The Targa Florio
With the first race in 1906 – winner Alessandro Cagno and his Itala averaged 29.06 mph for the 276.8 mile, 9 hour, 32 minutes and 22 seconds race – to the last real Targa in 1973 when Herbert Muller and Gijs van Lennep averaged 79.52 mph for 491 miles in their Porsche RSR, the Targa Florio road race through the mountainous wilds of Sicily had a long and storied history. One 44 mile lap meant that a driver had 710 corners to deal with, not to mention unforgiving poles, stone-walls, roaming dogs, spectators and farm animals. The road surfaces ranged from bad to worse and a missed turn might mean a horrific drop down the side of a mountain. Of all the circuits Brian Redman tackled during his long and successful career, the Targa experience remains indelibly etched into his very thick book of memories.
“I raced for the first time at the Targa in 1969. The five factory 908 long-tail coupes brought by Porsche to Daytona for the ’69 24 hour race all broke down due to a failure of the titanium shaft that drove the valve gear. For me, the DNF at Daytona was fortunate because my arm—which had been badly broken in the Belgium Grand Prix the previous June—was still healing. Furthermore, to put it right my arm had been redone in Johannesburg, South Africa just six weeks before Daytona when it was found I had no union of either the Ulna or the Radius bones in the forearm. Believe me, when the first of the 908s came into the pits at around 8:00 p.m. with the motor making a funny noise and the engineers declared “vee are finished – zay vill all break” I breathed a heartfelt sigh of relief!
Shortly after Daytona, Siffert and I did a 24 hour test at Sebring with a 908 Spyder. At 20 hours, the chassis broke – the engineers declared “zis is good, ze race is only 12 hours”. In the race, every chassis broke due to the surface breaking up. Some chassis were repaired and Joe Buzzetta and Rolf Stommelen went on to finish in 3rd.place. After these initial disappointments Jo and I had a fantastic run of success winning at Brands Hatch, Spa, Monza, the Nurburgring and Watkins Glen to clinch the World Manufacturers Championship for Porsche AG for the first time ever.
In ’69 all of the factory drivers were given the chance of ordering a Porsche 911 to their specifi- cations and then using the car through the year to drive to all the European races. In February I got a call from Rico Steinemann, the team manager, and he said, “Brian you should go down to the Targa to do some practice.” Well, Sicily is about 2,000 miles from where I lived in the North of England so it was agreed that teammate Richard Atwood and I would go to Weissach to pick up two 911 rally cars, drive to Zurich, stay the night with Rico and his wife Marianne and then leave for Sicily the following morning.
The 911 rally cars were very low geared and 7,000 rpm in top gear was about 120 mph and believe me, we did 7,000 rpm in top gear all the way down the Autostrada to Rome and then on to Sicily.
In those days Sicily was pretty primitive and for economy purposes we were staying in the same hotel in Chefalu. I decided to call my wife, Marion, in England and I used the phone in the hotel room. With some difficulty I got the operator to understand that I wanted to call Colne in England, where I lived. It took about 25 minutes to get through and suddenly this male voice came on and said, “Hello.” And I said, “Hello this is Brian, who is this?” He said, “This is Ambrose.”
Well, by incredible coincidence, Ambrose was a friend of my father and he lived in the next village, Wycoller, and somehow they had gotten the lines crossed. So I went through the whole thing again with the operator. Another 30 minutes passed and eventually I got connected to Marion and she couldn’t hear me and I couldn’t hear her and we were screaming our heads off while Richard Attwood was lying on the floor laughing fit to burst.
In the morning I went down to the front desk and the manager said, “Mr. Redman, the phone call was good? “No,” I said. “It was terrible.” He asked what the problem was and I told him that we couldn’t hear each other. Then I found out the hotel phone system wasn’t a straight through system and he had been holding the incoming outside line from England telephone handset up against the internal phone line handset!
Richard and I spent two or three days driving around the 44-mile circuit trying to learn the impossible and then we flogged the 911s all the way back to Stuttgart at the same great pace.
In late April we drove down again, this time in our allocated 911 road cars and now there were twelve of them for the factory drivers. We disembarked in Palermo and it was like the invasion of Sicily—twelve Porsches cars roared off the boat and raced to Chefalu, no quarter asked or given!
For the Targa Florio, Siffert was committed to the Spanish Grand Prix and couldn’t go, so I was teamed with Richard Attwood. This was a another major effort from Porsche with no less than six factory cars and twelve drivers. In the race, whilst running in the top three, we had a drive-shaft break, so that was that.
