Outstanding British successes at Spa

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Leslie Johnson and St. John Horsfall win the race outright in the 1948 2-litre Aston Martin.  H.R.G.s  take the Team Prize  —  all on Dunlop Tyres.

British cars scored a series of significant and valuable victories in the Belgian 24-Hour Race at Spa. Leslie Johnson and St. John  Horsfall, handling a new Aston Martin with the recently introduced push-rod ohv 2-1itre engine and coil-spring i.f.s., won the race easily, at an average speed of 72.07 m.p.h. for the 1,729 miles covered. This convincing victory by this new British high-performance car puts Aston Martin  right on the map again in a sphere of competition activity in which this make has always excelled.  How impatiently private sportsmen will now await delivery of the latest 2-litre Aston Martin!  The winning car was shod with Dunlop tyres.

H.R.G. took the Team Prize with three cars, two of them Aerodynamic two-seaters, the third a coupé, handled magnificently by Peter Clark, who organised this entry, partnered by P. Maréchal, J. Scott partnered by N. Gee and R. Brock partnered by B. Wright.. These cars, radio-controlled from their pits, finished 2nd; 3rd and 4th in the 1-1/2-litre class, in the order Scott, Brock and Clark. The H.R.G.s were also Dunlop shod. Another notable British achievement was established by Haines and Wisdom, whose 2-1/2–litre saloon Healey finished 2nd to Veuillet’s and Varet’s  3-litre T.T.-type Delage in the 3-litre sportscar class. Swaters and Frère chose to drive an English-made entry and got this M.G. in 4th in the 1,100 c.c. class.

The race was run in appalling weather conditions, and the 9-mile Spa circuit was in decidedly unpleasant condition. Alas, on his very first lap in this, his first race, the British driver, R. Stallebrass, overturned his Aston Martin and died later in hospital. 

Louveau and Gérard led away in the Delage  but very soon Chinetti went past very fast in the Ferrari.  As night fell conditions remained bad, with mist on the course, and Gérard ditched the Delage, while about midnight the Ferrari cracked its head and retired, but not before making fastest lap of the race, at 83.88 m.p.h., Chinetti driving. When dawn broke the British Aston Martin had shaken off all opposition and led the race. Crashes had elminated many of the 40 starters, including Capelli and Cortese (1,100 F.I.A.T.), Bouchard and Larue (Delahaye), Abecassis and Heath (Alta),  Breyre and Trasenter (Delage), Louveau and Gérard, as recounted, in the Delage, and Folland and Connell (Aston Martin).

Metcalfe’s 8-litre Bentley had gone out after 70 laps with clutch trouble, Masuy’s and Legro’s  328 B.M.W. had succumbed early with a sick engine, the Mille Miglia Lancia “Astura” of Gordon and Lewis suffered incurable valve trouble, a Riley “Sprite” driven by Vernet and Troulis had transmission bothers after having run 22 laps, a F.I.A.T. was out soon afterwards with engine trouble, and so was a B.M.W. Other retirements eliminated the “2.9” Alfa Romeo of Steinbach and Delporte, which had something amiss in the engine department, an aerodynamic Alvis entered by Eggen and de la Saulx had a like misfortune a few laps later, and towards half-distance a F.I.A.T. driven by Montrémy and Dussous also had under-bonnet maladies. And, after 120 laps, Rolt’s and Pilette’s Aston-Martin split its fuel tank.

So the race ran on, to end with the convincing British victory for Aston Martin, the car handled by two of our best-liked drivers. The class results repay careful study and are as follows :

Unlimited

 1st.  Damman and De Bolder (Lago-Talbot coupé), 162 laps, 1,462:8 miles; 60.45 m.p.h. No other  finisher.

4-Litre

1st.  G. Mairesse and E. Mönche (3.6 Delahaye), 187 laps, 1,669.6 miles; 69.99 m.p.h.

2nd.  Brault and Maréchal  (3.6 Delahaye), 166 laps.

3rd.  L. Marinx and G. Marinx (Kaiser saloon), 153 laps.

4th.  Havaux and Poulette  (3-litre Bugatti), 115 laps. 

