Friday favourite: The “mind blowing” Moss Mercedes that amazed Franchitti
Dario Franchitti isn’t short of remarkable cars to choose from when it comes to selecting a favourite.
The four-time IndyCar champion has driven dozens of notable racers, from the Mercedes-Benz W196 that Juan Manuel Fangio took to the 1954 Formula 1 world championship to Colin Chapman’s twin chassis Lotus 88.
PLUS: Why the last innovative Lotus was banned
You might have expected the Scot to choose something once raced by his hero Jim Clark – he has had outings in Clark’s 1965 Indy-winning Lotus-Ford Type 38 and owns his 1964 British Saloon Car Championship-winning Lotus Cortina – but he instead opts for something more “left field” as his ultimate favourite.
During three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Franchitti’s tenure with Mercedes, after securing a DTM drive for 1995, he was handed the keys to the 300 SLR in which Stirling Moss and navigator Denis Jenkinson famously won the 1955 Mille Miglia.
The pair tore through 992 miles of Italian countryside in just over 10 hours to set a record that would never be broken. They were over half an hour clear of second man Fangio, and 45 minutes ahead of the third-placed Ferrari.
PLUS: The 10 greatest drives of Stirling Moss
The victory also made Moss, who died in 2020, one of just two non-Italians to take victory in the race’s 23 full editions after German ace Rudolf Caracciola in 1931.
“We were taking bends at absolutely full speed, something I could never have done on my own on a road I didn’t know, and going over blind brows at 170mph, knowing exactly what lay ahead from the notes,” Moss said in ‘My Greatest Race’, edited by Adrian Ball.
“It was one of the greatest moments of my motor racing life. Of all the races I entered, I can’t find another to compare with it.”
Moss famously triumphed with Jenkinson alongside on the 1955 Mille Miglia
Photo by: Daimler AG
For Franchitti, driving the Mercedes #722 was a “wonderful” experience in the early years of his career. Perhaps unsurprisingly, despite his tender age, he was absolutely “aware of the history”.
“I was 21 when Mercedes threw me the key to that thing,” Franchitti relates. “It’s one of the most important cars in the world, but what a wonderful thing to drive. It was a lot of fun.
“I did a couple of demos in it for Mercedes when I was part of the junior team. They asked Jan Magnussen [Franchitti’s 1995-96 team-mate in the Class 1 Mercedes squad] if we would care to go for a play. Of course, we said yes. There was also a W196 GP car [from 1954-55].
“Of course, as a 21-year-old, you drive on the limit, which looking back is mildly terrifying” Dario Franchitti
“The first time I drove it, I remember it was a test track at the Mercedes Centre in Stuttgart, and then I drove it subsequently in a couple of places. I think I drove it at Hockenheim, the Nurburgring Grand Prix circuit. That was a pretty special car.
“It really was [a special experience]. Even as a 21-year-old, I was aware of the history of that car, and its performance was pretty mind blowing. Of course, as a 21-year-old, you drive on the limit, which looking back is mildly terrifying.
Read Also:Friday favourite: The forgotten 1990s F1 car adored by a Spa legendFriday favourite: The BMW-powered weapon that broke F2 recordsFriday favourite: The last Penske-Porsche partnership that sets expectations for 963
“Anytime Jan and myself were asked to drive those, we drove it pretty quickly.”
It was retired from use following the 2021 Goodwood Revival, but the car’s legacy will live on far into the future.
As a young Mercedes DTM racer Franchitti relished the opportunity to drive Moss’s chariot
Photo by: Motorsport Images