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#44 1955 Indy 500

2021-04-21 00:00

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#44 1955 Indy 500

A few days before Monaco Gran Prix in 1955, in a page of photos of the most recent and reminiscent volume of the fifty years of the Automobile Club of

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A few days before Monaco Gran Prix in 1955, in a page of photos of the most recent and reminiscent volume of the fifty years of the Automobile Club of Milan there is a photo, which if it is seen nowadays, it seems particularly tragic. We are in 1925: Antonio Ascari, who between World War I and the next years represented for the Italian motoring what after the World War II his son Alberto will be, is photographed greeting in his red racing car, which is going to bring him to a tragic passing on Montlhéry circuit. He is in the long, tight, and angular hood of the car, from which only the head arises. Greeting happily for the last time his father is a chubby child with a vivid look, a miner hat, and a sailor suit, as the style of the time: little Alberto who this far is not 7 years old. This photo is meaningful to Alberto, to the point that he keeps it as a symbol of his calling: the guiding light of his father’s virtue, the example to follow and to deliver. Since the son’s pride tends to the revenge of the man, to prove that it is possible to control this beautiful and crazy car, and use it as a crown of triumphal light, without being beaten. Ascari’s optimism is without covers, also greater than normal superstitions: he feels secure, in the war between the man and the car, to avenge the dead father.

 

"A few more years: I am used to it and my skin is tough. But my sun will not race".

 

From his house in Sempione Street 60, in Milan, on 26th May 1955 Ascari goes out at 11:00. At the wheel of his personal car, the Milanese driver greets his wife, Mrs. Mietta, and his children, Tonino and Patrizia:

 

"I am going to Monza to do a few laps. I will be back at 1:00 p.m".

 

Ascari is calm and starts slowly, as usual; indeed, he does not go quicker that 55 km/h in the city. The night before he suffers from back ache and some pain at the right leg, but on 26th may morning he admits to his wife:

 

"Yes, it’s ok, I have to get my nerves in order, and for that I have to free my nervous system from possible fear remainings.”

 

In the house of Sempione Street, meanwhile, Mrs Mietta looks at the clock: it is after 12:00 p.m. and shortly before 1:00 p.m., as he said before going out, Alberto should have been back. Mrs. Ascari and the children look out of the balcony, but the dad does not arrive. Then the phone rings. It is Alberto, who says to Mietta:

 

"I do two laps, and then I’m coming for breakfast".

 

The table is ready, but the wife and the children will wait for long. It is 1:30 p.m. now, when the phone rings again. This time it is Villoresi’s sister, who was informed about the tragedy from his brother, tells Mietta, her friend:

 

"Alberto fell, don’t have bad thoughts; Gigi says you have to go there immediately".

 

The lady leaves Milan already sure to find him dead, and crying desperately the loss of his husband, repeats to herself:

 

"I knew it and I wanted to keep hi here; but he smiled to me, always so confident".

 

After viewing what happened, Mietta goes back to Milan with some friends, to take some of Alberto’s clothes: she takes from the wardrobe the ceremony blue dress, for the last public appearance of the fastest man of Italy, who for two years was also the fastest driver of the world on Monza circuit. After a few hours, in the mortuary room of the hospital of Monza it is set up the chapel of rest. With a swollen face, closed in a white and big turban made of bandage, Alberto Ascari lies motionless, whit his arms stretched alongside his hips and the hands covered with gloves made of white strands. Two Lancia mechanics with white suits keep vigil. The public passes by the fastest man of Italy quietly; on Saturday he will be transferred to Milan. Ascari died in Monza, but what happened will always be a mystery. Luigi Villoresi will try to explain the tragedy of his friends, telling:

 

"I saw him passing and he was all covered by blood; he suffered as no one has done before. I would like to explain what happened to the engine during the three laps Ascari did. We saw the car go pass us. It had not anything, absolutely nothing less than normal. It could not be a driving mistake, because Alberto was what he was ad driver: a champion without any discussions. Alberto also perfectly knew the track, as it was for the car. Vialone turn is not a mystery for any of us. It is a sly turn, because it seems easy, too easy, but instead you find yourself with the car pointing left. It is a little vice of Monza circuit. Alberto could not forget about it suddenly. Also, the car was not a complete news for Alberto. A new car, but not revolutionary. I am sure the tragedy did not depend on it. Plus, it was also true that Alberto had his nasal septum fractured and he breathed only with his mouth, but how many laps he did? Three as a total, and he was doing the fourth. In twenty kilometres, the length he raced, it was impossible to breath so much poison to faint. It cannot be so. Also, now I cannot explain what happened. It was enough for him to put on Castellotti’s helmet. He looked also almost hurried. This is another thing I cannot explain about him, always so calm, so precise to fussiness. I have never seen him acting so precipitously. Yesterday Alberto skipped all his cautions; he skipped all the preparation to drive which for him was like a ritual. He jumped in the car as he was not in himself. He went, and now he is on that bed, from which he will never get up".

