XXII° TARGA FLORIO
Circuito Madonie (long), 10 May 1931.
4 laps x 146.0 km (90.4 mi) = 584.0 km (362.9 mi)
Varzi against the rest! Nuvolari wins the 22nd Targa Florio for Alfa Romeo.
by Hans Etzrodt
In 1931, the Targa Florio was still recognized as the hardest race in Europe. Poor road conditions this year made the progression of the race more difficult. René Dreyfus
was the only foreigner in this Italian event where just 13 cars arrived at the start. The Alfa Romeo factory entered five drivers the Maserati works just three and only one
potent Bugatti was present, Varzi's personal car. Four independents with Alfa Romeos, a Bugatti and a Salmson filled the remaining places. On a dry road, Varzi immediately
established a strong lead, which he sustained for three laps while the five Alfa team cars relentlessly hounded him. The Maseratis of Fagioli and Biondetti ended in the ditch
early on, whereas Dreyfus' racecar was retired after ¾ race in hopeless position. Rain had started on lap two and after three laps torrential downpours turned some of the
mountain roads into mud pools, resulting in the downfall of the grand prix racers like Varzi. Most cars of the Alfa Romeo team had front fenders fitted before the race to
keep the splashing mud away from drivers, faces and goggles. It ended as a great success for Alfa Romeo who for the first time this year were victorious at one of the major
races. Nuvolari and Borzacchini finished in the first two places, followed by the disenchanted Varzi in third place, car and driver almost unrecognizably covered in mud.
The regulations for the XXII International Targa Florio were very much the same as in the prior years. Published at the beginning of February, the event called for racecars without any subdivision of
different classes or engine capacity. Five laps had to be driven over the 108 km Medium Madonie Circuit, a total of 540 km. However, on February 22 and 23, a cyclone in northern Sicily had caused
large floods, destroying long stretches of the 108 km Medium Madonie Circuit. Landslides had destroyed the entire road between Polizzi and Collessano, including a bridge that had collapsed.
Cavalliere Vincenzo Florio together with members of the Department of Public works examined the road damage. According to their decision a repair of the damaged road sections before the race
would have been entirely impossible. In order not to eliminate the May 10 race, the only possible way out was to settle on the longer and more difficult 148.823 km "Grande Circuito delle Madonie",
on which races had been held from 1906 until 1911. The organizers were convinced of the suitability of this new 40 km longer circuit after they completed a detailed study of this route, which branched
off over Petralia Sottana, Geraci and Castelbuono and returned again over Collessano and Campofelice to the old circuit. This stretch was new to the drivers who had to complete four laps of this long
course now changed to 146 km in length, a total distance of 584 km, where they were unable to relax for one moment. Corner after corner followed one another with opposing turns, sharp inclines and steep
declines. It was a continuous hard work, requiring nerves of steel and the most capable machines. Those who finished the race on Sunday would have executed something like eight-thousand bends. This
year's race could not be compared with the preceding Targa Florio events because the course and length were entirely different. Even though the longer course was in good condition, the organizer,
Cavalliere Vincenzo Florio, in agreement with the public authorities, arranged for a complete final overhaul of the roadway. Accordingly, for days before the race workers and machines were still
feverishly busy with the latest improvements to the course.
The entry fee was 1000 lire per car. A total of 250,000 lire in prize money was available, of which 80,000 went to the victor, including medals from the King and the Royal Italian Automobile Club.
The second placed driver was to receive 40,000 lire, the third 20,000, the fourth 15,000, the fifth 10,000, the sixth 8,000, the seventh 7,000, the eighth 5000 lire and every other competitor who
completed the race in a mandated time received 4,000 lire. Drivers who completed at least three laps within the mandated time received 2,500 lire.
There were also several valuable cups to be distributed: "Coppa Citta di Termini" to the driver with the fastest lap time; "Coppa d'Amico" to the driver with the smallest time differences between each
lap; "Coppa Ferrario", a roving cup, to the driver who established the fastest lap in three consecutive years; "Coppa James Taglinvia" to the driver with a car under 1100 cc engine capacity, who
finished first in three races of any years; "Coppa Piglia", donated by Bugatti, to the best manufacturer team; Coppa Le Journal", at a value of 60,000 Fr., to the victorious make, with permanent tenure
after five victories by the same firm in their possession; Coppa Lepori to the independent driver with the best result in two races of any years. To be classified, every competitor had to pass the
finish line no later than 90 minutes after the winner.
