A Hard-Fought Battle
CEFALU, SICILY, May 3rd
THE PORSCHE factory has won the Targa Florio for the last five years as well as five times before that, but not consecutively, and to many people that would be sufficient, but not for Porsche. This time they came not only to win hut to pulverise any opposition that might appear and the whole weight of the racing department was thrown into the attack. The subtle niceties of there being no official works Porsche team, but two privately-sponsored teams with works support, went by the board, and although JW Automotive and Porsche Salzburg were the entrants that is as far as the non-works activity went. Everything was pooled in the name of Porsche-Stuttgart and it was a factory onslaught on the Targa Florio that was unsurpassed. They knew that the first half of the circuit from the start to Bivio Polizzi was a mountain hill-climb, and from Polizzi to Campolelice was a mountain hill-climb downhill. Only the straight along the coast back to the start was scientific and aerodynamic. Consequently Porsche concocted a Targa Florio Special. Two years ago they won the European Mountain Hill-climb Championship with a Porsche 909, which was a super lightweight open car, with a 2-litre flat-eight-cylinder engine mounted well forward, with the gearbox situated between the engine and the rear axle. The driver sat so far forward that the steering column was barely 12 inches long, and the front anti-roll bar ran across the car a few inches ahead of the steering wheel. This Special was called the “Bergspyder” and it was highly successful, but was only a 2-litre. Porsche thought “now if we could get a 3-litre 908 engine into that car ?” and thus was born the 908 Mark III, especially for the Targa Florio. The original “Bergspyder” was used to test the idea and taken to Sicily many weeks before the race, for evaluation purposes, a prototype Mark III was built and tested and then four brand-new cars were built for the race. The eight drivers required were taken from all the Porsche-supported activities and three of the cars were accredited to JW Automotive and Gulf, and one to Porsche KG and they were painted in the most beautiful array of colours and designs yet seen in European racing, the main reason being to be able to identify each car from a long way off in the mountains. The team make-up was as follows : Siffert/Redman, car number 12, blue with broad orange arrows on each side of the cockpit, the points down near the buttons of the nose and the tails disappearing into the NACA ducts behind the engine. The nose opening for the oil radiator was green, as was the rear surface of the tail, and there was a Diamond on the right side of the nose. Rodriguez/Kinnunen had a similar Gulf-blue car, but with only one orange arrow, this on the left side and their recognition colour on nose and tail was orange, their motif was a Club and their number was 40. The third blue car was for Attwood/Waldegaard (the rally driver) and had a full-width orange arrowhead right across the nose of the car, the recognition colour being a rich blue and they had drawn Spades and race number 36. The fourth car was driven by Elford/Herrmann and was white with orange stripes across the nose, no recognition colour but their deal was Hearts with race number 20. The remarkable “horses for courses” had super aluminium-tube space frames, the vertical-fan flateight 3-litre 908 engines, the “Bergspyder” gearbox-axle layout and square bodies that almost reached the ground at the front, but left the rear end completely exposed. Aerodynamic “gimmicks” had been discarded in favour of keeping the car small, compact and functional and oddly enough they handled perfectly along the very fast straight. They carried an inflated Goodrich lightweight spare tyre in a compartment on the right of the engine, the mounting being made of fibreglass, and an enormous quick-action lever jack strapped to the rear cross-tube of the chassis, for in the Targa Florio you could get a puncture or a broken wheel a long way from the pits. For official practice and for open-road practice there were the two early cars, the original hill-climb car painted red and the prototype unpainted and by race day they were both looking very second-hand having done a phenomenal amount of work.