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Actually, Ascari never drove a car without his race suit, he never put the foot on the throttle without his charm-helmet, but he borrowed it from his friend and pupil Castellotti, he doesn’t wear the suit, but most of all he tries the car on 26th, that is the day in which his dad had the accident in France, reason why he never raced a Gran Prix on that day. Facts that do not explain at all the accident, but that have anyway a sense: maybe Ascari, being fervently superstitious, summing up all these contradictions he tries to challenge the fate in which he believes, without considering his physical conditions after the crash in Monte Carlo? We do not know. What we know is that it some minutes after 12:30 p.m. when Castellotti stops his Ferrari 300 on which he did a few practice laps. The car responded well to all the fatigue the driver imposed, and apparently all right in every device. Meanwhile Ascari watches Eugenio speeding on the asphalt ring, and when he goes into the pits he stops to talk. Apparently, he does not want to try, he does not have with him the suit nor the helmet or the gloves, which the former champion always brings as a charm and that does not leave anyone touch, neither to his wife. With the nasal septum fractured and bruises to his back, Ascari gave up racing the 1000 kilometres of Monza, a race for Sport cars in which he wanted to compete with a different car from the Lancia he used to drive. Alberto agreed, indeed, to drive a Ferrari 300, a car that he knew as well as the Lancia; than there was the crash in Monte Carlo and the withdraw from the race in Monza looked obvious. However, when he talks to Castellotti, Ascari exclaims:

 

"What if I do a few laps? It is the best way to recover from the thrashing of Monte Carlo. Three laps and we go for breakfast. After the crash on Sunday, I must do some laps: two, three, we will see; and then everything will be ok".

 

He admits counting Giovanni Lurani Cernuschi, to Luigi Villoresi and to Eugenio Castellotti. Villoresi and Castellotti ask him if he feels well if the broken nose and the back bother him. Ascari says no and asks again Castellotti to borrow his car and his helmet. The young driver does not think about the worst; with a driver like Ascari everyone knees, so he takes off his helmet and hands it to him. Eventually, he helps him going into the tiny cockpit.

 

"You can do it tomorrow maybe, you have all the time, listen to us".

 

Suggest the friends, while Ascari switches on the engine. Then, in the middle of the rumble of the engine, the former champion screams, enthusiastic:

 

"But Nuvolari races also with the plaster bust, if you remember".

 

Then he leaves quickly. He does the first lap with 177 km/h as average speed; during the second laps he forces the pace, but no weakness is shown by the driver or the engine. The average speed rises to 187 km/h, a paltry speed for Ascari. The track is empty, since all the other drivers have finished their practices and they are in a bar to rest: on the asphalt ring Alberto Ascari is alone. It is 1:00 p.m.: in the middle of the third lap, going out of Serraglio turn, in the exterior part of the track, almost in front of the main tribunes, the tragedy happens. Some workers of Luca construction site, which are working a hundred metres away from the tragedy, they only hear a crash and rush there. Alberto Ascari lies on border of the track, while the car is fifty metres away, in the moorland, still shaken by the vibrations of the engine. The workers climb over the barbed wire and run to the bar to inform the drivers and the managers of the circuit, while also Villoresi and Castellotti rush, followed by some technicians. For Alberto Ascari there are not any chances: he is lifted and brought to the hospital in Monza. Meanwhile the commissioner of Milan arrives at the circuit: the technicians measure for long the crazy race of the car out of control. What is deduced is that going out of Serraglio turn, in the same point where a year before Sanesi had an accident that forced him three months in the bed, after entering the straight of the under pass, the car – we do not know why – must have skidded. Ascari, maybe in the attempt of controlling it, only succeeded in putting it across. After doing 160 metres, spinning, the car straightened and at this point Alberto Ascari is thrown out. The car passed over him, and after going on for other fifty metres, it stopped in the scrubs. In the place where the examinate body of the former champion was found, a woman put down the long red flames of some gladioli mixed with oak branches.

 

For twenty metres there are the stripes left by the tyres, and on track, apart from the paint of the car body and the helmet, there are traces of the blue fabric of the driver’s jacket; a few metres away the wallet of Ascari is found, in which there are some thousands of lire, photos of his children Antonio and Patrizia with the mother, and some holy images. The news of the tragic ending of Alberto Ascari, spread in Modena some minutes after the crash (both Ferrari and Maserati are constantly in contact with Monza via phone, where their cars are being tested) causes a general consternation in the whole city. Ascari, for professional reasons, was often in Modena; almost everyone knew him, his figure was known also by the ones who were not interested in the sport, since Ascari obtained significant victories with cars built in Monza. Enzo Ferrari is informed of the news by the sporting director, Nello Ugolini: Ferrari suddenly becomes pale, and the ones that are with him must sustain him. Without saying something, with the tears that are flowing on his face, Ferrari goes out his office almost staggering, then he gets in his car and askes to go to his house in the countryside, from which he will not release any comment; the phone rings uselessly for the calls from people who want some comments or news. Ferrari always felt himself involved in the sporting career of the sone Antonio. Seeing his passion, the mother Elisa folding to his wishes, but she also entrusted Alberto to the old friend of his husband, certain that Ferrari would have protected him. Everything went perfectly for four years but now, ironically, even though he left Ferrari, Alberto passed at the wheel of a car of his. Ferrari phones Mietta, Ascari’s wife, and even though he will not go to Milan for the funeral, in the following days he will write a letter to Ascari’s wife, who will reply with heartfelt words.

