Alfas dominate the French Grand Prix
... and Ferrari wins the Small-Car Race
Specially reported for Motor Sport " by T. G. Moore
Once again at Rheims the 1-1/2-litre Alfa Romeos have shown their superiority against all comers in winning the first three places in the French Grand Prix, driven by Wimille, Sanesi and Ascari.
Their chief challenge came from the single-seater 4-1/2-litre Talbots, which are steadily improving in speed and performance, but not yet capable of pressing the Alfas to the limit, and from the new Maserati, which was fast enough to extend the Alfas, but not yet fully au point mechanically. The outcome of the race was therefore never in doubt, but as a demonstration of racing under perfect conditions it was worth going a long way to see.
In the Coupe des Petites Cylindrées, the small-car race, which preceded the Grand Prix, it looked at one time that there would be another all-Italian victory, when, at one period of the race, the 2-litre Ferraris held the first three places. It was some consolation to the enormous crowd of French racing enthusiasts collected round the course to know, at least, that the two races had been won by two of their best drivers, Jean-Pierre Wimille and Raymond Sommer. The British, too, should feel very elated that Wimille's Alfa Romeo used Lodge plugs and Ferodo brake linings.
The course is a triangular one measuring about 4.5 miles per lap. The French Grand Prix is run over 64 laps of this circuit; a total of 310.7 miles. Two legs of the course are almost dead-straight, one of the fastest parts being the half-mile downhill straight past the pits. The race record of 105.2 m.p.h. and the lap record of 114.8 m.p.h. set up in 1939 by Muller and Lang (3-litre Auto-Unions), still stand, but Wimille put up a wonderful performance during the practices by lapping in 2 min. 35.2 sec. (112.1 m.p.h.), an amazing feat with a car of only half the capacity. The all-out speed of the Alfas is about 185 m.p.h.
For several days before, the weather had been unsettled, and heavy clouds hung over the course on the day of the race. Fortunately, except for a light shower during the first race, the rain held off, and the cool weather made things easier than usual both for the drivers and for their tyres. No thought of bad weather would deter the French from watching a motor-race, particularly the race of the year, and every seat on the large permanent stand was filled. Two military bands were in attendance to greet the Military Governor of the district and members of the Government, and everyone was at high tension by the time the cars had been warmed up in front of the pits and had taken their places on the starting grid.
Several cars, amongst them the new C.T.A. Arsenals, had met with trouble during the practices, leaving a useful field of 23 to face the starter on the day of the race. After several days of indecision, the Race Committee decided not to allow "Bira" and Brooke to run their B-type E.R.A.s, because they considered that the cars were too old and slow for the circuit. The only English car in the race was the 1-1/2--litre Alta entered by Abecassis. George was still off-colour after his accident at Spa, and had entrusted the car to Heath. Heath put in some good laps during the practices, but was still new to the car and was taking things steadily.
With ten minutes to go cars and drivers took their places on the starting-grid. The line-up was as follows: first row: Wimille, Ascari, Sanesi (1-1/2-litre Alfa Romeos); second row: Etancelin, Chiron (4-1/2-litre Talbots); third row: Comotti, Giraud-Cabantous, Raph (4-1/2-litre Talbots); fourth row: Chaboud (Delahaye), Rosier (Talbot); fifth row: Fangio (Simca), Sommer (Maserati), Pozzi (Talbot); sixth row: Besana (Ferrari), de Graffenried (Maserati); seventh row: Villoresi (Maserati), Veyron (Simca), Heath (Alta); eighth row: Pagani (Maserati).
Two minutes to go, and the mechanics left the track, while the roar of exhausts threatened to blow in the windows of the Ivory Tower in which the Press were ensconced; the exhaust note of the Alfas being particularly penetrating. Down went the blue and white flag of the Automobile Club, and the Alfas went streaking out in front.
Wimille was leading his team-mates as they disappeared over the slope beyond the pits, and the Alfas were followed at some distance by a flurry of Talbots. Ninety seconds later one could see the cars streaking down the third leg of the course, and one red car overtaking a bunch of blue ones. It was Villoresi, on the new two-blower, tubular-chassis Maserati. During those first 4-1/2 miles he had run through the field and now appeared in third place, having overhauled Sanesi, number three of the Alfa team. Comotti, Chiron, Etancelin and Raph, all on Talbots, were already dropping behind.
