Legendary team leaders in the Targa Florio
- Leif Snellman
- 8W June 2001 issue
Alfa Romeo 20-30 ES
XIII Targa Florio (2 April 1922)
XIII Targa Florio (2 April 1922)
By 1922 motor racing had recovered from the effects of the first world war. In an effort to limit speed a new international formula had been introduced that changed the engine volume to 2 litres (from the earlier 3-litre formula). The French Grand Prix at Strasbourg and the Italian Grand Prix at Monza were both raced to the new formula and won by FIATs, the former by Felice Nazzaro and the latter by Pietro Bordino.
However, it was the Targa Florio race in April, run to the free formula (Formula Libre), that perhaps proved to be the most interesting event of the year. It was the event that had the largest entry field of the year, it was the event where the German works teams and drivers made their definitive comeback to motor racing after the war, it was also the event where for the first time a supercharged engine was seen in Grand Prix racing and finally it was the event where two of the greatest legends of international motor racing met for the first time: Enzo Ferrari and Alfred Neubauer.
Son of a carpenter/joiner, Alfred Neubauer was born in Neutitschein, Austria, 29 March 1891. After seeing a car drive through his village, Neubauer became a enthusiast collecting everything he could find about cars and motor racing and also writing to the car manufacturers for information and brochures.
At a young age Neubauer was sent to the cadet school in Vienna, as he was to become a professional soldier. Once an officer he specialized in the development of the motor pool of the artillery. That got him in touch with the Austro-Daimler car factory and their engineer Ferdinand Porsche. Once the war was over and the Austrian Empire with its army was no more, Neubauer decided to stay at Austro-Daimler and become one of their test drivers. With new borders in Europe, Neubauer, who found out that against his he would now possibly become a Czech, had to fight for 10 years against bureaucracy, finally becoming a German citizen in 1928.
Enzo Ferrari was born on 18 February 1898 in Modena, Italy. There is some confusion about the exact date, as he was born during a snow storm and it took several days before his birth was registered. His father, Alfredo, ran a local metal-fabricating business. At the age of 10 Enzo visited an automobile race at Bologna with his father and brother and he became interested in motor racing. Enzo spent World War I shoeing mules. In 1916 a double tragedy struck the family as both Enzo's father and his brother Alfredo Jr. died that year.
When Ferrari's ambitions to become an opera singer and then a sports writer both failed, he turned to his interest in racing and tried to get a job at FIAT but was turned down. Eventually he was able to get a job as a test driver for a small car manufacturer named CMN (Costruzioni Mecchaniche Nazionale). He raced a car at the 1919 Parma hill-climb finishing fifth. Ferrari's first real race was the 1919 Targa Florio where he was non-classified. However, through Ferrari's friend Ugo Sivocci Alfa Romeo's de facto company director Giorgio Rimini got to know the youngster and signed him on as a racing driver for Alfa Romeo. In the 1920 Targa Florio, raced in terrible conditions, Ferrari finished second behind Guido Meregalli (Nazzaro GP) after Alfa Romeo's team leader Campari had retired. Ferrari then took a class victory at the Gallarate flying kilometre sprint. In the 1921 Targa Florio Ferrari finished fifth. He then took a class victory at Mugello, finishing second overall, finished fifth in the Alpine Cup but had to be a non-starter at the "GP Gentlemen" after having crashed in practice.
The Bavarian film producer Count Alexander "Sascha" Kolowrat was big, joyful and wealthy with a voice that Neubauer said "made the window frames jingle." He was interested in motor racing and he was not afraid of taking drastic decisions as when he once entered a midget as a riding mechanic to save weight. Now that man had an idea. He wanted to build a "people's car", a "Volkswagen", and he wanted Austro-Daimler and Ferdinand Porsche to build it for him. To make the car known the idea was to build four prototypes at first and enter them in the 1922 Targa Florio. The result was the "Sascha", a nimble 1.1-litre four-cylinder "voiturette". Neubauer tells in his biography how he was selected for his first race as one of the racing drivers, how the Count announced that the first car was to be raced by racing driver Lambert Pöcher and the second by Fritz (Gregor?) Kuhn. And then Neubauer's nervous question: "And the third car will be raced by you, Count Kolowrat?" "No, my dear Neubauer", came the answer. "You will of course race the third car." Now as usual Neubauer had "bettered" the story a bit as there in fact was also a fourth "Sascha" entered by the team to be raced by the count himself!
