On Wednesday, January 16, 1957, in anticipation of the 1000 Kilometers of Buenos Aires, only the Maserati drivers are testing. Taking into account the particular dangerous characteristics of the route, the drivers are invited to moderate the speed. However, Fangio on the 4500 runs at over 183 km/h. In the meantime, Ferrari declares that the cars will not race on Sunday, 20 January 1957 unless changes are made to the route, imposing a reduction in speed. Sculati, in particular, declares that on the straights the cars can reach 300 km/h, and that it is not admissible to launch cars at that speed at the same time in both directions, when the separation is constituted only by a white strip. He argues that chicanes should be put in place of the strip to force drivers not to exceed 300 km/h.
Even Maserati, however, is not satisfied with the conditions under which the race will take place. Hoping that the situation will clear up before Sunday, fans’ attention will be focused on a new battle between Maserati and Ferrari, for a spicy rematch after what happened on Sunday. A rematch of brand, of course, and not of cars, given that the Formula 1 single-seaters will meet again at the Buenos Aires circuit on 27 January 1957. In fact, on the one hand there is the desire to reconfirm a superiority that today, reasoning serenely, many consider too heavy to be authentic on the part of Maserati, while on the other hand there is the will to redeem oneself.
The 1000 Kilometre race follows a week after the Argentine Grand Prix, which attracted much comment in motoring circles. In the first round of the Drivers' World Championship, it was not so much Fangio and Maserati's victory that was surprising, as the proportions of the triumphant success achieved by the Modenese company, which placed four cars at the top of the classification, improved the race and lap records and finished the race with all eight cars - only four were official cars - lined up at the start.
A magnificent demonstration of mechanical efficiency, then, that provided by Maserati. But if we go back to the causes that determined Ferrari's performance, it would be rash to draw definitive conclusions about the balance of power between one manufacturer and the other this season. We have never seen miracles in automotive technology, just as we have never seen a car, even one that was originally excellent, become irresistible from one year to the next. On the other hand, the occurrence of circumstances that can determine the positive or negative element in the performance of mechanical means is not infrequent. All it takes is the failure of a modification, such as the clutch disc, as in the case of the Ferrari in Buenos Aires, to cause a debacle.
The first race of the season can, as such, justify any surprise, and it is therefore legitimate to speak of better preparation of the Maserati, but not to go further in hypotheses. In the meantime, the opportunity for a rematch - albeit with different weapons and on different racing track - immediately presented itself with the 1000 kilometres of Buenos Aires, which will no longer feature Formula 1 single-seaters, but sports cars, more powerful and faster cars, as there is no limitation on engine capacity in this category.
This test, which is extremely tough due to its distance and fast and very difficult course, set in the avenues adjacent to the capital's minor airport, offers other interesting technical reasons in addition to the competitive motive proposed as a rematch between Ferrari and Maserati. First of all, Maserati will line up a brand new car with a 4500 cubic centimetre V8 engine, a model that has been tested in Italy for a long time and that proved to be the fastest of all in the first tests in Buenos Aires.
His debut is eagerly awaited, but the durability of the car, i.e. its resistance to the wear and tear of a thousand kilometres driven at very high speed, is an unknown factor. The new Maserati will be driven by Fangio and Moss, and it must be considered as the favourite. As for the other Maserati drivers, Behra-Menditeguy and Schell-Bonnier will start in the familiar three-litre six-cylinder. Maserati brings to Argentina its excellent cars powered by the 3000 cubic centimetre six-cylinder engine, but announces an interesting debut of the brand new 360 horsepower 4500 cubic centimetre V8, a car that has been tested extensively in Modena and Monza with positive results.
There will be two Jaguars of Scuderia Scozia, very fearsome English cars, which incidentally hold every record of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and will be driven by the winners of the last French race: Flockhart and Sanderson. The Coventry-based company does not officially take part in the 1000 Kilometre race, as it has temporarily abandoned competitive activity, but that doesn't mean it is any less formidable. It's not too far-fetched to think that the Ferrari-Maserati duel will become an Italian-English fight.
Ferrari, for its part, will be racing his tried and tested 3500 cubic centimetre engine cars with this crews Castelletti-Musso, Collins-Hawthorn and De Portago-Von Trips (or Perdisa). These are cars with more than 300 horsepower, very stable, easy to handle and with which many of the team's drivers are perfectly matched. However, as mentioned, the Modenese team has reserved the right to renounce the start if the route is not modified by the introduction of one or more artificial variants on the long back-to-back straight, which allows excessive speeds in relation to the road surface conditions, the width of the carriageway and the protective installations.
The drivers of the other teams are unanimous too in recognising the unacceptable danger. With all the sad precedents of recent years, it's incredible that there are still organisers who persist in the culpable frivolity of running 300 km/h cars on unsuitable circuits. However, a prediction for the 1000 Kilometres is once again uncertain, as it is linked to the possibility of using the cars on an unfamiliar route. The race will take place on a new 10.219-metre track, which the drivers will have to complete ninety-eight times. This is a very fast and difficult circuit, the most spectacular part of which is a long straight, to be completed in both directions, after a wide bend. The road is about thirty metres wide, lined with trees, and its length is divided by a row of straw bales. This arrangement is one of the reasons that has caused half an uprising among the drivers, particularly those of Ferrari.
In reality, in cases like these - fortunately very rare - there are two dangers: the first is that, in the deprecated hypothesis of an exit on the side of the division, two cars travelling in the opposite direction will collide. Suffice it to say that speeds of up to 300 km/h can be reached on the bonearense straight: the sum of the two speeds, in the event of a collision, would have the same consequences as hitting a fixed obstacle. Unfortunately, in practice, even a much lower speed would be disastrous, which is why the introduction of a chicane or artificial variant in the middle of the straight to limit speed is of little use.
The second danger is psychological: seeing the cars coming in the opposite direction is shuddering for the drivers. If the barrier is continuous and sufficiently high, the dangers remain, of course, but the riders feel calmer. But these are not the only worries that make the eve of the 1000 kilometres of Buenos Aires nervous. The protection for the public is inadequate too, which seems incredible after all that has happened in recent years in Europe, as well as in America.
On Sunday 20 January 1957, the second round of the Argentine Temporada, valid for the World Sports Car Championship, gave Ferrari the opportunity to take revenge against Maserati. It is a very regular victory, obtained by three drivers alternating at the wheel of the twelve-cylinder 3500 of Maranello: Gregory, Castellotti and Musso. This use of more than one driver - instead of the two registered for each car - may be a bit confusing for those reading the finishing order, but as it is permitted, indeed expected given the length of the race, it does not affect the regularity of the final classification. The course of the race is exhausting also in view of the torrid climate and wet weather. At the start the Maserati 4600 driven by Fangio-Moss, who had set the best time in practice, took the lead, followed immediately by the four Ferrari 3500s. After the first lap the Ferrari driven by Castellotti has to stop in the pits and restarts, after several minutes, with Musso.
On lap nine Moss recorded an average speed of 165 km/h, while Fangio waited for the change at the stalls, while the stop for mechanical troubles suffered by the Ferrari driven by Castellotti and Musso caused the loss of three laps. The change between Moss and Fangio took place on lap 33, while Castellotti, by then disqualified, replaced Gregory in second position and Collins took over from De Portago in third position. At the end of the first forty-nine laps Fangio and Castellotti's two cars had already lapped all the others.
The decisive twist came on lap 57. The Maserati driven by World Champion Fangio suddenly stopped in front of his pit. The Argentinean gets out of the car and declares that he has to abandon due to a mechanical failure. For many laps the World Champion and his driving companion, Stirling Moss, had been driving without being able to use the clutch, and only thanks to their skill had they been able to retain first place. After this retirement, Castellotti's Ferrari took the lead, followed by Collins and Behra. On lap 58 von Trips abandoned the race due to mechanical problems, so that fifteen cars out of the twenty-six started remained in the race after four hours.
A very hot sun makes this test terrible, scheduled to last six hours, so the driver changes become more and more frequent. On lap 90, Moss got behind the wheel of Behra's Maserati, but the race was practically decided. The Ferrari managers rightly did not want to miss the opportunity and, considering the fact that Moss was still driving Behra's Maserati S000, they ordered Castellotti to rest and Musso to take the wheel. The Roman driver, with a regular pace, kept the leading position and crossed the finishing line among the ovations of the crowd. Behind him, however, Moss was the protagonist of a thrilling chase: the Englishman managed to overtake the Ferrari driven by De Portago-von Trips and arrive second, while Castellotti - in the meantime - replaced De Portago and arrived third.
Ferrari's victory is therefore to be shared equally between three drivers: Musso, who drove in the final laps; Gregory, who drove for a third of the race; and Castellotti, who stayed at the wheel in the middle section behind Fangio. Therefore, the prize of $2,500 will be divided between the three drivers. The course of the race confirmed, with the superiority of Maserati for the first 580 kilometres, that the new Modenese product was very well set up, and on the other hand that the doubts about his resistance to the distance were justified. Thus the almost unanimous predictions of Ferrari's victory have come true. However, in the future it will find difficult to compete with the rival tide in the sports car trials, provided that the latter can still count on Fangio and Moss, two more extraordinary drivers than ever.
The world classification is thus headed by Ferrari with 8 points, followed by Maserati with 6 points, Jaguar with 3 and Osca with just one point. With regard to Osca, it is worth highlighting the excellent race it ran and its sixth place overall, despite its only 1.500 cubic centimetres of engine capacity. The controversy and warnings on the eve of the race about the danger of the Costanera circuit, chosen by the Argentinean organisers for the race, has unfortunately been painfully confirmed by the facts. Insufficient public safety equipment was the cause of several spectators being injured when a car ran off the road. And it is still to be thanked that the accident occurred on a slow bend rather than in a straight line.
There were two incidents: the first, in order of time, occurred after half an hour of racing to Argentinean Cornano, who was driving a Maserati. The Argentinean driver, driving a Maserati, lost control of his car as it overturned on a sharp bend. The car came to a stop a short distance from the crowd, but fortunately the driver's body bounced out of the car in the first collision. Cornano was taken to hospital in serious condition with a fractured leg and jaw. Shortly afterwards, a three-litre Maserati driven by Brazilian Oscar Calxuen, tackling the northern bend of the circuit, suffered an unpredictable breakdown, and the Maserati crashed into the thatched barrier, hitting twenty-seven spectators, five of whom suffered serious injuries, while the others were only bruised.
This is in spite of the instructions and invitations that the International Automobile Federation has issued to race organisers in all the Federation's member countries. Fortunately, for the third and last race of the Argentine season - the Grand Prix of Buenos Aires for Formula 1 cars - will once again on the municipal autodrome. The race will take place on Sunday 27th January 1957, and once again Ferrari and Maserati single-seaters will battle it out, in a particularly important rematch for the Maranello House, which could find itself facing a more difficult season than the last one, in the face of the technical reorganisation carried out by Maserati.
The Argentinean Temporada thus comes to its conclusion with the dispute of the last stage: on Sunday 27 January 1957 the Formula 1 cars will meet again in the Grand Prix of Buenos Aires. Then, drivers, technicians and material will go back to Europe to get ready for the future tests of the two world championships drivers and sports. The three opening races of the motor racing season will have provided the constructors with precious, though not definitive, indications.
Among the fans there is the certainty that this will be a very interesting year, uncertain, especially when the unknown represented by the English Vanwall and B.R.M. will be fully revealed. On the contrary, Stirling Moss' position is less defined, at least as far as it refers to the Formula 1 championship tests (for sporting races he is bound to Maserati). As is well known, English public opinion would like the young ace at the wheel of a car from across the Channel. Moss would agree, as long as it was a car that allowed him to fight at least on a par with the Italian ones; this car should or could be the Vanwall.
In the meantime, however, attention is focused on the City of Buenos Aires Grand Prix, which will be held according to a not new formula: two separate, rather short trials, with a classification by the sum of times. In a certain sense it is an event of little technical content, but of spectacular value. However, its interest is considerable, considering the results of the two previous races and especially of the first one, of which the Grand Prix of Buenos Aires is a rematch. For Ferrari, it is important to say whether the surrender during the Argentinean Grand Prix was really a contingent, remediable fact; for Maserati, it is necessary to confirm the opposite, given that the superiority shown so categorically in the Argentinean Grand Prix reflects a new situation, where the positions between the two Modenese manufacturers have reversed.
Even though the race formula and the limited distance may not have much indicative weight, there is no doubt that victory - for one brand or the other, and for opposing reasons - will have a significant moral value. The Buenos Aires Grand Prix must be seen in this light, as it will also clarify the chances of some drivers, especially those of Ferrari, at least three or four of whom aspire to the role of team boss, including Castellotti and Musso, for whom this should be the decisive year. Apart from these considerations, the expectation is justified for Castellotti too, except for an exit from the track: the driver from Lodi, in his Ferrari 2500, during the tests went off the road on a sharp bend, and the car ended in a meadow without overturning. The driver, who remained unharmed, resumed practice shortly after with another car.
The race will take place on the capital's municipal circuit, and more precisely on a relatively unspeedy 4706-metre course. In 1956 Fangio won with a Mercedes, but Giuseppe Farina with Ferrari triumphed in the first heat after a thrilling race, but then gave up in the second race, weakened by the after-effects of the terrible burns suffered in the dramatic accident the summer before, in Monza. The two heats will be run over thirty laps, with a half-hour interval. Maserati will line up Fangio, Moss, Behra and Menditeguy; Ferrari will have Castellotti, Musso, Collins, Hawthorn, Perdisa, and von Trips, with De Portago as reserve. Also at the start will be the private-assisted Schell, Scarlatti, De Tomaso and Piatti in a Maserati, and González and Sticoni (an Argentinean cameade) in a Ferrari.
It is said when the circuit was designed, it was Juan Manuel Fangio who designed the track, and it is on this track that the drivers' driving skills are best displayed. There is practically only one straight worthy of the name, that is the finish line, followed by seven curves and counter curves of small radius, another short straight segment, an almost right-angled but quite fast curve, then another serpentine with seven narrow bumps, and finally two short straights connected by a hairpin curve and the fast deflation that leads to the grandstands straight. In short, it's a circuit that doesn't allow you to breathe, on which you are good at averaging over 110 km/h on a lap. Fangio knows it well, and perhaps this has given credence to the rumour that it was the World Champion himself who designed it.
The fact is that the ever-popular Chueco, after just a few practice laps, on the first day of training, held on Friday 25 January 1957, set a magnificent time of 1'11"9, very close to that achieved two years earlier, still in practice, with a 3000 cubic centimetre Mercedes. The Maserati is perfectly at ease on this track, and in the first days of training it confirms a small margin of superiority over the Ferrari. However, with the same mechanical means, the number four circuit offers great resources to the drivers' class, and it is above all for this reason that experts' predictions are slightly leaning in favour of the Maserati drivers, and more precisely of Fangio and Moss.
In fact, Fangio won the last race of the Temporada, a dramatic race with 40 degrees atmospheric temperature and 60 degrees on the track, to the point that Moss, Collins and von Trips were struck down by sunstroke, and many spectators also ended up in hospital due to the heat. The Argentinean Temporada ends with a final race that takes on dramatic aspects. The asphalt, in many places, melts, creating a serious danger, and there is no shortage of consequences.
