A black day for Porsche
Cerda, Sicily, May 16th
This year the Targa Florio was unusual, for the island was not ringing to the sound of V12 Ferraris as in the past; in fact not even a flat-12-cylinder Ferrari engine rent the Sicilian mountains, for Enzo Ferrari gave the race a miss this year, which was strange, for the little 312P would have been very competitive, but no doubt he felt that one car could not do much against the might of Porsche with their special Targa Florio 908/03 models that they designed for the event last year.
However, it was not the first year without any Ferraris, and no doubt the Maranello sound will be back in 1972. While a Targa Florio without a Ferrari is possible, the Sicilian race without Vaccarella in it is unthinkable, so with no Ferrari to drive, the lecturer from Palermo arranged to drive for Alfa Romeo, having an initial sortie with the Milan team in the Monza 1,000-kilometre race in April. Last year the Autodelta Alfa Romeo team put a terrific effort into trying to win the Targa Florio, it being a race they rate higher than any other round in the Manufacturers’ Championship series, believing rightly that all-round development in a race like the Targa Florio will give you real benefit in producing good production road cars. This year, after their recent excellent performances at Monza, Spa and Brands Hatch, they were very confident of the reliability of the Tipo 33-3, entering a team of four works cars and supporting a fifth one for the Scuderia Brescia Corse.
The Porsche factory were represented by two entries for JW Automotive and two for the Martini Racing Team, three of the cars being the special super-light and very short 908/03 models, that first appeared last year at the Targa Florio and were such a sensation with their low-polar movement layout and incredible ability to change direction quickly. For the first time this year the Porsche factory took over the whole operation with factory engineers, mechanics and team personnel, the few people from JW Automotive and Martini who were at the race being virtual spectators. Only three cars turned up for scrutineering, two for JW-Gulf and one for Martini, the fourth car, a 908/2 for the Martini team did not appear, and due to the special nature of the Targa Florio the JW team dropped Bell and Oliver and substituted Herbert Muller and Brian Redman, both of whom have good experience of racing in Sicily.
The number one Martini car was in the hands of Elford/Larrousse, and the second one should have been driven by Van Lennep and Kinnunen, but as the car did not materialise the last two drivers were lent to Alfa Romeo who were looking for someone to take Pescarolo’s place, the Targa Florio not being his sort of race, and Nanni Galli who tried an unofficial practice lap and found his Monza injury to his wrist was too painful. The Dutchman was paired with de Adamich, and the Finn with Stommelen, while Vaccarella had Hezemans as his partner.
These three pairs were in the normal Tipo 33-3 cars, but the fourth works entry was brand-new and designated Tipo 33-3 cars, the TT standing for Telaio Tubulare, or tubular chassis. It was a virtual copy of the 908/03 Porsche, in layout and looks, with the gearbox between the V8 engine and the rear axle, with the rear part of the frame being a tubular space-frame bolted on to the monocoque cockpit section. In passing, Ing. Chiti mentioned that it was an experimental car that would take their new 12-cylinder engine, which may appear before the end of the season. It is becoming more and more evident that whereas Autodelta used to be a separate concern from Alfa Romeo Corse, the Milan racing department is getting much more involved in the Tipo 33-3 project.
Every year the Targa Florio has a large entry, of which, never more than a handful are serious contenders for outright victory, the rest racing amongst themselves for class honours, and a few of them being hopeful “outsiders” for finishing in the first ten and in the big money prizes. The fact that there is always a lot of “traffic” on the circuit in the way of small sports cars and GT cars is part of the atmosphere of the Targa Florio, which has always been a law unto itself and I hope it will remain so, for it is not an event to be regarded like a 10-lap dice round Brands Hatch or Oulton Park, and run to RAC rules; it is more a state of mind.
When Vicenzo Florio started the series in 1906 there were ten starters, of whom six finished, and he described it as “a race for gentlemen with their motor cars on normal roads and encountering all the hazards one normally meets while touring by motor car”. The Targa Florio has always maintained this characteristic, and to change it would be to change the whole conception of the event, which is why the 72-kilometre circuit is little changed, cars leave one at a time at intervals of 15 seconds, and anyone who is still running at the end is justifiably considered a hero racing driver by the Sicilian public. A limit of 80 starters had been specified and nearly 120 entries were received, but with non-arrivals, withdrawals, cars that did not pass scrutineering and some eliminations in practice, 74 were lined up for the start of Sunday morning at 9 a.m, under a blazing hot sun and cloudless skies.
