- Leif Snellman
- 8W May 2001 issue
Something special with motor racing is that there are certain days that symbolically mark the end of an era and the beginning of another. Days that no generation of motor racing fans has managed to avoid. Such dates as 24 May 1903, 11 June 1955, 7 April 1968, 10 September 1978, 1 May 1994 and...
Let us go backwards to Monza, 10 September 1933.
So far 1933 had been a turbulent season. Right at the beginning of the year Alfa Romeo came with the shock announcement that the Alfa Corse was withdrawing from Grand Prix racing. It was now up to Scuderia Ferrari to represent the name of Alfa Romeo on the racing tracks and the green quadrifoglio was replaced by the black and yellow Ferrari badge. Ferrari had assumed that the Alfa Romeo P3 Grand Prix cars would be handed over to him and was of course shocked when he was told that the P3s would remain stored in Portello. Ferrari had to be content with racing the old "Monzas". Ferrari tried without success to persuade the Alfa managers to release the cars, even pretending to negotiate with Maserati to race their cars instead of the Alfas.
This caused Ferrari to be unable to keep his team together. First off were Caracciola, who founded Scuderia CC with Chiron, and Campari, who went to Maserati. Alfa Romeo's team manager Aldo Giovanni was taken to hospital with kidney failure and died soon afterwards. Next off was Taruffi, who left the team after having been forced to leave his car to Nuvolari while leading the French GP. (Nothing new under the sun, Rubens!) After a series of retirements and a quarrel with Ferrari over the controversial Tripoli GP Nuvolari was the next one off, going to Maserati and taking his friend Borzacchini with him. The legendary mechanic Guido Ramponi also left the team, going to work for Anglo-American privateer Whitney Straight instead.
With almost all of his drivers gone Ferrari counterattacked. Dissatisfied by seeing Nuvolari taking over as first driver for Maserati, Fagioli decided to sign for Ferrari and he was soon followed by Campari. They were accompanied by Chiron, now left alone in his team as Caracciola was out for the season after a crash at the Monaco GP. And then Ferrari finally managed to have Alfa Romeo to release the P3s for the Scuderia. Now the season suddenly turned around with the Maserati drivers finding themselves to be the underdogs.
Monza, 10 September 1933. Everything is set for something special. To gather a record crowd the Italian Automobile club has decided to arrange not one but two Grand Prix races at Monza the same day, the Italian and the Monza GPs.
It has been raining over the night, the track is damp and there is lots of yellow mud all over the place. Already this morning the 3-hour Italian Grand Prix on the 10km combined track has taken place, a race won by Fagioli in an Alfa Romeo from Maserati drivers Nuvolari and Zehender, but more is to come. After lunch the cars are prepared for the first heat of the Monza Grand Prix, a race to be run on the banked high-speed track in three 14-lap heats plus a final.
Eight cars take part in the first heat. On the front row of the grid is Ferrari president Count Trossi in a 4.4-litre Duesenberg bought by Scuderia Ferrari in an attempt to find a car able to beat the Maseratis. Next to his side is Attilio Battilana in a private Bugatti T35C, Luigi Premoli in a PBM and Whitney Straight in a Maserati 26M. Behind them on the second row are the private "Monzas" of rookie Guy Moll, Luigi Pages and Felice Bonetto (see below). The Paris-based Polish count Stanislas Czaikowski completes the field in his big 5-litre Bugatti T54.
Premoli takes an early lead but soon it is Czaikowski who takes over the command, followed by Trossi. The situation remains unchanged until lap 9, when Trossi's Duesenberg engine blows up in the South Curve leaving Czaikovski to win the heat from Moll, Bonetto and Straight (the top four drivers from each heat are going to the final).