Sixteen cars start the first heat, eight Ferrari and seven Maserati. Fangio took off first, followed by his teammate Moss, but on lap two Castellotti was already in the lead, with a furious pace. At the tenth lap Castellotti is still in the lead followed in order by Moss, Collins, Fangio, Behra, Hawthorn, Musso, Menditeguy, Von Trips, and Schell. On lap 16 Behra took the lead, but on lap 20 Fangio was again in the lead and made the decisive attack and won, while Collins, still on lap 20, had to give up the lead to the American Gregory, because intoxicated by petrol vapours; shortly afterwards, on lap 22, von Trips also retired because of the heat, and on lap 25 Stirling Moss, who was struck down by sunstroke, also suddenly gave up and went to the pits almost lifeless. Also as a result of sunstroke, about twenty spectators were taken to hospital.
Sixteen cars start the first heat, eight Ferrari and seven Maserati. Fangio took off first, followed by his teammate Moss, but on lap two Castellotti was already in the lead, with a furious pace. At the tenth lap Castellotti is still in the lead followed in order by Moss, Collins, Fangio, Behra, Hawthorn, Musso, Menditeguy, Von Trips, and Schell. On lap 16 Behra took the lead, but on lap 20 Fangio was again in the lead and made the decisive attack and won, while Collins, still on lap 20, had to give up the lead to the American Gregory, because intoxicated by petrol vapours; shortly afterwards, on lap 22, von Trips also retired because of the heat, and on lap 25 Stirling Moss, who was struck down by sunstroke, also suddenly gave up and went to the pits almost lifeless. Also as a result of sunstroke, about twenty spectators were taken to hospital.
After half an hour's the mechanics overhauled the engines, the second heat began. Castellotti started in the lead with decision and led for two laps, but at the beginning of the third lap he went off the track and when he restarted he was by then out of the final fight. Therefore Hawthorn remained in the lead and towards the middle of the race he was replaced by his team mate Collins who arrived first at the finishing line followed by Behra and Fangio. A very hard race for men and vehicles, in which the incomparable Fangio prevails with his Maserati, even though he finishes third in the second heat, but obtains the best overall time. At the same time, on Sunday 27th January 1957, Delia Scala, at the end of the last performance in Milan of the revue Buona notte, Bettina, pretends to fall from the clouds and shows in this joking pretence such naive ability as to seem credible when she is asked about her love affair with Eugenio Castellotti:
"Castellotti, who is he? A tennis player, a footballer or an opera singer? I don't know him, I've never been introduced to him; I have absolutely no idea who he is".
But the impression lasts only a few minutes: if for don Abbondio, Carneade was really a character he had never heard of, Eugenio Castellotti, the popular driver, is equally unknown to Delia Scala. The idyll between the dynamic soubrette was by now a foregone conclusion, peacefully acknowledged by all Delia's workmates. A few days earlier, Walter Chiari, in a pause, had taken the soubrette under his arm and said to her:
"It's amazing how our lives, which meet in stage fiction every night, have found so many identical aspects in reality recently. Ava is in Madrid and Eugenio in Buenos Aires, and we will see them again if all goes well on the same days. Then perhaps we will separate again. Only in May, when the company breaks up, will we be able to think with some peace about our sentimental affairs".
It is true that Eugenio Castellotti is in Buenos Aires, and on Sunday 27th January 1957 the Temporada, the traditional Argentinean race run over three races, ends. It is really curious that the the love story of the two nice young actors found so many points of contact, so many similarities. The two couples were able to spend a fairly quiet period from November until January, the day of Eugenio and Ava's departure. A happy period which included the Christmas holidays, but which now made the separation feel more bitter.
On the day of Eugenio's departure, Delia renewed her acquaintance with Mrs Castellotti: the first time the two women saw each other was in May 1956 in Monza, at the autodrome, on the occasion of the Super Cortemaggiore Grand Prix in which the champion from Lodi came second. Recently, Delia has been getting closer to the motorsport world and even met Enzo Ferrari in Maranello, who invited her to lunch. Eugenio Castellotti returned to Italy on 30 January 1957: the plane carrying the driver landed at night on the runway at Ciampino. An apparent strange coincidence, given that on that very evening Walter and Delia were scheduled to make their debut on the stage of the Sistina theatre. As soon as he gets off, Eugenio tells the journalists present waiting for him about the Temporada:
"In the second heat of the Buenos Aires Grand Prix, I didn't go off the road as everyone has published. Because of the new tyres the car didn't have the grip needed for a challenging chase. Behra was only fifteen seconds ahead of me, and I forced myself into a spin".
This was in response to what Gazzetta dello Sport had written in relation to the Grand Prix run on 27 January:
"Castellotti has once again let himself be carried away by his instinctive, combative, admirable but ultimately unprofitable character. He must put a stop to his exuberance".
A few days later, on 10 February 1957, a frightening accident involved De Portago in the bob championships in St. Moritz, and his participation in the Cuban Grand Prix, scheduled for 25 February 1957, was therefore in doubt. The bob leaves the track and crashes at 90 km/h into the hay bales. The almost dramatic atmosphere is created by the poor condition of the track, which suffered greatly as a result of the hot spring sun. Despite the fact that the competition was moved to the morning, deep potholes and various irregularities in the surface formed, resulting in frightening accidents.
The most serious of these occurred to the Spanish crew led by the multimillionaire Marquis De Portago, the driving ace who alternates his sporting passion between snow and car racing. In the third heat, just after crossing the finish line, his sledge overturned after crashing through the ice wall delimiting the track. All four men in the crew were thrown off with great force, but De Portago, although in pain, got up on his own and declared that he wanted to restart the race, but was forced to retire by the medical officer who found that he suspected a fractured arm.
At the same time, a happier adventure involves another Ferrari driver, Peter Collins, as on Monday 11 February 1957, the popular British racer marries actress Louise Cordier in Miami. The wedding is celebrated by Reverend David Davis in Miami's Cocomit Greve church, where Louise has had to move because of work commitments. Mrs Collins is 24 years old and she is the daughter of Andrew W. Cordier, assistant secretary-general of the United States. The couple had met in Monte Carlo six months earlier. After visiting the bride's relatives in New York and Collins' relatives in England, the couple plans to settle in Milan, as Mrs Collins has decided to give up her theatrical career. Collins, however, will have to interrupt his honeymoon to race in the Cuban Grand Prix, scheduled for Monday, February 25, 1957.
In the meantime, the Organising Committee of the Cuban Grand Prix began the implementation of works designed to guarantee the safety of the 70,000 people expected to attend the race. Special attention is paid to the Malecon Boulevard, located along the sea, which is divided by a 1.30 metre high wall. On the inland side, thousands of sandbags will be placed to prevent cars from driving into the spectators in the event of an accident. The magnificent asphalted straight stretch of the Boulevard will be connected at both ends with other roads to form a closed circuit of 5591 metres, which will have to be run ninety times. The best drivers in the world will take part in the race, which the Cuban authorities hope will become one of the Formula 1 World Championship races in the future.
Fangio arrives in Havana on Wednesday 20 February, and it is widely believed that he will be able to win the $3.000 first prize in his three-litre Maserati. Other contenders for victory are Italian Eugenio Castellotti and Englishmen Stirling Moss and Peter Collins, while Italian Piero Carini is the favourite in the two-litre class, with the top prize in this category going to $2.000. Qualifying will take place on Saturday and Sunday. After setting the fastest time on the first day, Fangio was the fastest too on the final day of practice for the Cuban Grand Prix for sports cars. At the wheel of a Maserati 3000, Fangio covered the 6,050-metre circuit in 2'18"5, five tenths of a second quicker than Saturday's time.
Even the times of the other drivers are not excellent due to the track wet by the storms, which induces the drivers not to force. The English Stirling Moss, in a Ferrari, is timed in 2'16", the Italian Eugenio Castellotti - in a Ferrari too - is forced to change car because of mechanical problems, and runs in 2'57"8, while the English Peter Collins runs in 2'57" and the German Hans Hermann does not go under 3'10". After a twenty-five minute break, practice resumed and Shelby lapped in 2'11"7, obtaining the second best time of the day, while Castellotti improved his previous performance by running 2'12"2 and obtaining the third best time. It should also be noted that practice was suspended due to the collapse of a gangway in which thirteen people were injured, four of them quite seriously.
On Monday 25 February 1957, Manuel Fangio wins the Cuban Grand Prix in his Maserati 3000. Sixteen cars start at 14:26, and the fastest to start is the Spanish De Portago in a Ferrari 3500, who takes the lead at an average speed of about 158 km/h. At the end of the thirtieth lap the Spanish is still in the lead, and the average is raised to 162.5 km/h; Fangio follows him like a shadow at two hundred metres. Castellotti in a Ferrari 3500 (lent to him by De Portago, after Eugenio destroys the official car during practice) is in third position, followed by Shelby and Shell, while Moss had retired on lap 17.
In the middle of the race Castellotti too disappears from the fight, so that the race is decided at the 65th lap, when De Portago is forced to stop for the second time at the pits: Fangio takes the lead and will not be disturbed anymore. On Sunday 10th March 1957 Ferrari summons Castellotti to Modena for some tests. The driver from Lodi shows up with Delia Scala at 12:30 p.m., coming from Florence.
"The car is fine-tuned: it should be possible to do something good".
Bellentani says to Castellotti. At the pits there is Perdisa too, who, like Eugenio, runs fast, marking a time of 1'2"1, under the attentive look of Enzo Ferrari, leaning on the pit wall, silent. Then Castellotti sets the new record time, 59"8, and when he gets out of the car Perdisa pats him on the shoulder to congratulate him. Once the tests are over, Eugenio and Delia return to Florence. On Tuesday 12 March 1957, Castellotti gets back into his eight-cylinder Ferrari, but he is listless. On the same day, Jean Behra, in a 12-cylinder Maserati, sets a new circuit record. This fact is even reported the following day in the Gazzetta dello Sport, in the column "Note Modenesi".
"Eugenio Castellotti and Jean Behra put on a great show yesterday at the Modena Aerautodrome. The Frenchman, official Maserati driver, achieved a great feat. Driving the brand new twelve-cylinder Formula 1 car, he set a new record for the Modena track by lapping in 59"6. The previous record belonged to Castellotti, who, the day before yesterday, had lapped two tenths quicker in the eight-cylinder Ferrari".
This snub by Maserati didn't go unnoticed by Ferrari, who summoned Eugenio back to Modena for a further test:
"The Commendatore is expecting you tomorrow at the autodrome to test the single-seater for Monte Carlo".
Eugenio was actually called by Enzo Ferrari to beat the lap record set by the fast French driver Jean Behra in a Maserati. After Ferrari's debacle in Argentina, there was nothing else to talk about in Modena. The man from Lodi arrived from Florence on Thursday 14 March 1957, although he hadn't slept much, having fallen asleep at 4:00 a.m. and having left by train at 8.30 a.m. with Delia's brother, Giorgio Scala, and immediately started driving after arriving in Modena at 11:00 a.m. and driving his Lancia Aurelia parked outside the station to the Aerautodrome.
The night before, Eugenio had gone out with Delia after his show had finished. But strange things happened, for a superstitious driver like Castellotti: the taxi has the number thirteen, at the table they pour oil and salt, the moon is almost full and it is the 13th of March. But perhaps more importantly, after dinner the two go to a bar for a drink. A squabble breaks out between them when Eugenio finds out that Delia is going to the United States to shoot a film, and on the morning of March 14th she should have met Sabbatini for breakfast.
"But how, we have to get married and you talk about a film to be made in America?"
"What about you then? Didn't you promise me you would stop? First you said in Cuba. Then you said Sebring. Now you're testing the car for Monte Carlo. See? I'm doing exactly what you're doing".
In the morning, before leaving in the taxi towards the station, around 8:30 am Eugenio says goodbye to Delia, who from the window of her mother's hotel room sees her fiancé waving a smiling hand, before blowing her a kiss on her fingertips. Once in Modena, Castellotti goes to Maranello, but Ferrari is not there. The driver from Lodi leaves a folder with an envelope for the administration, then passes by the workshop, where work is being completed to prepare the car he will drive in the afternoon.
"Hi Eugenio, how are you?"
Seligardi, one of the mechanics, asks him.
"I had a restless night".
Castellotti replied, asking how long it would take for the machine to be ready. Selligardi answers him that it is almost finished, and that the tests will begin around 4:00 pm. Therefore, Eugenio and Giorgio leave for the Aerautodromo di Modena, where at 12:30 p.m. the driver from Lodi meets Nello Ugolini, now sports director of Maserati, and has lunch with him. Shortly before, at about 12:00 p.m., Eugenio had called Delia and confessed to her:
"If I meet Ferrari, I will tell him that this is the last time.”
After lunch, the driver from Lodi and Giorgio Scala go to the hotel to try to rest in view of the tests. But if Giorgio cleverly manages to sleep, Eugenio struggles and thinks back to the discussion with Delia, who calls back at 4:00 p.m.
"Guess who I'm sleeping with? With your brother. I'm going now, don't worry, I'll be done soon. See you tonight".
The driver from Lodi goes back to the circuit at 16:20, but he doesn't find the Ferrari truck, which will arrive later, since the drivers are free to prepare the cars for the Grand Prix of Syracuse, and then for the Grand Prix of Monaco, since soon both the drivers and the technicians will have to leave for the United States, where the 12 Hours of Sebring will be held, in which all the Modenese manufacturers will officially participate. While waiting for the mechanics to unload the car from the truck, Eugenio lights a cigarette. Ferrari is still not there, and it is good for the driver from Lodi, who is intent on telling the manufacturer of his desire to stop and retire from competition.
"What's wrong Eugenio?"
"I went to bed late, I have a bit of trouble in the family".
But Cassani countered:
"You can't be a driver without sleeping at night".
Eugenio immediately replies:
"And what should I do?"
A moment of silence followed, then the driver from Lodi asked how they would try:
"The usual car”.
Martino Severi starts, under the attentive eyes of Massimino, Amorotti, Bellentani, the Ferrari mechanics, and Behra, who has come especially to see Eugenio's tests, who takes the place of the test driver and does a couple of laps under the watchful eye of Ferrari, who in the meantime has arrived at the circuit with the Gazzetta dello Sport newspaper in his jacket pocket, open on the page about the circuit record set by the Maserati. On his return to the pits, Eugenio doesn't have the courage to talk to Ferrari about his intention to retire from racing and marry Delia. At 4:45 p.m. he restarts, runs three laps, has the tyre pressure checked, then restarts and runs another five laps. The car is well adjusted, so the mechanics don't understand why Eugenio stops in the pits and asks to unload the front torsion bar. Then he completes two more laps, and stops again.
"Let the brakes cool down, then I'll go back up".
In the meantime, Jean Behra approaches, who with his inseparable black poodle tells him:
"So Eugenio, how are you doing? Slippery track today, eh?"
It is true, the track is slippery, but Castellotti answers:
"You can do better than the day before yesterday, Jean".
And Behra replies:
"May the best man win, Eugenio".
Then Eugenio puts his helmet back on, and at 17:09 he returns to the track, while Behra goes to the esse Stanguellini, to follow the tests. He completes the first lap in one minute, despite the standing start, and the new track record is already expected. He tries again in the following minutes, but he doesn't succeed in lowering the time: 1'4"8, 1'1"1, 1'0"4, 1'1, 1'0"8, 1'0"7.