Practice, which had been held on the previous Thursday had set the island agog with excitement, for the Porsche team were stumbling over themselves and the Alfa Romeo team set the three fastest practice laps. Most important of all was that Vaccarella had made the fastest practice time, in 34 min. 14.2 sec., not as quick as the race record which Kinnunen set up last year, but impressive nevertheless. The new lightweight Alfa Romeo was given a practice run, but it was decided not to race it so Facetti and Zeccoli were without a drive.
The Porsche team just went from bad to worse, with Redman getting a fiat tyre and wasting more than three-quarters of an hour before he could get going and then Siffert taking over the car for a lap and crashing it, damaging the left side of the chassis. Elford bounced the Martini car off a rock and broke the front suspension so Porsche’s outlook at the end of practice was pretty gloomy, with only the Rodriguez/Muller car undamaged.
Alfa Romeo, on the other hand, were feeling very confident, and it was a straight fight with three works Porsches against three works Alfa Romeos, both teams having 3-litre engines this time, unlike the previous races where Porsche have had 5-litre engines and Alfa Romeo 3-litres. In the 2-litre Prototype class there were a number of Lola 212 models that could well figure in high places if they kept on the road and out of trouble, notably the two Scuderia Filipinetti cars, driven by Bonnier/Attwood and Parkes/Westbury, while Nicodemi/Williams had a 212 Lola that could well be in the running. The rest of the entry was comprised of private entries of all shapes and sizes, numerous Porsche 911 models, some 914/6 Porsches, a trio of Conrera-tuned 1.9-litre Opel GT coupés, sundry small Italian sports cars, two factory-backed Lancia Fulvia coupés driven by Pinto/Ragnotti and Munari/Claudio Maglioli, and numerous Alfa Romeo GTA coupés and Renault Alpines.
After practice was over the organisers decided that the starting order should be in order of practice times, which put Vaccarella in number one position; and why not, for it is a Sicilian race, run for the pleasure of the Sicilians. The mother of the late Ignazio Giunti did the AC of Palermo the honour of starting the first car away, and with a clear road ahead Vaccarella wasted no time in getting going. He was followed by de Adamich, Stommelen, Larrousse, Rodriguez, “Condones” in the private Tipo 33-3 and Redman. Then the 2-litre class went off, headed by Bonnier and Parkes in the Filipinetti Lolas and Williams in the white Lola of Nicodemi.
Altogether 74 cars were sent off into the blazing heat, and with thousands of spectators around the circuit, walking about and driving their cars to vantage points, most of the route was covered with a layer of fine dry dust which made things terribly slippery. The first lap was a major disaster for the race, for Stornmelen slid off the road not far from the start. Redman crashed his JW Porsche and it caught fire and burnt out completely, the Lancastrian suffering bad burns about the face and neck, and Rodriguez crashed the second JW Porsche in Collesano. Vaccarella ended the lap with a long lead on the road, ahead of de Adamich, but Larrousse was really flying and had nearly caught the second Alfa. Vaccarella had been fast, but Larrousse was faster, so the Martini Porsche was leading on time, followed by Vaccarella, de Adamich, Bonnier, Virgilio with the latest 2-litre Abarth that looked just like a 908/03 Porsche, Williams and Lo Piccolo with an old Dino Ferrari sports car.
Parkes had been delayed by a loss of fuel pressure in his Lola, and by the time he had jammed the pressure release valve with a piece of wood and got back to the pits he had dropped to 44th position. After two laps Larrousse stopped for fuel and to hand over to Elford, which let Vaccarella get into the lead, with de Adamich third. Virgilio went off the road in the Abarth and Williams had the Lola boiling and stopped to remove some blanking from the radiator which wasted a lot of time. These troubles among the Prototypes allowed some of the faster GT cars to move up into the top ten, notably the Cheneviere/Keller 911S Porsche from Switzerland and the Monari/Maglioli Lancia Fulvia.
The dust had been well and truly blown off the road by now and conditions were very good and Vaccarella handed his Alfa Romeo over to Hezemans, while de Adamich handed over to van Lennep and this let Elford get between the two Alfas on the road, and due to the Alfa pit stop, take the lead on lap four. The situation remained unchanged on lap five even after Larrousse took over the Martini Porsche, and at the end of lap six there was pandemonium in the Alfa Romeo pits for both cars came in together, and unexpectedly it was found that the rear tyres were wearing out and would have to be changed. Wheels, jacks, pneumatic hammers and mechanics flew everywhere and there was a real panic for a short time, but both cars got away all right with Vaccarella heading de Adamich, but both nearly three-quarters of a minute in arrears.
