Alfonso de Portago
- October 11, 1928
- May 12, 1957
- Not Active
Alfonso de Portago (1928-1957) was a Spanish aristocrat and millionaire who was active in racing between 1953 and 1957, achieving some notable results. He made five starts in the Formula One World Championship, scoring one podium in the 1956 British Grand Prix, sharing a Ferrari with Peter Collins.
De Portago lost his life in an accident at Mille Miglia race in May 1957, killing himself, his co-driver Edmund Nelson and nine spectators. That accident marked an end of the Mille Miglia as one of the most famous road races in the world.
De Portago was also successful in other sports. He participated at 1956 Winter Olympic Games in Cortina d'Ampezzo as a member of Spain's first-ever bobsleigh team. In 1957, he won a bronze medal in a bobsleigh World Championship in St. Moritz.
Born in aristocratic and rich family
Alfonso was born on October 11, 1928, by Spanish father Antonio Cabeza de Vaca and Irish mother Olga Leighton. Born in the aristocratic and rich family as the Marquis of Portago, his full name was Alfonso Antonio Vicente Eduardo Angel Blas Francisco de Borja Cabeza de Vaca y Leighton. He was best known as Alfonso de Portago.
At the age 17, Alfonso won a bet when he flew his plane beneath London Bridge. At the young age, he also participated twice in the Grand National Steeplechase at Aintree Racecourse. He later became the only man to participate both in horse races and car races at Aintree.
Racing debut at 1953 Carrera Panamericana
Alfonso's interest to racing cars was born in 1953, when he met Ferrari importer in the USA, Luigi Chinetti, who asked him to be his co-driver at Carrera Panamericana race in November. They contested in the #45 Ferrari 375 MM, not finishing the race.
Two months later, de Portago traveled to Argentina to drive a Ferrari 250 MM at Buenos Aires 1000 km race, together with Harry Schell. They finished second overall and first in the S3.0 class. In March, he and Schell retired at Sebring 12 Hours in a Ferrari 250 MM.
Le Mans debut with Maserati
In June 1954, de Portago made a debut at 24 hours of Le Mans in the #28 Maserati A6GCS, sharing a car with Carlo Tomasi. It's interesting that Maserati factory-entered car didn't start the race because transporter broke down on a way from Italy to France. De Portago was able to start because he was driving his own car from a factory in Modena to Circuit de la Sarthe. In the race, he and Tomasi retired after 11 hours and 116 laps due to a broken engine.
Later in 1957, de Portago retired at Reims 12 Hours in a Maserati. At Tour de France, he was driving an OSCA MT4 1500, not finishing the race. He also retired at Carrera Panamericana in a Ferrari 750 Monza. In December, driving a Ferrari, he won the Bahamas Automobile Cup at Nassau.
Victorious drives in a Ferrari 750 Monza
The season 1955 started with a retirement at Sebring 12 Hours, where de Portago was sharing a Ferrari 750 Monza with Umberto Maglioli. Later that year, he recorded few more DNFs at Goodwood 9 Hours and Aintree International.
At the end the year, he was second at Venezuela Grand Prix in a Ferrari 750 Monza and then triumphed in the Governor's Trophy at Nassau with the same car. He also won the Nassau Ferrari Race in the same event.
Participating in the Winter Olympic Games
In January and February 1956, de Portago participated in the VII Winter Olympic Games in Cortina d'Ampezzo. He initiated a formation of the first-ever Spanish bobsleigh team, recruiting his cousins. With him steering, the two-man bob crew finished fourth in the Olympic run, missing out a medal by 01.6 seconds.
De Portago was more successful a year later in the 1957 FIBT World Championship in St. Moritz, where he and Luis Nunoz won a bronze medal in the two-man bobsleigh.
It's interesting that de Portago was introduced to bobsledding by an American Edmund Nelson, who was his co-driver in many races, including a Mille Miglia race where they both lost lives.
1956 – retirements at Sebring and Le Mans
After Winter Olympics, de Portago returned to car racing at Sebring 12 Hours in March 1956. He and Joe Kimberly retired in the #19 Ferrari 857 S. Later that year, de Portago joined Phill Hill in some races, finishing third at Nurburgring 1000 km and fifth at Paris 1000 km. De Portago himself won the race at Circuito do Porto in a Ferrari 857.
In June 1956, de Portago and Duncan Hamilton retired early at 24 hours of Le Mans in the #11 Ferrari 625 LM Touring. De Portago had an accident on lap 2 which ended his race.
Four starts and one podium in the 1956 Formula 1 season
Few days after Le Mans, on July 1, de Portago made his debut in the Formula 1 World Championship. He started in the #16 Ferrari D50 in the French Grand Prix at Reims. He stopped after 20 laps with a broken gearbox.
Two weeks later, de Portago reached a podium in the British Grand Prix at Silverstone, sharing the #4 Ferrari with Peter Collins. De Portago spent 70 laps in a car, Collins was driving for 30 laps. They finished second behind Juan Manuel Fangio. In that race, de Portago also spent 12 laps in the #3 car of Eugenio Castellotti, crossing a finish line in the 10th place.
Later in the season, Peter Collins had an accident in a car he was sharing with Alfonso at Nurburgring. At Monza, de Portago retired with a flat tyre after six laps.
Victory at 1956 Tour de France
Besides racing in the Formula One, de Portago continued with sports car racing commitments in 1956. The highlight was a victory at Tour de France in September. His co-driver in the #73 Ferrari 250 GT was Edmund Nelson.
In October, de Portago also triumphed at Coupes du Salon race at Circuit de Linas-Montlhery and took the class victory at Roma Grand Prix at Castelfusano circuit. At the Governor's Trophy at Nassau, he finished second in a Ferrari 860 Monza.
Successful races with Ferrari in Argentina
The season 1957 started in Argentina. On January 13, de Portago participated in the Formula 1 Argentine Grand Prix, sharing the #20 Ferrari D50A with Jose Froilan Gonzalez. They finished fifth, taking one championship point each.
Podium in the inaugural Cuban Grand Prix
In February 1957, de Portago participated at the inaugural Gran Premio de Cuba in Havana, driving the #12 Ferrari 857 S. He finished third, behind Juan Manuel Fangio in a Maserati and Carroll Shelby in a Ferrari 410 Sport.
A month later, de Portago finally managed to finish a race at Sebring 12 Hours. He was sharing the #12 Ferrari 315 Sport with Luigi Musso, finishing in seventh place. In April, de Portago had won the Coupes de Vitesse at Circuit de Linas-Montlhery. It was his last race before a fatal accident at Mille Miglia.
Fatal crash which caused a termination of Mille Miglia
At 1957 Mille Miglia, Alfonso de Portago and Edmund Nelson contested in the #531 Ferrari 335 Sport. De Portago crashed out in Cavriana, on the straight road section between Cerlongo and Guidizzolo, about 70 km from Brescia.
A cause of an accident was a blown tire which triggered a car flying off the road and hitting spectators. Nine of them were dead, including five children. De Portago and Nelson also lost lives immediately. The Mille Miglia race was banned after the 1957 edition, resuming later as historic rally event.