He is erratic and spins right at the Stanguellini, ending up against the kerb. Then, the driver from Lodi arrives about seventy metres from the entrance of the Stanguellini bend at over 190 km/h and inexplicably does not change gear. At the edge of the track, near the fence, there is a short rounded rise, painted with black and white horizontal stripes to mark the limit. It's 5.18 p.m. when the low nose of the Ferrari touches the elevation and the car rises to its feet, then skids forward, flies over a hedge, hits the concrete fence - forty-five centimetres high - destroying it, and flies over a two-metre high wire fence, beyond which the public is normally present.
Then, continuing its crazy flight, the car jumped over the two concrete palisades, finally crashing into the middle of the covered grandstand of the Circolo della Biella, reserved for the public. There were two spectators in the stand, who had entered illegally by climbing over the perimeter wall. The two engaged couples, who had just got up a few seconds before, turned around frightened; the car crashed less than two metres from them, leaving them unharmed. Castellotti, meanwhile, had already been thrown from the car when it hit the first fence and was catapulted onto the ground. In the process, he lost a shoe, which had been left inside the car, as had Alberto Ascari, his glasses and helmet.
Jean Behra, who was about forty metres away and who had driven up to the chicane to study how Castellotti tackled the first semi-curve, rushed to the scene of the accident along with Enzo Ferrari, the technicians and the mechanics. They immediately load the unfortunate driver into the ambulance, while Cassani checks the gearbox, the first thing he looks at along with the steering and brakes, and discovers that third gear is engaged. Four minutes after the accident, at 17:22, Eugenio passes away inside the ambulance that is taking him to the hospital. Enzo Ferrari, who had been in the pits until a few moments before, will declare shortly afterwards:
"I saw him take the bend with his usual confidence, then all I could make out was a large white cloud and, in the midst of the dust, I saw the car stand up, turn around and disappear over the fence. Coming out of the curve, the car seemed to go mad, almost as if it no longer responded to the controls".
While Jean Behra, the person closest to the scene of the accident, declared:
"I don't know how the drama happened. Eugenio knew that corner as well as I did, we had tried it hundreds and hundreds of times. Only in the last few days we had been driving here on the track, for hours and hours. I knew something was wrong as soon as I saw him enter the corner. I hadn't heard the sound of the gear change. I thought Eugenio wanted to show me one of his feats. Both he and I know that changing gear ten metres later on that bend means gaining many seconds on the final time and Castellotti wanted to lower the record average today. Then I realised that he couldn't do it anymore. I felt the engine rev up, then resume normally. I think that when Castelloni realised it was too late to get his hands on the gearbox, he tried to take the curve in direct contact. He didn't even brake, in fact. But the speed was too high and the car didn't answer to the steering, it went straight ahead, touched the rise at the edge of the track, and then rolled over".
He rushed to the hospital and at 5:30 p.m. Enzo Ferrari informed Eugenio's mother, begging her to come to Modena, telling her only that the driver was in a serious condition. After that, he sat on a low bench for over three hours, his face in his hands, unable to make a gesture or utter a single word. Attilio Pasquarelli, the man who had perhaps witnessed the rapid rise of the young man from Lodi most closely, received the tragic news with shining eyes:
"Eugenio Castellotti came to us young in body and very young in spirit. He always had a light-hearted air, like a cheerful boy with no serious worries, intent on seeking something that would bring him some satisfaction, no matter how great or small. He made a name for himself in the Lancia team, to which I had recently been appointed to look after the newly formed racing department, winning the 1953 Italian Mountain Championship. In one of our sports cars he won the Susa-Moncenisio, the Catania-Etna, the Bologna-Passo della Raticosa and the Pontedecimo-Giovi. Then, at the Mexican Carrera he experienced the thrill of his first international triumphs, when he came third overall. The following November he made his debut in the Formula 1 that Lancia had set up, but he had the first crash of his racing career. The terrible heat, sixty degrees, and the excitement of competing in the Argentine Grand Prix in front of 200.000 spectators betrayed him. He recovered immediately on his return to Europe and finished second at the Monte Carlo Grand Prix on 22 May 1955. He also finished fourth in the Valentino Grand Prix in Turin, behind Ascari, Behra and Villoresi. The death of Alberto Ascari brought an unknown sorrow to the young ace's soul: he learned what it meant to lose the dearest and most esteemed of his teammates. And at Francorchamps, on 5 June 1956, left alone to defend the team, he performed one of the most extraordinary exploits of his career on a track he had never seen before: during practice, a few hours after Fangio had beaten him, he set a new absolute track record, turning at 196.946 km/h".
At about 10 p.m., Eugenio Castellotti's mother arrives from Lodi with a family member. She does not yet know that her son is no longer alive, as she has been told that he had been seriously injured, but that he was still alive. When she arrives, Ferrari comes to meet her. When she enters the hospital, instead of being shown to the outpatient department, she is shown to another corridor. Informed by a doctor, she suddenly realises what has happened and has a crying fit. Then she recovers with great courage and goes in to embrace her son for the last time, before returning in the evening to Lodi, where the coffin will arrive the next day, as soon as the investigation by the judicial authorities has been completed and the authorisation to transport the body has been granted.
The woman showed exceptional fortitude as she entered the funeral chamber alone. Her son's body had been reassembled and dressed in a hazel-coloured sports suit from his suitcase. The marble bench on which the driver lies is half-covered with large bouquets of flowers. The champion's mother has a fit of tears, then embraces her son's body, calling him affectionately by name and kissing his face. In the meantime, other relatives arrived from Lodi, Bologna and Como. Delia Scala, however, will not see Eugenio's coffin in secret until Saturday 16 March 1957. The news reaches the actress through Lola Braccini, informed by her brother, at 6 p.m., while she is still at the Savoy Hotel. Lola informs her, crying, while she is still in her room. Delia sinks into bed and starts looking at the photos, first in the album, then scattered around the bed.
The news of the disaster, reported by an American news agency, reached the presidency of the Automobile Club Milano shortly before 6:00 pm. The club immediately asked Modena for confirmation and details, and then took care to carry out the sad task of informing Castellotti's mother in Lodi before the newspapers came out. The World Champion Manuel Fangio, who on Monday afternoon had tested the twelve-cylinder Maserati 2500 at a very fast pace on the same track in Modena, was stunned when a journalist told him the sad news on the phone, anticipating the evening newspapers which then came out in an extraordinary edition. Fangio, who was staying in Milan for a few more days before leaving for Sebring, was about to leave his hotel, near the central station, when he was informed of the sad accident. The visibly distraught world champion returned to his room, asking in a low voice:
"But how was it?”
And then later declared:
"Often the tests can be more dangerous than the races. He was already a great driver, despite his young age, and I think I can still see him behind the wheel, like last Tuesday at the Modena track".
Meanwhile, from 11:00 p.m. onwards, the body is watched over by four Ferrari mechanics in overalls, wearing black armbands, while Mrs Ferrari continues to pray the rosary for the young man who has died. Bundles of flowers are brought to the hospital by the hundreds, until the Policlinico hospital door is closed at 1:00 am. Outside, photographers remain. Inside, in a resigned courtyard, in front of the funeral chamber where Eugenio Castellotti was laid to rest, a group of friends forms. Giovanni Bracco (the driver had come from Biella as soon as he heard the news), two of the driver's relatives, a school friend, his personal doctor, Dr Bianchi, all from Lodi.
Together with Behra, an eyewitness to the accident, he tells how the sudden tragedy unfolded. Driving champions came to Modena from all over Italy to pay their last respects to Eugenio, including Perdisa, who was bound by sincere affection to Castellotti, Scarlatti, Musso and Scotti, while Dr Assirelli, director of the Automobile Club, came from Bologna. A cold, bright moon paints strange, painful shadows on everyone's face. Bracco tells of many years ago, when he said to Eugenio during a Tour of Sicilia:
"You will become a real driver".
Bracco struggles to speak, as if to distantly erase the memories that crowd his mind:
"Eugenio had a heart: without a heart you don't race a car. You reason, you cherish ambitions, but your foot does not press the accelerator. Our job is not reasoning, it's heart, heart I tell you".
The others nod and mention distant facts and locations. Oporto, Monza, Brescia with its Mille Miglia, Reims, Spa etc. A little later a beautiful blonde girl appears accompanied by her brother. She comes from Milan. A friend, a good friend of the driver. He entered the funeral chamber for a moment and immediately closed his eyes. Castellotti is dressed in his elegant bourgeois clothes: a brown flannel jacket with a Ferrari badge in the buttonhole, grey trousers. But his face is terrible. The right side, a single large bloodstain from the eye to the chin. On the forehead, a large plaster to hide the mark of a blow. The beautiful stranger recites a prayer and leaves.
In the meantime, Carini, who had come by car from Livorno, went in for a moment and came out almost immediately crying. The long vigil of Castellotti's closest friends continued, but Delia Scala didn't arrive. A few hours earlier it had been rumoured that the young actress and the tragically deceased driver had been secretly married in the past few days, but this was a misunderstanding; Eugenio had the wedding ring on his finger, but it was a memento of his father. Delia and Eugenio were to be married within a few days.
The news of Castellotti's death was greeted with great distress in the motorsport world. Former World Champion Giuseppe Farina was given the news a few minutes before he left home for a meeting. Farina could not immediately understand what he was being told in such a hurry and asked for confirmation. When confirmation is received, the Italian driver remains silent for a moment, then slowly passes a hand over his head, bends his face to one side and murmurs in a low tone:
"Poor boy, poor, unfortunate boy".
The memories come immediately afterwards, a little strained, as if Farina wanted to review them first in his heart, one at a time:
"He went like the wind, he really did. He approached the tests as if they were races and the races as if each one was to be his last. He had been my rival and my teammate too: we had last met on the track together on the eve of the 1955 Monza Grand Prix. When Ascari's tragic death practically created a vacuum in our motor sport, I thought that Eugenio might one day take his place. However, fate, which has always played a large part in our lives and careers as motor racing drivers, has decided otherwise. Now, Eugenio Castellotti's memory has also become a very sad one, to be carried in our hearts".
Farina then went on to point out that:
"You don't have any reference points of any kind so far and you certainly can't judge without seeing things clearly. This is the first fatal accident to affect an Italian Formula 1 driver on the Modenese aero circuit, and I find it hard to explain. Evidently the main cause of the frightening whirlwind made by his car is to be found in the step that marks the edge of the track. If there had been the well-known Monza guardrails in place, things would probably not have been so tragic. It is clear, however, that my thoughts are merely thoughts, not supported by concrete evidence. I don't want to and can't enter into the arguments that the technicians in charge of the investigation will draw. The only thing I can say with certainty is that I am saddened, deeply saddened, by the disappearance of a friend and brave pilot like Castellotti. I met him for the last time on the train on Sunday morning. I was travelling from Florence to Milan, while Eugenio was staying in Modena to train for the 12 Hours of Sebring. Almost jokingly, I warned him to be careful, because the tests for us drivers are more malignant than the races, and he replied that he would save himself for the American race".
Sporting director Romolo Tavoni was present that day and clearly described the dynamics:
"When Eugenio died I was at the Modena circuit. The tragedy should be seen in the personal situation that the champion from Lodi was experiencing at that time. Castellotti's story can be traced back to his mother, a service woman in the Castellotti family, who had a relationship with the notary Castellotti, a landowner with immense real capital. From this relationship, when his mother Angela was only sixteen, Eugenio was born, who was initially baptised with his mother's surname, Clerici, and was only recognised by his father when he was nine years old. Then the two parents were also united in marriage, and the mother Angela, becoming Mrs Castellotti, began to demand for her son a future marriage with a person of high standing and appropriate to the rank of the family. His father died when Eugenio was eighteen years old, but having inherited the infinite properties, he had to pay over sixty million lire in inheritance taxes when the average salary of an Italian was 30.000 lire a month. First he bought a Ferrari and started racing. Enzo Ferrari wanted Eugenio to test the new car in Modena. Jean Berha with the Maserati had set the new track record, snatching it from Ferrari, all the local newspapers had spoken about it, it was necessary to re-establish that record, a proud performance was needed and Eugenio was the driver of the moment, the one destined to restablish the hierarchy in the land of motors. That morning he left Florence after a sleepless night. He also spoke to Ferrari about his affair: my mother won't listen to reason, but I love and want to marry Delia, Eugenio confessed. Enzo Ferrari understood him. The same thing had happened to him when he introduced Laura Garello to his mother Adalgisa Bisbini. Ferrari and the future Mrs. Laura had just met and immediately wanted to get married, but his mother Adalgisa was against it. Eugenio Castellotti got behind the wheel of the single-seater with Delia Scala and his mother in his head. He was a boy in the grip of too much tension. Two, three laps at full throttle, then he hit the kerb at the Stanguellini esse, the car flipped over and ended up in the air against the grandstand of the "Circolo della Biella". There was no mechanical problem. Some people talked about the gearbox, the brakes, but nothing happened. The car was then checked in the workshop. It was a human error".
During the morning of 15 March, in Modena, the body is still visited by many friends and sportsmen. Behra, who had driven his Maserati on the track near the autodrome, and Buffa, who was also to test a two thousand, stop the cars so that the screaming of the engines would not disturb those praying or crying next to Eugenio Castellotti. Sighinolfi's father, the Maranello test driver who died recently, rushes to pay homage to the lifeless body that reminds him of the pain he felt at the loss of his son. The Archbishop of Modena blesses the body, after which the coffin is carried on the shoulders of the Ferrari mechanics in the hearse around 2:00 p.m., to face the return journey to Lodi, passing along the Via Emilia in front of the Modena racetrack, which is covered in flowers. As he passes through Parma, Piacenza and Lodi, the shops close in his honour, while the procession of a hundred or so cars follows him home.
A few hours later, the body of the unfortunate racer entered the courtyard of the Castellotti house, in an old building that the driver was modernising. At that time, work was to begin on transforming the red-tiled roofs and lawn into a swimming pool, while the owner's stables had long since become garages. The burial chamber is set up here. To enter, one has to pass in front of an enormous display case in which the cups are lined up: there is the small one from the first race won, and there are trophies almost a metre high from the Mexican Carrera and the Mille Miglia.
Mrs Angela, grief-stricken, waits for her son on the threshold of the funeral parlour; one would have thought that she was about to receive Eugenio on his way back alive from one of his victorious races, but instead she gets out of a van, on the shoulders of the Ferrari mechanics. Fangio, Luigi Vittoresi, Sergio Mantovani, Giuseppe Farina, Bracco, Umberto Masetti, all drivers accustomed to high speeds, are pale, their lips tight with emotion. Among the crowd, overwhelming the ancient wrought-iron gate, among the Lodi authorities, among friends and relatives, after receiving her son's helmet and glasses, and after placing his yellow T-shirt and blue trousers on the coffin, Castellotti's mother sees the person who could understand her more than anyone else, so she throws herself into the arms of Mrs Elda Farina:
"You know how we always suffer when they drive. Nino has left you, I have nothing left in the world. You can understand me".
