Teams1953 Spa 24 Hours: A Methodical Operation By Jeremy McMullen
Right from the very beginning of his racing career, Giuseppe Farina would enjoy considerable success in endurance sports car races but would never manage to come through on the top step of the podium. Though the 1950 Formula One World Champion, Farina would play the role of bridesmaid a number of times, that is, until July 26th, 1953.
One of Farina's early races would be the Coppa Principessa di Piemonte held in October of 1933. In that event, Giuseppe would co-drive with Domenico Jovanella and would come away with a 3rd place result driving an Alfa Romeo 8C. One year later, Farina would earn another well-deserved 3rd place result in the Giro d'Italia driving a Lancia Astura.
The couple of 3rd place finishes would be followed up by an improvement in 1936. At the Mille Miglia is April of that year, Farina would partner with Stefano Meazza driving an Alfa Romeo 8C. In that race, the two Italians would come away with a 2nd place result following along behind Scuderia Ferrari drivers Antonio Brivio and Carlo Ongaro.
All throughout the later-part of the 1930s Farina would take part in a number of endurance sportscar races. While he would remain competitive in just about every event he entered the best he would manage to do over the period of those few years would be 2nd place.
An easily recognizable name in the world of grand prix racing, Farina would be less well known in the world of sportscar racing for the simple fact that he would not be as successful. It wasn't as though the Italian lacked the talent. What actually was lacking though was a patience and a endurance rarely needed in grand prix racing.
Farina would end the 1930s with more than one victory in grand prix racing, but would be winless in sportscars. An explanation for this would be simple: just watching Farina on the track would provide the answer. Hard-charging and brutal, with both fellow competitors and his own cars, it would often be a miracle if Farina's cars made it through an endurance contest.
Enter World War II. Just when Farina was reaching the zenith of his talents as a racing driver, the Second World War would break out with the invasion of Poland by Germany. Just like that, motor racing, and Dr. Farina's racing career would come to a pause. However, just before the pause, Farina would take part in the final Mille Miglia. In that race, Farina would partner with Paride Mambelli to finish 1st in class, but again would suffer another runner-up finish.
It would be a long five years. Five more years taken away from Farina's racing career. And when the world finally emerged from the war, Farina was already pushing 40 years of age. But like many of the pre-war champions, Farina would have another go at things. Starting out in grand prix, he would be almost immediately successful scoring victory in the 1946 Grand Prix des Nations.
Always more interested in grand prix racing than in sportscars, Farina would not take part in his first endurance sportscar race until the following year, 1947. In all actuality, he would only manage to take part in practice as he would suffer another terrible accident that would ruin any opportunity of taking part in the race. This would take place Piacenza on the 11th of May.
Well acquainted with crashes, Farina would always fight through the pain and the bruises to keep racing. And now, at the age of 41, Farina would be pushing himself all the more as he would be facing competition slightly younger than he. Fiercely competitive, this meant Farina would become all the more ruthless on the circuit and with his own body. Nonetheless, the accident at Piacenza would be the last attempt Farina would make at a sportscar race for a couple of years.
By the end of the 1940s, Farina was firmly back to focusing on grand prix racing. Signing with Alfa Romeo for the 1950 season, he would put aside any thoughts of sportscar racing and would solely focus on the brand new Formula One World Championship set to kick-off that year.
Teamed with the talented Juan Manuel Fangio, Giuseppe would give everything he had to come away with the inaugural World Championship. Providence would see fit to give him that honor at the very last race of the season.
Over the course of the period in which he drove with Alfa Romeo, Farina would not take part in any sportscar event. The closest he would come would happen at Goodwood in September of 1951. On that day he would enter his Alfa Romeo 159 in a Formula Libre race that was open to both grand prix and sports cars. At the wheel of the 159, Farina would take the checkered flag and the victory, and therefore, would earn, technically, his first sportscar victory.
Changes would shake things up for Farina. Alfa Romeo's pull out from the World Championship meant the inaugural World Champion would be left without a ride. But despite being 45 years of age, Farina would sign with Scuderia Ferrari for the upcoming season.
The move to Ferrari meant Farina had the opportunity to focus on both grand prix and sportscar racing once again as Ferrari were producing highly-competitive cars for both series. Still, Farina was much more of a grand prix driver, and therefore, would only even enter a handful of the sportscar races.
