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The dashing Milanese that stayed young forever



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Eugenio Castellotti


Lancia D50


Ospedaletti, San Remo


November 1954


What a dramatic shot of a great place and a beautiful car… Sadly, the driver's story mainly involves drama of a tragic nature. It's the story of a tall and temperamental Milanese adolescent with dashing looks, a smashingly gorgeous girlfriend and racing talent as large as his bank account - which was sizeable by the time he inherited a substantial family fortune. Eugenio Castellotti had it all: the cash to buy himself a Ferrari 166S sportscar, the looks and the good taste to surround himself with his actress lady Delia Scala, the skill to quickly grow into one of Italy's outstanding drivers, and the flair and the entourage that befitted such stature in his hero-worshipping nation.

Soon Castellotti had developed into the tifosi's latest racing icon, especially through his sportscar exploits. How could they not warm to a young man that gave up his lead - and eventually the win - to Vittorio Marzotto in the Monaco sportscar GP because of pitting for a can of Coke to quench his thirst?

Little did they know that 1955 - the year Lancia signed up Eugenio to drive his D50 Grand Prix car alongside Alberto Ascari - would turn out to be a terrible motorsports year. Not just in general, because of the tragic events at Le Mans, but especially for Italy as well, as it was the year in which Ascari died at Monza. Driving Castellotti's car. Wearing Castellotti's helmet. On the special agreement with Lancia that he would be joining Castellotti in the Supercortemaggiore sportscar race. Understandably, Eugenio had been one of the coffin bearers on Alberto's funeral at the church of San Carlo al Corso in Milan on 28 May 1955.

On the bright side Castellotti shone in the Mille Miglia, leading Moss and Jenkinson over the first leg to Ravenna. The next year he won it for Ferrari, in atrocious conditions, in a drive described by Johnny Lurani as "the model of self-control, style and efficiency". The count's verdict somewhat contradicts the impression others had of this smart young epitomy of the Italian racing driver, as Castellotti was not just stylish, brash and self-confident when outside of the car but was also found to be wild and erratic when behind the wheel. Often leading during the early stages of a race, Eugenio had the knack of eating his tyres, handing the lead to more conservative drivers.

After a slow start in the heat-plagued GP in Argentina his debut-season Grand Prix highlights were a second at Monaco, in the race in which team mate Ascari plunged his Lancia into the harbour, followed up by a shock pole at Spa, having convinced Lancia to give him a car in the aftermath of Ascari's untimely death. The events at Monza, with financial difficulties hanging over him, had moved Gianni Lancia to pull the plug on his Grand Prix effort after just a handful of races, and Eugenio's Spa entry was a private one. Friday practice saw him take a staggeringly quick 4.18.1, a time that could not be undone because of Saturday practice being rained away completely. At the start, though, Fangio shot ahead, with Moss following suit shortly after, and the two Mercedes ran out to an easy double. A week later the Le Mans tragedy shook the motor racing world.

With Lancia out of the picture Eugenio moved over to Ferrari, a transfer that was facilitated by the ACI persuading Lancia to hand over his promising D50s to the Ferrari team, that continued to struggle with its two designs, the 625 and the 555 'Super Squalo', the latter being the 553 'Squalo' follow-up. In return Fiat would contribute 50 million lire each year to keep the Lancia company afloat. In a parallel run of events legendary designer Vittorio Jano also became part of the Ferrari household, with Aurelio Lampredi leaving to join Fiat.

After the remains of the Scuderia Lancia amalgamated with Ferrari, a third at Monza was Eugenio's second-best result of the season. Castellotti had intended to debut the Lancia-Ferrari D50 alongside Farina and the other ex-Lancia driver, Villoresi, but the cars' tyres kept losing treads during practice, leading to their withdrawal. With the best qualifying time of the three, Castellotti was allowed to race in the spare 555. His third at Monza resulted in a phenomenal third in the final standings of a season cut short by the cancellation of the French, German, Spanish and Swiss GPs. The handsome boy was effectively best of the rest, albeit a long way behind the largely unthreatened Mercedes duo of Fangio and Moss.

In comparison the 1956 season was a disappointment, Eugenio always being bang on the pace in qualifying but failing to score on many occasions, for a number of reasons. His best show came at Reims, where Ferraris swamped the front row and fought off Harry Schell's Vanwall to finish a team-ordered one-two (the pit signal reading COL-CAS), Collins heading home the Italian 0.3s ahead. Early leader Fangio was fourth after he had to have a split fuel line fixed on lap 40. In the Italian GP Castellotti's reputation as a tyre eater was further enhanced by his battle in the early laps with Luigi Musso, the two despite being team mates apparently fighting over the honour of best Italian driver. It took them just five laps to destroy their tyres… Still Castellotti finished sixth in the championship, and looked to the 1957 season with the D50 now almost unrecognizably transformed into the Tipo 801.

