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Editor: Jaap Horst

Volume 27, Issue 2

The 1922 Monza GP and the Bugatti thriller

“To define the day and the race of the Italian Grand Prix in a concise but summarizing expression as I would like, I feel extremely annoyed… Discordant impressions of enthusiasm and discontent collide within me, almost of irritation… On the one hand there is something so big, so majestic, so unheard of that it could only be manifested in hyperbolic terms... on the other hand, there are shadows, shortcomings, ambiguous and painful facts that allow us to glimpse a bewilderment, a hitch, in short, a disturbing cause to be eliminated" . (Mario Morasso, automobile journalist, 1922)

The christening of the new Monza motor racing circuit on Sunday 10 September 1922 was perfect. Everything worked out splendidly, beyond all wildest expectations: Fiat won with overwhelming evidence, there was a huge crowd of visitors (one hundred thousand people, ten thousand cars), not a hitch, not a traffic jam, not an accident.

And yet…something didn't work.
Let's start by saying that of the thirty-eight participants, some had already begun to question their participation at the beginning of July; desertions began after the French Grand Prix held in Strasbourg on the 15th. As of September 9, the day before the race, there were thirteen competitors left. On the morning of the race, eight, but immediately reduced to five because one didn't start and the two Germans from Heim were as if they weren't there. Two Fiats, two Diattos, one Bugatti remained. However, the latter was entered against the express will of the manufacturer and with wheels and tires generously loaned by Fiat.

The Fiat 804

At this point the race had practically no longer made sense, the superiority of the latter was so obvious. “It is proclaimed at breakneck speed that our circuits, our facilities for the Grand Prix, our racing organization are superlative, incomparable, never seen before, and then in practice while the competitors do not hesitate to intervene in Indianapolis, Strasbourg, at the Targa Florio they become stubbornly recalcitrant to keep faith with their registrations, to come to Italy; and the organizers are forced to take all sorts of acts, to go to the most improbable extremes to lead someone to leave" - wrote the next day's press desolately. One reason was certainly the excessive proximity to the more famous French Grand Prix; certainly the defection of thirty out of thirty-eight competitors had emptied the race of any meaning, reducing it to a match between Nazzaro and Bordino (the latter won), the top Fiat drivers, who being team mates avoided battling it out. Indeed, it seemed to the spectators that the human factor, this time, had counted for very little; that it was above all the car, the formidable 804, that won, rather than the driver, and this too can help to remove bite and suspense from a race.

de Vizcaya in his Bugatti Type 30, chassis 4003

There was also a little detective story about Bugatti's participation.
At eight in the morning an official communication announced his withdrawal from the race "due to recognized inferiority in front of the Italian cars". Not even ten minutes later, a second communication warned of the half-hour delayed start, to give time to a Bugatti, driven by De Vizcaya, to mount the wheels borrowed from a competitor and appear on the grid. Was it then a question of a private participation (which the regulation excluded)? From the Stewards' report: "The competitor Bugatti having requested a half hour delay in the start to present himself, the Stewards, with the unanimous consent of the aforementioned competitors, granted the half hour delay request". The day following the race, however, Bugatti also issued an official communication, in which he said he had been forced to race against his will by some people, unknown to him (therefore unrelated to the organization of the race!), who had gone to him at seven in the morning, undertaking to delay the departure by half an hour and to have him hand over four wheels complete with tires from Fiat. But since when does a competitor give part of his material to an opponent, to put him in a position to compete? Who were these people, and with what authority did they intervene on manufacturers and pilots? And what was the significance, in this story, of a fact that the Sports Commission considered negligible but which instead, in the light of these facts, has a different importance?

We are talking about the third driver of the Fiat team, Giaccone, who failed to start. The CSAI report said: “…who (list of competitors) all started except for no. 29 Fiat, Giaccone, left at the finish line due to vehicle breakdown". A strange failure, in truth, never plausibly explained. The car didn't give a jolt, a flame, nothing at all: it didn't move, at the start, and the driver and mechanic immediately got out, already convinced that there was nothing they could do. And immediately it was decided to deliver the five tires of Giaccone's car to Bugatti of Vizcaya, as a reserve train. And we come to the finish line. The CSAI report reads: “After the arrival of the two Fiats, with the Bugatti still on the track, the crowd overflowed the barriers, blocking the track at the western ends of the Curva Sud. they then considered it dangerous for the competitors and for the public to let the race continue and making use of the provisions of art. 5... they stopped the race before the maximum time set for an hour and a half after the finish of the first one. No complaint having been presented... the classification is established as follows: 1. N. 18 Fiat, Bordino, km 800 in 5 hours 43'13", average km 139.848; 2 No. 5 Fiat, Nazzaro, 800 km in 5.51'35 hours, average 136.525 km; 3. No. 16 Bugatti, De Viscaya, 760 km in 6.1'43" hours at an average of 126.064 km".

In reality, the Bugatti should have been excluded from the standings, precisely because it had four laps to go to the end of the race. Behavior like that of the marshals would have been impeccable if the maximum time had coincided with that of the winner. If the race ends when someone reaches the finish line first, it is fair that all other competitors are ranked according to their position at that time. But for a regulation that provides for a maximum time, a legacy of degraded starts, everyone must cover the same number of laps, in this case eighty. Anyone who doesn't do this deserves disqualification. So there are already three irregularities. Negotiations carried out and pressure exerted on competitors by people outside the organization of the race before the race itself. Delay in the start of half an hour and forced departure of a competitor against the express will of the manufacturer, failure to start of another competitor for unclear reasons. Invasion of the track by the public, arrest of the race and of the competitors still in the race, who however are equally contemplated in the classification. But that's still not enough. A few days after the race, the French house Ballot issued a disconcerting press release, which said: "We are keen to protest against what our Italian friends have wanted to present as a desertion ... there is no need to speak of a forfait on our part for the good reason that we have never sent any entry or even made any verbal promises for the race in question. On the contrary, since the beginning of the year, the organizers were warned of our non-participation and all the maneuvers and all the most attractive offers ... have never managed to make us change our decision. We had refrained from protesting against this official registration out of consideration for an Italian leading personality who had kindly asked us not to disavow him. But after the events at Monza we don't think we are obliged to remain silent any longer..." So, on the one hand the organizers of the Grand Prix gave the Casa Ballot duly registered with two cars, announced the two drivers in the persons of Goux and Foresti, made the Ballot participate in the drawing of lots for the starting order, assigning the No. 1 to Goux's car and the No. 14 to Foresti's car, finally including the Ballots in the official programme. On the other hand, Ballot declares that she has never been entered, that she has rejected every invitation and offer, and that she has not denounced her abusive entry only out of respect for an organizer who had asked them not to disavow it!

There is material for a Camilleri detective story. Perplexity, interrogatives, unanswered questions, unsolved doubts, irregularities, disappointment for missing the show… yet the following day it was written that “those who have been to Monza on Saturday and Sunday… have seen, heard and understood that the world belongs to automobile, that the automobile is the world, life, the force of modern life, and as such has an absolute right of dominion, that the automobile is the lord of the crowds and the crowds are automobile fanatics" (M.A.C.S., 14 September 1922).

By Museo Auto Torino, original in Italian

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