That Porsche were out to win was very obvious, hut when you looked around to see who they were going to beat it was not so obvious. Ferrari entered only one car, for Vaccarella/Giunti, more as a sporting gesture to the Sicilians and their number one driver than a serious attempt to win, and this was an open 512S, as raced so well in the Monza 1,000 kilometres. By comparison with the Porsches the 5-litre Ferrari seemed enormous and unlikely to last the pace, an impression that was to prove to be very wrong. In contrast Alfa Romeo were out in force, and were putting enormous efforts into the race, having done a lot of practice and testing earlier in the year. They had three of their Tipo 33-3 cars, with 3-litre V8 engines and they were driven by Courage/de Adamich, Maglioli/Galli and Gregory/Hezemans, with a fourth car as a spare and practice car, as well as a bunch of GTA coupés for the drivers to use for open-road practice. While Porsche and Ferrari were established in Cefalu, Alfa Romeo had commandeered Cerda and were situated right on the edge of the circuit. The Tipo 33-3 cars looked big by the new Stuttgart standards, but at least they were rugged and robust and could prove a challenge on reliability alone. The Abarth factory entered two 3-litre V8,engined cars, both open versions, with Ortner/Merzarto in one and Jonathan Williams/Casoni in the other, and while these cars were not sophisticated like the Porsches, nor powerful like the Ferrari, they showed promise last year at Imola, and its 2-litre form went well in a number of events last year. As a rearguard to all these factory machines were two Porsche 908 Mark II models, open cars with the engine further back in the chassis and the gearbox out behind the axle in normal Porsche style. These were private entries, driven by Lame/van Lennep and Larrousse/Lins, while the Scuderia Filipinetti entered one of their Ferrari 512S coups for Parkes/Muller to drive. That was the total of big cars and potential winners, the rest of the large field being made up of 2-litre sports cars, small sports cars and GT cars, all from private entrants with the exception of the two works Lancia Fulvia entries, the Turin-based team treating the event more as a super-rally than a circuit race.
The race was due to be run on Sunday. May 3rd, and normally official practice would have taken place on the previous Friday, but that was May 1st, which is Labour Day in Italy and a national holiday, so practice was held on Thursday in perfect conditions, For any team that got cracking right away there was sufficient time available to complete five laps, and many did this. Porsche had entered a single 917 car, not with any idea of racing it, but merely to be able to run it in practice for experimental purposes. This was the blue and white car that had raced at Monza, a new engine having been installed, and Elford did a lap in it. Needless to say there were troubles in practice, Casoni crashing his 3-litre Abarth almost immediately after he had left the pits, Hezemans collecting a fiat tyre on his first lap with his Alfa Romeo 33-3, the Dutch driver, van Lennep, having his right front suspension collapse on the yellow 908 and Gregory being pushed off the road by a very pressing Vaccarella, which resulted in a wrecked Alfa Romeo and quite a shouting and yelling match back at the pits, the Alfa having to he replaced by the practice car. No-one was hurt, but no doubt some spectators collapsed from sheer excitement when the Ferrari 512S made its first descent down through Collesano, while the sound of the 5-litre V12 engine on full song at 8,500 r.p.m. along the widened and resurfaced coast straight was memorable and could he heard from five or six miles away.
The lap record for the 44-mile circuit stood to Elford (Porsche 908) in 35 min. 08.2 sec., and during practice Siffert went round in one of the new “Mickey Mouse” Porsches in 34 min. 10.0 sec., every one being confident that the Mark III cars could easily break 34 min. in the race. Elford did a remarkable 35 min. 06.6 sec. with the 917 coupé on its single lap, while Vaccarella was on great form, getting the big Ferrari round in 34 min. 46.0 sec., and Courage was fastest of all the Alfa Romeo drivers on his first visit to the Targa Florio, with 35 min. 05.7 sec. While everyone lasted it was clearly going to be a record-breaking Targa Florio, and this proved to he true in more ways than one. With two clear days between practice and the race most people were well prepared by Saturday evening, but few were prepared for the weather on Saturday night and Sunday morning, especially the thousands of spectators who were camping out in the mountains, for rain and snow came down and the tops of the mountains were completely white. An unbelievable crowd was pouring into the circuit from all over the island, especially from Palermo, and the rain and mud around the circuit was delaying spectators in getting their cars up the grass banks and off the road. Apart from causing a lot of mud to get on the road, the delay was having a disastrous back-log effect on the main road leading to the circuit, which was becoming one enormous traffic jam, made worse by the crowds being larger than ever seen before at a Targa Florio. Undoubtedly the hard fight that Ferrari had put up at Monza the week before, and Vaccarella’s creditable practice times had fired the enthusiasm of the Sicilians, and an estimated 400,000 people were lining the 72-kilometre circuit, massed on the mountain sides like swarming ants.
In order to ensure that the race lasted for more than six hours and thus complied with Championship regulations, the race distance had been increased from 10 laps to 11 laps; a total of 792 kilometres, and was due to start at 8 a.m. with the departure of the Parkes/ Muller Ferrari, followed by the Vaccarella/Giunti factory car, and then the Porsches and Alfa Romeos. As 8 a.m. approached confusion reigned, for the massive traffic jam from Palermo had not only trapped the President of the organising committee and Dr. Luraghi of Alfa Romeo, who was due to start the first car, but also many of the competitors, including the Lancia team, and, most important of all, some of the official time-keepers. As things turned out this delay was advantageous, for the rain had stopped and the sun was appearing over parts of the circuit, drying the road. Officials did an inspection lap and declared the situation to be dodgy, but possible, and finally everyone was ready and the first car was away at 9.14 a.m. Instead of the usual 10 or 20 second intervals, the cars were sent away at “reasonable intervals”, the time-keepers logging the exact times, so that Vaccarella left 14 sec. after Muller, with Siffert 14.1 sec. later, followed by Hezemans 15.5 sec. later, van Lennep 15:1 sec. later and so on.
