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#59 1957 Indy 500

2021-04-21 00:00

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#59 1957 Indy 500

A due settimane di distanza dalla Mille Miglia, il campionato mondiale per vetture della categoria sport prosegue domenica 26 Maggio 1957 con la 1000

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Two weeks after the Mille Miglia, the world championship for cars in the sports category continues Sunday, 26 May 1957 with the 1000 kilometres of the Nürburgring. The prevailing question on the eve of the race is this: will the British cars of Aston Martin and Jaguar, clearly beaten in the previous world races in Buenos Aires, Sebring and Brescia, succeed this time in undermining the hegemony of the Ferrari and Maserati cars? Will there therefore be a fierce Italian-English duel on the Adenau track? According to the official test results, it must be acknowledged that the British racers managed to increase the power of their cars considerably. Especially Aston Martin who, according to leaked rumours from the pits, would line up the new 3700 built for the next 24 Hours of Le Mans. However, it is misplaced to attach too much importance to the test results, since on the Nürburgring circuit it is not so much the speed as the endurance qualities that count. With its numerous and in some cases tight bends, not to mention the constant ups and downs, the 22.810-kilometre-long Adenau track puts tremendous wear and tear on the mechanicals. On the other hand, it is worth bearing in mind that the Aston Martin, tested in Brooks' training sessions, is a new car, so one can raise some doubts as to its resistance to prolonged exertion. The same can be said of the Maserati 4600 which, as we know, soon disappeared from contention in the Mille Miglia due to mechanical failure. This circumstance should in a way favour the Ferraris, which during this season have proved to be perfectly on point.

 

It would therefore be a serious mistake to exclude the Ferrari cars from the list of pretenders to victory, even if they are a little slower in practice than the Fangio-Moss and Brooks-Leston crews. This does not detract from the fact that the number one favourite remains the Argentinean Fangio, who will race in tandem with Moss. During practice, the South American ace performs real miracles by tackling the circuit's most insidious curves at full speed: the time he set, 8'43"6, speaks for itself. One can count on the fingers of one hand the runners who have been able to do better than him in the past. If the Maserati 4500's mishap at the Mille Miglia can be eliminated in Modena, it will certainly be difficult to beat the Fangio-Moss duo. In addition to these two racers, the House of the Trident will line up the crews Schell-Hermann, Scarlatti-Godia and Menditeguy-Bonnier. For Ferrari, three cars will take to the track in the hands of Collins-Hawthorn, Trintignant-Gregory (the latter taking the place of Luigi Musso) and Gendebien-von Trips. Not being able to dispose of the Ferraris that had been impounded following the disaster caused by De Portago in the Mille Miglia, the Maranello company was forced to send reserve cars to Adenau, the precise capacity of which is unknown. It seems, however, that Collins-Hawthorn, the company's star performers, may have one of the revamped 4100s at their disposal. In testing on Friday 24 May, Frenchman Trintignant is the fastest Ferrari, lapping in 9'57"6 at an average speed of 187.400 km/h. As for Jaguar, the latter entered two cars in the Mille Chilometri. In the class up to 2000 cc, Porsche is expected to make a clear statement. Calculating that the runners in the over-two-thousand-cc class will run at an average of around 135 km/h, the race is expected to last seven and a half hours, and every two hundred kilometres the drivers will have to take turns.

 

On the eve of the race, the drivers who are members of the Union of Professional Racers declare themselves against participation in the Monza 500 Miglia, at least as the race scheduled for 29 June is set. As is well known, this retour match at Indianapolis, with the participation of European and American drivers, is supposed to take place on the Monza catino only, i.e., on the track with elevated curves, to the exclusion of the road course connected to it. This very fast track has been built with special protections for the cars, but it seems that the racers are essentially concerned about tyre grip at high speeds, based on the experiences made in this regard in the last two years, on the Italian Grand Prix, which, as is well known, was held on the entire ten-kilometre course, including the catino and the road circuit. The concern is therefore understandable, and it puts the organisers of the 500 Miglia in a big headache, even more so since the preparation of the race is almost completed and the Monza Lottery is linked to it. Therefore, either the European drivers will reconsider their attitude and agree to participate, or the organisers will fall back on the road course (or the full Italian Grand Prix course) as requested by the racers. But in the latter case it would be the Americans who would not accept. How will the matter develop? The situation is new, but somewhat inevitable. Concerns about racing safety are more alive these days than ever before, and it is hardly surprising that the racers feel they have a say in the matter, as they are ultimately the only ones who are really at risk. A very interesting case for future developments.

