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1937 MG in Targa Florio Sicily

Targa Florio Sicily Classic insights

By Italy

The Targa Florio Sicily was a great opportunity to participate in one of the great classic car events. It was too good to pass on for Australian Husband and Wife combination Paul and Nikki Lawson. As one of the organising committee for the Australian Edition of this great motorsport event, it was a great way to see how the Italians did it.

The following is an account of Paul Lawson’s time during the Sicilian event this year in October.

 

A dream come true

Visiting Sicily for the first time was a dream come true, competing in the Targa Florio a truly wonderful experience.

We met Angelo Pizzuto, ACI Palermo President on Wednesday to attend the opening press conference. We then headed back to pick up the beautiful MG we had been assigned to drive. It was time to take the plunge into the chaotic Palermo traffic. We made it through the traffic to the document check and pre-race scrutineering.

The following day was spent preparing for the prologue through the streets of Palermo. That night the route took us past the many highlights of this beautiful city. We often went down one-way streets the wrong way and finished with the welcome dinner at the spectacular Royal Palace.

The Main Event

Thursday finally arrived. We were into the main event with an 11 hour day ahead. The first day included 60 PC trails and 6 PM trials. A baptism of fire for my navigator who took it all in her stride.

Highlights of the day included the mountainous countryside. An amazing lunch venue and a trip to the valley of the temples outside of Agrigento.

The next day was big! We would get to experience the original loop of the Targa Florio course. It started at the grandstand and pits in Floriopoli which everyone thoroughly enjoyed.

A baptism of fire for my navigator who took it all in her stride.

Car trouble

As we pulled up someone noticed that we where leaking fuel from the tank. After getting some assistance it appeared we had reached a premature end. The car was being loaded on the truck to be taken away for repair. The main mechanic suggested putting a piece of Wood between the chassis and the offending hole and tightening it up. To everyone’s amazement, it worked! While the whole field had departed, we were back in the event just before they shut the road.

The bonus was we had the road to ourselves and could really enjoy the mountainous roads, some were pretty rough but we had a great time.

We made up time and passed a few of the field and managed to arrive without losing any penalties at the lunch break in beautiful Cefalù. We stuffed in some lunch and continued for the final section back toward Palermo and another extremely large mountain stage. The downhill intervals really tested the MG’s brakes.

We pulled into Palermo feeling very happy to make it to the end as the tank had started to leak a lot.

Speaking to the owners mechanic, he confirmed that we had a hole in the tank that would need welding so we would need to skip the Sunday drive to the piccolo circuit that was a separate event.

We pulled into Palermo feeling very happy to make it to the end as the tank had started to leak a lot.

Zero Timing Device

We were pleasantly surprised that we had moved up from 30th overnight to a pretty credible 23rd overall after 100PC and 10 PM trials. The Zero timing equipment we were utilising for the event made a big difference.

We then headed to the Gala dinner in a very happy mood to celebrate with our fellow Australian competitors who had performed well and loved the event and all the Italian and European competitors we meet along the way.

Angelo insisted the car was safe and would not get worse so we managed to also do the Sunday drive to the piccolo circuit which was a real high light before the drive back to a finish at Teatro Massimo in Palermo where we enjoyed the final lunch and the presentation for the Targa Florio Sicily.

Wow-what an event, truly amazing both for the driving, great competition and countryside.

1937 MG in Targa Florio Sicily
Alfa Romeo 1927 competing in the Mille Miglia

Mille Miglia invites Targa Florio Australian Tribute to 2019 event

By Italy

This year in May, the Targa Florio Australian Tribute team went to Italy on a fact finding mission. They got a rare behind scenes look at ‘One of the most beautiful Races in the World’, the Mille Miglia. Andrew Lawson, Director of the Targa Florio Australian Tribute provides his insights into their recent trip abroad.

This year Linda (my wife), Paul (my brother) and I returned to enjoy the Mille Miglia as guests after competing in the event in 2016. On this occasion we had the opportunity as the Targa Florio Australian Tribute team. We sought to understand the race from a behind the scenes perpective. We cannot thank Francesca and Alberto enough for their kindness and generosity whist  running the 2019 event.

Linda joined Paul and I with the same smile that we have had since competing in the event.  Ears pinned back she reveled in driving the event. Manically latching onto the back of the escort police. They created additional lanes for us to fly from town to town.  I just needed to work out how I get back to the driving seat.