During the next five laps Wimille steadily raised his speed, and on the sixth put up a record for present-day G.P. cars of 2 min. 42.6 sec., or 107.4 m.p.h. (on the Route Nationale he was timed at 151 m.p.h.). Sommer (Maserati) ran a big-end on his second lap, and the crowd greeted the news with sympathetic groans.
Order at 5 laps:
1st. Wimille (1-1/2-litre, s/c, Alfa Romeo), 13 min. 52.7 sec. (average speed, 105 m.p.h.).
2nd. Ascari (1-1/2-litre, s/c, Alfa Romeo), 13 min. 58.6 sec.
3rd. Villoresi (1-1/2-litre, s/c, Maserati), 14 min. 1.6 sec.
4th. Sanesi (1-1/2--litre, s/c, Alfa Romeo), 14 min. 16.3 sec.
5th. Comotti (4-1/2-litre Talbot), 15 min. 20.1 sec.
6th. Etancelin (4-1/2-litre Talbot), 15 min. 21.8 sec.
7th. Raph (4-1/2-litre Talbot), 15 min. 22.5 sec.
8th. Chiron (4-1/2-litre Talbot), 15 min. 30.6 sec.
9th. Pagani (1-1/2-litre, s/c, Maserati), 15 min. 31.3 sec.
10th. Giraud-Cabantous (4-1/2-litre Talbot), 15 min. 31.8 sec.
Villoresi had taken too much out of his engine in trying to take on the Alfa team single-handed, and paid several visits to the pits to change plugs. Heath retired at the 7th lap with a slipping clutch. The Alfas continued unchallenged at increasing speed, and Ascari clipped 1/10th second off Wimille's record in his efforts to maintain his position in the team. Meanwhile the various Talbots, already a lap in the rear, were engaging in a little dog-fight on their own. Etancelin was making his first post-war appearance at the wheel of a racing car and driving with all his old determination, overhauling Comotti and holding fourth place at the tenth lap. Chiron was feeling below par, but was driving grimly and holding on to eighth place.
Wintille hurtled on in the lead, steady as ever, and clocked 2 min. 42 sec. on his 14th lap. On his 16th he came in to change a tyre, which cost him 40 seconds. This stop let Ascari into the lead, but Wimille pressed on at still greater speed and regained the lead at 20 laps, putting up a new record of 2 min. 41.2 sec. (108.2 m.p.h.).
Order at 20 laps:
1st. Wimille, 55 min. 33.9 sec. (average speed, 104.7 m.p.h.).
2nd. Ascari, 55 min. 36.3 sec.
3rd. Sanesi, 56 min. 23.3 sec.
4th. Comotti, 58 min. 58.1 sec.
5th. Etancelin, 59 min. 2.8 sec.
6th. Raph, 59min. 25.4 sec.
7th. Pagani, 59 min. 57.9 sec.
8th. Rosier, 1 hr. 0 min. 25.8 sec.
9th. Giraud-Cabantous, 1 hr. 0 min. 51.2-sec.
10th. Chabond, 1 hr. 0 min. 59.3 sec.
Etancelin came in after 22 laps and retired with a seized engine following a failure of his oil pump. De Graffertried went out at 12 laps with engine trouble, likewise Fangio (Simca). Meantime, Bidotti, Alfa, team-manager, was out in the middle of the track waving little flags at his drivers, and at the 26th lap Wimille came in to refuel. Wheels were changed, water and oil checked, and he was off again, still in the lead, in 53 seconds, which was smart work. Ascari and Sanesi came in soon afterwards, and in each case the two near-side wheels were changed and the cars were refuelled, all in 41 seconds. Comotti (Talbot) came in at the same time, and was on his way again in 50 seconds.
At the 37th lap Wimille came in for an extra fuel stop, and mechanics had the bonnet off and looked anxiously at the front of the engine. This stop cost him 57 seconds, and Ascari took on first position once again.
Giraud-Cabantous, aided by his mechanics, was now pushing his Talbot into the pits. His petrol tank had developed a bad leak, and, after much frantic work by his mechanics, he was forced to retire.
