For years we read and hear stories of great drivers and races and we stand in awe. One of the most celebrated automotive race wins of all time was when Juan Manuel Fangio won the 1953 La Carrera Panamericana. Anyone who races knows that regardless of every possible facet involved in winning a race there will always be some element of luck involved. Like any fan or student of La Carerra Panamericana I have known for years about the fact that Fangio won the 1953 La Carrera Panamericana without winning a single stage but until today I was not aware of some other interesting facts that led me to realize there was a whole lot of luck involved in Fangios win. Had it not been for a whole chain of events Fangio would never have won that race. It can also be said that you should never give up regardless of the adversity you may be faced with, and obvciouisly Fangio did not in this case. Nonetheless it's interesting to learn Fangio was not the shining star during this particular race that so many thought to him to be.
During the 1953 Carrera Panamericana one of the greatest Italian road racers, Felice Bonetto, was driving for the Scuderia Lancia team. Lancia had entered an incredible team of five cars for Felice Bonetto, Juan Manuel Fangio and Piero Taruffi, winner of the 1951 edition of the race, in three 3.3-litre D24 cars, and Giovanni Bracco and Eugenio Castellotti with two 3-litre models, with a crew of about 30 mechanics and engineer, with one service truck and with Gianni Lancia in person as team-manager, following the 6,000 kms race in a private airplane. Their best competitors were Umberto Maglioli - Pasquale Cassani, Mario Ricci - Forese Salviati and Luigi Chinetti - Fon de Portago in three 4,5-litre Ferrari 375MM, and other private Ferraris driven by Antonio Stagnoli - Giuseppe Scotuzzi, Guido Mancini - Fabrizio Serena and a couple of young American drivers, Phil Hill - Richie Ginther and Louis Rosier who raced alone his Talbot Lago.
Felice Bonetto making good time.
On the second day of the 1953 La Carrera Panamericana, Felice Bonetto led the race on aggregate, retaining an advantage of 41sec. Fangio had sustained an accident and his car’s axle was broken but the Lancia mechanics were able to repair it before the start of the next stage. By now Fangio seemed out of the race with a gap of about seven minutes behind Bonetto.
Felice Bonetto enjoying a smoke while taking a a well deserved break.
As they were headed towards Queretaro Felice Bonetto and Piero Taruffi where racing hard when Taruffi tried too hard and ran off the road. Luckily the car wasn’t damaged and he got back on the road again with the help of some spectators. In the meantime Bonetto didn’t slow down, perhaps because he did'nt realize Taruffi was out of the race and he kept on pushing. As a result and ironicaly Bonetto crashed in the very spot where he had painted blue danger signals prior to the race and he was supposed to slow down to 60mph but instead he was doing over 125mph when his Lancia suddenly swerved and crashed against the balcony of a house and was killed.
After Bonetto's death, team owner Gianni Lancia wanted to withdraw, but Fangio, Bracco, Taruffi and Castellotti decided to keep on racing, in honor of their team mate. Eventually after the remaining cars had some problems Juan Manuel Fangio went on to win the race without ever winning a single stage.
Fangio takes the checkered flag.
Felice Bonetto was survived by wife Liliana and 15-years-old son Roberto. Some years later Roberto Bonetto became a well known motorsport journalist in Italy. During his honeymoon in the 1970s he went to Mexico to visit the place of his father’s death. In the village of Silao he found two memorials for Felice Bonetto, a plaque on the wall of the house, where the fatal balcony had been demolished, and a monument with a bronze bust in Silao cemetery. There was a legend about this monument, inside which it seems Bonetto’s heart is preserved; the day after Bonetto's fatal accident, the Mexican doctor who made the postmortem examination decided that such a strong heart like Bonetto’s must remain in territory of Mexico!
Felice Bonetto is buried at the Italian section of Mexico City's Dolores Cemetery.