How I won the Grand Prix d'Europe
It has been said that this year’s race at Spa was an easy affair for the P2 Alfa-Romeos but just because my compatriot Giuseppe Campari and I happened to be the only two drivers to finish, one should not imagine the race was what you might call a “walk-over”. No, indeed; it was a very severe test of endurance, both for the racing cars and for their drivers.
My P2, as well as those of Campari and Count Brilli Perri, has been improved a little since last year’s race. It is an ideal machine for very fast racing. The eight-cylinder engine (61mm by 85mm; 1987cc) has overhead valves per cylinder driven by two separate camshafts and is supercharged which helps to give the enormous engine speed. During the race my revolution counter frequently registered 7000rpm and at this speed the engine develops nearly 175hp. The engine, clutch and gearbox are combined in a single unit and there are four forward speeds, the transmission having an enclosed shaft in a torque tube. All these cars were designed by Signor Vittorio Jano, who was formerly with the Fiat Company.
When testing my car before the race I was astounded at the wonderful improvement made in the engine and the feeling when at the wheel was that I was being propelled through the air by some indescribable power which at one moment would drive me through space at an incredible speed and the next become submissive to my will, or, to be correct, to the power of the braking system so necessary for safety in road racing.
After a couple of days spent testing in my car, it seemed as if we had grown up together and I went to the starting line full with every confidence of success. During the days of long preparation, my car had been the centre of great attention from the Alfa Romeo engineers and Signor Memini, who had made the special carburettors, was in constant attendance to give final adjustments.
At last we were ready to start and the wonderful scenery of Spa was a fitting stage for the great race [54 laps of the 8.4-mile circuit]. It was a disappointment when we heard that your Sunbeam cars would not start so we had to be content with a contest with the French Delage cars which, we had heard, were very fast indeed. Our plan as a team was to go as fast as possible and it appears our campaign was right, though the Alfa-Romeos were much faster, had rather more acceleration and better brakes.
The course, covering almost 500 miles over hilly and tortuous roads, had been well prepared but even so it was a very hard one for such speeds as the modem racing car is capable.
At the start, Campari and I took the lead with a very fast speed and my first lap was covered in 7min 20sec. This showed that the Alfa-Romeo was able to hold its own even though the maximum engine revolutions had not been reached. Without a mechanic it was difficult to know the progress of other competitors so, finding my engine respond to my call for more speed, I tried for a faster lap on the next circuit.
On the second lap I saw a Delage in trouble and learned later that it was Benoist with a leaky tank. His car’s frame had twisted and strained the tank beyond any hope of repair. Then, on the fourth lap, I saw another Delage in the pits with the engine running fitfully, so it seemed that the Frenchmen were just very unlucky.
Faster and faster we went until one lap was covered at over 80 mph, five mph faster than the best lap last year. One of the greatest helps in winning the race was the speed at which the corners could be taken; and, of course, the effect of supercharging on the lower gears gave a simply astounding amount of acceleration.
Lap after lap we thundered and screamed around the course, the eight cylinders giving out a rhythmic song which sang “Victory, Victory, Victory!” On, on we went with never a miss and, by this time, the changes at the corners and hills seemed almost monotonous in their regularity. I had singled out a landmark at each point where a change of gear had to be made and, but for the rush of wind past my ears and the stones which flew up when cornering, I might have been at the wheel of a fast touring car.
A little way past Francorchamps, Thomas’s car is spotted overturned and in flames — truly a bad day for the Delage team. I flash past, signalling my condolences and speed onwards without slackening the pace at all. At about the 18th lap I grow anxious about my tyres so, having the race well in hand, pull in to the pits for a new set. It was only just in time, too, for the rubber treads had nearly worn down through to the canvas and in another lap or two I might have been hurled off the track with a burst tyre.
The pit attendants then tell me what has been happening. All the French Delages are out of the race, my team-mate Brilli Perri has retired and so Campari and I are the sole survivors. The day is ours and — having driven our rivals out of the race by mechanical durability — we take no further risks in the race and continue driving the course in a rather less hair-raising fashion.
I shall never forget the ovation when we finally reached the finishing post for, even though we Italians are said to be an emotional race, my victory was most enthusiastically applauded by English, French and Italians alike. Cheers, bouquets, handshakes and even kisses were our welcome and I am proud to have again driven the Alfa-Romeo P2, that great masterpiece of Italian engineering, to victory in this great international event.