10 HOURS NEXT TO STIRLING MOSS | 3
Just beyond the control were a row of pits and there was 723, Castellotti’s Ferrari, having some tyre changes, which was not surprising in view of the way he had been driving. With a scream of “Castellotti!”, Moss accelerated hard round the next corner and we twisted our way through the streets of Ravenna, nearly collecting an archway in the process, and then out on the fast winding road to Forlì. Our time to Ravenna had been well above the old record but Castellotti had got there before us and we had no idea how Taruffi and the others behind us were doing. Now Moss continued the pace with renewed vigour and we went through Forlì, waving to the garage that salvaged the SL we crashed in practice, down the fast winding road to Rimini, with another wave to the Alfa Romeo service station that looked after the SLR that broke its engine. I couldn’t help thinking that we had certainly left our mark round the course during practice.
Ever since leaving the start we had had the rising sun shining in our eyes and, now, with the continual effects of sideways “G” on my body, my poor stomach was beginning to suffer and, together with the heat from the gearbox by my left buttock, the engine fumes, and the nauseating brake-lining smells from the inboard-mounted brakes, it cried “enough” and what little breakfast I had eaten went overboard, together with my spectacles, for I made the fatal mistake of turning my head sideways at 150 mph with my goggles lowered. Fortunately, I had a spare pair, and there was no time to worry about a protesting stomach for we were approaching Pesaro, where there was a sharp right corner.
Now the calm, blue Adriatic sea appeared on our left and we were on the long coastal straights, taking blind brows and equally blind bridges at our full 170 mph, and I chuckled to myself as I realised that Moss was not lifting his foot as he had threatened. We were beginning to pass earlier numbers very frequently now, among them some 2-litre Maseratis being driven terribly slowly, a couple of TR2 Triumphs running in convoy, and various saloons, with still numerous signs of the telling pace, a wrecked Giulietta on the right, a 1,100 cc Fiat on the left, a Ferrari coupé almost battered beyond recognition and a Renault that had been rolled up into a ball. Through Ancona the crowds were beautifully controlled, barriers keeping them back on the pavements and we were able to use the full width of the road everywhere, and up the steep hill leaving the town we stormed past more touring-car competitors who had left in the small hours of the morning while we were still asleep. All this time there had been no signs of any of our close rivals. We had passed the last of the Austin-Healeys, driven by Abecassis, a long way back, and no Ferraris had appeared in our rearview mirror.
It was a long way down the next control point, at Pescara, and we settled down to cruising at our maximum speed, the car giving no impression at all of how fast it was traveling, until we overtook another competitor, who I knew must be doing 110 mph, or when I looked sideways at the trees and hedges flashing past. It was now midmorning and the sun was well above us but still shining down onto our faces and making the cockpit exceedingly hot, in spite of having all the air vents fully open. Through the dusty, dirty Adriatic villages we went and all the time I gave Moss the invaluable hand signals that were taking from him the mental strain of trying to remember the route, though he still will not admit to how much mental strain he suffered convincing himself that I was not making any mistakes in my 170 mph navigation.
On one straight, lined with trees, we had marked down a hump in the road as being ‘flat-out’ only if the road was dry. It was, so I gave the appropriate signal and with 7,500 rpm in fifth gear on the tachometer we took off, for we had made an error in our estimation of the severity of the hump. For a measurable amount of time the vibro-massage that you get sitting in a 300SLR at that speed suddenly ceased, and there was time for us to look at each other with raised eyebrows before we landed again. Even had we been in the air for only one second we should have travelled some 200 feet through the air, and I estimated the ‘duration of flight’ at something more than one second. The road was dead straight and the Mercedes-Benz made a perfect four-point landing and I thankfully praised the driver that he didn’t move the steering wheel a fraction of an inch, for that would have been our end.
With the heat of the sun and the long straights we had been getting into a complacent stupor, but this little ‘movement’ brought us back to reality and we were fully on the job when we approached Pescara. Over the level crossing we went, far faster than we had ever done in practice, and the car skated right across the road, with all four wheels sliding, and I was sure we were going to write-off some petrol pumps by the roadside, but somehow ‘the boy’ got control again and we merely brushed some straw bales and then braked heavily to a stop for the second control stamp. Approaching this point I not only held the route-card for the driver to see, but also pointed to the fuel filler, for here we were due to make our first refuelling. However, I was too late, Moss was already pointing backwards to the tank himself to tell me the same thing.
