New Zealand Classic Car - - Motorsport Flashback - Fish­ing As­cari’s Lan­cia out of the har­bour

First there’s Indy. The ear­li­est In­di­anapo­lis 500 was run on Me­mo­rial Day, the last Mon­day in May in 1911, and next year will mark the 100th run­ning of the ‘500.’ May also means the Monaco Grand Prix. Prior to World War II the Grande Epreuve was mainly run in April, but since 1948 the F1 race has been a May event — with a sin­gle ex­cep­tion, in 1962, when Bruce Mclaren won. So, some trivia for your next car club quiz — name the only driver to win the Monaco Grand Prix in June?

May once also meant the great road races in Italy — Targo Flo­rio and the Mille Miglia, the for­mer in Si­cily on a track that ended up at 72 kilo­me­tres per lap, but when it started in 1906, it was twice that length. The Mille Miglia, how­ever, was only ever a sin­gle lap — Bres­cia to Rome, and then back. All up it was 1000 Ro­man miles, hence the name, and even though it was run 24 times from 1927 to 1957, this month marks the 60th an­niver­sary of per­haps the most fa­mous Mille Miglia race of them of all. Ital­ians won all but three of them — Mercedes-benz–mounted Ru­dolf Carac­ci­ola in 1931, fel­low Ger­man Huschke von Hanstein aboard a BMW in 1940 and, of course, 60 years ago the 1955 event was won by Stir­ling Moss and his trusty side­kick, De­nis Jenk­in­son.

Moss and Jenks av­er­aged 160kph and com­pleted the course in 10 hours, seven min­utes and 48 sec­onds thanks to su­perb prepa­ra­tion, in­clud­ing Jenks’ leg­endary ‘toi­let roll’ pace notes and the won­drous Mercedes-benz 300 SLR — its num­ber 722 (their start time) for­ever im­mor­tal­ized.

Sec­ond was Juan-manuel Fan­gio no less, driv­ing solo in his 300 SLR, but his time was 32 min­utes slower, while third was a Fer­rari. Jenks was, of course, al­ready the world’s most widely read mo­tor­sport writer, and fur­ther ce­mented his place in his­tory with his mag­nif­i­cently evoca­tive and de­tailed re­port of what it had been like to sit be­side Moss, a new boy in the Mercedes team, and still not 26. He com­pleted his piece soon

May has al­ways been a sig­nif­i­cant month when it comes to

mo­tor rac­ing

af­ter the event — long­hand — and slipped it into an en­ve­lope be­fore plac­ing it in the care of the Ital­ian postal sys­tem.

Six decades on that re­port re­mains one of, if not the most pow­er­ful pieces of mo­tor-rac­ing prose in his­tory. Jenks nor­mally ob­served his mo­tor­sport from the edge of the track and then wrote in his — ah — unique style, but this time he had wit­nessed it along­side an emerg­ing mae­stro. ‘The Boy’ had come of age — 10 weeks later he took the first of his 16 For­mula 1 vic­to­ries, again in a Mercedes, and again ahead of his men­tor Fan­gio (although the Ar­gen­tinean was much closer at Ain­tree for the 1955 Bri­tish Grand Prix than he’d been on that wob­bly fig­ure-of-eight 1000 miles in north­ern Italy), and from there he went on to be­come ar­guably the most fa­mous name in mo­tor rac­ing.

Al­berto As­cari

Think­ing about May 1955 leads me to Al­berto As­cari, the last Ital­ian to be crowned world cham­pion. Peo­ple lament the fact that the ac­ci­dent that ended the ca­reer of Stir­ling Moss meant the world never had the op­por­tu­nity to see him go head-to­head with Jim Clark. More re­cently, Ayr­ton Senna died just as Michael Schu­macher’s star was ris­ing and again, a clash of ti­tans was averted. Right up there with those was an­other po­ten­tial grand battle which never quite hap­pened.

Be­tween them, Fan­gio and As­cari won ev­ery world cham­pi­onship from 1951 to 1957, yet rarely did they ever have sim­i­larly com­pet­i­tive hard­ware on the same day. In 1955 the Lan­cia D50, in As­cari’s hands at least, looked like it just might be a match for the all-con­quer­ing Mercedes in For­mula 1, and in­deed the Ital­ian led — briefly — 80 laps into the 100-lap Monaco Grand Prix un­til he stuffed up the exit from the tun­nel and crashed through the bar­ri­ers and into the har­bour. It re­mains one of mo­tor rac­ing’s more un­usual, but not unique, ac­ci­dents. The pow­er­fully built As­cari swam to shore, but was killed four days later on May 26, testing a Fer­rari at Monza.

Fan­gio and As­cari, who of­ten at­tended the cinema to­gether while at race meet­ings, never got the chance to de­ter­mine who was the best. Most peo­ple, who never saw ei­ther race, al­ways rate the five ti­tles of Fan­gio over the two of As­cari — fair enough, but a funny lit­tle bearded jour­nal­ist who nav­i­gated the win­ning Mercedes in the Mille Miglia al­ways thought oth­er­wise. He rated Fan­gio, but he rated As­cari higher — although not as highly as he rated Moss.