Early predictions expected Bugatti to start with their new twin-cam 2.3-liter grand prix car, probably to be driven by last year's winner, Varzi. Official participation by the Bugatti factory seemed doubtful
but the last word had not yet been spoken. Alfa Romeo would come with their new 2.3-liter 8-cylinder racecar version, as seen at Alessandria. Maserati was determined to do their utmost to perform well at this
The Alfa Romeo factory was well prepared for this race, arriving with their official racing team, a staff of 25 mechanics with six practice cars and five for the race for fifteen days practice. They entered
two new 2300, 8-cylinder racecars for Tazio Nuvolari and Luigi Arcangeli, both cars equipped with bucket seats, a cylindrical exposed fuel tank and two spare wheels on the back. Giuseppe Campari, the only
driver with knowledge of the old circuit from the 1914 Coppa Florio, Baconin Borzacchini, and Guido D'Ippolito were to race with the well-tried 6-cylinder 1750 cars. Ingegnere Vittorio Jano supervised the
team with help from Enzo Ferrari. This year they were well organized by using two-way radio communication between their pits main headquarter and their various service depots in the mountains. This intense
preparation and great organization by Alfa Romeo indicated their evident desire for victory. When the Alfa drivers stopped, they were able to learn about their exact positions and those of their opposition.
Two independent 6C 1750 Alfa Romeos were entered for Marco Pirandello and Costantino Magistri, while Carlo Pellegrini was to race in an older 3000 cc RL Alfa Romeo.
The official Maserati team entered three of their 2500 cc type racecars for Luigi Fagioli, Clemente Biondetti and René Dreyfus. Two independent Maserati entries were made by Landolina and ''Papillon''.
No particulars were known about the reasons for the non-appearance of the Bugatti team. But one of their contracted drivers, Achille Varzi, arrived with the only potent Bugatti, which was his own red painted
2.3-liter grand prix car that had won at Tunis and Alessandria. Independent Bugatti entries were received from Francesco Toia, Letterio Cucinotta Piccolo, Angelo Giusti and Emilio Romano. A blue Salmson was
entered by I. Castagna. Five additional drivers are shown in the list of entries. They were mentioned in the various race previews but were not assigned race numbers and evidently did not appear except
Ghersi who became reserve driver for Arcangeli.
Already one week before the actual race, the entire Maserati team with Ernesto Maserati, Biondetti and Dreyfus were practicing to learn the new course. Despite all of his qualities, Fagioli was somewhat
handicapped right from the beginning due to his recent hip operation. Dreyfus was known as a speed specialist and only once before in 1928 had he driven at the Madonie circuit, which was probably not the ideal
place for him. During the early practice days Dreyfus' mechanic had become sea-sick on the twisting up-and-down mountain course. Being without a mechanic, a large spare oil tank was fitted to the mechanic's
seat of his Maserati and the Frenchman would drive the race solo. The Alfa Romeo works had arrived with their large race team 15 days before the race. The two 2300 Alfa Romeo racecars with Nuvolari and Arcangeli
captured the main interest. Campari and Borzacchini were of cource also very much present. Varzi appeared with his Bugatti for official practice in the last days before the race. All pre-race activities took
place during good weather conditions. However, the passage of the cars on the dirt roads caused large dust clouds that would be very troublesome for a following car during the race.
A flood of spectators had come from the mainland to the island. Early morning on the day of the race people crowded together and at the beginning of the battle at eight in the morning the grandstands
at Cerda were occupied to bursting capacity. The weather on Sunday was good at the starting area, but dark clouds could be seen soaring over the mountains in the east. During the entire night heavy rain
showers had come down, causing damage to parts of the circuit. Extreme conditions were awaiting the drivers. Ingegnere Vittorio Jano anticipated rain during the race and ordered the Alfa mechanics to add
front fenders to the racing cars of Nuvolari, Borzacchini and Campari. Arcangeli rejected the idea to have his new 2300 burdened with this weight. Varzi also started also without fenders.
