#15 1951 Spanish Grand Prix

2021-04-06 00:00

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#1951, Fulvio Conti, Ludovico Nicoletti,

#15 1951 Spanish Grand Prix

Automobile racing is returning as one of the most thrilling sports. The credit goes to the recently established World Championship, whose events are l


Automobile racing is returning as one of the most thrilling sports. The credit goes to the recently established World Championship, whose events are linked by the thread of the standings, with highs and lows, victories, defeats, or revenges, much like in soccer and stage cycling races. The events of the Italian Grand Prix and the Alfa-Ferrari rivalry have at least doubled the number of those interested in the racing world. The eagerly awaited date is Sunday, October 28, 1951, the day of the Spanish Grand Prix, which will conclude the duel between Fangio and Ascari. In the workshops, technicians and mechanics work tirelessly around the racing cars, realizing the importance of being prepared well in advance. Even the drivers don't remain idle; they make the most of minor races in the calendar to stay in shape and indulge in their passion. The less prominent figures and the younger ones are pleased with the opportunity, as they can measure themselves against the champions, develop their skills, and try to stand out. On Sunday, September 23, 1951, in Modena, a race is scheduled for Formula 2 cars, i.e., vehicles with a two-liter engine and no supercharger. Ferrari will debut its new four-cylinder cars, entrusting them to the winner of the Italian Grand Prix, Ascari, and the classic Villoresi. The competition includes H.W.M. cars driven by the young Moss and Macklin, Simca cars driven by Manzon, Simon, Trintignant, and Branca, the Osca 1400 driven by Bordoni, and six other Ferrari 2000 cc cars already tested with a string of successes. They will be piloted by Gonzalez, Carini, and Marimon, a student of Fangio. As for Scuderia Marzotto, Cortese, Bianchetti, and Rosier will be behind the wheel. Farina and Fangio will be absent, lacking a suitable car for this type of race. The lineup promises balanced battles in various sectors. The race will cover 260.800 kilometers (166 laps of the circuit). A distance not severe for the endurance of the drivers. Free from team tactical worries, as in the World Championship, Villoresi and Gonzalez can freely express themselves. Gonzalez, over the 600 kilometers of the World Championship Grand Prix, seems, at times, to be in crisis, perhaps due to his corpulent physique, which should be particularly affected by fatigue and heat. It will be interesting to observe his performance in the not long and easy Modena race next Sunday. 


The competition is rich in technical reasons due to the different designs of the cars and engines in the race and the challenges of the circuit, smooth but treacherous due to the succession of curves (the circuit has recently been described as a small Indianapolis). It has not failed to attract a truly exceptional crowd of about 30.000 people. If some promises are not fulfilled, mainly due to Villoresi's retirement, who stopped at the pit on lap 34 due to a broken piston, and the decimation caused by the race pace and the effort required of the engines, there are still exciting reasons for interest due to the determination shown by all competitors. Fierce duels take place among Ascari's immediate pursuers for the conquest of honorable positions. The protagonists are, at different times, the Argentine Gonzalez, in splendid form, the Englishman Macklin, the Italian Franco Cortese who has carried out a regular race, securing, with the fourth place in the standings, the title of Italian Formula 2 champion for 1951, and the Frenchman Rosier. The race starts at 3:00 p.m. The Frenchman Simon takes the lead, followed immediately by compatriots Manzon and Rosier. However, Ascari, who came on strong, dominates everyone on the third lap and takes the lead. In order, Simon and Villoresi follow, who had also passed the other two French cars. These positions remain unchanged for five laps, while the tough selection imposed by the race pace begins. Manzon and Rosier give way first, then the very young Argentine Marimon, a student of Fangio, who stays still for several minutes at the pit. Gonzalez is the only one to resist the two Ferrari drivers. Following at a distance is Cortese at the wheel of an old 12-cylinder Ferrari, with significantly lower power than his opponents. The two English cars also fall behind, and Moss is soon forced to retire. In the second half of the race, Villoresi retires, who until this moment had been Ascari's most formidable opponent; on the other hand, Macklin resumes, closely followed by Franco Cortese. In this order, the four complete lap 35, and from this moment, the standings do not change. A week later, on Sunday, September 30, 1951, Giuseppe Farina, the current Formula 1 World Champion, wins three races at Goodwood and improves the circuit records. Driving an Alfa Romeo 1500 cc with a supercharger, Farina triumphs in the Goodwood Trophy, the Woodcote Cup, and the September Handicap. The Goodwood Trophy covers a distance of 15 laps of the circuit, totaling 58 kilometers. Farina wins at an average speed of 153.058 km/h.