The two women go up to the house, leaving Eugenio's large portrait behind them. In the meantime there is a continuous procession in front of the coffin; the telegrams arrive by the hundreds. Many of them are not even opened yet, given the ever increasing number. So Castellotti returned to his native Lodi on a journey that moved all those who took part. As he was leaving Eugenio Castellotti's house, 50.000 lire disappeared from former World Champion Giuseppe Farina. The Turin ace had put five ten thousand notes in the right pocket of his trousers, wanting to have them on hand in the florist's shop, where he was about to order a wreath for Eugenio's funeral. In the crush, the sum is probably stolen by an unknown person after giving Farina a bump. The driver from Turin hopes that at least the keys to an engine will be returned to him, as well as the characteristic ticket clip that was a cherished remembrance.
Eugenio's mother would not sleep, but she would be present at the funeral the next day; the day Castellotti was due to receive the gold medal and the official appointment as Italian champion during a ceremony at the headquarters of the Automobil Club of Milan. Instead, in the morning, at 10 a.m., a solemn mass is held in the parish of Maria Ausiliatrice, while at 3 p.m. on Saturday 16th March 1957 the funeral takes place in the church of Sant'Agostino at the expense of the municipality of Lodi. On 17 March 1957, the Scuderia Ferrari holds a meeting to decide whether to be present at Sebring. But Ferrari, who has overcome many anxious hours, will again fight for his factory and his workers.
"Three hundred and fifty families depend on my work. I cannot have any weaknesses".
Enzo Ferrari had already told the press. Rumour has it that Perdisa's parents have renewed their insistence that their son should retire. Musso complains of an annoying ailment. For Ferrari the moment is serious, but it will try to hold on anyway. The Ferraris will not stand still. In fact, at the end of the meeting, it was announced that the Modenese car manufacturers' activities would not be restricted and that Ferrari and Maserati would field their most powerful cars with all their drivers at the 12 Hours of Sebring in the United States. Only one defection is recorded, that of Perdisa from Bologna, who asked Enzo Ferrari to be left off for this race. Perdisa was bound by deep affection to Castelletti, and his death caused him a real psychic trauma. The decision of the young driver from Bologna is not unknown to his parents too, who managed to get him to promise to retire, at least for some time, from the dangerous activity. The Ferrari team will thus have only one Italian, Luigi Musso.
Another Italian will be in the Maserati team, following a decision taken on the evening of Monday 18 March 1957: he is another Roman, Giorgio Scarlatti, for whom inclusion in the official team comes as a reward for a series of fine victories won in the latter part of last season. The race is in its seventh year, but only since 1953 has it been eligible for the world title. The venue is the abandoned Hendrick military airport, suitably linked to the adjacent roads, where one lap measures 8368 metres, and the record belongs to the Ferrari driven by Fangio, who raced in 1956 together with the late Eugenio Castellotti, with a time of 3'24", at an average speed of 142.768 km/h. The same pair won the 12 Hours in 1956, covering a distance of 1623 kilometres at an average speed of 135.315 km/h.
The Prancing Horse manufacturer, after the first race - the 1000 kilometres of Buenos Aires - is leading the classification with eight points, followed by Maserati with eight points. The irreparable loss of Eugenio Castellotti was a heavy blow for Ferrari, and the Scuderia was seriously weakened at the most delicate moment, facing the pressure of Maserati, which was preparing new means to turn the technical supremacy in the racing sector in its favour.
Ferrari reconfirms the Americans Gregory and Hill, who have performed excellently in the 1000 kilometres of Buenos Aires, promotes the Belgian Olivier Gendebien and recalls Maurice Trintignant, a driver who is perhaps not very conspicuous but who performs constantly, to the team. Maserati entered four cars too: one eight-cylinder 4500 cubic centimetres and three six-cylinder 3000s. World champion Juan Manuel Fangio and Stirling Moss were expected to take turns in the former, while the three-litre cars would be driven by pairs chosen from Behra, Shell, Salvadori, Bonnier, Shelby and Scarlatti.
A very strong line-up in which the newcomers are Englishman Roy Salvadori, Carrol Shelby and Roman Giorgio Scarlatti. Jaguar, Aston Martin, Chevrolet Corvette and Cunningham, as well as other Ferraris and Maseratis owned by American clients and various Osca, Porsche, Austin-Healey, Arnolt-Bristol, MG, Cooper, Lotus and Renault in the smaller displacements, for which separate classifications were envisaged, also took part in the 12 Hours, 63 cars were entered.
A certain curiosity is aroused by the test of the American Corvettes, specially prepared by Chevrolet, four examples are entered. No one knows what modifications have been made to the standard model, which, as is well known, is an 8V with 4342 cubic centimetres and declared power of 283 hp. This power, incidentally, is a far cry from that of Maserati and Ferrari. It is said that the Chevrolet technicians have been working in secret for months, in the hope of attempting the big surprise at Sebring; something that would be rather difficult to achieve.
The seventh edition of the 12 Hours of Sebring began on Sunday 24 March 1957 at 10:00 a.m. under blue skies with some white clouds and bright sunshine in the presence of an estimated crowd of 30,000 people, more than in previous editions. The race was won by Juan Manuel Fangio-Jean Behra in a Maserati 4500. The car, driven by the French driver, took the lead just over an hour into the race and remained there until the end. At the finish line, the Maserati had an advantage of over thirty-two kilometres over the second placed car, also a Maserati, but with a smaller capacity, driven by Moss and Schell. The powerful car largely dominated, also setting the fastest lap with Behra in a record time of 3'24"5 and setting a new Sebring 12 Hour record. If as for the first place in the overall classification the race had practically no history, much harder and uncertain was the fight for the positions of honour, for which the Ferraris of Collins-Trintignant, Musso-De Portago and Gregory-Hively, the Maserati of Moss-Schell and the Jaguars of Hawtorn-Bueb and Hangsen-Boss competed at length. The latter were the revelation of the race, placing third and fifth overall.
The aforementioned crews alternated continuously in the back positions, and almost every hour saw changes. Only Moss and Schell, towards the middle of the race, lost a lot of time in a pit-stop, before throwing themselves into the pursuit; in the last two hours Moss, who was at the wheel with his characteristic impetuosity, launched a great offensive that brought his Maserati to the second place overall before the Jaguar of Hawthorn-Bueb and the Ferrari of Gregory-Hively. The Ferraris disappointed, even though three out of four of the official cars started the entire race, as the Prancing Horse drivers complained of poor brake performance. Also disappointing was the Chevrolet Corvette, on which American sportsmen had pinned their hopes on the eve of the race: after half an hour of racing, the big car was already stuck in the pits.
In the performance index classification (i.e. according to a special formula that takes into account the engine displacement in relation to the distance travelled), Bunker-Wallace's Porsche 1500 is in first place, and is also in eighth place overall. The race was saddened by the death of the 33-year-old American driver Goldich, who went off the track and died almost instantly after fracturing his skull. Goldich, who was captain of the Arnolt Bristol team, leaves behind his wife and two children. When he gets out of his car, Fangio has tears in his eyes, as he still thinks of poor Castellotti, with whom he had also won this 12-Hour race the previous year. After managing to find an interpreter, Fangio declares:
"I am profoundly grateful to my friend Jean Behra and to Maserati who were able to create this magnificent car".
In Modena, on Friday 29 March 1957, the car manufacturers prepared the cars for the Siracusa Grand Prix, the first Italian Formula 1 race to be held on 7 April 1957. Both Maserati and Ferrari will take part with very skilful drivers, even if Fangio and Stirling Moss will be missing, who will start at the wheel of a Vanwall having already signed a contract with the constructor Vanderwell. Maserati will be relying on Jean Behra, who was celebrated in Modena after his victorious trip to the United States, and on Harry Shell, while Ferrari will entrust its cars to Musso and Collins. In addition to the Moss-Vanwall novelty, which is a novelty in a manner of speaking, given that the English ace has already made it known for months that he intends to give preference to the English car for formula racing and to compete for Maserati in the sporting championship only, the debut of a brand new car, the Maserati equipped with a twelve cylinder engine, is particularly awaited at Syracuse.
It is a car of exceptional power, which the Trident engineers are currently fine-tuning. Jean Behra is enthusiastic about the new car, which he and Fangio christened a few weeks ago on its first outing on the circuit. On Thursday 28 March, Behra resumed testing and set some remarkable times on the Modena track, taking advantage of the break imposed by the Sebring race that kept drivers and cars away from Modena. At the same time, road paving technicians have practically rebuilt the circuit, levelling out the gaps caused by wear and tear after Castellotti's death. The new Maserati will therefore be the main reason for interest in the Syracuse event, making it difficult to predict.
For its part, Ferrari will line up on the starting line the tried and tested eight-cylinder car derived from Lancia, to which important innovations have recently been made both to the engine head and to the bodywork line, which has been made more tapered and elusive. In the latest tests on the circuit, the eight-cylinder cars, driven by Musso and Perdisa - who, after announcing his retirement from racing, has returned to Modena and is already making plans to start up again - set times of less than a minute, which are indicative of speeds in the order of 160-170 km/h on a circuit that is certainly not the easiest.
Meanwhile, from Syracuse we have news of other entries: in Vanwall, besides Stirling Moss, Tony Brooks will run, while Connaught team will line up at the start three Formula 1 cars, driven by Jack Fairmann, Les Leston and Ivor Bueb. Finally, the Cooper stable is also entered, with George Wicken and Bill Whìtehouee at the wheel. The race, which is valid for the Italian Drivers' Speed Championship, will be run over a distance of four hundred and forty kilometres, equal to eighty laps of the circuit.
Another subject that is already being talked about with fervour in Modena is participation in the Mille Miglia: Ferrari is very sketchy on this point, but its official participation is already taken for granted, given that the cars can already be seen both on the Modena track and on the Apennine ramps, while Maserati has already announced the participation of Behra and Moss, and other cars for which the guides have yet to be appointed. Rarely has a motor racing competition not qualified for the intercontinental title been so full of reasons for interest as the Formal 1 Grand Prix to be run on the Syracuse circuit, as the manufacturers have meanwhile been working hard on engines and chassis in view of the resumption of World Championship testing, which will resume in Monte Carlo on 19 May 1957.
The Grand Prix of Syracuse is therefore called to be the baptism of many of these novelties, and as said each entered brand presents one of them: Maserati brings to Sicily a model of the new twelve-cylinder car, which should be entrusted with the task of tearing away the world champion flag from the rival Ferrari. The new engine proved to be extremely powerful in the testing room, having exceeded 300 hp; mounted on the excellent six-cylinder chassis, it will now have to show its qualities in practical racing use. This experience is indispensable for providing the manufacturer with indications. Entrusted to Jean Behra (the Frenchman is currently in great shape, being perhaps the best trained driver in the world, living in Modena, and being able to have at his disposal almost daily a very fast track and as many cars as he wants of all types prepared by the trident company), it will go on track for the official tests, and from the outcome of these will depend the decision whether or not to line it up for the start of the Grand Prix.
Ferrari is also bringing a car to the race with a redesigned chassis, the bodywork of which has been given particular attention, powered by an eight-cylinder ex-Lancia engine, improved for the occasion; this will be driven by Peter Collins. Ferrari, therefore, is present too in the Sicilian race, for the first time in the season, just for a final test of its powerful car that in 1956 had revealed potential first-class, but also well-defined limits.
Even the British four-cylinder car has been profoundly modified on the basis of the experience of the first season, and it seems that, essentially, the chassis has been redesigned to eliminate the observed stability defects. Fangio will be absent, who will only return to Europe for the Monaco Grand Prix, and so the participants will be Collins and Musso in Ferraris, Behra and Schell in Maseratis, Moss and Brooks in Vanwalls, Fairmann, Leston and Bueb in Connaughts, and finally Wicken, Whiteouse and Brabham in Coopers. As privateers, Taruffi, Halford, Fiotti, Godia and Cronici in Maseratis, and Whitehead in Connaughts.
On Friday 5 April 1957, at the end of the first practice session, Jean Behra is the fastest, having set a time of 1'59". He is followed by Luigi Musso, with his Ferrari, with a time of l'59"7, and Moss with the Vanwall, who marks the exact same time as the Roman driver. During practice, the English driver Lesley Lesten, in a Connaught, is the protagonist of a frightening adventure, as his car catches fire at the Madonnina curve. The driver suffered burns in various parts of his body, while the car was almost completely destroyed.
Nevertheless, on Sunday 7th April 1957 the seventh Syracuse Grand Prix was won by Peter Collins, and the Ferrari's triumph in a race that turned out to be hard and exhausting - only seven drivers finished the race out of nineteen competitors - was crowned by Luigi Musso's second place. The eagerly awaited Vanwalls didn't disappoint expectations, and on the contrary, if a banal accident hadn't forced M0S3 into the pits for over a quarter of an hour, the victory of the English car would have been almost certain.
The start was given at 3:00 p.m. by Minister Martino. At the start Musso takes the lead, followed by the Vanwalls of Moss and Brooks, the Ferrari of Collins and the Maserati of Behra. At the second lap the first five drivers were already far behind; Harry Scell stopped in the pits. On the third passage, just under the stands, Moss overtook Musso and took the lead, and after five laps Moss and Brooks were in the lead followed by the Ferraris of Musso and Collins.
Behra, who stopped on lap 10 and lost over two minutes, was further behind. Godia took advantage of this to move into fifth position, while Taruffi, who was the protagonist of a spectacular comeback, was sixth. The average speed after ten laps is around 165 km/h. On lap sixteen Godia stops, so that Taruffi is by now fifth even if one lap behind Moss. On lap eighteen Collins overtook Brooks and was twenty seconds behind Moss. Behra stopped again on lap 20 and was forced to retire. Now Maserati had only to count on Taruffi, because Godia lost about fifteen minutes in the pits, before retiring for good. Meanwhile Musso approached Brooks, while on lap 35 Moss stopped, leaving Collins in command. On lap 36 Brooks stopped too, while Moss restarted in seventh position. So the two Ferraris of Collins and Musso have the race in their hands.
At mid-race Collins had a gap of over half a minute over Musso; third was Taruffi at two laps, fourth was Bueb. Moss jumped up to the fifth place after six passages, also taking advantage of an accident occurred to Fairman, stopped at Madonnia bend. At the 49th passage Bueb managed to overtake Taruffi, jumping to the third place; then, however, he had to yield to the Maserati driver because he was forced to stop at the pits. The average-race is always very high and this widely explains the very hard selection: after fifty-five laps, the race seems to stabilize, since only eight riders remain in the race: Collins, Musso, Taruffi at three laps; Moss at four laps; Bueb at five laps; Walker at seven laps; Godia at eight laps.
The final part of the race was characterized by a frightening spin of the Connaught driven by Walker at the entrance of the grandstands straight, and by the spectacular comeback of Moss who managed to gain a lap to the leading couple, at the same time lowering the record of the race up to the amazing limit of 1'54"5. The Briton continued his overwhelming action and came within a minute of Taruffi, opening the fight for third place. On the 66th lap, Moss brought his lap record time to 1'54"3, significantly reducing his gap from Taruffi to just five hundred meters; finally, on the 76th lap, Moss crowned his pursuit by gaining third place.
If in Syracuse the race was won by Ferrari, two weeks later, at the Grand Prix of Pau, Maserati could try to make up for it by taking part with its Formula 1 single-seaters, as this was the last continental race (it would be run again in England, at Silverstone, in two weeks) before the resumption of the world championship, which would take place in Monte Carlo on 19 May 1957. Or at least it could be, since Ferrari and B.R.M. preferred not to take part, leaving the field open to Maserati, which, with its official drivers Behra and Schell, as well as numerous private drivers driving Trident cars, became the big favourite, having as opponents the less fast Gordini and Connaught, as well as Trintignant's only private Ferrari.
