Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Targa Florio: Racing Wine Road

 1913 Targa Florio, Beni Culturali in Sicilia
Marco De Bartoli drove a car for the first time at age 10 on the pathways of his family’s garden in Marsala.  By age 21, De Bartoli made his racing debut as the driver of a Lancia Fulvia sports car in the Termini Imerese-Caccamo race.  From there he would go on to compete in races along the winding mountain roads of some of Sicily’s highest peaks – Mounts Pellegrino, Erice, and Etna.  While pursuing his studies of agrarian science at the University of Palermo, he raced under the assumed names Debam and Marco Paolo to avoid the wrath of his mother and his grandfather, Paolo Pellegrino (of the eponymous Marsala estate).

In 1972 De Bartoli went on to win first in class in the storied Targa Florio.  Created in 1906 by Vincenzo Florio, the scion of the Florio Marsala house (and himself a racing driver), the Targa Florio was among the premier open road racing events in the world. The original course snaked around the whole island, but later was redesigned as an eleven-lap circuit in the Madonie Mountains which hug Sicily’s northern coastline.  The Targa Florio was considered the ultimate test of a race-car driver’s endurance and daring.  Fans of De Bartoli’s Marsala and Pantelleria wines (who also read Italian) will be thrilled to read about Marco’s passion for racing and winemaking in the slim biography written by Attilio Vinci and published by Veronelli in 2004.

Marco De Bartoli Biography

Marco De Bartoli is not the only Sicilian winegrower with racing roots.  Paolo Marzotto, founder of the Baglio di Pianetto wine estate south of Palermo, won the Targa Florio (then called the Giro di Sicilia) race in 1952 at the helm of a Ferrari.  To speak with the genteel and elegant Marzotto now, one would never dream that he conquered the world's toughest road race sixty years ago.

Paolo Marzotto and his 1952 Winning Ferrari 166 Inter 2000

In homage to this epic race, Porsche introduced the convertible model of its iconic 911 in 1966 with the name Targa.  Porsche credits the challenge and experience of the Targa Florio for the very evolution of its sports cars.  No small compliment!

"The road to excellence takes many turns. For Porsche,
that road runs through Sicily."
Porsche Brochure (2001) 

New World countries Australia and New Zealand have each created an open road rally with a nod to Sicily's mother of all races, the Targa Tasmania and Targa New ZealandThis year amateur race enthusiasts came to Sicily in early June for the XXIII edition of the 4-day Giro di Sicilia rally, driving vintage sports cars along more than 1,000 kilometers of Sicily’s coastline beginning in Palermo and ending with the Circuito delle Madonie of the Targa Florio. There is also an official Strada del Vino (wine road) in Sicily based on the legendary Madonie circuit of the Targa Florio that encompasses the Contea di Sclafani DOC – home to Tasca d’Almerita’s Regaleali estate and Fabio Sireci’s Feudo Montoni.  Further proof that Sicily is not your everyday wine road!

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