#51 1956 Indy 500

2021-04-21 00:00

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#1956, Fulvio Conti, Translated by Nicola Carriero, Simone Pietro Zazza,

#51 1956 Indy 500

The fight for the Formula 1 World Championship is now even tighter: on Sunday, 3rd June in Belgium, in Spa, keeping in mind the defection of The India


The fight for the Formula 1 World Championship is now even tighter: on Sunday, 3rd June in Belgium, in Spa, keeping in mind the defection of The Indianapolis 500 by the European car manufacturers, in the fourth stage, the leaders will be Behra with ten points, Fangio with nine and Moss with eight, while not taking into account Musso, Hawthorn, Castellotti, Collins and others that follow with four points or less. Therefore, a Frenchman, an Argentinian and an Englishman are lined up in the first three positions with a bare gap, all competing on Italian cars, while the British danger represented by Vanwall, B.R.M. and Connaught is fading away. In between, there are many events as fascinating as the Indy 500, such as the Gran Premio del Valentino, scheduled for Sunday, 20th May 1956. However, it would be postponed to a later date. In other words, it will not take place. Six million lire of organisational expenses fell through, and the work made to prepare for the race and to register it in the international calendar is useless. The reason behind the cancellation of the race is the withdrawal, communicated on Monday 14th May 1956, the day before the Monaco Grand Prix, of the two big Italian teams, Ferrari and Maserati, because of the lack of working mechanical equipment. The Monte-Carlo competition has indeed been very challenging, but it is equally true that Ferrari made a commitment to race with two or four vehicles. On the other hand, Maserati subjected its participation to the race results in Monte-Carlo, and a success in the streets of Monaco could be seen as a pretty good signal. However, with the impracticability of having Fangio, Moss, Castellotti, Musso, Behra, and Perdisa on the field and with the almost certain absence of the Vanwalls, the Sports Committee of A.C. Torino proposed to postpone to a date to be decided both the Formula 1 race, scheduled for Sunday, and the Cup for turismo vehicles that had to take place the day before. In Turin, the new tarmac on the avenues prepared for the race will remain, but most importantly a lot of bitterness among race fans will remain. On Wednesday, 30th May 1956, the Indy 500 will take place instead, where Giuseppe Farina attempts to race with a Ferrari-Bardahl made specifically for the race. The car has the engine moved to the left, the centre of gravity moved itself and the right tyres bigger than the left ones, like the other vehicles, as the direction of the Indy 500 is all left, and has only two gears, like most vehicles.


"I learned how to drive, and I can guarantee that the track of Indianapolis is beautiful, the speed is undetectable and my car goes splendidly with the new American fuel".


Tells the Italian driver after completing the practice on the Indianapolis circuit, Saturday 19th May 1956. Farina had to pass a special test made of four consecutive sessions, before being admitted for the qualification round; not even the World Champion title saved him from the necessary preliminary test. The Italian driver runs through the rig made of tiles and tarmac forty-six instead of fifty-five/sixty, with an average speed of 205.996 km/h, to gain the right of taking place at the qualification round, before the organizers stop him. Farina’s style, even at Indianapolis, impresses immediately the officials that will not hesitate to define him as one of the best drivers in the running; therefore, unless resounding surprises, he will easily qualify. Farina had shown some concerns about the carburetor, as the banked turns prevent the Ferrari, during the recovery, to have the normal liquid delivery: in Italy, special carburetors useful for running on the oval do not exist, and the one that arrived in Modena was not possible to install, but now it is all good and the Italian driver waits his moment to complete the four laps necessary for the qualification. This year’s race looks like the race of the record and sure enough, during the first session of qualification, the devil of Miami, Jim Rathmann, sets out the record both for the single lap, with an average speed of 263.630 km/h, and of the four laps of qualification, finished with an average mileage of 284.648 km/h. Rathmann is the first driver to attempt the qualification and a great number of viewers watched from the stands, while the TV operators focalized the lens: the air is calm, the sky is cloudy and the temperature is ideal. Rathmann runs the first lap with an average of 148.793 miles per hour, lowering the previous record set in 1955 by the late Jack Mcgrath; his last lap will be the fastest among the four made. On Sunday 20th May 1956, in front of more or less 100.000 viewers, Farina does not know if he will get on track or not, but it is believed that he will wait still a couple of days before making his attempt: as much as it seems paradoxical, he must learn first how to drive, as the technique that needs to be used in Indianapolis is completely different. When asked about how he found the circuit, the Italian driver replies:


"It was as I expected to be. The turns are not overly banked, in Monza they are more banked, but the oval is undoubtedly dangerous and if some car starts to lose ground without retiring it will be a real battle. However, I hope to not disfigure, but lots of people expect maybe too much from me, without remembering that Indianapolis is a particular race, no confrontation is possible and the poor Ascari told me exactly that defining it as a blind race".