With their cars ready for action the team packed their things and started the three-day trip to Naples by train. There they entered the ship to Sicily and Neubauer already showed sign of his future organizing brilliance as he managed to have the cars loaded last, counting on having them unloaded first of all in Sicily.
By 1922 the Targa Florio was already one of the legends of motor racing, having been organized for the first time as early as 1906. However, until 1922 the race had mostly attracted Italian entries. The 1922 race was run for 4 laps on a shortened variant of the Madonie course known as the Polizzi circuit, cutting out some of the mountains from the pre-war circuit. Arguably the toughest circuit in the world each lap was 107.98 km (67.11 miles) long and included some 1500 corners.
One can imagine Neubauer's feelings when he arrived at the Grand Hotel Termini. Every one of the heroes he had read about over and over again in the motor magazines seemed to be present. Practice started and the drivers tried to learn the track as well as they could. Neubauer had believed that after the twisty sections in the mountains he would be able to rest a bit on the 10 km straight near the coast, but the road there proved so bumpy and bad that it needed all the concentration of the driver to keep the car on the road. Neubauer tells that the drivers brought brushes and paint with them to mark the brake points and directions of the corners and soon every stone and tree near the track was filled with a confusing multitude of numbers, dots, triangles, crosses and other symbols making it impossible for the drivers to recognize their own markings.
There was a record entry of 46 cars, 42 of which actually raced, including no less than 7 Mercedes entries. There were three Mercedes 4.5 litre 18/100. Two of them were works entries for veteran drivers Christian Lautenschlager (1919 chassis with Pilette's 1914 engine) and Otto Salzer, while the third was the ex-Salzer 1914 GP car, now owned and driven in a red livery by Count Giulio Masetti. Two of the brand-new works supercharged 1.5 litre Mercedes cars were raced by Italian veteran Ferdinando Minoia and Mercedes employee Paul Scheef, who did his only appearance as works driver. A 7.5-litre six-cylinder 28/95 Mercedes was raced by Christian Werner and a similar car but with supercharged engine was entrusted to Max Sailer. As usual the Mercedes team had not left anything to chance and had arrived a month before the race with 20 drivers and mechanics for tests.
There were five private Itala type 51s for Lopez, "Wild", Sandonnino, Rebuffo and Moriondo, four private FIATs to be raced by Carlo Gasparin, Tersilio Bergese, Enrico Giaccone and Evasio Lampiano and a works entry for Biagio Nazzaro, nephew to the more famous Felice Nazzaro.
There were also German Wanderers entered for Cercignani and Scholl, Diattos for Meregalli, Gamboni and Massola, Ceiranos for Ceirano, Saccomani, Arnone and Cattaneo, names that have passed through racing history without too much fuss.
Among the more famous names we find four Steyr production sports cars entered for Count Brilli-Peri, Hieronymus, Silvani and Rutzler and two Ballots for Jules Goux and Giulio Foresti.
Alfa Romeo works drivers included Giuseppe Campari (a 6.1-litre or possibly a 4.3-litre 40/60), Augusto Tarabusi (3-litre RL Sport), Antonio Ascari, Ugo Sivocci and Enzo Ferrari (all in 4.5-litre 20/30 ES). And finally there was Baroness Antonietta d'Avanzo, who had taken third place in the 1921 "GP Gentlemen", racing her private Alfa Romeo 20/30 ES clad in a red costume, red cap and red veil.
The Alfa Romeo 20/30 ES had been introduced in 1920, influenced by the pre-war A.L.F.A. 20/30 E. The engine was a side-valve 4-cylinder type, 4250 cc (100*130 mm) giving some 67 bhp at 2600 rpm. Initially built as a four-seater it was raced at Targa Florio with a two-seater body and it was still accepted in the touring class, the Targo Florio having racing, touring and voiturette classes.