Now the cars are pushed to the grid for the second heat. The grid is as follows: on the left of the front row sits Giuseppe Campari in a Scuderia Ferrari Alfa Romeo. He decided not to take part in the morning's Italian GP but has concentrated on this race. He has had the front brakes removed from his 2.6 litre Tipo B to save weight. Besides him sits Renato Balestrero in a private Monza, Baconin Borzacchini in a works Maserati 8C and Fernando Barbieri in a private Maserati. Behind them are Luigi Castelbarco in a private Maserari 4C Voiturette, "Mlle. HellÚ-Nice" (real name Delangle) and Lello Pellegrini in their private Alfa Romeo Monzas.
The spectators start to cheer for one of the great heroes of Grand Prix racing. They shout "Campari", "Campari" and "Negher", "Negher" and Campari smiles, gives a formal Fascist salute to Price Umberto at the Royal box and waves less formally but more cheerfully to the spectators.
Cavaliere Giuseppe Campari has been racing for Alfa Romeo for 20 years. He is a talented and loved driver by his team mates and the spectators alike. One could hardly find a man who looks less like a racing driver than Campari. He weighs over 100 kg and his big enjoyments in life except for racing are good food and Grand Opera. He is married to the well known singer Lina Cavallero and has himself sung professionally at the Donizetti theater at Bergamo. It is not uncommon that he gives samples of his own fine baritone voice by singing an aria to his fellow drivers when he is in good mood. Campari has a very dark skin and is hairy all over. The fans use to call him "Il Negher" -"the Darkie". In an era when racing driving is an extremely hazardous business, Campari has survived 20 years without any serious accidents.
Campari was born in Fanfulla near Milan, on 8 June 1892. He joined the ALFA company in his teens and soon became a test driver. His first competition was the 1913 Parma-Poggio di Berceto hill-climbing event. In 1914 he became the sensation of the Targa Florio, finishing fourth. His first post-war race was again the Targa Florio but this time he was unplaced. In 1920 Campari took his and Alfa Romeo's first racing victory by winning the Circuit of Mugello in a 40/60. He also won numerous hill climbs that year. He then repeated his victory at Mugello the next year and was third at Targa Florio.
It was the P2 car constructed by Vittorio Jano that really made Campari famous. He took the car to its first victory at the 1924 French GP at Lyon. Campari was on his way to victory in the 1925 French GP when he retired after learning of the death of Ascari. That year he was second at the Monza and Milan GPs. After Alfa Romeo withdrew from GP racing Campari continued to drive their cars as an independent. He won the 1927, 1928 and 1931 Coppa Acerbo and proved victorious in both the 1928 and 1929 Mille Miglia races together with Guido Ramponi. Campari became Italian champion in both 1928 and 1929.
On 1 December 1929 when Scuderia Ferrari was formed, Enzo Ferrari had already secured Campari as the first driver for the team. Campari continued racing for Ferrari and Alfa Corse. In 1931 Campari raced the new P3 cars at the Italian Grand Prix. After the popular Luigi Archangeli had a fatal crash during practice, the team planned to withdraw but were ordered by Mussolini to "race and win for Italy". Campari raced - and won!
1932 wasn't a good year for Campari. With Nuvolari, Caracciola and Borzacchini in the team he found himself relegated to fourth driver and at the beginning of the next season he went, as already told, over to Maserati. At the French Grand Prix he was lying second, two seconds behind the leader ╔tancelin, when he did his pit stop. The car wouldn't restart and two mechanics and a bystander had to push start it, breaking the rules. Campari set off chasing ╔tancelin, passing him and winning the race by 42 seconds. After some discussions, whether Campari was to be disqualified or not, he was finally only fined a nominal Fr. 1000 for the incident.
And now Campari is back in an Alfa to start his last race in front of his home crowd, because Campari has recently announced that he has decided to leave motor racing and concentrate all his efforts on opera instead.
If Campari has been an Alfa Romeo driver with a guest appearance at Maserati, then Borzacchini is a Maserati driver who has made a guest appearance at Alfa Romeo. (Here they are pictured together.) Borzacchini is an excellent and popular driver but unlucky as the major victories almost always escape him.
