Nino Vaccarella, winner of the 24 Hours of Le Mans with Ferrari in 1964, will wave the field away at this year’s COPPA FLORIO 12H Sicily at the Autodromo di Pergusa.
Vaccarella, who is also a three-time winner of the Targa Florio and took victory at the 1970 12 Hours of Sebring alongside Mario Andretti, will be the guest of honour at the fifth round of this year’s 24H SERIES powered by Hankook. The Sicilian will fly the green flag at 11.00 hrs local time on Saturday 10 October, signifying the start of 12 hours of endurance racing at the Autodromo di Pergusa.
In doing so, Vaccarella will open the first ‘Coppa Florio’ to be held since 1981 as well as the first international motorsport competition, of any kind, at the Autodromo di Pergusa since 2012.
“It truly is an honour to have Nino Vaccarella joining us for this year’s COPPA FLORIO 12H Sicily,” explains Ole Dörlemann, CREVENTIC’s sporting coordinator. “A huge amount of time, effort and passion has been put into the 9-10-11 October weekend, not just from our side but from the Autodromo di Pergusa management team and Chico Paladino Florio himself, the grandson of the event’s founder, Vincenzo. Everyone is working so hard to make sure the COPPA FLORIO 12H Sicily will be a successful and memorable event for all of our GT and TCE competitors, and to have a seal of approval from one of Sicily’s most revered motorsport icons – Nino Vaccarella – is a real confidence booster for us.”
Born 4 March 1933, Nino Vaccarella was actually well on course to becoming a lawyer when he turned his first wheel in anger on a local hillclimb in 1956 (said wheel belonged to his father’s Fiat). The bug clearly bit hard, as one year later, Vaccarella made the first of 14 starts on Sicily’s foremost endurance road rally, the Targa Florio. Fortunately for his father, the family Fiat had long-since been swapped for a privately-entered Lancia Aurelia B20.
Though Vaccarella’s legacy will forever be twinned with the Targa Florio – which we’ll come back to – the Sicilian also enjoyed notable success at the Autodromo di Pergusa. In 1959, now aboard a newly-acquired Maserati 200SI, Vaccarella took his maiden sports car win at the Gran Premio di Pergusa. Eight years later, Vaccarella won the re-branded Coppa Cittá di Enna, netting his second win of the 1967 World Sports Car Championship in the process with the epochal Ford GT40. In 1969, and now a works factory driver with Autodelta, he was on the top step of the podium once again, becoming only the second three-time winner of Pergusa’s prominent sports car race in the process.
Interestingly though, despite his later sports car success, Vaccarella’s eyes were trained on Formula 1 during the early years of his motorsport career. Fittingly, his F1 debut came on home turf (ish) at the 1961 Italian Grand Prix at Monza, the Sicilian having been entered in a Scuderia Serenissima-run De Tomaso for the event by new backer, Count Volpi. Sadly, the fairytale result would not come to pass: by the time Phil Hill collected his second win of the season, Vaccarella had long since retired with engine failure. The event will also forever be marred by the fatal accident that befell championship contender Wolfgang von Trips.
Granted, on his third F1 start at the non-championship Coppa Italia at Vallelunga, Vaccarella took his best F1 result when he joined Giancarlo Baghetti (the only man to ever win on his Formula 1 debut) and compatriot Ernesto Prinoth on the podium, having driven his Cooper T51 to 3rd overall. Unfortunately, the Grand Prix success didn’t last. After failing to qualify his Lotus 18 at Monaco, Vaccarella would make only five more GP starts in 1962, his best results being 15th (Porsche 718) and 9th (Lotus 24) at the Nürburgring and Monza respectively. 6th at the non-championship Pau GP was at least a bittersweet send-off.
Indeed, by 1963, having been offered a works sports cars drive by Ferrari, F1 was all but done for Vaccarella, and he’d eventually make his final Grand Prix start at Monza in 1965 for the Scuderia. Once again, the fairytale result failed to materialise, Vaccarella’s engine seizing almost 20 laps before Sir Jackie Stewart collected his maiden F1 win ahead of two-time World Champion, Graham Hill.
No matter though, for sunnier skies were ahead in sports cars. In 1962, in a Porsche 718 GTR alongside one-time F1 Grand Prix winner Jo Bonnier, Vaccarella took a maiden podium finish at the Targa Florio on his sixth attempt, following that up with victory at the Trophée d’Auvergne two months later.