The cars started one after another in intervals. Masetti immediately took the lead with the red Mercedes. He was closely followed by Jules Goux, the 1921 Italian GP winner in his blue Ballot, and Nazzaro in his FIAT. The track took its tolls. Kolowrat was soon out of the race as were Bergese, Sandonnino, Tarabusi, Minoia and several others. On the second lap Biagio Nazzaro took a hairpin curve in too high speed, the right wheel left the road, the car flipped and rolled but driver and mechanic were unhurt.
Rumours can be faster than any racing car. Soon after the crash the news was sent out around the world. The great Felice Nazzaro, the winner of the 1907 French GP, the winner of the 1907 and 1913 Targa Florio, had had a fatal crash in his attempt to take his third victory at the infamous track!
The race continued. Cattaneo was forced to retire as was Count Brilli-Peri. Masetti and Goux were still having a good fight for the lead. Foresti in the second Ballot was also up there near the top but had to make a long stop for repairs on the steering. Then Masetti came into the pit with an overheating radiator. He was to make a lengthy stop and had to see Goux pass him for the lead. Going into the last lap the French driver was a minute ahead of Masetti with Giaccone (Fiat) third. But Goux had problems with the brakes. In a corner the car left the road, the radiator was damaged by a stone and the tyres burst. After hasty repairs Goux tried to bring the car to the finish by cruising. He finally succeeded. He had lost victory to Masetti but managed to secure a fine second place. Behind them Giaccone was also in trouble. He was out of spares and had to stop several times to pump up the tyres by hand. He had to see Foresti's Ballot passing him and then also Ascari's Alfa Romeo before he reached the finish in fifth position.
The works Mercedes cars did not manage to score as well as Masetti's private entry. Sailer was sixth, Werner eighth, Lautenschlager tenth and Salzer 13th. Scheef was 20th in one of the 1.5-litre compressor cars, while Minoia had been an early retirement with the other one.
It had really not been Alfa Romeo's day either, Ascari being best of the lot with his fourth place. Sivocci finished ninth, Campari eleventh, and Ferrari 16th while the others retired.
And in 19th position, finishing 59:04.6 after Masetti, was the best of the Saschas, an unknown driver named Alfred Neubauer. As a commercial trick Count Kolowrat had decided to enter Neubauer in the GP class. With No.46 Neubauer was the last car away and with no chance to catch the faster GP cars, Neubauer raced for almost eight hours alone without seeing a single competitor. That made him realize for the first time in his life that a racing driver could be "the world's loneliest human being".
Neubauer wasn't to stay for long at Austro-Daimler. When Porsche left for a job at Mercedes Neubauer followed suit. There Neubauer soon realized that he had more talent as an organizer than as a racing driver. At the 1926 Solitude race Neubauer introduced a novelty to Grand Prix racing, something called the "team manager". For the first time in Europe the pit was now able to communicate with the driver through flags, signal boards and different signs. The rest is history.
Neubauer stayed on as team manager until Mercedes-Benz withdrew from racing in 1955. Known as "Don Alfredo" he became synonymous with Mercedes-Benz in Grand Prix racing. His organizing abilities were famous, as was his innovation. When something went wrong he could charge to the source of the problems with a roar like a wild bull, waving his famous black and red flag, but he was also known for his love for good food and, in relaxed moments, good jokes. He wanted the best drivers for his team and he also knew how to find them. A friendly tap from Neubauer on the back of a new test driver after a lap on the Nürburgring was actually part of the test. Neubauer was checking if the driver was nervous and sweating! And when Walter Bäumer did tests for the team Neubauer sent him out on worn tyres with the idea that "if he can manage a lap on those tyres, he'll be our man."
At about the same time as Neubauer, Enzo Ferrari also started to realize where his real ability was. But he took a further step than Neubauer and in 1929 Ferrari started his own company, Scuderia Ferrari, to provide and support racing cars for wealthy customers. From 1933 to 1937 Scuderia Ferrari represented Alfa Romeo in Grand Prix racing.