On the two test days, Jean Behra easily demonstrated the class difference over his rivals, setting the best time on both Saturday 21 and Sunday 22 April 1957. This was the prelude to Behra's victory. Fourteen competitors took part in the race: the race immediately took on a very fast pace thanks to Jean Behra and the American Shell, also in a Maserati, who took the lead from the start. Shell remained in first position for five laps, followed by the Frenchman who then took the lead and would not let go, progressively increasing the gap. During the race, the Spaniard Godia, in a Maserati, crashed at a bend and, slightly injured, walked back to the pit lane with a bandage on his head, while the Englishman Haldorf, in a Maserati, was forced to stop due to a breakdown. Trintignant, in a Ferrari, who was in fourth position on lap 25, was replaced by the young Rozier, who, however, dropped out shortly afterwards.
Only a week later, on Saturday 27 April 1957, Giuseppe Farina left for Indianapolis, where on 30 May he would attempt the great adventure of the fabulous 500 Miglia race for the second time. Not much was said about the former World Champion's participation in the Indianapolis race, but it was Farina himself who hid behind an almost hermetic reserve, very busy defining the complicated and costly details of the great undertaking. What was known, however, was that his entry had been accepted and that the mechanical vehicle was being prepared in America at Kurtis-Kraft, a workshop specialising in the construction of machines for the American race.
On Thursday 25 April 1957, the Turin ace, always youthfully enthusiastic, gathered the journalists around him to announce a few details about his participation in the race, such as that he would find the car ready as soon as he arrived in Indianapolis, where he would disembark on Monday 29 April from the plane on which he would take his seat in Paris on Sunday 28 April. Not much is known about the characteristics of this Kurtis-Kraft, except that it is the very latest model. In order to be admitted to the Indianapolis 500, it is necessary to pass the qualifying tests; this is why Giuseppe Farina leaves long before the race, in order to prepare meticulously and get used to a mechanical vehicle that is new to him.
In 1956, the hasty preparation of the car did not allow him to qualify; but this time he is full of confidence and thinks he can do well. In the 500 Miglia, experience is precious, so much so that there are American drivers who only take part in this race, and who would probably make a poor impression on one of the many European circuits. In the meantime, on Sunday 28 April, the Grand Prix of Naples was run on the Posillipo circuit, a race valid for cars in the Formula 2 category. Fifteen or so drivers took to the track in Naples, with a few top names, but on the whole the qualitative participation was a little reduced. On the other hand, the presence of a few cars from the new formula, with a maximum displacement of 1500 cubic centimetres without a compressor, offered fans a highly interesting technical reason.
The British, who presented themselves with cars of this type, and Ferrari, which made its debut in Naples with its brand new six-cylinder with a claimed power of 190 horsepower and weighing 126 kilos, entrusted the car to Luigi Musso. The new car, much awaited in Italian motoring circles, had already been tested in turn by the two English aces Mike Hawthorn and Peters Collins on 24 April 1957. Collins, who was the fastest on the first day of testing, and Hawthorn, on the other hand, would race in the usual eight-cylinder car from Maranello. Maserati is absent, at least officially. However, the Centro-Scuderia will run cars with the trident Schell and Gregory. Evans in a Connaught, Da Silva in a Gordini, Balford and Gould in a Maserati, complete the international character of the Grand Prix of Naples, which, however, should not escape the Ferrari men. Finally, the participation of Maglioli in a Porsche, Natella in an Osca, and Marino Brandoli at the wheel of a single-seater he built with Lancia mechanics is interesting.
Sunday 28th April 1957 was undoubtedly a happy day for Ferrari, as it won the Grand Prix at Naples. The extraordinary success of the Modenese car manufacturer finds naturally many reasons of interest in the Neapolitan race: since the first laps Collins and Hawthorn have been fighting against each other, then, when a very trivial failure of the petrol pressure gauge forced Mike to stop at pits for more than two minutes, Musso got the place of honour, who ran marvellously well at the wheel of the brand new Formula 2.
Then, starting from lap 13, the Ferrari driven by Hawthorn performed miracles: the English driver started a dizzy pursuit, overtaking his rivals with extreme ease and completing his amazing feat with a burning sprint, thus overtaking Musso by three tenths of second. After the two English champions, the young Roman rider deserves a mention. The course of the Grand Prix Napoli was difficult, severe, full of pitfalls, but Musso knew how to handle himself as a great champion, and the car entrusted to him, despite being experimental, fully answered to the needs of the technicians and the driver.
The next day, Monday 29 April 1957, Maserati announced a sensational coup: the trident's directors declared they had reached an agreement with Stirling Moss to take part in the next Mille Miglia together. Moss had only one condition: that the car entrusted to him be covered, to avoid the possible torment of the rain that had been his adversary during his participation in the Brescia race. On Saturday 11th May 1957, from 11:00 p.m. onwards, the 24th edition of the race will be held, unchanged in its general organisational lines, except for the measures taken by the Interministerial Commission in charge of regulating the national motor activity. The most important decision is that of providing for the strict and absolute closure of the entire route, with the massive help of the police who will have to make an effort to keep spectators away from the roadside. Secondly, participation is limited in this edition to three hundred and fifty competitors.
It is to be hoped that a sense of responsibility and discipline will finally prevail over the guilty recklessness of too many people, whose passion or taste for thrills makes them forget every elementary caution. The greatest dangers, despite the very high speeds, do not come so much from the most powerful sports cars, driven by expert champions, as from the anonymous mass of amateur drivers who traditionally await the Mille Miglia with the hope of uncertain and ephemeral dreams of fame.
If the rain spares the event, it is thought that the average speed of the fastest drivers at the first control (Ravenna) could even be higher than that held by Moss in a Mercedes at 157.650 km/h average. It will be possible to get an idea when passing through Rome, always referring to the extraordinary feat of two years earlier by the British ace, who reached the capital at over 173 km/h, which means 874 kilometres, with the crossing of the Apennines from east to west, in just over five hours.
It is hoped that these measures will guarantee complete safety for the public, who in their blind pursuit of thrills are inclined to abandon all caution even in the face of racing cars unleashed at over 200 km/h. The route is the same as in recent years: 1597 kilometres from Brescia to Ravenna, Pescara, L'Aquila, Rome, Siena, Florence, Bologna, Mantua, and Brescia again. There are 387 registered participants (which, with the inevitable defections, will be reduced to the maximum limit of three hundred and fifty admitted), divided into the tourism, gran turismo and sport categories.
With all that has been said and written - and not always wrongly - against motor racing, as the date of the Mille Miglia approaches, all preconceptions are forgotten and the great Brescian race is seen as the irreplaceable event that, due to its spectacular, competitive and popular aspects, best expresses the fascination of motor racing. Thirty years old, the Mille Miglia has been able to preserve the freshness and exciting appeal of a fabulous competition in which, alongside the aces consecrated by fame, hundreds of modest unknown amateurs race in search of a dream of glory that for most will remain a chimerical mirage. Although the race has its own special charm, it also inspires fear. A few nights before leaving for Italy, Linda Christian is having dinner by candlelight with Alfonso De Portago, when she instinctively exclaims:
"If you run this race, you will come back here and be put in the grave with your father".
The Marquis replies:
"How do you know that my father is buried in Madrid?"
"I didn't know, it just came to me. Like the thought that you shouldn't go to Italy".
Alfonso remains silent for a long moment, then confesses:
"Two years ago I had an accident, and when I woke up I was lying in a ditch with a priest bent over me. He was giving me last rites. I had never seen him, and all the people around me were foreigners. For a minute I didn't know if I was alive or not. Linda, if anything happens to me I don't want to be surrounded by strangers. Do you promise to stay with me until the end?"
"But I'm not ready for that day yet, let's not talk about it anymore".
While waiting for the Mille Miglia to take place, during the evening of Tuesday 7 May 1957, at the Automobile Club of Brescia, the draw for the starting order is concluded. The first to start next Saturday will be the Fiat 600 of the Emilian Lino Pola, followed by the Saab 150 of the Swede Lotimander. Stirling Moss, on the other hand, will be the last of the favourites for victory to take the start of the Mille Miglia, at 5:37 a.m. on Sunday morning. Behra will start one minute before the Briton, preceded by Taruffi, Collins, Herrmann, von Trips, Gendebien and Shelby; in short, in the space of eight minutes, as many champions.
It is not without reason that the drivers of the Mille Miglia attach great importance to the starting order, on which can depend the role of pursuer with advantageous reference points, or the much more thankless role of hare. This is why, in previous years, the teams resorted to the stratagem of officially registering the names of mechanics and then - once the draw had been made - replacing them with the real drivers, arranging them on the basis of strategic criteria, according to the general principle of starting the strongest driver as late as possible. Since the 1956 edition, however, the regulations have required the driver's name to be specified before the drawing of lots for the starting numbers, which has therefore become a particularly eagerly awaited operation.
The main attraction of the Mille Miglia is the new battle between Ferrari and Maserati, for which the two Modenese companies have prepared with particular care. First and foremost, the race is valid for the world championship for sports cars. The classification after the first two races - the 1000 km of Buenos Aires and the 12 Hours of Sebring - sees Maserati in the lead with 14 points compared to the rival marque's 11. Apart from this, victory in the Mille Miglia is even more important than winning the world title. The two teams will be at the start on Sunday with four cars each: Collins, Taruffi (who, on Enzo Ferrari's advice, promised his wife, Isabella, that if he won the race he would retire from competition), von Trips and Gerdebien defending the colours of the Cavallino, which will line up its new 12-cylinder 3800 at the start; Moss, Behra, Herrmann and a fourth driver yet to be designated (the official entry is the chief test driver Bertocchi) will race at the wheel of the powerful 8-cylinder 4500 cubic centimetre cars, except for the German driver, who will race in an experimental 3500, and the fourth driver (to be chosen between Shelby and Scarlatti) who will race in the old three-litre six-cylinder.
Fangio, who does not like road racing too much, will not be present. Maserati, which has never managed to arrive victorious at the finishing line of Brescia, entrusts its hopes to a new 4500 and to the English Stirling Moss, who holds the absolute record of the Mille Miglia in a Mercedes. Another name could be added to the list of favourites, that of Musso, but the young driver's presence in the race is very doubtful: Musso is in bed with a flu attack, and it is difficult for him to recover in time to take part in such a tough and demanding competition.
Numerically important, however, is the participation of French, English and German drivers and cars in the smaller displacements of the sport category, and especially in the touring and grand touring groups. In the latter, the duel between the Mercedes and Ferrari 3000s, captained by Marquis De Portago, will be particularly exciting. Gendebien was originally supposed to drive the berlinetta, but Ferrari asked him to replace Musso, so De Portago took Gendebien's place. Uncertainty of prediction also appears in the 2000 sport, where the confrontation between Maserati and Ferrari will be renewed in a minor tone; in the 2000 gran turismo between Maserati, Porsche and Fiat; and in the 750 gran turismo between Fiat-Abarth and Renault. However, on Thursday 9 May 1957, during the morning, Ferrari summoned De Portago, to whom he said:
"Marchese, I've changed my mind: you will drive the four-litre Sport, and Gendebien the berlinetta. And I will be surprised if you go as fast in the Sport as Gendebien does in the Gran Turismo".
And after summoning the Marquis, he calls Olivier Gendebien into his office, to whom he says:
"I have no confidence in Portago on the Gran Turismo. You're the man who has enhanced the value of my saloons: I need you to win the Gran Turismo category ahead of the Mercedes. That's why you're swapping cars".
On his way out of Ferrari's office, Gendebien meets De Portago and makes an appointment with him for lunch at the Fini restaurant in Modena. The Marquis shows up at the appointment with a furious Gendebien.
"What is it?"
"You know very well what it is".
The Marquis answers.
"Yes, I know that you will have a wonderful car, much faster than mine".
But Alfonso countered.
"That is not the issue. Do you know what the Old Man said to me after he told me his decision? That he won't be surprised if you go faster in the Gran Turismo than I will in the Sport".
The next day, Friday, May 10, 1957, at Maranello, De Portago offers his teammate Luigi Musso the chance to take his place at the wheel of the Ferrari, but the Roman driver replies with a denial, as he is still weak; he doesn't feel up to a race as long and tiring as the Mille Miglia. This was not the only unexpected change, as in the meantime in Modena, on 10 May 1957 too, the popular Maserati driver Jean Behra had a frightening accident while doing his final training for the Mille Miglia. The driver sustained injuries to an arm with a suspected fracture, a slight head injury and facial injuries that at first seemed serious, but later turned out to be fortunately little more than superficial.
The accident occurred on the Verona-Modena national road, at Tre Torri di Villafranca di Medolla. Behra was at the wheel of the Maserati that the company had prepared for the race in Brescia. As he negotiated one of the endless curves, the car skidded for reasons that even the driver could not explain. It skidded to the right and left the road after smashing through three barriers. The car makes a terrifying leap (the road surface at that point is about one and a half metres higher than the surrounding fields), then crashes into the grass, pointing its nose and going sideways, without overturning.
While a local person, Luciano Bortolotti, who works in the field, rushes in, Behra alone manages to pull himself out of the driver's seat and falls onto the grass. The Frenchman was bleeding on his face and his arm was immobilized. With Bortolotti's help, he managed to reach the road a short time later. A passing car stopped immediately and transported him in just under twenty minutes (the distance from Modena is only a few kilometres) to the Modenese hospital. The doctors immediately gave the driver first aid and carried out an X-ray examination of his head and right arm.
The X-ray of the head and the right arm revealed only slight cracks, while the second showed a fracture of moderate seriousness in the radius, just above the wrist. The wounds on the face, which at first were considered serious, appear on closer examination to be entirely superficial. Many sportsmen and women crowded in front of the clinic waiting for news, but they were reassured about an hour later by Behra himself, who in the evening declared that he hoped to return to competitive activity as soon as possible. He was particularly saddened by the accident, which will prevent him from competing in the Mille Miglia.
"I had prepared myself more carefully than ever, but obviously bad luck prevented me from competing in perfect physical condition in the Brescia race. I am particularly saddened not to be able to compete in the Monaco Grand Prix. The sportsmen and women of my country were waiting this year for my success in that race, which I have always particularly appreciated".
While waiting to take part in the Mille Miglia, the drivers prepare by driving the roads several times in order to learn every single secret of the track. Collins rehearsed the course twice, Moss and Jenkinson three times, and Gendebien even had a notebook with thirty-four pages full of details about the gears to be used, and the speed of each corner. Olivier rehearsed the circuit four times, and based on his 5:36 am start, he calculated the level crossings, synchronised them with the train schedule and personally warned the toll booths so that not a single train would stop and not a single barrier would be lowered at the scheduled time of his arrival.
De Portago, whose morale was still affected by what Enzo Ferrari had said, only tested once, although he would have liked to repeat the test three times: his Gran Turismo car had an engine anomaly that prevented him from completing the programme. He should have met Linda again in Rome, during his third test. On Saturday 11 May 1957, in the evening, the Marquis called her on the phone, telling her:
"I didn't come to Rome because I had a little accident, I'm sorry. I went off the road. I had to visit a ravine and wave at a wall. The car can't be repaired, I have to wait for a new model. I'll see you in Milan tomorrow night. Trips has promised to take us out to dinner".