All round the first lap the road conditions were bad, delicate throttle control being needed rather than bravado, and two important entries did not even get half-way round. Elford dodged a rock lying in the road and in doing so hit a kerb and either broke a suspension part or damaged a tyre and on the very next corner lost control and crashed heavily, wrecking the white and orange Porsche and having to sit with the wreckage for the rest of the day, quite unhurt, hut very chastened. This was just after Cerda, a bare 12 kilometres from the start and a little farther on Maglioli lost control of his Tipo 33-3 Alfa Romeo on the slippery surface and went off the road. Even earlier Jack Wheeler, an English private entrant with his 1,300-c.c. home-built Jerboa, had hit a wall and wrecked the front end. During the opening lap Siffert got by the two Ferraris and led on the road, but Larrousse was doing some real rally-driving with his 908, as was Kinnunen from the back of the fast runners, so that the order at the end of lap 1 was Larrousse. Siffert and Kinnunen, followed by van Lennep, Courage, Hezemans and then Vaccarella. The sun was now shining strongly and rapidly drying the mud into dust, so that conditions on the second lap were vastly improved. As Siffert began his second lap, his co-driver, Redman, signalled to him that Elford was out of the race, and the Swiss relaxed, thinking that was the end of the serious opposition, overlooking all the other Porsches, and knowing he was ahead of the Ferraris, having passed them on the road. The result was that van Lennep and Courage caught up a lot of time, as did Kinnunen, and at the end of lap 2, although leading on the road, Siffert was down in fifth position. The Porsche team were not giving their drivers any positive signals, being content for any Porsche to be in the lead. As Vaccarella finished his second lap he drew into the pit, to refuel, the 5-litre engine being very thirsty and Giunti took over. Meanwhile, Siffert was on ahead, but Larousse, Hezemans and van Lennep were closing up on the road, and when Siffert stopped for petrol at the Bivio Polizzi depot in the mountains, the three of them, and Courage, all went by, and so did Giunti with the refuelled Ferrari. This reshuffle was only temporary, for at the end of lap 3 the private Porsches and the Alfa Romeos stopped at the pits for petrol and driver changes, the cars now being driven by Lins, Laine, Gregory and de Adamich, while the other two Gulf-Porsches had refuelled in the mountains like Siffert, and Kinnunen and Waldegaard were going on for four laps before handing over to their co-drivers. As the leading group finished lap 4 there was a lot of activity at the pits as the factory Porsches all refuelled and Redman took over 12, Attwood 36 and Rodriguez 40, while Vaccarella took back the Ferrari from Giunti.