Baconin Borzacchini was born in Terni on 28 September 1899. His parents had named him after the Russian anarchist Mikhail Aleksandrovich Bakunin. Later after having met the Crown Prince at Monza he changed his name to Mario Umberto, a decision supported by the Fascist party as the name of a Russian agitator hardly fitted an Italian racing hero.
Borzacchini had raced motorcycles before starting his car racing career. Driving a Salmson he won hill climbs in 1926-'27 and was successful in his class at the Coppa Ciano, Coppa Acerbo and Targa Florio. He then joined Maserati and won class victories at the 1927 Coppa Ciano and Coppa Pistoiese. They were followed by an outright win in the 1928 Coppa Etna. In 1929 he was second at Tripoli and Alessandria. In 1930 he took the Maserati "Sedici Cilindri" to victory at the Tripoli GP but he failed to score with that car at Indianapolis.
In 1931 Borzacchini moved to drive Alfa Romeos for Scuderia Ferrari where he became a great friend of Tazio Nuvolari. The speed was there but not the luck. He finished second at the Targa Florio, the Monza, the Italian, the Belgian and the French GPs and was only victorious at a minor race at Avellino. In 1932 he managed to win the Mille Miglia, he was 2nd at the French and Monza GPs and third in the German and Italian GPs. In 1933 he finished 2nd at Monaco for Alfa Romeo before Nuvolari decided to race Maseratis instead. Borzacchini did not hesitate for a second to follow his good friend.
Borzacchini was one of the drivers who had earned a part of the lottery money in the controversial 1933 Tripoli race. Afterwards Mercedes team manager Alfred Neubauer asked him jokingly: "I have heard that your wallet has grown fat since Tripoli. What in the world will you do with all that money?" "I can tell YOU the truth, Signor Neubauer," whispered Borzacchini. "When I'm alone, then I'll lock all the doors, pull the shades and sit down and count the cash. And if everything is still there, then... then I'll turn on the fan and dance a solo dance for joy in the whirling glare!" Which shows that Borzacchini wasn't a man without a sense of humour. Actually Borzacchini was very happy with the Tripoli solution, as he, compared to most of the drivers, was a poor man and the money made him able to give his wife and kids a decent life.
It is time for the second heat to start but now the problems begin. Moll has complained that his car had skidded in the South Curve as there seems to be oil on the track. While the second heat is waiting on the grid a car departs to investigate. (Tradition says that the oil came from Trossi's Duesenberg but Italian journalist Giovanni Canestrini said that he investigated the car after the race and found no holes in neither the crankcase nor the sump.)
Finally after some sand has been put on the oil, the track is announced clear and the starter drops the flag for the second heat. The spectators at the grandstands see the cars disappear into the North Curve with Borzacchini leading closely followed by Campari. For a minute there is only the distant roar of the engines as the cars chase each other on the far side of the track. The spectators rise to their feet and all heads turn to the exit of the South Curve. There they come, one, two, three fast growing dots. Is it No.22 or 26, Campari or Borzacchini? No it is No.24! Balestrero. Then No.38, Pellegrini, and finally No.34, "Mlle. HellÚ-Nice"! Chaos in the grandstands! Where is the rest of the field?
Balestrero makes wild gestures passing the pits to indicate that there has been an accident before again disappearing into the North Curve. The race continues, but the spectators are more interested in finding out what has happened than following the uneven fight between three Monza privateers. Finally 22 minutes later Balestrero and Pellegrini take the flag. But it isn't over yet. HellÚ-Nice has been lapped during the race and has according to the rules now to do the last lap alone. 26 minutes after the start she finally takes the flag. Another 2 minutes of waiting while she is doing her slowing-down lap and finally the engines turn silent. Surely now there should be an announcement of what happened. The spectators wait... and wait... and wait.
