How The Giro Di Sicily Saved The Targa Florio And Began Its Own Legacy
Photography by Armando Musotto
If, one day, some people have doubts about my origins, I would reply that I am a true Sicilian ca scuorcia (“with the peel”) and, like the good native that I am, I know that anyone who’s familiar with me can no longer hear me praise the merits of the place I call my home.
This strip of uncontaminated nature, washed by the sea, will always be set in my heart, but rather than go on about it, I would like to share a few words of the drivers who, during this event and others, gave me the impetus to tell this story. I’m not the best writer out there and you know that, and I like to think that my articles are closer to lines of thought limited by words and illustrated by expression.
Today I would like to talk to you about the topic of change. I don’t mean changing from work clothes to comfortable ones at home in the evening—though in a sense that symbolizes the different selves we inhabit throughout the day and depending not the place. I’m instead talking about something a bit broader, harder to put in succinct sentences. The kind of change that is more like a mutation, the evolutionary process that has led to humanity’s place on top of the animal world. It’s a natural phenomenon that exists and stretches over long periods of time, but it’s also on a smaller scale: our ability to consciously adapt. A decision to improve ourselves beyond the slow pace of nature. We are inspired to better ourselves, and often this comes in the form of other people who’ve set the example.
One such person was Don Vincenzo Florio, the great entrepreneur from Palermo who became the founder of the well-known Targa Florio, a race to which all Sicilian motorsport fans are bound and will be bound to forever. I don’t need to present you the full history of Don Vincenzo if you are here on Petrolicious, surely you know his story already or will seek it out in greater detail. But I do want to tell you about his ability to adapt.
Don Vincenzo, after the adversity presented in the first few editions of the Targa Florio (which was far more dangerous than we know it today), decided in 1912 to change the strategy since it looked like the Targa might not continue: reverse the route, innovate, and make the competition better, renaming it Giro di Sicilia in keeping with the change of the course. If the original Targa Florio was to be phased out (we know in hindsight this didn’t happen though), he must do something new to keep it alive in a different format, with a new layout.
No mere ride along the Grande delle Madonie, but a competition that touched all the coasts of his wonderful island the “Tour of Sicily” circuit convinced him and others that change and continuity don’t have to be exclusive concepts, and in doing so it allowed the racing to continue in Sicily. Innovation and adaptation is just one response to adversity, but in making the bold move rather than giving up, it led to improvement and a preservation of the Targa Florio at a crucial time in its history. I think that this is a rule of life worth following: adapt or die.
Roughly 1,000 tortuous kilometers across challenging terrain, the seventh Targa Florio was saved thanks to the new circuit layout, and though it runs on this route until 1914, when the race returned in 1919 the circuit was changed again. Indeed, it kicked off a series of changes to the route that fell under the name of Targa Florio until the race’s final running in 1977. The Giro became its own event in 1951. Try to imagine the early years though, back in 1912 with primitive cars racing on roads not yet paved and pitted against sure danger on each meter of progress. It had to be a heart-in-throat experience.
The Targa Florio arguably reached the peak of its popularity in 1946. Including important names of the motorsport greats of the time including Biondetti, Taruffi, and Gendebien. But I’m here to talk about the Giro. In 1979, it was brought under the new management of the “Veteran Car Club Panormus,” which took the reins of the event and brought it through the years up to the present day. In 2018 it is still the same club that organizes and runs this wonderful event, with immense effort given to keep it alive for so long.
The registered list of cars is always full of spectacular pieces like an Alfa Romeo RL Targa Florio or a Bentley Le Mans, and characters from all over the world come to participate or simply sit back and watch it all happen in front of them.
Every year the race leaves its fans satisfied. It is a combination of beauty and competition. Beauty of places, of people, of traditional Sicily that still today steal the hearts of all those who set foot here. In the photos I have decided to include some pieces of pure Sicilian tradition rather than all and only cars so you can see what the atmosphere is like at this great historic event.
If Don Vincenzo Florio had stopped in front of adversity, we would not have any of this spirit today, in a place that has gone on to become recognized as one of the first cradles of competitive motoring. This is one of the powers of change: legacy.
The 2018 edition of the Giro Di Sicilia, besides delivering excellent automotive history, also proves that Don Vincenzo’s idea of drawing tourism and increasing cultural promotion of the island could rest on the back of sport. Good cars, good food, good views, good roads to drive on if you’re lucky enough to be in the race, it’s a wonderful place to be. In fact, it was rare to see the crews without a smile on their faces and with the photos, I think you will understand why.