In 1964, Vaccarella, now a two-time 12 Hours of Sebring podium finisher (2nd with Lorenzo Bandini and Willy Mairesse in ’63, and 2nd again in ’64 with Ludovico Scarfiotti), took victory at the 1000km Nürburgring alongside Scarfiotti in a 275 P, netting Ferrari a then-record fourth win at the event in the process. One month later, Vaccarella was a 24 Hours of Le Mans winner as well alongside teammate Jean Guichet. Fun fact, that ’64 win was the fifth in a row for Ferrari, a record that would stand for 22 years. Victory at the Coppa Inter-Europa at Monza bookended a very successful season for the former law graduate.
In 1965, arguably the most personal win that had eluded Vaccarella for so long was finally chalked up, as the then-reigning Le Mans winner took his first win on the Targa Florio. In an impressive performance, he and teammate Lorenzo Bandini bested the four works Porsche 904s by almost five minutes.
It was a result Vaccarella would repeat twice more with Alfa Romeo, in 1971 (with Toine Hezemans) and again in 1975 (Arturo Merzario), the latter as a one-off return having already hung up his helmet ‘for good’ in 1973.
By then of course, Vaccarella had also added Sebring gold to his collection, taking a famous victory in 1970 for Ferrari alongside the late Ignazio Giunti and motorsport icon, Mario Andretti. Fittingly, Vaccarella also finished on the podium at his final two appearances at Sebring, finishing 3rd on both occasions with Andrea de Adamich and Henri Pescarolo in 1971, and with Toine Hezemans in 1972.
Now 87 years old, and after an 18-year motorsport career, Nino Vaccarella remains among the most successful and celebrated Italian sports car drivers to-date.
* Images courtesy of Maserati, Ferrari.com, Bernard Cahier, and Nino Vaccarella.
1st, Gran Premio di Pergusa (Maserati 200S)
3rd, Formula 1 Coppa Italia (Scuderia Serenissima, Copp T51)
1st, Trophée d'Auvergne (Scuderia SSS Rep. di Venezia, Ferrari 250 GTO with Carlo Abate)
1st, 1000km Nürburgring (Scuderia Ferrari, Ferrari 275 P with Ludovico Scarfiotti)
1st, 24 Hours of Le Mans (Scuderia Ferrari, Ferrari 275 P with Jean Guichet)
1st, Targa Florio (Ferrari 275 P2 with Lorenzo Bandini)
1st, Coppa Cittá di Enna (Scuderia Brescia Corse, Ford GT40)
1st, GP Mugello (Autodelta, Alfa Romeo T33/2 with Lucien Bianchi and Nanni Galli)
1st, 500km Imola (Autodelta, Alfa Romeo T33/2 with Teodoro Zeccoli)
1st, Coppa Cittá di Enna (Autodelta, Alfa Romeo T33/3 Coupé)
3rd in-class, 24 Hours of Le Mans (Equipe Mantra, Matra-Simca MS630 with Jean Guichet)
1st, 12 Hours of Sebring (Scuderia Ferrari, Ferrari 312 PB with Mario Andretti and Ignazio Giunti)
1st, Targa Florio (Alfa 33/3 with Toine Hezemans)
1st, Targa Florio (Alfa Romeo T33 T1I2 with Merzario)
Lancia Aurelia with Enrico Giaccone
Maserati A6GCS with Giuseppe Allotta
Maserati ‘Birdcage’ with Umberto Maglioli
(Led until fuel tank punctured on lap eight)
Scuderia Serenissima-run Maserati T63 with Maurice Trintingnant
Serenissima-run Porsche 7I8 GTR with Jo Bonnier
(Led until brakes failed on lap three)
Ferrari 275 P2 with Lorenzo Bandini
(Led from start to finish)
Ferrari 330 P3 with Lorenzo Bandini
(Leading when Bandini was forced into a ditch on lap eight)
Ferrari 330 P4 with Ludovico Scarfiotti
(Crashed out on the opening lap)
Alfa Romeo 33/2 with Udo Schutz
(Retired from 2nd place after Schutz shunt)
Alfa 33/2 with Andrea de Adamich
(Engine blow-up on lap seven)
Ferrari 512S with Ignazio Giunti
Alfa 33/3 with Toine Hezemans
Alfa Romeo T33 T13 with Rolf Stommelen
(Blown engine on lap four)
Ferrari 312 PB with Arturo Merzario
(Excessive damage following a puncture on lap two)
Alfa Romeo T33 T1I2 with Merzario