The VI Gran Premio di Siracusa

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Syracuse, April 15th.

The Grand Prix of Syracuse reverted to its normal position on the calendar as the first Formula 1 race for the Continental season, and entries were received from Ferrari, Maserati, Connaught and Gordini. It was hoped to attract B.R.M. and Vanwall, but the former team had only two cars finished and both were due at  Aintree the week after Syracuse, and the latter team had no new cars ready to race anywhere. In spite of an apparent lack of finance during the winter the Connaught team were able to build three more “Syracuse” models and enter at both the Sicilian race and at Aintree. After the bad scare they received at Goodwood, the Maserati team withdrew from Syracuse en bloc, but Jean Behra, who lives on the factory doorstep, did not see eye-to-eye with this attitude and made it clear that he wanted a car to drive or Maserati could look for another driver. The result was that one works entry was sent to Sicily, to oppose the full Ferrari team, the Connaughts and the rest.

Practice began in brilliant sunshine, and Fangio, Castellotti and Musso were soon circulating in the Lancia/Ferraris, while Collins was kept waiting while his car was repaired. During transport by train one of the clamps holding his car to the truck had damaged an oil pipe and this took a long time to replace. Neither Fangio nor Castellotti had raced on this circuit before, but it did not take them long to find the way round and Fangio was the first one to set the pace with a lap in 2 min. 01.1 sec., while shortly after this Castellotti recorded 2 min. 00.8 sec. This proved to be the fastest lap of the afternoon, but not enough to beat the existing lap record of 2 min. 00.2 sec., held by Brooks with the Connaught from last year. One of the Connaughts was out for a few exploratory laps, driven by Titterington, while the other Connaught did not appear as Piero Scotti was still arranging about his licence to compete. As the factory Maserati had not arrived Behra borrowed the private cars of Gerini and Piotti to put in some laps, but he could not approach the Ferrari times with these 1955 Maserati. The only other car running was the much-modified 12-cylinder 2.5-litre Ferrari of Taraschi, though Gould’s Maserati was in the paddock, but a non-runner due to a bent propeller shaft, in spite of having just had a complete factory overhaul.

On the second afternoon of practice everyone turned out, and Behra and Villoresi were soon going round in their Maseratis. The Ferrari team waited for a while to see what was going to happen, and then all four went practising and Fangio really set the pace with a lap in 1 min. 59.7 sec., after which the V8 Lancia/Ferraris were neatly assembled in front of the pits and everyone sat and waited. Meanwhile, Connaught were having trouble, for Scotti’s car was doing a warming-up lap when the camshaft timing chain broke and the valves and pistons got too close together. This meant that he had to borrow Titterington’s car for a few qualifying laps, and neither driver was able to benefit fully from this second practice session. During the lull following Fangio’s meteoric new lap record the lesser lights were circulating, such as Piotti, Gerini, Scarlatti and two Gordinis. With very little warning Behra went out again and shook everyone by going round in 1 min. 59.6 sec., and before the loudspeakers had finished telling us this, much to the excitement of the crowd, Fangio had got up, put his crash-hat on and, with a resigned but determined look on his face, climbed into the Lancia/Ferrari. Castellotti and Musso did likewise and all three cars went off in a roar of noise, while Behra sat on his pit-counter and watched. Castellotti did 2 min. even, then Fangio equalled this, then Castellotti did 1 min. 58.9 sec., then Fangio did 1 min. 58.6 sec. and, to really settle things, he followed this with 1 min. 58.0 sec., and at that Ferraris called their cars in. Musso could not break 2 min., and as practice was now virtually over, the final order was Fangio, Castellotti, Behra, Musso. Collins did not bother to go out again, being fifth fastest time, but just as practice was closing Villoresi went round in 2 min. 01.5 sec., and put the Ferrari driver down to sixth place.

Of the other drivers, Titterington could not better 2 min. 06.6 sec. in the few laps available, Gould was still having trouble with his works-rebuilt car, Manzon did an excellent 2 min. 05.1 sec. with one of the old six-cylinder Gordinis, and Scotti had barely had time to find out about preselector gearboxes.