In the ninth lap, the Italian driver breaks the official circuit record, covering the 3860 meters of the track in 1’28”0, at an average speed of 156.589 km/h. The official record (which Farina had already unofficially surpassed in training) was held by the Englishman Reg Parnell, with an average speed of 152.692 km/h. Parnell comes in second aboard a special Ferrari. The battle between the Italian and the Englishman soon resolves in favor of Farina. Tony Rolt finishes third, driving a Delage; fourth is Bob Gerard in an E.R.A., and fifth is Stirling Moss in an H.W.M. The race is in free formula. The Woodcote Cup covers a distance of five laps. Farina wins at an average speed of 152.565 km/h. In this race too, the Englishman Parnell finishes second with the same Ferrari. During this race, Farina completes the fastest of the five laps at an average speed of 155.945 km/h. The third victory for the Italian driver comes in the September Handicap, also covering a distance of five laps with advantages to compensate for the different power of the cars. The drivers find themselves fighting on equal terms. After an exciting race, Farina reaches the young Englishman Stirling Moss in the H.W.M. 2000 without a supercharger, right on the finish line, winning with a narrow margin, at an average speed of 152.082 km/h. Farina also wins the Dunlop trophy for the fastest lap overall. The prizes are presented by the Duchess of Richmond and Gordon, who takes the first sip of champagne from Farina's cup. The Italian driver is celebrated by the numerous crowd of spectators. The weather conditions are excellent. With these two events, the anticipation for the Spanish Grand Prix, the last race of the World Championship, concludes. On Tuesday, October 23, 1951, the cars and drivers that will compete on Sunday, October 28, 1951, on the Pedralbes circuit, arrive in Barcelona. While the Alfa Romeos have just arrived, and some isolated competitors have already tested the open circuit, the arrival of the four Ferraris 4500 of Gonzalez, Ascari, Villoresi, and Taruffi is announced from Modena. The exit of the Alfas and Ferraris will probably take place on Thursday, while the official trials will take place on Friday and Saturday, determining the starting order. All Spanish newspapers, both sports and non-sports, follow with attention the eve of this Spanish Grand Prix, in which Alfa and Ferrari, Fangio and Ascari, maintain almost equal chances of winning the 1951 world title. 


The exceptional technical importance of Sunday's race and the guaranteed participation of all the best teams and drivers have forced the organizing body of Pena Rhin and the Royal Automobile Club of Spain to a financial effort unprecedented in the history of the traditional Grand Prix. The budget is 3.000.000 pesetas. Farina, Fangio, and the other Alfa Romeo drivers arrive in Barcelona on Wednesday, October 24, 1951, and the arrival of Ascari and Villoresi is imminent, so the official trials, which will take place on Thursday and Friday from 4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m., will see the best drivers on the track. The adjustments to the road surface are already completed, but due to the different undulating sections that still characterize it, the circuit will subject the cars to considerable wear. The 6316 meters of the perimeter include seven curves, two of them difficult, and a straight of about 2.750 meters with a slope ranging from 4.5% to 5%, where the racing cars can be launched at their maximum speed. Brakes and transmission will be the components of the cars asked for the greatest sacrifices. Although the weather until Wednesday was not too favorable, it is expected that every previous record (including the attendance record) will be surpassed: in just the first two days of sales, over 30.000 seats were sold for a total of about 1.500.000 pesetas. Two different and conflicting technical concepts, two classes of drivers, two worlds, will face each other on Sunday, October 28, 1951, in Barcelona, on the challenging Pedralbes circuit, to compete in the final of the World Championship. Two worlds because, for the first time in motorsport history, not only as a contender but as the front-runner and therefore with the best chances of success, is an Argentine driver, the ace Manuel Fangio, who South American sports fans have made a kind of representative idol. He is pursued in the score, with at least as much personal prestige, by the Italian ace who in 1951 has definitively rid himself of all the reservations that made him alternately more impetuous than a stylist, more of a sprinter than a scholar of the mechanical means. Today, Alberto Ascari is universally recognized as a complete driver in all the excellence of the term, on all terrains and in all race conditions: the most worthy to represent the superb Italian sports tradition in a global comparison. The slight gap from Fangio's score can be filled where he precedes the Argentine rival by two places in the standings or where he places, and the other does not finish the race: just this perspective is enough to understand how electrifying the race will be, regardless of any other elements at play. 


