Surprise Porsche win
After fifty-six editions of the arduous Targa Florio, Sicily's Piccolo Madonie road circuit hosted what was touted as being the very last race over the open roads early in May. Next year, the CSI have not allowed it to be included in the International Calendar, the powers that be having run out of events to get excited about banning, and thus been forced to turn their attentions to the Targa Florio in order to keep occupied.
Thankfully, there are still several teams who consider that to gain victory in the World Championship for Makes, it's necessary to enter a punishing and hazardous race as the Targa Florio, although Matra and Gulf Mirage decided to keep away, feeling that either their cars or drivers would fail to stand the pace.
But as far as the 700,000 Sicilians (the number subsequently said to have watched the race) were concerned, all that was important was the presence of Ferrari and Alfa Romeo and they couldn't have cared less about the rest. Two flat-12 312Ps were on hand for Arturo Merzario and Sicily's hero Nino Vaccarella (winner in 1965 on Ferrari and 1971 on Alla Romeo), whilst the Maranello team leader Jacky lckx was making his debut on the circuit with Brian Redman in the second car.
Opposing them were two Alfa Romeo TT33/12s for Rolf Stommelen/Andrea de Adamich and Clay Regazzoni/Carlo Facetti, whilst two of the Porsche Carrera RS entries were billed to run as prototypes. These were driven by Gijs van Lennep/Herbert Mueller and Leo Kinnunen/Claude Haldi. A third Martini Porsche was subsequently run as a prototype, that of Gunther Steckkonig/Giulio Pucci, the latter being the son of 1964 winner Baron Antonio Pucci.
Leo Kinnunen's sensational record of 33 min. 36 sec., set in a Porsche 908/3 back in 1970, was almost cracked by Merzario during practice when the Italian lapped the Ferrari just two seconds away. It was a worthy performance by the wiry Merzario, bearing in mind that the Kinnunen 908/3 was purpose-built for the Targa Florio and weighed in at 570 kilogrammes. Since 1972, prototypes have been subject to a minimum weight limit of 650 kilogrammes, and who needs 450 b.h.p. round such a course anyway?
Second quickest, four seconds behind the Ferrari was Stommelen in the Alfa Romeo, then Regazzoni in his similar car. But the swarthy Swiss added another chapter to his list of accidents by somersaulting the second TT33/12 down a mountainside and landing upside down in a field. Predictably, Regazzoni just walked away from the completely destroyed car, but one wonders just how long he can go on emerging unscathed from these enormous accidents. Then came the Redman/Ickx Ferrari, the Belgian rather perplexed about the Targa and Redman rather apprehensive about the advisability of running fragile prototypes with such power round the Targa route. Completing the list of serious contenders was the Lancia Stratos of rallymen Sandro Munari/Jean-Claude Andruet and the fast Porsches.
First away from the start on race day was Merzario, pursued at intervals by Stommelen, Ickx, Munari, Mueller and the rest. While the German drove the Alfa with great verve, the Ferrari threat was stilted mid-way round that first lap when a rear tyre started to go flat on Merzario's 312P and he glanced a wall with the front.
He came in at the end of that first lap, changed the wheel and then resumed the race, only to stop with a broken transmission after just over two laps. Ickx's Ferrari glanced a wall near Colesano, so that was that, and the Alfa Romeo was left with what appeared to be the race in the bag. But after Stommelen handed over to de Adamich at the end of lap three, a local driver in a Lancia Fulvia failed to see the Milanese machine in his mirrors and forced it off the road. Minor suspension damage resulted, and de Adamich was left with a long walk back to the pits in which to compose his explanation to Stommelen.
The race, as such, finished there. Van Lennep and Mueller drove steadily and the Porsche ran reliably all the way to a four-minute win over the Stratos, the Lancia being delayed by stops for attention to a broken seat, while Kinnunen and Haldi finished third. Two locals in a Chevron finished fourth in front of the Lola-Abarth of Antonio Nicodemi/Silvio Moser and the third Martini Carrera. It was Porsche's 14th win in this classic race and Stommelen could only manage 34 min. 13.1 sec. as his fastest lap, which will probably ensure that Kinnunen's 1970 record will stand in the history books for ever.—A.H.
Targa Florio – Grps 4 and 5 –Sicily – 11 laps – 792 kilometres – Dry – May 13th
1st: G. van Lennep/H. Mueller (Porsche Carrera 2.9-litre flat-6) – Grp 5 – 11 laps – 114.691 k.p.h.
2nd: S. Munari/J-C. Andruet (Lancia Stratos 2.4-litre V6) – Grp 5 – 11 laps
3rd: L. Kinnunen/C. Haldi (Porsche Carrera 2.9-litre flat-6) – Grp 5 – 11 laps
4th: "Frank McBoden"/L. Moreschi (Chevron B21 1.8-litre FVC – Grp 5 – 11 laps
5th: A. Nicodemi/S. Moser (Lola T290-Abarth 1.6-litre 4-cyl.) – Grp 5 – 11 laps
6th: G. Steckkonig/G. Pucci (Porsche Carrera 2.9-litre flat-6) – Grp 5 – 11 laps
Fastest lap: R. Stommelen (3.0 Alfa Romeo TT33/12 flat-12), in 34 min. 13.1 sec. – 126.248 k.p.h.