A Tragic Race

Here is Phil Hill in his Ferrari 156F1 braking for the Parabolica corner at Monza during the Italian Grand Prix on September 10, 1961. Phil Hill and Wolfgang von Trips, both driving for Ferrari, were close for the Championship which either could win. Hill had 29 points and Trips was at 33 before the Monza race which was run on the combined road and banked circuits giving a total lap length of 6.2 miles with an average speed, even for these small 1.5 liter cars, approaching 135 mph.

At the start Trips was on pole by only 1/10th second from Ricardo Rodriguez in his first Grand Prix drive, with their Ferrari teammates Richie Ginther and Phil Hill behind them in the second row and the fifth Ferrari entry of Giancarlo Baghetti, made through Scuderia Sant’Ambroeus, in the third row. As the cars came off the banking to stream past the grandstands at the end of the first lap on the oval, Hill was leading Ginther with Jim Clark’s Lotus 21 right with them, followed by Rodriguez, Jack Brabham’s Cooper 58, Trips and Baghetti – but all in a tight group.

Disaster struck on the next lap of the road course as Trips and Clark touched wheels on the approach to Parabolica, Clark’s Lotus spinning to a stop in the grass while the Trips car shot up the banking and crashed into and along the fence behind which stood a huge crowd of spectators before flipping back down onto the track. Trips was thrown out at the edge of the track and died instantly.

 Von Trips, Monza, Ferrari, klemcoll

This portrait of the well-liked German driver was taken in the paddock at Monza not long before the start. A total of 15 spectators were killed along that fence. A friend of mine was standing with his girlfriend about 50 feet before that spectator area struck by the Trips Ferrari and said it looked like a war zone, while realizing that he had almost been a part of it.

The race continued after the accident to give Phil Hill the win in front of Dan Gurney’s Porsche 718 as the other Ferrari entries all retired. Hill won the Championship and Ferrari won the Constructors Championship as well. Hill’s words in the excellent new book Inside Track indicate what it was like for him. “I’d lived with danger and death for so many years, seen so much – so many that I knew and knew well had died … So I buried the thoughts. And I kept them buried … like so many before.”

Photos by Günther Molter ©The Klemantaski Collection – http://www.klemcoll.com

To see more photos from our archive go to: http://www.klemcoll.com/TheGallery.aspx

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