After the war Ferrari as a manufacturer soon became a legend in motor racing. At the same time Ferrari disconnected himself more and more from the everyday problems of the team. While Neubauer always remained, in military terms, "operational", Ferrari turned to "grand strategy", leaving the team managers to sort out the team while being satisfied with receiving information over the telephone at the end of the races. Some of his decisions were good, some less so. Sometimes they were controversial, mostly they were emotional. Ferrari had an ability to attract the geniuses among constructors and drivers but he was also known for firing them at a moment's notice when needed. Absolute loyalty to the team was a must for a Ferrari driver and an understanding that there was never anything wrong with a Ferrari car, only with the driver.
To once race for Ferrari is the dream for all racing drivers. I'll end my career racing for Ferrari, Ayrton Senna once said. He never fulfilled his dream but several others did: Lauda, Ascari, Villeneuve, Berger, Schumacher, Ickx, Regazzoni, Prost, Surtees, Mansell, Scheckter, Alesi, Peterson... The list goes on and on.
There have been ups and downs and several crises during the 51 years Ferrari has participated in Grand Prix racing, a lot of them created by curious internal decisions and intrigues. Because Ferrari is a world of its own with its own rules. Only those drivers who can understand how that world works can have a chance to make use of the enormous potential that exists in the team. Only a few drivers have ever succeeded.
Ferrari died in 1988 but both the legend and the team live on. As much as Neubauer was Mr. Mercedes-Benz, Ferrari is Formula 1 racing.
Reader's Why by Alessandro Silva
The pictures record the first meeting of two men that together were going to be in the center of motor racing history for the next 33 years. A third one, Dr. Ferdinand Porsche, somewhat also enters in the right picture. Ferrari was going to become possibly the greatest, certainly the best known, of racing cars manufacturer, Neubauer possibly the greatest, certainly the best known, team manager in motor racing. Their destiny diverged only after 1955, when Ferrari, at age 57, went on to become the Shrine of Italian Ingenuity, establishing for himself the legend of the Lonely Giant fighting against all adversities to Build the Most Beautiful Cars in the World, while Neubauer, at age 64, was no longer to run Mercedes racing activities, which he did since 1926, fading into a long retirement highlighted only by the general respect earned during his long tenure at Mercedes and by the enjoyment of his one hobby: good eating and drinking.
Both men decided there and then as small children that cars would be their lives and the paths they followed to arrive at the 1922 Targa are quite interesting. A Sudeten German, subject of the Austrian Empire, Neubauer joined the Austrian Army and fought in WWI before becoming, thanks to his motorcars interest and certainly to his organising capabilities, the liaison officer with Austrian car manufacturer and Army provider Austro-Daimler. Its managing director was Ferdinand Porsche, who befriended him and convinced him after the war to remain at Austro-Daimler as a production engineer and test driver. It was in this capacity that Neubauer arrived at the Targa at the wheel of a Porsche-designed Sascha 1100 voiturette.
Ferrari, his junior by seven years, was the son of a metal-construction artisan in whose shop he enjoyed practical work, but shunned proper engineering apprenticeship. Enrolled in the Italian Army late in the war, he had to shoe mules, but was allowed also to look into truck engines before falling into a terrible illness which almost killed him and of which consequences he had to suffer for all his life. In a bitter post-war winter a recovered Enzo travelled to Turin to find employment at FIAT but found their doors closed for him. His legend, to which he personally contributed quite a lot, starts from here when it is said that, practically destitute having exhausted his father's small inheritance, he sat on a Valentino Park bench crying. On that very same bench he wanted to sit by himself, of course crying again, after Sommer's victory in the 1947 sportscar race, the first international win by one of his cars.
Anyway he found a job testing trucks of the war surplus to be fitted with car bodies and driving the chassis to Milan for that purpose. In this way he was able to get acquainted with the Milan racing milieu and Ugo Sivocci, then chief tester for CMN, asked him to join the company. On a CMN he drove at the Parma-Poggio di Berceto race. Alfa Romeo factotum Giorgio Rimini saw Ferrari driving a 1913 8L Isotta Fraschini in 1920 and was impressed by his driving and technical skills and hired him later in that year, followed by his friend Sivocci. Ferrari was going to stay with Alfa, in various capacities, until 1938, with an intermission from the Summer of '22 to the fall of '23.