Local Italian Culture

Having an Italian in the car we enjoyed speaking to the gorgeous locals as we drove slowly in que through the historic towns past adoring crowds, Linda thanked them in Italian for coming out in the rain to see us…. ‘merita’ said the older lady “its worth it”. Thousands of volunteers help with the flow of cars seamlessly through and around their historic towns and hand out local food specialities including gelato, espresso and wine to the drivers and codrivers. The love for the event is very infectious.

Alfa Romeo 1927 competing in the Mille Miglia
Lawsons meet Mark Weber at Mille Miglia

A competitors point of view

Rather than just hearing from me, David Bredan, Editor of  ablogtowatch.com sums up his experience in his first Mille Miglia event perfectly. David competed this year in his first Mille Miglia in 2019 and no doubt has well and truly become addicted to the event as we have.

The atmosphere of the event

Meanwhile, everywhere we went, the energy was such that it put F1 races to shame. From the most remote homestead to the busiest city center, people from age five to 105 were standing and sitting and running, waving, cheering, and photographing along the road. Not one single disapproving look or any such encounter — and I must say, the race does turn the lives of these tranquil little Italian cities upside down. Working days or school time, rain or shine: nothing was an issue. Well, maybe apart from that nice old lady who quite literally leapt through my lowered driver-side window to shake our hand, while shouting “Abarth!” and some unintelligible, but highly enthused Italian phrases at us. The love of cars and driving has, indeed, united people.

The experience

The whole point I am trying to make is that driving these cars is unusually hard, immensely thrilling and, as a result, highly rewarding. It’s not just driving around, though: The same adjectives could be used about navigating a thousand miles on the infamously hectic Italian road network. The route contains closed sections, including roads that lead through an ancient villa’s garden or across some breathtakingly beautiful valleys of Emilia-Romagna, as well as down the public road. Now, in my understanding, because some stages need to be performed as close to a pre-defined time as possible, things can get a bit out of hand if any one of the hundreds of serious participants fighting for the win gets held up.

The local customs

Desperate times call for desperate measures — or so they would in every other country. In Italy, the police rush to their assistance. We were part of such a delayed convoy of cars and witnessed three police bikes quite literally riding into oncoming traffic, with each rider pumping with their arms in the direction of either one of the two sides of the road, hence “asking” the traffic to make a path in the center of the two-lane single carriageway.

Making way for the competitors

As the road opened, and we were doing about 110kph (65mph) in a zone of 60kph (35mph), the police officers started urging us to drive faster and faster, waving their arms in a rather bossy fashion — and we were only happy to comply. This happened in a train composed of two Gullwings, a Porsche 550 Spider, a 356 Speedster and three other cars I couldn’t easily identify, nor do I remember anything about, I was so busy concentrating on keeping this 44.6HP Double-Bubble part of the train. Needless to say, this was as much of a hair-brained idea as it was an absolute thrill — and the way the traffic assisted us and cheered us along showed just how deeply integrated the love of cars is in Italy.

The fact that we overtook an ambulance that had its sirens on because its driver reached out the window and urged us to pass him (and gave us a thumbs-up as we blasted by with our roaring half-a-century-old cars) was well and truly over what I had ever dared to imagine. And when the night finally falls after a full day of driving full of such encounters, one turns onto some abandoned country roads chasing a 356 Speedster in an Abarth 750 — and that’s when, for a brief, passing moment, all is well in the world.

What an experience

Although Mille Miglia and all its crazy moments are a thing of the past, I can still play back just about every scenery and every overtake and situation in my mind like a movie – that’s how genuine this experience has been.

Replicating this experience in Australia

Enjoying the chance to experience both of the great Italian Rallies in 2018 and return to Australia, our family had the opportunity to get involved and build the Australian version of the Targa Florio.  You have to be careful what you wish for.  In February having agreed to take on the Targa Florio Australian Tribute event we set up Australian Classic Events.  Whilst there is a lot to do it has been great to sit down and work to build the event for this year.  We have started with great roads and an extended route which now totals 1200 kilometres over the 4 days.

We are working closely with the communities along the route to try and create as close an atmosphere in the towns as we enjoyed in Italy.  This approach will see the event finish at the Italian Festa in Lygon Street, drive into a bigger Ciao Yarra Valley Ciao Festa Verde in Healesville and more opportunities for community events under discussion in all the other regions..

We have created a new website: www.targaflorioaus.com to explain the event and provide as much information as we can.

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