De Portago was usually seen with a cigarette in his mouth. (LAT archive)
Paul Frere/Desmond Titterington (Jaguar D-type), retired, leads Jack Fairman/Ken Wharton (Jaguar D-type), retired, as they pass a spinning (fancy that!) Alfonso de Portago/Duncan Hamilton (Ferrari 625 LM) at Le Mans in 1956.
Take a moment today to remember Alfonso de Portago, who lost his life on this date in 1957 at age 28 during the running of the Mille Miglia.
Alfonso Antonio Vicente Eduardo Angel Blas Francisco de Borja Cabeza de Vaca y Leighton, Marquis of Portago, – who fortunately went by Alfonso de Portago, or "Fon" to his friends – exemplified the '50s image of the playboy-sportsman. By age 17, this Spanish nobleman had already flown a plane under a bridge, and he later ran in Britain's prestigious Grand National Steeplechase at Aintree as a "gentleman jockey," and participated in the 1956 Winter Olympic Games in bobsledding, placing fourth in the two-man category. In modern parlance, dude was a stud...
As a racer, Portago competed in five Formula 1 races, and placed second for Ferrari at the 1956 British Grand Prix (sharing the drive with Peter Collins). He also ran a variety of sports car races, including the prestigious Carrera Panamericana. He acquired a reputation for absolute fearlessness behind the wheel – for better or worse.
The circumstances of his tragic death – which also claimed the lives of 11 others – effectively put an end to Italy's Mille Miglia, one of the world's great sports car races on public roads. A blown tire prompted Portago's Ferrari to run off the road and into the crowd lining the highway. 10 spectators were killed, along with Portago and his co-driver, Edmund Nelson.
• On a happier note, Roy Francesco Salvadori turns 90 today. The British racer and team manager took part in 50 Formula 1 World Championship Grands Prix from 1952-'62, placing on the podium twice.
During a varied career he also won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1959, driving for Aston Martin and teamed with Carroll Shelby. After retiring from driving he returned to running his automotive dealership, but returned to F1 to manage the Cooper racing team in 1966 and '67.
May 12 has been a hard day in motorspots. Also lost on this day:
• Adam Petty, who died in a crash of his Busch Grand National Series (today's Nationwide Series) stock car on this date in 2000 at Loudon, N.H. The son of Kyle and grandson of Richard Petty was 19.
• Art Pollard, who passed away 39 years ago today from injuries suffered in a crash as a result of injuries sustained in practice for the 1973 Indianapolis 500 – the first of several casualties of that star-crossed month of May.
• Tony Bettenhausen, who lost his life in practice for the 1961 Indy 500, while testing a car entered for another driver.