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201505 Oct

Merc-History-Targa-Florio-1

Targa Florio in Italy, October 16, 1955. Winner Stirling Moss (starting number 104) with Mercedes-Benz model 300 SLR racing car during a pit stop for a tyre change

 

The Targa Florio was the decisive contest in the 1955 World Sports Car Championship. Under tremendous pressure to succeed in this, the final race of the season, Mercedes-Benz finished first and second with the 300 SLR, just enough to win the World Championship. This was a triumph that allowed the Mercedes star to shine more brightly than ever before.

 

1955 was a year of top-drawer motorsport: Juan Manuel Fangio won his second Formula One world title in a Mercedes-Benz W 196 R. Werner Engel was the European Touring Car Champion in his 300 SL "Gullwing" (W 198) production sports car, and Paul O'Shea won the US Class D Sports Car Championship. The shining star of the World Sports Car Championship was the 300 SLR (W 196 S). Closely related to the Formula One racer, this was the car entered by Mercedes-Benz for the six-race series. The brand decided against contesting the first two races, the 1000 Kilometres of Buenos Aires on 22 January 1955 and the 12 Hours of Sebring on 13 March 1955, so allowing the competition to open up a lead in the rankings, which Mercedes-Benz had to make up in the remaining four races.

 

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Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR sports racer (start number 106). In this car, the drivers’ team of John Fitch and Desmond Titterington finished in fourth place

 

The first appearance of the 300 SLR in Italy's Mille Miglia on 1 May was to prove a spectacular debut, with Stirling Moss and Juan Manuel Fangio posting the brand's first one-two finish in the World Sports Car Championship.

 

The next race was the 24 Hours of Le Mans on June 11/12, at which Mercedes-Benz competed with three 300 SLRs. Yet, after the vehicle of Mercedes-Benz driver Pierre Levegh was blamelessly involved in what was until then the worst accident in motorsport history, race manager Alfred Neubauer took the decision, in consultation with the company management, to withdraw the race-leading 300 SLRs out of respect for the victims. This meant that Le Mans brought no points for Mercedes-Benz. Its rivals having retaken the lead in the rankings, the brand from Stuttgart had just two races left in which to secure overall victory in the World Sports Car Championship – for that was the unambiguous intention with which Mercedes-Benz had gone into the six-race series.

 

At the International Tourist Trophy in Dundrod, Northern Ireland, on September 17,1955, 300 SLRs took the first three places to propel Mercedes-Benz up the points table. But this was not enough, because Ferrari still had its nose in front. Worse still: as just a second-place finish in the last race of the season would be enough to give Ferrari the title, the team from Stuttgart needed not only a victory in the Targa Florio, but a one-two finish to keep out Ferrari and Jaguar.

 

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Mercedes-Benz high-speed transporter with the 300 SLR racing car, start number 106, of the Fitch/Titterington team (4th place)

 

Incidentally, there were two other 1955 races in which Mercedes-Benz entered its 300 SLRs, but these did not count towards the World Championship. Fangio and Moss finished first and second respectively in both the International Eifel Race on the Nurburgring on May 29 and the Grand Prix of Sweden in Kristianstad on August 7.

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