 

On Sunday, 26th May 1957 starts the 1000 kilometres of the Nürburgring. At the start, the Englishman Moss, at the wheel of the Maserati 1500, in which he had set the fastest lap time of 9'43"5 in practice, takes the lead in the roaring carousel. At the end of the first lap, he is 12 seconds ahead of his pursuers Brooks in an Aston Martin, Schell in a Maserati, Hawthorn and Collins in Ferraris, and Godia in a Maserati. In the laps that follows, the English driver further increases his pace and repeatedly breaks the lap record for sports cars, taking it to an excellent average speed of 139.500 km/h. The eighth lap is reached when the main episode of the day takes place: the loudspeakers announce that at the Sohwalbenschwarz corner (which literally means swallowtail) a wheel has come off Moss's car. Despite the driver's skill, the car undergoes a frightening skid and, after going off the road, crashes into the crash barrier and is seriously damaged. The English driver, who gets away with a few minor bruises, has no choice but to abandon and return to the pits, to the applause of the public. The elimination of the Maserati of the Fangio-Moss crew gives the green light to the Aston Martin of the Brooks-Cunningham duo who, alternating at the wheel of their racing car, set a record over the overall distance at an average speed of 132.600 kilometres per hour (Behra-Moss's previous record, in a Maserati, in 1956, was almost three km/h slower). Over the next thirty-six laps, the Modenese company's managers do nothing to ensure that their colours would win, but all efforts are in vain as the second Maserati 4500 is forced to retire.

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This car, which at the start was driven by the Schell-Hermann duo, is brought to a halt on lap 13 to be entrusted to Fangio. But unfortunately, the Argentine driver, after a furious chase, also has to stop in the pits with a mechanical failure. Maserati does not give up: the third and last official car, a 3000, assigned at the start to Godia-Gould, is entrusted to Fangio-Moss who, showing admirable skill in tackling the circuit's most dangerous curves, manages to climb from ninth to fifth place. In the second part of the race, the Collins-Gendebien crew overtakes the Hawthorn-Trintignant pair, but the 1000 kilometres of the Nürburgring, the fourth round of the world championship for sports cars, ends with the surprising victory of the English crew Brooks-Cunningham, in an Aston-Martin 3500, who precedes the Ferrari 4100s of the Collins-Gendebien and Hawthorn-Trintignant pairs to the finish line. Italy's Maglioli, racing with Germany's Barin in a Porsche, comes first in the sports category up to 2000 cc, and fourth overall in the standings: a remarkable placing. As for the Ferraris, to whom second and third place go, if they are unable to enter the duel for victory, they display, if nothing else, surprising regularity. It should be borne in mind that the Prancing Horse manufacturer was without von Trips who was injured during practice. Also taking part in the Nürburgring race is Sergio Mantovani, paired with De Tomaso, in an Osca 1500. The courageous driver, who run despite mutilating a leg, is however forced to retire due to mechanical engine problems.

 

To the successes of the cross-Channel racers one has been quite accustomed for a couple of years now, but not to those of their makes, even though the threat is becoming more concrete from race to race. Except for the 24 Hours of Le Mans, where Jaguar has repeatedly asserted itself, this is the first time since the World Sports Car Championship is established that there has been a complete British victory. Even more surprising as it is achieved by a car that is thought to have limited possibilities. The Aston Martins, equipped with a new 3700 cc six-cylinder engine, particularly stand out for their uncommon endurance qualities: suffice it to say that the three British cars arrive at the finish line in top condition. That this is a first-rate mechanical machine is demonstrated by two observations: firstly, that - having taken Fangio and Moss's Maserati 4500, which had taken the lead, out of the race - the British car gained between six and ten seconds per lap over its pursuers (the Ferraris of Collins-Gendebien and Hawthorn-Trintignant); and secondly, that, even granting Tony Brooks above-average driving skills, his partner Cunningham Reid is, on the continent, little less than unknown, should one conclude that the new Aston Martin is superior to the Italian sports cars? It is too early to say, at least until the counterevidence, but certainly this British offensive (there is also Vanwall in Formula 1) is beginning to be worrying. The Italian manufacturers do, however, have valid extenuating circumstances: Ferrari, after all, the well-known vicissitudes, has not been able to line up its most efficient cars, and on the eve of the race Wolfgang von Trips put out of action one of the three laboriously scraped together by the Maranello House to be present at the fourth round of the world championship.