3-Litre

1st.  Veuillet and Varet (3-litre Delage), 175 laps, 1,579.4 miles;  65.29 m.p.h.

2nd. Haines and Wisdom (2-1/2-litre Healey), 7 miles behind

2-Litre

1st.  St. John Horsfall and L. Johnson (2-litre Aston Martin), 192 laps, 1,729 miles; 72.07 m.p.h.

2nd.  Houbens and Nurnberg (328 B.M.W.), 161 laps.

1-1/2-Litre

1st.  Scaron and Veyron (1,230 Simca two-seater), 190 laps 1,717 miles; 70.99 m.p.h.

2nd.  Scott and Gee (H.R.G.), 167 laps

3rd.  Brock and Wright (H.R.G.), 158 laps

4th.  Clark and Maréchal (H.R.G.), 144 laps.

5th.  Grainger and Guilbert (Lancia Aprilia saloon), 141 laps.

6th.  Fortmann and Anner (M.G.), 137 laps.

1,100 c.c.

1st.  Basse and Cornet (F.I.A.T. saloon), 190 laps, 1,720 miles, 71.12 m.p.h.

2nd.  Brambillia and Vestidello (F.I.A.T.saloon), 179 laps.

3rd.  Gordini and Gayla (Simca), 175 laps.

4th.  Swaters and Frère (J2 M.G.), 149 laps.

Touring Cars

1st.  André and Delhaes; Sheid and Orban; Unzel and Saner  (1,100 Skoda saloons), dead-heated for first place; 136 laps, 1,230.7 miles, 50.91 m.p.h.

4th.  Cockx and Delhaes (615 Jawa Minor), 128 laps, 47.68 m.p.h.

General Classification

1st.  L.G.  Johnson/St. John Horsfall (Aston Martin)

2nd.  J. Scaron/P.Veyron (Simca-Gordini)

3rd.  Basse/Cornet (F.I.A.T saloon) 

4th.  Mairesse/Mönche (Delahaye) 

5th.  Brambilla/Vestidillo (F.I.A.T saloon)

6th.  Gordini/Gayla (Simca-Gordini)

***

Our Spa Correspondent reports as follows:

Practice notes:

The H.R.G. team  were first out for the first practice on Wednesday night, closely followed by the Skoda team.

Dudley Folland  (“Tim Davies”)  was lapping very fast, stopping every now and then to inquire his times.

The “works” Aston Martins did not appear until Friday morning. Horsfall practised in the prototype 2/4-seater production car, with hood erect.

The Healey had rugs stuffed in the rear window to prevent glare.

The Ferrari did not appear until Friday morning, and Metcalfe arrived in the Bentley only just in time  for the final practice on Friday evening.

The H.R.G team consisted of two open “Aerodynamics” and the saloon-cum-coupé which was at Luton Hoo. All were radio-equipped and could receive and transmit between car and pit but not car to car. Very useful here as the pits are situated on a right-hand bend preceded by a hairpin, so that cars suddenly appear wham!  at about 75-80 m.p.h. Listening at the H.R.G. pit one heard Peter CIark say “Green, hairpin,” and within 30 seconds he came by with a green recognition light shining out through the side. Peter and Maréchal were driving his own car (green light). Jack Scott and Neville Gee the other open car (red light), and R. Brock and B. Wright the saloon (yellow light); all painted British green.  Radios were very clear and for this race would appear to be a good thing. The receiving mast was about, 20 ft. tall on the roof of Peter’s 6-1/2-litre Bentley utility. The whole turn-out was quite nice and well equipped. They had in attendance the “works” lorry and had been entered by the H.R.G. Engineering Co.  Peter’s car has the tank in the rear, the other two have tanks in the side.

It rained all the first practice evening. The only H.R.G. driver to get wet was in the saloon!   The water came in through its door joints at high speed,  but this did not happen on the open cars. Jack Scott was driving very consistently, and they were all lapping at about 60 m.p.h in the dark. Brock found the windscreen wiper on the saloon had to work overtime at about 80 m.p.h. Peter Clark had trouble with his vizor.  Maréchal was quickest past the pits.

