At the time of writing the G.P. season is in full swing, having had the Dutch and Belgian races on successive weekends and the reinstated German G.P. on July 20th. From the International aspect the 500 c.c. and sidecar classes have been producing some of the finest racing seen for many a long day. In the Dutch and Belgian events, Masetti (Gilera four-cylinder) beat Duke (Norton) by the smallest possible margin, the issue being in doubt up to the last corner in each case. Similarly in the sidecar events, in the Swiss G.P. Albino Milani (Gilera four-cylinder) beat Cyril Smith (Norton) from the last corner and in the Belgian G.P. world champion Eric Oliver beat the Italian by a matter of yards.
Now this close racing from start to finish is the best possible state of affairs but it brings in its train a serious problem and that is the question of the overtaking of slower riders. At present-day speeds the leaders invariably begin to lap the tail-end of the field soon after half-distance, but as the men being overtaken are comparatively very slow, the leaders are soon by. The problem arises on the last lap or two when the leaders have to lap riders who are in the middle of the finishing list, that is, riders of a good standard of ability on average machines; this means that the time taken by the leading bunch to get by will probably be doubled, due to the higher speed of the better private owners and the chance of an unavoidable baulk to a possible winner is not only very great, but is often plain to see. If two men are scrapping for the lead and they come upon a good rider on a non-works machine going into a bend, it is more than likely that the first one will just scrape past and the second will have to hang back until after the corner. Naturally, what often happens is that the slower rider will be aware of them coming and make more room than usual, but it often happens that he himself is in a private battle for a good position in the results and then he is unlikely to either have time to look behind or to want to ease off a bit.
This is a growing problem that is already a source of unnecessary danger and will become greater as the speeds of the “works” bicycles get higher in comparison with the private-owners. As I have already said, it is not so much the very slow chaps at the back of the field who cause the trouble, it is the good fast runner who finishes around the top of the private-owner list that gets in the mix-up on the last lap, so it is obvious that a tightening up on qualifying speeds is not going to be of material assistance. It might be possible on a circuit like Spa to insist that all starters should be capable of finishing on the same lap as the leaders, in the sidecar class at any rate, if not in the solo classes, but this would mean a serious curtailment of runners which is never a good thing. A possible solution would be the introduction of a flag signal to indicate the approach of the leaders. At present the blue flag is used, either waved or stationary, to indicate another rider either overtaking or immediately behind, but what is wanted is something to convey more than that, to indicate that the leaders are approaching. This would mean the use of flag marshals of high intelligence and the ability to keep track of the race and to be able to recognise the leading riders. At present the standard of flag-wagging is deplorable in the G.P. events and on some circuits I have raced upon there has been a complete absence of flags even though I have been involved in some furious battles with as many as six or seven riders in a bunch and we have overtaken slower men. It would be useless giving this special flag to the farmer’s boy who waves the yellow flag nowadays when anyone falls off, but at any G.P. there are numerous enthusiasts who would be quite capable and who at present have to be spectators with the crowd.
Apart from this solution all riders in G.P. races must be aware of this problem and it is up to all of them to bear it in mind at all times. There are many ways in which a rider can know is what is going on behind him. A close study of practice times will indicate how many laps it will take the fastest man to make up a whole lap so that you can start the race with the knowledge that the winner is likely or not to catch you before the end. Then while racing it is often possible to see the signalling pits of the “works” teams, and if as you go past the team chief is preparing his board it is obvious that his runners are not far behind you, and if at the same time the rival “works” are also preparing signals it will be pretty obvious that there is a battle on for the lead. In sidecar racing it is up to the passenger to keep his rider in touch with affairs by means of a pre-arranged signal. It is easy enough to look out at the back occasionally and he should be capable of recognising the leading “works” riders so that a sharp tap on his rider foot would indicate the presence of the leaders coming up behind.
This lapping problem is becoming more and more serious as speeds go up and it is up to all concerned to give it thought.
