The Four Hours of Pescara

An Italian Road Race

PESCARA, ITALY, August 15th

THIS year’s event was the twenty-seventh in the annual series organised by the Automobile Club of Pescara, the first being as long ago as 1924, and though always known as the Grand Prix of Pescara it has varied from World Championship Formula One events to sports car and Formula Junior races. The last pure Grand Prix race at Pescara was in 1957 when Moss gained Vanwall’s first Continental victory over the then all-powerful Italians. This year the A.C. of Pescara made a new landmark in their history by having their race count towards the Sports Car Manufacturers Championship, and being the final round in the 1961 series.

A lot of people think, and some even put into print, that racing on the public roads in Italy is a thing of the past and is now forbidden, but clearly they haven’t been to Naples, Caserta, Teramo, Messina, Siracusa, Pescara and such places, where true roadracing still flourishes, The Pescara circuit is 25.579 kilometres to the lap and is roughly triangular in shape with two long straights joined by an incredibly twisty mountain section. The pits and starting area are on the main road along the Adriatic coast running South into Pescara, but instead of turning left over the level crossing and into the centre of the town, as the Mille Miglia route used to do, the road racing circuit turns right through the outskirts of the town and winds and twists up into the hills, passing through two villages and then descending by some fast swerves onto a very long and fast straight that runs back to the main road, which it joins at Montesilvano, turning right to travel full throttle again for a number of kilometres back along the coast road to the start and finish. The lap record stands to Moss with the Vanwall at 157.507 k.p.h. (approximately 98 m.p.h.) and laps at under 10 minutes by the fast cars are rare indeed.

The Scuderia Ferrari having won Sebring, Targa Florio and Le Mans, their victory in the Championship was assured, so for the Pescara race they entered only one car, a rear-engined Dino 246 car, with V6 engine of 2.4-litres and Baghetti and Ginther were the drivers. As a friendly gesture to the hard-working Scuderia Centro-Sud, Enzo Ferrari lent them a factory V12-cylinder front-engined 3-litre car, for Bandini and Scarlatti to drive, though Ferrari mechanic’s and engineers were there to look after the car. The Maserati factory turned out in full force to support their clients, for Casner was driving one of his Tipo 61 front-engined 4-cylinder 2.89-litre cars. Boffa had his now rather tired-looking Tipo 63 front-engined 2-litre car and Scuderia Serenissima entered two Tipo 63 rear-engined cars. One of these was a 4-cylinder 2.89-litre, driven by Vaccarella and the other was a V13 cylinder 3-litre driven by Bonnier; this car was fitted with a new form of de Dion rear axle in place of the normal wishbone i.r.s. of the Tipo 63, and it made use of long struts which ran rearwards from the lowest point of the hub carrier in a horizontal plane, but inwards at 45 degrees, to meet at a pivot point below the centre of the de Dion tube. In these struts were coil springs which were compressed due to the struts shortening as the wheels rose, caused by the geometry of radius arms locating the de Dion tube ends. Although this car was owned by the Scuderia Serenissma it was virtually a works Maserati, being fussed over by factory engineers and mechanics. From Switzerland came a privately-owned 3-litre V12 Testa Rossa sports Ferrari with home-built i.r.s. and a body similar to this year’s factory Ferraris, and it was driven by Gachnang and Caillet. The Porsche factory did not enter any works cars but gave their blessing to two privately-owned RS61 model Spyders, driven by Spychiger and Orthuber, sending Barth down to co-drive with the latter. There should have been two Lotus XVs running, from Doug Graham and Piper, but their transporter was in trouble before leaving home so they could not make it. In the 2-litre sports class, along with the Porsches and Boffa’s Maserati were three works Oscas, one with a 2-litre 4-cylinder engine with desmodromic valve gear and a new form of i.r.s. by coils and wishbones, this being driven by Ludovico Scarfiotti and two normal 1.6-litre 4-cylinders, driven by Colin Davis and Terra, a local driver, all three cars having Italian disc brakes made by Amadori of Bologna.