The Skoda saloons each had vast scuttle tanks and lapped regularly in line-ahead, followed discreetly by the Minor, a two-stroke Skoda product.

The B.M.W.s  were trying quite hard.

The Fairman/Stallebrass 2-litre Aston Martin lookede like an “Ulster” at the back; had two-branch exhaust  pipes from 1 and 4 and 2 and 1,  and was well fitted out with lights, etc. Team manager was Peter Mayne. The tender was a Packard utility which gave more trouble than the racer.

The Healey was having trouble with water syphoning out of the radiator when it came to rest.

***

The race

Every practice period was spoilt by rain and mist, and on race day the weather was still very bad. Thirty-nine cars left the line at 4 p.m.. and among the non-starters, were Comatti, who was to have driven a 4-1/2-litre Talbot, M. Gatsonides with the new Ford-base Gatso, and one of Gordini’s Simca-F.I.A.T.s.

From the start the pace was very fast and after one hour Chinetti led the general classification, with the “works” Ferrari, followed  by Louveau (Delage),Breyre (Delage), Veullet (Delage), Abecassis (Alta), Gordon (Lancia “Astura”) and Scaron (Simca). The Ferrari  continued to hold the lead until 8.30 p.m., when, after two pit-stops, it was wheeled into the paddock and retired.

Meanwhile, one of the Ambrosiana saloon F.I.A.T.s had crashed and Legros withdrew his B.M.W. with the back axle broken. At 15 laps Fairman brought in the 2-litre Aston-Martin in for refuelling and Stallebrass took over. He had not gone more than three miles when he overturned off the road on the fast Malmedy turn, a 90-m.p.h. right-hand sweep.  He was taken to hospital with severe head injuries from which he later died. Shortly after this the Gordon Lancia came to rest.

When darkness fell and headlights were “lit” the Gérard/Louveau Delage was in the lead, followed by the Mairesse and Mönche in the ex-Chaboud Delahaye; then came Heath in the unblown Alta,  Breyre/Transenter (Delage), Basse/Cornet (F.I.A.T.), Rolt/Pillette (Aston Martin) and Horsfall-Johnson (Aston Martin). The Rolt car was a pre-war chassis with post-war engine and gearbox, and the Horsfall car was the “works” post-war independently-sprung car.

Throughout the night it rained on and off and conditions were very difficult. At 9 p.m. the Bouchard/Larue Delahaye crashed and, not long after taking over the Alta, Abecassis crashed after the car had completed 55 laps.

During the night, Louis Gérard crashed Louveau’s Delage and the Breyre/Transenter Delage retired.  Peter Clark and Maréchal changed three cylinder-head gaskets, Brock had to remove the windscreen and roof from his saloon H.R.G., and Scott removed an offending rear-wheel cover. Meanwhile, Horsfall and Johnson were lapping steadily, as were Folland and Connell, so that by 9 a.m. the order was Horsfall/Johnson (Aston Martin), Folland/Connell (Aston Martin), Scaron/Veyron (Simca-Gordini), Mairesse/Mönche (Delahaye), Basse/Cornet (F.I.A.T. saloon) and Veuillet/Veret (Delage), with one lap between the two Aston Martins.

During the morning low clouds completely enveloped the higher parts of the course and rain continued to fall.

At mid-day the order was unchanged, and shortly after Folland drew in for fuel and lan Connell took over. The pit work was very efficient and Connell drew away still in second place. Immediately after the pits is a fast climbing right-hand turn and at the top the Aston Martin’s tail slewed round and the car dived down the bank. Poor Connell walked disconsonately back to the pit to report his retirement. Half-an-hour later Veyron oiled plugs on the Simca and had to stop. Scaron took over, but was now in fourth position. From 12.45 p.m. until the finish at 4 p.m. Scaron drove magnificently and by 3 p.m. had worked his way back into second place. At 12.30 p.m. the leading Aston-Martin was refuelled and Johnson took over, getting away rapidly after some bother with the bonnet fasteners.

