Report by Ed McDonough and photos by author and Peter Collins
Try to picture the scene.
It is a hot Sunday afternoon, lunch is over, the crowd of competitors and friends are drifting away from a prize giving ceremony staged in an ancient park with towering views of the surrounding Italian valleys. Just below in the corner of the town square is one of the most popular local bars, and in the back room a few men have gathered to watch the latest Grand Prix. Sitting at one table is Giulio Borsari, for decades Ferrari’s chief racing mechanic. Nearby is Nino Vaccarella, the revered Sicilian, winner of the Targa Florio and adored in his homeland.
This scene was played out, not in the great days of Italian road racing, but the weekend of June 24-26, 2011. The setting was the Arda Valley between Piacenza and Parma, and the occasion the 16th running of the revived Vernasca Silver Flag. The Silver Flag is an 8.5-kilometer hillclimb which was part of the Italian Hillclimb Championship between 1953 and 1972 and it attracted works cars from Ferrari, Alfa Romeo and Porsche.
The daunting venue starts with a long but weaving straight of some 4.5 kilometers, departing from the medieval village of Castell’ Arquato. The fast ‘straight’ section has five pylon chicanes to keep the speeds down…a bit! Arriving at the crowded town of Lugagnano, the road goes 90 degrees left, missing the local bus stop and heads downhill for half a kilometer! Then comes the ‘hill proper’…four more kilometers of twisty, bending torturous tarmac to the finish at Vernasca, 1700 feet higher than the start.
The Silver Flag ended in 1972 when a competing car managed to crash into the bar in Lugagnano, but it was revived in 1995, and is one of the best of the charming Italian historic hillclimbs. The runs are not timed and drivers have the choice of touring up the hill, taking passengers, or if they wish, really going for it. The event regularly attracts a stunning entry, and as 2011 was designated as a tribute to Ferrari, the turnout was better than ever, with cars that are rarely if ever seen at other events, and many never leave Italy.
The 32 Ferraris present included several brought by Ferrari’s own Corsa Clienti, notably the 1947 125S driven in that year by Franco Cortese at the Circuit of Piacenza, and Ferrari’s own 1951 166F2 car. Among the most significant cars were Roberto Crippa’s 1954 340 Mille Miglia which had been raced by Villoresi and Hawthorn, Emilio Comelli’s 1955 857 Monza whose drivers included Portago, Peter Collins, Gendebien, Fangio, Maglioli and Trintignant. Jutta Roschmann was present with his magnificently restored 1956 250 Pininfarina Competizione with which Portago had won the 1956 Tour de France.
With nearly 200 entries, there were Alfas, Abarths, Porsches and a vast array of unique machinery. The competitors have a run on Saturday morning followed by lunch in one of the many superb local restaurants all reserved for the occasion. The afternoon run is followed by a majestic banquet in the ancient square at the top of old Castell’ Arquato, and the Sunday run ends again in Vernasca with alfresco lunch at the highest point in Vernasca…a truly memorable social, driving and automotive experience. Prizes are awarded to selected cars in the nine different categories, reflecting not only driving but preparation, effort, sportsmanship and historical significance, the Best in Show award this year going to the 1934 Alfa Romeo 6C 2300 Pescara Coupe of Giorgio Caprara.
Vernasca Silver Flag Hillclimb 2011 – Photo Gallery