Cars started at intervals|
The starting order of the cars was probably once again according to lots drawn at the offices of the Auto Club di Sicilia. A starting grid did not exist since the cars were lined up in single file according
to the numbers which had been allotted to them. The drivers were released at five-minute intervals. This was an important arrangement because overtaking was unthinkable on many of the narrow parts of the
long course. The announcement of six non-starting cars reduced the field right from the beginning to 13 contenders. At 8:30 AM, under a blue sky and the sun shining, Varzi in the red #2 Bugatti started
first. After five minutes Biondetti in the #6 Maserati took off, then Fagioli (Maserati), Campari (Alfa Romeo), Dreyfus (Maserati), Nuvolari (Alfa Romeo), Borzacchini (Alfa Romeo), Arcangeli (Alfa Romeo),
Magistri (Alfa Romeo), D'Ippolo (Alfa Romeo), Pellegrini (Alfa Romeo), Piccolo (Bugatti) and Castagna (Salmson), which was the last car to start.
Castagna stopped his blue Salmson after only 19 kilometers just before Caltavutoro. The reason for his retirement was not known. W.F. Bradley wrote in The Autocar, that the engine had possibly lost power
or the driver changed his mind and attempted to swing around returning back home. Since this was against the rules, the police stopped him from driving against race direction. After just 50 kilometers
near Castellana at the bottom of a steep hill just before a bridge, Fagioli raced into a parapet, tearing up the rear axle of his Maserati. W.F. Bradley wrote: "Coming into the bridge at too high a speed,
the car had skidded outwards, the near-side rear wheel hitting with a crash which tore the axle away and bent it almost to a U." While his car was severely damaged, the Italian escaped with slight injuries
and knocked his front teeth out. Thus, the main Maserati contender was out of the race this early. The Sicilian, Magistri, retired his Alfa Romeo in the mountains when his car broke a timing gear.
Just after two hours, a muffled drone announced the imminent approach of the first car completing lap one. It was Varzi with a time of 2h03m54.8s at 70.700 km/h who held a safe lead. His time was going
to be the record of the day. Some pundits predicted hastily another victory for the new Bugatti. Soon after, the remaining nine cars arrived, which were in the following order:
|2.||Borzacchini (Alfa Romeo)||2h06m06s|
|3.||Nuvolari (Alfa Romeo)||2h06m11s|
|4.||Campari Alfa Romeo)||2h06m35s|
|5.||D'Ippolito (Alfa Romeo)||2h09m31s|
|7.||Arcangeli (Alfa Romeo)||2h12m22s|
|10.||Pellegrini (Alfa Romeo)||2h50m34s|
Nuvolari who was expected to not stop before the second lap, surprisingly at the end of lap one, came to a standstill at his pit to change two tires just as a precaution. Consequently he lost 2m5s. On the
second lap slight rain began to fall, which then increased progressively. Nuvolari and Borzacchini who followed right behind Varzi forced their cars with unbelievable energy. Borzacchini stopped briefly to
have spark plugs changed. Nuvolari and Campari proceeded with the chase after Varzi. Biondetti, blinded by mud and rain, arrived too fast at a corner where his Maserati bounced against a wall similar to
Fagioli's crash but with much less damage to the car. Driver and mechanic escaped with slight injuries. Varzi's second lap time was ten minutes longer than his first round and included one stop for a
plug and to change tires. Nuvolari's time for the second lap increased by just over seven minutes but Varzi still held a comfortable lead. All hopes for an Italian victory by Alfa Romeo had waned.
|2.||Nuvolari (Alfa Romeo)||4h20m04s|
|3.||Campari Alfa Romeo)||4h22m29s|
|4.||Borzacchini (Alfa Romeo)||4h25m13s|
|5.||D'Ippolito (Alfa romeo)||4h29m47s|
|6.||Arcangeli (Alfa Romeo)||4h34m02s|
|9.||Pellegrini (Alfa Romeo)||5h42m36s|
At the end of lap two, the middle of the race, all drivers stopped at their pits to refuel and change wheels. The number of helping hands was unlimited at the Targa Florio and cars were surrounded by
numerous mechanics and helpers who attended not just to the car but also to driver and mechanic in their seats with drinks, food and cigarettes. Nuvolari had all four tires changed and refueling in
1m38s while Campari required only 1m30s and Borzacchini 1m56s for the same service. Varzi received similar service but also changed his brake shoes, all in 2m07s. Pellegrini retired his Alfa Romeo.
