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Paying Tribute to the Targa

This year’s Ferrari Tribute to the Targa Florio saw some wonderful cars competing on roads steeped in motor racing history
Words: Gavin Green

The Targa Florio was the world’s oldest and toughest sports car race. Using public roads, it wound through and around Sicily, including over the daunting and spectacular Madonie mountains. The roads were treacherous with 1100 metres of elevation change and were often poorly surfaced. Here, heroes such as Tazio Nuvolari, Stirling Moss, Piero Taruffi and local legend Nino Vaccarella raced and won.

Watch as a procession of Prancing Horses cross Sicily as they follow the route of the old Targa Florio circuit

Ferrari Tribute celebrates this wonderful old motor race, which began in 1906, hosted a round of the world sports car championship from 1955 to 1973 and stopped in 1977 for safety reasons (20 years after Italy’s other great sports car road race, the Mille Miglia, was terminated, also on safety grounds). 

The Prancing Horse has an especially rich Targa Florio history. It’s a seven times winner, most recently Arturo Merzario’s victory in 1972 driving a 312 PB. The Scuderia’s first win, in a 166 S, was way back in 1948, just a year after Ferrari’s birth as a sports car maker. (Driver Clemente Biondetti would win again the following year.) A particularly famous win was in 1961, when the pioneering 246 SP was victorious. It was Ferrari’s first rear mid-engined sports car.

The sparkling sea greeted the procession of Prancing Horses as they followed the route of what was once the toughest road race in the world  

Ferrari Tribute ran alongside the Targa Florio Classica, for historic cars built before 1977. In addition, there is a Targa Florio Legend category (for cars built from 1978-90) and a Gran Turismo class (for GTs made since 1991). 

Ferrari Tribute is reserved for owners of Prancing Horse cars built since 1991. Entries ranged in age from a 1991 812 Competizione Aperta to two 2023 SF90 Stradales. Almost 80 Prancing Horse cars competed, from as far afield as Japan, Korea and the UAE. Vehicles included 488 Pistas, 812 Superfasts, 812 GTS, Roma coupés, F8 Tributo and 296 GTBs. 

Day one took the cavalcade inland from Palermo across to the west coast of Sicily for lunch, before returning along the beautiful coastal roads  

Although the reborn Targa Florio is a regularity race, outright speed is no longer important. Unlike the original heroes, competitors get the chance the enjoy the roads, the spectacular Sicilian scenery and good food. And the chance to follow in the tracks of some true motor sporting legends.

This year’s event, as is now traditional, started and finished in Palermo, at the famous university. After gathering on Thursday October 12 for scrutineering, and a gala dinner, the event began next morning. Competitors drove inland on glorious scenic roads to the west coast of Sicily, and lunch at the famous Cantine Florio winery in Marsala, producer of the world’s most famous Marsala wine. The winery was founded by Vincenzo Florio, grandfather of the founder of the Targa Florio race. After lunch, competitors drove back to Palermo, via Trapani and Cinisi, on spectacular coastal roads.

Day two was a 234 km drive into the mountains along the original race roads, past the old circuit buildings that have stood for over a century and back to Palermo for a celebratory gala dinner 

After day one’s fine 338 km stage, day two promised even more. The 234 km stage was named the ‘Circuito delle Madonie’, and it took competitors over the most famous mountain roads from the original race. Past the old circuit buildings, past graffiti still paying tribute to great drivers, and on roads used by Nuvolari and Moss, competitors tested their driving and time keeping skills.

A gala dinner in Palermo on the Saturday night was the perfect end to a 572 km tribute to great old drivers and an historic race that will never be forgotten.