Friday, April 20, 2012

San Francisco Motorsports San Rafael - History of the Targa Florio

Porsche 908-3, 1970 Targa Florio, Brian Redman, Jo Siffert
History of the Targa Florio

Source Sports Car Digest
By Art Evans

What do you think was the toughest and most difficult race ever? You might say the New York to Paris. Then there was the 1950-54 La Carrera Panamericana. But these were short-lived point-to-point contests. How about a closed circuit race? In the opinion of many who competed there, it was the Targa Florio. The first was in 1906; the last in 1977.

Sitrling Moss, John Fitch and Brian Redman—have shared their experiences with us. Moss won in 1955 with Fitch fourth; Redman won in 1970. Why was it so tough? According to Brian, “One 44 mile lap had 710 corners, not to mention unforgiving poles, stone walls, dogs, spectators and farm animals. Surfaces ranged from bad to worse. A missed turn might mean a horrific drop down the side of a mountain.”

The first Targa was organized by wealthy Italian aficionado Vincenzo Florio on May 6, 1906. Florio (1883-1959), from a prominent Sicilian family, had previously initiated the Coppa Florio, a race first run in 1900. The first Targa was three laps over the 92.7-mile Grande Circuit. Each lap was an ordeal as the roads weren’t designed for cars. Drivers encountered both domestic and wild animals as well as bandits. Entries had to be production cars of which ten had been made. Other than that, there were no rules. Vincenzo Lancia organized the betting, common at auto races in those days.

Thirty cars entered, but a dock strike in Genoa hampered travel, so only ten made it to the start. Each car was sent off from Campofelice every ten minutes. First away was bookie Lancia in his Fiat followed by Jacques Le Blon in a Hotchkiss with his riding-mechanic wife. To the dismay of those who had money on him, Lancia retired due to mechanical failure. Le Blond suffered a number of tire punctures; Mrs. Le Blon had to help changing them. Alessandro Cagno in an Itala 35/40 HP won in 9 1/2 hours averaging 29 mph. Carlo Graziani was second in another Italia while Paul Bablot in a Berliet was third.

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The first Targa Florio took place in 1906. The Isotta Fraschini team (cars #7) are lined up in Termini attended by goats.
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The Zust driven by Maggioni passing through the village of Petralia Sottana.
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Allesandro Cagno won the inaugural Targa Florio in 1906 driving an Itala 35/40 HP for over nine hours averaging 29 mph.
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Wealthy enthusiast Vincenzo Florio created the Targa Florio in 1906.

In 1907, some regulations regarding engine specifications and weight were instituted. With dock workers loading cargo, 50 cars entered. Vincenzo Florio’s former chauffeur, Felice Nazzaro, won in a Fiat with Lancia second, also in a Fiat and Maurice Fabry third in an Italia. Vincenzo Trucco in a Fiat won the 1908 contest, but 1909 experienced a severe earthquake near Messina, killing hundreds. Consequently only 11 cars showed up. Francesco won in a SPA.

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Vincenzo Lancia in his Fiat before the start of the 1907 Targa Florio.
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Felice Nazzaro won the 1907 Targa Florio in a Fiat.
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Vincenzo Lancia finished second in the 1908 Targa Florio driving a Fiat.

After WWI, cars were scarce and little had been spent on road repair. So Florio transformed the Targa into a Formula Libra; run what you brung, as they say. He also shortened the total mileage from 651 miles to 268. The new course—called the Media Circuit—was 22.5 miles around. The race was held on November 23, 1919. Twenty-four cars came including Enzo Ferrari in a CMN. There were thousands of spectators from all over Europe. The hotels, bars and restaurants did a land-office business. Andre Boillot won the four-lap race in a Peugeot EXS.

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A young Enzo Ferrari at the wheel of a CMN.
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Count Masetti won the 1921 Targa Florio in a Fiat.
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With his 115 HP Mercedes Grand Prix racing car from 1914, Count Giulio Masetti won the 1922 Targa Florio over a distance of 432 km. (Photo: Daimler Benz Archives)
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Christian Werner with co-driver (start number 39) in a Mercedes 28/95 PS without supercharger at the 1922 Targa Florio. Werner took second place in the category for production cars with over 4.5-liter displacement. (Photo: Daimler Benz Archives)

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