With the countdown less than a month to the start of the Targa Florio Classica (October 13th - 16th), famous names from international motorsport are ready to take part in an edition that will go down in the history of the oldest race in the world.
In the spotlight is the participation of a driver who wrote important pages of motorsport in the 1960s and 1970s: Toine Hezemans. The Dutch champion, winner of the ETCC in 1970 and 1973, boasts six participations in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, as well as success in the 1971 edition of the Targa Florio with Nino Vaccarella driving an Alfa Romeo 33/3.
The driver from Eindhoven will take part in this year's regularity race at the wheel of an equally important car, the Porsche 911 T (Scuderia Real Art on Wheels) that triumphed in 1969 in the Gran Turismo category with Ostini - 'Nomex', the year in which the Stuttgart-based manufacturer celebrated four consecutive successes in the Madonie race.
You triumphed in the 1971 Targa Florio, leading an iconic Alfa Romeo 33/3 car to success on the Piccolo Circuito delle Madonie together with local idol Nino Vaccarella, beating the Porsche squadron. The following year you won there, again with the Alfa, a third place, climbing the podium again. How does it feel for you to return to the same places?
I am a lover of Sicily and the Targa Florio, which always gives unique emotions, as happened about ten years ago when I returned to race in the iconic island race, at the wheel of a historic car. This time, thanks to a friend, I will have the chance to race an important Porsche that won the GT 2.0 category in the '69 edition with Gianpiero Moretti, founder of MOMO.
What are your memories of the Sicilian crowd, which at the time was estimated at about one million spectators?
In those days there was a truly unique “air”, with fans starting to fill the track from the early hours of the morning. I remember with great affection the great support they gave Nino and me in 1971, not only cheering us on, but also helping us when our car ended up off the road and pushing us until we could get going again. Which was absolutely not the case when it was a Porsche's turn....
Last year Vaccarella, the “preside volante" so beloved by the people of his land and also around the world, passed away. What his image left to you?
Vaccarella was really special and at the Targa Florio, in front of his home crowd, he showed that he had an extra gear. I remember when he was driving and with the team we couldn't believe how fast he was. We could hear the roar of our car's engine and then for more than a minute there was absolute silence... With his helmet off he was a real gentleman, whereas I was a sort of cowboy at the time.
The Targa Florio at the time went through several villages. Do you remember what was the most difficult/fascinating leg of those 72 kilometers?
I remember that the track was initially very dirty and difficult to drive on, but then as the many cars passed by, the lines tended to get cleaner and you could drive better. The villages were easier, while on the open roads you had to be very careful. At that time Vaccarella kept a very high pace everywhere, while I tended to be more conservative in some stretches.
You have raced in many types and models of cars. Which of these does the sound of the engine still echo in your ears?
I am a great lover of 8- and 12-cylinder engines like Ferrari's, but one of the teams that has remained most in my heart is Alfa Romeo, with whom I have shared moments that will remain in my memory forever.
How you will face the 2022 edition?
I will not return to the Targa Florio to set a new record (he said smiling), but to have fun and enjoy the beauty of a unique land. It will be nice to crew with Mark Koense, who besides having worked in Formula 1 and having founded an important Dutch team, is now the author of several books on motorsport, including one about my career.