On Saturday 11 May 1957, in the afternoon, before the start of the Mille Miglia, Ferrari gives a speech in front of the mayor of Brescia and the public, on the occasion of the prize-giving ceremony of the previous edition.
"Thank you for the praise, but at my age, after having spent a lifetime in motor sport, I am tormented by a serious doubt. As a poor provincial sinner I submit it to the mayor of the city that created the Mille Miglia: he is a man of adamantine faith and will be better able to discern whether my commitment to building ever more modern, ever faster cars is a mission of civilisation or a sin against mankind. When I think of the fallen behind me, I feel the weight of too great a responsibility".
Next to him is Angela Castellotti, the mother of Eugenio, winner of the 1956 edition, who died on 14 March 1957 in Modena, aboard a Ferrari.
On the evening of Saturday 11 May 1957, Peter Collins with his wife Louise and three of his friends, the photographer Klemantaski, von Trips with two journalists, Gendebien with his cousin Jacques Washer, De Portago and Nelson, his co-pilot, had dinner together in a restaurant. The proceedings should be peaceful and serene, except that the marquis, realising there were thirteen of them, demanded that the tables be divided. Then, a few hours later, on Sunday 12 May 1957, at 4:15 am, Alfonso De Portago wakes up after having rested for a few hours, then goes down the stairs of the Marzotto guesthouse in Manerbio, where he is staying with the Ferrari men, and meets Nelson, who is waiting for him to have breakfast. The Marquis orders tea and milk, then leaves for a physiological task. When he comes out of the bathroom, De Portago decides to light a cigarette by looking out of the window, having asked for breakfast to be brought to the table rather than eaten at the counter.
"Good morning, Marquis. The car is perfectly tuned, I checked it myself. Commendatore Ferrari wishes you an excellent race".
Exclaims Romolo Tavoni, recently appointed sporting director of Ferrari. In the meantime, at 4:27 am, the Marquis hears the porcelain shatter, turns around and discovers that the waiter has spilled his breakfast on the floor. His face turns into a grimace of fear:
"What is it Marquis?"
"Spilling tea with milk brings misfortune, in Spain. It is a sign of great misfortune".
De Portago replies to the sporting director in a low voice.
"Shall I have another one prepared?"
The waiter asked.
De Portago replies peremptorily, then turns to Tavoni and says:
"Romolo, my mother is in Biarritz: never tell her that an accident happened to me, just tell her to come back to Monte-Carlo. My wife is in New York, and you must tell her to go back to Monte-Carlo too. These are my documents, and these are the phone numbers where you can contact who I told you".
Tavoni is confused, so he replies:
"Marquis, but what...".
But De Portago counters, peremptory:
"Romolo, I've told you what you have to be ready to do in case an accident happens. That's enough".
After greeting him, the Marquis is called to Nelson, and with him he leaves the guesthouse, while Tavoni reads the note that Alfonso has given him: Mme Martin Montis, Villa Carlotta, Biarritz, France. Portago, 1030, 5th Avenue, New York. Shortly afterwards, De Portago reaches the place of departure where Collins is chatting amiably with his wife, wearing a woollen hat with a pom-pom running down his neck. As he smokes a cigarette, a reporter approaches him and asks him to comment on the race:
"It's the first time I've taken part in this big race. The course is tough, you have to have stamina but above all you have to adjust the car's capabilities to the demands of the race. Although I prefer circuit racing, I plan to race conservatively and get to the end. I will race without forcing myself, with the sole aim of becoming aware of the route and the characteristics of the race: in other words, I have no desire to win, but I just intend to train on the route and then try to win next year".
Then he signed a few autographs before the 5:31 am start. After a few kilometres, hearing the roar of von Trips' car, the Marquis decided to pull over and give way to his team-mate, who waved to him as a sign of thanks. The German will take the lead in Padua at an average speed of 195 km/h. Before Ravenna, De Portago will also be overtaken by Collins, who started three minutes behind him. At the Ravenna checkpoint at 7:10 am, Nelson gives the race official the card to stamp, to prove that he has passed through this checkpoint. While the mechanics refuel, Mino Amorotti gives De Portago the times for the passage through Ferrara.
The Marquis is fourth, and has about one minute and fifty seconds ahead of Gendebien. Before leaving, Alfonso calls out Taruffi's name and greets him. The Italian answered listlessly, while complaining about the car's set-up. At the next checkpoint in Ravenna, at 9:03am, at the second refuelling, Ferrari's chief mechanic, Parenti, gives the Marquis the report on the Ravenna passages: Gendebien is now at one minute and thirty-five seconds.
Gendebien is now at one minute and thirty-five seconds behind. Then he arrives at the Rome checkpoint, at 10:48 am, where Linda is present, wearing a light, sleeveless blue dress with white dots and a rather short skirt. On her head she wears a scarf of identical fabric. Linda hands the Marquis a damp cloth to freshen his face, and he then sips some coffee from a thermos. Then she reads out the classic note: Gendebien is now just fifty-two seconds behind. De Portago set off so fast that Nelson, who was waving his two hands at the crowd, bumped his chest against the windscreen. At Viterbo, the third refuelling: this time De Portago increased his lead to one minute and ninety-three seconds. At the fourth and final refuelling, in Bologna, at 2:00 pm, just three hundred kilometres from the finish, Enzo Ferrari is waiting for De Portago. The Marquis got out of the car, grabbed a bottle of water and drank.
“How's the car?"
The Marquis answers, while Ferrari looks at the tyres.
"The tyres look fine, there's no need to change them. The race is won, and there is the possibility of an en plein. Collins and Taruffi are in front, far behind you, von Trips is about five minutes ahead of you. Keep up the good work".
In fact, Ferrari, which is fitted with Englebert tyres, did not plan to change the tyres unless there was excessive wear, while Maserati, which is fitted with Pirelli tyres, should have changed them. But the Marquis doesn't care, since he asks:
"What about Gendebien?"
"In Florence he was about six minutes behind. I don't know what the times are after Futa and Raticosa...'.
De Portago starts off happy, but he doesn't know that Gendebien has actually made up five minutes and fifty-eight seconds, and that he is therefore eighteen seconds behind, after Olivier had run clearly faster than everyone else in the stretch between Florence and Bologna. As if that wasn't enough, the engine started to malfunction and at Parma the gap to Gendebien increased to four minutes and forty seconds, while Collins retired with his differential out of action due to a broken bearing. However, in Piacenza the RAI journalist Gino Rancati shows the Ferrari drivers their positions with a blackboard at the request of Enzo Ferrari, who gives him the indications by telephone. First is Taruffi, second Trips, and third De Portago. But in reality the Marquis was fourth, five minutes and forty-seven seconds behind. Shortly before, Ferrari had told his friend Gino Rancati:
"Gendebien has the go-ahead, his little saloon car goes like the wind".
But Rancati had interrupted him and told him that Gendebien had already passed and that he had been given a big OK on the blackboard. Ferrari continued:
"'Then there's Collins, but he doesn't come in, the car is limping. There's also something wrong with Taruffi, while Trips is at 100 per cent and so is De Portago".
The journalist then asks what he has to do, and Ferrari replies:
"Rancati, we are Italians, aren't we?"
At this point Rancati consulted with his friend Carlo Facchetti, and the two decided to respect the orders by reporting the first position of Taruffi, the second of Trips and the third of De Portago. In Mantua, less than seventy kilometres from Brescia, at 03:54 p. m. De Portago stops for the last check of the stamp. They hand him the sheet with the times from Bologna, which says that Gendebien is eighteen seconds ahead of him. But even in this case, the reality is quite different: the Marquis has lost seven minutes and twenty-five seconds, due to the engine not working properly. However, having to base the distances on the indications of the previous control stations, the marquis cannot know what the real gap is. The route now continues towards Goito, and from there towards Guidizzolo.
In the meantime, having arrived in Brescia, Oliver Gendebien sits down on a straw bale and waits for the competitors who had started after him. Seeing no one arrive, he realises that he is third overall in a Grand Touring car, and that he has finished only eight minutes behind the winner, Piero Taruffi, who he goes to say goodbye to at 04:03 pm. One minute later, at 04:04 pm, in a place called Corte Colomba, in the municipality of Cavriana, in the province of Mantua, at a point where the road is six metres wide and stretches for a straight of almost eight kilometres, on which the cars run at speeds that can be calculated between 250 and 280 km/h, Alfonso De Portago's race will end.
The carousel of competing cars had already begun a few minutes earlier, and crowds had been gathering on the fringes since 03:30 pm to watch the most powerful cars pass by. In the villages, ropes had been pulled and curious onlookers piled up behind them. For the villages, there is therefore no shelter. Entire families arrive from the farmsteads and neighbouring villages, watching and checking the passes of the cars with the lists published in the newspapers. The racing cars can be heard coming from afar with a tremendous hiss. The sound of the engines being pushed to their maximum excites the crowd. The women look on passionately, the young people participate with their souls in the effort of the drivers.
In the small village known as Corte Colomba there are about thirty people on the left of the road for those going from Mantua to Brescia, and about ten on the opposite side. There are two ditches on either side of the provincial road, so by standing on the crossing bridges, the public seems to be closer to the riders. Gaetano Beghelli, a fifty-four-year-old farmer from Vasto di Goito, is on the right-hand side of the road. Dressed up, his hat high on his head because it is already hot, he has his hand in his pocket and is smoking. In the distance he sees car 531 coming. He leans forward with his head, as they all do. But then, almost at his height, even louder than the sound of the engine, there is suddenly a bang.
The front left tyre passes over a cat's eye made of foil and crystal that delineates the middle of the road, tears in the middle and explodes at about 160 metres from the group; in the next 140 metres there are signs of the skidding. De Portago tried to hold on to the car and leaned over the steering wheel to withstand the effort: for another hundred and thirty metres the car raced on the road, then the tyre came off the rim and this, cutting into the asphalt, overcame the marquis' resistance, then acted as a pivot and the car skidded to the left, before sliding between two barriers raising a cloud of dust. With its right rear end it touches a kerbstone, breaking it, and as a result the car is straightened out and launched like a fireball into a thirty-metre flight off the road in a parallel direction. During this flight it mows down the group of spectators on the side of the road, dragging six of them for about ten metres.
Two children and a spectator, however, were crushed by the broken kerbstone when the Ferrari went off the road and began the flight that would take it to mow down the group gathered at the junction of the Gastelgramaldo cart track with the provincial road. The two little ones were not interested in the race, because their curiosity had already been satisfied by the passage of other cars, and they were playing at planting flowers in the earth and drawing little roads in the dust. The car's flight is interrupted by a lamp post, which is cut off at a height of 1.20 metres above the ground, 226 metres away from the point where the tyre burst. Instead, the nose remains on the road, turning twice, and crossing the entire width of the road.
The American journalist is thrown from his seat on the left-hand side of the road, just past the light pole, after being struck by the telegraph pole in the face. De Portago, on the other hand, who held on to the steering wheel with desperate strength, is torn apart: his legs remain in the ditch on the left, two hundred metres from the car; his head and torso will be found in the ditch on the right, in the water, while another part of the body is in the middle of the road, with the telegraph cables still wrapped around it. An arm will be picked up several metres away. Witnesses say that after the tyre burst and the sound of the engine going crazy, there is a pause of silence. Afterwards, survivors rush to collect the lifeless bodies and the injured.
But stronger than the horror is the feeling of pity: the lifeless bodies and the injured are dragged to the side of the road to save them from other oncoming cars, moving the limbs from the road with their hands and feet as quickly as they can, managing to complete the task in three or four minutes. While the frantic work of rescue and evacuation is taking place, other cars arrive, roaring, and the noise stuns the protagonists in an infernal carousel of a scene that is easy to imagine and difficult to narrate. A traffic police patrol rushed to the scene shortly after the accident and organised rescue and public order services. In the meantime, the prefect and quaestor, police officers and carabinieri arrived from Mantua. The identification of the driver is carried out by the doctor called by the carabinieri. In the inside pocket of his jacket, a leather briefcase was found with Alfonso De Portago's name engraved on it and a warning on the back:
"I am Catholic, in case of an accident call a priest".
A silver medal depicting the Virgin Mary and a Spanish diplomatic passport were found inside the briefcase. All around, the carabinieri find the notes on the race positions that had been given to the marquis at each checkpoint, and the folder with the route notes written by Nelson. At midnight, the police are still looking for human limbs, which they collect next to the broken light pole.
In the meantime, they are taken to their homes, while the injured are admitted to the hospital of Volta Mantovana. As well as the two runners De Portago and Gurner, Silvestro Franzini, twenty-seven years old, a paintbrush painter, Valentino and Virginia Rigon, six and nine years old, schoolchildren, and Pietro Grandelli, fifty-two years old, a farmer (all from Volta Mantovana) lost their lives; Angelo Dobelli, aged fifty, farmer; Emma Anita Boscaini, aged eight, schoolgirl, from Guidizzolo; Giovanni Conzato, aged eight, schoolboy, from Cavriana; Romeo Stancari, aged fifty-two, from Guidizzolo; Carmen Tarchini, aged ten, from Guidizzolo. There were five children, and they made the tragedy worse. The injured were Giovanni Rigon, aged forty-seven, father of Valentino and Virginia; Renzo Rigon, aged three, another son, Mario Pilon, aged thirty-two; Ettore Cauzzi, aged fifty-five; Mario Remelli, aged fifty, and Amedeo Contarini, aged thirty-seven. Their condition improved and they all survived. Elda Pilon, a woman in her thirties, a resident of Volta Mantovana, on the right-hand side of the road, recounts:
"I was holding my two children, Daniele and Fausto, aged five and eleven, close to me. My husband Mario, who was injured, was on the opposite side of the road with his friends. I remember seeing the car arrive because I was curious to see it too, and then that siren - I thought they were playing the siren - made us feel inebriated. I was afraid but I was curious. I saw the car swerve, I saw it coming at the group in front of me. Out of fright I closed my eyes. When I opened them again, there was a cloud of dust covering everything. I didn't hear anything. I picked up the children and threw them into the meadow, then crossed the road and ran there into the tangle. My husband was in the mud and Grandetti was lying on top of him. I pulled the body away in despair. My Mario's head was covered in blood: are you alive? He answered me: not very well, but he was talking. I was frantic; my Fausto also came to give me a hand. We pulled my husband out onto the road and when I saw a Fiat 1100 I loaded him in and had him taken to hospital. Ah, what a thing. May he be saved; and then we won't see any more racing".
Even Rita Rigon, a ninteen young girl , who was blinded by grief and had no tears left to cry, confessed:
"I saw my two brothers Valentino and Virginia die. My father is seriously ill in hospital. I'm afraid I'll also lose my other brother, Renzo, three years old. They were on the left side of the road, but I preferred to stay on the right. There were six of us in the family. In a hurry, we had finished our work after lunch to go and watch the race. Every day, Renzo went to bed in the afternoon, but since no one was home, we took him along too. I saw the car crush my loved ones. I was so scared, I ran away. I came back a few minutes later, when the road was already clear. I saw Renzo's shoes and went to get them. They dragged me by the arm or I would have ended up under a car that was coming. My mother is now at home crying".