 

As for Maserati, the breakdown complained of by Moss on the mighty 4600 was serious but, in its exceptionality, easily remedied. The 8V of the trident nevertheless reconfirms itself as the fastest sports car in existence today. Four days later, on Thursday 30 May 1957, the most anomalous race of the Formula One World Championship takes place, as usual boycotted by almost all European drivers and manufacturers, the Indianapolis 500. The only one who tries his luck overseas is Giuseppe Farina, who tries again to qualify for the glorious Indianapolis 500 to take part in one of the most prestigious motorsport events in the world. The race also remains valid for the USAC Championship Car Season, which in this championship is the inaugural round. However, there are many new features for this forty-first edition of the legendary American race, with important updates mainly concerning safety: a new lane and pit-stop area with a large concrete area, conveniently separated from the main straight by a low wall, also made of concrete; a new control tower for the race judges, where even the public in the stands can quickly consult positions, times and scores on the track. The track is asphalted, leaving only the main straight with the previous type of road surface, the legendary tile of which a trace will remain in the starting line. The starting procedure is also new: although there are still thirty-three participants in the race, the organisers change the traditional eleven-row grid in favour of a system of a rolling start behind the pace car where the single-seaters complete two laps, one a parade and one a warm-up lap, before launching themselves at full speed towards victory.

 

It should be noted that over the past two years motorsport has been subjected to the shockwave of the media process after a series of dramatic events, including the deaths of Ascari, Vukovich, Le Mans 1955 and, last in order of time, the Guidizzolo tragedy that occurred on 12 May 1957 during the Mille Miglia. It follows that these innovations introduced in the name of safety are welcomed by the entire environment. The qualifying procedure remains unchanged, allowing even less experienced drivers with this type of track to train and be at least competitive right from the start, even starting a few weeks before the actual race. Among the drivers entered was, as mentioned, only one European, Giuseppe Farina who, after failing the previous year with Ferrari, tried to conquer the American continent with a team bearing his name. However, the adventure doesn't start in the best of ways for the Italian, who finds not a few difficulties in finding the right set-up for the car, a Kurtis Kraft 500 G powered by Offenhauser, and then continues even worse. In fact, the car is tested by Keith Andrews who, during the test, crashes against the wall separating the circuit and the pit area, losing his life. It is 15 May 1957, barely three days have passed since the terrible accident involving Marquis De Portago, and motorsport mourns another of its protagonists. On a side note, Farina did not have a spare car and had to say goodbye to his racing ambitions, thus deciding to abandon motorsport for good.

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On Saturday 18 May 1957 saw the start of the first practices that would determine the starting grid. The practice is characterised by heavy rain that delays the action on the track, to the point that only nine drivers attempt the assault on pole position, among them the rookie Elmer George. The best time is set by Pat O'Connor in 1'02"522, followed by Sachs, Ruttman, Agabashian, Boyd and Reece. The next day the second session is cancelled due to rain, so it remains until the following weekend to determine the starting grid. On Saturday 25 May 1957, the fastest driver is Paul Russo, who takes tenth place while the last available session, scheduled for the following day, once again sees bad weather and rain as the main protagonists. Twenty-three drivers compete for the last eleven places available on the grid, but the maximum effort of the riders and the difficult weather conditions cause as many as nine accidents, fortunately without consequences. On Thursday, 30 May 1957, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is ready to welcome some two hundred thousand people for what is, to all intents and purposes, the world's premier sporting event. At five o'clock in the morning, the gates of the racetrack open and are stormed by the fans who have remained sleeping in their cars in order not to miss a single moment of the spectacle organised in Indiana. As tradition dictates, the performance of the band and majorettes from Purdue University, and the American anthem are the ideal preambles to heighten the anticipation and, finally, when Tony Hulman, president of the facility, pronounces the phrase Gentlemen, start your engines, the single seaters can enter the track intoxicating the crowd with their roars and colours.

 

Five rookie drivers, and no fewer than eighteen cars never seen before at the Indianapolis 500, characterise edition number forty-one. The new starting procedure sees the pace car, a Mercury Turnpike Cruiser Indy Pace Car, make way for the racers before the start, a parade lap to greet the spectators in the grandstands, and a second warm-up lap: when the lead car enters the pit lane the race begins. But immediately an accident involves Eddie Russo and rookie Elmer George: the son-in-law of President Hulman, thus thwarting the excellent qualifying. On the first lap O'Connor immediately attempt to escape while, in turn four, Ruttman regains third position, a brilliant start by National Champion Jimmy Bryan who, having started fifteenth, is already seventh. Ruttman shows exceptional form in the early stages of the race, jumping into the lead for a couple of laps before suffering a counter-takeover by O'Connor on lap seven, but on lap ten it was Ruttman again who got the better of the duel. For the American the joy is short-lived as his car overheats and he is forced to raise the white flag. Paul Russo takes command of the race dictating the pace for twenty laps, until Sam Hanks on Epperly takes the lead for the first time in this race. The duel between the two racers is exciting: Russo takes advantage of the powerful eight-cylinder engine to get away on the straights, while Hanks takes the lead in the corners driving a lighter car that allows him to limit the speed deficit. Rathman, also in an Epperly, shows off by jumping into the leading positions and demonstrating all the design goodness of the single-seater.