 

"My pain would subside a little if I could talk openly with you, who was his close friend and was like a father to him in all these years. I would like to tell you how much Alberto loved you and how much he admired you and I was a little bit jealous of it because it took a lot of his time that I predicted too short. I know that you are also going through a period of anxiety, and I will pray for you to forget soon this moment of pain. I also know that my tears will cause you other pain and that you do not need it, but I cannot help but pour out with you because I know you will understand me better than the others".

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Crying learns the terrifying news the director of Lancia team, Pasquarelli, and the chief test driver Navone, with Levizzani, Mattei, Motto and all the other members of the racing department; Ascari joked in Monte Carlo, after his dive into the sea, and to Pasquarelli had pointed out how the Red Turinese Formula 1 could also go under water. Lancia directors, naturally, do not release any statement. The engineer Gianni Lancia, the commendator Jano and Pasquarelli leave for Monza as soon as they learn about the grief happened. Also, the other directors of the Team, the lawyer Panigadi and the lawyer Zappelli will reach the house of the dead driver as soon as they do not have any other appointment. While the details of the tragedy are spread, it is learned that at the same time the former champion meets his destiny, another turinese driver runs a risk that could have been fatal. At 12:55 a.m. Gino Valenzano is practicing on the straight in Orbassano with an Abarth 1100 of which he himself handles the export abroad, when a dog suddenly crosses the road when the car goes at a speed of 160 km/h. Valenzano finishes in a moat miraculously unharmed: luckily, the driver only suffers from a little bruise to the right leg. After half of an hour he will learn, shocked, about the tragedy of the friend Ascari, that meanwhile has spread before 2:00 p.m., and has caused a deep grief. Mrs Farina, wife of the well-known turinese driver, learns the news few hours after Giuseppe left for Germany, where on Sunday he will race at the Nürburgring:

 

"Mrs Mietta and I, we are friends and together we suffered when our husbands were racing".

 

Mrs Farina will be there for Mietta, and also for Giuseppe she expresses immediately the grief for the loss of a dear friend, before to be a great rival for the turinese driver. Giuseppe Farina learns about the death of the friend and former teammate while he is in his car going to the Nürburgring, with Ferrari’s director Amoretti. In the night of 26th May 1955, while he travels on the highway to Frankfurt, Giuseppe switches on the radio and listen that Ascari died.

 

"In that moment I thought about some consequences of the crash in Monte Carlo. Instead, the radio reporter went on telling the facts of Monza. So, I stopped the car. My legs were shivering. I did not know what to do. I cried for so long, with my head leaned on the steering wheel. I remember Ascari as a rookie at the Tripoli Gran Prix, a friend, a rival, dear, brave. I wanted to leave immediately for Italy, I wanted to be there for my friends, and I confess it, I needed to be there for my friends. But the duty is the duty. I went on for Adenau".

 

Also, a journalist informs Fangio, in Adenau, about the death of Ascari. Shortly after, the Argentinian diver admits crying:

 

"I struggle to believe this horrible news. I saw Ascari last Sunday in Monaco, and never like in that moment he seemed to me in good physical conditions. The way in which, during the Gran Prix, he avoided the worst hazard diving into the sea, it was a proof of his extraordinary presence of mind and of his notable glance".

 

Later, Mercedes’ hallways send condolence telegrams. In Buenos Aires, the news of the passing of Alberto Ascari cause a deep grief in all the Argentinian sporting environment: on Friday 27th May 1955 all the newspapers dedicate a lot of space for the mournful happening, remembering the brilliant career of Ascari. And, in the French capital city the news quickly spreads, despite the lack of newspapers, caused by the strike of the printers, since the driver was popular in France, where he obtained lots of triumphs. The same night, Eugenio goes back to Lodi, comes, and pick Glauco Fiocchi up, the friend that he always brings with him during the European races, and he heads to Vittoria square, where at midnight he decides to speed for a whole minute, under the surrounding porticos, before stopping and remaining blocked, in silence, for some minutes. Castellotti admits to his friend Glauco Fiocchi:

 

"I will go on racing for him, in his name. There must be someone who continues what he left".

