When Daniel took on the Targa Florio
Daniel took a classic Alfa Romeo on the route of one of the world’s greatest road races.
He took time out from F1 to take a classic Alfa Romeo around the historic Targa Florio course in Sicily.
The reasons why Daniel is in Sicily in a rare Alfa are a little complex: let’s start with the car:
Daniel drove the Alfa Romeo T33 that his mentor Helmut Marko drove in the 1972 Targa Florio. The car, which is nearly 20 years older than him, was on loan from a private collection in Scotland. As for Daniel, his connection to Sicily comes from his father Joe, who emigrated to Australia from Ficcara as a boy.
Back in 1972, Helmut Marko set a new lap record of 33m 41s, with an average speed of 128.253kph, in a dramatic last-ditch chase to the finish line.
Even by the crazed standards of the 1970s, the Targa Florio was a dangerous race: 11 laps around a 70km course that wound around the mountains, dusty roads and tiny streets of villages around Palermo, with drivers dodging potholes, walls and sheer drops, in cars that could go up to 300kph.
“Your whole body was battered and bruised after a sportscar race,” says Marko. “Driving these cars was extremely hard physically.”
The Targa was part of the World Sportscar Championship, contested by Porsche, Ferrari and Alfa Romeo with F1 drivers at the wheel. On the start line of the 1972 Targa were then-current F1 drivers Nino Vaccarella, Rolf Stommelen, Vic Elford. In 1972, Marko and co-driver Nanni Galli’s main competition were Ferrari’s Arturo Merzario and Sandro Munari.
“The first few laps were a shock. During practice, Toine Hezemans collided with a donkey, rider and all. He was catapulted over the rear spoiler. Nino Vaccarella and his car disappeared under a truck.”
“One car got lost up in the mountains. It took half a day just to find it again. There were no crash barriers, just outsized bales of hay here and there.”
The mayhem was captured in Speed Merchants, Michael Keyser’s documentary about the 1972 sportscar season. Clearly, Daniel’s seen it more than once, as he reveals what he’s expecting to take away from the trip. “I expect to learn how to avoid donkeys while driving a racing car at 300kph.”
Driver safety in the Alfa is as poor as it ever was. He is hemmed in on either side by two 60-litre petrol tanks. The steering wheel is so tiny and flat that it’s like being in a bumper car. No flappy-paddle gear changes here, just a clutch pedal and an H-gate. “I’ve only ever used that type of gear shift in Formula Ford,” Daniel says, “and I wasn’t all that good at it.”
The Alfa T33 weighs less than 700kg, while generating more than 400bhp and has a chassis that was state-of-the-art in its day. “It does what you expect it to: it’s a proper racing car!”
In his hands, the Alfa still flies over the Sicilian roads, although he has to respect the fact that they’re bumpy, slippery and he’s pinned inside a 42-year-old car.
But he had the time of his life: “I must ask my dad why my grandparents left Sicily,” He pauses to think. “Even if there wasn’t a donkey on the course this time, I now know one thing: I want an historic racing car.”
Photography – Jim Krantz