This year’s Grand Prix de l’A.C.F., which also formed one of the series of National Grands Prix de France, was a Formula II race of 3 hours’ duration, over the difficult 3.17 mile Essarts circuit near Rouen. Sultry weather hung over the wooded country and rain fell heavily during part of the race. Organisation was carefree rather than efficient but a large, lively crowd attended, controlled by cheerful, colourful, whistle-equipped policemen. The acceptable attractions of a French motor race were all present — the champagne and chicken lunch in a large marquee to the accompaniment of trumpet tones and the roar of practising cars, the massed band, the massed start, and the sartorial displays at the French women, who wore very little more than many English girls deem desirable on Brighton beach. Etancelin is the local boy and his parade after being made a Chevalier of the Legion d’Honneur was whistled about equally with the aforesaid sartorial brevities! Hawthorn too, got a fine reception. In practice the three “works” Ferrari fours had been fastest by far, Ascari lapping in 2 min.14.8 sec. (84.63 m.p.h.), Farina 1.4 sec. slower and even Taruffi being 1.1 sec. quicker than Behra’s Gordini Six. Macklin’s H.W.M. was rebuilt just in time after a con-rod episode at Rheims and the Walton mechanics still had to fit a fresh magneto to Cabantous’ H.W.M. The Ferraris, like Rosier’s own “four,” used 7.00-16 back tyres.
After the cars had lined up before their pits, some fast demonstration laps were put in by an astonishing Renault chassis, with a 4-c.v. engine at the front, driving the front wheels via a Dyna-Panhard front drive and having a slab fuel-tank in the floor.
Before the G.P. there was a 30-lap International Formula III race which attracted five Coopers. the Erskine-Staride, some astonishing French “specials,” three very slim, wicked-looking D.B.s and two J. B.s. From a clutch-start Cooper, Aston, Loens and Leston went ahead. Alas, Aston, in first place, lost his plug-lead and couldn’t restart. Loens fell out with magneto trouble, then Leston lost all compression, leaving John Cooper in possession of the race and able to ease from 70 to just above 60 m.p.h. Sir Francis Samuelson at first proved his Cooper-Norton a match for Bonnet’s D.B. but was delayed by trouble. So Bonnet was second, pressing Cooper to the finish and Hauw’s D.B. just snatched third place from Liagre’s D.B. on the line, when the latter’s throttle control broke.
1st: John Cooper (Cooper-Norton) 1 hr. 24 min.14.9 sec. 108.9 k.p.h.
2nd: R. Bonnet (D.B.Panhard) 1 hr. 24 min. 27.1 sec.
3rd: V. Haux (D.B.Panhard) 1 lap behind.
Fastest lap: Leston (Cooper) 114.1 k.p.h.
The entry for the G.P. was very good. There were the three “works” Ferraris (brought in their vast O.M. van)—the “new-cowl” version, works nos. 6, 3 and 7 respectively–Manzon, Behra and Prince Bira with Gordini Sixes, Etancelin with the new A6G Maserati entered by the Scuderia Bandeirantio and painted a very odd colour, Rosier’s Ferrari four, V12 Ferraris of Hirt, Carini and Comotti. Fischer sharing Hirt’s car as his “four” threw a rod in practice, the Plate Maseratis of de Graffenried and Schell, Trintignant and Claes in four-cylinder 1½-Iitre Gordinis, the Collins, H.W.M. team, Hawthorn in the Parnell-entered Bryde Cooper-Bristol in place of his Farnham-tuned car, and Peter Whitehead’s new 8-plug FII Alta hoping to run to a steady finish.
Every Frenchman present must have hoped for a repetition of the Gordini victory at Rheims, but it was not to be. The Ferraris were superior, even in acceleration, in spite of self-locking differentials in Manzon’s and Behra’s cars.