Finally the loudspeakers wake up. "There has been a slight accident in the South Curve... We'll let you know more later!" Then silence! That single statement is greeted by a roar of boos and whistles from the crowd. Of course there has been an accident, idiots! But what exactly has happened and where are the drivers?
A human figure is seen coming walking from the South Curve. Some of the spectators recognize his as Fernando Barbieri. They are shouting questions but the figure seems to completely ignore the spectators as he with his head down with headgear and goggles in his hand continues towards the pit. Mechanics, drivers and officials are rushing to meet him.
There must be an announcement soon!
Another long pause. The spectators become more and more restless and angry, and a restless and angry Monza crowd is something, shall we say, "special".
Finally: "There has been an accident in the South Curve. We regret to inform you that Campari's condition is very serious, Borzacchini's condition is less serious and Castelbarco and Barbieri are more or less unhurt."
What had happened?
On the back straight on the first lap Campari had passed Borzacchini for the lead. Coming down to the South Curve Campari's Alfa had started to slide, possibly because of oil, possibly because of too high speed and lack of front brakes. Anyway, a left wheel had gone over the wall (note that it was the old Monza banked circuit with a much less sharp gradient on the corners than the one built in the 1950s) and the car had run along the wall for some 100 meters before leaving the track and overturning. Campari was immediately killed, crushed under the car. Behind Campari there was chaos as the other drivers tried to brake and avoid him and each other. Three of the cars followed Campari off the track and rolled. Miraculously Barbieri and Castelbarco were more or less unhurt but Borzacchini had no chance, lying near to his Maserati with a broken back. He died soon after reaching hospital.
The pits are in a state of chaos. People are running about, arguing, gesticulating. Cars are pushed to the grid and then pushed back. The spectators are furious. There is an extra drivers meeting.
Two hours have passed since the last heat before the organizers manage to get the third heat ready for start. There are only five competitors: Ghersi in a Bugatti, Biondetti in an MB Speciale, Cornaggia-Medici in an Alfa Romeo Monza and Earl Howe and Lehoux, both with Bugattis. Ippolito Berrone, Giulio Aymini and Piero Taruffi have all decided to call it a day. The drivers seem to take no chances and in a slow heat Lehoux takes the victory followed home by Ghersi, Biondetti and Cornaggia-Medici.
It soon will start to get dark. The final is cut down from 22 to 14 laps and the organizers try to get the 11 cars ready as soon as possible. The flag drops and Czaikowski takes the lead in his big Bugatti followed by Lehoux. Then on lap nine comes another accident that definitely will make the infamous day known as "Black Sunday". Czaikowski's Bugatti runs wide in the South Curve, again the left wheels go over the wall, the car rolls over the edge and lands upside down in a fire ball with the driver trapped under the car...
In the evening three first-class drivers are dead, among them the lead Ferrari driver, the man that gave Alfa Romeo its first victory. Motor racing will never be the same again...
Reader's Why by Hans Etzrodt
This event will always be remembered as the Black Day of Monza. Since the beginning of automobile racing, there had never been such a catastrophe. Many followers of international motorsport had been unnerved by this tragedy, which occurred on 10 September 1933 at Monza. Three of Europe's greatest racing drivers had crashed fatally: Giuseppe Campari, Mario-Umberto Borzacchini and Count Stanislaus Czaykowski. The Monza track again had confirmed its sad reputation as a track of ill fortune. This tragedy overshadowed the death of Britain's top driver, Sir Henry (Tim) Birkin and the famous German Otto Merz, both being killed earlier during the year.
