On the morning of 6 May 1906, at 6 o’clock on the dot, the first edition of the Targa Florio got under way on the Madonie circuit, not far from Palermo: the dream of its creator, the aristocratic Vincenzo Florio, had finally come true. Many people consider the Targa Florio to be the first real car race in history – it is certainly one of the most famous and, right from its first edition, it became one the great classics of motor sport. The race started from the Buonfornello straight, down by the sea, and then climbed up the narrow winding roads of the Sicilian mountains, from Cerda to Caltavuturo, Petralia, and Collesano. A total of 146 kilometres repeated three times all the way to the finishing line in Campofelice, where a cannon shot and blaring trumpets greeted the winner.
The first to cross the line was Alessandro Cagno in an Itala car that made it round the course in just over 9 hours, at the extraordinary average speed of almost 47 km/h. Behind him came Ettore Graziani, in another Itala, bearing the number 10. The Italians notched up a point in the endless duel between the “Transalpine cousins”, for the Frenchman Paul Bablot came in only third, in his Berliet 24/40 HP. And this was despite the withdrawal of the highly favoured Vincenzo Lancia, a star in the new sport of motor racing, who had entered the race in a Fiat emblazoned with the number 1.
All those years ago, in 1906, Pirelli had only been manufacturing tyres for a few years and had just started to enter the fray of the racing world. Some encouraging successes the previous year, however, with the Marchand runabout, had promised well for the future. The triumph in the Peking-Paris race 1907 with none other than an Itala would soon show that Pirelli Ercole tyres could do their bit. As did the legendary Targa Florio. The first great acknowledgement came in the 1913 race, when Felice Nazzaro, the winner, felt he just had to send a wire to the engineer Giovanni Battista Pirelli in Milan, congratulating him on “your excellent dérapants”. Those tyres had helped him slash a full four hours off the previous record on the Madonie. Ushering in a long – and memorable – series of victories.