In the late afternoon of Monday, 21st May 1956, in the box of the Ferrari-Bardahl, some smiles start to be seen, as the rear suspension and the injection system of the car are adjusted. Giuseppe Farina, who remained for most of the day in the grandstand and runs at a moderate speed on a Bardahl-Johnson Special that is used as a spare car, wants to try it immediately, but it is not possible because of the upcoming darkness caused by the sunset.


"My car is certainly great. I’m sure I can say a word in the race, if all goes well. However, if a race has no favourites, it is this one, where at least half of the drivers who run have cars and chances to win. Saturday’s lap times will hardly be exceeded in the race, where you do not run alone, but I too am of the opinion that the next 500 Miglia will demolish every record".


At the Indianapolis 500, as is known, only thirty-three cars participate, but at the end of the first qualifying tests, twenty-nine appearances are awarded, and the laps are defined as stunning by the technicians that are present: the new track record holder, Pat Flaherty, who completes the ten miles needed to qualify in 4'07"260, will start on pole position. Farina wants to take one of the four places left free, but not the ones at the back, since the regulation states that, when one of the qualified in the first days is exceeded in time by another competitor, he is entitled to a test of appeal in which, if he gets another time longer than the time of opposing him, he is readmitted. Therefore, except for the pole position that is assigned, no competitor, in theory, is sure to take off. In these last days the battle is all in the box, and also the Ferrari-Bardahl performs the most varied tests: they control the time that competitors will lose in refuelling and wheel changes, Bardahl has a meticulous number of very practical mechanics of these things and Indianapolis. For Farina, special billboards in Italian with various signals were manufactured; these are present in the corner of the box, with the words Attack, Stop, Gas, Candles, Tires, and more. On Monday, May 21st, 1956, a spectacular accident ends with a broken car and a driver who rolls unharmed in the middle of the lawn, after being expelled from the car driving at over 220 km/h: it is Jim McWithey from Indiana, on a Walter Special, which he had lost control of. The car already crashed on the fence and against the protective wall, while McWithey makes a jump of over ten meters and gets up without a scratch, receiving compliments from all. On Farina’s Ferrari-Bardahl, six specialized mechanics work, but it seems that the Italian champion encounters serious difficulties to bring his car to the tuning that is necessary for such a hard and challenging race like the 500 miles that will be held on Wednesday, May the 30th, 1956.


"The carburetor is not working as it should, but it is a small thing. However, you cannot take any risks in a race like the Indianapolis 500. Tomorrow I will try the car again, and hopefully, on Saturday I will be among the first to attempt qualifying".


Tuesday, May 22nd, 1956 at the wheel of the Bardahl-Ferrari is placed Freddie Agabashian, an experienced American racing driver who finds the same difficulties in acceleration that Farina has already found; this happens because Johnny Baldwin manages, while driving the Ferrari-Bardahl, to reach the minimum speed established for the qualification of pilots to drive on the Indianapolis track. Days go by, but Friday, May 25th, 1956, it is not yet certain if Giuseppe Farina will try to qualify his experimental car for the Indianapolis 500 race on May 30th: during the day, the Italian driver comes out of the Ferrari-Bardahl box, infuriated by the disagreements between him and chief mechanic Jess Beene, and between the Italian and American staff on technical issues relating to the car. Already the previous day, Thursday, May the 24th, 1956, the owner of the experimental machine that Farina should drive, Ole Bardahl, comes personally by plane to Indianapolis from Seattle to try to calm the crew and resolve the contrasts, which he believes are mainly due to language difficulties. Beene does not speak Italian, and Farina does not know English well enough to clearly explain to Beene the mechanical changes and the adjustments he considers necessary to the car after the tests. 


