Brits get an icy reception

When the British contingent found a unique way to deal with the arctic conditions of the 1947 Swedish Grand Prix, their rivals cried foul play

Odd-ball motor races – unusual events that feature internationally recognised categories of significant racing cars – are always interesting. Perhaps the all-time prize winner might turn out to be the Israel Grand Prix on the so-called Barnea Beach circuit at Ashkelon in 1970. A representative Formula 2 field practised there for the event which was organised by the German Automobilklub von Deutschland. Pole position was taken by Ernesto Brambilla in his Brabham BT30, from Patrick Depailler (Tecno) and Derek Bell (BT30), with the sister car of the American Mike Goth (remember him?) fourth fastest.

But on race day the treacherously sand-strewn public road course became inundated by uncontrollable spectators. After touring car practice had culminated in a sizeable shunt and a preliminary Formula Vee race had been run – won by Bertil Roos from the ill-fated Helmuth Koinigg (killed during the 1974 United States GP) – the event was abandoned without the F2 field turning a wheel in anger.

If that was a curious event, even more odd-ball venues to see significant formula cars competing were once popular winter fare: ice-racing on frozen lakes. The best-known of these temporary race circuits was probably Lake Vallentuna in Sweden, although GP cars also raced partly on lake ice at Ramen and Sellnas where dry-land gravel roads formed the majority of each lap, and in Germany on the Eibsee, Titisee and other likely lakes offering reliably strong ice cover – or in the case of the Titisee, unreliably strong ice…

In immediate post-war Britain, the racing fraternity hungered for anywhere to race their cars. In February 1947 Reg Parnell, Leslie Brooke and George Abecassis (as hard-bitten a trio of racing rogues as I can imagine) set sail for Sweden’s Winter Grand Prix. The Swedish national club had expected to use the ice on Lake Vallentuna, but winter was late and the ice too thin. Consequently they organised a race on Rommehed airfield instead, using a course of packed snow topped with sand. As the date approached it still hadn’t snowed. Nine of their 15 entries – French and Swiss-entered Maseratis, Talbots and Delahayes – were being shipped to Gothenburg when winter finally arrived. The freighter was delayed by storms, then became ice-bound. This left only the wily British contingent plus a local to start the Grand Prix, Parnell scooping the cash from Brooke and Abecassis – all in ERAs. Sjoqvist’s Citroën won the sports car event with another shrewd Briton, Oscar Moore, second in his Frazer Nash-BMW.

A few days later the Vallentuna race was finally run, the course marked by gravel frozen into the ice and pine boughs stuck in the snow. Some 30,000 spectators braved temperatures of minus 20 degrees, but conditions proved so bad the start was delayed and the race distance slashed from 40 laps to 25. The news that their entertainment would be curtailed brought a storm of protest, and when the Brits lined up on the startline wearing twin rear wheels and tyres, their French and Italian rivals protested vehemently, claiming such a ploy was banned under international regulations. Untrue.

While the unsupercharged Talbots and Delahayes warmed up comfortably in the bitter air, the supercharged ERAs and Maseratis struck icing trouble. Brooke’s ERA misfired desperately, Abecassis’s was on four cylinders and at the start only Parnell’s was on all six. Raymond Sommer’s Maserati led until he spun and stalled. Despite “working like a demon with the starting handle” he was unable to restart. Brooke’s engine expired, Abecassis lost a piston but soldiered on, and Parnell led him to the line for another ERA 1-2, with Eugene Chaboud’s Delahaye third. Uncle Reg’s average speed for this punishing 25-lapper was 67.72mph. Not bad for 60 years ago – handling an Old English Upright on ice. Of course the defeated French put it all down to those cheating twin rear wheels…