarming rate. It was Elford, and he took “our” left-hand bend in a full-opposite-lock power slide and was gone. Ten seconds later came Mitter, then Stommelen and over a minute after Elford had gone came Vaccarella, followed by Attwood. The 53rd Targa Florio was well and truly on for Collesano and car after car swept through the ess-bends out of the village. Giulia was so far ahead of his class it was ridiculous and Pinto was leading Williams in the 2-litre Group 6 class. The f.w.d. Lancia Fulvia open two-seater looked terribly wild, the Chevrons neat, and Mackie was third among the Porsche 911 group, but his front lid was open. Seventy-seven cars went through Collesano, ranging from factory Porsches to an 850 Fiat coupé, so it was no surprise that the whole village was bubbling with excitement and people had come from all over the island, as well as far away countries, to see the Targa Florio.
There had been no sign of the Swiss driver Haldi in his Porsche 911, nor the lone GTB Ferrari or the Unipower. I learnt later that the Unipower had an accident on the way to the start, the Ferrari was so slow it was baulking the 911 Porsches and got firmly pushed off the road, and Haldi deposited all his oil on a particularly bad bend which caused havoc among the 911 Porsches, during which Mackie smote a bank, which was why his front boot lid was open. Elford still led on the road on the second time through Collesano, but the Mitter/Schutz Porsche was two seconds closer this time, and leading the race. Muller came through in the big Lola with his left rear tyre flat, and looked as though he was hoping to get back to the pits on the alloy rim. We all craned our necks to watch him out of sight through the trees, and wondered how far he would get. The 911 Porsche of Bonomelli had had an almighty accident, with the imprint of a tree dead centre between the headlamps, but it was motoring as well as ever. On the first lap Konig in the Nomad had the little special Sprite of Davidson right on his tail, it having caught up, but on the second lap the Sprite was overdue and arrived very late, rushing into the Agip station in a cloud of steam. Water was produced and poured everywhere, but the engine was cooked, and, though the little greencar disappeared among encouraging cries from the populace, it was only to be seen once more. Just after 10 a.m. Elford was due for the third time round, and a Porsche engine was heard, but it was the red-fronted one of Mitter/Schutz that appeared, running hard and purposefully, but not wildly. It was followed by the all-white car of Herrmann/Stommelen, with the latter at the wheel, and then came Giunti in the Group 4 Alfa Romeo 33, now third on the road but second overall. Not only had he passed Vaccarella but he had outdistanced him, the 2½-litre V8 Alfa Romeo not running as it should. Vaccarella had been the local hero, but now it was Giunti; an Alfa Romeo in second place was something to shout about, and the inhabitants of Collesano and their friends shouted. Redman was seen to have taken over from Attwood, and then Elford appeared, going like the devil himself. Apparently a fan belt had broken (again!) and delayed him at the pits. Williams had got the lead of the 2-litre Prototype class, but he was not in sight of Giunti with the production Alfa Romeo 33. The bent 911 Porsche was now leading the GT category, and a very bent Ferrari GTB made one slow and disconsolate passage of Collesano, never to be seen again. To everyone’s astonishment the Lola came by again, now on four inflated tyres, but a roadster Fiat had given up and was cruising back to the pits with a driver from a retired car in the passenger seat.
At 10.43 a.m., the leading Porsche appeared for the fourth time, and it was seen that Schutz was driving, while Herrmann had taken over the second place car. Galli was now driving the 2-litre Alfa Romeo, but he was a long way back, and no longer second, and was behind the 2½-litre Alfa Romeo now driven by de Adamich. The reason for this we discovered later. After the pit-stops Elford had caught up with Galli, but could not find room to get by; after a few suggestive nudges Galli still did not give way (and why should he, the car was second overall?), so Elford gave the Alfa Romeo a big nudge on a hairpin and both cars spun! The Porsche got away first and charged on ahead, leaving Galli with a damaged rear suspension that caused his retirement on the next lap. The yellow Chevron of Brown/Enever was going nicely, lying second in the Group 4 category, but the blue Chevron of Clydesdale/Berney was minus the right-front mudguard, where it had had an argument with a spectator’s car. By the fifth time round Schutz was well and truly in the lead, for Herrmann was not keeping pace with him, and Elford had stopped to hand over to Maglioli, so Redman was third. Williams had already handed over the 2-litre 907 Porsche to the owner, but Nicodemi did not appear on the fifth lap! Half the field had been lapped by now, and the idea of starting the fast cars first was not good from the spectators’ point of view, as it made it more difficult to assess drivers’ progress. By this time I had moved into the village, to the sharp right-hand bend at the bottom of the main street, and suddenly there was the most awful noise of grinding metal. The green Nomad-B.R.M. hove into view, driven by Mrs. Konig, and as it passed I could see the left-front wheel lying horizontal to the ground, the tyre in ribbons and only the lower wishbone connecting the wheel to the car! Looking very unconcerned the driver just drove on! We were all certain she would stop at the Agip station, but she just drove on out of sight, making the most awful noises. There was great speculation among the locals as to where she thought she was going and why.
