CONTINENTAL NOTES, August 1953
By the Continental Correspondent. FOR some time past it has been evident that the sports car of today, as built by manufacturers and run by them for racing events, is not far short of the Formula II car on performance. I refer, of course, to the contenders for General Classification honours in the major sports-car races, such as the Mille Miglia, Le Mans and the Pan-Americana, such cars as the factory MOM Jaguars, the 4.1-litre Ferraris, the new Lancias, Cunninghams, Talbot, Gordinis and so on. Unfortunately, this comparison of speeds has been purely hypothetical for in Formula II racing there are few drivers who can tell you exactly what r.p.m. they are getting in top -gear, and few know the top-gear ratios, while errors in calculations can depend on whether the calculator is” for” or ” against” the car in question. Equally, sports-car speeds are just as difficult to define, for if speedometers are fitted they are rarely calculated for the axle ratio fitted at the time, tachometers give the same false answers as on racing cars, and the hosts of passengers who have timed fast cars over kilometres very in their answers as they do in their numbers. •
At the recent Reims 12-hour race we were able to see for the first time indisputable data relating to this interesting point, for sports cars and racing cars used the same circuit under exactly the same conditions. The fastest lap recorded by the sports cars was that of the 41-litre Ferrari coupe driven by Maglioli-Carini, which put in a lap at 2 min. 42.8 sec. Later in the day, in the French Grand Prix, Fangio recorded 2 min. 41.1 sec. in the Formula Il Maserati at. the height of his battle with Hawthorn. On that showing it is pretty fair to say that the performances of the works sports cars of today are equal to those of the works Formula II cars. Such a state of affairs has produced an interesting -and amusing situation. At one time the driver of a single-seater racing car was considered to be among the elite while a mere” sports-car driver was one who was still learning and had yet to graduate to the Grand Prix class. In many cases this is still so, but the top flight of each category muzt now be classed in the same group, and, what is more, the sports-car driver, in his low coupe and fully enveloping bodywork, must surely be more skilled than his single-seater compatriot, for the handling of a Formula II car is a lot superior to any sports car, as drivers who race both will agree.
During the race at Reims the H.W.M. equips were in the unusual position of having recorded faster times with their sports car than with the single-seaters, as were Gordini, their new 3-litre being much faster than the Formula II cars. Ferrari had all their aces on the single-seaters in the Grand Prix, leaving the sports coupe to the two ” new boys,” the result being that they all lapped the Reims circuit in virtually the same time. Jaguar and Cunningham, while having no Formula II counterparts, were far faster than a good many of the temperamental Grand Prix cars and only a •few miles per hour down on the fastest cars of the meeting.
All this presents the curious situation where a driver might reasonably be expected to graduate from factory sports cars to factory single-seaters, instead of vice verse, so that nowadays to drive in a factory team of sports cars in the higher category a driver must be highly skilled. This points strongly to the fact that the dropping of Formula I, no matter what the reasons., was a retrograde step in the development and progress of Grand Prix racing. The racing cars of today were supposed to be getting too fast as well as too costly, and a change of Formula was indicated that would lower the potential of the single-seaters. This was done in 1934, in 1938, again in 1946, and is due in 1954. But while we are all busily engaged in slowing up the racing cars, thesports cars have been ignored and the time has now arrived when they are far more lethal than existing racing cars. Does this mean a limitation on sports-car engines, a freeing of racing-car engines, or, as suggested last winter in MOTOR SPORT, has the time arrived for a one-class Formula. Reverting to Reims, the 41-litre Ferrari coupe, even allowing for the inexperience of the drivers’ could have finished sixth or seventh in the French Grand Prix, the driver sitting in comparative comfort, the car carrying full equipment and capable of being driven about on the normal roads. Indeed we do live in strange times. a • * After the recent Dutch Grand Prix on the twisty Zandvoort circuit, where a great deal of loose gravel was lying about after re-surfacing, an investigation was made and the F.1.A. decided to ban further
racing on that circuit until something was done about the looseness of the surface. This is quite a problem to the organiser of a specialised track, for a few weeks before the re-surfacing a motorcycle meeting was held at. Zandvoort and the old surface had reached that pitch of perfection for tyre grip that cannot last and heralds the inevitable breaking-up of the surface. With the car Grand Prix looming ahead the organisers did what they thought wisest and re-surfaced the track with their special non-skid substance. Unfortunately it was:still too new at the time ofthe Grand Prix and the top dressing was torn off and flung about in the form of loose gravel. Quitelow to overcome this trouble when using this type of surface is difficult to see, but perhaps John Morgan’s idea at Goodwood might have Worked, that of letting Tom, Dick and Harry drive round and round at touring speeds to amuse themselves and at the same time bed the circuit down. * * *
In France the Gordini situation is one of extreme precariousness, for since he left. Sinma and built and ran the cars entirely on his own he has been continually in financial difficulties. So much so that it looks as though the Gordini cars may disappear from the circuits. At Reims he made a desperate bid to achieve success and thereby gain support, by entering five cars in the sports-car race and four in the Grand Prix, but the whole lot gave trouble and resulted in a dismal failure. Now many people in France are suggesting that it would be a good thing if Gordini set up a factory for producing things for sale to the sporting public, thus starting the nucleus of a revenue, but Amedee Gordini, like so many in his class, is a genius, and as such will not have anything to do with the ordinary run of commerce and will not allow anyone to take any responsibilities in the racing organisation. It really is a “one-man show” and against so much organised opposition he cannot hope to survive. Personally, the idea of a range of” Gordini” products. for Fiats and the like sounds intriguing, whether it be a Cordial ” steering wheel for a 2CV Citroen, or a ” Gordini ” double-cam head conversion for a 1,100-c.c. Fiat; while sports Cordials would almost certainly sell well and the sale of Gordini 214itre Formula engines would have a ready market on the English side of the Channel. It really is unfortunate that such a clever designer, and such an enthusiastic team of mechanics and followers, should be worried the whole time by the shadow of extinction hovering over them, and it mutt be hoped that a way out will be found very soon.—D. S. J.