Mayor Dugoni, from Mantua, went to the victims' house; the municipalities of Guidizzolo, Capriana and Volta Mantovana would help the families most affected and pay for the funeral. After learning what had happened, Romolo Tavoni went to the scene of the accident a few minutes later. The horrifying scene he witnesses will haunt his sleep for the next three months, to the point that his mother will have to hold his hands to calm him down during his nightly delirium, when the Ferrari sports director will sit on his bed with his eyes wide open. Enzo Ferrari would also be traumatised by the event, to the point that he would burst into tears when he heard of the tragedy.
"Portago was the youngest of my drivers. Every time I saw him in front, he seemed like a son".
Informing Ferrari is Renzo Castagneto, one of the organisers of the Mille Miglia, whom he has known for over thirty years. Castagneto tells Ferrari that car number 531 had an accident after Mantova. The driver and co-driver were missing, as were an as yet unspecified number of spectators, including children. Then follows the harrowing confession of Tavoni, his sporting director, who gives him more details. When he arrives at the scene of the accident near the village of Guidizzolo, Tavoni is greeted by the angry screams of the surviving spectators, who shout at Ferrari's men with anger mixed with grief:
"'You criminals. You have killed our people".
The young sporting director is shocked by what he has just seen: debris and blood everywhere, the helmets of the two drivers on the banks of a ditch, De Portago's black cycling shoes on the grass, a dozen mangled bodies. But he pulled himself together and asked for hospitality in a nearby villa, from which he phoned Ferrari, who was in Modena.
"Commendatore, I can hardly speak, my throat is dry".
Ferrari, understandably moved, replied:
"Come on, tell me what happened".
As he tries to find the strength to describe the gruesome scene he has just seen, Tavoni continues to hear the locals shouting at Ferrari's men, who have remained on the road.
"Look, commendatore, one is cut in two and the other is absolutely unrecognisable. The car is smashed because it hit a bulkhead of a small bridge. There are wounded and dead here. Many children".
Ferrari remains shocked, but tells Tavoni to make available to the police and carabinieri anything they might need. He then advises them to watch their language with the press. He would call back later for more updates, and does so several times throughout the rest of the afternoon. When Tavoni returned to Brescia in the evening, Ferrari sent Federico Giberti, its expert in legal matters, to help the young sports director with experts and the judiciary regarding the enquiry that would inevitably be opened.
In the days following the accident, people began to turn up at the gates of the Maranello factory, complaining that they had lost their father or son in the accident at Guidizzolo and asking for work or compensation. In the meantime, Ferrari locks himself up at home in Modena. Alone with his thoughts, Ferrari does not even go out to go to the barber and keeps in touch with the rest of the world by phone or by visiting those few people allowed to be present. He is confined to his house for a week. Alfonso de Cabeza de Vaca, Marquis De Portago, was born in London on October 11, 1928. His godfather was the King of Spain: his family, in fact, boasts traditions of ancient nobility, counting among its ancestors adventurous Spanish captains from the period of the overseas discoveries. And he too, for his spirit of adventure and certain chivalrous attitudes, was recently defined by a major American magazine as a man born a hundred years too late.
From a very wealthy family - his mother is the owner of an insurance company in New York - Alfonso De Portago was always looking for new experiences, as if to add a sort of modern lustre to his ancient lineage: he devoted himself to many sports, and his remarkable commitment, combined with uncommon physical skills, led him to excel quickly. Among his achievements in motor racing were victories in the Nassau Grand Prix, the French Grand Prix and the Oporto Grand Prix. He was also the owner of race horses, which he often rode himself in races. He was part of the Spanish pair that came fourth in the 1956 Olympic Games in the two-man bobsleigh race.
In Cuba, on 13 May 1957, national mourning was declared in honour of Alfonso De Portago. His co-driver, Edmund Nelson, an American journalist, was also a bobsleigh enthusiast and had come to Italy five days earlier from the United States specifically to take part in the race with the marquis.
This, however, was not the only fatal accident to occur on the afternoon of May 12, 1957, as shortly before, at around 03.00 pm. At the wheel of a Triumph SC 5705 in the 1600 Grand Touring category, bearing the number 309, the driver skidded when he arrived in Piazza Torquato Tasso. The ground was made slippery by the rain and the driver managed to steer the car back onto the road with a sharp turn, but almost immediately another skid pushed him against the central reservation and then against a large tree, where the car was crushed. Gottegens was taken to St John of God's hospital, where he died a few minutes later. Shortly after, at 04:30 pm, sports car number 402, driven by Frenchman Michel Guy, went off the road near Sant'Ilario d'Enza. The driver suffered a fractured head, a fractured right humerus and an injury to the muscles of his left arm, requiring 35 stitches.
And finally, at about 5.30 p.m., a traffic police sergeant, Silvio Alessandrino, on duty for the Mille Miglia, skidded on the rain-soaked asphalt and crashed his head into a speedometer post on the Via Emilia, again near Sant'Ilario d'Enza, immediately losing his life. In Brescia, after learning of the disappearance of the marquis, his co-driver and several spectators, Castagneto's face turned sad, while no word came out of his mouth that was not related to his condition as a patron. The first announcement of the Guidizzolo disaster is made on the Rebuffone avenue by the Brescia driver Fona:
"I saw four or five fallen soldiers passing by Mantua".
But his sentence is only heard by those closest to him, most of them from Brescia, who exclaim, with a pained expression on their faces:
"This is the end of the Mille Miglia".
Castagneto, Maggi and engineer Canestrini, the creators of the race, who are a little further away from Fona, therefore don't understand what the runner has just said, and smiling they look around because the terrible announcement comes when the echoes of the recent triumph decreed to Piero Taruffi still linger in the air. Then the chilling news spreads, and from the arrival avenue it soon goes around the city, enlarging its already vast, real proportions, to the point that at first there is talk of seventeen victims.
These considerations obviously put the competitive aspects of the Mille Miglia in the background; the victory of Piero Taruffi and Ferrari would certainly have deserved more prominence. The elderly, strong Roman driver, after many years of unsuccessful attempts, was finally able to reach the goal that for car racers is - or was - the most coveted goal. It is said, and rightly so, that a champion's career is not complete if his palmares lacks an overall victory in the Mille Miglia. Only Farina and Fangio failed to do so.
Taruffi achieved it by chasing it with incredible tenacity, and also with full merit. It doesn't mean anything that Collins dominated the race and that a pinch of luck gave the cautious Ferrari driver a hand. Every mechanical race has its imponderables, linked to the very fragility of matter, as the tragedy of Guidizzolo painfully demonstrates. In sport, it is important to fight to the bitter end, and the prize is often awarded to those who seem to have been less brilliant than others, but who did not give up.
Taruffi's car had been out of order for quite some time, so much so that the driver was convinced he could not continue beyond Bologna. Instead, also thanks to Enzo Ferrari's intervention, he bravely went ahead, and he was right. Awaiting him at the finish line was Mrs Taruffi's kiss, immediately after the finish. Apart from the magnificent and generous behaviour of Peter Collins, it is also worth emphasising the sportsmanship of Trips who, at first, overtaken by Taruffi who had left three minutes later, when he caught up with him again in Bologna - and his Ferrari was in perfect condition, unlike the Roman's - did not want to attack him, limiting himself to following his still fast but prudent pace to the finish line in Brescia. This was because Taruffi had shown Enzo Ferrari that he was psychologically exhausted when he checked in Bologna. But the constructor heartened the Roman driver, telling him that he could win the race and indicating that he would talk to Trips, inviting him to slow down and not to attack him.
"You, Baron, are young, you will have time to win in the next few years".
The race had already developed in a completely flat way, practically without a fight and without history, with only two derisive moments: the retirements of Moss after only eighteen kilometres, and of Collins at Parma. As the expected duel between Stirling Moss's Maserati (due to the brake pedal breakage) and the Ferrari of Collins, Taruffi, Trips and De Portago was missing, the twelve-cylinder cars of Maranello had a free way.
Piero Taruffi kept the promise he had made to his wife before the race, deciding after his triumph at the Mille Miglia to retire from competitive racing. Among the best races of the Mille Miglia, those of the Belgian Olivier Gendebien, third overall with the less powerful Ferrari berlinetta, deserve special mention; of Umberto Maglioli in the small Porsche 1500, who without a stop along the way - due to lack of petrol - would perhaps have managed to rank even better than the formidable fifth overall; of Gino Munaron from Turin, eighth overall, although he had taken the start feverishly (he was one of the first to inform the organisers about the massacre at Guidizzolo: "I arrived at the scene of the accident less than a minute after it happened. I had to stop because there were bodies in the middle of the road. It was me who brought the news to Brescia"); by Cabianca, winner in an Osca among the 1100 sports cars; by Luciano Mantovani, class winner.
On the morning of Monday, May 13, 1957, Ferrari technicians arrived at the scene of the accident. They found a sheet of paper written in English by journalist Edmond Nelson Gurner, on which the route, the bends, the straights, the road conditions and the difficulties of crossing the villages were marked in detail. In the meantime, the Public Prosecutor's Office gives the go-ahead for the burial of the victims, and a little later, at 4 p.m., the carcass of the red car is recovered, as well as the shoes of children and adults still present at the scene of the accident, together with a woman's sock, De Portago's left cycling shoe, and a broken pearl necklace.
On Monday 13th May 1957 a gloomy atmosphere hung over Brescia, and the passionate comments that usually followed this race were replaced by bitterness and pain for the tragedy that - many people affirmed with the infallible popular instinct - would mark the end of the Mille Miglia. Everything had gone reasonably well for the entire day; there had been none of the fierce battles between the competitors themselves, and consequently the competitive atmosphere of the race had not taken on the dramatic tension that often accompanies it. Drivers who had taken part in the race said that the discipline along the roads was also better than in the past, and the deployment of police was extensive.
However, the prospect of disaster had not gone away, because the crowding at the edges of the asphalt strip was, in some places - especially in the last 300 kilometres - impressive, and in such conditions it is not enough for people to keep order; they should be kept several metres away from the road. The victims mowed down by De Portago's racing car raise a question that had already provoked heated debate and clear statements in June 1955, immediately after the Le Mans disaster: who does it benefit? During the evening, the president of the Associazione nazionale fra industrie automobilistiche e affini, Dr Rodolfo Biscaretti, declared:
"Faced with this very serious disaster, which fills me with sorrow, I can only reconfirm what I have said on other occasions, and what Anflaa has stated in official statements, namely that these races on open roads should no longer be held. We are not against the sport, but everything must be done in its most appropriate place: for racing there are tracks. It's painful to say, but it was foreseeable that a race like the Mille Miglia would cause accidents. No matter how many precautions are taken, the safety measures on such a long circuit, all on normal roads, cannot be sufficient to provide an absolute guarantee. Unfortunately, Anflaa's action and stances two years ago have not helped. It is now up to the authorities to whom we appealed to take action".
The document to which the president of the Italian car manufacturers refers is the agenda approved in July 1955, shortly after Le Mans, which said:
"The ANFLAA first of all reiterates its vote that speed races, for obvious reasons of spectator and competitor safety, should henceforth be organised exclusively on permanent or semi-permanent circuits, provided that these offer the broadest safety guarantees. The Governing Council also believes that the fundamental aspect of the problem, namely the urgent need, long felt, to avoid events which, by depriving the road system of its normal functions, unlawfully inconvenience the public and damage the general economy and tourism, is not given due attention today when it comes to road races".
Foreign manufacturers intervened too in the controversy two years earlier, including Volkswagen's director, engineer Nordhott, who now repeats:
"The assertion that racing serves the advancement of automobile construction is simply not true. All the major car manufacturers have long since ceased their participation in motor sport because they have nothing to learn from it, and because the desirability of racing has become more than dubious. The car manufacturers arrive at the results of their experiments through an infinitely more logical and scientific system".
The dreadful disaster also attracted the attention of the foreign press, which devoted considerable space to it on Monday, May 13, 1957, and discussed the possibility of either banning the race or limiting the risks.
"It seems imperative to change the way the race is run. The power of the competing cars could be limited, more severely than at present. Perhaps the race could take on the character of an average test, rather than that of a sprint race".
The liberal English newspaper Manchester Guardian writes.
"In the case of the Mille Miglia it is difficult to see what reforms should be made to make the race safer. Is the enjoyment these races provide, and the technical qualities that are put to the test in them, worth the price of so many lives and human suffering?"
The conservative Yorkshire Post writes for its part.
"Abolish the Mille Miglia? It is to be expected that this stupid demand will be made, but the racers know their risks. They belong to that rare breed whose greatest satisfaction consists in testing the human machine to the utmost limit. Forbid them one opportunity, and they will soon find another".
The right-wing independent Daily Express writes that it is strongly opposed to a ban on this type of racing, while the Daily Sketct proposes the following to the British Automobile Club:
- Its representatives in the International Automobile Federation should seek the abolition of the Mille Miglia;
- If the Italians do not agree to abolish the race, it should be downgraded so that it no longer qualifies for the world title;
- The English Automobile Club should refuse entry permits to English runners for participation in this race. Finally, the newspaper argues that the Mille Miglia should be abolished, because it violates one of the most important principles of motor sport; whatever happens to the runners, the spectators should not be affected.
And the News Chronicle also agrees with the Daily Express that the Mille Miglia should be abolished.
"Repeated disappearances are too high a price for a motor race. The Mille Miglia has a sinister reputation. From the 1950 edition until today there have been disappearances and at least one every year, except in 1955. Risks are inseparable from a car race. And of course neither the racers nor the public have to put their lives at risk. But the price paid yesterday for this particular race, run on an open circuit where there is no proper control over spectators, cannot be justified. It is too high. Apart from thrilling millions of people, motor racing serves the eminently practical purpose of contributing to technical progress by subjecting cars to rigorous testing. But no useful purpose is served by continuing with an event that gives the sport a bad name. It would be a good thing if the international organisation that controls motor racing, the FIA, stopped supporting the Mille Miglia. The British representatives in the Association should take the initiative. No race can be worth the lives of five children".
The French newspapers are all recalling the Le Mans disaster, saying that strict measures must also be taken for the Mille Miglia. The radical right-wing newspaper Aurore says that this is an event that should be banned and finds it incredible that a race like the Mille Miglia can still be authorised, while France's biggest sports newspaper, L'Equipe, does not argue that the race should be banned, but says that the rules should be drastically changed, especially as there are more passionate crowds in Italy than anywhere else. L'Equipe then recalls that it has already observed that the Mille Miglia race, alone among all the sporting events that count for the world championship, escapes, due to an old tradition, the common rule of the closed circuit and complete protection for the fans. And in the meantime, an American sports magazine, Sport Illustrated of New York, published the last article by Marquis Alfonso De Portago, in which the driver declared his awareness of the dangers of motor sport:
"Do we drivers sometimes get scared? No, we don't get scared: we are terrified. Fear is the knowledge of the danger: when we make a mistake and lose control of our car for a thousandth of a second, the danger is great and we feel fear. If the mistake is repairable, the fear is short-lived and then we forget that an eternity passes from the moment we lose control of the car to the moment we smash into who knows what. I consider myself an expert at getting off the track. Nothing has pleased me more than the terror I felt when I lost control of the vehicle and could do nothing but hope, chilled with terror, that events would sort themselves out. I like the feeling of fear. In the end you are spoilt by it and have to take it and feel it in larger doses each time. Running is a vice, and as such it is extremely difficult to give it up. All runners swear that at a certain age they will never run again, but very few are capable of doing so. Car racers are inveterate gamblers and, like most people of their ilk, never know when to stop. Sometimes, when a friend falls in a race, you vow never to race again, but the next day you think: this will never happen to me. And on the third day you get ready for another race. I still think it's safer and less tiring to ride in a big race than from Paris to the Riviera during the summer months".