The first mad rush round the hairpin was magnificent. Ascari already in the lead from Farina, followed by Manzon and Behra, then Taruffi. de Graffenried got hopelessly hemmed in but Hawthorn was getting through well and Collins led the green cars, in sixth place. Right away Ascari and Farina drew out of sight of the rest but it took Taruffi five laps to gain third place. Only three laps went by before Behra and Bira were missing, the former, from fifth place, had spun in trying to keep Tarufli at bay (shades of Spa!) and visited a ditch, stopping subsequently for a check-over, Bira to investigate a misfire.
In spite of 3 hours duration the Ferraris did not need either tyres or fuel and had the race to themselves. Behra drove magnificently to regain the time be had lost, holding Taruffi in the corners, but to no avail. With similar virtuosity Manzon held grimly to the fourth place, cornering really fast and, highly commendable. Trintignant in a 1½-litre Gordini four came by regularly as clockwork in fifth place but several laps behind the leader. Of the H.W.M.s, Peter Collins was sixth, but had to refuel and adjust brakes at the end, so only just staved off the determined Behra, whereupon the H.W.M.’s back-axle broke! The other H.W.M.s went round steadily, finishing, Macklin ninth, Cabantous tenth, the latter with a sore hand. Etancelin had no real acceleration from the new Maserati, although it was fast into the corners — he finished eighth, ahead of Macklin.
But Ferrari had complete superiority on this twisty little circuit, Ascari lapping Manzon after 32 laps and team-mate Taruffi after 40 laps. He slowed perhaps 10 sec. a lap when the rain came. The corners beyond the pits were not taken fast enough for true “nose-in” drifting but nevertheless needed real skill for rapid negotiation.
Carini’s V12 Ferrari retired with engine trouble in two laps, Schell’s Maserati-Plate, with a useless gearbox after six laps, the American then sharing de Graffenried’s Maserati-Plate, only to give up after 34 laps with brake maladies. Rosier’s unlucky blue Ferrari four lasted only 18 laps before its engine broke-up and Claes’ Gordini was out for the same reason three laps earlier. Whitehead’s Alta experienced a return of the gearbox trouble on lap 25, when running eleventh.
After this the race, now dull to seasoned race-goers, settled down until, an hour from the end, we were troubled to hear Hawthorn’s engine suddenly splutter. He lost much time at his pit—he was then sixth—and retired a lap later, a split header-tank having watered the ignition to the detriment of the sparks. Hard luck indeed, after 41 skilful laps. Bira was the final casualty, after 57 laps, when the Gordini’s back-axle protested. The race ended quietly. Ascari was congratulated by many of the French drivers. He had taken corners without cutting where even Farina lifted his foot slightly, although the latter made fastest lap.
1st: A. Ascari (Ferrari four) 129.0 k.p.h. (77 laps)
2nd: G. Farina (Ferrari four) 1 lap behind leader.
3rd: P. Taruffi (Ferrari four) 2 laps behind leader.
4th: Manzon (Gordini) 3 laps behind.
5th: Trintignant (1½ -litre Gordini) 4 laps behind.
6th: Collins (H.W.M.).
7th: Behra (Gordini) 5 laps behind.
8th: Etancelin (Maserati A6G) 6 laps behind.
9th: Macklin (H.W.M.) 7 laps behind.
10th: Cabantous (H.W.M.) 8 laps behind.
11th Fischer and Hirt (Ferrari).
12th: Comotti (Ferrari) 13 laps behind.
Fastest lap: Farina, 1.36.1 k.p.h.
For our part, if the race was rather dull, getting there and back was equally uneventful. The Transair Avro Anson brought us smoothly that morning from Croydon to the Club landing ground at Rouen in spite of thunderstorm conditions all over England. It made an excellent landing on the turf and it was not the pilot’s fault that, on our return that evening, curious folk had crawled all over it and succeeded in removing an emergency-hatch! A Peugeot ‘”402 Long” taxi took us to the circuit and we rode back in an old, but willing and well-braked Mercedes-Bez ‘bus, packed to capacity and driven by a man whose virtuosity approached that of Alberto himself! The return flight occupied a mere 75 min., the Anson coming in over Eastbourne after the half-hour Channel crossing, with the U.S. cruiser “Benham” which has disappointed English girlhood, right below.