 

The dance of pit stops begin and the drivers in the lead smashes previous average speed records when, at this stage, John Thomson led for a few laps, but Hanks is quick to retake the top spot. On lap 53 Daywalt retires from the race due to an accident, and a similar fate befell Al Keller in a Kurtis Kraft twenty-two laps later, following a spin and a consequent collision with the crash wall. On lap number one hundred and ten, the second series of refuels with leader Hanks giving way to Rathmann. The driver of the number 26 car leads the pack for around twenty-five laps, also setting the fastest lap of the race at this stage, until Hanks, again, takes the lead in the yellow car number nine. The race does not offer much excitement, but it remains a tough test for the competitors, as only eighteen drivers manage to reach the finish line, with eleven riders completing full laps under the chequered flag. The winner is Sam Hanks, who completes the two hundred laps in three hours, forty-one minutes and fourteen seconds, beating reigning champion Jimmy Bryan, author of a great race, by thirty seconds and over two minutes. O'Connor is only eighth, despite being first at the start. The 42-year-old driver is welcomed like a hero by the team and his wife Alice Hanks inside Victory Lane, to enjoy the classic bottle of milk reserved for the winners. For Sam, this victory is the realisation of a lifelong dream, and the satisfaction of having achieved the goal is such that at the end of the celebrations Hanks announces his retirement from racing. The well-deserved rest is embellished with a hefty sum of money, because the American racer is the first man in history to exceed $100,00 received as a prize, reaching the record figure of $300.000.

 

The American stage, as often happens in these pioneering years, is of little value within the Formula One World Championship, with the protagonists, Ferrari and Maserati, remaining in the Italian factories to draw their conclusions after the Mille Miglia and the 1000 kilometres of the Nürburgring, and prepare for the following Grands Prix, in an all-Modenese challenge. Meanwhile, towards the end of May, Enzo Ferrari comes out of his isolation. One morning he decides to load Tavoni and Peppino Verdelli into his car and drives at high speed along the Via Emilia. During the journey he does not speak and does not confess the destination of the trip. The passengers will only realise where they are heading when they see the walls of the Benedictine monastery of Santa Maria del Monte in Cesena looming in front of them. In his moment of despair, Enzo Ferrari, who professes to be more of a non-believer than a believer, seeks answers in the wisdom of a man of the cloth. When they arrive at the convent, Ferrari asks for Don Alberto Clerici, the clergyman who had married him and celebrated Dino's funeral eleven months earlier. Don Berto takes Ferrari under his arm and together they start walking around the cloister, taking one tour after another. Ferrari, hat in hand, occasionally stops, talks, gesticulates and cries. But Don Berto listens to him, consoles him, takes him back under his arm. Then, together, they walk again. Ferrari lets off steam: he tells Don Berto that he has had enough. As if his grief for the loss of so many lives were not enough, he has been ferociously attacked by the press, who call him a monster. He wants to stop racing. Patiently, Don Berto listens to Ferrari, then exclaims:

 

"What can you do with as much skill and passion?"

 

After that, Don Berto convinces Ferrari that he is sent to this earth to build beautiful, powerful and fast sports cars, and that if he stops, he will be doing violence to himself and causing pain to those who works with him and draw sustenance and satisfaction from that work. He therefore convinces him to continue with the same passion, the same dedication, and the same honesty. So, for about twenty laps of the cloister, silent, interminable, interspersed with pauses and sobs. When the meeting is over, Father Clerici calls Tavoni and Verdelli and, with Ferrari, all four kneel to pray. Ferrari cries while Don Berto recites the Our Father. Then Ferrari, Tavoni and Verdelli get back into the car to return to Modena. Ferrari is at the wheel, silent and pensive. No one dares to speak. It is Ferrari himself who breaks the silence when he arrives in Castelfranco Emilia.

 

"Eh, they say well those there; but they have faith".

 

The great moment of discouragement is archived: with the arrival of summer, Ferrari will return to the office regularly, continuing his work.

 

Luca Saitta

 

Translated by Alessandro Gambirasio

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