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Forza Nino!

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Have a look at classic photos of the Targa Florio and chances are you will see messages painted on the road or walls cheering on Italian cars or drivers, and one name in particular stands out - ‘Nino’.




Targa Florio 1965


The driver they were willing-on, was Nino Vaccarella, a local Sicilian and Targa Florio specialist. There are some majestic photos of Vaccarella in the now defunct Targa, which I will post here along with some of his history. Rather than rewrite old stories, here is a neat one from the official Ferrari website:


When he was at the wheel of a Ferrari in the World Championship, he was also keeping busy as the owner of a school (for accountants) in Palermo. Nino Vaccarella reveals just how different it was to be a driver over 30 years ago.


With the late Ignazio Giunti


For many people it was the endurance races, contested by two-seater cars, sports cars or prototypes (all depending on the period in question and the regulations), which gave Ferrari its global fame; cars that, seen from up close, were reminiscent of the celebrated road models created for customers of the Prancing Horse. The 24 Hours of Le Mans, the Targa Florio, the 12 Hours of Sebring and the 24 Hours of Daytona, the 1,000km races of the Nürburgring, Spa and Monza, to mention just a few, have stayed in the memory of those lucky enough to experience that period of challenge between constructors. “Constructors” because those races were contested between marques, in the sense that drivers, who had to alternate the driving because of the long duration of the races, were not the main protagonists, as they are in Formula One.


Targa 1965 1st Victory


‘To understand how close the public was to this kind of race, I’d like to recall an episode that may seem almost irreverent,’ remembers Nino Vaccarella (or Nini to his friends), one of the best drivers of the period, alluding to the Targa Florio, in which he played a leading role on many occasions. ‘After my victory in 1965 in the Ferrari 275 P2, the mayor of Collesano, one of the towns the race passed through, granted me honorary citizenship. On the Sunday of the ceremony there was also a procession of the Madonna, an event of great devotion in which everyone in town took part. The procession that followed the statue of the Madonna, which was carried on people’s shoulders, was passing by at the very moment that I arrived. I couldn’t believe my eyes: people began to shout “Vaccarella! Vaccarella!” They surrounded me and even the people carrying the statue put it down so that they could cheer me. I was embarrassed, it was an amazing thing!’

It’s an episode that illustrates perfectly just what Vaccarella meant to his fellow Sicilians and of how a race like the Targa Florio could attract hundreds of thousands of spectators. Think of Le Mans, also won by Vaccarella, in tandem with Jean Guichet, a French driver: ‘He was excellent, he handed over the car to me in perfect order after his driving spells and I had another advantage: I didn’t need to follow the race from the pits because it was enough to listen to the roar of the French crowd on every lap when he, a French driver, crossed the line.’ Even today, Le Mans brings together a crowd that is the envy of F1; a crowd that has always participated in the event by intoxicating itself with noise, excitement and fatigue.


Le Mans 1964 Victory


And how can one forget those real encampments, in the Black Forest, around the endless Eifel circuit, at the famous Nürburgring, where drivers ran the risk of distraction at the wheel thanks to the smells of grilled wurst and sausages drifting across the track from makeshift barbecues? Ferrari won 13 sports prototype world titles from 1953 to 1972 with cars whose names and abbreviations have left an indelible mark, among them giants from the Ferrari back catalogue like the Testa Rossa, 330 P, P4, 312 PB, Dino 246 sport and 512 M. Cars that are almost mythological. Why, then, is this legend now over? The simple answer is television. It is impossible to broadcast a race of 1,000km or 24 hours and win sufficient audience share to bring in advertising revenue. The public at the track, even if they are still plentiful, have been made largely irrelevant by the introduction of rule changes and the arrival of sponsors and television broadcasting. The F1 format was more naturally suited to these demands and has steadily pulled the rug from under the feet of endurance races. The fact is, we have moved from a season in which F1 car races and sports car races alternated from Sunday to Sunday, with around 20 events spread throughout the year, using the same drivers and thus offering the public the same idols in a different version from the F1 calendar, which takes up practically the entire season, leaving no room for alternative drivers and championships.