The leading Talbots were now two laps behind the Alfas, but Comotti and Raph continued to lap steadily at something like the hundred mark. Rosier was pulling up steadily, while Chaboud, driving the only Delahaye in the race, was slightly slower.
Order at 40 laps:
1st. Ascari, 1 hr. 52 min. 28.9 sec. (average speed, 105.9 m.p.h.).
2nd. Wimille, 1 hr. 52 min. 48.9 sec.
3rd. Sanesi, 1 hr. 53 min. 5.4 sec.
4th. Comotti, 1 hr. 58 min. 25.9 sec.
5rh. Raph, 1 hr. 59 min. I sec.
6th. Rosier, 1 hr. 59 min. 55.8 sec.
7th. Chaboud, 2 hr. I min. 20.5 sec.
8th. Chiron, 2 hr. 3 min. 16.2 sec.
Wimille regained his lead at the 41st lap, but stopped again at the end of the 42nd. At 45 laps he was again en tête, with the motor still apparently going as well as ever. Chiron's car had been giving trouble earlier, with smoke coming from the exhaust, and he now had a lengthy pit stop. Lago was evidently satisfied that the car would last out the race, and he pulled out again after a halt of 3 min. 45 sec. Apart from some doubt about Wimille's car, it now seemed certain that the Alfas would finish in the first three places, and, as a gentle reminder of team orders, a blue-overalled mechanic stepped out and signalled with a board inscribed with the position at the time, " Wim., Asc., San." Chiron pulled in again, but was able to continue, and Pozzi pushed in his car, but joined the course soon afterwards.
Wimille came in again soon afterwards. His radiator had been damaged by a stone, and he lost 55 seconds while it was being filled and examined. At 55 laps Sanesi had overhauled Ascari, apparently in accordance with pit orders.
Excitement mounted during the last few laps, and soon the familiar bouquets of flowers appeared outside the timing box. Photographers massed on the finishing line, and at last Wimille swept through on his winning Iap. Coming in after his Tour d'Honneur, he looked dazed and tired as he faced a sea of photographers, but had kept his coolness and precision of driving right up to the finish. The Alfas were perfectly prepared and backed by a fine organisation, and unless the Talbots can find more speed, or the new Maserati more reliability, it seems that nothing can beat them so long as the present Grand Prix formula is in force.
1st. Wimille (1-1/2-litre s/c, Alfa Romeo), 3 hr. 1 min. 7.5 sec. (speed, 102.9 m.p.h.).
2nd. Sanesi (1-1/2-litre, Alfa Romeo), 3 hr. I min. 32 sec.
3rd. Ascari (1-1/2-litre Alfa Romeo), 3 hr. I min. 32.5 sec.
4th. Comotti (4-1/2-litre Talbot), 3 hr. 2 min. 44 sec. (two laps behind).
5th. Raph (4-1/2-litre Talbot), 3 hr. 3 min. 28.3 sec. (two laps behind).
6th. Rosier (4-1/2-litre Talbot), 3 hr. 4 min. 2.9 sec. (four laps behind).
7th : Villoresi (1-1/2-litre s/c, Maserati), 3 hr. 2 min. 22.7 sec. (five laps behind).
8th. Chaboud (4-1/2-litre Delahaye), 3 hr. 3 min. 47 sec. (five laps behind).
9th. Chiron (4-1/2-litre Talbot), 3 hr, 2 min. 39.9 sec. (eight laps behind).
10th. Pozzi (4-1/2-litre Talbot), nineteen laps behind.
Coupe des Petites Cylindrées
The small-car race, which served as a curtain-raiser for the Grand Prix, provided plenty of interest on its own account. It began with a spirited duel between Sommer (Ferrari) and "Bira" (Simca), which lasted until the latter driver fell out with water-pump trouble. Prince Igor and Righetti, the other two Ferrari drivers, were not far behind, and when "Bira" retired, Prince Igor, whose driving has improved immensely during the present racing season, then took up the challenge. Tyre trouble in the closing stages of the race deprived him of a well-deserved second place.