However, two technical concepts are also at play, centered around the now aging Formula 1, which, unambiguous for many years in its verdict in favor of the 1500 cc supercharged engine, has, with the latest races, been leaning towards the 1500 cc naturally aspirated engine - the two cars being considered equivalent by the formula, as is known. So overwhelming was the superiority of the supercharger that in establishing the new formulas, it was thought to increase the displacement ratio between the two classes of cars from one to three to one to four (as is already the case, for example, for Formula B). The sudden superiority, outlined initially only sporadically and dramatically asserted itself at Monza, of the 3500 cc naturally aspirated Ferrari, cannot naturally be considered a judged matter in the sports field. In any case, these topics also serve to emphasize, on a strictly technical ground, the interest in Barcelona, which perhaps becomes the final of a formula and of an entire automotive era. Fangio-Alfa or Ascari-Ferrari? Or could Gonzales, also South American, insinuate himself between the two aces in the top championship score? And will we finally see the English B.R.M., always on the doorstep for a glorious start and always returning? On Thursday, October 25, 1951, the times set by the most prominent competitors in today's trials fully confirm the predictions that the battle on Sunday at the Pedralbes circuit promises to be extremely uncertain. Over 20.000 spectators attend the training sessions, which will continue in the afternoon on Friday. Demolishing both, almost with derisive ease, the previous records set by Ascari last year, Alfa Romeo and Ferrari clearly demonstrate their equivalence. Fangio and Gonzalez are the fastest of their respective brands, and the former sets the new lap record, surpassing the previous one by almost 10 km/h. On the long straight in front of the main stands, Fangio covers the flying kilometer at an average speed of 300.004 km/h, exceeding the best time over the distance by over 27 km/h, marked last year by Ascari. The times obtained by the two Argentine aces are only slightly superior to those achieved by Villoresi, Ascari, Farina, Taruffi, Bonetto, de Graffenried, etc., while those obtained by Simca Talbot and Osca have conclusively confirmed that the highest aspirations of such brands cannot go beyond an honorable placement. During the trials, Bonetto goes off the track in a curve, lightly damaging his car, fortunately without harm to himself, and resumes training with another car. 


The anticipation in these sports circles for Sunday's big race is enormous; it will be attended by the Italian Ambassador to Madrid, Marquis Tallani De Marchio. On Friday, October 26, 1951, a conflict of timing complicates the final trials for the Pedralbes Grand Prix, which will see Alfa Romeo and Ferrari engaged in a tough battle. An evident malfunction in the devices has electrically recorded times significantly lower than those controlled by the boxes of their respective teams. While it is officially announced that Ascari has achieved the best time at a speed of 174.130 km/h, the times to be considered real, because controlled by the chronometers of Alfa and Ferrari, show Fangio as the fastest of the day. Besides achieving a top speed of 302.520 km/h on the flying kilometer, he completes a lap in 2'16"0, surpassing his previous record of 2'16"45 by almost 0.5 seconds. After the Argentine, the unofficial timing reveals the following times, which are the best achieved by each driver: Farina 2'17"3, Ascari 2'18"0, Gonzalez 2'18"6, Villoresi 2'18"7, Taruffi 2'21"9, de Graffenried 2'25"6, Bonetto 2'27"1. Not worth mentioning, because they are far from those obtained by Alfa and Ferrari, are the times of the remaining competitors, among which stand out the Sinicas of Manzon and Trintignant, who lap in 2'26"1 and 2'27"7, respectively. During the trials, attended by a considerable crowd, including many Italians, two incidents are recorded, which fortunately have no serious consequences: Taruffi and Farina are involved. The first skids in a curve due to a mechanical failure, ending up in a meadow, while the Piedmontese ace suddenly loses his brakes, and the car speeds at well over 200 km/h. The World Champion, however, managed to control the vehicle with great skill and save himself from a frightening accident. Taruffi also emerged completely unharmed and got away with a considerable fright. In the evening, the competitors will be invited by the Peña Rhin to a Spanish folklore show in an elegant city venue. Here is the list of participants: Ascari, Villoresi, Gonzalez, Taruffi on Ferrari 4500; Trintignant, Manzon, Simon on Simca-Gordini; Prince Bira on Osca 4500; Farina, Fangio, Bonetto, de Graffenried on Alfa Romeo 1500; Rosier, Chiron, Giraud-Cabantous. Etancelin, Claes, Grignard on Talbot 4500; Jover, Godia Maserati 1500. It is a pity that the advanced and harsh season, the distance, and the need for a visa have reduced the participation of Italian sportsmen in the closing spectacle that is preparing in Barcelona to a small group of Turin enthusiasts - in addition, of course, to the usual collaborators and intimates of the interested teams. 