Just beyond the control line we saw engineer Werner holding a blue flag bearing the Mercedes-Benz star and as we stopped, everything happened at once. Some 18 gallons of fuel went in from a gravity tank, just sufficient to get us to our main stop at Rome, the windscreen was cleaned for it was thick with dead flies, a hand gave me a slice of orange and a peeled banana, while another hand was holding a small sheet of paper, someone else was looking at the tyres and Moss still had the engine running. On the paper was written “Taruffi, Moss 15 seconds, Herrmann, Kling, Fangio,” and their times; I had just yelled “second, 15 seconds behind Taruffi” when I saw an uniformed arm trying to switch off the ignition. I recognized an interfering police arm and gave it a thump, and as I did so, Moss crunched the bottom gear and we accelerated away as hard as we could go. What had seemed like an age was actually only 28 seconds!
Over the bridge we went, sharp right and then up one of the side turnings of Pescara towards the station, where we were to turn right again. There was a blue Gordini just going round the corner and then I saw that we were overshooting and with locked wheels we slid straight on, bang into the straw bales. I just had time to hope there was nothing solid behind the wall of bales when the air was full of flying straw and we were on the pavement. Moss quickly selected bottom gear and without stopping he drove along the pavement behind the bales, until he could bounce down off the kerb and continue on his way, passing the Gordini in the process. As we went up through the gears on the long straight out of Pescara, I kept an eye on the water temperature gauge, for that clonk certainly creased the front of the car, and may have damaged the radiator or filled the intake with straw, but all seemed well, the temperature was still remaining constant.
There followed three completely blind brows in quick succession and we took these at full speed, the effect being rather like a switchback at a fair, and then we wound and twisted our way along the barren valley between the rocky mountain sides, to Popoli, where a Bailey Bridge still serves to cross a river. Along this valley I saw the strange sight of about 50 robed monks, with shining bald pates, standing on a high mound and waving us as we went by with a noise sufficient to wake the devil himself. Up into the mountains we climbed, sliding round the hairpins with that beautiful Moss technique I described two months ago in MOTOR SPORT, and then along the peculiar deserted plateau high up in the mountains we held our maximum speed for many kilometres, to be followed by a winding twisting road into Aquila, where up the main street the control was dealt with while still on the move. We certainly were not wasting any seconds anywhere and Moss was driving absolutely magnificently, right on the limit of adhesion all the time, and more often than not over the limit, driving in that awe-inspiring narrow margin that you enter just before you have a crash if you have not the Moss skill, or those few yards of momentary terror you have on ice just before you go in the ditch. This masterly handling was no fluke, he was doing it deliberately, his extra special senses and reflexes allowing him to go that much closer to the absolute limit than the average racing driver and way beyond the possibilities of normal mortals like you or me.
On the way to Rome we hit a level crossing that had been just ‘bumpy’ in the SL and smooth in the 220A; the resultant thud threw us high out of our seats into the airstream, and with a crash we landed back again, nearly breaking our spines but the Mercedes-Benz suspension absorbed it all without protest and there was no feeling that anything had ‘bottomed’ unduly severely. This sort of thing had happened three or four times already, for our route-noting was not infallible, and it all seemed unbelievable that nothing broke on the car each time. Although we occasionally saw a train steaming along in the distance we never came across any closed level crossing, though if we had, we had a remedy. In practice we had tried lifting the barrier, Italian gates being two long poles that lower across the road, and found that the slack on the operating cables was just sufficient to allow the car to be driven under the pole, much to the annoyance of the crossing-keeper. However, this did not arise and down into the Rome control we had a pretty clean run, being highly delighted to overtake Maglioli soon after Rieti, he suffering from an arm injury received in practice, and a car that was not going well. With a grin at each other we realised that one of our unseen rivals was now disposed of, but we still had Taruffi behind us on the road, and no doubt well ahead of us on time, for all this ground was local colour to him. Coming down off he mountains we had overtaken Musso driving a 2-litre Maserati and as we had calculated that we were unlikely ever to catch him, if we averaged 90 mph for the whole race, we realised we must be setting a fantastic record speed, but as Taruffi had been leading at Pescara, his average must be even higher.
The last six miles into the Rome control were an absolute nightmare; there were no corners that needed signals, and we would normally have done 150-160 mph, but the crowds of spectators were so thick that we just could not see the road and the surface being bumpy Moss dared not drive much over 130 mph for there was barely room for two cars abreast. It seemed that the whole of Rome was out to watch the race, and all obvious of the danger of a high-speed racing car. While I blew the horn and flashed the lights Moss swerved the car from side to side and this had the effect of making those on the very edge leap hastily backwards, thus giving us a little more room. The last mile into the control was better organised and I was able to show Moss the control card, point backwards at the fuel tank and also at the fibre disc wired to the steering column which had to be punched at this control. ‘Bang’ went the stamp and we then drew into the Mercedes-Benz pit and switched off the engine; this was our first real stop since leaving Brescia nearly 3,5 hours ago, and our average speed to this point was 107 mph, the average to Pescara having been 118 mph, the mountain section causing it to drop from there to Rome.
As we stopped Moss leapt out to relieve himself, I felt the car rise up on the jacks and heard the rear hub nuts being beaten off, the windscreen was cleaned and a welcome shower of water sprinkled over me, for I was very hot, very tired, very dirty and oily and sweaty and must have looked a horrible sight to spectators. The fuel tank was being filled, someone handed me a drink of mineral water and an orange, and offered a tray of sandwiched and cakes, but I felt incapable of eating anything firmer than a slice of orange. A hand appeared in front of me holding a sheet of paper and I snatched it and read “Moss, Taruffi, Herrmann, Kling, Fangio” and the times showed we had a lead of nearly two minutes. Bump went the car as it was dropped down of the jacks, and with a lithe bound Moss was into the driving seat again and as we took the hairpin after the control I managed to yell in his ear “First by more than one minute from Taruffi” and then the noise of the exhaust and wind prevented any further words.
On the next bend we saw a silver Mercedes-Benz, number 701, well of the road among the trees and badly wrecked. We knew it was Kling and exchanged long faces with each other, wondering how badly hurt he was, but this road had no effect on Moss and he now began to put everything he knew into his driving, on this most difficult section, while I had to concentrate hard in order to give him warnings and hand signals of the approaching road conditions, for this was indeed a difficult section for both of us. Past Monterosi we waved to the ‘Agip’ service station, where we had a sheep-killing incident in practice, and then we sped on our way through Viterbo, sliding this way and that, leaving the ground on more occasions that I can remember, yet all the while feeling completely at ease, for such is the confidence that Moss gave me, and round the corners I never ceased to marvel at the superb judgement with which he weighed up the maximum possible speed at which he could go, and just how far he could let the car slide without going into the ditch or hitting a wall or rock face. Now there was the continual hazard of passing slower cars, through it must be recorded that most of them gave way splendidly, keeping one eye on the mirror.
Just after Acquapendente I made my first and only mistake in navigating, that it was not serious is why you are reading these words now; having just given warning to a very dodgy right-hand bend I received a shower of petrol down my neck and looking round to see what happened we arrived at another similar corner, and I missed the signal. Fortunately Moss had recognised the corner, for he knew many parts of the course extremely well, and after seeing that the petrol was coming from the filler due to surge, I looked back to see an irate Moss face saying very rude things at me and shaking his fist, all the while concerning at a fantastic speed. How serious the fuel surge was I did not know, and as the exhaust pipes were on the side of the car I decided it would be all right and said nothing to Moss, as he appeared not to have received any of the spray. For the next 10 or 15 miles I received this gentle spray of cold fuel, cooling in the enormous heat of the cockpit, but a little worrying in case it got worse. Up the Radicofani Pass we stormed and the way the car leapt and slithered about would have really frightened me had I not already had a lot of experience of its capabilities and of the skill of Stirling Moss; as it was I sat there and revelled in the glorious feeling of really fast motoring. Over the top of the pass we swept past a saloon car competitor, into a downhill right-hand bend followed by a sharp left-hander. Now, previous to this Moss had been pointing to the front of the car and indicating that a brake was beginning to grab on occasion, and this was one of them. Without any warning the car spun…
To be continued.
Written by Dennis Jenkinson in MOTOR SPORT