When Porsche joined Mercedes in 1923, Neubauer went with him. The difficult and ill-fated 2L 8-cyl 1924 Porsche-designed Mercedes was too much for Neubauer's average driving skills and in 1926 he abandoned the wheel to become Mercedes team manager just when Mercedes and Benz combined for financial reasons. In the first German GP at the AVUS, that year, Neubauer introduced coloured-flag pit-signaling to the winner, his driver Rudi Caracciola, and went on with the development of the hugely successful S, SS, SSK, SSKL sportscars and the 34 GP wins in the 1934/'39 period.
Ferrari was probably a better driver than Neubauer, but his career was hindered after 1923 by bouts of depression. Nonetheless he enjoyed some victories before the founding of the Scuderia in 1929. His last race as a driver was in 1931. Both men wrote books of memoirs that are pretty useless to motoring historians. Ferrari's huge ego leads him to distort facts and figures, while the witty (and bon vivant, a true 'Mitteleuropean') Neubauer loves too much the good story (and the good joke) getting the same result. Moreover they are both non-exempt from clichés; for instance Ferrari's description of Neubauer - which nonetheless takes two pages - is mainly the one of a Prussian officer shouting orders with a metallic voice, while Neubauer shows a distinct superiority complex towards Southerners - as it can be seen for instance in his farfetched reconstruction of the 1933 Tripoli affair.
Nonetheless they were undoubtedly giants in their respective fields and Neubauer took the final edge managing the Mercedes-Benz team to 11 of the 14 F1 races contested in 1954/'55 and five of the six sportscar races contested in 1955. But was he still as mighty as he had been in the 30s? True, his portly figure and thunderous voice remained daunting, but at the very end of his career it was alleged his strong-arm tactics were deteriorating. In the 1955 sportscar season there were reports of drivers arguing and slightly chaotic refueling and tyre-changing pitstops.
Alfa Romeo in 1922 was still struggling in the minor leagues of Italian racing and Alfa Corse came to the Targa with the prototype RL, to be driven by Augusto Tarabusi, three ES for Ascari, Sivocci and Ferrari and a 40-60 for Campari. The ES was a 4250 cc 4-cyl developed in '19/'20 from the prewar 24hp model and was still a rather typical Edwardian car. The Sascha was a completely different matter. Built by Porsche against the advice of Austro-Daimler management, the project had been instigated by pictoresque Bohemian Count Sascha Kolowrat, an early motion-picture tycoon and good amateur racing driver. It was conceived to get maximum performance from a small engine, an Austrian equivalent of contemporary Bugatti. It had an aluminium engine with welded iron cylinder blocks, alloy pistons, dry sump and two plugs per cylinder and brakes on the four wheels. This 4-cyl light car was very successful in 1922, so that, bored to 1500cc it was entered in the Monza inaugural meeting in the fall of that year. A terrible unsuccessful participation there hastened Porsche's demise from Austro-Daimler. But apparently a Sascha with a 2L engine was still successful at Brooklands around '26/'27.
Neither Alfa Romeo nor Austro-Daimler were successful in the '22 Targa. In the golden period of Targa Florio - 1919/1932 - the 1922 race was one of the best. Unlike the GP events that year, the Targa produced an enormous number of entries (46) and of finishers (26). Alfa Romeo, Mercedes, Austro-Daimler, Ballot, Steyr and Wanderer sent official teams and for the first time a race saw a supercharged car (two Mercedes 1.5L), but it was a privately entered Mercedes GP of 1914 vintage driven by the great and forgotten Giulio Masetti to win in style from two 2L Ballots driven by Goux and Foresti and the Alfa 20-30 of Antonio Ascari. In a sister car Ferrari finished 16th, while Neubauer was 19th and the highest finisher for Austro-Daimler.