Tazio Nuvolari - The Man And Car Who Single-Handedly Beat Hitler
The fearless man and car who beat Hitler at his own race...
1955 Mille Miglia, 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans, 2020 Sakhir Grand Prix. Names of iconic races and drives that defined an era. Whether it was Stirling Moss roaring through the streets of Italy or whether it was Ken Miles pushing the GT40 to limits it never experienced. Or rather Ayrton Senna taking his first victory in Brazil while also trying to maintain the lead with his only gear... sixth gear, nearly stalling the Honda-powered Mclaren. In motorsport history, there is always a specific race or drive that changed the racing world forever. However, most forget that motorsport events and races were held before World War II, and when you dive into pre-war automotive and motorsport history, you find out about the bravest people to have lived.
A man who knows no fear... brave, ballsy, and has the mindset of a warrior. Tazio Nuvolari. Who else would I be talking about? Tazio Giorgio Nuvolari was an Italian racing driver born in 1892 who had an extraordinary talent of versatility and being able to manage high speed in dangerous conditions. The Italian raced 2-seaters to single-seaters and even started out with 2-wheelers. Tazio didn't just race in these automobiles, he won in them as well, countless times. No matter what obstacle or race it was, Nuvolari or nicknamed 'Nivola' would always take up the challenge.
Photo Credit: My Auto World
When Hitler was in power, he took any opportunity to demonstrate his despicable power at any given moment. It wasn't just military-wise, even in sports he would want to show off his maddening command. It was the year 1935, and the German Grand Prix was the biggest event the Germans held, they wanted this event to prove who was "the best" and they took every penny and put it to use in their cars and drivers to get the ultimate results. They had given Auto Union and Mercedes a quarter-million Deutsche Marks to make sure the cars were able to cross that finish line first. They came up with the Mercedes w25, a straight-8 supercharged, fully independent suspension, newfangled machine. It had 375 plus horsepower and an insane top speed of 180 mph. The Auto Unions had a rear-engined V16 integrated with a compressor or also known as supercharger which let out a total of 400 horsepower, the engine designed by Ferdinand Porsche, of course. Mercedes were set to win. Although, what they hadn't planned out was Tazio.
The Germans invited the Alfa Romeo's that was then run by Ferrari, and they invited some other cars and one Bugatti as well, solely for competition purposes, even though they thought they were going to win, they still wanted to make things interesting for the spectators. Yet, the only car you need to know about is the 1935 Alfa Romeo P3 Tipo B. Outdated, 3 years old, supercharged straight-8, it put out about 275 horsepower total and was able to reach 150 mph. Very impressive for its time, but compared to the Mercedes, it was just an old "Go-cart". Nonetheless, the P3 Tipo B was awaiting the right pilot, and that was no other than Nuvolari himself.
Photo Credit: Guerin Sportivo
Evidently, the German car meant that they needed the best German drivers to win at the 1935 German Grand Prix or now known as the most amazing racing win in all of motorsport history. The Nürburgring Nordschleife hosted from around 200,000 to 300,000 spectators during that specific day. A historic circuit with 174 terrifying turns and corners with 1930 Grand Prix cars being thrown around it, what else could go wrong? You would think Tazio would be scared, but in a matter of fact, he wasn't the slightest scared, not even of Hitler and his Nazis. Dubbed the "Green Hell" by Sir Jackie Stewart, the Nürburgring was ever-so-dangerous and played a threat to all the cars there.
It was "qualifying" day. And by qualifying day I mean pulling out a piece of paper that determined your grid spot. Tazio drew his ballot and qualified decently on the grid, as he had an upfront spot. The Mercedes were all the way in the back of the grid. You could cut the tension surrounding the area with a knife that day. Still, Mercedes had a massive advantage with the fastest race car there at the time. It was drizzling, the Alfas were outnumbered, and they were down immense power, their positions on the grid was their only chance... or not.
Credit: Road & Track
And the cars were off! The Alfas got a horrible start and fell back to the grid as the Mercedes flew by. Nuvolari's Italian teammates also had horrible start's as their rear and transmission failed, leaving Tazio alone and focused. Interestingly enough, they never told Tazio that his teammates' retired, which honestly helped the legend keep his focus and mindset in the right place. 22 laps all together and Tazio was fighting his way up to the grid. The Italian only knows one language, and that's flat out. Nivola's aggressive flat-out style and four-wheel drift technique helped him and the Alfa in treacherous conditions and rain. With all the wheels sliding, floating, and being pushed into corners, it is in no matter of time that Tazio was up in second place.
To be able to push this underpowered car around such a strenuous track while also trying to get every single horsepower out of the Alfa is unthinkable today. Yet, that is what Tazio did, and he was able to execute these long stunning drifts while also racing in the most horrendous conditions. The Germans decided to stay out until the fuel was running low and Tazio followed them into the pits, Mercedes changed each one of their cars one by one, however, Tazio was still in the pit box. It was chaos. The Ferrari pit crew broke the fuel pump and were trying to figure out how to get fuel into the Alfa, they are running around grabbing bottles of fuel, spilling it all over the car while Tazio just stood there. The pit stop lasted a total of two minutes and 14 seconds.
Painting credit: Unknown
Tazio Nuvolari was infuriated. Not just infuriated, but his blood was boiling. He rushed out of the pits and ended up sixth and that is when Tazio started driving the ultimate race. He started overtaking all the Unions one by one, he was driving like a maniac. The Germans were petrified, they even put up pit signals reading "Stay away from Nuvolari" because they thought he went absolutely insane. Everyone thought he was going to crash out from driving at these impossible speeds around such a track. Shattering through the wet conditions, Tazio made it to second place where he was behind the Mercedes that seemed unbeatable and untouchable. However, these are cars from the 30s were talking about, and those tires on the Mercedes were starting to wear out quickly.
The last lap arrives and Nuvolari was only 32 seconds behind the Silver Arrow, pushing the silver car to its absolute limit, leaving no space whatsoever. The team was begging the Mercedes to stay out, or it would be over for them, but, it was already over when Tazio made the German overdrive his Mercedes until his rear tire exploded, letting Tazio take the lead and blast past.
Credit: Grand Prix History
The German crowd was left speechless and in shock when no other than an Alfa Romeo crossed the finish line first, not seconds ahead, but minutes ahead of the whole entire pact. The Germans only carried the German National Anthem because they thought they would be victorious, but no worries, Tazio carried his own Italian National Anthem and played in front of the entire Nazi party. Classy indeed.
Tazio Nuvolari accomplished the impossible that day and was able to do it in an underpowered, stripped-down, and unsafe race car... while also driving in the rain around the menacing Nürburgring Nordschleife beating the top team. An underrated legend and drive.