In the big G.T. class were Mairesse, driving Dumay’s 250. G.T. Ferrari, Arents and Hamill with a similar car from the North American Racing Team, and Abate With the Scuderia Serenissma 250 G.T. Ferrari, as well as some lesser Italian drivers. The 1,000-c.c. sports class was strictly a National affair with an assortment of cars such as Giaur, Bandini, Abarth Coupés, Stanguellini and 950-c.c. Osca, as well as Ada Pace with a Lotus XI fitted with a 950-c.c. Osca engine and gearbox. There was a small G.T. category for cars up to 1,300 c.c. in which there were fifteen Alfa Romeo Giuliettas of varying types, including Zagato’s latest body design driven by himself, and a Lotus-Elite, this being the very fast one of David Hobbs, fitted with the family firm’s automatic gearbox. At the last moment the scrutineers decided they could not allow the car to run as a production G.T. model, so it was moved up into the 2-litre sports class even though its Climax engine was only 1,220 c.c. for the small sports limit was 1,000 c.c. As the Lancia Appia Zagato coupé is no match for Giuliettas there was an extra G.T. class up to 1,150 c.c. to encourage these cars, of which there were four and they were joined by two Fairthorpe Elektrons with 1,100-c.c. Climax engines, one owned by an Italian, the other by a Greek.

Practice was allowed on the mornings of Sunday and Monday from 9 a.m. until noon, the whole 25.579 kilometres being firmly closed, with straw bales protecting corners, soldiers and police guarding all side turnings and a brilliant Italian sun to keep things happy. Although much of the circuit is bumpy, it is not rough and a great deal of work had gone into the circuit, painting white edges to the road, black and white stripes on dodgy walls or curbstones, signboards giving braking points and directions over blind brows, etc., and considering the length of the circuit a good job had been done. As the start was to be a Le Mans-style, with the cars lined up in order of engine capacity and class, the practice times were of no real importance other than to competitors to let them know how they were shaping. The works Ferrari was by far the fastest; until Baghetti clouted some strawbales and changed the shape of the body, but this was soon rectified, while the V12 Maserati sounded wonderful and looked every inch a “Pignatelli” as imagined in Road and Track, with holes, louvres, filters, slots and bumps all over it and four enormous megaphone exhaust pipes sticking out of the humpty-back tail. Unfortunately the handling was far from right and the cockpit was like an oven, so that Bonnier was disappointingly slow. Bandini was obviously enjoying the works V12 Ferrari on loan and Casner was quietly confident with his white and blue Tipo 61 Maserati; Scarfiotti was pretty quick with the 2-litre Osca, but described the handling with the i.r.s. as delicate and touchy, while Mairesse and Abate were very fast with the G.T. Ferraris, and Hobbs upset all the Giuliettas by beating them in the first practice, while his Lotus still counted as a G.T. car.

The race was due to start at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, August 15th, this being a National Religious holiday and at 6.30 a.m., with the sun already strong, thousands of locals and holiday makers streamed up into the hills on every type of wheeled vehicle that could be mustered. The vast temporary grandstand over-looking the pits was filled to capacity with paying customers, while every window and doorway of every house and shop in the built-up areas was a sea of brown faces of non-paying customers. In the hills every vantage point was a mass of spectators, all non-paying as trying to control such a large circuit is impossible, it being a hard enough job to keep them away from dangerous corners or slip roads, without actually trying to get money from them. Shortly after 9 a.m. the quiet murmur of voices up in the hills broke into a noisy chatter as hawk-like eyes saw vehicles coming along the road many kilometres away down on the lower slopes leaving Pescara. It was a false alarm, for this was a posse of mobile police and cars carrying V.I.P.s on an official road-closing lap, so that by the time they got back to the start it was well after 9 a.m. At 9.18 a.m. the start was given and everyone ran across the road, leapt in, pressed the starters and drove off in a jostling bunch, leaving the two Tipo 63 Maseratis stationary, grinding away on their starters. It was Casner who led away up into the hills, with Ginther and Mairesse in hot pursuit, followed by Abate and Bandini, Scarfiotti and Boffa and then a whole lot of heavy traffic as 51 of the 53 starters poured by. Eventually Bonnier got away in the V12 Maserati and some while later Vaccarella got the 4-cylinder car going. By the end of the lap Ginther was in the lead, from Casner and Mairesse and Scarfiotti was keeping the 2-litre Osca up with Abate’s G.T. Ferrari, but actual lap positions were not so important as the race was being run for four hours, and the greatest distance covered in that time was the deciding factor. Bandini stopped at the pits for a short while as the oil tank filler was not shut properly and was leaking and this dropped him back to 27th position by the time he got up into the hills again, while Bonnier arrived at the village of Spoltorre on foot, a drive shaft in the Maserati V12 having broken.

