It was 1929 and two races were already on the books. The number of entries suffered due the Monaco Grand Prix being run the same weekend yet still Campari returned to defend his title against the likes of Borzacchini, Brilli-Peri, Varzi and Nuvolari. Alfa Romeo brought a large contingent of cars, so large in fact that it comprised over a quarter of the entries. Ernesto Maserati drove for the family while Maggi and Mazzotti drove an O.M. as did Brivio, Arcangeli, a former top motorcyclist, and Tazio Nuvolari. Lancia continued to make an annual appearance but without the commitment to make a major assault it seemed to rely more and more on a gift win.
The race was having the desired effects as the cars from Italy began to dominate the international calendar but this race still lacked any significant non-Italian entry. The paucity of foreign entries seemed to matter little to the local fans who took the race to their hearts and turned it into a national celebration. In fact some of the more optimistic fans chose to view the race through the windshield of a Fiat 509 for it was cars from this manufacturer that allowed the erstwhile “ace” to live his dreams if only for a weekend a year. These became the moving chicanes that would continue to un-nerve the top drivers such as Fangio a quarter century later. The lack of foreign entrants was balanced somewhat by more women drivers. Prominent among these were Baroness Avanzo, the actress Mimi Aylmer and Eugenia Spadon, said to be admired by Prince Umberto of Savoy and by Galeazzo Ciano, Mussolini’s son-in- law in a Lancia Lambda saloon.
By now the tradition of the slowest cars being let off first had been established. For this honor they were greeted by drenching rain. After the last of the smaller cars had disappeared in a plume of gas, oil and aspirations a half hour was allowed to lapse before the remainder of the field were under way. The rain for the most part had stopped and whether the half hour delay was to allow the smaller cars a longer time in the sun or to spread out these moving obstacles more evenly is unknown. After the start the crowd would move to the Piazza Zanardelli and congregate around the large signboards and loudspeakers that would relay the results from the numerous checkpoints and reporting stations. Some of which were no more than local gas stations or even private homes for anyone with a telephone could become a reporter on the scene. As if watching an election (a novelty in Fascist ruled Italy) the crowd buzzed over every announcement.
The early part of the race saw the lone Maserati take the lead into Bologna. It turned out to be a short day at the office for Nuvolari who crashed out, luckily with more damage to his pride than his person. Behind the Maserati came four Alfas led by the burley Campari, last year’s winner. Over the Apennines, which only a week before was impassable due to snow, and down to Rome. Varzi’s Alfa caught fire forcing the driver to stop and put it the blaze. Could the memory of this episode have caused Varzi, under similar fiery conditions, to race on at the Targa Florio the following year? Borzacchanni was nominally Maserati’s co-driver but the pace of the car as it led into Rome suggested that the opposite may have been true. In fact this caught the eye of Enzo Ferrari who would later offer a drive to the talented “co-driver”. Alas all hope of a Maserati win came to naught due to a broken transmission the result of some over exuberance perhaps. Sadly the marquee would not come as close to an outright win again.
Campari now assumed the lead over the O.M. of Morandi/Rosa and the smoldering but hard-charging Varzi. Just after seven in the morning the roar of the supercharged Alfa 1750 could be heard on the outskirts of Brescia. Even with two punctures adding to his five previous, Campari had enough in hand to win by 10 minutes over the O.M. and another 2 over his slightly singed teammate. Varzi swore not to let a small car fire stop him again. Minoia who came in 6th in another Alfa was just happy to finish for the front of his car was pointing in a different direction than the back end due to a collision with an unfortunate Alsatian dog.