THE PROFESSOR - Ugo Sivocci e le prime corse dell'Alfa-Romeo

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Ugo Sivocci, the Alain Prost of the early 20th century. An excellent, shrewd test-driver. In his early races he drove for De Vecchi and CMN, and later for Fiat and Alfa Romeo. His greatest success was in the 1923 Targa Florio.
He died a few months later during practice for the Monza Grand Prix when still only 33 years old.

Sivocci, barely 23 years old, at the start of the 1913 Targa Florio in which he carne sixth overall.

On  the  morning of  Saturday the 8th of September practice was taking place at the Monza Autodrome in preparation for the Italian Grand Prix the following   day.   Ugo   Sivocci 's   Alfa Romeo P1  had  already completed several   laps  of   the  circuit.  His team mates were Antonio Ascari and  Beppone  Campari  who were driving the other two P1s. Sivocci asked Momo, the racing  director of the Autodrome, whether he could  do one more  lap before  he got out of the car. "You know" - he said - "it is because of these tyres..."  and  he  pointed   to  the front tyres . "Permission is granted for just   one   lap   because   the motorbikes are about to come on next     ...Don't    forget!",     Momo replied sternly.

Ali the other cars had already completed their practice, the last being   the   two   Rolland   Pilains driven by Guyot and Delalande. Sivocci's red P l of the Quadri­ foglio was the only car still roaring by. The surface remained wet from the rain of the previous night. A pale sun was piercing through the clouds which were beginning to clear. The trees of the nearby park were throwing their light shadows onto the track like subdued ghosts in disgrace . Because it was still so early there were very few people about except for the odd spectator here and there along the circuit. Sivocci's red Alfa started on its last lap and entered the avenue darkened bv the shadows of the trees. In the car next to the driver was Guatta , the mechanic, who was turning round now and again  to look at the rear wheel, then studying the front left wheel.

Sivocci suddenly increased speed. The red serpent was now travelling at over 140 km/h. It was not its maximum speed but it was quite respectable. Overlooking the straight darkened by the grey shadows of the trees was the stand from which there was a perfect view of the circuit. There was no one there except for a cavalry officer who was watching the fast progress of the Alfa P1. The surface of the road was still very   wet.   Suddenly   the   officer jumped:  after underpass  he  saw the red Alfa skidding dangerously as  it  came  out  of  the  bend.  The driver was desperately trying to control it, but without success: the car left the road  and crashed vio­ lently into a tree. The car bounced like a rubber ball onto another tree and bounced off again. It then overturned as if dancing a macabre minuet, finally coming to a halt on its four wheels. Then there was silence broken only by the shrill alarm cries of the birds flying terrified out of the trees. At that moment the sun broke through the clouds which dis­ persed. The sharp shadows of the trees on the asphalt were like ghostly, cloaked apparitions. At first paralysed with  shock, the cavalry officer then started to run for help waving his arms des­ perately in the direction of the racing  director's   office. Mechanics,  drivers,'   attendants and a doctor came running. When they arrived on the scene of the accident they were appalled by the sight. The Alfa Pl was totally destroyed.     

Ugo Sivocci with mechanic Attilio Marinoni.

Behind the wheel of the Alfa Romeo P1 at the Monza circuit just before the fatai accident.

1923 Sivocci e Marinoni

The bonnet was crushed and the radiator smashed. Sivocci's body was hanging lifeless half-way out of the driving  seat. He was losing a lot of blood from a head wound and showing  no sign of life. Guatta's body was lying on the ground next to  the car, stirring slightly and moaning . The doctor quickly noticed  this. But when he bent over Sivocci's body he blanched as he estab­ lished that his heart was no longer beating. Sivocci's watch was still ticking monotonously with the hands pointing at 9.35. This is how one of the best,  most respected drivers of the romantic era died.

The cause  of  the accident  was thought to be the very wet, slip­ pery road surface. The car had hit a particularly bad patch and got into a terrible skid. Sivocci had tried to correct the car's out-of­ control trajectory but without success. At  the  instant  of  the smash against the trees, he hit his head violently against the side of the bonnet. The  blow  was  fatal. Guatta was thrown out of the cockpit and fell among  the  scrub at the side of the track. When the other two champion Alfa Romeo drivers, Ascari and Campari saw their dead colleague they were inconsolable. Through his sobs Ascari mournfully lamented "That is how the best of us go".

