Today, 28th February 2010, is the 50th Anniversary of the last ever Cuban Grand Prix, El Gran Premio Libertad, run in post revolutionary Cuba in 1960, which was won by Stirling racing the Maserati Tipo 61, the fabled “Birdcage” so called because of the cars intricate space frame chassis.
Stirling had been impressed with the performance of the 2 litre Maserati Tipo 60 Birdcage that he raced to victory back at Rouen in the summer of 1959. For the 1960 season Maserati increased the engine size to 2.8 litres, but with the Maserati business in receivership, there was no question of the team fielding a works entrant for that year. Maserati were however, prepared to support any customer who might be prepared to write cheques for parts and engines.
At this point enter one Lloyd Casner, known as 'Lucky' to his friends. Stirling was not sure “If he actually had money, or, because of his innate charm, managed to get backers. Anyway, he successfully persuaded Goodyear to, in effect, sponsor his sports car team”. The team would be called CAMORADI, an acronym for 'Casner Motor Racing Division'. The new team fielded its first entry in the Buenos Aires 1,000kms race, where Dan Gurney and Masten Gregory dominated until the chassis cracked, a recurring problem for this Maserati racecar.
Stirling was invited to drive for the CAMORADI team in the Cuban Grand Prix, which took place on a new 3.23 mile circuit made up of the service roads around the Columbia military airport and a road past the Havana golf club. Stirling qualified on pole position, having practiced on the circuit in a Ferrari Testa Rossa prototype, chassis 0600, that had also been entered by CAMORADI, saving the Birdcage for qualifying as only one of the two Maserati’s had made it to Cuba.
Following a Le Mans start, that saw him leap into the Birdcage ahead of the other drivers, he led from the outset and remembers that “we had all been rather confused by the fact that the organisers chose to announce that the race distance had been trimmed back from 61 to 50 laps while we were actually lined up on the starting grid!”
Stirling led the opening lap from Pedro Rodriguez in a NART Ferrari 250 TR 59 and his younger brother Ricardo in a Porsche. For the first 10 laps or so, Pedro hung on closely, which saw Stirling “bang in a couple of really quick laps to break his challenge”. He later discovered that Casner had fitted the harder rear Goodyear tyres to the Birdcage without telling him and although he encountered no wear problems, he found precious little grip as a consequence.
Not withstanding the tyres, the driver's seat then breaking and the exhaust system falling apart, he had an otherwise a fairly easy win, from Pedro Rodriguez and third placed Gregory in a Porsche 718 RSK, including a fastest lap! Stirling said of the Birdcage that it “had huge potential, despite the problems I had experienced”. He went onto race the Birdcage at Sebring and won the 1960 Nurburgring 1000kms at the wheel of this famous and now very rare Maserati race car.