It is not often that I use up space on over-praising anyone or anything, most of the space seems to be taken up on complaints, but an exception must be Eric Oliver’s win in the sidecar class at the Belgian G.P. Exactly two months before the race Oliver had a crash and broke his left leg in two places. A week before the race he removed the plaster and put his foot to ground and on July 6th he won the sidecar race from Milani and Merlo on four-cylinder Gileras and Cyril Smith on a Norton fitted with a “works” engine similar to Oliver’s. Further, the other three had their regular passengers and Oliver had to use a passenger who had never ridden with him before. That also says a lot for Stan Price, who had only ridden with a rider of average ability previously, that he could keep up with Oliver’s riding. Of the four “works” riders capable of winning Oliver had the greatest number of handicaps, it was his first ride for two months, he had a very painful left leg, a new passenger and Cyril Smith had the later model-engine of the two “works” Nortons. On paper Oliver had little hope, especially as the Gileras were much faster, and his win, which was no fluke but sheer ability, stamps him as world champion, whatever may happen in future races. It is also worth bearing in mind that Duke has obviously met his match in the Masetti or Milani Gilera combination on solo but Oliver is still, at 41 years of age, pulling a bit more out of the riding bag and staying in front. He has now won at Spa in 1949/50/51 and 52 against everything that the sidecar world can produce, a veritable unapproachable champion.
While on this subject a big bunch of flowers must be handed to young Ray Amm from Southern Rhodesia who kept up with Duke throughout the Belgian G.P. In neither the sidecar nor the solo event were the “works” Norton riders running to orders, the opposition was so hot that it was a case of free-for-all and keep up at all costs, and Amm not only kept up but was in front for a great deal of the time.
Segrave Trophy for Duke
The Segrave Trophy for 1951 has been awarded to Geoffrey Duke for his many motor-cycle racing successes, culminating in the World’s Championship and greatly enhancing the world prestige of British motorcycles. This trophy, which is awarded for the most outstanding demonstration of the possibilities of transport by land, sea or air, has previously been held by Air-Commodore Sir Charles Kingsford Smith, Sqd.-Ldr. Hinkler, A.F.C., D.S.M., Mrs. Amy Mollison, Capt. Sir Malcolm Campbell, M.B.E. (twice), Ken Waller, Capt. G. E. T. Eyston, Miss Jean Batten, Flying-Officer A. E. Clouston, Major A. T. G. Gardiner, G. R. de Havilland, O.B.E., J. R. Cobb and J. D. Derry, D.F.C.
Forthcoming Sports Car Races
British cars have so far failed this year to equal their excellent showing in the sports-car races of 1951, so particular interest centres round the remaining fixtures for cars of this type.
On August 16th the B.A.R.C. will hold its interesting Nine-Hour Endurance Race at Goodwood and hopes for a strong. representation of manufacturers’ teams and Continental entries. The race starts at 3 p.m., enabling spectators to have an early lunch before settling down in the grandstands, and finishes at midnight, in darkness with flood-lit pits, so that you should be home no later than from a dance.
August 30th will see the 750 Club run its Six-Hour Handicap Relay Race at Silverstone, which this year enjoys National status.
Finally, on September 13th at Dundrod, the R.A.C. will hold the XXth T.T. Race, entries for which are by invitation only and limited to 50. Private owners may drive only production sports cars as defined by the S.M.M.T. ruling but manufacturers’ prototypes are permissible. Fuel of approx. 80-octane rating is specified, superchargers are barred, and 7 classes, from 750 cc. to 8,000 c.c., will be recognised, apart from the main race, which will be run on a handicap basis, ranging from 67.9 m.p.h. for 750 c.c. to 84.1 m.p.h. for cars of over 5,000 c.c. Cash awards exceed £1,500 and the race duration will be approx. 6 hours.
It is to be hoped that good entries will be obtained tor all these races and that a strong Continental opposition, without which a British victory would be rather hollow, will be forthcoming. Here are opportunities for the “works” Jaguar and Aston-Martin teams to regain lost prestige. Details of these races are available, respectively, from: B.A.R.C., 55, Park Lane, W.I; H. Birkett, 3, Pondtail Road, Fleet, Hants., and The R.A.C., Pall Mall, S.W.1.