 

For Eugenio, seeing the friend and guide lying on the ground is in itself traumatizing: seeing him with his helmet is even more striking. Just like Ascari, Eugenio inherits some superstitions and costumes that will follow his whole career, like for example putting on the right shoe firstly, cleaning of the glasses done only by his friend Glauco, not giving tips to the mechanics because – as Alberto used to say – it’s a thing of the Sunday drivers, and a golden plate that he will put on the dashboard of his car with the image of Mother Cabrini, patron saint of Sant’Angelo lodigiano: a gift received from his friends after winning the Mille Miglia. On Saturday 28th May 1955 the body of Alberto Ascari comes back to Milan on a little black van that moves forward slowly, almost making longer the road of the man that, greedy of speed, inhaled the distances. In the little burial chamber of the hospital remain only for a few moments Ascari and his wife, overcame by anguish in a conversation without words. Then, carried on shoulders, the coffin is brought in the adjacent chapel, where a priest gives the absolution, so put on the van it starts its slow travel to Milan. The whole Monza is on the streets alongside the parade. Behind the bier little by little lots of cars queue up and as much as the van moves away from Monza, more the queue of the cars extends. Passing through Sesto San Giovanni, the parade must slow down again because at the sides of the street the people are gathered in two continuous hedges, in which children and women throw flowers. The long queue of cars goes on as if the engines were switched off, neither the bikes of the police officers of Milan break the silence. Alberto Ascari enters Milan from Monza Avenue, then goes on through Buenos Aires Avenue, Venezia Avenue and it arrives in Vittorio Emanuele Avenue. Carried on their shoulders by Villoresi, Castellotti, Spotorno and Maglioli, the coffin goes under the funeral decorations of the façade dominated by a huge epigraph:

 

"The last finishing line may God host Alberto Ascari’s soul".

 

On the bier there is a big blanket made of red carnations and white roses, extreme gift by the wife, also for the children Antonio and Patrizia, who are missing. Around are placed lots of crowns from the authorities, friends, relatives, athletes, corporations, and factories; the ones of Fangio, Villoresi, Castellotti and Fiorenzo Magni, of the municipality of Milan, of the Automobile Club, of Lancia, Ferrari, and Maserati. For a moment, in front of the catafalque there are the relatives and the friends in silence. Then it arrives a man with a blue helmet, the amulet that Ascari always wanted to have on his head before getting in the car and of which he was jealous in his superstition. The helmet is put on the coffin between the red carnations, symbol of the extreme caution of Alberto Ascari. Shortly after the doors of the temple are opened and starts the anonymous parade that stops for a moment in front of the coffin, prays, and goes on to leave the place for someone else, with the faces reaching out in the flicker of candles to pay the extreme homage to an extremely popular racing champion. Since the first hours it is impossible to go in the central Vittorio Emanuele Avenue: in S. Carlo church a silent crowd throngs around the catafalque right at the feet of the high altar of the Pietà chapel, on which lies the body of Alberto Ascari. Around the coffin there are six candles that light up the benches where at 8:30 a.m. will take place the relatives of the perished, Lancia drivers and Ferrari drivers, and the authorities, while an unknown number of bishops carry the pennants of as many Automobiles Club of Italy. The Italian government is represented by Honourable Ponti, the president of the Italian republic, the prefect of Milan, the count Brivio is there on behalf of the lawyer Giulio Onesti, while the gold medal Luigi Bertetti represents Honourable Castelli. Thirty registers are packed in a short time of signatures. At 8:45 a.m. the funeral service starts: priest Augusto Bottazzi officiates, helped by other six priests. So, the body, carried by shoulders by some friends and mates prepared in front of the altar of the Pietà, goes out of the temple at 9:30 a.m. brought by the closest friends of the former champion tragically passed away, Paolo Marzotto, brothers Leto di Priolo, Umberto Maglioli, Franco Spotorno, Aldo Nicosia while the police cordons struggle to hold the crowd.

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The miserable parade, led by the flags of the Automobile Club d’Italia, city of Milan and Turin, corporations, and sporting federations, is followed by more than twenty crowns carried by the mechanics of teams with blue suits, while the other eleven waggon loaded by crowns and bunches of flowers surround the bier of the great driver like it was a thick greenhouse. The parade travels through the whole Vittorio Emanuele Avenue, San Babila square, Venezia Avenue and Marina Street. The public, despite the long travel, follows the parade towards the monumental cemetery. Through the streets of the centre the parade unties, and only the closest ones go with Alberto Ascari to the last adobe. Luigi Villoresi, Alberto Ascari’s closest friend, is near to the broken widow and he is there for her during the painful travel. Impressive is the funeral parade, made of a lot of authorities and anonymous people, run from the whole Milan and lots of near and far cities; since 7:00 a.m. the square overlooking the church becomes the destination of a stream of people: workers who asked permission at the management of their factory to pay a final salute to the idol of their sporting passion; students, employee, men and women from all the status and age; and lots of drivers, colleague of Ascari, including the drivers who are going to race at Monza Grand Prix, the race at which also the passed away champion wanted to join. Of the relatives the mother and the children are missing: the first because the torture was too much to handle, almost unsustainable for her, while the children are in Piedmont, hosted in the villa of the engineer Gianni Lancia, who on 26th May 1955 rushed to take them. The parade goes thorough S. Babila square between two thick wings of crowd: from the balconies and the windows of lots of buildings red carnations and white roses are falling and they are later picked up and put on the brief. In Venezia Avenue, in front of the headquarter of the Automobile Club of Milan, in a short green open space in Boschetti Street, prince Caracciolo, the chief of Automobile Club of Italy, utters a heartfelt and noble funeral prayer:

 

"This catastrophe that crashed him is at the same time its apotheosis. No one of us will see him as a falling athlete; now he is the sempiternal symbol of youth, courage, and victory".

