De Sanctis 1966

In 1964 I raced a Lotus 22 as a team with Piers Courage, which we called “Anglo Swiss Racing”, on the basis that we had a friend in Lausanne who would let us use his garage. We were often in Italy where I was impressed by a beautiful little red car driven very stylishly by a Sicilian called “Geki” Russo, always at the front and frequently winning. The car was built in Rome by Gino De Sanctis and designed by his son Lucio. Rather cheekily, through an intermediary, Louis Zavattero who was a loyal supporter and Anglophile, who came to most of the races with the team, I asked if I could drive for them. The unsurprising answer came back. “No.” In 1965, when Piers and I were winning most of the important F3 races in Europe, Louis Zavattero came up to me at Monza and told me that Gino De Sanctis would now like me to drive his car. It was my turn to say “No.” but towards the end of the year when it became clear to me that I would no longer have a place at Charles Lucas Engineering, I sent a message to Rome that the time was right, and the reply was positive.

Gino De Sanctis was born in the Abruzzo region of Italy. As a teenager, he saw his first car driving through his village on the unpaved road, and was seduced. Asking where it had come from, someone said “Rome, there are many of them there”, so he walked to Rome carrying his few possessions and found work in a garage. He was astute, committed, and soon made enough money to allow him to buy a Fiat Balilla and race as an amateur in the 1930's. There were pictures of him competing in the Mille Miglia and elsewhere on the wall of his office. Lucio had a university education as an engineer, and also raced the first cars of his own construction, very well, it must be said, before deciding he preferred the challenge of design.

Jonathan Williams

I flew down to Rome and then on to Catania for my first race for the De Sanctis team, in October 1965 for an F2 race at Siracusa. I found the car underpowered compared to the Cosworth opposition, the handling more Lotus than Brabham, and the steering ratio far too low. I retired with engine failure after 29 laps of the interesting road circuit. So, after doing my last four races for Charlie Lucas in the Argentinian Temporada, I moved to Rome in March 1966 to start testing the new car. It took me a while to understand the Italian way of working. We started at around 09.30 in a bar with an espresso and croissant, around 11.00 it was across the street for another coffee, then at 12.30 we went to Ettore's trattoria for a two hour lunch hosted by and paid for by Gino De Sanctis who would always end his meal with a glass of Fernet Branca and an alka selza. We would then return to the shop and work on with various comfort breaks until around 21.00, by which time various friends and supporters would have arrived in time for another long meal and debrief at Ettore's. Nonetheless, in this way, things got done, and in a very civilized way. Our workshop in Via Arno was in a pleasant northern suburb of the city; Gino De Sanctis lived in a large apartment overhead. It was small and the personnel consisted of “Sor” Gino, as he was respectfully called, constantly on the telephone in his tiny office, a burning cigarette in his mouth, Lucio, a mechanic, Marcello, and his apprentice, Ezio. Other specialists came in as needed, a carburetor expert, an aerodynamicist, Engineer Pallanca who designed the drag reducing air vents on the top of the beautiful aluminium bodywork which was made by the two Filaccione brothers on the other side of town who, like all true artists, were rather temperamental and didn't recognize deadlines. We had a dynamometer in a shed alongside a gas station on the Via Salaria, where Lucio tested our engines. No sound proofed, filtered air chamber this, everything out in the open, the noise, dust, heat and smell. It may not seem like a lot, but it was enough. Our success that year came from dedication, knowledge and meticulous preparation. Our engines came from Cosworth, I had three. One in the car, a spare at the race, and one being rebuilt in Rome. When we received them from the UK, they were immediately stripped down, without being run, and everything was re-balanced, oil flow to the big ends improved, and friction reduced. Cosworth guaranteed 100 bhp to customers. I had 108 bhp or 109 bhp. Always. We used a Colotti gearbox as opposed to the usual Hewland. It was lovely to use, and I think it had less drag, but changing gear ratios was very complicated. Thankfully Marcello was a genius at this task. We tested a great deal at Vallelunga, but never on Tuesday which Lucio considered an unlucky day. He always stopped off at a church on the way to the circuit at Monza, to pray for a win, I assume, which seemed to work, more often than not. During test sessions there was never an ambulance or fire engine present, but that was perfectly normal in those days. The car would be towed to the races on a trailer behind a Fiat 2100 wagon driven by Marcello who was accompanied by Ezio. Lucio and Gino drove there separately in his Lancia Aurelia and I went in my Porsche 356 Cabrio. I guess we all liked our independence.

Jonathan Williams

We won races at Monza, Lake Garda, Imola, Mugello, Vallelunga, Caserta and Pergusa. Our three trips outside of Italy weren't quite as successful, fourth at Monaco and Reims, and second at Villa Real behind John Fenning's Brabham which rode the bumps better than my stiffer car. With hind sight, the slipstreaming races at Monza and Enna/Pergusa were incredibly dangerous and I am amazed that there weren't more tragedies. I loved racing on public roads and my favourite win is Lake Garda. Around 15kms a lap, walls and trees to hit, ravines to fall down into, but magic at the time. I also won at the old Mugello road circuit, 66.2 kms per lap, beating Boley Pitard in the strange but effective BWA car. I raced the beautiful but unreliable De Sanctis 1000 Sport there, too, but it broke down. Apart from the visiting drivers, the best Italians were Geki Russo who had a lovely driving style, Ernesto Brambilla was a hard racer, Andrea De Adamich was a thinker and good in the wet. My team mates, Romano Perdomi “Tiger”, and Antonio Maglione were quick, and great people to be around. Tragically, “Tiger” and “Geki” both died at Caserta in 1967, the last time the race was held.

No question in my mind, 1966 was one of the happiest periods of my life. Winning is a nice feeling, and there was plenty of it. “Sor” Gino treated me like a second son, Lucio remains my friend. They trusted me to deliver, and there was nothing I could ask for which might make the car faster that they wouldn't give me. On top of that, I was living in one of the most beautiful cities in the world, and at the right time. You could park your car easily, eat fantastic food anywhere for a very small price, walk home safely at night, see beautiful things every few metres, spray cans hadn't been invented. Sadly, today, the opposite is true. Anyway, this led to Enzo Ferrari inviting me to drive for him in 1967, which is a hard thing for a young driver to refuse, so I didn't, but that's another story.

Jonathan Williams