Teams Antonio 'Toni' Branca
Races: 3By Jeremy McMullen
A racing driver is most likely the riskiest of investments. Motor racing costs a lot of money. Grand prix racing costs more. As in the past, most of today's Formula One pilots come with large amounts of sponsorship money. The drivers come funded either by family money or through corporate sponsorships. As it was in the past, corporate sponsorship is an almost a nationalistic affair; the drivers representing the cream of a nation's crop of drivers. In the case of Antonio Branca, his sponsor, according to legend, was the result of a more personal nature.
Motor racing is filled with legends. Courting disaster at every turn lends to seemingly ordinary men becoming intriguing characters. Antonio Branca's beginnings is the stuff of legend and sparks intrigue, not so much because of what he accomplished on the track, but how he got there.
Antonio was born September 15, 1916 in Sion, Switzerland. Not so much is known about Branca before his Formula One debut in the World Championship's inaugural season and this allows many varied and wild stories to be fashioned and circulated about him. The most widely accepted legend about Antonio's arrival onto the racing scene is not based upon his talents as much as the admiration of a Belgian countess.
Branca didn't really appear on the grand prix scene until 1949, and only then at the Swiss Grand Prix held at Bremgarten. Antonio was only really known within Formula 2, which is where he gained most of his experience.
At the Swiss Grand Prix, Branca arrived with a Maserati 4CL. Considering his inexperience, Branca did rather well in qualifying. Antonio started the race from the 10th starting spot on the grid. Of course it is one thing just to qualify for a race, but finishing when one is rather inexperienced is a real feat. Branca did just that however. Though he did not improve upon his starting spot, Branca finished. Antonio finished the race 14th. This would be the last grand prix Branca would compete in before the inaugural Formula One season the next year.
The kick-off of an official World Championship was not a seemingly big deal to the Swiss driver as he did not make an appearance at the first event, the British Grand Prix, which took place at Silverstone.
As usual Branca didn't stray from his homeland, but waited until Formula One came to him. So Branca was there for the 4th round of the first World Championship, the Swiss Grand Prix held in early June of that year. Antonio entered the race with his private Maserati 4CL (see Maserati 4CL article).
By this time the 4CL was an old car. While the Alfa Romeo 158 was an old chassis it had been consistently updated, whereas the 4CL had been refined and become the 4CLT, then the 4CLT/48 and so on. So the construction and components within the 4CL were a bit past their prime, especially for competing in the World Championship. The age of the chassis showed in qualifying. Of course a large part of Branca's poor qualifying effort rests with his inexperience. Nonetheless, Antonio qualified for the grand prix 17th. This was not last on the grid, but second-to-last. Branca's qualifying effort was some 28 seconds off the pace of polesitter Fangio.
However, in motor racing, it isn't where you start as much as how you finish that's of greater importance. This is especially important for a private entrant.
Despite not having very much grand prix experience, the Swiss driver proved to know the Bremgarten circuit as he was able to steadily make his way to finish the race in 11th, the last running car on the track, some 7 laps behind Farina who won the race. Despite being the last runner on the track, Branca defeated some rather big names including Fangio, Etancelin, Sommer, Villoresi and Ascari.
Two weeks later, Antonio showed up outside of Switzerland for the Belgian Grand Prix held at Spa Francorchamps. Branca once again brought his 4CL for the race. Branca had a less than stellar qualifying effort as he qualified 13th, over one minute slower than the time set by Farina in his Alfa Romeo 158. The only competitor who qualified with a slower time, interestingly enough, was the Belgian Claes.
During the race, Branca didn't prove to be incredibly fast but he was steady and consistent. Antonio finished the race in 10th, the last car running. Branca ended the race six laps behind race winner Fangio.
A month later, Branca proved his abilities at the wheel of a race car. Driving his old Maserati 4CL once again, Branca took part in the non-championship race, the Grand Prix of the Nations held in Geneva, Switzerland at the end of July. 17 seemed to be Branca's favorite number as he again qualified 17th for the race. The race fared far better than the Swiss Grand Prix did however. Man-handling his old 4CL around the track Antonio actually led the race for a period. In the end, Antonio finished the race 10th, some 11 laps behind race winner Juan Manuel Fangio. This was the last grand prix race Branca competed in during the 1950 season.
In the end, besides a few non-championship races, Branca only competed in a total of three Formula One races in his career. After his experiences in Formula One, Branca competed in a couple of 24 Hour of Le Mans races but without any success. In his first attempt, the car could not be readied in time to take the start of the race. In his next attempt, in 1956, the car suffered a failure before Branca even had the opportunity to take the wheel.
As with the legend of how Branca came to be sponsored in grand prix racing, his ability as a driver is as much of an unknown. Antonio proved to be fast and able but did not have a career long enough to reveal his true ability. The brevity of Branca's career, unfortunately, kept the success of the countess's investment as much of a legend as his beginnings.Sources:
Brown, Allen. 'Grand Prix des Nations.' Old Racing Cars. Old Racing Cars. Web. 24 May. 2010.
Wikipedia contributors. 'Toni Branca.' Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 28 Feb. 2010. Web. 24 May. 2010.