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FRANCO CORTESE’S BRIT RIDE

ITALIAN RACE DRIVER Franco Cortese competed in 156 races between 1927 and his 1958 retirement. These included one Formula One Grand Prix, three Formula Two Grands Prix, and 14 Mille Miglias (the most of any driver). A partial list of cars piloted by Cortese includes Italas, Alfa Romeos, Maseratis, Lancias, Ferraris (one, in the marque’s racing debut)—and British Frazer Nash Le Mans Replicas.

Frazer Nash Le Mans Replicas??

Here are tidbits about this Italian driver and his Brit ride in the 1951 Targa Florio

Background. Franco Cortese was born in Oggebbio, in the Piedmont region of northeast Italy, sort of at the boot’s top front. His first competitive drive came at the age of 25, co-driving in the inaugural Mille Miglia in 1927. Three OMs finished first, second, and third. The Baroncini/Cortese Itala 51 placed eighth. 

Franco “Chicchino” Cortese, 1903–1986, Italian race driver, Formula One team founder, Frazer-Nash driver of note. Image from Motorsport magazine.

Cortese’s racing career—all 156 races—has key details listed at Wikipedia. His first win came in an Alfa Romeo 6C 2300A co-driven with Francesco Severi in the 1934 Targa Abruzzo. Cortese also won other Targa Abruzzo events: in 1935 (again with Severi), 1937 (solo), and 1938 (with Pietro Ghersi).

The Targa Abruzzo was held on the Circuito di Pescara, comprised of public roads in the hills surrounding Pescara, about halfway up the boot on the Adriatic coast. 

The 3.4-mile Start/Finish straight of the 16.0-mile Pescara Circuit received an artificial chicane in 1934. This was 56 years before Le Mans’ 3.7-mile Mulsanne straight got its two chicanes.

Pescara Tidbits: Enzo Ferrari had his fourth and final victorious Grand Prix drive at Pescara in 1924. The circuit hosted a Grand Prix in 1957, thus setting a record for longest circuit in the Grand Prix World Championship (the original Nürburgring was second-longest, at 14.3 miles).  

Scuderia Ambrosiana. Franco Cortese co-founded the Scuderia Ambrosiana Formula One team; other co-founders being Count Giovanni Lurani, driver Luigi Viilloresi, and Eugenio Minetti. The team’s name honored St. Ambrose, Milan’s patron saint. 

One source dates the team’s founding to 1936. Another, though it cites a founding date of 1950, lists Scuderia Ambrosiana supporting Cortese’s Maserati 6CM drives in 1937-1938, his Alfa Romeo drive in 1939, and Lancia and Fiat drives in 1946. 

Scuderia Ambrosiana competed sporadically in the Formula One World Championship, in 1950 and 1951 (with 1.5-liter Maseratis) and in 1954 (with a 2.5-liter Ferrari). Brits David Hampshire, David Murray, and Reg Parnell were the drivers. 

The English Connection. The first of Archie Frazer Nash’s Frazer Nash cars appeared in 1924. (He added a hyphen to his surname in 1938; the car company, having been sold in 1927, was to stay sans hyphen.)

Archie’s designs had final drive by chain. Post-war Frazer Nashes were rather more conventional; indeed, they were patterned (via spoils of war) after the BMW 328. 

The company’s owners, H.J. “Aldy” Aldington and his brother Bill, were firm believers that racing improved the breed (and certainly didn’t hurt marketing). Before long, Frazer Nash’s Fast Tourer, High Speed, and Competition models earned monikers Le Mans Replica, Mille Miglia, Targa Florio, and Sebring.  

This began in 1949 when Mrs. P. Trevalyan entered her Frazer Nash High Speed in Le Mans (the first one held post-World War II). Norman Culpan co-drove with Aldy; they placed third, ahead of such marques as Delage, Delahaye, Bentley, and Aston Martin. This Frazer Nash model subsequently became the Le Mans Replica.

Image from pininterest.co.uk.

The Italian Hookup. As described in “Replica Need Not be a Dirty Word,” “A young up-and-comer named Stirling Moss drove a Le Mans Replica to victory in the 1951 British Empire Trophy race on the Isle of Man. At the same time, Italian auto engineer/sportsman/journalist Count ‘Johnny’ Lurani [he of the Scuderia Ambrosiana venture] arranged another Le Mans Replica to be driven in both the Mille Miglia and ultra-rugged Sicilian Targa Florio.”

The headline puns on the winner’s name: “Courteous Timekeeper at Appointment of the 35th Targa Florio.” The banner above it reads “Disheveled drivers on Madonie  Switchbacks.” Image from Historia Jakiej Nie Znacie, Polish: “A Story You Don’t Know” which also contains a marvelous collection of 1951 Targa Florio photos.

Franco Cortese brought his Frazer Nash Le Mans Replica home first in the 1951 Targa Florio. His time of 7 hours 31 minutes 7.8 seconds was 3 minutes ahead of a second-place Ferrari, behind which the only other finishers were a Maserati, two Cisitalias, a Fiat, and a Siata Fiat. 

Cortese and his Targa-winning Frazer Nash Le Mans Replica. Image from Historia Jakiej Nie Znacie.

Franco Cortese had already raced—and won—in Ferraris, Maseratis, and a Cisitalia.  ds 

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2021 

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