A Maserati benefit
Motor racing through the streets of a town is a thing that is fast dying out, which is a very great pity, for somehow true road racing is connected with everyday roads with all the attendant hazards of kerbs, tramlines, walls, lamp-posts and trees. The continual modifying of many circuits until such things have completely disappeared so that almost anyone can race with very little skill required is a retrograde step. Italy is one of the few remaining strongholds of real “men’s circuits” and Bari is one of the last remaining supporters of this traditional type of motor racing. In Bari one motor race is held each year, but when it is the whole town enters into the spirit, which is not surprising, as most of the officials of the Automobile Club of Bari are also high dignitaries of both the town, which is a sea-port on the Adriatic coast, and also of the Province of Bari.
Long before the event the town and its surroundings are covered with advertisements for the race. and apart from the gigantic poster illustrated on the accompanying page. the harbour wall has the name of the race and the date painted along its length, and “Gran Premio Bari 1956” formed from pink Neon tubing is mounted outside the club headquarters.
Scrutineering was due to take place the morning before practice and when trying to turn up one of the main streets a white-clad policeman politely pointed out that all traffic was prohibited for the morning as the “verifiche dei veicoli e controllo documenti per lo Gran Premio” was taking place. In the afternoon one section of the town was completely closed, some sections of tramlines were covered with tarmac, straw bales protected the more important part of the town buildings, and the Grand Prix of Bari was in full swing.
Not having sufficient money in the kitty to promote a Formula I event, the club held two short races for sports cars, one for cars up to 2-litres and the other for cars over 2-litres. The Maserati and Osca factory sent teams of official drivers, while Ferrari decided not to support the event with a full complement, leaving private owners to defend the Maranello honours. In order to provide a more interesting circuit to previous years, the races were run clockwise instead of anti-clockwise. while the only long straight was reduced in length by the addition of another twisty road by-passing one corner of the old circuit. In the interests of safety the pits were situated in an area completely separate from the circuit, drivers having to leave the road by way of a by-pass and rejoin it by a service road, the whole area being well before the start and finish area.
Because of the intense heat of southern Italy, the races were started at 10 am, and the 2-litre class raced over 27 laps, it being allowed that the first five care in this race would compete in the bigger event held afterwards. Behra and Perdisa were driving factory Maserati 200S models, the first driver with a de Dion sprung car, with ducted radiator, tapering nose cowling, 5-speed gearbox and the oil tank in the cockpit, while the second driver had an earlier chassis with 3/4 eliptic rear suspension, the oil tank alongside the radiator, but with similar four-cylinder engine and 5-speed gearbox. Villoresi and Cabianca were on factory 1,500 cc Osca four-cylinders, as used at the Supercortemaggiore race. Munaron, Cortese, Starabba and Carini had normal Testa Rosa Ferraris and there were 150S Maseratis driven by Isabelle Haskell, the American girl, de Tomaso and Tak, while Giardini and Signorina de Filippis drove A6G Maseratis. To complete the list there was Anthony with his Lotus-Bristol and a German driver with a home-made Porsche Special. The two works Maseratis were quite unbeatable and Perdisa was really at home on this twisty road circuit, leading Behra for a time and even when he was passed he hung on grittily, dicing like a madman the whole way, so that the two Modena cars dominated the race, fighting a running free-for-all battle the whole way, victory finally going to Behra. Nearly half a minute behind, Villoresi and Cabianca were dicing, together for 3rd place, the little Oscas sliding round the corners in a most impressive manner, while the rest of the runners did their best to keep up. The Osca battle stopped when Villoresi had a front brake pull-off spring come unhooked and had to stop at the pit to have it repaired, and this let Munaron into 4th place. leading all the Ferraris. Anthony was rather outclassed on this “hairy” circuit and after running at the end of the field, eventually retired with a broken front-spring mounting. The American girl went out with a broken half-shaft and the Italian girl had engine trouble.
The big race was over 36 laps, and Moss and Taruffi had factory 3-litre Maseratis. while similar cars were driven by Bordonix and Musy, and Piotti was in his 31/2-litre model. There was one works 31/2-litre four-cylinder Ferrari, driven by de Portago, and Wharton, Meyrat and Mackay-Frazer were driving 3-litre Ferraris. The American driver, Phil Hill, should have driven his 31/2-litre engined Monza, but it blew up in practice. To complete the big cars were Hamilton with a D-type Jaguar, AG Whitehead with his DB3S Aston Martin, Bonnier with his “Disco-volante” 31/2-litre Alfa Romeo, Bellucci with an old 3-litre Gordini and Tak with a 300SL. After a short rest the 2-litre Maseratis of Behra and Perdisa were ready for another race, as were the Ferraris of Munaron and the six-cylinder Maserati of Giardini, the Osca team deciding not to race again, even though Cabianca had qualified. The modified Bari circuit proved to be ideally suited to the 2-litre Maserati and only the imperturbable Moss could get away from them, leading the race throughout with his typical smooth and easy style. Behind him Behra and Perdisa fought another fierce duel, leading Taruffi with the 3-litre car and all the rest of the runners. The D-type Jaguar was hopelessly outclassed on this twisty bumpy circuit and the Aston Martin was no better off. The works Ferrari might have proved serious opposition had not de Portago been elbowed into the straw bales during the scuffle on the opening laps, and though he got going again there was no possibility of him catching up and he finally succumbed to falling oil pressure. Wharton started off well and was leading the private owners, but then a shock-absorber broke on the rear and he slowed progressively, while in contrast Hamilton started slowly and speeded up as he became more accustomed to the bumps. Musy drove a neat and tidy race and though lapped by Moss he was first private owner to finish, behind the four works Maseratis. There was no opposition to Moss, who always seems to be on form, and by the 36th lap he was almost a full lap ahead of his team-mates, having made fastest lap of the day and led from start to finish. Bonnier and Mackay-Frazer appeared to be very evenly matched, in spite of having widely differing cars, but the Alfa Romeo ruined its clutch and the old Ferrari 750S overheated, so they both dropped out. Whitehead’s Aston Martin broke its gearbox and Piotti had the 31/2-litre Maserati go woolly very early in the race:
By very early in the afternoon the racing over, and the oppressive heat caused everyone to relax until the prize-giving in the evening. After an execllent banquet on the open terrace of a seafront hotel, prizes were distributed to almost every competitor, these taking the form of cups, silver salvers, ornaments and trophies of all descriptions. Apart from the winners, there were trophies for the first and last retirement in each race, the competitor who had come the greatest distance, and the longest serving club official, in fact, a trophy for everyone with a reasonable excuse. The whole atmosphere and organisation of the Bari races was one that could well be repeated by other organisers and was a good example of the sport of motor racing at its best. Unfortunately the present-day attitude of factories, drivers and organisers of money-grabbing and commercialism without giving anything in return makes motor racing a sordid affair at times, but a meeting like the 9th Grand Prix of Bari does much to alleviate the wrongs of other races. Long may the sea-port and Province of Bari flourish.