For 1970 the official Porsche factory team was run by John Wyer but the 908/3s that we had for the Targa were prepared by Porsche AG under the direct supervision of Ferdinand Piech. In addition to the two Wyer entered cars there were also two 908/3s for Porsche Salzburg. Practice went well though the 1 lap we each had in the race car, in heavy local traffic, was, to put it mildly, extremely hairy. In the race Siffert started and did his three laps and came in for the driver change in about fourth or fifth place. I jumped in and managed to close up to the leader who was the Targa Florio expert, Nino Vaccarella, driving a factory 512 Ferrari – a most difficult car for the Targa Florio! I tried to pass him two or three times on that lap and each time he was going to push me off the track. Deciding that discretion was the better part of valor I held my place about 100 yards behind for two more laps, or about 100 miles, and then as the pit stops came closed right up.
We pitted together and our pit stop was faster so Jo went out in the lead and six and a half hours after the start we crossed the finish line in first place.
Leo Kinnunen and Pedro Rodriguez finished second. All season poor Leo, an ex rally champion, had an undeserved rap from Pedro for not being fast enough, which he didn’t deserve. At the Targa in particular, he was considerably faster and, in fact, on a great last lap passed the 512 Ferrari for 2nd place and set the race’s fastest lap.
That winter, deeply concerned at all the deaths and injuries in racing, I retired and emigrated to South Africa, running a V.W. dealership in Johannesburg. After a midnight raid on our house by the police, by March I was convinced that it would not be long before the black populace would turn on the whites and dispatch them to the promised land. So, we returned to England with no house, no furniture - and no job. In late April of 1971, John Wyer rang me. Derek Bell, had taken my place on the Porsche team but had never done the Targa. John said, “Brian, Derek hasn’t done the Targa and we would like you to do it.”
Well, for me that was a great opportunity to come back because I didn’t have any drives and things weren’t looking too good. So, down we went to Sicily. The night before the race my co-driver Siffert crashed the car but the mechanics repaired it. On race morning Wyer said to me, “Redman, I would like you to start the race.” And because I never normally started, I asked, “What for?” And he replied, “I don’t want Siffert and Rodriguez knocking each other off the track.”
So I started. Immediately the handling was bad. I got about 20 miles around the first lap and turned into one of the few corners that I knew and the steering broke. Ignoring engineer Helmut Flegl’s wise advice to me just before the start – “Brian, if you must have ze crash, do not crash on ze right side” I hit a concrete post right in the fuel tank. The car exploded on impact and I was extremely lucky to escape. I got out automatically because we had practiced probably twenty driver changes the night before, my reactions instinctive and I closed my eyes, held my breath, hit the release buckle and climbed out. On fire from head to foot, doing a very fair imitation of Joan of Arc and blinded by the fire, I staggered across the road and collapsed on the verge where Sicilian spectators fanned me with magazines whilst waiting forty five minutes for the helicopter to find us. Five years ago I met 908/3 Martini Porsche team driver Gerard Larrousse, he told me how worried he was when he saw the remains of my 908 and asked if I knew what was left after the crash and fire: “No” I replied. “Nothing – there was hole in the road, and inside the hole was the crankshaft”. Needless to say, this car exists today!
Taken to an unknown hospital where, in a scene from hell, the only nurses were the patients relatives, bandaged from head to foot, I spent what is best described as a “difficult” twelve hours without treatment. Eventually, Pedro and Richard found me, and took me back to the hotel where a German doctor with the Porsche team gave me sedatives. The next day a Lear jet hired by Gulf and Porsche took me back to England, accompanied by John and “Tottie” Wyer and Richard Attwood – all grateful for a fast ride home no doubt!. Rodriguez had also crashed on the first lap, so the whole thing was a shambles for the Porsche factory team.
By 1972, I was driving for Ferrari in the fabulous 312 PB, but they only sent one car to the Targa, for Arturo Merzarion and rally ace Sandro Munari. Together they scored a memorable and great victory against the might of the Alfa Romeo team. However, in 1973 they sent two cars and I was paired with my usual partner that year, Jackie Ickx—the Belgium wonder boy who had never been to the Targa. So at the start I went up to him and said, “There is one thing to remember Jacky” – “What is zat Brion” – “This is not a race.” Then, of course, he crashed on the first lap. When he arrived back at the pits I asked him if he was okay and he said, “Yes, but I had a very interesting accident - I go a long way down the mountainside—a very long way.”
Stirling Moss, summed it up well following his historic win in the Mercedes SLR with co-driver Peter Collins in 1955 and his heart breakingly close run in 1956 when with co-driver Graham Hill driving a Porsche he came within 500 yards of winning again when the rear axle broke due to loss of oil:
“It was bitterly disappointing……but that was the Targa all over: triumph one minute and disaster at another, and nothing at all to warn you what was coming next”.
So the Targa was something different, the last of the real old style road races, run in a beautiful, mysterious country where the feelings of being watched and of incipient danger whether from actual dangers on the road or imagined dangers from the unknown were never far away.