For the first time ever in his long career, Farina would be listed as a driver for the 24 Hours of Le Mans. He and Piero Taruffi were to partner together in the 1952 edition of the French classic. However, neither the car nor the drivers would arrive in Le Mans for the race.
The following event in which Farina would be listed, the Carrera Panamericana, was to see the Italian co-driving with American driver Bill Spear in a Ferrari 340 Mexico Spyder. Driving for the small privateer team Scuderia Guastella, the car would practice, but it would not start the race. And so, out of the two sportscar races in which Farina would be entered, the car would merely take part in practice in just one event and nothing more.
After a dominant 1952 season in which Alberto Ascari would score six-straight victories and would take the World Championship title by a comfortable margin over Farina, it would begin to become clear to Farina that he was no longer the fastest driver out on the circuit. When Farina had arrived at Ferrari he had come in thinking he was still the number one driver despite being closer to 50 than 40. Still under that allusion, Farina's '52 campaign would be a difficult time as he would be thoroughly dominated by Ascari. And after numerous blow-ups with Enzo Ferrari, it was becoming all-too clear Farina was struggling with his role with the team and the opportunities presented him. This would begin to change heading in 1953.
The shift in thinking in Farina's mind would begin, albeit rather slowly, early on in the 1953 season. For the first time since 1940, when he scored a class victory and a 2nd place overall result, Farina would be entered in the Mille Miglia.
Driving a Ferrari 340MM Touring Spyder along with Luigi Parenti, Farina would enter the thousand mile event as part of the Ferrari SpA team. Held on the 26th of April, the event would get underway in dry conditions and with some 490 cars ready to start the arduous event.
Despite driving one of the favored types of cars in the race, a most usual occurrence would take place. During the race, a mistake would be made and the car would suffer an accident that would lead to Farina's Mille Miglia coming to an unfortunate end.
A couple of months later, Farina would finally make his appearance at Le Mans to take part in the famous 24 hour race. Coming into the race, the elder and the youngster would be partnered together. Driving a Ferrari 340MM designed by the very firm in which he was related, Farina would co-drive alongside his young Ferrari teammate Mike Hawthorn.
The pairing would look strong as Farina switched his focus from hard-charging tactics to using his vast years of experience to his advantage. During the race it seemed to be working. The pair were running well when, all of a sudden, they would find themselves disqualified and out of the race entirely. Some controversy over refueling and the type of fuel used would lead to the car being disqualified. And so, Farina, yet again, would find himself coming up short in an endurance sportscar race.
At the end of June, Farina would take part in the Grand Prix of Monza sportscar race. The event would include a couple of heat races and aggregate scoring. The year before, this same race would be one Farina would come through to win despite being over-matched by Ascari.
In that race in 1952, Ascari would be well ahead of the field when it came to out-right speed. However, in the second heat he would also out-run reliability. Farina, running a much more conservative race, would be handed the lead and the victory.
In spite of the mature and mistake-free performance to win the race, Farina would still be the hard-charger that would stress his equipment to its breaking-point. One year later, Farina would recognize he wasn't the fast and there was a noted shift in his approach. And so, when he finished the Grand Prix of Monza in 3rd place overall it was a sign of his willingness to go for results instead of all or nothing. This strategy would work perfectly one month later.
At the end of July, Scuderia Ferrari would arrive at the Spa-Francorchamps circuit, located in the heart of the Ardennes forest, for the Spa 24 Hours race. Being one of the oldest endurance races in the world, the Spa 24 Hours would draw a number of top-flight teams, cars and drivers and the 1953 edition of the race would be no different.
Besides Scuderia Ferrari, S.P.A. Alfa Romeo would dispatch a couple of their 6Cs to take part in the race. There would be more than a handful of Jaguar C-Types entered in the race by numerous privateer teams. The entry list would also include a number of Panhards, D.B. HBRs and Peugeots. And, of course, with the German border not far away, there would be a good number of Porsches populating the field.
As with the 24 Hours of Le Mans, age and experience would be partnered with youth and speed. And so, Giuseppe Farina would find himself partnering with Mike Hawthorn in the very same car in which they would be disqualified at Le Mans a month earlier.