The Argentine GP saw Eugenio again as the fastest qualifier of a six-strong Ferrari team, but remarkably the completely reworked Lancia-Ferrari now lost out to the almost unchanged Maserati 250F. Both being three-year old designs it was probably the strength of Maserati's driving squad that made the difference. With Moss, Fangio and Behra taking the first three places on the grid and only Castellotti joining them on the front row, the writing was on the wall for Ferrari.

Although Moss made a peculiar start, bending his throttle rod to the effect that it needed eight laps to repair, Behra and Fangio got away cleanly. Castellotti and team mate Collins were not to let go, though. First Eugenio took Behra on lap 9, with the Englishman coming on strong to pass all for the lead on lap 13. After the World Champion retook Castellotti for third, the leading trio began to stretch away, Collins managing to hold his lead until lap 26 - he had hit clutch trouble. Behra led briefly before Fangio went past again, the two now some 10 seconds ahead of a group of three Ferraris, Hawthorn ahead of Musso, with Castellotti fifth after a spin. Ten laps on, and Hawthorn and Musso had also fried their clutches - and this wasn't even half-distance. All Castellotti could do was not to lose touch with the Maseratis, and in doing so lost a rear wheel on lap 76, causing him to spin off the circuit. The end result was Maseratis taking the first four places, Fangio and Behra taking the finish in line astern.

Both Behra and the Ferrari test track at Modena were tragically involved in Castellotti's death on 14 March 1957 as Maserati's early-season form had Enzo Ferrari on the back of his feet. After the Argentine GP, where Eugenio ran third to the Maseratis before a hub shaft failed, he could only take fifth in the non-championship Buenos Aires GP, his last race. Ferrari was definitely underperforming - and indeed would not take a single Championship win during 1957.

On his return to Europe Eugenio took a brief holiday in Florence in the radiant company of miss Scala when suddenly he received a phone call from his boss. Ferrari, as harsh and unfeeling towards his drivers as ever, summoned him to show up at Modena at once. 'Jeannot' and his 250F were testing there and threatening to break the track record, which self-evidently belonged to Scuderia Ferrari. Was regarded as its possession. The Modena lap record and Ferrari - both should always be mentioned in the same sentence, except the ones that had also had the word "lost" in them. And so Eugenio pulled himself away from Delia's delight and duly obliged. He daren't say no.

Leaving early for Modena, at 5 AM no less, Castellotti was probably still yawning, and yearning to return to the warm bed he had left behind, when he climbed aboard to try and stave off the challenge of that little Niçois. It took him a single warm-up lap on a damp track before he signalled to his pit that the serious work was about to begin. Immediately after he lost control and flipped over a concrete wall into the small grandstand of the Circolo della Biella (the local club of enthusiasts were ironically Enzo Ferrari also used to reside) right behind it. Eugenio was dead on the spot. It was bloody senseless.

For Luigi Villoresi, due to retire from the sport, Castellotti's death caused his on-and-off relationship with the Commendatore to switch off permanently. "For the sake of Ferrari's pride, challenged that day over a cup of coffee in the Biella Club at Modena, was it right to have put in jeopardy the life of a racing driver?" Quite so.

The thoughts of Castellotti's heyday at Lancia, together with that inseparable duo of Ascari and Villoresi, were still very fresh, as it was just over two years earlier that the Lodi farmer's son first tested a D50 after his first year for Lancia driving sportscars. He did his first laps at the great Ospedaletti track near San Remo, especially set up for the occasion in November 1954. The track's short existence as the venue for a San Remo GP run to F1 rules was long enough to warrant that only the champions, i.e. Fangio and Ascari, won at Ospedaletti, before it was closed, only to be reopened for private Lancia test sessions…

And what about the Ospedaletti track as it is today? Well, look no further than Barry Boor's excellent article The Ghost of San Remo on his recent visit to his Ospedaletti dream track. It was precisely the story of Lancia managing to convince the Ospedaletti municipality to close off the roads for three days of pre-season testing, related in Chris Nixon's Rivals - The story of Lancia versus Mercedes Benz, that attracted Barry's interest in the track. And that's probably why the Castellotti picture is proudly residing at the top of his story.