Porsche were now 1-2-3, with the lone works Alfa Romeo in fourth place, though it was soon to retire with a sick engine. Barring incidents it was all over, for no one was gaining on anyone and the field was spreading out. In the various classes it was not so cut-and-dried and the issue was very much wide open, especially in the Porsche 911 group, and the Lancia Fulvia group. The Bonomelli/Guzzi 911 and that of Ostini/”Nomex” were very much locked in combat, every second still counting, while three of the Fulvias were battling for the 1300 GT class. By the ninth time round I had moved up into the square at the top of the main street, where a large crowd of spectators were gathered, and the leading Porsche went by at 1.47 p.m. Five minutes later Elford arrived, having taken over from Maglioli for the last two laps, and the Porsche was completely out of control and heading for the straw bales. By the time Elford had regained control the populace were about three feet off the ground and still going up, yours truly amongst them. When we came down the Porsche was gone, unscathed and still in second place. There were now only five cars on the same lap, four works Porsches and the Alfa Romeo of Pinto/Alberti, for Attwood had gone off the road and the last of the works Porsches was not keeping up the pace, this being driven by Larousse/Lins.
The select five went by for the last time, Elford now just over three minutes down on Miner, and, as we ticked off the finishers who were heading for the end of their ninth lap, the yellow J.C.B. Ltd. Chevron went by trailing oil, which unbeknown to driver Enever was getting on his rear tyres. He got to the end of the High Street, ten minutes from the finish and second in his class, when the Chevron Spun and clipped a tree with its tail, knocking off a rear light and the exhaust pipe. With its oil all over the street the Chevron’s race was finished and it was pushed on to the footpath, but the eight laps it had covered were sufficient to qualify. After the last cars had gone through we waited for the police radio cars to give the all-clear for opening the roads and while waiting Nicodemi arrived in a spectator’s car, still fuming about “the English woman” who had pushed him into a guard rail and bent the rear end of his 907. He was not worried about the damage, that could be repaired, but at the time he was leading the 2-litre Prototype class and would have finished fifth overall. “Where was she going?” he screamed, “with the front wheel hanging off like that. The car was broken, why didn’t she stop?”
Finally the roads were opened and we drove the reverse direction of the circuit, which is always interesting. Above Collesano we found the Nicodemi/Williams Porsche just as the owner had described; at Polizzi we saw the Wheeler/Davidson Sprite Special, still almost incandescent, and the Faure/Smith Triumph TR with a big dent in the passenger’s side; a 1,300 c.c. Abarth was being towed home, as was the Nathan-Imp, and below Polizzi we came upon the charred remains of what once had been the Alfa Romeo 33 of Zadra, for Casoni had clipped a tree and spun into the bank, the car breaking in two and catching fire, he luckily being thrown clear with superficial injuries. On a lonely hillside the Fournier-Merc was awaiting collection, as was the Sprite of Beding/Capell, which had obviously been over on its roof. The works 911R was abandoned by the roadside with the engine compartment very burnt, and then we got to Cerda and the biggest traffic jam imaginable. It was so enormous that we turned round and retraced our steps, deeming 40 miles of mountain road to be preferable to a traffic jam that made Silverstone or Brands Hatch traffic seem like a picnic. Even without the Ferrari team or any great names the Targa Florio remains popular. It may have been a Porsche benefit, but it was still the Targa Florio, and every pair of drivers among the 53 cars that finished went home with tales of woe and excitement that would take a season to accumulate in normal short-circuit racing. You can nibble away at the odd corner, or resurface bits of road here and there, but the circuit of the Madonie will always be there to challenge the strongest car and the bravest driver.—D. S. J.
The Vaccarella/de Adamich Alfa Romeo was never running right and finally gave up with engine trouble.
* * *
Elford made a new record lap in 35 min. 08.2 sec., timed officially, but in fact did well under 35 min. on the lap after he left the pits when he stopped for a fan belt. The pits being beyond the time-keeper’s line meant that officially the time of his pit-stop was included in his lap time. It was the flying lap following on which he registered the official record.
* * *
The winner’s race average was a new record, knocking over 21 min. off last year’s race time. A remarkably well-matched pair the two tough German drivers.
* * *
The 911 of Bonomelli/Guzzi was disqualified after winning the GT category for having non-standard valve gear. They made the mistake of passing the second place 911 on full song on the long straight and it was obviously not a standard 911. You have to be very clever to cheat and win.
In brief, April 2008
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