“Circuito delle Madonie demands great respect and maximum concentration”

Interview with classic car expert and journalist Massimo Delbo. He takes part in the Eco Targa Florio 2012 driving a 1952 Ermini 1100 Sport.

Massimo Delbo, two stages of the new Targa Florio have been completed. The first day took drivers from the grandstands at Cerda via the legendary Circuito delle Madonie to Ragusa, and the second from Ragusa via Syracuse and Catania to Taormina. What did you think of the first two days?

There are a few mythical events in the history of motor racing, and one that really whets the appetite is the Targa Florio. The start in front of the grandstands at Cerda, which look just like they did way back at the start of the last century, was blissful for a fan like me. The first Targa Florio was in 1909 – more than 100 years ago. It was one of the first motor races in the world.

The starting formalities were quite a celebration and took some time. First of all 95 Ferraris drove onto the track, followed by 100 classic cars, one after the other. What was going though your head at the start?

It was like a dream for me. A beautiful sunny autumn day with the temperature above 30°C. I sat in the middle of the grid at this historic motor sports venue, surrounded by the most beautiful sports cars in the world – Ferrari, Maserati, Lancia, Alfa Romeo, Aston Martin. Jaguar, Porsche, Bentley, Austin Healey and many more. Add to this the enthusiasm of the spectators and the roar of the engines – a truly unforgettable moment.

The race goes into the mountains right at the start, up towards Caltagirone and onto the Circuito delle Madonie with the countless tight bends that make it a hair-raising challenge for any driver. Could you admire the route and the countryside, or did you have to concentrate completely on the mountain road?

The actual start was quite relaxed, but the Circuito delle Madonie is a difficult mountain route that demands great respect and maximum concentration. It’s hard to believe that the great racing drivers used to thunder up at 160 km/h. The Italian ex-Formula 1 driver Arturio Merzario, who is driving this Targa Florio in an Alfa Romeo 33 TT/3, told me yesterday that he actually reached 172 km/h. It’s just unbelievable – especially since the road is very uneven and has lots of potholes, so the car lurches to the left and right and is always threatening to run out of control. I have no idea how the great drivers managed it, but they have my respect!

After the mountains, you go back down to the sea at Ragusa, and today over the ridge to the Etna volcanic region. Are these hard stretches? Challenging for the drivers?

We’re not driving as fast as they used to, but it’s still challenging for all the participants. The daily stages are long, with numerous checks and trials along the way. Everyone is giving absolutely everything, even if they sometimes don’t like to admit it. It tests your concentration and by the evening you are completely done in and looking forward to a bit of sleep. But it’s a huge amount of fun, and the weather has been great – though there was some rain after Catania, so we had to be especially careful not to skid on the bends. And of course I had particular fun in my 1952 Ermini 1100 Sport; it only delivers 80 BHP, but because it only weighs 400 kg it has the power and acceleration of a Ferrari. Being able to drive here is a unique experience.

 

Massimo Delbo
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