 

The touching words of prince Caracciolo resound in the deep silence of the crowd, occasionally broken by painful sobbing. The body of Alberto Ascari, followed by the widow who gets in a car, is brought, and buried at the monumental cemetery, next to his father, who in 1925 had a tragic racing crash in France, like thirty years after has happened to his son. Shortly before the coffin is entombed, near the walnut coffin that hold the body of the champion still stand – in a last silent talk – the relatives and the closest sporting and enthusiastic mates, Villoresi and Spotorno, Taruffi, Lorenzetti, Milani brothers, Sanesi, Cortese, Gianni Lancia, Enzo Ferrari, Leto di Priolo and Castellotti. Meanwhile, at the Automobile Club of Milan go on arriving telegrams from all Europe and America. The doctor Teodor Heuss, president of the federal republic of Germany (western Germany) telegraphs:

 

"I express my cordial condolences to the Italian motorsport for the tragic loss of Alberto Ascari. For his spectacular statements and for his spontaneous politeness, Alberto Ascari had lots of friends in the motorsport and among the population. These friends take part to your pain".

 

Telegraph, also, the ministry of transports, honourable Mattarella, the undersecretary of finance, honourable Castelli, honourable Giulio Andreotti, honourable Checcherini, the president of the sporting parliamentary group, the deputy chief of the police doctor Bordieri, the presidents of the Automobile clubs of Bern and Marseilles, sporting centre of Mexico, doctor Koenecke of Mercedes-Benz and others. While in Milan there is the funeral of Alberto Ascari, at 8:30 the children, Antonio and Patrizia, play in Testona in the park of Lancia villa. They do not know that their father passed: only to Antonio, who is the oldest (he is almost 12), its is said that the father is in the hospital with a broken leg; Patrizia (who is 9) does not even know about the merciful lie. The children are in Testona from Thursday evening, after engineer Gianni Lancia rushed to Monza in the early afternoon. In the mortuary room of the hospital, where the body of the champion lied, the engineer Gianni Lancia met Mietta Ascari, and asked her where the children were:

 

"I think they are at home. As soon as the news arrived, I went away, I do not want to tell them that their dad passed for a few more days. I will tell them when I am stronger".

 

Engineer Lancia goes back to Milan, in Sempione Avenue 60, where he finds Antonio and brings him with him to Testona:

 

"Here you will play with my kids".

 

Vincenzo Lancia is only 3, Mariella only 1. Then, in the evening, the aunt brings also Patrizia to Testona. Here, however, Patrizia and Antonio are not happy: it is proved by Antonio and askes random questions at which it is difficult to give a ready and complete reply. They still have in mind the scene that happened at their house when they were waiting to have lunch. The mother who runs to Monza with Villoresi’s sister, her coming back home to take the blue suit of the father, the quick kiss, the hard caress while the eyes try to escape their gaze:

 

"Why don’t you bring us to dad? Who knows how happy he would be to see us".

 

Askes so many times Antonio. The engineer Lancia is worried: does he have to say the truth? Ms Mietta Ascari phones on Friday evening, before they go to bed. The first to reply is Patrizia:

 

"How is dad?"

 

Then Antonio talks:

 

"Can you come to take us?"

 

When Patrizia lows to the microphone to say to her mother that she loves her, the communication was already interrupted; and obviously, she cries. In La Lambda villa, in Testona, there is not a journal from Thursday.

 

"At our house, our dad brought them every day".

 

Admits Antonio. Engineer Lancia replies:

 

"I read them in my office".

 

From Thursday they do not listen to the radio: in fact, the control knob has been unscrewed so that the boy cannot switch it on; precautions that do not are random for the kids. On Saturday afternoon, engineer Lancia goes for a stroll with the kids on a Jeep. During the day they can entertain them and distract them, but at night the melancholy arrives; not by chance, at dinner the bay wants to know if he can still go to school, since in Milan he attends Leone XIII middle school.

 

"But there is the strike of the teachers, you know well".

 

Patrizia, instead, goes to elementary school and she is not worried about it.

 

"The teacher said to me that I’m going to pass".

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At 9:00 p.m. Villoresi tells engineer Lancia that he is going to visit them on Sunday. That Ascari was famous, it was known; the champions build their legends while they are still alive; but the proof of how much he was loved, most of all in Milan, it is shown in Sempione Avenue, in the vestibule of his house, where it is placed a little desk adorned to grief with a register for the signatures. While the messengers of the telegraph deliver the telegrams of the Argentinian president Peron, of the prefect, the police commissioner and the mayor of Milan and other personalities, an anonymous crowd, workers with their suits and women with the shopping bag, put their signature with uncertain characters on the register that for them is the last proof of love for the champion. They silently sign and goes on the street under the sun, creating groups and asking themselves how the tragedy could have happened. Others much more informed than them are not able to say why Ascari passed, because nobody was there to see. Due to the accident, Ferrari’s technicians examine again deeply the car on which the champion passed, but there were not flaws: the brakes still work, the transmission axle is in perfect conditions, also the differential gear, the engine, after the uncontrolled crazy race, is still switched on. So, excluding the accident for a mechanical problem, there are other hypothesis. Shortly before getting in the car, Ascari ate some bread with salami: could that snack out of time have caused a congestion with the cold air due to the high speed? Or as he wasn’t in perfect physical conditions, after the frightening dive into the sea in Monte-Carlo, he had a moment of absence, a fraction of time in which a painful stabbing or the lack of sensibility to some muscles of the legs impeded him to control the car, which wasn’t at a high speed but remarkable in a difficult part of the track, where a talented driver like Sanesi the year before escaped from capitulation almost by a miracle?

