Mo­tor rac­ing started on public roads be­fore mov­ing to spe­cialised rac­ing tracks and none of those early road cir­cuits con­jures up the magic bet­ter than Italy ’s ul­ti­mate test .

Lonely Planet (UK) - - Travel Quiz - Tony Wheeler

Fol­low in the speedy tracks of mo­tor-rac­ing roy­alty on this leg­endary Si­cil­ian route, the globe’s orig­i­nal rac­ing road

The pho­to­graph was taken in 1970 and I had no trou­ble track­ing down its lo­ca­tion in Cam­pofe­lice. The coastal town is an easy drive east of Palermo, on the north coast of Si­cily. Cam­pofe­lice di Roc­cella has a long beach, an im­por­tant church, a 14th-cen­tury cas­tle, and nearby there are the Greek ru­ins of Himera, but it’s what’s hap­pen­ing in the street on that Sun­day in May that has clearly en­tranced a large con­tin­gent of the lo­cal pop­u­la­tion. Un­der the building bal­conies, which I found so easy to iden­tify, the ci­ti­zens of Cam­pofe­lice are lin­ing the pave­ments, lean­ing out into the street, wav­ing ec­stat­i­cally, clearly cheer­ing loudly for a lo­cal Palermo school­teacher. The school­teacher is Nino Vac­carella and he is hurtling to­wards them, ob­vi­ously trav­el­ling at some­thing ap­proach­ing warp speed, in a bright-red 600 horse­power Fer­rari 512S – and he is in the lead of the Targa Florio. He didn’t go on to win the Targa Florio that year, but he did the fol­low­ing year and again in 1975, when he clinched his third Targa vic­tory. That 1970 pho­to­graph summed up what made the Si­cil­ian sports car race so ut­terly ir­re­sistible: the set­ting, the en­thu­si­asm and the sheer ab­sur­dity of it. You sim­ply do not let peo­ple stand in the street, to­tally un­pro­tected, when rac­ing cars are hurtling past. From 1906 to 197 7, how­ever, the world’s old­est sport cars race did ex­actly that. At first the race was a com­plete cir­cuit of Si­cily, and over the years as­sorted other routes were tried, but from 1951 the race used the Cir­cuito Pic­colo delle Madonie. The Madonie is one of Si­cily’s prin­ci­pal moun­tain ranges, and since pic­colo is Ital­ian for ‘lit­tle’ this was the small rac­ing track in the moun­tains. The short one, the lit­tle track with more than 700 cor­ners. You went around it 11 times if you were go­ing to win the Targa Florio. And al­though the long straight that stretches along the

coast to­wards Palermo might have given Sig­nor Vac­carella the op­por­tu­nity to push his Fer­rari to its max­i­mum speed, all those twist­ing cor­ners as the cir­cuit climbed up into the hills meant that the fastest any­one ever got around the cir­cuit was an av­er­age of just un­der 80mph (129km/h). Nino Vac­carella, now in his 80s, still turns up at his­toric mo­tor­ing events to demon­strate the fire-breath­ing rac­ing mon­sters of his hey­day. Al­though he did drive in a hand­ful of For­mula 1 Grand Prix races, sports cars were his spe­cial­ity, when he could get away from his day job: teach­ing ac­count­ing. He won all sorts of races, in­clud­ing the Le Mans 24-Hour-Race, but it was the Targa Florio where he was al­ways the pop­u­lar favourite. When he crashed his Fer­rari into a wall and out of the race in 1966, ‘Viva Nino’ was graf­fi­tied on the wall he hit. From Cam­pofe­lice, where I tracked down that evoca­tive mo­tor rac­ing pho­to­graph, it’s about six miles (10km) along the coast to where the track turns sharp left and starts to climb – and twist and turn – from sea level to­wards the town of Cerda at 272 me­tres. Cerda was the start and fin­ish point of the Targa Florio; on such a nar­row wind­ing track it was im­pos­si­ble to start the cars to­gether so, like the Moun­tain Cir­cuit Tourist Tro­phy (T T) mo­tor­cy­cle track on the Isle of Man, the cars started one by one, 15 sec­onds apart. The start­ing order was of­ten a con­fus­ing jum­ble, but even if they didn’t all start to­gether there would soon be plenty of rac­ing on the road. The pit counter still stands be­side the old start­ing line, and man­u­fac­tur­ers still like to bring their lat­est cre­ations down to the track to try them out. The

‘In the Targa Florio’s rac­ing days, driv­ers would prac­tise when the road was open to traf­fic – don­keys in­cluded’

im­pos­si­bly beau­ti­ful coun­try­side with its pho­to­geni­cally per­fect driv­ing roads cer­tainly helps. If the road wasn’t al­ready tor­tur­ous enough, from Cerda it re­ally be­gins to corkscrew as it hair­pins its way up to Cal­tavu­turo, the ‘Fortress of Vul­tures,’ at 635 me­tres high. From the coast the track has been run­ning south, but now the route turns north and starts the de­scent back to­wards the coast, drop­ping down through Scil­lato and Colle­sano at 468 me­tres be­fore the fi­nal break­neck plunge down to­wards the sea. Colle­sano has Greek and Arab his­toric con­nec­tions, the re­mains of a Nor­man cas­tle and an as­sort­ment of in­ter­est­ing churches. It also boasts the of­fi­cial Targa Florio Mu­seum, which fea­tures a model of ev­ery race win­ner. Targa sim­ply means ‘plate’ and the plate in ques­tion was pre­sented as a prize by Vin­cenzo Florio, a wealthy Si­cil­ian busi­nessper­son, wine mer­chant and fast car en­thu­si­ast. The name lives on in the Targa Tas­ma­nia, an an­nual race around the Aus­tralian is­land state, and in ev­ery Porsche 911 Targa to cruise Rodeo Drive in Los An­ge­les or the King’s Rd in Lon­don’s Chelsea. Porsche was a Targa Florio spe­cial­ist; it won the race 11 times, al­though that’s only once more than Alfa Romeo. In the Targa Florio’s rac­ing days, driv­ers would of­ten prac­tise when the road was open to ev­ery­day traf­fic, and dodg­ing way­ward don­keys was part of the fun. But with so many cor­ners to mem­o­rise, reg­u­lar rac­ing prac­tice time was clearly in­ad­e­quate. The Cir­cuito Pic­colo delle Madonie is still a won­der­ful road to drive, al­though you’re ob­vi­ously not go­ing to do it in any­thing like the sub-34 minute lap record. Two hours and seven min­utes is the sug­ges­tion from Google Maps, an av­er­age speed of just over 20mph (35km/h). Given the 700 cor­ners, the twists, the turns, the climbs, the de­scents… that’s prob­a­bly quite fast enough.

Clock­wise from top: the town of Colle­sano; cen­tral Palermo; Mon­dello beach, Si­cily. Pre­vi­ous page: Luigi Tar­ra­mazzo’s Fer­rari 250GTO takes a bend in the 1964 Targa Florio

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