The other Serenissma car, however, was going like a rocket, Vaccarella hurling it round the corners, and from last away he was seventh at the end of his second lap and before halfway round his third lap he was fifth, but at that moment Mairesse spun off the road in a great cloud of dust and earth and retired unhurt but with a bent Ferrari coupé. Bandini had lost over three minutes in the pits but was now driving extremely well and gaining ground rapidly, sliding the big Ferrari about as though it was a Formula Junior car and doing a splendid job which was certainly justifying the loan of a works car, and he climbed steadily up through the field. Ginther had made fastest lap in 10 min. 18.8 sec. but Vaccarella now improved this to 10 min. 14.0 sec., an average of 149.975 k.p.h., and the Ferrari position suddenly looked sad, for the American brought the rear-engined car into the pits at the end of his third lap; something seemed wrong in the rear suspension and this stop let Casner go by into the lead with the white Maserati, and though Ginther was soon away, nothing being visibly wrong with the back-end, this stop allowed Vaccarella to get right on his tail, now in third place from being last away at the start. On the next lap the order was the same, Casner, Ginther and Vaccarella, while Abate lay fourth in the red G.T. Ferrari, but Scarfiotti who was in fifth place stopped at the pits with a split water header tank and feed pipe and lost nearly two hours while his mechanics set to and soldered up the leaks. Some way behind the leaders, but racing hard nevertheless, came Boffa, Orthuber and Spychiger, but Bandini was catching them very fast, the big Ferrari seeming very at home even on the twisty parts of the circuit. By now the leaders were lapping the slower cars at regular intervals and at times there were some pretty hair-raising traffic jams going into some of the corners, there being a lot of hooting, headlamp flashing and fistwaving.

Ginther improved the fastest lap to 10 min. 09.0 sec., in spite of the rear-end not behaving properly and then did 9 min. 56.7 sec. as the fuel load lightened, a speed of 154.324 k.p.h. This brought him right up behind Casner and as the end of the first hour approached he was pushing on the blunt-end of the Maserati trying to get by, while Vaccarella was just behind, and they both got by on the seventh lap as the first hour of the race was over. Abate was still behind them, followed by Boffa and Orthuber, while Spychiger had locked a brake on the approach to the bends by the pits and slid into the straw bales and bent his Porsche. This now let Bandini into seventh place and though not gaining on the first three he had his sights on fourth position. The Lotus Elite had long since expired, Colin Davis’ Osca was sounding rough and Bini in a 950-c.c. Osca was leading the small sports class and driving very well. In the Giulietta class it was like any normal day in Milan or Rome, for six cars were pushing and shoving for second place, Elio Zagato being slightly ahead of them all. Ginther went on and on increasing his lead and set another fastest lap and new sports car record in 9 min. 55.5 sec., a speed of 154.631 k.p.h., not quite up to Grand Prix speeds, and Vaccarella held second place, in spite of losing his boot lid which had been flapping for some laps. Casner was running a very safe and sensible third, the front-engined “Birdcage” Maserati looking very stable. On the eighth lap Vaccarella failed to appear, the Maserati having broken under the strain, so that Casner was now second once again, and Abate was third with Bandini fourth, both of them being caught in heavy traffic approaching the first village out in the hills. On the next lap there was a terrible shambles going into Spoltorre village as Bandini, Boffa and Orthuber got mixed up with a gaggle of Giuliettas but luckily there was no damage done, though there had been some pretty violent swerving and braking. At the end of the lap, which was the ninth, Ginther pulled into the pits for fuel and to hand over to Baghetti, but before halfway round the tenth lap Ferrari suffered a breakage in its left front suspension and the young Italian went by with the front wheel wobbling badly and the car steering eratically. He struggled round for the rest of the lap, to retire at the pits. As Casner had not yet stopped for fuel, he was already in the lead before Baghetti joined the race, so now he was comfortably ahead. Abate stopped for fuel and Bandini moved into second place but at the same time refuelled and handed over to Scarlatti, while Barth took over from Orthuber, the Porsche also having passed the G.T. Ferrari while it was at the pits. It was now 11.18 a.m. and the two-hour position was Casner (Maserati Tipo 61), Bandini/Scarlatti (Ferrari V12), Orthuber/13arth (Porsche RS61), Abate (Ferrari 250 G.T.), Boffa (Maserati Tipo 60) and then the G.T. Ferraris of Cacciari and Arents/Hamill, followed by Davis (Osca 1600) who was seemingly lacking second gear, but going fast nevertheless. Bini was still leading the small sports cars and Zagato was ahead of all the Alfas.

