Features - News Feature
MAY 19, 2002
Formula 1 cars, level crossings and chickens
BY JOE SAWARD
Pescara is a city on the Adriatic coast of Italy, about 120 miles to the east of Rome, but separated from it by the Apennine Mountains, rising to over 7000 ft, with the lowest passes being at 3000ft. As a result of this progress in the region always lagged behind the northern cities and those on Italy's Mediterranean coast.
But despite the regional differences in Italy, the nation had at least one thing in common. They all loved automobile racing and Pescara was one of the many Italian cities which decided in the years immediately after World War I that it would hold motor races. The locals mapped out a triangular route which left Pescara and wound itself through the hills behind the city to Spoltore and then downhill again to the village of Capelle sul Tavo in the valley of the River Tavo. From there it was a fast run to the coastal town of Montesilvano and then a flat-out four-mile straight beside the sea back to Pescara. One lap was 15 miles in length and included a level crossing and several hill villages where dogs and chickens tended to be an obstacle. Things were made all the more hazardous by the enthusiasm of the locals who lined the track to see the racing.
The first race was held in 1924 and the prize was the Coppa Acerbo. The entry for the 10-lap race was not as good as it might have been but Alfa Romeo sent along Giuseppe Campari in a new Alfa Romeo P2 and there were a couple of Mercedes racers in the hands of Giulio Masetti and Giovanni Bonmartini. Campari retired early and victory went to the second string Alfa Romeo driver Enzo Ferrari. It was his first big victory and meant a lot to him.
"It really made my name as a racer," he said.
The next couple of races attracted little attention with local men winning but in 1927 Campari returned and won the race, a victory he repeated in 1928. There was no event in 1929 but in 1930 the race attracted a much better field with factory Maseratis and the Alfa Romeo factory team, now being run by Ferrari. The race was attended by Mussolini's two sons and the event was a huge success with a stirring battle between the Maseratis of Luigi Fagioli and Achille Varzi which ended when Fagioli's car suffered a broken axle on the last lap.
The quality of the field improved in 1931 with factory teams from Maserati, Alfa Romeo and Bugatti and most of the top drivers of the day but victory went again to Campari ahead of Louis Chiron, Tazio Nuvolari, Varzi and Fagioli.
The meeting expanded to include the Targa Abruzzi sports car race and in the years that followed the Pescara meeting became one of the major events on the Grand Prix calendar with wins going to Fagioli in 1933 and 1934 and Varzi in 1935. The 1934 race witnessed the death of rising star Guy Moll in a high-speed accident.
The German AutoUnions dominated in 1935 and 1936 but were given a run for their money by Mercedes-Benz in 1937 when Bernd Rosemeyer scored his second win, while Rudi Caracciola gave Mercedes-Benz victory in 1938.
In 1939 the race, on its traditional mid-August date, came a fortnight before the outbreak of war and the Germans stayed away. It was an unhappy weekend as Giordano Aldrighetti and Catullo Lami were killed in separate accidents. Aldrighetti's Alfa Romeo team mate Clemente Biondetti won the race, one of the last to take place before the war.
It was seven years before the racers returned for a sportscar race and another three before racing was truly re-established at Pescara. The Coppa Acerbo name was dropped because of its Fascist connections and the race became known as the Circuito di Pescara. In 1950 there was a non-championship F1 race which ended in spectacular fashion when Fagioli (still going strong) battled with Juan-Manuel Fangio until the last lap when one of wheels collapsed. Fangio slowed down and indicated to Fagioli that he should drive on, staying with his team mate, watching out for the opposition to arrive. They were only a few hundred yards from the finish when Louis Rosier appeared in his Talbot and Fangio had to accelerate away to ensure victory for Alfa Romeo.
The racers returned in 1951 but the Ferraris of Alberto Ascari and Luigi Villoresi both broke down and victory went to Froilan Gonzalez in a third car. The race switched to sportscars for two years but in 1954 was held for Grand Prix cars again but it was a disappointing event with a small entry, made smaller by mechanical troubles. Luigi Musso won for Maserati.
The 1955 event was cancelled after the Le Mans disaster but in 1956 it was back to sportscars again.
Pescara's moment of glory was still to come, however.
In the summer of 1957 the Belgian and Dutch Grands Prix were cancelled and the World Championship was left with just six events. The FIA concluded that Pescara should be granted an event counting towards the World Championship. The World Championship had already won by Fangio and Enzo Ferrari, furious at the Italian government's moves to ban road racing following Alfonso de Portago's accident earlier in the year on the Mille Miglia.
Luigi Musso managed to convince Ferrari to lend him a car and entered the race as a privateer.
The battle was therefore between Maserati and Vanwall and it was Maserati's Fangio who set the fastest time in qualifying with Stirling Moss second in his Vanwall. Musso was third. Vanwall's challenge was blunted on the first lap when Tony Brooks retired with mechanical troubles.
Moss took the lead from Musso on lap two but the two car remained together. Fangio ran third but the field thinned out quickly as the hot temperatures took their toll with Stuart Lewis-Evans losing nearly a lap because of two tire failures on his Vanwall. On lap 10 Musso disappeared when his engine blew, the oil causing Fangio to spin and damage one of his wheels. By the time he rejoined Moss was uncatchable. He was even able to stop for a drink on his way to victory.
Racing went on at Pescara for a few more years but it was now a track deemed to be too dangerous for major international events.
And so the great track passed into history, leaving just one claim to fame.
It was, and still is, the longest circuit ever to host a round of the Formula 1 World Championship.
Level crossing, chickens and all...