23-24 December: This Weekend in Motor Sport History

Discover the momentous motor sports events that took place during this weekend in history …….

~23 December~

1971: Alessandro Cagno (88), winner of the first Targa Florio, died. One of the toughest competitions in Europe, the first Targa Florio covered 3 laps equalling 277 miles through multiple hairpin curves on treacherous mountain roads in Sicily, at heights where severe changes in climate frequently occurred. Alessandro Cagno won the inaugural 1906 race in nine hours, averaging 30 mph. He was apprenticed at 13 to a Turin engineering factory he was later recruited by Giovanni Agnelli as employee number 3 at F.I.A.T. (Fiat), where he progressed to be a test driver, Agnelli’s personal driver and works racing team driver. In 1906 he won the inaugural Targa Florio in Sicily after switching to the Itala team. Cagno co-founded ‘AVIS-Voisin‘ (Atelier Voisin Italie Septentrionale) to build Voisin aircraft under licence. He designed and tested aircraft, founded Italy’s first flying school in Pordenone, and was the first person to fly above Venice. After volunteering as a pilot for the Italo-Turkish War (1911-1912) in Libya he invented a bomb aiming device.

Prince Bira of Siam

Prince Bira of Siam

1985: Legendary racing driver Prince Bira of Siam died of a heart attack aged 71 while travelling on the London Underground between Hammersmith and Baron’s Court. It was a very ordinary end for an extraordinary character. Officially called Prince Birabangse Bhanudej Bhanubandh – he started racing in a Riley Imp at Brooklands in 1935. Although he raced in 19 modern-era grand prix, he is more famous for his pre-war successes at the wheel of his pale blue and yellow ERA R2B known as Romulus.

1993: The 740 bhp V12 Ferrari 93A, a Formula One car designed by Jean-Claude Migeot and built by Scuderia Ferrari for the 1993 Formula One season made its debut to the public. Alesi and Berger had a moderately successful season in the Ferrari 93a, finishing the Constructors Championship in 4th place with 28 points, some 44 points behind 3rd placed Benetton and their Ford powered V8 engined cars.

~24 December~

2000: John Cooper, the driving force behind the Cooper Car Company died aged 77. With his father, Charles, he started building racing cars after the Second World War; and it was Stirling Moss who gave the company its first GP victory in the 1958 Argentine Grand Prix. This was the first rear engine car to win a grand prix and started a revolution – within two years all the cars on the grid were rear engined. “He made a great contribution to the sport of motor racing – he put England back on top,” Stirling Moss said. “It’s thanks to John Cooper that I was able to get into the sport as his racing cars were relatively cheap.” Cooper’s development of the British Motor Corporation Mini — the Mini Cooper — was adored by both rally racers and ordinary road drivers. Before John Cooper’s death, the Cooper name was licensed to BMW for the higher-performance versions of the cars, inspired by the original Mini, sold as the MINI. John, along with his son Mike Cooper, served in an advisory role to BMW and Rover’s New MINI design team. Cooper was the last surviving Formula One team principal from the formative years of the sport, and he often lamented later in life that the fun had long since gone out of racing. He helped establish Britain’s domination of motorsport technology, which continues today, and he received the Order of the British Empire (CBE) for his services to British motorsport. He remained head of the West Sussex family garage business (which had outlets for Mini Cooper at East Preston and Honda at Ferring) until his death.

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