The similarities between the two 24 hour venues would be numerous. Spa would host its first 24 hour race just one year after Le Mans. Both would take place on ultra-fast circuits that would test a car's performance and reliability. And, both had the unique ability of fostering up some truly unpredictable weather. Of course, being located in the Ardennes, the Spa circuit certainly had more of a reputation for unpredictability. The final similarity would be in the length of the circuits. Le Mans measured around 8.4 miles while Spa measured 8.77 miles.
Two 24 hour races in two months would not be an easy maneuver. But, Spa was one of the favorite circuits for drivers and teams, and therefore, would be a popular event that was not to be missed by the top teams and drivers.
Hawthorn impressed Enzo Ferrari with his mature performances and out-right speed in his rookie season in the World Championship in 1952. Therefore, the British driver would be offered a contract to drive for Ferrari for the 1953 season. This would prove to be the signing Farina would need as he would be able to partner his experience with the raw speed of Hawthorn. And, during practice, this speed would come in handy as the pairing of Farina and Hawthorn would end up taking the pole for the race.
The two men had proven they had the speed. Now they would need to partner that speed with endurance and reliability. If it could be done, and they didn't get disqualified, then they would be in a good position to challenge for the victory come the following day, the 26th of July.
The day of the start of the race would be warm and dry, but that would mean very little as the cars and drivers prepared for the start of the race at 4pm. And as the field took off on the start of the long 24 hour race, it wouldn't be long before the circuit itself would prove to be the greater threat, and even to the best teams and drivers in the field.
A number of privateer entries would fall out of contention early on, but then, some of the bigger privateer teams and factory efforts began to run into trouble. Roger Laurent and Jacques Swaters would retire with a blown engine, Juan Manuel Fangio and Consalvo Sanesi would be out of the running in their Alfa Romeo 6C as a result of an accident and Umberto Maglioli and Piero Carini would also be among those that would be casualties. But it would not get an easier for the top teams and drivers as even the pairing of Alberto Ascari and Luigi Villoresi would retire from the race due to clutch failure.
Really, the only major factory car that would remain in the hunt throughout the whole of the 24 hour race would be Ferrari with the car driven by Farina and Hawthorn. Those two would remain up at the front of the field from the very beginning and would remain strong throughout the whole of the race, even when rain came and visited later on in the event.
It would be a dominant performance by the two Ferrari drivers and would be a testament to the change that had happened with Farina. The two men would be fast, and consistent, from beginning to end. And in the end, the only thing that would possible touch them would be attrition for there wasn't another car on the circuit capable of catching the two.
The inaugural Formula One World Champion, and the World Champion to be, would forge an incredible path. And after 24 hours of powering their way around the Spa circuit, the two men would come home to victory with a margin of victory more appropriately measured in hours than in minutes or laps. In the end, Farina and Hawthorn would come home to finish 1st by a margin of 18 laps, or, what amounted to about an advantage of close to 90 minutes over Ecurie Ecosse's Jaguar C-Type driven by James Scott-Douglas and Guy Gale. Third place would end up going to Herman Roosdorp and Toni Ulmen, also driving a Jaguar C-Type.
The victory would be one incredibly dominant performance by Hawthorn and Farina. But for Farina, the victory would be very telling. Not only had he finally reached the pinnacle in a sportscar race, but he had done so in the ultimate form overcoming a 24 hour race filled with attrition and concerns about reliability. He had proven his shift in mentality. No longer would he beat a car expecting everything out of it and caring not whether or not if it made it to the end. The fact he came out on top in a 24 hour race was proof that he was now using his vast intelligence and experience to win a race for him. And therefore, the victory in the Spa 24 Hours would be a great testament to the man and his ability to change. Not surprisingly, it would also come just before his final victory in World Championship grand prix racing.
For the majority of his career, Farina had been known as a brutal driver. And because he could not, or would not, add patience and intelligence to the equation, he would often come up just short. But on the 25th and 26th of July, in 1953, Farina would come to understand. He would finally add to the brawn the brain and would emerge to take his place as the bride. And many of those he had played to bridesmaid to…well, it was their turn to catch the bouquet.