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Targa Florio

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The Targa Florio was an open road endurance automobile race held near Palermo, Sicily. Founded in 1906, it used to be one of the oldest sports car racing events until it was discontinued in 1977 due to safety concerns. It is since run as a rallying event.

History

Piazza-Lopez in Targa Florio 1923

The race was created in 1906 by the wealthy pioneer race driver and automobile enthusiast, Vincenzo Florio, who had started the Coppa Florio race in Brescia, Lombardy in 1900.

Always one of the toughest competitions in Europe, the first Targa Florio covered 277 miles (446 km) through multiple hairpin curves on treacherous mountain roads in Sicily, at heights where severe changes in climate frequently occurred. Alessandro Cagno won the inaugural 1906 race in nine hours, averaging 30 miles per hour (50 km/h).

By the mid-1920s, the Targa Florio had become one of Europe's most important races, as neither the 24 Hours of Le Mans nor the Mille Miglia had been established yet. Grand Prix races were still isolated events, not a series like today's F1.

The wins of Mercedes (not yet merged with Benz) in the 1920s made a big impression in Germany, especially the one of German Christian Werner in 1924, as it was the only non-Italian winner in 50 years. Rudolf Caracciola repeated a similar upset win at the Mille Miglia a couple of years later. In 1926, Eliska Junkova, one of the great female drivers in Grand Prix motor racing history, became the first woman to ever compete in the race.

In 1953, the FIA World Sportscar Championship was introduced. The Targa became part of it in 1955, when Mercedes had to win 1-2 with the Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR in order to beat Ferrari for the title. They had missed the first two of the 6 events, Buenos Aires and the 12 Hours of Sebring, where Ferrari, Jaguar, Maserati and Porsche scored. Mercedes appeared at and won in the Mille Miglia, then pulled out of the 1955 Le Mans disaster, but won the Tourist Trophy at Dundrod. Stirling Moss/Peter Collins and Juan Manuel Fangio/Karl Kling finished minutes ahead of the best Ferrari and secured the title.

So, over the years, the greats of Grand Prix racing and Formula One such as Argentina's Juan Manuel Fangio, Belgium's Olivier Gendebien and Britain's Stirling Moss came to challenge Italian champions, Tazio Nuvolari, Alfieri Maserati, Achille Varzi and other, like local hero Nino Vaccarella.

Several versions of the track were used. It started with a length of 148km (92 miles) for a lap, then was shortened twice to the 72km lap that was used in the last decades, for usually 10 laps in the race. Start and finish was at Cerda. The counterclockwise lap lead from Caltavuturo and Collesano from over 600 meters down to sea level, where the cars raced from Campofelice di Roccella on the Buonfornello straight along the coast, at over 6 km longer than at Le Mans. Also, even full tours around the island were done before and after the wars.

The race cars were started one by one for a time trial, as a start from a full grid was not possible on the tight and twisty roads. Helmut Marko set the lap record in 1972 in an Alfa Romeo T33 at 33 min 41 s or an average of 128.253 km/h. The fastest ever was Leo Kinnunen in 1970, qualifying the Porsche 908/3 at 128.571 km/h or 33 min 36 s. Due to the long track, drivers practised in the week before the race in public traffic, often with their race cars fitted with license plates. Porsche factory drivers even had to watch onboard videos, a sickening experience for some.

After winning the race several times, Porsche named the convertible version of the 911 after the Targa. The name of the car with the large roll bar was a wise choice, as targa means shield.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, race cars with up to 600 hp (450 kW) such as Nino Vaccarella's Ferrari 512S raced through small mountains villages while the people were sitting or standing right next to or even on the road. Porsche, on the other hand, did not race its big Porsche 917, but rather the nimble Porsche 908/03 Spyders.

Due to safety concerns, the last real Targa Florio as an international professional race was run in 1973. In that year, even a Porsche 911 won as the prototypes suffered crashes or other troubles. The Targa was continued as a national event for some years, before a fatal crash sealed its fate in 1977. It is since run as a rallying event.

Winners

Pre-WWI races

Between the Wars

Post-WW II races

World Championship races

Non-WC races

External links