Already in the year 1922, just after the Monza circuit had been completed, the German Austro-Daimler driver Fritz Kuhn got killed during training for the Italian Grand Prix. His car went too fast through the turn, went into a skid and rolled several times before throwing the driver out. Two weeks before the 1923 Grand Prix, Pietro Bordino had tested the Fiat 805 with driver Enrico Giaccone as passenger. The car overturned at the North Curve of the high-speed oval with Giaccone fatally injured while Bordino had an injured neck and his shoulder out of joint. While practicing for the 1923 Italian Grand Prix, Ugo Sivocci on the Alfa Romeo P1 crashed fatally, as did the following year Count Zborowski on Mercedes, and 1931 Luigi Arcangeli practicing on Alfa Romeo. Unforgettable was also that terrible tragedy on 4 September 1928, which happened during the Grand Prix of Europe. Emilio Materassi in the Talbot attempted to pass Foresti's Bugatti on the straight in front of the grandstands. Materassi lost control and the car left the circuit at top speed in the direction of the grandstand, jumped over the 3m deep and 4m wide protection ditch into the crowd, causing the death of 27 spectators, not counting the maimed and injured. Materassi had perished as well. This tragic accident had contributed to Monza's reputation as a track of ill fortune.
And now the series of accidents from 10 September 1933 had happened. Both races, the Grand Prix of Italy and the Grand Prix of Monza had been combined to take place the same day, because the circuit was not available earlier due to renovations. During the morning the Italian Grand Prix was held. The race went over 50 laps of the old 10km circuit. It comprised the original 4.5km high-speed oval track and also the 5.5km asphalt circuit. The Grand Prix of Monza in the afternoon took place only on the 4.5km high-speed track oval, the Pista di VelocitÓ. The race was split in three heats and a final. Competitors were divided into three separate groups and three races, each over 14 laps. The first four of each group/race could then line up for the final, which was to go over 22 laps.
This year spectators were again looking forward with great interest to the Monza race because it promised to turn out to be a deciding battle between Alfa Romeo, Maserati and Bugatti. The new 2.8-liter Bugatti was supposed to give its debut. Meo Costantini, the sporting manager of the Bugatti works, however explained just before the start that the car was not yet ready to race. Therefore only the private Bugatti drivers appeared at the start, unable to rise against the other two factory teams. One of the Bugatti drivers was Count Czaykowski, the world record holder, then Lord Howe, Lehoux and others.
At 9:30 in the morning, in front of thousands of spectators, started the first race, the Grand Prix of Italy, with a field of 19 competitors. After 2h51m4s, Fagioli on the Alfa Romeo P3 won the race 40 seconds ahead of Nuvolari's 8CM Maserati, after the latter had to stop for tires.
After lunchtime at 2:00 PM the first heat for the Grand Prix of Monza was started. A brief drizzle at that time had made the track wet. From the eight drivers on the grid, Czaikowsky in his 4.9-liter Bugatti won the first heat at a speed of 181.56 km/h. But during lap seven, Scuderia Ferrari driver Felice Trossi's 4.4-liter Duesenberg broke a piston, causing the block to crack and spill part of its 22kg oil at the entrance of the steeply banked South Curve. Moll had established fastest lap at 196.06 km/h and finished in second place. He had hit the oil slick during the heat-one race and went into a terrifying skid. After the race he protested about the dangerous conditions at the South Curve, also called Vedano Curve.
During the interval between the first and second heat, the oil patch at the South Curve received a heavy coating of sand. A car went down bearing a large broom to clear the South Curve. Only these superficial attempts had been made to clear the oil of the track. Nobody had checked this important operation. The Monza race director had also asked the drivers in writing to be cautious at the South Curve. At the drivers' parade before the race, Campari received boisterous applause that regularly greeted him as the most popular driver in Italy.