The vociferous crowd were not at all happy and wasted no time saying so, but then it was heard that Larrousse had stopped out on the circuit with a flat tyre and the crowd went wild with delight, for Vaccarella now led, with de Adamich second, Alfa Romeos in the first two places. The Bonnier/Attwood Lola was firmly in fourth place and the Parkes/Westbury sister car was in eighth place. The Lola 212 of de Cadanet had crashed on the Bonfornello straight for some inexplicable reason, the drver sustaining minor injuries; and the private Tipo 33-3 Alfa had crashed a bit further on and struck a spectator’s Fiat 500 as it careered off the road, there being no injury to report.
Larrousse limped to the service depot at Bivio Polizzi where a pair of new rear tyres were fitted and he rejoined the race and went storming past the pits on full song, even though the Porsche pit was expecting him to stop and let Elford take over. That was the last they saw of the Martini car, for, having hit a kerb at Cerda, he suffered a broken front suspension and was not seen again. The two Alfa Romeos were now in full command and at the end of nine laps they were refuelled, the front tyres were changed and the two Dutch drivers took over to tour round and finish first and second in team order.
It had been a resounding victory for Alfa Romeo, won by fighting hard and giving the Porsches a bad time from the beginning of practice. Vaccarella was the hero of the day and the Porsche stronghold on the Targa Florio had been broken for the first time since 1965, when Vaccarella and Bandini had won with a 330P Ferrari. Alfa Romeo had once again inscribed their name in the Golden Book of the Targa Florio, for the first time since Antonio Brivio won in 1935. It had been a black day in Porsche history, slightly alleviated by the 911 Porsches that finished fourth and sixth, but a red-letter day in Italian motor-racing history and there was a feeling that there ought to be a National Holiday in Palermo the next day.—D. S. J.
In the Group 5 sports class of 2-litres there were only three runners, but they had a momentous day amongst themselves. The Knight brothers nearly missed the start when their Chevron-BMW wetted all its plugs in the line-up and they were very late in getting away. An old Porsche 906 driven by two Italians led the second Chevron of Raffo and Seddon until a ball-joint in the rear suspension broke and the owner sweated away in the heat at the pits to fit a new one. Meanwhile the Raffo/Seddon car caught up and took the lead, and in spite of bouncing off a wall the Knight brothers made up their time lost and took second place.
The Porsche then got going again and during a fuel stop for the leading Chevron an Italian helper did not fill the tank completely and Raffo ran out of petrol before Collesano. Taking a plastic breather pipe from the Chevron the driver found a friendly spectator who let him syphon some petrol from his Fiat. This got the Chevron to Collesano where a petrol station was found and the tank filled up, but by this time both the other Chevron and the Porsche had gone by so the leaders were back in third place and the race finished.
Wheeler and Davidson drove the former’s little home-built BMC-powered Jerboa which crashed within sight of the start last year. This year it kept going and after troubles with the accelerator cable and linkage it was alone with one other car running in its class, all set for second place when the clutch failed on the last lap. An enthusiastic spectator in Collesano towed Davidson back to the pits when the race was over.
The Targa Florio may be considered a man’s race, but there were two girls taking part this year, Christine Beckers in a P11S Porsche, and “Giusi” (presumably she didn’t want mum to know) in a GTA Alfa Romeo. Unfortunately neither of them finished.
The Parkes/Westbury Lola 212 was all set to take fourth place when a wire came adrift in the ignition system and by the time Parkes had repaired it the leading 911 Porsche had gone by.
The Cosworth FVC in the Nicodemi/Williams Lola 212 blew most of its oil out the back, and Nicodemi handed over to Williams saying all was well. Williams had barely left the pits when he saw there was no oil pressure on left-hand bends so he had to pussy-foot round a whole 44-mile lap with his fingers crossed. More oil was put in and the engine recovered and finished strongly. A remarkable testimonial for Cosworth engines.
Ironic that the President of the GPDA should finish a worthy third and the technical advisor to the GPDA should finish fifth in the Targa Florio, and they both enjoyed themselves enormously. Who knows, we may get Stewart and Hulme in Sicily yet.
It is difficult to keep away from the Targa Florio once you are bitten. The entrant of the sixth-placed Porsche was Paul Strahle, the powerful German who used to share Porsche Carreras with Herbert Linge some years ago.