CIRCUITS: ITALIAN ROAD RACING

Name: Italian road racing

There is strong tradition of road racing in Italy with the Targa Florio and Mille Miglia races being the most famous events. The Targa Florio grew out of the country's earliest motor race, the Coppa Florio, established by Sicilian aristocrat Count Vincenzo Florio in Brescia in 1900. After the murderous Paris-Madrid race of 1903 there was an international movement to take racing away from the population centers. Florio decided to transfer his race to a new circuit in the deserted mountains inland from the sea in northern Sicily.

The result was the astonishing Madonie circuit which was first used in 1906 for the Targa Florio. Beginning on the coast road it ran uphill in a crazy dash from hairpin to hairpin. There were a handful of tiny villages but otherwise nothing but a desolate rock-strewn landscape. At the top - 3600ft above the sea - the magnificent hills were inhabited only by the bandits for which Sicily is most famous. There were 1500 corners per lap and they raced on this track in the F1 cars of the day. The first event attracted just a handful of cars but word spread quickly and by the mid-1920s the Targa had become one of Europe's most important races. The event continued right up until 1973 when safety considerations made it impossible to continue.

The other classic road race in Italy was the Mille Miglia - The Thousand Miles - which dates from 1927 and was held on a route from Brescia to Rome and back again. The event was about endurance as much as speed and the master was Clemente Biondetti who won the Mille Miglia in 1938, 1947, 1948 and 1949. In 1953 it became a round of the World Sportscar Championship and achieved much wider international attention after the victory of Stirling Moss and Denis Jenkinson in a Mercedes-Benz in 1955. Two years later Alfonso de Portago, his co-driver Edmund Nelson and 10 spectators - five of them children - were killed in the village of Guidizzolo when de Portago's Ferrari went out of control after a tire failure. Ferrari and the Englebert tire company were charged with manslaughter. In the 1980s the Mille Miglia was revived but the competitors drove sedately from town to town. It was not a race as once it was.

The rapid growth of Italian motor racing in the years immediately after World War I resulted in a number of road tracks being used. Notable among these were the Montenero circuit at Livorno, which became home of the Coppa Ciano until 1939, the Brescia circuit which hosted the first Italian Grand Prix that year and the Circuito del Garda, a track which ran along the edge of Lake Garda near the town of Salo. The latter was still being used for Formula 3 cars in the 1960s.

The Pescara circuit was established in 1924 and in 1957 hosted a round of the Formula 1 World Championship. The 15-mile circuit remains the longest track used for a World Championship race and featured a four mile straight beside the Adriatic and then a wild ride inland through the Abruzzo hills. It included a level crossing and several hill villages. It was at Pescara in 1934 that Ferrari's rising star Guy Moll was killed. The home of the Coppa Acerbo in the 1930s, Pescara hosted a 12 Hour sportscar race in the 1950s. The track faded away in the 1960s as it was impossible for the organizers to guarantee safety.

Another famous road circuit was at Syracuse which came to prominence in the early 1950s. On the south-eastern corner of Sicily, Syracuse was one of the largest and most powerful cities in the ancient world. It dates back to 734 BC and for a time it rivaled Athens as the most important city of the Greek world. The racing was held on a 3.3-mile road circuit and the non-championship F1 event became an important one with victories going to the likes of Gigi Villoresi, Alberto Ascari and Toulo de Graffenried. The race gained international attention in 1955 when a young dental student called Tony Brooks won for the Connaught team in 1955, the first foreign Grand Prix victory for a British car since Henry Segrave's victory for Sunbeam in the 1923 French Grand Prix. Syracuse briefly switched to Formula 2 regulations in the early 1960s but then returned to F1 and held a major non-championship race each year until 1967 - the year in which Ludovico Scarfiotti and Mike Parkes scored a remarkable dead-heat in their Ferraris.

There were also major road races on another Sicilian track around Messina.

The area around Naples boasted several road tracks, notably Caserta, which was first used in 1928. This continued to be used until 1967 when there was a dreadful accident in the international Formula 3 race which claimed the lives of Geki and Switzerland's Beat Fehr.

Nearby Salerno and Avellino both hosted races while Posillipo hosted the Naples Grand Prix in the late 1930s and was revived after World War II, hosting non-championship F1 races into the 1950s until it too faded away in the early 1960s.

In the north Alessandria held a major race every year between 1924 and 1934 while in the post-war era the Lungomare circuit at Bari enjoyed a brief spell in the limelight until it disappeared in the wake of a safety campaign after the Le Mans disaster in 1955.

Rome also had a history of different races which dated back to 1925 when the first Grand Prix of Rome was held at Monte Mario. This was followed by a series of other venues at Valle Giulia, Parioli, Tre Fontane, Littorio, Caracalla and Castel Fusano. It was not until 1963 that the event found a permanent home at Vallelunga.

Florence had the famous Circuito di Mugello which ran through the hills to the north of the city in the 1920s. The 40-mile circuit went north towards Bologna and included the Futa Pass, which was a famous section of the Mille Miglia.

Street racing has a strong tradition in Italy and almost every major town has held races at one time or another. Notable among these events was the Valentino Grand Prix in Turin in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

One notable exception was Modena, where races were original held on the streets but, after World War II, took place on a military airfield, which became known as the Aeroautodromo Modena . It was at Modena, during a test in 1957 that Eugenio Castellotti was killed. In 1961 another Italian racer Giulio Cabianca was killed at Modena when his Scuderia Eugenio Castellotti Cooper-Ferrari went out of control and passed through the gates of the circuit and onto the road outside where it collided with a taxi, killing another three people.

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