The race was run under Formula B regulations, 500 c.c. supercharged and 2,000 c.c. unsupercharged, over a distance of 126.2 miles, though, in fact, no blown "500s" came to the line. Starters were: "Bira," Farina, Fangio, Scaron and Manzon (Simcas), Chaboud and Layer (Meteors -- these being new cars based on the Type 328 B.M.W.), de Cortanze (Peugeot), Sommer, Righetti, Prince Igor (Ferraris), Deutch and Bonnet (D.B.-Citroens), Villoresi (Maserati), Robert, Basadona and de Sauge (Cisitalia), Hemard (Monopole), and Flahout (Frazer-Nash). Heath was down to run on Abecassis' Alta, but the car was damaged at Spa and was therefore a non-starter.
The weather looked threatening as the cars lined up for the start, the leading drivers being Sommer, Fangio and "Bira" in the front row, then Farina and Prince Igor, and Chaboud, Manzon and Righetti behind them. Sommer (Ferrari) made a good start, but "Bira" (Simca) was close on his tail. Sommer pulled ahead perceptibly on his first lap, while Igor (Ferrari) led the rest of the pack 200 yards behind. On the second lap the larger capacity of the Ferrari began to tell, and Sommer increased his advantage to 100 yards, with a further 400-yards between "Bira" and Prince Igor, who was followed by Fangio and Farina (Simcas). Matters were now complicated by a shower of rain, which, fortunately, did not last long.
Order at 5 laps:
1st: Sommer (2-litre Ferrari), 15 min. 18.3 sec. (average speed, 95.1 m.p.h.).
2nd. "Bira" (1,430-c.c. Simca), 15 min. 28.6 sec.
3rd: Igor (2-litre Ferrari), 15 min. 55.4 sec.
4th: Righetti (2-litre Ferrari), 15 min. 58.3 sec.
5th: Villoresi (2-litre Maserati), 16 min. 1.1 sec.
6th. Fangio (Simca), 16 min. 1.6 sec.
Interest was naturally concentrated on the Sommer-"Bira" duel. Sommer was extremely fast and steady, and had more speed in reserve, and at ten laps had increased his lead to nearly 32 seconds, while his average had risen to 95.8 m.p.h., an amazing speed for an unsupercharged 2-litre on what is nominally a road circuit. On his 12th lap Sommer put up a record lap of 97.36 m.p.h., knocking 16 seconds off Monkhouse's record of last year. The pace was beginning to tell, and six cars had already retired at this stage.
At 15 laps "Bira" was still hanging on grimly, only one minute behind, but his car sounded less healthy. Three laps later he dropped out, the pulley-shaft on the water pump having snapped off. Prince Igor, who had been running third throughout the race and was now 1-1/2 minutes behind Sommer, thus moved into second place. By the 20th lap he had cut down Sommer's lead to 79 seconds.
With only six more laps to go he was robbed of a well-deserved second place. His front tyre went flat 200 yards past the pits, and he was forced to wait there while mechanics ran along with a spare wheel.
1st. Sommer (2-litre Ferrari), 1 hr. 48 min. 48.4 sec. (average speed, 96.07 m.p.h.).
2nd. Righetti (2-litre Ferrari), 1 hr. 18 min. 48.4 sec. (one lap behind).
3rd. Chaboud (2-litre Meteor), 1 hr. 21 min. 51.7 sec. (one lap behind).
4th. Scaron (1,220 cc. Simca-Gordini), 1 hr. 20 min. 11.5 sec. (two laps behind).
5th. Bonnet (2-litre D.B.), 1 hr. 21 min. 20.1 sec. (two laps behind).
6th. De Cortanze (2-litre Peugeot Darl-Mat), 1 hr. 20 min. 56.6 sec. (three laps behind).
7th. Manzon (1,430 c.c. Simca), 1 hr. 19 min. 9.6 sec. (four laps behind).
8th. Robert (1,100-c.c. Cisitalia), 1 hr. 20 min. 21.5 sec. (four laps behind).
9th : Prince Igor (2-litre Ferrari), 1 hr. 20 min. 34.7 sec. (five laps behind).
10th: De Sauge (i,100-c.c. Cisitalia), 1 hr. 22 Min. 17.7 sec. (five laps behind).
Last Year's Winner:
Prince " Bira " (1,220-c.c. Simca), 84.55 m.p.h.