A Tribute To 100 Years Of The Targa Florio, Two Years In The Making
Photography by Armando Musotto
There is an aspect of our being “Sicilian” that is generally unknown from the rest of the world. It is deep, enclosed in the heart’s center, a passion we put into everything we do. Sicily is a land of contrasts, favored by the sun, disadvantaged by everything that could make it the most beautiful place in the world, because we Sicilians are strange people, convinced that what we have will last forever.
We’ve learned lessons, losing many jewels of our land, however, even today the situation has not changed; Sicily remains a naturally beautiful island, but it is characteristically boring, stupid, closed-off, and still linked to traditions and reasoning that are no longer part of the modern world.
As I said, it is an island of contrasts, and it’s easy to forget the negatives if you’re forced to enjoy the sun and sea on a daily basis. I’m lucky to live here, I have everything I need and most of what I want, but I feel the pull to go away, to move and look for something else too; to live my life in a new way, to get away from all this, and perhaps, one day, return with a different awareness.
If you’re interested in motorsport history it’s a fantastic place to grow up, and being born here will always be a source of great pride for me. I was born in one of the cradles of racing, how could I not? I am happy to live in a place that gave the world one of its oldest and most famed competitions: the Targa Florio.
Every year, in May, on the slopes of the Madonie, every Sicilian enthusiast forgets about the problems in their land, we pause our worries for a weekend—the bad social management, the extreme poverty, and the clumsy treatment of our heritage. When it’s time for the Targa Florio, we Sicilians let ourselves get carried away by the madness that is racing.
It’s a madness loved by all fans, all over the globe, whether we are talking about the Classic (which occurs later in the calendar year) or the contemporary stop in the Italian Rally Championship this coming May. It’s a scene made up of roaring cars, dangerous curves, impossible ascents, racing heroes and business magnates, and pure energy.
The Targa Florio was created by Vincenzo Florio in 1905 and the first race was held the following year. It was, and still is today, the most famous Italian race in the world. It predates the Mille Miglia by more than two decades. It is 72km of pure racing lunacy performed between blind curves and infinitely long straights that climb and cross the Madonie mountain range. The “track” is a strip of land dividing the green of the land, the blue of the sea, the yellow of the broomstick handles perched in door frames, and the red of V12-powered sports prototypes.
It’s history is defined by the personalities and talents behind the wheel, these brave men who exhibited more than a bit of craziness in order to pull off such a feat as simply finishing the race, let alone winning it. And with a spirit of immense sacrifice gathered up in the curves, it provided a challenge like little else could; the “guardrails” for this race were made of stone walls and other forms of sturdy private property.
In the memories of those who truly love this pioneering form of motorsport, there are moments, emotions, and gestures witnessed at the Targa Florio that stay with you, even in its modern tribute format. And those who lived during the years of the true Targa Florio tell me they will never forget the smell of tire rubber and high-octane gasoline mixed with wet grass and ginestra flowers, the smoke of the machines swirling up and dancing with the dust lifted up by the wheels and their sticky slicks. The other side of is equally memorable: the sleepless nights, the picnicking between curves and often eaten atop the family’s 500, the food prepared for days ahead of time to be consumed on Sunday, race day, the day that makes all the Sicilians equal, proud and united by the same passion.
The beauty of the enduring Targa Florio is that it’s made sure these sentiments and atmospheres haven’t unchanged over time. Although the original Targa Florio ended in 1973, even today the emotions are the same in the heart of every passionate Sicilian and those exclamations, flavors, and smells have remained unchanged in the 100th edition of the Targa Florio, an edition to which I am linked professionally.
It has always been difficult for me to tell my stories in words. I have always preferred to do it with images because it’s the way I can make it most “mine.” That’s why you are reading these words in 2018 even though everything you see here happened two years ago.
I decided to let these images sit and “leaven” inside my computer until they were actually ready for a small publishing project, until I was ready to tell the story in another way. I wanted to make sure my own tribute to the history of the event was worthwhile, something that I could be proud of. I call the resulting collection of photos “Cento,” and describing those days spent at the race in photographs, was and is a source of great pride; to date, it is one of the most personal and rewarding projects I’ve done.
Five days, 500km, 10 sandwiches, €100 of fuel, one car, a few hours of sleep, countless towns and cities visited along the way, and more than 500 cars divided up into categories: classic, prototypes, and rally in three different competitions. The numbers give some hints at what it was like to be there, living it, but it’s impossible to wrap the whole experience up on a computer screen. I could go on forever recounting the moments one by one; charging along dawn-lit countryside roads to see the first cars appear in the light of the rising sun; my mostly illegal entry into “pit lane” to touch the 330 P4 just once; my completely illegal entries into wonderful vantage points just to see the cars speeding through their trial runs; the sleepless nights to make backups and sort the images of the day; and of course, glasses of Amaro Averna (strictly Sicilian) drunk in front of the Tipo 33 of Helmut Marko. Young things, crazy things, wonderful things.
I like to think that when you take a look at these photos you will relive with me the spark that in those days lit me right up at dawn every morning regardless of how many hours of sleep I’d logged during the night. When you’re swept up in the Targa Florio’s aura, you tend to find the reserves of energy and enthusiasm without much concern for your physical restfulness. I like to think that you will also relive with me the laughter in the moments of relaxation between one driver and another—both the fledgling racers and the veterans—the excitement of hearing a Tipo 33 starting up, or the clamor of the pedestrians aroused by these cars when they are put back to race in a place that belongs to them, as if by rights.
I like to think that you will feel those emotions that my parents and my grandparents did for 60 years, and that I could try to replicate in myself for only a few days. Imagine conveying 60 years of pure emotion in three days! I did it without letting myself get too preoccupied with perfection or a single theme, I was simply moved by my emotions that weekend, and that is why this collection of images came out so randomly, without a real logical order to them. But, to be honest, I like it this way, and to have finally experienced a race like my parents did when they went to see the old editions, I think this was the appropriate way to handle it.
I did not use lights nor special equipment, I had with me only my two trusted cameras and a great desire to use them. My photographer’s eye was my busy companion throughout the event, and I am happy to say I managed to create something I am proud of, finally. I hope to bring out the colors and spirit of my beautiful homeland and I hope that the light will surprise you, making you appreciate the most hidden details in each frame, because for me, this is the Targa Florio though it can’t be captured in full, we should always be striving for that.
It is now a piece of me, and it has for a century been a piece of us Sicilians—a slice of our lives that we will hardly be able to forget, a reminder that passion is something that Sicilians can never eradicate. It is a magnificent story that thankfully has no end in sight.