On four wheels the dramas continued. At Pau (French GP) the petrol tank of Nuvolari’s Alfa Romeo ignited. Located at the back of his car he was unaware of the flames which were being fanned by the car’s racing speed. For lap after lap he continued until he glanced back and saw the problem. What to do? To stop meant he would be enveloped in a fireball; to continue risked the car blowing up killing not just him but possibly spectators and drivers. He took a risk. He drove off the track onto a grassy patch and at 100 mph jumped out. The car smashed into a tree and was destroyed in the blazing inferno. Tazio suffered broken bones, cuts and scrapes and his fifth career concussion. Two weeks later he was back in a racing car.
Brave – without doubt and fast, very fast. In a career that saw 150 race victories in everything from sports cars to the Auto Union (F1) monsters of the late 1930s there are is one that really stands out. Nuvolari often had to compete against the best machinery in cars that were not really up to it. Between 1935-39 only one European Championship Grand Prix was won by a car other than a Mercedes or Auto Union. Who else but Nuvolari could achieve that remarkable feat? It is 1935; the location is the Nurburgring for the German Grand Prix. The Third Reich is in power and the swastikas are flying. In a hugely outdated, and out powered four-year-old Alfa Romeo P3 (3167cc, 265 hp), against the German might of five Mercedes-Benz W25 and four Auto Unions (all producing more than 100 hp than the Alfa); Nuvolari took the fight to the might of Germany. At half way he was over 2 minutes behind in 6th place. But one lap later he was into 2nd behind the Mercedes of von Brauchitsch at 86 seconds behind. As the last lap started the gap was down but still an uncatchable 35 seconds but Brauchitsch had pushed the Mercedes too hard to stay ahead of the Alfa and he had had destroyed the tyres and suffered a double puncture. The crowd was stunned; the swastika was already flying up the flag pole to mar the victory and to add insult to injury Nuvolari had also set a new lap record. The win was known as the ‘The Impossible Victory’ and thought by many to be the greatest motor-racing victory of all time. (More to come next posting)