In the Mountains of Sicily

Targa Florio, Sicily, Ferrari, Polizzi

 

High in the hills of Sicily, near the village of Polizzi, there was a Ferrari service point during the Targa Florio. Here a Ferrari mechanic signals to Ricardo Rodriguez at the wheel of a Ferrari 246SP. Rodriguez drove with Belgians “Wild Willy” Mairesse and Olivier Gendebien to win this grueling race which ran for over seven hours and ten laps of the 72 km. long Piccolo Madonie circuit of Sicilian country roads. The Targa had a typical average speed of around 60 mph, which gives some indication of its difficulty. For the 1962 event on May 5th Ferrari entered three cars but only two made it through practice, the 246SP for Mairesse/Rodriguez and a smaller-engined 196SP for Giancarlo Baghetti and Lorenzo Bandini. On the very twisty Targa a two-liter car was at no particular disadvantage and the team of Baghetti/Bandini came home in second place some 11 minutes behind the winners. Phil Hill, with a V8-engined 268SP, which he was to share with Gendebien, had the throttle jam open in practice and pretty well wrote off the car.

Willy Mairesse and the younger Rodriguez were two aggressive drivers, neither of whom would see the end of the 1960s. Mairesse was a very talented racer, but an unusual person to say the least. Jacques Swaters, the Ferrari importer for the Low Countries until the late 1990s, was a strong supporter of Mairesse but said he had an unusually driven personality with somewhat strange traits and lived only to race. Mairesse drove primarily for Ferrari and also for Swaters’ Ecurie Nationale Belge and Ecurie Francorchamps teams. He was involved in numerous accidents, perhaps often caused by his ignoring obvious risks. His racing days ended in a Ford GT40 crash at Le Mans in September 1968 when the car’s door blew open on the Mulsanne during the first lap and Mairesse, perhaps trying to close it, lost control and was severely injured. Unable to return to racing, he committed suicide a few months later.

Ricardo Rodriguez was  pushed forward by his father to be a grand prix driver at the then very young age of 19, joining the Scuderia Ferrari in 1961 and qualifying on the front row for the Italian Grand Prix, his first F1 race. He was a regular driver for the Scuderia in 1962 and showed signs of brilliance, but perhaps too much impetuousness. For his home grand prix in Mexico City he borrowed a Lotus 24 from Rob Walker, but lost control during practice at the banked Peraltada turn, hit the guardrails and was fatally injured.

Photo by Peter Coltrin ©The Klemantaski Collection

 

 

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