4th April 2012

GRAN PREMIO di ROMA
Terme di Caracalla

ASCARI HOLDS OFF FANGIO

In the late 1940s and early 1950s a circuit was created around the ancient Roman baths on the south side of the Eternal City. It was called Caracalla. There were various races run there but not a fully-fledged F.1 race after 1950, so I have created this one in order to be able to race on this interesting circuit.

As one might have expected, the entry for the race is very much dominated by red cars. Ferrari have sent no less than five of their 4.5 litre 375s, to be handled by Taruffi, Ascari, Villoresi, Serafini and for the first time this season Franco Cortese is getting a drive. Alfa Romeo follow their regular practice of sending two cars but not for their star drivers Farina and Fangio. Instead Fagioli and Bonetto will handle the 158s. There are but three Maseratis; Clemente Biondetti will drive a 4.CLT while the two blue and yellow Argentine cars will be in the hands of Fangio and Benedicto Campos. The OSCA makes a rare appearance, this time with Piero Carini at the wheel.

That accounts for eleven of the fifteen entrants. Three cars come from Britain - two H.W.Ms for Moss and Abecassis while Australian Tony Gaze is embarking on a European sortie with an Alta. Finally there is one of the tiny Gordinis, to be man-handled around by Swiss Tony Branca.

PRACTICE

At the end of the first of two sessions Ferrari ruled the roost. All five of the cars from Maranello were in the top six with only Fagioli's Alfa in 5th place spoiling a clean sweep. Neither of the Alfas were handling well and it began to look like Berne all over again. Even Stirling Moss in the 2 litre H.W.M was ahead of Bonetto in the second Alfa; the little green car was flying along with Moss handling it beautifully.

The other end of the time sheet contained all the names you would expect to find down there; Branca, Gaze and Fangio.... Yes, Juan Manuel's Maserati was barely able to get a proper lap in because the engine was running terribly. The Argentine team mechanics set about stripping the engine down overnight to see if they could find the cause of the problem. They couldn't - although they thought they had because Fangio set off in the second practice session with the car appearing to go no better than the day before. The Argentine's best lap was 7 seconds quicker than his best from the first session but everybody went quicker in session two, most by a lot more than 7 seconds so the blue and yellow Maerati was left in last place on the grid behind Branca and Tony Gaze who found no less than 13 seconds - not all from the driver; his mechanic had tuned the carburettors much better than they were before.

Meanwhile, up at the front it was all change. Quite why it happened is hard to explain but suddenly the two Alfa Romeos started to go as they should and Fagioli and Bonetto had no trouble in taking the first two positions on the grid with Franco Cortese, surprisingly, joining them in his Ferrari. Behind the occasional Ferrari driver came three more Ferraris, Ascari, Villoresi and Taruffi with Moss getting into 7th place ahead of Serafini in the other Ferrari. Ascari was not happy with the handling of his car saying it felt loose and was oversteering badly. Behind Serafini, Carini did a good job with the OSCA, getting ahead of all three Maseratis. Abecassis was sandwiched between the 4.CLTs of Campos and Biondetti with Gaze, Branca and of course, Fangio, bringing up the rear.

The decision was taken to fit a brand new engine into Fangio's car overnight but it would mean that J.M.F would go to the grid with a completely untried motor.

THE RACE - 70 laps

It would appear that someone at Alfa Romeo must have run over a black cat because the Turin team is getting loads of luck lately - all of it bad. The Ferrari hoardes completely swamped the two Alfas right from the start and it was clear almost from the outset that Fagioli was in trouble. The revs keep rising out of corners but the car did not accelerate and although Luigi struggled on to lap 20 it was to no avail and he was forced to retire with something broken in the drive train. Meanwhile Ascari had taken command, followed by Cortese and Taruffi with the remarkable Stirling Moss holding an early 4th place ahead of Villoresi. Serafini had crashed his Ferrari on lap 3 leaving the two Alfas running 6th and 7th (while Fagioli was still in the race) and right behind them was, guess who... yes, Fangio was on the move. He had taken the first few laps very carefully with his new engine and indeed, although he was 8th by lap 10 he was already 35 seconds behind Ascari. He was never that far behind again. The problem was that in addition to driving quickly he had to overtake cars that were not a lot slower than his own so although the gap was reduced it did not shrink that quickly. By the time Fangio finally moved into second place, on lap 41, he was still the same distance behind as he had been early on. A clear track enabled him to cut the gap appreciably but Ascari seemed to have things under control and the closest that Fangio got to Alberto was right at the end - six and a half seconds. But it had been a magnificent effort by the man from Balcarce and a front row starting position would have surely have given us a different winner.

With the exit of Fagioli, the poor start from Bonetto and Moss' retirement on lap 33 with engine trouble, the remaining three Ferraris had a race between themselves for most of the 70 laps. Until, that is, Taruffi unaccountably left the road with 15 laps to go, by which time Bonetto had woken up and was reeling in the Ferraris. He set a rather dubious fastest lap on lap 39 and caught and passed Villoresi on the final lap to take a disappointing 4th place.

Neither of the H.W.Ms made it to the finish and nor did the Gordini or Biondetti's Maserati which crashed out spectacularly at the first corner on lap 15. Gaze was long gone with engine maladies before that. So the remaining two cars battled over 6th place with Carini eventually triumphing over Campos despite the other Argentine being ahead of the OSCA for more than half the race.

Here is the full result of the 70 lap race:

1.
4
A. ASCARI FERRARI 375
2. 15. 46'36
2.
26
J. M. FANGIO MASERATI 4.CLT
2. 15. 52'95
3.
8
F. CORTESE FERRARI 375
2. 17. 05'12
4.
14
F. BONETTO ALFA ROMEO 158
2. 17. 53'37
5.
6
L. VILLORESI FERRARI 375
2. 17. 54'00
6.
24
P. CARINI OSCA
68 laps
7.
28
B. CAMPOS MASERATI 4.CLT
87 laps
Fastest lap:   BONETTO,   ALFA ROMEO 158,   on lap 39,   1.51'28         N.B.     Possible timing error.

Retired:
 
2
P. TARUFFI FERRARI 375
54 laps
 
32
T. BRANCA GORDINI 15
52 laps
 
20
S. MOSS H.W.M ALTA
32 laps
 
16
L. FAGIOLI ALFA ROMEO 158
19 laps
 
18
G. ABECASSIS H.W.M ALTA
18 laps
 
30
C. BIONDETTI MASERATI 4.CLT
14 laps
 
36
T. GAZE ALTA
6 laps
 
10
D. SERAFINI FERRARI 375
2 laps

Roman Rumbles:

  • As the Belgian Grand Prix is some way away Alfa have time to sort out their cars. Looks like they need it.
  • Ascari was quite relieved at the end. It had been hard work keeping Fangio at bay.
  • Whereas Fangio was delighted, having enjoyed the chase immensely.
  • Cortese's fine run can be partly explained by the fact that he was driving the car normally used by Gonzales - the one with the yellow nose.
  • There was great disappointment at H.W.M. because Moss felt that he might have finished as high as third. It was a rare engine failure for Stirling.
  • The OSCA equipe were delighted with their sixth place. The car had run really well although Carini was two laps behind at the end.
  • It may be some time before Serafini gets another Ferrari drive. He has not distinguished himself at all this season.
  • Tony Gaze is hoping to get a few more races with his Alta. This one was very short.
  • Although there was some doubt expressed about Bonetto's fastest lap, he did go very quickly in the second half of the race.
        However, the flying Fangio's fastest lap was over a second slower than the Alfa's which is what fuelled the suspicion.

    Go here if you wish to find out more about my Titans series,

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