In many ways, it is the most emotional and interesting race of the year: both as the final of the World Drivers' Championship and as the resolution of the interesting technical duel between the two aces of Formula 1, which, having collected three victories in 1951 with the supercharged 1500 and three with the naturally aspirated 4500, faces the Spanish test in conditions of fascinating parity. Needless to say, in either case, these are the two great Italian machines: the 159 Alfa Romeo, of 1500, with the two-stage compressor, the most powerful Grand Prix car that Formula 1 has brought to the fore, although now aged in design - and the recent 4500 naturally aspirated Ferrari, which, in the face of slightly lower power, demonstrated at Monza, where it had reached its final tuning, a high degree of safety and regularity, as well as a significantly lower fuel consumption, allowing it to gain on refueling. As for the men, for the absolute World Championship, there are only two protagonists: Fangio, who leads the standings with 27 points, on the Alfa, and Ascari, who follows with 25 points, on the Ferrari. The Argentine has been the most assiduous and the luckiest, Ascari has become threatening and invincible in the last races. Third and clearly distanced, with 21 points, is Gonzalez: only in the case of the retirement of the first two and his victory would he acquire the title. For Ascari, a victory and the fastest lap are sufficient, against a second-place Fangio; or, without the lap, to place with two positions ahead of the leading opponent. A task, as seen, quite challenging, but not such as to make the athletic Ferrari team leader, who left Italy without hiding his good hopes, tremble. Naturally, in terms of the ranking in the race, calculations will have to be made with the other protagonists, who, although closed in the absolute championship, do not seem to lend themselves to team combinations: we especially allude to Farina and Villoresi. The Grand Prix takes place on the Pedralbes road circuit, a picturesque and winding ring of 6300 meters, rich in seven curves and numerous ups and downs, perfectly equipped for the enormous audience that, judging by the reservations, will set a record of its kind. Even in the realm of bullfighting, in short, the sport of the car triumphs. During the reception offered on Friday evening in a Barcelona night spot by the organizers of the Pedralbes Circuit, Farina had already forgotten the bad moment during the trials. His concern shortly after is only to try to avoid the newspapers, by dramatizing too much the news of the narrowly avoided danger, from alarming his family. The Italian driver recounts that he never doubted for a moment that he could save himself:


"My car was going at a high speed, but thanks to its excellent stability, I was able to control it. Everything ended well... although I'll have to bring another painting to the Consolata".


Even more spectacular was the accident that happened to Taruffi. His car went off the road and ended up in a meadow, and he hit his head against the windshield. When he saw himself coming down to the ground with his face smeared with blood, there was a sensation that he could be seriously injured. But fortunately, it is only superficial abrasions to the face. He himself acknowledges that the accident could have had much more serious consequences. Fangio and Ascari, interviewed during the reception, say they are satisfied with their cars. Both naturally hope to achieve the success that would allow them to win the title. In Saturday's trials, the lively behavior of the cars of the two Italian teams surprises. The Alfas show speeds slightly higher than the Ferraris, but it is not known if they have pushed as hard as the others. It cannot be said what margin they have left to exploit. The higher consumption of the supercharged Alfas will almost certainly force them to two fuel stops during the 445-kilometer race, while it is not certain that the Ferraris will need them. Therefore, the Milanese cars will start with an initial disadvantage of at least one minute against their opponents, which is equivalent to about one second per lap. If the Ferraris do not refuel, this disadvantage would double. In the trials, Fangio surpasses his record set on Thursday by almost 0.5 seconds. The new record is 1'16"0. An expectant crowd of 250.000 spectators gathers on race day for the exciting finale of the 1951 Formula 1 season. The big battle of the day is once again between Alfa Romeo and Ferrari, and most importantly, Juan Manuel Fangio and Alberto Ascari for the world championship. It’s a disappointment to see one of the home favorites, Juan Jover Sañés, retire his Maserati before the start. The car encounters consistent engine troubles which now force the Spaniard to withdraw. Only 19 cars are therefore taking the start due to the pre-race retirement of Sañés. The race starts well for Ferrari; Ascari immediately takes the lead while González manages to move into second place. 