Race day was still typically Sicilian, warm and dry, and an enormous crowd poured into the stands and enclosures, while the main grandstand was full to overflowing, even by Italian standards. On the front row were Fangio, Castellotti and Behra, With Musso and Villoresi behind, then Collins, Manzon and Titterington, followed by Piotti and Gould, Gerini, Silva Ramos and Scarlatti, and finally Taraschi and Scotti, the last, not having practised in his own car as it had needed a new engine to be fitted after the practice trouble. Fangio and Castellotti leapt away from the line at the fall of the flag, while Behra’s start was hesitant, but all fifteen cars got away without trouble. The four Scuderia Ferrari drivers came by in the order Castellotti, Fangio, Musso and Collins, with equal spaces between them, followed by Behra, then a short gap and Villoresi, Titteringtom, Manzon and Gerini followed. Gould drew into his pit at the end of the opening lap and retired with a broken gear wheel in the final drive. It was a line-ahead procession for the opening laps, and on the fifth Fangio went into the lead, while Behra began to close up on Collins, and actually passed him on the bend before the pits on lap six, only to have the Lancia go by on the straight. There was already a big gap between the first five cars and the remainder, who were being led by Villoresi, with Titterington closing up on him rapidly. On lap nine oil smoke began to pour out of Behra’s bonnet and on the next lap it was all over; a pipe from the main oil-pressure line to the injection pump fractured and the Maserati was withdrawn. On the next lap the Connaught of Titterington began to misfire and as there was no hope of Villoresi catching the Ferrari team the race as such was over.

The four drivers of the “Rampant Horse” stable went round in a tight bunch playing tag, first Fangio leading, then Castellotti, then Musso and then Collins, and so on, with lap speeds dropping as low as 2 min. 09.0 sec. Before this relaxation had set in Fangio had put in a new lap record of 1 min. 59.9 sec. While the four team cars circulated in complete control, other people were having all sorts of trouble. Manzon’s Gordini was using one of the original 1954 engines, which was-so worn out it was burning oil almost as fast as the mechanics could pour it in. Scarlatti and Taraschi both disappeared with tired motor cars, Titterington kept stopping for consultations about the misfiring, and then Scotti stopped out on the circuit with a broken final drive on his Connaught. Just as the four leading cars were completing their 40th lap, or half distance, they arrived in a bunch at the corner before the pits, still playing tag, and Castellotti overdid things and spun. There was a heart-stopping moment of wild dodging and the spinning Lancia/Ferrari hit the retaining wall and bent the steering. That left only three cars in the leading group, and after that they settled down to a 1-2-3 demonstration run, making a few changes before the end of the 80 laps just to keep the enormous crowd happy. The second Gordini, driven by Ramos, stopped out in the woods, Titterington gave up with a very sick engine and the remaining runners circulated steadily, having all been lapped by the leading trio. In line-ahead Fangio, Musso and Collins passed the finishing flag, followed by Villoresi, whose Maserati was trailing a rear shock-absorber and part of the chassis frame. The three Lancia/Ferraris did a tour d’honneur side by side, and the VIth Grand Prix of Syracuse finished as a complete triumph for the Scuderia Ferrari, back once more at the top of the Grand Prix tree.

Results:

VIth Grand Prix of Syracuse — Formula 1 — 80 Laps — 440 Kilometres — Warm and Dry

1st: J. M. Fangio (Lancia/Ferrari) 2 hr. 48 min. 59.9 sec. 156.217 k.p.h.

2nd: L. Musso (Lancia/Ferrari) 2 hr. 49 min. 00.1 sec.

3rd: P. Collins (Lancia)  2 hr. 49 min. 00.4 sec.

4th: L. Villoresi (Maserati/250/F1) 2 laps behind

5th: G. Gerini (Maserati 250/F1) 3 laps behind.

6th: R. Manzon (Gordini 6-cyl) 4 laps behind.

Fastest lap: J. M. Fangio (Lancia/Ferrari), on eighth lap, in 1 min. 59.9 sec. — 165.138 k.p.h. (new record)

Notes on the Cars at Syracuse

The Scuderia Ferrari sent four cars to Sicily and these were all Lancia D50-based models. Fangio had the latest one fitted with a new type of body in which the pontoons between the wheels were merged into the main bodywork, giving the effect of full enclosure and full-width body within the wheelbase. The fuel tanks had been removed from the pontoons and were fitted one on each side of the cockpit, attached to the chassis frame, while the main tank was in the tail, as was the oil tank. Each cylinder had a separate exhaust pipe terminating in a short megaphone, and these were clustered in bundles, four on each side of the car, just in front of the rear wheel. The cars driven by Castellotti and Musso were mechanically the same, being Argentine models, but retaining the normal Lancia layout of pontoon tanks, reduced in capacity and supplemented by the tail tank. The exhausts on these cars finished in similar megaphones but arranged one above the other in the vertical plane, again just in front of the rear wheels and protruding through a slot cut in the pontoon. Both these cars had supplementary fuel pumps in the cockpit driven by a short shaft from the end of the left-hand exhaust camshaft of the vee-eight-cylinder engine, while all three of these Lancia/Ferrari modifications had additional fuel pumps on the floor of the cockpit driven by an open belt from the propeller shaft.