In Rome, on Monday 13th May 1957, in the evening, Senator Vincenzo Menghi presented a question to the President of the Council of Ministers to find out, after the massacre among the spectators that had occurred again this year, what reasons had induced the competent authorities to allow the Mille Miglia race to be run on the open road, without imposing the many times invoked effective precautions for the safety of sportsmen and spectators, and whether he did not consider it necessary to prohibit the race from now on, allowing it only on a closed circuit.
The senator is not the only one, however, who is calling for immediate action by the Italian State, since on the desks of Merzagora and Leone are rapidly accumulating urgent questions from senators and deputies calling for the suppression of the Mille Miglia, so that runners and spectators do not continue to perish with the permission of the Government. And, unlike what happened after the disasters of the previous year, this time very few voices dared to raise their voices in defence of the race: for example, the Missino Sponziello did not repeat that all stages of human progress inevitably involve the sacrifice of human lives, and the undersecretary Ariosto did not say once again that the Mille Miglia is a work of art of its kind, and that if you touch it in what are its specific characteristics, it is no longer such.
The task of protecting the spectators' safety proved impossible, and after all, as early as 1956 a Christian Democrat MP had calculated that five hundred thousand officers would be needed to create a real security zone around the race course. Consequently, the abolition of the Mille Miglia is probable, not to say certain. And perhaps, if the Italian government had not been in office only to deal with the day-to-day administration, a measure to that effect would already have been taken, as confirmed by the undersecretary of the Interior, the Honourable Mr Pugliese, when he declared that the Guidizzolo disaster had rooted in government circles the conviction that it was essential to abolish this race from the calendar of sporting competitions. The Committee, brought back to life after the 1956 accidents, was already leaning towards such a decision. Unfortunately, it was dissuaded from doing so by pressure and insistence from a wide variety of quarters, which led it to decide in favour of maintaining the Mille Miglia and three other regional open-circuit motor races.
Now, however, the mistake should not be repeated: Mr Santi and the other MEPs calling for the abolition of the Mille Miglia are not prepared to wait six months for the Government to answer their questions, as happened in 1956, when it was not until 13 November that the questions tabled on the incidents that occurred in the spring were discussed. Even then, Santi recalled that the budget had been increasing year by year: two missing in 1952, three in 1953, three more in 1954, one in 1955, six in 1956. In the meantime, the Minister of Transport, Angelini, sent a letter to the Honourable Mr Russo, President of the Interministerial Commission, and to the Ministers of the Interior and Industry, in which he suggested, apart from the negative decisions to be taken immediately concerning the future of the Mille Miglia, a drastic revision of the other motor racing events authorised for the current year.
he mayor of Rome, Tupini, the undersecretary of Defence, Bosco, and the twenty or so deputies and senators who submitted questions to the two chambers to ascertain the government's opinion, spoke out against the abolition of the Mille Miglia. Only the MSI members Turchi and Formichella spoke out against the abolition of the race, which they considered to be an expression of the national competitive spirit, but they too demanded that the safety of the spectators be guaranteed one hundred percent.
This is only possible if the race is transformed into a regularity race on a closed circuit, as Dr Monaco, president of the Automobil Club of Rome, proposes, arguing that the cars have become real bullets. All the technicians recognise, therefore, that races like the Mille Miglia are not only extremely dangerous, but also useless for automotive progress. Villoresi and Fangio have also stated this, and as a press agency writes, continuing to hold these races constitutes a real crime, punishable by article of the code. Even car manufacturers are now opposed to road racing, as stated by the president of the National Association of Motor Manufacturers, Biscaretti, who recalls the agenda voted on after the Le Mans tragedy, which said:
"We reiterate our vote that speed races should be organised exclusively on permanent and semi-permanent circuits, with the broadest safety guarantees".
He added that events should be avoided which, by diverting the road system from its normal functions, unlawfully inconvenience citizens and damage the general economy and tourism. Among the most interesting statements on the disaster was one by Prince Caracciolo, president of the ACI, who declared:
"A relationship is being created between the high speeds of cars and the characteristics of the roads, so undoubtedly the regime of off-track motor racing will have to be reviewed and revised. The Automobile Club of Italy gathers in silence in the face of the dead, reaffirming the need to avoid any attempt at demagogic speculation".
Monday 13th May 1957 Brescia was silent. After the echo of the engines and the clapping, the enthusiasm that the previous year had moved hundreds of sportsmen and women from Brescia in a protest march against the first voices that proposed the abolition of the race, even going so far as to burn the newspapers in the square, seems to have died down. On the other hand, only at the Automobile Club of Brescia, in the headquarters of the organisation, are arguments in favour of the Mille Miglia heard.
"I am surprised that people are surprised by what has happened. We are saddened, not surprised. Every year we ask for permission to renew the race. It has never been denied. All the sportsmen and women of Brescia want it, and all over Italy and the world millions of people follow and love this race. Why should we ask for it to be stopped? It is the authorities who must judge and decide".
According to Castagneto, the mourners at a Mille Miglia are the same as they normally are on a spring Sunday on the roads of Italy.
"Certainly, they do not give pleasure. But everyone knows that speed is a risk. The driver knows it, the crowd knows it, the authorities know it; why should we be held responsible?"
And it's not worth objecting that the speed of cars has doubled in thirty years:
"If we compare the state of the roads, the 77 km/h average achieved by the winner at the time is no worse than the 150 km/h of today's winner".
In the drawers of his desk, Castagneto keeps a large dossier of documents, in which the possibility of changing the race is mentioned. He was waiting for the government to announce the new formula, but in January we still knew nothing about it. At that time, as we read in the Giornale di Brescia on the eve of the race, everything was hushed up, and so they started again with the old scheme. In other words, the Brescian organisers were the first to realise that they had to radically change the traditional structure of the competition.
Since no one at the top of the ladder was aware of this laudable initiative, they set about preparing the event according to the old criteria. And on Saturday night, hundreds of cars were launched onto the immense circuit, as they do every year. A concept reiterated on Tuesday evening by the mayor of Brescia, Bruno Boni, who is one of the warmest supporters of the Mille Miglia, even though he was saddened and perplexed after the mournful drama of Guidizzolo:
"We are not saying that this race has to be repeated, but we are calling for an in-depth study of the problem. We want a fair and calm solution. An accident such as the one that threw Marquis De Portago off the road could also have occurred on a closed circuit, such as the Monza circuit. And the consequences for the spectators would have been even more catastrophic. So we must extend the question that the manufacturer Ferrari asked himself on the eve of this race: am I a public sinner - he asked himself - why do I build such powerful machines, which often bring death to people? Men of conscience must ask themselves whether it is legitimate for engineers to continue to build faster and faster cars, and for the authorities to allow them to race on closed or open circuits, or even to circulate freely on the streets".
In spite of these arguments, which aim to put the problem of the Mille Miglia on the level of a general re-discussion of the entire racing sector in Italy, there is a widespread feeling in the city that Sunday's misfortune dealt a death blow to the race, which was already being renewed more by inertia and habit than by a clear vital force.
The Mille Miglia was born thirty years earlier, out of a sort of spite: a large Brescian merchant, Commendator Mercanti, who often competed in races under the pseudonym of Frate Ignoto, had organised a car circuit in Montichiari in 1921, and the success had been immense, so that his fellow citizens suggested that he renew the competition in Brescia the following year. But in 1922 Mercanti lent his qualities as an organiser to the people of Monza, laying the foundations for the creation of the famous circuit and the holding of the Grand Prix. A group of sportsmen from Brescia, Count Franco Mazzotti, Count Aymo Maggi, engineer Gianni Canestrini and Renzo Castagneto, the current director of the Automobile Club of Brescia, got together to study an event to compete with Monza.
"We will do the Brescia-Rome".
"Bravo, bravo, and so the benefit will be all for Rome".
"Why don't we make the Brescia-Rome route and back?"
Aymo Maggi suggested.
"That's 1.600 kilometres".
Castagneto pointed out.
"One thousand six hundred kilometres is a thousand miles".
Count Mazzotti, who had just returned from a trip to America, discovered.
"And we'll call it the Mille Miglia".
Renzo Castagneto, who had been a motorbike racer in his youth and a competitor of Nuvolari's in the heady days of the first road races, concluded. The latter set to work with his friends Maggi, Mazzotti and Canestrini, and in 1927 he started the first car in the first Mille Miglia, whose victory went to Minoia, at an average speed of 77 km/h. The race was enthusiastically welcomed by the political authorities of the time, but in 1938 there was a terrible accident in Bologna. Ten people died and eleven were injured when a car ran off the road. It was then decided to suspend the race and in 1939, in fact, the Mille Miglia was not run. Had the people of Brescia resigned?
Certainly not, and in 1940 the race was resumed, although restricted to a closed circuit, limited to Brescia-Cremona-Mantua. The cars beat all previous records: an average speed of 166 km/h. After the war years, the enthusiasm for the prestigious competition was soon revived, and the truly remarkable influx of drivers and foreign cars gave the Mille Miglia renewed prestige. To tell the truth, the interest of the whole world in the Brescian race can also be explained by the rather disconcerting fact that Italy was perhaps the only and last civilised country where such a frightening carousel was still allowed to be launched on the 1.600 kilometre asphalt ribbon.
The belle epoque of the Mille Miglia now seems decidedly outdated. It is now time to update the formula for such a race, or to reason coldly, to weigh up the pros and cons, without indulging in sentimentality or rhetoric. In all likelihood, the Brescian organisers themselves are convinced that the problem must be tackled as soon as possible. As early as Saturday, 11 May 1957, Renzo Castagneto, director of the race, had revealed that he had a dossier containing delicate documents with proposals made by the Automobile Club to the government authorities to modify the structure of the race. But these proposals fell on deaf ears, because the government authorities did not take the arguments of the race directors to heart quickly enough.
At the same time, however, in Rome, on 14 May 1957, the Automobile Club decided to suspend all road races still scheduled for the current racing season. In the evening, its president, the Honourable Prince Caracciolo, went to the Undersecretary to the Presidency to inform him of the decision that would lead to the definitive suppression of the Mille Miglia, or its transformation into a regularity race on a closed circuit. After thanking Prince Caracciolo for the ACI's decision, which undoubtedly responds to the need to ensure the safety of the public, Mr Russo received the President of the Italian Motorcycle Federation, Commendatore Bianchi, who informed him that his Association had decided to suspend the Milan-Taranto motorbike race. In the meantime, a measure to suspend the following road motor races, which had already been approved by the same committee, is confirmed:
- 26 May Sardinian Trophy, in Cagliari;
- 2 June Giro dell'Umbria, in Perugia;
- 9 June Targa Florio, in Palermo;
- 16 June Giro della Calabria, in Catanzaro;
- 14 July Coppa delle Dolomiti in Cortina d'Ampezzo.
Decisions are still awaited on the 5th Cosenza Car Circuit, the 12th Sila Cup and the Reggio Calabria night circuit scheduled for August. For all the other races, including uphill races and regularity trials, no new provisions have been made, while as far as the Targa Florio in particular is concerned, a road race of seventy-two kilometres, it is probable that at the meeting of the ministerial commission the possibility of holding it may still be discussed, even if the general guidelines make it unlikely that the Sicilian race will be approved.
Although they are aware that public opinion is clamouring for the race to be cancelled, the Mille Miglia's defenders are calling for no hasty decisions to be taken and for a commission to be appointed to investigate the possibility of increasing safety measures. In short, they are calling for a repetition of the manoeuvre that was successfully attempted after last years' accidents, in order to gain time while waiting for the memory of the disaster to fade. Even Mr Marazza, former president of the Christian Democrat group and a keen sportsman, having raced the Mille Miglia twice, spoke out against the hasty cancellation of the race, declaring:
"We need to study how to avoid disasters like the one that occurred in Guidizzolo. It should be borne in mind, however, that any motor race, even on a closed circuit, carries within itself the risk of fatal disasters. And yet the usefulness of such races, both technically and in terms of competition, has always been recognised".
In government circles, on the other hand, it is claimed that the Mille Miglia must certainly be abolished, and that later on the possibility of transforming it into a regularity race on a closed circuit could be studied. Minister Angelini called a meeting for the following week at the Ministry of Transport, at which representatives of the Automobile Clubs and the car industry would take part to suggest a final decision to the government. But the vice-president of the Senate, Cingolani, not trusting these intentions, decided to present a bill to give a definitive regulation to motor racing. Even Vatican Radio, in a commentary entitled Don't Kill, was in favour of abolishing the race, stating:
"On Sunday, the Mille Miglia killed eleven people. Whose fault is it? Only one answer: the very nature of the competition, a synthesis of everyone's responsibility. Responsible are the organisers who promote and exasperate such competitions, responsible are the public bodies that indulge in them, responsible is public opinion, which first awaits them, then rises up but hardly resigns itself to their elimination, responsible are the spectators who cheer and applaud. The drivers who take part in them are responsible".
Of course, it would be ungenerous and inaccurate to deny the Mille Miglia any collaborative role in the development of automotive technology and in solving difficult problems. But this happened when the common motorist drove at 50 km/h, the Brescia race was won at an average of 80 or 90 km/h, and the roads still offered a wide margin, in absolute terms, to the conquests of the odometer. The solutions that yesterday seemed to be pushy and racy, tested in such a conspicuous sporting torment, could well be considered worthy of entering mass production, while new improvements were being studied for tomorrow's race.
Racing averages grew, but the roads also improved, became smoother and better signposted, financial and organisational resources increased, and the race between today's sports car, which would become a standard production car tomorrow, and the new racing car, although increasingly difficult, could continue. On the other hand, the companies' equipment for synthetically reproducing the harsh testing conditions that the Mille Miglia offered in its natural state was still empirical and inadequate. Not to mention the fact that, if the race went well, in addition to the testing - which was useful even in the event of a defeat - the car also gained commercial popularity.
But since the cruising speed of plain-clothed drivers in ordinary traffic has risen with impunity to an average of 100 km/h and has come to a standstill because, with its peaks of 125-130 km/h, it is practically the maximum compatible with the road network and all the other prerequisites of social coexistence, forcing engines and cars into sports editions to gain modest performance percentages has lost all meaning for mass production. The latter will be able to benefit from some new experience in terms of ever more powerful engines, but only for a specific, and not absolute, improvement in performance.
In other words, it will be able to achieve the same practical results as in the past, which are now insurmountable because they are close to the limit of environmental saturation, with smaller displacements and more concentrated efficiency: which is mainly of sporting and not utilitarian importance, i.e. an end in itself. On the other hand, the means of investigation, study and testing have also been perfected in the meantime at the large industrial complexes, so that the so-called road race test bench has now become little more than empirical naivety. All scientific activity nowadays passes through the laboratory, just as all the most exasperated and critical conditions of use, for the car, its organs, fuels, lubricants, tyres, are reproduced in the laboratory, multiplied by a safety coefficient.