Among the rest of the entry, the Abarth challenge faded on the opening lapwhen Merzario had gearbox trouble, and the second car had been a non-starter. Williams had transferred to a 2-litre Alfa Romeo 33 belonging to Alberti, and was not only comfortably ahead in his class, but also the first of the smaller cars, not so far behind the 3-litres and 5-litres. In the 2-litre Porsche 911 GT class De Cadenet was going well and leading by a few seconds, but was behind Haldi, who was driving a 2.2-litre 911 Porsche in the over-2-litre class. All the time the road conditions were improving rapidly and the day was becoming quite warm, and Kinnunen finished his fourth lap with a rousing 34 min. 57.5 sec. to set a new lap record. As the Porsche co-drivers started their work, and Vaccarella had his second go in the Ferrari, the order was Kinnunen/Rodriguez, Siffert/Redman, Vaccarella/Giunti, Laine/van Lennep, Courage/de Atiamich, Larrousse/Lins, Waldegaard/Attwood, Hezemans/Gregory, Muller/Parkes and Williams/Alberti, in Porsche, Porsche, Ferrari, Porsche, Alfa Romeo, Porsche, Porsche, Alfa Romeo, Ferrari, Alfa Romeo, respectively, so it was not proving quite such a Stuttgart clean sweep as anticipated. The battle was really on and the pace was getting hotter every lap. On the road Redman was right on the tail of the Ferrari, but could not get by, and on the long straight the red car forged ahead, so that as they ended lap 5 the Ferrari was in second place, with Redman third, Rodriguez actually leading on time as he had a clear road ahead of him. Half-way round lap 6 Redman made his scheduled stop for petrol at the mountain depot, so that he could go on for four laps before stopping at the main pits, and as Rodriguez did the same this temporarily let the works Ferrari get well ahead, so that it was in the lead at the end of lap 6 as it drew into the pits for fuel and for Giunti to take over again. The brief stop of the Gulf-Porsches let the Laine/van Lennep car into a temporary second place and Redman’s hard driving had got him ahead of Rodriguez. On the road Redman was once more on the tail of the Ferrari, and for two glorious laps the two cars had a fantastic battle all round the circuit, and try as he might Redman just could not find a way by, and Giunti had no intention of moving over and waving him by; it was real motor racing and every man for himself. Rodriguez was not at all on form and lost all the advantage that Kinnunen had gained, the complete reverse to the usual situation with these two drivers, so that they were now down in fourth place, behind the Laine/van Lennep car. The Alfa Romeo challenge was fading, for Gregory had gone off the road and dc Adamich was not keeping up the pace that Courage had set in the opening rounds, and they had been passed by Attwood, who was having an “on-day” and really enjoying himself.
With. Rodriguez losing time he was pulled in after three laps instead of the anticipated four, and the little Finnish driver was soon back in the fray, going as hard as ever on the twisty terrain that seemed to suit his driving so well. At the end of lap 8 the Ferrari of Giunti and the Porsche of Redman were nose to tail and heading for the pits for petrol and driver changes. Redman’s close proximity to Giunti on the road meant that he was leading the race by about the difference in their starting times, which was in fact 13.6 sec. and that gap in the Targa Florio is like a second in a Grand Prix race, not a commanding lead. The fight that the Ferrari drivers were putting up was impressing everyone, especially Porsche, who thought they were in for a walk-over. As the two cars were refuelled Ferrari were quick, hut Posrsche were quicker and Siffert screamed away from the pits with Vaccarella hard on his heels, but it was all over, that reversal of on-the-road order, obtained by slick pit work, was the deciding factor. Siffert now began to draw away, clear to run through the last three laps, while Vaccarella knew he had to make one more refuelling stop. Ferrari had fought hard but were beaten by fuel consumption and the agility of the “Mickey Mouse” Porsche. It was by no means all over, for Kinnunen was really flying, and more than making up the time lost by Rodriguez. For Alfa Romeo it was all over, for Courage had been driving hard to regain time lost by his co-driver, when, as he put it, “a tree stepped out in front of me”. The last of the Alfas was wrecked, a sad finish to a great effort made by the Milan firm. It was also over for Larrousse/Lins, for a drive-shaft broke on their Porsche, and it was nearly all over for Laine when he lost a front wheel, but he drove back to the pits on the brake disc, got another wheel and carried on. The whole circuit was now in superb condition, all the mud and dust gone, and Siffert reeled off lap 10 in 34 min. 16.7 sec., but Kinnunen did 34 min. 09 sec. Although Siffert now had it all buttoned up for Porsche, the Ferrari stop on lap 10 ending all their hopes, Kinnunen was still wound up tight and completed his last lap in a fantastic 33 min. 36.0 sec. (128.571 k.p.h.) which gave him a rousing second place and pushed the valiant Ferrari back to third place, followed by Laine/van Lennep (Porsche 908), Attwood/ Waldegaard (Porsche 908/3), Muller/Parkes (Ferrari 512S) and Williams/Alberti (Alfa Romeo 33).
Behind all this excitement the works Lancia Fulvia of Claudis Maglioli/Munari had gone like a train, to finish ninth, and De Cadenet and Ogier had lost their lead in the GT class when they had been forced to change a wheel. An MG-C GT, driven by Chatham/Harvey, had circulated neatly and quietly until the last lap when Waldegaard had nudged it off the road. In the ensuing scramble of the crowd to get out of the way a woman had her leg injured by the faster spectators, and that was the only casualty after 78 cars had taken part in the 54th Targa Florio over 11 laps of the 72-kilometre mountain circuit, amid a record crowd of 400,000 very excitable and enthusiastic Sicilians, and quite a large handful of people from other countries. Yet there are mutterings in Milan that the race is dangerous and should be altered. May the real Targa Florio live on for ever.-D. S. J.