The chassis frames were identical, being basically Lancia, but Ferrari-modified from the rear of the cockpit backwards. A tubular structure was built over the rear axle assembly, and a transverse leaf-spring was mounted on this, its ends coupled to the Lancia de Dion tube by short jointed links. The location of the de Dion tube was by normal Lancia layout, but the telescopic shock-absorbers were replaced by Houdaille vane-type, mounted on a chassis extension below the axle. All the mechanical components at the rear were original Lancia, retaining combined clutch and five-speed gearbox, with transverse shafts, and input from the prop.-shaft by bevel gears. The V8 engine remained unaltered, using double-choke downdraught Solex carburetters, and still being mounted at an angle to the centreline of the car. However, Ferrari clearly did not believe in using the engine unit as part of the chassis frame and two additional longitudinal tubular frame members were fitted one on each side from the scuttle to the top of the front suspension brackets.

The front suspension was unaltered except for the addition of an anti-roll bar, on Fangio’s car fitted between the wishbones and on the other two mounted quite high above the top wishbone and coupled to the bottom one by long vertical links. The fourth car of the team, driven by Collins, was a normal unmodified Lancia D50, with low-mounted transverse leaf-spring at rear, with balanced telescopic shock-absorbers, pontoon tanks, and long tail-pipes, one to each bank of cylinders. This car had the high-mounted anti-roll bar fitted at the front, and like the others had Ferrari badges on the nose cowling and steering wheel, while all four were fitted with finned oil cooling pipes in front of the radiators. The brakes were similar to last year, of Lancia design, with two-leading shoes. With their megaphone exhaust systems the three modified cars were not very good on pick-up but sounded fantastic on full throttle, the blast of noise emanating from the side of the car as it went by being quite shattering. All the engines revved to 8,000 r.p.m and, like most of the five-speed gearboxes on Grand Prix cars, the Lancia/Ferrari ones were really four-speed with a supplementary “starting gear” or “under-drive,” it not being possible to use this gear once the car was in motion.

The two Connaughts were both Syracuse models, that driven by Titterington being last year’s winner, while Scotti was driving a new one that he was in the process of buying. The cars were unchanged from last year in general conception, having four-cylinder Alta-based engines of 93.5 by 90 mm. bore and stroke, with two double-choke Weber carburetters, Dunlop disc brakes, preselector gearboxes, double wishbones and coil-spring front suspension and de Dion rear with torsion-bars. Although capable of 7,000 r.p.m. the cars were geared to run to 6,800 r.p.m. without stress, and their excellent torque characteristics enabled a high bottom gear to be used without causing any trouble on the sharp hairpin on the course.

The Maserati entry was limited to one works car, driven by Behra, this being a six-cylinder fuel-injection model as used at Goodwood by Moss. The other Maseratis were all privately owned and were last year’s models brought up to 1955 works-team specification, which is to say they had five-speed gearboxes, additional fuel pumps, larger brakes, new cylinder heads with slightly downdraught carburetters of bigger choke size, and with the exception of Gould’s, had large-diameter single tail-pipe exhaust systems. Two of these 1955 cars were owned by amateur Scuderias, that of the Scuderia Guastalla being driven by Gerini, and the other, owned by the Scunderia Centro-Sud from Rome, being driven by Villoresi. A third car was owned and driven by Piotti and all three were being looked after by the factory. Gordini arrived with two six-cylinder cars of almost antique status, one being traceable back to Formula II days and the other being the 1954 Spanish Grand Prix car. These were driven, respectively, by Manzon and da Silva Ramos, and both were fitted with disc brakes. The rest of the fifteen entries was made up by an early four-cylinder Ferrari driven by Scarlatti and a modified 12-cylinder one by Taraschi.

Syracuse Asides

Connaught should not feel downhearted after their ill fortune this year. They were successful last year, whereas Maserati have been unsuccessful two years running.

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Manzon’s efforts with a very worn-out Gordini were most impressive, lapping around 2 min. 08.0 sec., and getting in amongst the Ferrari team on some of the corners, even though some laps behind.

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In view of Villoresi’s practice lap, only 1.9 sec. slower than Behra’s best, one wonders if the Maserati fuel-injection is worth while.

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Castellotti was very grieved about his spin and blamed his teammates for crowding him on the corner.

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When warming up the Lancia/Ferraris with their megaphone exhausts sounded like a group of Triumph racing motor-cycles.

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In spite of the peculiar F.I.A. ruling about grading drivers A and B, the Syracuse race was a pure International Formula 1 open to everybody.

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