Vaccarella at the wheel


‘They were astonishing cars,’ Vaccarella remembers. ‘Ford had to build a 7.0-litre model to try to beat us, and we had a 4.0-litre engine. They were cars with wonderful technology that quickly appeared in production models. I’m thinking of advances in headlights, for night races, of windscreen wipers. And the manual gear change, the clutch. In the Florio I ended up with my hands covered in sores because of the crazy gear changing. I nearly always had only one hand on the steering wheel! And the progress of disc brakes? Fantastic! Those endurance racing cars were, and have remained, the most beautiful cars in the world. And for us drivers, racing was a great adventure. At that time there was danger, real danger: people died. But this placed you in a special state, a more human state: you were friends with your colleagues, you were happy to go into the crowd, you remained a normal person. Happy, but normal. ‘There was a certain warmth, a different way of being all together. And then, in races, you had to invent things at certain times. At Le Mans, when you reached 300km/h and you came up on two slower cars that were overtaking and blocking your road, or in the Florio, when you were racing against the clock and you had to catch your opponent. In 1967, when I was racing in the P4, Phil Hill, the World Champion, had started before me, in the Chaparral with its adjustable rear wing. At a certain point I began to smell its odour. I didn’t see it – I smelt the odour of the car in front of me that I was catching up. Then I saw I was getting closer. I had to decide where to pass, and on those tracks it wasn’t easy. I decided on a big fast curve after Cerda, because I knew there would be room there. And there was. I passed and drew away quickly and Hill didn’t even try to follow me.’



Targa 1966


Among the many merits of this kind of race was its truly international nature, understood as territorial coverage of the industrial and sporting world between the ’50s and the ’70s. There was racing from Argentina to Mexico in the incredible Carrera Panamericana, which exceeded, for courage and danger, even the Mille Miglia (which, up until 1957, the year of the tragic accidents involving Alfonso De Portago and Edmund Nelson, was a race in the World Championship), and the Targa Florio.

Then moving to North America, with the great classics of the 12 Hours of Sebring and the 24Hours of Daytona, to end up in Europe with the most difficult and most famous tracks. Without a shadow of a doubt, success at the two American classics of Sebring and Daytona made a major contribution to Ferrari’s presence in the US market. At Sebring, a track carved out of an airport, with a terrible surface as a result of the joins between cement and asphalt sections, Ferrari won 12 times. Daytona, with its deadly elevated section that has decimated bearings and suspensions for years, was the theatre for the astounding success of 1967, with three Ferraris in procession in Ford’s backyard who, with their 7.0-litre engines, had to hoist the white flag in front of their home crowd. ‘In those races you had to have enormous respect for your car, and your partner was a decisive factor,’ says Vaccarella. ‘You needed to have a good mutual understanding and respect for each other. It was a real problem if you had disagreements, one that could cost you the race. I got on well with everyone. With [Lorenzo] Bandini we enjoyed a fantastic victory in the Florio, with [Ludovico] Scarfiotti we won at the Nürburgring, so much so that I felt uneasy when they told me that at Le Mans I would be racing with Jean Guichet, whom I didn’t know. Instead I found the ideal partner: fast, steady, and perfect in the car. We drove 24 ours without a single problem.’It seems strange to hear Vaccarella talk of races where pure speed wins out over flair on the narrow roads of his native Sicily. ‘I was a driver of fast tracks and of cars with a lot of horsepower. But my association with the Florio has ended up with people believing that I’m only a road specialist. But that wasn’t at all true, even if the races were almost all on roads.’



Targa 1967


One has to ask: why didn’t such a fast and consistent driver go into F1? ‘I’ve asked myself that, too. And I think I have the answer. When, in 1963, I succeeded in signing the contract with Ferrari – they had already made me an offer in ’62 but I was tied into a contract with Count Volpi di Misurata’s Scuderia Serenissima – it was a dreadful day at Maranello. It was cold and foggy, something we Sicilians can’t even imagine. Ingegner Ferrari asked me to go and live there and to be available to drive some tests. Perhaps, at that point, I made a mistake. I said that the responsibility of looking after my school in Palermo [Vaccarella was the owner of a large private school he had inherited from his father, after the latter’s premature death], made it difficult for me to accept. Ferrari simply said to me: “It doesn’t matter, we’ll call you when you need to drive in a race.” And so it was, but I’ve always harboured the doubt that this decision closed off the route to F1, and to a broader career. ‘The only time I had the chance to drive an F1 car was in the Italian Grand Prix at Monza in 1965 with the previous year’s car, the eight-cylinder. But Surtees and Bandini had 12-cylinder cars and, even though in testing I was two tenths of a second faster than [John] Surtees, who the year before had been driving my car, it wasn’t enough to get me on the team. I also have to say that those F1 cars of scarcely 1500cc were not my style. I liked big horsepower cars and difficult, fast tracks like Spa and Le Mans, for example.’

