Before Formula One, the “Targa Florio” became the very first sports car race that ever takes place in the world. The event that started in 1906 became a benchmark for car race enthusiasts. It is also famous around the world for its risky combination of high-powered thrills and picturesque rustic locations. While the event is no longer held like it used to, most Sicilians still hold a special place for it in their hearts.
Developed by Count Vincenzo Florio, together with Tour De France leader Henri Desgrange, its main objective was to combine serious motor racing with idyllic surroundings. Petrolicious illustrated Targa Florio as an event composed of powerful cars, risky curves, difficult ascents, skilled racers and business magnates, and intense energy.
From 1906 to 1977, the early car racers revved up their engines at the Madonie mountain range of Sicily. The 72-kilometer route includes plenty of tight corners and provided little protection for all the enthusiastic spectators. According to reports, hale bales served as makeshift guard rails, alongside several stone walls and other types of well-built private property.
Regarding the prize, Ferrari Magazine revealed that the winner of the race would get 50,000 lire and an art-nouveau number plate made by French designer Rene Lalique.
Each time the Targa Florio takes place, the villages in Sicily celebrate it like a national holiday. They used it as their time to relax and watch the racers pass by. The race spanned a single lap, but the racers needed to complete 60 laps before heading to the riskier terrain. Unlike today’s race car drivers who have the luxury of using tracks for practice, the Targa Florio racers need to be extra careful when swerving to prevent unfortunate accidents from happening, like bumping into passing humans and farm animals.
Since this event took place on the island’s major roads, it has become an integral part of the Sicilian society. Most locals were glad to see the cars passing by their houses. Meanwhile, the competitors from different areas worldwide were also delighted to see the locals and the magnificent island. In one interview over the radio, timekeeper Gilbert Morley claimed that the event felt like racing inside extremely beautiful artwork.
The website Messy Nessy Chic also said that the race has an exceptional combination of the distinct smell of petrol and the local Sicilian flavors. The site also mentioned that it is very likely to see a race car driver get invited by a local family to get inside the house to try out their version of spaghetti if the car broke down in the middle of the road.
Italian race car driver Alessandro Cagno became the first champion of the Targa Florio. According to historical accounts, Cagno was very suitable for navigating the small Sicilian roads and trails’ tight tangles. He was also very lucky to have avoided a donkey that opted to wander off on the circuit.
Other notable car race figures who graced the event include Enzo Ferrari, Ferdinand Porsche, and Nino Vaccarella. The event was discontinued in 1973 after driver Gabriel Ciuti accidentally crashed into some audience.