Due to the never ending rain, the once hard surfaced roads became progressively spongy and slippery with some road sections turning muddy but the wild chase continued at a frantic pace. On the third
lap the Alfa Romeo team concentrated their whole attention on the runaway Varzi. Nuvolari and Campari lost more time on the third lap while Borzacchini cut his time down by over two minutes. Varzi's
third lap took some four minutes longer than his second round, yet he was able to maintain his two minutes advantage. Up to the third lap it was believed that Varzi would win this race. Piccolo, the
best of the independent drivers, retired his Bugatti at the end of lap three, when he realized that he was not going to finish within the time limit. According to W.F. Bradley, Dreyfus who was driving
alone, had been off the road three times, had changed 14 plugs on his Maserati and was visibly tiring. He stuck it out for three laps until he stopped behind his pits with persistent ignition problems.
In his hopeless position, now over 90 minutes behind the leader and thereby already exceeding the time limit, he had to retire in despair.
|2.||Nuvolari (Alfa Romeo)||6h40m28s|
|3.||Borzacchini (Alfa Romeo)||6h43m45s|
|4.||Campari Alfa Romeo)||6h43m57s|
|5.||D'Ippolito (Alfa Romeo)||6h57m09s|
|6.||Arcangeli (Alfa Romeo)||7h08m13s|
After lap three, Varzi stopped for 1m50s at his pit to change one spark plug. His once red Bugatti was now covered in yellow mud and Varzi's face, helmet and light blue overalls had also turned yellow.
After he received a clean pair of goggles, Varzi joined the race. The pitiful Arcangeli had to give up after three laps due to an injury, when a stone hit his left eye. His face was covered with mud and
his car was then taken over by Zehender who did not at all enjoy driving without mudguards. Campari stopped for just 54 seconds to have a loose mudguard tightened. Nuvolari stopped for only 43 seconds
to change a spark plug. On the fourth lap Nuvolari appeared more determined than before and after a short while he closed up to Varzi, but probably because Varzi was now losing more time. The climax
had been reached, the battle between Varzi and Nuvolari. Varzi had started 25 minutes before Nuvolari, so he could only know the relative positions of the two cars at the end of the previous lap and his
information was always an hour out of date. Nuvolari, however could be alerted to the current gap because he started behind Varzi. Additionally, he could be kept posted at several places round the circuit
due to the two-way radios, which was a very advanced initiative for racing in 1931. In this way Nuvolari could always tell if he was catching Varzi. However, Varzi would not know the up-to-date gap, so it
was impossible for him to react to Nuvolari with any certainty or precision. This was a huge advantage to Nuvolari and the Alfa Romeo team. The torrential downpours in the mountains had transformed some
of those road sections into mud and dirt pools through which the wheels drew deep furrows. Fog hung over some road sections, reducing visibility to barely 30 meters. Despite the extremely poor road
conditions and the driving rain, Nuvolari and Borzacchini were able to maintain an undiminished pace, protected by their efficient front mudguards. Varzi on the contrary struggled with mud splashed
from the open front wheels; coating car, driver and mechanic. The softened and soaked road surface impaired him so much that he decisively fell behind. W.F. Bradley wrote: "Mud and stones were flung
up by the wheels in such quantities that the bright red of the Bugatti disappeared, the numbers were obliterated; the driver and mechanic became unrecognizable. Varzi threw away his goggles. He drove
through seas of mud; he swallowed mud; he was blinded by it just when he most needed his sight, but he hung on grimly defiant." As Varzi began to fall behind, the Alfa race management informed their
drivers through their mountain depots to go as fast as possible. Varzi had taken ten minutes longer for his last lap than his prior one. Nuvolari's last round was about half a minute slower than his
third lap which placed him way ahead of Varzi. Borzacchini and Campari also lost much less time than Varzi.
The first to reach the finish on the road was Varzi, greeted with great applause. The excitement of the crowd knew no boundaries when Nuvolari arrived at the finish under pouring rain, shortly thereafter
followed by Borzacchini in second place. Varzi had lost so much time on that last lap that he fell back to third place and was nearly caught by Campari in fourth place. All received lively applause.