Knowing Enzo Ferrari, it is very likely that that choice sealed Vaccarella’s destiny as a driver. Going back over his story, you can see how much the world has changed. Today, drivers are taught from early childhood, always on open wheels, first in karts and then in the lower Formulas. In those days, you grabbed the opportunities you made for yourself, above all, if you came from a distant land, such as Sicily. ‘I started off with my father’s Fiat 1100, in a hill climb. Then I bought a Lancia Aurelia B20, 2500cc, prepared by Gioachino Vari, and I began to get some fine results. In Sicily I was beginning to make a name for myself, and a nobleman from Palermo, Baron Cammarata, suggested I buy a Ferrari Testa Rossa 2.0-litre from him, the 500 TRC, which he had bought. It was very expensive. I was tempted, but first I decided to go to Modena. I was received by Commendatore Orsi, at that time the owner of Maserati, who told me of a fine bargain that was available: it was a 200S sports car that belonged to a racing customer, Adolfo Tedeschi, who had won the Italian Championship the year before. They took the Aurelia as a deposit and the price was much better than the one for the Ferrari. So I loaded it on the train and took it back to Sicily. I won absolutely everything in that car, in hill climbs and on the track. I did two seasons, 1959 and 1960, winning practically everywhere, first in the south of Italy and then, after the provocation of the press saying that I didn’t have the nerve to test myself against the drivers of the north, in the north as well!’ And the school? ‘I looked after it, helped by my sister. My father had died and it was up to us. But I used to “talk” to him, from the podium, at every victory. I would say to my father, who used to say that I didn’t know how to drive because I’d caused so much damage to the family car, “Look, daddy, Nino knows how to drive, and win!”



Targa 1970


At this point I got my big break: Guerrino Bertocchi, the real jack of all trades at Maserati, offered me the drive in the Florio in the new Bird Cage, with the American team Camoradi, partnered with a famous driver, Umberto Maglioli who, among other things, was a winner of the Carrera Panamericana. ‘I knew every curve of the Florio, I’d started to go to see it as a boy, on the train, and then I would drive continually to learn those amazing 72km. Maglioli set off and then handed over the car to me, after two laps, 2.4 minutes behind the Porsche of [Jo] Bonnier, who was in the lead. I caught up with Bonnier and got an additional 4.40 minutes’ lead. It was a dream. Then, suddenly, the car stopped. I’d heard noises behind at certain points, as if something was dragging on the ground. I’d broken the tank and had run out of petrol. The spectators managed to give me a little, but I didn’t get far. Withdrawal!’



Targa 1970

There may not have been an actual victory, but a phone call from the Venetian nobleman Count Volpi di Misurata saw Vaccarella transformed from amateur to professional. Misurata’s Scuderia Serenissma took part in F1 and sports-car races and was helping Maserati, then seemingly on its last legs, to stay in racing. Vaccarella drove a variety of cars for the Scuderia, though all were only averagely competitive and, as racing machines, often fragile. But he proved his talent, so much so that he eventually received the fateful phone call from Maranello.


Targa 1971 2nd Victory

‘If I think of today’s drivers, it makes me smile,’ he says. ‘They come and go in helicopters, they always speak under the eyes of the press officers and usually they say nothing that isn’t entirely predictable. And then there is too much technology, with cars rebuilt for every different track, no overtaking, no risks. ‘Motor racing has become a dehumanised sport. When I think that on Sunday mornings before the race Count Volpi would say to me, “Vaccarella, I’m going to Mass, are you coming with me?” “But of course, Count…” How could I have said no? Can you imagine Alonso or Massa nowadays going to Mass with Domenicali before the Grand Prix!’



Targa 1972

Vaccarella laughs; he laughs thinking back to his great years, the ones of regrets for a missed F1 career, but also of the great Ferrari triumphs in the sports prototype World Championship. An adventure that Ferrari began in 1949, with the first of its nine outright victories at Le Mans, and ended in 1973, in the years of the 312 PB’s dominance, with drivers such as Mario Andretti, Clay Regazzoni, Jacky Ickx, Ronnie Peterson, Arturo Merzario, Ignazio Giunti, Brian Redman and Tim Schenken, and finishing its cycle of success with victory in the Nürburgring 1,000 km in 1973. Since then, Ferrari has not officially taken part in endurance races although, in the hands of private teams, the Prancing Horse does have a presence as a competitor. Of note, in recent years, are outright victories at both Sebring and Daytona for the 333SP, and class wins at Le Mans with the 550 Maranello and with the F430 in the international GT2 Championships. It’s a flame that, despite the changing times, has not gone out, and never will."


Targa 1973

Many of his team mates died racing, including Bandini, Giunti, Scarfiottti, Stommelen, Peterson and Bianchi, but fate somehow spared Vaccarella. Earlier this month Nino turned 80.


Edited by KarKraft

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Great read, fantastic cars, and another fine job KarKraft


Good to see this thread still going

Quickly read this post before it is deleted or i turn grey again



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Apparently the 1971 Targa winner of Vaccarella/Hezemans is shortly for release by Slot.it




Have to get that one! Thanks Maurizio!

Edited by KarKraft

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