THE GRAND PRIX
THE GRAND PRIX D'ENDURANCE FOR THE RUDGEWHITWORTH CUP, 20th and 21st JUNE, 1925.
By J. D. BENJAFIELD.
The following article, contributed by Dr. Benjafield, who was one of the Bentley Team, gives some interesting details of the event.
THIS, the greatest race for cars in touring trim, took place at Le Mans, starting at 4 p.m. on June 20th, 1925, and finishing 24 hours later. Arriving at the circuit six days before the race, one was immediately impressed by the forward state of the preparations, and, although the course was never officially closed, practice was proceeding more or less continuously night and day ; one fears that the people whose houses abutted on the circuit enjoyed but little sleep during this period, as most of the cars engaged had open exhausts, silencing regulations being noticeable by their absence. (Brooklands authorities, please note.)
ach lap of the circuit measures approximately lot miles, and it is composed of a 4i-mile more or less straight leg with a slight down grade and good tarred surface, followed by a right-angled turn, and then some winding road, including a severe S-bend, after which it straightens out somewhat and runs down to the famous Pontlieue hairpin, where it joins up with the straight leg once more in a sharp rise. Apart from the straight leg, the surface was poor, full of pot-holes, untarred, and, following the long spell of dry weather, easily torn up by the wheels, with the result that, when following another car at all closely, one did so under a hail of stones of all sorts and sizes. The day before the race all this section of the course was treated liberally with a solution of calcium chloride, which helped bind it together, and somewhat, at least, alleviated the dust nuisance.
The Grand Stand, a very substantial affair, was situated about half-way down the straight leg, and opposite it was the score board, admirably worked, where one could see at a glance the relative positions of the cars in the race. The pits were next to the score board.
The fact that the course was not closed did not appear to worry many of the Continental drivers at all; they still proceeded down the straight leg with their foot gummed to the floor boards, and relied on their skill in steering to avoid the numerous obstacles in their path. It was obviously only a question of time before somebody crashed. One of the big Chenards was the first ; he hit a stationary lorry, when fortunately only the car was seriously hurt. However, on the Friday night preceding the race, one of the Ravels was less lucky, as he hit a lorry head on at some considerable speed, with the result that three people were seriously injured.
The six days before the race were devoted to tuning, minor adjustments, and practice, and one's time was quite fully occupied, the learning of a circuit of this type being no small task. We did it partly by driving, partly by walking, and the remainder by taxi. At last the great day arrived, and the few hectic finishing touches were made. Immediately after lunch we proceeded to the course, well armed with food, a lorry full of spares, and the two racing cars.
At three o'clock the order was passed along to line up for the start ; the cars were placed on the right of the road opposite the grand stand in order of their size, the largest having the first place. They were staggered so that any individual could take the road as soon as ready. The drivers were all summoned to receive final instructions from the president of the A.C. de l'Ouest Club. Sharp to time the flag fell, and the loud speakers bellowed " Partez " when the drivers made a dash for their cars, feverishly erected the hood (20 laps having to be driven with the hood up), leapt in, pressed the starter, and away they went in a cloud of dust. Duff was first away in his Bentley No. 9, and the agility he showed in tucking his long limbs away under
the dash would have done credit to an acrobat. He was closely followed by Kensington Moir on the other Bentley, No. 10, and, needless to say, the cheers from the Bentley pits were long and loud, the omens being considered most favourable. They were closely followed by the Sizaire-Berwicke, a couple of 0.M.'s, and then Segrave's Sunbeam, and then a steady procession of cars, the last appearing in no hurry to get away, being nearly five minutes behind Duff.
Nearly ten minutes had elapsed before Segrave came roaring past the stands, closely followed by Kensington Moir, with Duff not far away, third. Hot on their heels were one each of the big Lorraine-Dietrichs and ChenardWalckers.
In these early stages of the race the most notable feature was the Bentley-Sunbeam duel, both cars being admirably handled by their respective drivers, Moir and Segrave. Judging by the power of acceleration, the Bentley had a considerable reserve of power. Segrave retained the lead till the eleventh circuit was completed, but on the twelfth circuit Moir had passed him, and was leading by a narrow margin, only to be repassed once more by Segrave on the next lap. On the i4th circuit Moir had once more recovered the lead, only to retain it for a short period, as on the next round he came into the pits to work on the oil filter cap, which had become detached and through which he was losing his supply of oil. Segrave's Sunbeam had also suffered from some minor ailment in the shape of a stuck throttle, and Chassagne's Sunbeam, which had been nursed with care, always within striking distance of the leaders, came in with similar trouble. Thus, the leadership, which had dwelt in British hands for the first 15 laps, passed into French hands, Leonard's Chenard-Walcker, closely followed by Stalter's LorraineDietrich, with Duff's Bentley third, occupying the premier places.