|1.||14||Tazio Nuvolari||S.A. Alfa Romeo||Alfa Romeo||8C 2300||2.3||S-8||4||9h00m27.0s|
|2.||16||Baconin Borzacchini||S.A. Alfa Romeo||Alfa Romeo||6C 1750 GS||1.8||S-6||4||9h02m44.0s|
|3.||2||Achille Varzi||A. Varzi||Bugatti||T51||2.3||S-8||4||9h07m53.0s|
|4.||10||Giuseppe Campari||S.A. Alfa Romeo||Alfa Romeo||6C 1750 GS||1.8||S-6||4||9h08m11.0s|
|5.||24||Guido d'Ippolito||S.A. Alfa Romeo||Alfa Romeo||6C 1750 GS||1.8||S-6||4||9h29m11.0s|
|6.||18||L. Arcangeli/G. Zehender||S.A. Alfa Romeo||Alfa Romeo||8C 2300||2.3||S-8||4||9h45m13.0s|
|DNF||12||René Dreyfus||Officine A. Maserati||Maserati||26M||2.5||S-8||3||gave up|
|DNF||36||Letterio Cucinotta Piccolo||L. C. Piccolo||Bugatti||T37||1.5||S-8||2||gave up|
|DNF||26||Carlo Pellegrini||C. Pellegrini||Alfa Romeo||RL||3.0||S-6||2||gave up|
|DNF||6||Clemente Biondetti||C. Biondetti||Maserati||26M||2.5||S-8||1||crash|
|DNF||30||I. Castagna||I. Castagna||Salmson||AL3||1.1||S-4||0||gave up|
|DNF||22||Costantino Magistri||C. Magistri||Alfa Romeo||6C 1750||1.8||S-6||0||valve gear|
|DNF||8||Luigi Fagioli||Officine A. Maserati||Maserati||26M||2.5||S-8||0||crash|
Fastest lap: Achille Varzi (Bugatti) on lap 1 in 2h03m54.8s = 70.7 km/h (43.9 mph)|
Winner's medium speed: 64.8 km/h (40.3 mph)
Weather: heavy rains and fog, muddy road sections.
AUTOMOBIL-REVUE reported, "The dramatic circumstances of the race equaled the announcement of the Winner. The whole of Italy, awaiting the result, was first mocked with the news of Varzi's latest victory.
This message went as far as the Swiss press. Their correspondent in Rome also succumbed to this error. He telegraphed first: Heavy thunderstorms over South- and Middle Italy came down on Sunday afternoon
and evening, which interrupted every telephone connection with Sicily around evening. Until that night at 2:00 AM only brief telegraphic news came through. It is only known about Varzi's victory."
For the first time this year Alfa Romeo succeeded in finishing as victor in a major race. The handicap, linked with the Pirelli Tire Company contract, appeared to be overcome by Alfa Romeo who had their
cars equipped with Dunlop tires. Varzi used Michelin tires on his Bugatti.
The relatively low average speed was attributed primarily to the rain and secondary to the partially unsatisfactory condition of the course.
The integrity of W.F. Bradley's Targa Florio report has to be questioned. His report was published in Autocar on May 22 and he possibly also influenced the Motor Sport report, published in the June issue.
Fifth and sixth place finishers, D'Ippolito and Zehender in Arcangeli's car, should have finished fifth and sixth but there existed disagreement in some of the reports about their classification.
The Autocar and Motor Sport both reported that these cars were still racing after the race was declared finished, so that they were not officially timed. This contradicts the results published in all other sources.
Could this possibly be one of Bradley's debatable statements? W.F. Bradley reported in The Autocar, published May 22: "Four cars and four only covered the full distance of 363 miles, for Piccolo, on a Bugatti,
stopped at the end of the third round; Dreyfus pulled in with one lap to go, and Dippolito, on an Alfa Romeo, and Zehender, on Arcangeli's Alfa, were not officially timed, although running at the end. A grim
race, a race to destruction." Motor Sport also reported that "Zehender on Arcangeli's car and d'Ippolito were still running when the race was declared finished, and were not officially timed." All other primary
sources published the final times of the six finishers.
|1. Then of course there is his Targa Florio book, where he wrote on page 119 that Engineer Jano "had ordered a right-hand wing to be fitted to his five cars." In reality, all
factory Alfas were equipped with both front fenders, except Arcangeli's car.
2. On page 120 of his book, he wrote that Zehender in Arcangeli's car "was beyond his ability to finish within the time limit [of 90 minutes]." According to the times published in all other reports,
Zehender finished about 45 minutes after Nuvolari.
Primary sources researched for this article:|
Allgemeine Automobil-Zeitung, Berlin
IL Littoriale, Roma
La Stampa, Torino
Motor Sport, London
MOTOR und SPORT, Pössneck
The Autocar, London
Special thanks to: