05 September 2010

LIFE: It's All About the Va Va Varoom

MONZA, Italy – As summer draws to a gentle end lush pink roses nod their heavy heads in the afternoon sun. Leafy trees sway in the gentle breeze cooling those trying to squeeze a few more hours of weekend from the lazy afternoon. It’s Sunday. In the great, green park of Monza the roads are closed to traffic. The only wheels on the hot macadam are foot powered; Dad slowly pedaling down the shady lanes, Mom right behind him, one eye over her shoulder making sure the kiddies are keeping up. They want to enjoy the tranquility while it lasts for the park will soon reverberate with the roar of high powered engines and the running of the Formula 1 Gran Premio San’tander d’Italia 2010.

Sunday in the Park

There is no question that Formula One is the king of motor sports. It's also the richest, most passionate, most complicated, most political, and most international racing championship in the world. And Monza, one of the most historic racing circuits on the Formula One calendar, is the most severe test a Formula 1 engine can encounter.

When the first Italian Grand Prix was held in 1921, but before the race could be run the organizers, the Auto Club of Brescia, had to get permission from the Fascist government. The course ran from the northern Italian town of Brescia down to Rome and back again, over 1,000 miles of Italian roads good, bad and indifferent, through dangerous mountain passes and mucky swamps. It was called the Mille Miglia. The race started in Brescia at 9 PM. The cars were flagged off at one minute intervals with the smaller, slower cars leaving first. Each car was numbered, the numbers representing their starting time.

The Good Ol' Days
The strategy was simple. Drive as fast as you can for as long as you can, for this was a race against the clock. If you were lucky you would finish with the leaders, if you weren’t, you ended up in a ditch somewhere along a winding mountain road. And all along the way, from the industrial towns of the Po Valley to the ancient villages that still cling to the ragged slopes of the Apennine Mountains, people gathered to cheer for their favorites, the roads often so narrow spectators were standing just inches from the speeding cars.

"In my opinion, the Mille Miglia was an epoch-making event…. The Miglia created our cars and the Italian automobile industry. It permitted the birth of GT, or grand touring cars, which are now sold all over the world … and proved that by racing over open roads for 1,000 miles, there were great technical lessons to be learned by the petrol and oil companies and by brake, clutch, transmission, electrical and lighting component manufacturers, fully justifying the old adage that motor racing improves the breed." ...Enzo Ferrari

1933 Mille Miglia
No one remembers the winner of that first race anymore, but just for the curious it was a 1921 OM, built by an Italian company that is no longer in     business. The company may not have survived, but the race made history, and it was the success of that race that spurned the Automobile Club of Milan to build the track at Monza.

The Monza race track first opened on a rainy September day in 1922. But don’t let its age fool you. It’s still one of the fastest tracks in Europe, a track built for speed, with Formula One cars routinely exceeding 360kmh/223 mph. But it isn’t always the speed of the cars that makes the race dangerous. This was especially true during the early years of F1 racing. During the 1958 Grand Prix, Ferrari driver Luigi Musso had to be brought to the first aid station several times during the race. 
He was getting dizzy and sick to his stomach from inhaling the gas fumes coming from his car. Unlike today, where drivers can talk directly to their crews, drivers in the 1950’s had to use hand signals to communicate. A twirling finger meant the driver was about to spin out, a motion like ocean waves signaled that the car wasn’t holding the road, and a thumbs up meant that there was something wrong with the motor. But what the signal was for I’m about to pass out from the fumes, is anyone’s guess.

Ferrari with top drivers Luigi Musso, Eugenio Castelloitti and Peter Collins

Right after World War I, Enzo Ferrari was hired by Isotta-Fraschini to drive their Tipo I 8 liter in-line 4-cylinder race car. Isotta-Fraschini, was one of Italy's first legendary luxury car companies and pioneered innovations like four-wheel brakes that were first used in 1920, and the Single OverHead Cam (SOHC) eight-cylinder engine. All admirable achievements but Ferrari found himself sitting in front of the gas tank, which in turn shared the space with a 40 liter oil tank, which was needed to lubricate the Tipo 4 cylinder engine and rear wheel drive chains. The air pump was located on the left of the passenger seat which provided pressure to keep oil and fuel flowing. A mechanic was always brought along for the ride, for someone had to operate the air pump.

Ferrari’s driving career didn’t last very long; he soon realized he didn’t have the nerve it takes to make a good driver. Nothing to be sad about though. If Ferrari had been a good driver, the Ferrari Scuderia would have never seen the light of day depriving hard core Ferrari fans the bone chilling thrills of watching a sleek red Ferrari win yet another race.

And speaking of Ferrari fans, they'll will be out in force again this year, waving red Ferrari flags with its prancing black stallion, wearing Ferrari tee shirts and caps, and cheering for this year’s Ferrari F1 drivers. And so on this Sunday afternoon, as locals stroll along the shady paths of the park, eating ice cream and enjoying the day, and bikers take pleasure in being the kings of the road, they know that today’s tranquility will soon be only a memory for on September 10th, more than 100,000 hard core Formula One racing fans will take over the park of Monza. After paying up to $3,852 for a three-day pass, you’d better believe will be making a lot of joyful noise as they wait for the starting flag to drop and that first great roar of the engines.

Race Date: 12 Sept. 2010
Number of Laps: 53
Circuit Length: 5.793 km
Race Distance: 306.720 km

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