 

Some others propose the hypothesis that Ascari did a technical mistake almost incomprehensible for him, an excellent driver: in the Ferrari Sport (which he knew perfectly) the brake is on the right, the clutch on the left and the throttle pedal in the middle, differently from the Lancia, that instead has the throttle pedal on the right. Going out the turn with a speed not higher than 190 km/h, maybe he pressed the right pedal believing he was pressing the throttle pedal but instead he pressed the brake just enough to make him swerve? This is one of the many theories that emerges after the crash: a supposition that cannot stand though. Luigi Villoresi, who knows well the driver that Ascari is, excludes it in the most absolute way, since when Ascari was going out of the turn already had the foot on the throttle pedal. The swerves, instead, you can notice them from the stripes on the asphalt, started when the car was already in the straight. It is more credible the hypothesis of the engineer Jano, inventor of the Lancia Formula 1 on which the driver won on Valentino circuit: going out of the huge Serraglio turn the driver would have recalled the car with a strong acceleration, not thinking about the fact that he was driving a Sport car, of limited means, and not a Formula 1 much more powerful and stable. The strong acceleration was not enough to hold the car that, rearing up, would have been across the track and started the tragic series of flights, jumps and slides, until the driver was thrown in the track, passing on him. But also, this is, however, a hypothesis not confirmed by certain elements. Only lots of years later, Ernesto Brambilla will admit:

 

"There was Eugenio Castellotti, his friend, who was testing a Ferrari 750 Sport. He arrived from Milan, and he asked to do some laps. At that infamous turn I saw him across the track and flip over. I did not see a person or an animal crossing the road, as someone always daydreamed".

 

Few years after, on 29th may 1955 in Monza takes place the third Supercortemaggiore Gran Prix, that closes the long series of races on the old track, since with the next Italian Gran Prix, in September, will launch the new track that will provide higher speed like 300 km/h, being made of two straights linked by turns at 160 degrees, raised, and with wide angle. The old circuit comprehends the two Lesmo turns, the Serraglio one, but the porphyry will not be completely abandoned, so much so that it will be linked with specific linkers. Also in these circumstances the public lives dramatic and anxious moments, since Trintignant goes off track few metres from where Ascari did on 26th may, Bordoni loses the control of the car at the porphyry turn, while at the sixtieth lap Airoldi, with the Maserati 2000, after leaving Lesmo turn, he doesn’t control his car that pierces between two trees and gets stuck there and it fires up. A thick cloud of smoke rises extremely high, followed by an explosion, then the flames surround the car, but Airoldi, fortunately was thrown into the scrub of the hedge, where some security agents pick him up unconscious. Shortly after he is brought to the hospital in Monza, where the doctors, even though they reserve the prognosis, do not judge him serious. Supercortemaggiore Gran Prix, only for Sport cars, starts at 11:00 a.m., after that, to let the athletes be at the funeral of Alberto Ascari, Saturday practice, instead of being from 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 a.m. and from 3:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m., are done continuously from 12:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. The English Hawthorn, winner of the previous year Grand Prix, at the end of the first lap he is already leading and keeps the lead for eight laps, always followed by the French Behra who succeeds in finishing in P1 after an animated ending: indeed, after the a hundred fifty seventh lap, when Hawthorn is a more than a minute, the French driver is forced to pit to refuel. Filed the tank in only fifteen seconds, Behra restarts, and he can increase the pace, crossing the finishing line few seconds before the Ferrari of the English driver. The reward for the III Supercortemaggiore Gran Prix, won by the French-Italian couple Behra-Musso on Maserati 3000, saves the greatest part for the constructors, being the formula of the race practically only technical.

 

