Giro di Sicilia and Targa Florio

Peter Mann and I (Graham Burrows) arrived at Palermo airport and took a taxi for the 45 min drive to the hotel Torre Normana from where the event would start.  We were charged €160 – welcome to Sicily!  We arrived just as dinner (and the food) was finishing. Next morning we found the Alfa, unloaded from the transporter, and it started immediately.  We were spotted as TOPS members by our shirts and invited to join Jackie and Roger Dixon who were old friends of the Pilks and photographers for the event.
After being issued with documents, stickers, numbers and the all important tulip route book, we departed for the start of the rally at Cerda on the old circuit at Floriopoli.
We had decided to be non-competitive, relaxed, beer and wine drinking participants, partly due to the fact that our speedo was reading + 75% and was in miles. The route book was in km but easy to follow.  Before lunch we were to do 2 laps of the Piccolo Circuito Madonie, on winding mountain roads, the scenery the lush and green of early June and stunningly beautiful.  Towards the end of the first circuit, we came to a congested town with a few competitors’ cars parked in front of an inviting looking bar.  We spotted another Alfa, the 6c 2500 Spider (1947) of Nick Eden and Clive Robertson (sporting a TOPS badge), so we joined them.  The beer was good and we were hot so decided to linger for a few more beers and miss the 2nd lap, heading straight to the lunch back at Torre Normana.

Our instructions warned that the road was in parts ‘deranged’ or ‘strada dissestata’; by the end of the 70.7 kms with 760 corners, so were we! (Nick Eden and Clive Robertson).

Atmospheric, gruelling and dangerous – in all good fun.  The people in the towns showed their approval as we blasted our way through Cerda, Collesano and Campofelice di Roccella.  The circuit was open to traffic and by the 3rd corner we had come across a GT40 which had been smashed by a vehicle coming the other way on a blind bend.
At 4 pm we were to drive into the centre of Palermo (under police escort) to display the cars in Piazza Verdi.  The escort was totally ineffective in the rush hour Palermo traffic and we were soon on our own crawling at 5 mph, stop-start.  Not what the 8c liked at all.  About ¼ mile from the square we stalled the engine and the starter motor jammed.  We parked and waited for help from the organisers – which did not come.  After 1½ hours we eventually re-started, decided to miss the display, supper and the night start and head off to the other side of the island for our next hotel just outside Sciacca.  As we had never driven the Monza in the dark and were unsure if we were gong to have further problems, we were happier to do the drive in daylight.

After the Targa Florio circuit we did a night stage across the mountains on largely deserted roads, to be greeted in hilltop towns by locals with all types of gifts, the most enterprising of which were dark plastic water bottles, complete with labels but containing much appreciated vino.  We arrived around midnight at the hotel, very hot, dirty and tired and recovered over a cold beer with Graham and Peter.

Next day it was raining, the 2nd stage was along coastal roads to the beautiful winery at Speulinga (Fegatto).  At 11 am we spotted a likely pub. As if by magic the other TOPS crew, Nick and Clive, found us.  Soon the road was jammed with hot thirsty occupants of competing cars.  Unfortunately my non-existent Italian did not enable me to negotiate a % on all the business we were the catalyst for.  Had a superb lunch at the old winery which is now owned by a charming family who are renovating the premises and keeping the original wine making equipment.  I had had spinal surgery just 6 weeks before the trip and found the old car a bit tiring on the back, so I suggested swapping places with Jackie Dixon and I went with Roger in the modern to our hotel Kastalia at Kamarina.  It was horrendous and had no hot water.  The place was a sports centre for youngsters and about 2000 of them were milling around the reception area until 2 am.  We had dinner in an old church converted into a banqueting hall.  During prize-giving everyone was given a bollocking for not respecting the morning start times and told to be ready on the dot of 8 am the next morning for the 3rd stage to the Siracusa circuit via Ragusa.  We had a fantastic, fast 143 km drive to Siracusa on excellent roads.  We stopped for the usual elevenses, and within minutes were found by the other TOPS team and another 6 crews – more commission missed.  Lunch at the circuit followed by lots of track time.  What a fantastic circuit, very fast, flowing and no really tight corners. 
A long left hander at the end of quite a long main straight, followed by flicking left then right and another left hander (yes, it was an anticlockwise track), then flat out through two short curves to another sweeping left hander into the longest straight before 90º left then 90º right to start all over again.  The 6C read just under 225 kph (135 mph)!  Thank goodness it was dry – a perfect day - it rained later!
I pulled out of the pits behind a Ford GT40 which held me up through every corner – she certainly is quick.  The GT40 driver came over to me afterwards amazed at the cornering speed of the Alfa.  Alas by the time Peter was taxiing an excited Jackie around, the car had developed a misfire.  Removing the plugs, cleaning the soot off them etc. only cured it for a couple of laps. Our next hotel Paveo degli Aragonesi at Catania was fabulous after the privations of the night before - copious quantities of champagne and a magnificent banquet in the evening.
The next day was the big mileage day.  400 km including the volcano of Mount Etna.  Etna was most impressive and the road up was very good but obviously tortuous.  I was amazed at the millions of tons of lava left by the last eruption, still devoid of vegetation.  Another mid-morning TOPS rendezvous followed by an excellent lunch at Falcone and the long drive back to Torre Normana with Jackie still in the Alfa.  

The following morning (the last day of the event) was very relaxed.  This time the police escort got it right and made sure all the competitors started together in a long ‘snake’ to drive 35 km through Palermo to the magnificent Monte Pellegrino hillclimb.  What a fantastic hill, about 10 kms of hairpins.  We were supposed to take 14 mins.  I had the Alfa all wound up for an impressive wheel-spinning start but popped and banged off the line at about 5 mph.  This continued for 2 km, when Peter realised that we had released the fuel filler cap to releave the tank pressure (we had a small leak).  After he clicked it shut and pumped up the pressure we were ok.  I’ve never had so much fun with my clothes on and we arrived at the top in about 6 mins.  We then drove up to the magnificent Castle Utueggio, which is on the highest point above Palermo with stunning views in all directions.  We had a fabulous lunch in the Castle and then the rain came down again so I gallantly offered my seat in the Alfa to Jackie who once again accepted – rain or no rain.  Prize-giving scheduled for 6.30 pm began at 8.30 pm.

On the whole it was an enjoyable and well run event.  The food was good and with one exception the hotels were fine.  The downside was the amount of motoring which we had to do in heavy traffic which is not ideal for the older cars.  If the escorting had been as good all through the event as it was on the lat day, things would have been much better.
We did Corsica in October; a very good fast jolly.  Sicily was great for food and scenery, but suffered from thick traffic and poor weather.  A pity, but nothing ventured ……  In all, we travelled 1,060 kms in five days, lapped the Targa Florio, the Autodromo di Siracusa and completed the Giro di Sicilia which was first lapped in 1912;  and we all came home in one piece.

G.B and N.E.

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