Ugo Sivocci, brother of Alfredo who was a great cycling champion , was horn in Lombardy but became Piemontese by adoption through his sporting career. There is no doubt that he was a most accomplished driver in the sense that he  fine-tuned  the  car  and then applied the same care and concern to driving it. This innate sense of mechanics had been part of his nature since his apprentice­ ship during the most heroic era of the history  of the automobile: the very early years of this century.

The 1923 Targa Florio: Sivocci driving past  the stands

He learnt his skills in the com­ pany   of   Nazzaro, Lancia    and Cagno, a good school for any mechanic. However, he was not so lucky in establishing himself as a driver,   lacking   the   test-driver's instinct as Nazzaro had who was calm and cautious,  or Lancia, impetuous and daring. It all started with the 1904 victory at the Colle Sestrière. He had driven various cars like the De Vecchi  and  the  CMN,  the  same one as Ferrari. He then went  to Fiat where he successfully tested the first Grand Prix 801 of the post-war period. But it was when he moved to Alfa Romeo, the Scuderia de Portello, that he really matured.

Sivocci e Ferrari nel 1921

It was here that in the company of Ascari and Campari  and  the  test­driver mechanics Marinoni and Guatta that he perfected his tech­ nique  as  a  racing-driver.  In  the year 1923, at the age of 33, a few mon ths before the  fatal Monza race, he enjoyed his biggest vic­ tory: the Targa Florio. Alfa Romeo had just launched the RLS 6 cylinder models with a capacity of 2916 cc. There could be no better test for the new cars than the circuit of the Madonie. Therefore, the Milan Company decided to enter five RLS cars which would be driven by some of the best dri­ vers like Campari, Ascari, Masetti, Sivocci and Enzo Ferrari, the future 'Magician of Maranello'.

Ascari, all'arrivo della 14^ Targa Florio, dove venne squalificato

Also taking part in this  14th Targa Florio was the newcomer Alfieri Maserati in the Diatto. Apart from the Steyr driven by Minoia and Brilli Peri, the greatest threat to the Milan  team came from the Peugeot  Type  174 with its 3828-cc 4-cylinder valveless engine of 18 bhp driven by André Boillot who had already won in 1919, and his co-driver the mechanic Prévost , trusted valet of several conflicts. The contest between Sivocci, his team-mates, Maserati, Rutzler and Boillot started in earnest from the very beginning during the first lap. Ferrari and Campari were forced to retire because of mechanical problems during the second lap.

On the fourth lap only Sivocci, Ascari, Minoia, Maserati and Masetti were left competing for victory.
However the real battle for first place was between Ascari and Sivocci. The latter was driving with care and discretion while making use of the RLS's excellent behaviour in bends. Ascari on the other hand was driving flat out as was his style. He was leading in the fifth lap with Sivocci in second position.

Sivocci, winner of the 14th Targa Florio in 1923, seen here with his mechanic Guatta beside the Alfa RomeoRLS Sport.

The race was approaching the finish and Ascari looked like the probable winner. At Campofelice a few miles from the finishing line Ascari was still in the lead, closely followed by his tenacious rival. But after Cerda Ascari's car sud­ denly came to a halt in the middle of a bend . Driver  and mechanic both jumped out to push the car in the hope of starting the engine again. Alfa Romeo mechanics came running from the distant pits at Cerda . They succeeded in starting the car which continued at great speed with the mechanics on board. Ascari was the first to reach the finishing line but the race officials declared the circum­ stances irregular. Ascari did not lose heart and went back to where the car had stopped to start afresh, but without

the mechanic who was left behind, totally bemused : in order not to waste time a spectator had taken his place with Ascari's consent. Of course this was yet again highly irregular and Ascari was disqualified at the same instant that Sivocci crossed the finishing line, so Sivocci was the winner. While admitting. Ascari's bad lack, Sivocci had deserved to be the winner because he had driven to the limit throughout the race without ever exceeding it, always true to his principles as a test­driver.
Sivocci was quite an ordinary man until his unexpected death, his brief but notable career drawn to a premature close. His crash was quite unbelievable and most unfortunate for someone who had never before been involved in any serious accident. His individual driving techniques , well reasoned and thought-out, were to be an example to many years to come.

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