Moir and Segrave were soon going again, and rapidly commenced to overhaul the leaders. The relief drivers now began to get busy and don their war paint in the shape of overalls, goggles, etc., ready to take over their charges so soon as the first drivers should have completed the first 20 circuits. Clement and I, thus sitting in the Bentley pit, seeing No. 9 disappear down the straight on its 20th lap, closely followed by No. 10 on its 18th lap, with anxious eyes on the stop watch awaited their reappearance. After twelve minutes had elapsed, the last two of which seemed like hours, we were compelled to realise that something serious had occurred to stop them. A further five, ten, fifteen and thirty minutes, and then Duff suddenly appears from the forest dusty, travel-stained and panting after a 4-miles run across country from the opposite leg of the course. His petrol pressure pump has broken, and he has run across for spares. He once more disappears into the forest. Shortly afterwards Moir arrives at the pits on foot ; No. 10 Bentley has run out of petrol within a mile of completing its 19th lap, and is therefore disqualified, being 12 miles short of the distance required to be covered before replenishments are allowed. Thus, through a miscalculation as regards the extra amount
of petrol required for pulling the car at speed with the hood up, the fastest car in the race, after putting up. a remarkable show for 18 laps, was disqualified.
After a considerable further interval, Duff reappears in No. 9 Bentley, having lost ri hours, and Clement leaps from the pits, wastes the minimum of time in refilling with oil and petrol, and thunders away into the dusk.
In the meantime, the strenuous conditions of the contest have taken a heavy toll of the competing cars, some being stopped by mechanical breakdowns, and others by crashes. The most notable in the latter class were the Amilcar, driven by poor Mestivier, which overturned in the straight for some unexplained reason, killing its driver instantly,, and one of the LorraineDietrichs, which was overturned without serious injury to its driver.
George Duller, who had taken over Sunbeam, No. 15 from Segrave, was compelled to retire after 30 laps with a seized clutch, and so at midnight only two of the British contingent remained, the Chassagne and Davis Sunbeam and the Duff and Clement Bentley. This latter now proceeded to put in much good work, first in Clement's hands and then in Duff's, gradually reducing the long lead held by the large French cars. At 5 a.m. Duff once more handed over to Clement, and just as the position was becoming very hopeful, and No. 9 was almost within striking distance of the leaders, the float-chamber of one of the carburettors snapped off, and the near side of the engine caught fire. Clement managed to extinguish this with the help of a cushion before very much damage was done, but it was quite useless to attempt a repair owing to his distance from the pits. Thus the essential feature, "Luck," without which all one's efforts may be rendered futile, had deserted us and we were out of the race through two trivial details, and still in perfect mechanical condition.
And now in the early morning, chill and misty, the race had resolved itself into a contest between the two large Lorraines, the Chassagne-Davis Sunbeam, and the two little Chenard-Walckers. Was it possible for the larger cars to cover the greater distance required by the handicap than these two Heath-Robinson, beetlebacked affairs with one thousand million bees under their bonnet, that appeared to be screaming round the circuit with extreme regularity and phenomenal speed. No, they must crack, no engine could stand these revs. indefinitely ; one listened in vain for any faltering in their exhaust note. The Diattos, too, were running with extreme regularity, although not quite fast enough to be up with the leaders. The one and only American car, the Chrysler, was also, although rather slow, putting in some very steady work.
As the closing stages of the race were reached, it appeared obvious that, apart from accidents, the little Chenards must win the formula prizes, the only question remaining as to whether the Sunbeam could wrest first place for the greatest distance from the Lorraine, driven by De Courcelles and Rossignol, and also keep ahead of the other Lorraine, which was less than a circuit astern. (Continued on page 68.)
At 4 p.m. the position was unchanged, and the Sunbeam had to acknowledge defeat, only to the LorraineDietrich, by approximately a distance of 45 miles, beating the:other Lorraine into third place by about 8 miles.
And so the end of a very fine contest, amongst much handshakings, embracings and bouquets, all weary, spectators, drivers and mechanics alike, some happy and some depressed, but with a grim determination to try again, and with, perhaps, more success, in captivating that fickle jade, "Good Luck."
Before leaving the subject, let us tender our sincere thanks to the organisers and officials of the race for their courtesy, assistance and fairness throughout, and our heartiest congratulations for the admirable way in which the whole affair was run. Also, from the spectators' point of view, everything was admirable ; food and drink of all varieties being available in unlimited quantities, counter-attractions in the shape of dancing and boxing bouts throughout the night for those who should temporarily weary of the race. The moral for the next time is that we require a compromise between the tortoise and the hare for a race
of this character, it being useless to save ro seconds a lap, if by so doing one is going to lose 6o minutes after 30 or 40 circuits for mechanical repairs. Last, but not least, we owe our thanks to the clerk of the weather, for not a single spot of rain fell during the whole period occupied by practice or the race.