Italy's Least Known Monument
This website often celebrates the best and greatest from the era in which Turin, in Northwestern Italy, was an automotive history hotbed. However, it's no mystery to anyone that those days are long gone.
Look for Turin on Google Earth, and you'll find out that the city is "known for its refined architecture and cuisine," and sure, there's plenty of that on offer. So much so, in fact, that a small memorial near the "Valentino" park can get very easily overlooked.
Laying on the tarmac in front of a magnificent former Royal residence certainly doesn't help it to get noticed. Still, this white marble it's here to remind us of a touching moment of Italian motorsport history.
The Valentino Park, sitting on the river Po's sleepy banks since the Nineteenth Century, is one of Turin's most beloved sites by locals and visitors alike. I'm pretty sure none of these people could even imagine this peaceful park once used to be a Formula One racing circuit.
Between 1935 to 1955, ten official Grand Prix races took place on these very roads that cross the park's gardens, with the last two editions, held in 1952 and 1955, being perhaps the most famous ones.
The 1955 Valentino Grand Prix was dominated by Alberto Ascari, the last Italian F1 world champion, on the Lancia D50.
The D50 debuted in 1954 and was designed by the already-legendary Vittorio Jano, the man behind Alfa Romeo's most successful pre-war racing cars. On the D50, he introduced many innovative features, such as using the car's V8 engine block as a stressed chassis member. The engine's off-center positioning then allowed to lower the car's height by running the prop shaft beside the driver's seat rather than under it.
But what made the D50 instantly recognizable were the side-mounted fuel cells for better weight distribution and improved aerodynamics.
The D50 proved very quick, but teething troubles meant victory still eluded the Lancia team, under pressure to make a good showing in front of the home crowd in Turin.
On Sunday, 27 March, the race took place in front of around fifty thousand spectators. Ascari started from pole but was overtaken by Luigi Musso, who remained in the lead for a good part of the race until, on lap 21, he went off the track and then retired, giving Ascari the lead and Lancia its maiden victory in Formula 1. The future seemed bright for the Scuderia Lancia, but sadly, fate had other plans.
Alberto Ascari died just a few months later while testing a Ferrari on the Monza circuit, in a crash whose cause could never be determined and remains a mystery to this day.
As the 1955 Valentino Grand Prix was Ascari's last victory before his passing, this memorial was placed on what used to be the Grand Prix's finish line.
Ascari's death dealt a killer blow to Lancia's Formula One ambitions, and the Scuderia was disbanded shortly afterward. But that's a story for another time.