Farina even has a heated argument with Bardahl about whether or not to use pure alcohol in Ferrari’s engine, as the Italian driver believes that this additive was not recommended, while Bardahl indicates to the Turin rider that, if he decided not to race and there was no way to change his mind, he would give the car to Johnny Baldwin, who has already passed the test as a driver in an old Ferrari. In the end, the Italian driver and the oil tycoon reconcile, and Farina agrees to run with pure alcohol in the tank. So far, the car, which as is known has an eight-cylinder Ferrari engine mounted on a Kurtis-Kraft chassis, has not run at a speed exceeding 136 miles per hour, but to qualify among the thirty-three cars that will be admitted to the start, Farina’s car must reach at least 140 miles per hour. The following day, Saturday, May the 26th, 1956, a few hours before the start of the official practice for the assignment of the four remaining starting places, it is not yet known if Giuseppe Farina will go on the track with his Ferrari to attempt a lap. The mechanics of the Italian company work hard, getting a good result, given that, on Friday, the car finally reaches 138 miles per hour, but Pat Flaherty and Fred Agabashian, the two American drivers who are very close to Farina’s car, declare that it takes more effort to find the necessary speed. And so, it comes to the last day to try to qualify, but the rain causes a postponement of the trials for the great Memorial Race of the 30th of May, 1956. The attention of the day is still dominated by the ongoing controversy between the Italian champion Farina and the international team of technicians that takes care of Ferrari-Bardahl since Farina has agreed to try alcohol, but not even this has led to the result hoped for. The interpreters of Farina tell Jees Beene, head of the Ferrari-Bardhal mechanics team, that the Italian wanted to make another test, but Jess, with an impenetrable expression on his face covered with greasy spots, declares:


"As far as I know, Farina is out of the car".


Only the events of the next few hours - with the unexpected romance that never fails on the eve of a race like the Indy 500 - can define if Farina, Beene and Bardahl will agree. Meanwhile, in Europe, on Sunday, May 27th, 1956 fifty thousand enthusiastic people attended the dispute over the 1000 Kilometers of Nurburgring. To make the contest even more exciting, there is also an accident, fortunately without tragic consequences, where Luigi Musso is the protagonist. During the fourth lap, the Ferrari driver, facing a sharp curve, goes outside the track at full speed and his car, after a flight of several meters, flips over; if he had not been thrown out of the cockpit after the first crash against a kerbstone, Musso would have been crushed. The Italian driver is collected lifeless and immediately transported to the hospital, where at first his condition appears desperate. Later, it can be ascertained that the Roman racer reported a fracture of the right arm and contusions to the thorax and the back, beyond abrasions to the face, therefore its state does not arouse excessive worries.


"I am not worried about the state of Luigi Musso".


This will state, that on Monday, May 29th, 1956 the doctor of the clinic in which the Italian driver is hospitalized was injured on the circuit of Nurburgring.


"His state inspires no disquiet and his morale is excellent".


During the Monaco Grand Prix, the brave driver had suffered an accident that only resulted in damage to the car: to avoid a collision with his team-mate Fangio, who had spun in a corner, Musso ended up directly against a pile of compressed straw, getting away with no damage. After the race, all the Ferrari drivers, and also many other competitors, go to the hospital to offer Musso affectionate greetings. The race, hard-fought, is meanwhile won by the pair Moss-Behra, aboard the only Maserati - of the three starters - that reached the finish line. The exploit of the English ace Moss is a kind of confirmation of the result of Monte-Carlo, although it should be noted that the 1000 Kilometres is valid for the championship for sports cars and not already for that of Formula 1. And in that ranking Ferrari, although it missed the victory, still retains first place having placed the pair Fangio-Castellotti in second place and Portago-Gendebien in third. Maserati prevails essentially for the upper class of Moss, who in the final laps finds himself struggling with Castellotti, perhaps sensibly tired for the exhausting test. However, Moss himself will recognize it during the ritual interviews, perhaps the Maserati driver would not have been able to reach and overtake Ferrari during the fortieth lap if the car of Castellotti had not had to stop at the pits to refuel. 