Fangio has a poor start and drops down to fourth, his teammate Farina also making it past him on the starting line. However, later on, the race begins to return in Fangio’s favor: on the second lap, González spins, dropping behind Farina, Fangio, Bonetto, and Villoresi. On the third lap, Fangio moves past his teammate Farina, while on the fourth, race leader Ascari is overtaken by Fangio's Alfa Romeo. However, this is not completely out of the plan for Ferrari. The Ferrari 375 with its better fuel economy expects to go the whole race without stopping. The Alfa Romeos, instead, are expected to make a pit-stop during the race. Despite this, Ferrari begins to fall off the pace. Before the race, the team fitted new smaller diameter wheels. However, the tires on these smaller wheels struggle to cope with the heavy loading that’s being presented on the Pedralbes Circuit. The Ferraris begin to encounter severe tire degradation, and all their cars are required to make a pit-stop. Taruffi pits on lap 6, Villoresi on lap 8, Ascari on lap 9, and González on lap 14. There have been a few early retirements: Prince Bira's lone championship appearance in the season lasts a single lap before his Maserati-OSCA breaks down. Chiron also retires with ignition troubles while Giraud-Cabantous also goes out following an accident which sees him hit a stray dog. Grignard then goes out of the race on lap 23 with engine trouble. At the front, Alfa Romeo is now well in control of the race with their four cars occupying the top four following the Ferrari pit-stops. Despite his mishaps, Ascari is determined to take the championship; he quickly makes his way past De Graffenried and Bonetto to move into third place. However, while chasing Fangio and Farina, Ascari slides off the circuit and into the sand. The car is undamaged; however, a quick precautionary pit-stop sees him drop back behind Bonetto, De Graffenried, González, and Villoresi. De Graffenried will not maintain his position for long: steam begins to pour from his bonnet prompting a pit-stop. The Alfa Romeo has its water refueled and rejoins the race in eighth place. The lead of the midfield is still contested between Manzon, Trintignant, and Simon for ninth place. The three Simca-Gordinis are battling hard; however, both Simon and Trintignant will soon retire with engine troubles. Manzon too will encounter engine troubles, while the lone Simca-Gordini was determined to make it to the end. Following the troubles of Ascari, González takes up the Ferrari charge, his car moving past Bonetto to get in third. 


However, the two leading Alfa Romeo's of Fangio and Farina seem to be in continued control of the race. On lap 29, Fangio comes into the pits for his scheduled pit-stop for fuel. He rejoins the race in second, still ahead of González, and remains in prime position to take the world title. Taruffi is having a terrible race for Ferrari; he’s struggling in only eighth position and then, on lap 30, his wheel detaches from the car forcing him to retire from the race. Claes is the next driver to retire on lap 37: his car crashes against some straw barrels lining the circuit, forcing him to pull into the pits to retire. The Ferraris continue to encounter difficulties; Villoresi is driving slowly with an engine misfire, while Ascari is forced to make a second pit-stop due to tire troubles. His championship hopes are constantly slipping away as his rival, Fangio, continues to dominate apparently without a problem. González, anyway, is still charging and manages to move past Farina into second place at the following round of Alfa Romeo pit stops. There is little to no consolation for Ferrari: Fangio is dominating, also setting a new lap record for the circuit and will go on to win his third championship win of the season and his first world title, 54 seconds ahead of González. Farina, handing over the title of reigning world champion to Fangio, is still in third place, the only unlapped racer remaining. Ascari fights his way up to fourth position; however, it is not enough to be crowned world champion after a dismal race. Bonetto rounds out the top five ahead of De Graffenried who battled water cooling problems throughout the race. Rosier, who started last on the grid, fights his way back up to seventh place in the race. Étancelin finishes eighth ahead of Manzon, who remarkably makes it to the finish line despite his engine problems. In last place, comes the lone Maserati of Godia-Sales. The sole Spaniard was determined to see the finish of the race, his car needing multiple pit-stops for repairs putting him ten laps behind the leaders. The great race held on the Pedralbes circuit in front of 250.000 spectators concludes with a triumphant victory for the Italian industry and the conquest of the World Championship by Fangio, to whom Alfa Romeo provided the admired mechanical means that allowed him to fulfill the great dream of his career. Alberto Ascari had to surrender to an opponent who had a more efficient mechanical means and was thus ousted from the fight for victory due to mechanical problems that had nothing to do with his exceptional driving skills. 