A hundred sixty laps of Monza circuit, which is more than 1000 kilometres, at the speed of the current Sport cars, represent a proof for the mechanical means: it’ right that the constructor of the winning car sees sometimes crowned his efforts. The award for the winning constructor is sixteen million lire, destined in this occasion to Maserati, a team that is since some time in a happy period of technical rearrangement, and by now a serious rival for Ferrari in every category of the sport. Also in Monza the battle of the two teams was close, and ended with the final dominance of Maserati only for seventeen seconds: almost a million for every second of advantage that Behra and Musso were able to have from the couple Hawthorn-Maglioli, the winning crew of the previous edition of the race, that  started up again for the occasion, since - as it its known - Mike Hawthorne has a contract with Vanwall only for F1 races. But the exciting ending of the race, with Behra who stops before the few final laps to put some fuel in the tank, seemed for a moment for the team from Modena - and not only the 16 million - that it was going to disappear. But also, to the drivers went a great reward: to the first of every lap go fifteen thousand lire, besides the ranking trophy and the special ones. And since Hawthorn and Miglioli has led the race for seventy laps, while Behra and Musso for ninety, the Maserati crew is awarded with a million and three hundred seventy thousand lire, while the Ferrari one with eight hundred thousand lire less. At the same time, Juan Manuel Fangio wins the Automotive Trophy of Eifel held on 29th May 1955, on Nürburgring circuit. In second place only with a tenth of second delay there is the English Moss, with Mercedes, while Giuseppe Farina, who races with the Ferrari 3750, is in fifth place. Since the start the drivers of the German team lead the race, so at the end of the first lap Fangio leads, followed by Moss, while all the other drivers are a minute behind them. At the end of the race Moss unleashes a violent offensive setting the fastest lap with the average speed of 134.400 km/h but few metres before the finishing line Fangio is leading again. The Argentinian, who races bravely, is shaken by the loss of Ascari.

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Shortly after racing at Nürburgring, Fangio goes to Belgium with Mercedes team, while Giuseppe Farina came back from Germany by car, leaves on 1st June 1955 for Belgium, location of the next race of the Formula One World Championship. As it was predictable, also in the current championship the European constructors prefer not to go to the American race. However, for the ranking, on Monday 30th May 1955 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway takes place the Indy 500, third race of the World Championship. Firstly, in the race can join the cars of the American National championship that foresee the chance to use three litres Dodge cars, and the 4.5 litres engine size of Offenhauser, against the limit of 2.500 cubic centimetres of the engines used in Formula 1. The other anomaly is the format of the qualifying: the event starts two weeks before with practice day scheduled both in the weekend on 14th and 15th may, and on Saturday 21st and Sunday 22nd may, the same date in which took place the European Gran Prix in Monaco. So, it is difficult, if not impossible for the European teams to organize an away winning game. All the eyes are on Jimmy Bryan, national champion on duty and second the previous year in the Indy 500, and Bill Vulkovich, who wants to win for the third consecutive time in the American classy that will crown him as the legend of the American sport.

 

On Saturday 14th May 1955 the risk of rain, and sudden gusting wind, take the drivers and the teams to agree that no one will try the pole lap, so the challenge is postponed to the day after. But twenty minutes before the end it happens the plot twist: Jerry Hoyt, not informed of the agreement, goes out of the pits, and tries the pole lap. The laps set do not have an amazing average but being the only car to set a decent time he takes the first place. Nothing can do Tony Bettenhausen Sr, who entering the track a little bit too late, during the qualifying lap is forced to slow down for a sudden gust of wind. Two other drivers prepare their cars to enter the track, but they give up their chance, so the day after the drivers will be able to conquer a good place for the race. The day after the weather is better and let the drivers race on the legendary ring. At the end of the day the quickest id Jack McGrath, who sets a 1’03”122 with an average speed of 142.580 mph. On the second raw bill Vulkovich, Bryan in on the fourth raw while Bob Sweikert is fourteenth. It must be reported the crash of Ayulo, that costs the life of the Californian driver, and a curious statistic fact: Hoyt’s pole is the one with the slowest average speed of the history, such that the time is the eighth time of the weekend. The drivers excluded from the qualifying are seventeen, while they will be thirty-three the drivers to join the race, all American nationality. On Monday 30th May 955 everything is ready for the show both on and off track: in fact, in the pre-race the 175.00 spectators are welcomed by brass band, flag-thrower and cheerleaders from Pordue University.

 

The weather is sunny, but cold and windy. The thirty-ninth edition of the Indy 500 foresees the most famous ring, 4.023 kilometres long (2.5 miles) will be covered for two hundred laps counterclockwise, for a total of 804.672 kilometres, 500 miles indeed. The drivers are on the grid, and they are going to do the pace car for the classic rolling start. Twelve thousand horsepower are ready to go wild as the service car enters the pits and it is given the start of the race. McGrath starts perfectly and leads immediately the race; even though he starts from the outer side of the track. Also, Vukovich starts very quickly and is at the edge of the podium already since the first lap. The first part of the race is focused on the duel between McGrath and Vulkovich: the two of them switch their places a couple of times for the lead of the race. At the fourth lap Bill Vulkovich tries to break, but at the fifteenth session it is again McGrath that takes the lead: a happiness that lasts only for a lap because of the counterattack of the driver that tries to break the record of three consecutive wins that holds the lead for eight laps. McGrath, who from the beginning shows some problems at the engine with flashy smoke signals, regains the lead only for two laps, while at lap twenty-seven Vulkovich gets him passed again and he is again in first place, also setting the fastest time of the race. Scenario that remains the same since lap fifty-four, when Jack McGrath retires after the engine problems he had for the whole race. Meanwhile there are two retirements: Reece has problems to one piston rod while Abagashan, started fourth, spins and is forced to retire.