When Castellotti resumed the race, Moss had only seven seconds of advantage but in the last eight laps, so about one hundred and eighty kilometres, he managed to gain another nineteen, thus crossing the finish line with a certain margin of safety. If the Englishman has the merit of having successfully completed the decisive phase of the race, it must be remembered that Behra was the author of a formidable comeback about mid-race, when the fate of Maserati seemed irremediably compromised. The Frenchman was finishing the nineteenth lap when he had to stop almost suddenly due to the break of the rear axle, so it is impossible to proceed to a quick repair. The director of the Maserati, having noticed that the car driven by the young Perdisa has already retired due to problems with the engine on lap 13, decided to stop that of Taruffi and the American Shell to give it to Behra. The Frenchman restarts in third, but with a strong gap from the pair Fangio-Castellotti. Forcing in an almost incredible way, the Maserati driver manages to conquer second over second, so much that on lap 28 he returns to the second position, not far from the Argentine Ferrari driver. These are the decisive stages of the race, but the twists are not missing from the beginning, since the competition is so exhausting that, at one-third of the race, out of the fifty-seven cars started, only eleven are still running. At the start, Fangio snaps to gain the leading position, but on the second lap, he is overtaken by the Maserati of Moss who for the first kilometres will remain in charge with an oscillating advantage from a minimum of fifteen seconds to a maximum of eighty-eight. Apart from Musso’s accident, many retirements take place not far from the start, and among the cars forced to give up, there is the Jaguar of the Englishman Duncan Hamilton. 


On the ninth lap, Marquis De Portago’s Ferrari suddenly stops in the middle of the track, followed by a moment of fear as the oncoming cars threaten to hit it. Since the driver cannot restart the car alone, this will be removed from the final standings of the race, but with the teammate Gendebien, the Spaniard goes to drive another Ferrari. The race of this pair deserves to be emphasized: resuming the race with several minutes of gap, De Portago and Gendebien will be able to regain the third position and maintain it until the finish. Among the Jaguars, also that of Hawthorn and Titterington had no luck, given that on the thirty-seventh lap, while Hawthorn is behind the wheel, the car skids, and following a collision with a low wall, it crashes the fuel tank. Fifteen minutes will have to pass, spent by the mechanics in a feverish work before the car can resume the competition, but the delay is unbridgeable, so much that after a few laps the driver abandons. After the fourth of five races of the sports championship, which sees Ferrari more and more on the run towards the final victory, on Tuesday, May the 29th, 1956 a tropical sun shines on the brickyard track of Indianapolis, while the puddles that three days of almost uninterrupted rainfall had caused are rapidly drying out, and is therefore certainly the start of the 500 miles. The rain that had fallen until the previous day, however, forced the organizers to suppress the final qualification during which Giuseppe Farina, at the wheel of the Ferrari-Bardahl, would try together with twelve other competitors to qualify. The Italian driver is very dark on his face, leaning with his hand on the trunk of his scarlet racing car, with the American and Italian flags painted on the trunk.


"I have nothing to declare and I have no desire to speak. Damn weather...".


The Italian driver says nothing else, but rumours circulate that he wanted to try to qualify on Saturday, in the interval allowed by the rain, and that he was advised to wait for the next day. But the advice proved fatal for the Italian, because of the cars that could not line up for qualifying no one was allowed to start. This year, however, the race will be held in an atmosphere of truce, since the state roads are almost all flooded. The Indiana River overflowed and police motorboats had to rescue isolated children and women. The big party for the 500 Miglia will be reduced accordingly, because of the 600.000 people who usually flock to the competition, this year will probably be reduced to 100.000, with peaks of perhaps 150.000. In a quiet place in the central grandstand, Giuseppe Farina will be forced to watch what should have been his farewell race to the races. The Turin driver maybe only at the last moment, when the cars will already be taken in a deafening roar, will realize that he is not among the starters. And it is going to be a very sad time.


"Will I be attending the race? Of course, at least they cannot stop me from doing it. I’ve been thinking about this race for months, we’ve been working around the car. Misfortune wanted to put the tail, and it is not the first time in my life that this occurs...".


Prizes are up for grabs for 275.000 dollars, and of these, the organizers have allocated 20.000 just for the winner while the others come from car manufacturers and accessory houses; those in the lead at the end of each round earn 1.000 dollars. Pat Flaherty will win the 40th edition of the famous Indianapolis car race and will win prizes for about sixty-nine million Italian lire, a record number, given that previously the late winner of the 1953 edition, Bill Vukovich had made sixty-four million lire. While Farina had no choice but to go to Detroit, where he was invited by Ford to visit the famous workshops.


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