Probably due to concerns raised by the wear of mechanical parts that would have been caused by other types, Ferrari technicians gave preference to a type of tires, also discouraged by the manufacturer, that did not withstand. On the other hand, the victory of Alfa Romeo lends itself to technical considerations and supports those who, not wrongly, argue for the resistance of supercharged vehicles compared to aspirated ones. The race chronicle must be based on the wonderful regularity of Fangio's driving, who, third in the first lap, moved up to second place in the third lap to take command in the fourth and never relinquish it, conducting a triumphal march at high speed that shattered all previous records. On Tuesday, November 20, 1951, the second automotive crossing of Mexico from south to north begins, a speed race, 3113 kilometers long, in eight stages and six days, including twenty-four hours of rest in Durango on Friday. The total prize money approaches 40.000.000 lire. Almost all one hundred registered crews belong to the American continent. Europe is represented by the four Italian pairs Ascari-Villoresi, Taruffi-Chinetti, Bracco-Cornacchia, Bonetto-Volpini, and the two French pairs Chiron-Mariotti and Lédurque-Trevoux. Especially in road races, comparisons between European and American drivers are extremely rare; this is mainly due to logistical and environmental differences. The Mexican adventure of Ascari, Villoresi, and Bracco could provide useful evaluation elements. Tarasi and Bonetto with two Alfa 2500s placed fourth and fifth, respectively, in the 1950 edition, which had unfavorable events for Italian drivers. The admitted cars are of the standard type, four-seaters with closed bodywork, with freedom for innovations and transformations, except in the fundamental characteristics of the engine. 


Ascari-Villoresi and Taruffi-Chinetti have Ferrari 2500 cc cars; Bracco-Cornacchia and Bonetto-Volpini drive Lancia G.T.; Chiron drives a Delahaye 4500 with 275 HP; Trevoux has a Packard. The route consists of the perfect and recent Pan-American artery that connects the U.S. and Guatemala borders, through almost desert areas. The first thousand kilometers wind through mountains, with elevation differences up to 3000 meters and special torment for carburetion organs. Giovanni Bracco, the king of the mountain and author of a daring Mille Miglia, is particularly expected to prove himself on this stretch. The other two-thirds of the Carrera are made up of straights that last tens of kilometers, with connections of wide curves. It is a sector not too difficult in terms of driving but very problematic in calculating the resistance of the mechanical means at high speeds over long periods. Today, the first stage from Tuxtia Gutierrez to Oaxaca, 553 kilometers. The final finish line is Ciudad Juarez, where the Carrera will end on Sunday, November 25, 1951. 37 cars will reach the finish line. The Ferrari 212 Inter Vignale Coupé of Taruffi-Chinetti wins the Mexican Carrera, followed by the Ferrari of Ascari-Villoresi and the Chrysler Saratoga of Sterling/Sandidge. The Frenchman Louis Chiron on Delahaye 175S and Felice Bonetto on Lancia Aurelia B20 retire due to breakdowns; the story of the couple Carlos and Teresita Panini is interesting. Enthused by Taruffi's exploits in the previous Carrera, during their honeymoon in Rome, they decided to buy an Alfa Romeo 6C-2500 (registered Rome 153150) to participate in the race. In an accident caused by seventeen-year-old Bobby Unser, Carlos loses his life, and his wife is injured. Unser is therefore disqualified for not stopping to provide assistance.


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