Al­berto As­cari was a mem­ber of one of For­mula 1’s more ex­clu­sive ‘clubs’ — the only other mem­ber be­ing a hard-nut Aussie called Paul Hawkins. He went for his un­wanted swim a lap ear­lier than As­cari, and put his pri­vately en­tered Lo­tus into the har­bour on lap 79. Of note is that this was the race in which Denny Hulme made his For­mula 1 Grand Prix de­but — two years later he won the world cham­pi­onship! On de­but, how­ever, he was eighth af­ter some prob­lems, while com­pa­triot Bruce Mclaren was fifth.

Lo­tus at the Brick­yard

In­ter­est­ingly, the only Grand Prix Jim Clark never won was Monaco (apart from the New Zealand GP that al­ways eluded him) and although he might have won it 50 years ago this month, the fact is he wasn’t en­tered. In­deed, he wasn’t even in Europe.

Clark and the Lo­tus team owner/founder had much big­ger fish to fry — half a cen­tury ago this month a rear-en­gined car won the In­di­anapo­lis 500 for the first time, and the for­mat has won ev­ery one of them since.

Colin Chap­man’s ear­li­est visit to Indy was in 1962, as a guest of Dan Gur­ney. He was hor­ri­fied and ex­cited — hor­ri­fied at the di­nosaur-like ‘road­sters’ that had dom­i­nated the Brick­yard since the early ’50s, but ex­cited at the size of the prize money. He was back with his ace driver Clark in 1963, thanks in no small part to Ford, and they damn near won on de­but. They were fast again in 1964, but still the ‘road­ster’ pre­vailed — de­spite ex­tinc­tion look­ing im­mi­nent and in­evitable.

Like Moss and Jenks in the Mille Miglia a decade ear­lier, Clark and Chap­man didn’t just win in 1965 — they hum­bled the op­po­si­tion, set­ting new records that would take a few years to beat. For Team Lo­tus it was a huge pay­day, but back at Monaco, Gra­ham Hill had won for BRM and he, along with John Sur­tees (Fer­rari) and Dan Gur­ney (Brab­ham), would be the peo­ple to beat if they were to re­peat their 1963 world cham­pi­onship. Clark had al­ready won the sea­son opener in South Africa on New Year’s Day and then, af­ter Indy, won the next five GPS in a row and so, in those days when it was com­mon for a ti­tle to be de­cided over 10 events, had the cham­pi­onship well and truly sewn up — miss­ing Monaco didn’t mat­ter af­ter all!

Phillip Is­land Clas­sic

This event is held over the first week­end of March, mean­ing that the re­ally en­thu­si­as­tic can com­bine it with the Grand Prix the fol­low­ing week­end. Phillip Is­land is an easy twohour cruise south of Mel­bourne and, in the five or six times I’ve been, I’ve ex­pe­ri­enced ev­ery­thing from heat so in­tense it causes ice creams to dis­ap­pear be­fore your eyes, to po­lar blasts right off Bass Strait. This year didn’t present quite those ex­tremes, but the coastal Vic­to­ria lo­ca­tion means you pack for mul­ti­ple even­tu­al­i­ties. Thurs­day and Fri­day were pri­mar­ily cold and/or wet, Sun­day was warm and Satur­day had some­thing for ev­ery­one — but this shouldn’t de­ter you if this ‘cir­cuit of cir­cuits’ is on your per­sonal bucket list. I hadn’t been since 2009, but it didn’t take long to be re­minded what a mag­nif­i­cent fa­cil­ity this is, with what must be the most pic­turesque set­ting in Aus­trala­sia.

The fields are gen­er­ally huge, and while some classes are just like those at home — Mus­cle Cars and For­mula Ford on the sur­face at least look­ing much like ours — there is a range of ma­chin­ery that, frankly, takes your breath away. It’s not ev­ery day you hap­pen upon an ERA, Maserati and Fer­rari sports rac­ers from the ’50s, a Lago-tal­bot Grand Prix car, or that you see a Canam car in a livery you rec­og­nize, but had never pre­vi­ously com­bined with one of Mclaren’s finest. I give you an M8F in the familiar colours of Team VDS.

Stay­ing with sports cars, the last time I saw Group C Porsches go­ing for it was ‘in pe­riod’ at Le Mans in the early

1980s when they ruled the 24-hour event. Hope­fully the own­ers of the 962s pic­tured here — note one short tail, one long tail — can be per­suaded to bring them to Hamp­ton Downs for the 2016 Fes­ti­val. the race. Sure there were some pos­i­tives (un­less you picked Alonso to be world cham­pion), but I couldn’t help but be amused by the first three cars — Mercedes, Mercedes, Fer­rari — names from the past, and just like that re­sult in the Mille Miglia 60 years ago this month.

The late Gerry Mar­shall’s fa­mous Baby Bertha on track at Phillip Is­land (photo cour­tesy Ian Hyland)

Jenks (left) and Moss (right) get a con­grat­u­la­tory hug from famed Mercedes rac­ing team boss, Al­fred Neubauer, at the end of the ’55 Mille Miglia

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