With half-an-hour to go the order was: Horsfall/Johnson, Scaron/Veyron, Basse/Cornet, and Mairesse/Mönche. Although Scaron  was making up 12 seconds a lap he could not hope to catch the Aston Martin, which continued to lap steadily with plenty In hand, and at seven minutes to 4 o’clock Johnson set off on his 192nd and last lap, and came home to win gloriously by 1-1/2 laps, having covered 2,784 kilometres in the 24 hours. Jose Scaron and Pierre Veyron (Simca-Gordini) were second, over 29  kms. behind, and the magnificent drive of Basse and Cornet brought them a well-deserved third with the F.I.A.T. saloon, only three laps behind the winner.

Categorie Tourisme was won by the three Skoda saloons, who crossed the line three-abreast, after running for 24 hours in line-ahead formation. A most praiseworthy effort was that of Cockx and Delhaes, who drove a 610-c.c., two-cylinder, two-stroke Minor to finish, covering 1,856 kilometres in the 24 hours.

***

Spa Spotlights

The Heath-Abecassis Alta was most impressive and ran without fuss until it crashed.

The pre-war 2-litre Aston-Martin of Folland and Connell was very nicely prepared and pit work was looked after by John Wyer.  Folland drove very well indeed, which is not surprising in view of the fact that he is better known as “Tim Davies” of “Chain-gang” fame.

The H.R.G. Pye radio control worked admirably, serviced by Pye mechanics. Contact was between car and pit, but not car and car. It proved very useful as the pits were approached by a sweeping left-hand bend and the cars could announce their arrival. Larynx microphones were used. On Saturday evening, Maréchal stopped away from the pit with a broken fuel pipe; he radioed the pit, who stopped the next H.R.G. and sent a new pipe out to the stranded car. Marcus Chambers presided over all. He was suffering from severe toothache and all but collapsed after the race, but undoubtedly he contributed in no small way to the team’s victory, his plans perfectly laid and splendidly carried out.

Co-driver with Jack Scott was Neville Gee, brother ot the pre-war Riley driver who used to partner F. R. Gerard.

The Wisdom-Haines Healey saloon motored steadily and troublefree to finish second in its class. It used special racing tyres moulded in the standard 15-in. Dunlop mould. 

Scaron’s Simca-Gordini was a single-seater with an all-enveloping body and a 1,200-c.c. engine. The regulation door was a panel on the right-hand side,  held on by 30 nuts, and the regulation passenger’s seat consisted of two seat cushions stuffed down beside the driver; a racing car not even “thinly disguised.”

The F.I.A.T.s were 1,100-c.c. Ghia-bodied saloons and were exceptionally fast up the steep hill after the pits. 

The Simcas and F.I.A.T.s were steadiest over the bumps past the start.

The rebuilt Barnato-Hassan 8-litre Bentley had a narrow two-seater body and was very nicely prepared. It appeared little bigger than a Delahaye.

The Marinx Kayser saloon ran like a clock. 

J. S. Gordon’s Lancia “Astura”  looked very nice, with Italian all-enveloping coachwork. It belonged originally to Cortese.

The Havaux-Poulette Bugatti was an elderly Type 49 and ran consistently but slowly.

The Ferrari appeared to have little power below about 3,000 r.p.m. and revved to 7,000. Chiron did not drive and was not seen until 3 p.m. on Sunday.

Tony Rolt’s Aston Martin suffered from a temporary exhaust system made from flexible tubing, which came unwound.

The Skodas refuelled from gravity tanks while everyone else used churns.

The Monopoles were F.I.A.T.-base streamlined cars of French origin.

The winning Aston Martin was most impressive to watch, and the suspension was so soft that it moved as the driver climbed out of the cockpit. It ran complete with silencer and was indeed quiet. A three-sided aircraft type aero-screen was used, complete with diminutive windscreen wiper. J. Eason-Gibson presided over the pit-work and signals.

Gordini’s two-seater Simca ran off the road at the same place as Connell but was able to continue.

Dunlops, although prevented from importing tyres into Belgium, had Norman Freeman and  “Mac” in attendance.

The “works” Aston Martin suspension was as soft as the Ferrari’s was hard  —  two modern schools of thought ?

Scaron lapped at 132 km. 487, compared with the Ferrari’s fastest lap at 135 km. 937.

  —  D. S. J.

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