At the end of the following lap, the twelfth, Casner refuelled and continued before Scarlatti came in sight and was all set to go through to the finish, driving on his own, as were Abate, Boffa, Davis and many of the G.T. drivers, a second driver being optional. The order now seemed settled among the leaders, Scarlatti gaining nothing on Casner, who had a five-minute lead, so Signor Dei of the Centro-Sud team called in the big 12-cylinder and put young Bandini back in it. He came storming round, visibly faster than Scarlatti and the Italian crowd cheered and waved him on to greater efforts but on lap 14 disaster struck the leader; when almost exactly halfway round the lap Casner got into a slide on a fast left-hand bend, hit the bank and the Maserati rolled over, pinning the driver underneath, bruised and shaken and badly burnt by hot oil that poured from the tank before he could be extricated. This misfortune left Bandini comfortably in the lead and he continued to drive hard but not stupidly so, and settled down to turn just over 10-minute laps consistently. The pattern of the race was now fixed and everyone seemed certain of finishing with no possible changes among the leaders, or any of the class leaders. The pace in the first half had been very hot; indeed, as hot as the sunshine, but while the race cooled off during the last hour and a half the weather began to reach its noonday peak. After three hours the order was slightly changed for Abate had caught and passed Barth’s Porsche, regaining his rightful position, lost only on account of a long pit stop; the Porsche was under-geared and while fast in the mountains could not hold the G.T. Ferraris on the two long straights. Thus the order was Bandini, Abate, Barth, Boffa, Arents, Davis, the class leaders remaining unchanged.

Bandini ticked away the final hour with excellent regularity and reasonable speed, holding a comfortable 2.5-minute lead over Abate, but all was not yet settled, for as the end of the fourth hour approached poor Carlo Mario Abate came to rest on the final straight. It seemed the car had run out of fuel, so he coasted into a wayside garage and got some more, but the engine refused to start and he retired only 4 kilometres from the finish and a well-earned second place, for it was not shortage of fuel but serious engine trouble. Unable to complete his last lap of the race in the maximum time permitted he had to retire within sight of the finish. Scarfiotti had rejoined the race two hours behind and though still running well at the finish was too far behind to be classified.

Before the race everyone was confident that Baghetti would win, with Ginther to help him, but as it turned out Ginther did all the work and Baghetti did one slow lap. Casner really deserved to win, having been up near or in the lead until his crash, but Lorenzo Bandini was nonetheless a worthy winner, having driven the big Ferrari for the first time with great courage and bravery, briefly aided by Giorgio Scarlatti, so it was still a very popular Italian victory. All those people who said that Bandini should have been entered by F.I.S.A. in F.1 races instead of Baghetti, and had been eating their words ever since, were now able to say “There you are, we knew we were right, so for a moment all is well in Italian motor-racing circles, and Signor Dei of the Scuderia Centro-Sud and Commendatore Ferrari are both very happy.—D. S. J.