1949 French Grand Prix

Chiron (Talbot) wins the French G.P. — and Peter Whitehead (Ferrari) makes f.t.d., and finishes third

This year the French Grand Prix — not the classic A.C.F. race — was run over 310 miles of the Rheims circuit by the A.C. de Champagne. Louis Chiron proved a mighty popular winner with a 4 1/2 -litre Talbot, which averaged nearly 100 m.p.h.-99.98 m.p.h., using Lodge plugs and Dunlop tyres. “Bira” came home second in his Maserati, 17.6 sec. behind, and those of us who were present from this country were kept on our toes by the wonderful driving of Peter Whitehead, whose single-stage Ferrari had extra weight astern, larger radiator and bigger oil cooler, as had Villoresi’s Ferrari.

Whitehead was in the lead six laps from the end and just when it seemed that a British driver must win the new French Grand Prix, the Ferrari developed gearbox trouble, leaving him only fourth gear, and Whitehead was passed by Chiron — going through non-stop — and “Bira.” To head the field, which he had for three laps, Whitehead had driven really hard, finally lapping at 105 m.p.h., compared with Villoresi’s fastest practice lap at 107.9 m.p.h. and Wimille’s practice and race laps of 112 and 108.14 m.p.h. in the Alfa last year.

Whitehead was 20.9 sec. behind Bira” at the finish and was followed home by Rosier’s Talbot, Sommer’s Talbot, Chaboud’s V12 Delahaye, and Grignard’s Talbot, in that order. The other ten starters failed to finish, including Fangio, whose Maserati had a broken throttle control, Abecassis, whose Alta was still haunted by gearbox maladies, and Murray’s Maserati, which melted a piston. “Bira” had his worries, being troubled by his fading brakes again, and Chiron’s Talbot was inclined to throw oil. Both “Bira” and Whitehead refuelled twice.

In the Coupe des Petites Cylindrees which preceeded the Grand Prix, Ascari’s short-chassis Formula II Ferrari won at 94.55 m.p.h. for 126 miles, from Tardini’s Ferrari and Trintignant’s 1,440-c.c. Simca, while Fangio set fastest lap in a Ferrari at 99.01 m.p.h. Folland’s two-seater Ferrari was fourth, Heath’s Alta fifth, and Moss’ Cooper eighth behind Bonnet’s D.B. and Martin’s Jicey. Abecassis had magneto trouble and Oscar Moore crashed without injury. Fangio lost the Ferrari’s gears, this time due to a broken gear-lever, when leading comfortably.