Campari and Borzacchini were the main contenders from the seven-car field in heat two. Campari's Alfa P3 monoposto had its front brakes removed, as was customary for speed track racing. Borzacchini drove the 2-seater 3-liter Maserati in which Campari had won the French Grand Prix. After a delayed start of heat two, Campari and Borzacchini came barreling into the South Curve for the first time. They took the corner almost flat out at around 180 km/h. The rear wheels slid over the sand, which gave no grip at all, covering the oily patch. Despite his great skill, Campari completely lost control, his Alfa Romeo skidded, went over the edge of the inclined corner and fell end over end several times and buried the driver. Borzacchini followed close behind, as did Castelbarco and Barbieri. When they saw Campari ahead of them in his tumbling car, they all hit the brake. But all three crashed at that slippery corner. Borzacchini's car went in a skid, then went over the edge, overturned and he was severely injured when thrown out of his car. Castelbarco skidded and overturned to the outside and was lucky to get away with abrasions. Barbieri, who had more time to react, spun his Alfa to the inside of the corner and was not injured at all. Campari was killed instantly, crushed by his car and poor Borzacchini died shortly after he was admitted to Monza Hospital. Despite the serious accident, which could not be seen from the grandstands, the race was continued. With only three outmoded cars left in the race and nothing about the missing cars being announced over the loudspeakers, the crowd was surprised and became restless. Later, when Barbieri had returned walking back to the pits from the South Curve, the bad news became known and was carefully announced to the public. Balestrero won the boring race, followed by Pellegrini and in the distance by Mme "HellÚ-Nice", who had been lapped by both drivers.
Before the third heat, a drivers meeting was held with discussion going on and drivers threatening to withdraw. Additionally, more attempts to clean the South Curve were made and as discussions carried on in length. Finally, five drivers assembled for the start, which was then aborted with drivers and race management disappearing behind the pits. The restless crowd vented its displeasure with whistles and boos. It seemed certain that the previous oil slick was not the cause of the catastrophe, but rather the obsolete layout of the corners, which did not comply with the high speeds of those modern cars. But the opposing view was that Campari and Borzacchini spun out on the poorly cleaned up oily patch. Others were of the opinion that the cars were not made for track racing and therefore it was not possible for the driver to correct when a mistake was made. Even other speculation surrounded the removal of the front brakes as a weight savings and that this could have played a role in the crash. After much argument between drivers and the organizer, it was decided to run the third heat, now over two hours behind schedule. Finally amongst the restlessness, the whistles and boos, five drivers lined up for the start of heat three. Lehoux in his 2.3-liter Bugatti T51 won after 14 laps ahead of Ghersi's Bugatti T35B and Biondetti's MB-Speciale.
For the final race, 11 drivers had assembled at the start. Czaikowsky in his 4.9-liter Bugatti T54 went into the lead ahead of Lehoux's 2.3-liter Bugatti T51. Czaikowsky also established the fastest lap in the final race at 187.934 km/h. But on lap ten, the spectators in the grandstands could see in the distance a column of dark smoke rising at the South Curve, only 50 meters further along the banking from where the first multiple crash had occurred hours before. The Bugatti of Czaikowsky skidded, went over the edge, flipped over several times, buried the driver underneath and caught fire immediately. The car burned out completely and only Czaikowsky's burned corpse was recovered from the wreckage. Only then was the race stopped, after the completion of 14 rounds, originally planned to go over 22 laps. The crowd had already become restless. At the time of the stoppage, the order was Lehoux (Bugatti), Moll (Alfa Romeo), Bonetto (Alfa Romeo), Straight (Maserati), Balestrero (Alfa Romeo), Biondetti (Maserati), Ghersi (Alfa Romeo), Cornaggia (Alfa Romeo) and Mme. HellÚ-Nice (Alfa Romeo). These tragedies led to the end of Monza's original 10km circuit. The speed track was abandoned and only the southern part of it was used in combination with the road circuit but finally demolished in 1939.
Due to bad tires, Nuvolari had abandoned his start for the afternoon race. Only because of this circumstance he was not involved nor became a victim, since he surely would have driven with the front-runners. The veterans Campari and Borzacchini had belonged to the elite in the world. Both were known to be very experienced and disciplined, of the highest skill and a driving error was out of the question. The racing world was stunned. Tazio Nuvolari, close to both of them, was badly shaken and spent the whole night by the side of his dead friend Borzacchini with the other two bodies besides his.