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Racing


La Temporada: Part I

June 20, 2002

by Estanislao M. Iacona
Photos from the Iacona - Bertschi collection

January 1947, for the first time, an official International race was organized in Argentina by the Argentinean Automovil Club (ACA). Due to the work of Francisco Borgonovo (ACA) and Corrado Fillipini (IT), the first season of what would later be called the "Temporada Argentina", was born. Famous Italian stars Varzi and Villoresi split the victories; two for the rising Gigi, one for the legendary Achille.

The main show...from left to right, Corrado Fillipini, Achille Varzi, Luigi "Gigi" Villoresi and Francisco Borgonovo

Argentina has always been involved with motor racing, as many of the immigrants who arrived in large numbers between 1900 and 1930 from Italy and Spain brought with them their enthusiasm for motorsports. Before World War II, motor racing activity in Argentina was growing year by year due to a flourishing economic situation, and because of the permanent propaganda the government was giving to the world of sports.

Prior to the war, few Europeans had raced in our country. The only "International" races that can be mentioned were Brazilians racing in Buenos Aires and Rosario (Santa Fe) during the thirties. Just before the war, the Argentinean Automobile Club had an arrangement with Mercedes Benz and Auto Union for a brief series of races. But, the beginning of the war put the project on hold.

After the war, Europe was devastated, but Argentina provided drivers and teams, not only a respite from the damaged landscape, but a winter vacation, as well. A number of famous pre-war drivers and cars were attracted to the events being planned in Argentina. As before the war, the government, now headed by an enthusiastic Juan Pern, supported these efforts.

For 1946, the Argentinean Automovil Club, through one of its most outstanding directors, Francisco "Pancho" Borgonovo, was organizing a season of three races for Grand Prix cars, known in Argentina as "Autos Especiales". Two races would be held at Retiro, in Buenos Aires, and a third in Rosario, Santa Fe, on circuits called "Parques", using wide avenues or, as the one in Rosario, a big park area. The idea was to promote motor racing in Argentina, and, in particular, the Automobile Club of our country. It was a massive task, however. The work of contacting someone in Italy who would manage to bring professional drivers to Argentina, the delay in the arrival of some of the cars, together with the work still to be done to the circuits, delayed the final date of the first race.

A view of the Retiro area. The main railway station of Buenos Aires is still located here.
Another view of the Retiro area.


Argentina was a very desirable location for Europeans: the Automobile Club of Argentina would pay up to US $1,000 per driver as premium for each race start, or what the Italians call "Prima di partenza" (a first class start). They would have a two-month summer holiday in a wonderful country with all expenses included. Finally, they would have the opportunity of selling the cars after the races at top dollar. We must also mention that Argentina is well known because of the abundance of beautiful women. Many lucky drivers would find ladies to listen to their often tall-tales, or find a girlfriend or even a wife, as Prince Bira did years later!


Lucky guy: Prince Bira with his Argentinean wife, "Chelita" Howard.
The first race was to be held on January 26th, 1947. However, the cars of Achille Varzi and George Raph (the Argentinean living in France, also known as Rafael Betenod de las Casas, Count Montbressieux) were still in Amberes, France, awaiting their voyage to Argentina. The race was postponed to February 9th. Both Varzi and Raph, together with Jean Pierre Wimille (who was not present for the Argentine event) entered the cars under the name of "Ecurie Naphtra Course" (Black Panther).

During late 1946 and early 1947 the circuit in Buenos Aires was opened on Sunday mornings for the drivers to test their cars. In "El Grafico" magazine N 1414 of August 16, 1946, there was a report of this activity, with photos. Retiro was a circuit of 2,410 meters, and was situated close to the most popular railway station of Buenos Aires. One of the first drivers to run on this track was the Italian pre-war hero Carlo Pintacuda (See VeloceToday, Carlo Pintacuda Part I, Part II and Part III) He sat at the wheel of the new Cisitalia D46, the beautiful creation of Piero Dusio and Dante Giacosa. Dusio was constructing a Cisitalia factory in Argentina, and many Cisitalias came with him. But, that's part of another story.


Achille Varzi in his Alfa Romeo 308 of the Naphtra Course.
Prior to the war, the Ritiro circuit was the setting for a race called "Premio Ciudad de Buenos Aires", organized by the ACA, and held the 22nd & 23rd November, 1941. A group of Brazilians, most of them racing Alfa Romeos, came to Buenos Aires. The race was a promenade for that year's Argentinean Pista champion: a skillful driver from Tandil, Buenos Aires, named Jose Antonio Canziani. That season, Canziani campaigned the Alfa Romeo 308C that, after the war, in 1947, was the property of another talented driver, Argentina's Oscar Alfredo Galvez.

The Argentineans were training hard for the 1947 race. Oscar Alfredo Galvez with his Alfa Romeo 308C, and Pablo Luis Pessatti with his Alfa Romeo 8C 35 were serious rivals. Others, such as Juan Galvez (Alfa Romeo P3) or Italo Bizio (Alfa Romeo 2900A), were using very tuned and updated old pre-war cars.

The mystery was what was coming from Europe...

to be continued...






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