 

The race, though, take a turn of the worst at lap fifty-six, when Roger Ward, lingered of some laps, spins a couple of times and stays in the middle of the ideal trajectory and activate a crash that involves lots of cars. Among them Keller, who trying to avoid the car in the middle of the track finishes in the grass and somehow manages to return on track, runs into Boyd who in turn is hit by the leader of the race. The cars spin, however, Boyd does not have consequences while Vulkovich literally flies and breaks the external barriers, and he is thrown on the cars on some spectators. For the Californian, surrounded by the flames, there is nothing to do even though some mates, Ed Elisian to be precise, stop to help the friend. Sixteen laps and twenty-seven minutes later, travelled safely, the race can resume. For the first time the car of Kuzma is leading the race, driven by the champion Jimmy Bryan, chases the dream of winning the classic American. Sweikert follows closely, who taking advantage of the trail leads the race; but the happiness lasts a little because Bryan regains the first place. At the lap ninety of two hundred, a problem of the pump of the fuel forces the leader to retire, who consoles himself smoking a cigar in the pits. The leader of the Indy 500 is again Bob Sweikert, followed by Cross and Freeland: both drivers will have the chance to be in first place, even though they must give up their dreams in the final part of the race, due to mechanical problems.

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Art Cross has problems with the connecting rod during lap a hundred sixty-eight, while the transmission betrays Don Freeland ten laps after; among these two events the last crash happens to Niday, luckily without consequences. The retirements are nineteen out of thirty-three starts, proof of how this race is exhausting for cars and drivers. The race direction, carful about the gusting wind and the mistakes of the others, rewards Bob Sweikert, who crosses the finishing line in first position after two hundred laps and three hours, fifty-three minutes, and fifty-nine seconds, with an average speed of 206 km/h. On the finishing line Sweikert is welcomed by the team with lots of enthusiasm, by the actress and singer Dinah Shore and by his wife Dolores, who rewards him with an absorbing kiss. The driver guarantees for himself and for the team the reward of 75.000 dollars, while to the Vulkovich’s widow – that also leaves a baby girl – are offered 7.500 dollars. The third race of the championship is archived, a sort of anomaly in the calendar of the Formula 1 championship, seeing the presence of only American drivers. Also, this event, in a 1955 that seems cursed, it is characterised by am heavy loss: if Europe is shaken by the recent fatal crash of Alberto Ascari, on the other side of the ocean it is mourned the loss of Bill Vulkovich, specialist of the American classic race. In four days, the worldwide motorsport loses two mainstays of the respective categories and two icons of the disciplines. A curious foreboding seemed to distress the soul of Bill, who some days before admitted to the journalists:

 

"Surely, I do not go to Indianapolis for healthy reasons; but it is not excluded that I can win the race. All the cars turn left, but if you turn right, you are in troubles".

 

For an extraordinary fate, the words of the great champion of American motorsport will ring as prophetic. From one side of the world to the other, on Tuesday 31st May 1955 Lancia announces the decision of closing the race department. The prediction done in some environment of the motorsport about the possible retirement of Lancia from the racing competitions, following the tragic ending of Alberto Ascari, become reality. The loss of Ascari was not only irreparable for the sport, but it has also serious mirror images for the technical sector that is linked to the sport; let’s only thing about the efforts done by Lancia in order to align in more than a year with teams specialized in building racing cars and that have multi years’ experience to recognize that all the studies, the researchers, the long work of creation, preparation and development, the engagement of means and men are, if not called off, certainly useless after the tragedy of Monza. After all, of the two other drivers of Lancia, Villoresi is already in the inexorable falling trend after twenty years of generous, brilliant, but exhausting career, without considering the consequences of the psychic shock that hit the Milanese driver for the death of the close friend; while for what concerns Castellotti, he is a young and promising driver, but that needs more internship time in order to obtain more authority and experience. Moreover, the driver from Lodi got also in touch with Scuderia Ferrari to take part in the team of Modena.

 

In other words, the progression of the sporting programme of Lancia would be a great mystery and have negative consequences. On the other hand, the statement of the team of Monginevro street talks about a suspension, not about the end: it is a shade that leaves the door open for a possible revision of the programmes. When and how it is not easy to imagine; anyway, a car is going to race on Sunday in Spa at the Belgian Gran Prix, fourth race of the World Championship, with the only Eugenio Castellotti, who askes to race only on his behalf; the engineer Gianni Lancia, before flying to the United States, gives him car and support. Is it going to be a goodbye or a farewell? No one knows, but we can not observe that in the second hypothesis they would risk wasting precious time: also going on with laboratory and garage studies and works, there will be the lack of precious practice experience that only the direct comparisons can provide. The automotive environment hopes that the resolution of Lancia will reduce to a necessary period of recollection, and the update of the competitive programmes. Meanwhile, to honour the memory of Alberto Ascari, on 31st May 1955 the national subscription announced by the directive council of the Automobile Club Milan yields a return of 18 million; Lancia and Fiat from Turin sign the higher amount, respectively with five million and two million, while Maserati and Ferrari donate one million each.

 

Luca Saitta

 

Translated by Caterina Fioretti

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