IVTH GRAND PRIX DE ROUEN
ROUEN. Sunday, June 28th.
WITH the Grand Prix de rA.c.F. returning to Reims, the Automobile Club de Normand had to think of some new innovation to justify the enormous expenditure of last year when the Rouen-Les Essarts circuit was entirely rebuilt, to become one of the best in France. Feeling that a simple Formula II circuit race would seem feeble, the Club opened the 117th Grand Prix to ears of Formula I and Formula II, making it widely known that the idea behind the arrangement was to encourage manufacturers to try out their 21-litre 1954 Formula machinery, as well as to give Formula I cars another ” last fling.” The result of this very open entry list was an interesting collection representing the past, present and future of Grand Prix racing and it provided a very exciting race.
Only Ferrari and Gordini took advantage of the try-out for their 1954 Formula cars, Farina and Hawthorn having 24-litre fourcylinder Ferraris and Trintignant a 21-litre Gordini. To outward inspection the Ferraris were identical to the car that won at Spa the previous week, having the same type of four-cylinder engines fitted with the new double-choke Weber carburetters mounted on the chassis frame. Trintignant’s Gordini was similarly identical to the Formula II cars, merely having the enlarged engine fitted to the regular chassis. So much for the future the present was in the shape of Schell with a 2-litre Gordini, Bayol with his Osca, Class and Lyons with Connaughts, Gerard’s Cooper-Bristol and Moss with the Cooper-Alta Special. As an interim measure Behra had a Cordial with a 2.3-litre engine fitted. The past saw an array of 44-litre Lago-Talbots, driven by Etancelin, Grignard, Levegh and Cabantous. the first three being entered by the Talbot works and the fourth a private entry. With Lago-Talbots being officially run at Le Mans and at Rotten it looks as though the four-cylinder 21-litre cars for next year will soon be appearing. All four old cars were more or less normal with the exception of Levegh’s which was fitted with the new racing double-choke Solex carburetters. Rosier was running his 41-litre Formula I Ferrari and the complete list was made up by the Maserati A6G of Bira and the Plati-Maserati of Volontario, neither of which started, though the last-mentioned kept lurking around the paddock, fitted with an A6G nose cowling and trying to look like a new car.
Practice sessions were at the unearthly hour of 7 a.m. and it says tun& for the keenness of the drivers and mechanics alike that almost everyone was “on parade” on time. The first morning allowed early risers the chance of viewing the new eight-cylinder 3-litre sports Gordini, an entirely new car with central driving seat, double. wishbone suspension controlled by torsion bars and rubber blocks, and all-enveloping bodywork of exceedingly neat proportions. The engine looked identical to all previous Gordini engines, except that there were more cylinders and a fourth double-choke Weber carburetter. Jean Lucas had driven it up from Paris the same morning, accompanied by Behra in the 2.3-litre single-seater, the remainder of the equips arriving later in the day. This new Gordini was driven round the circuit as a try-out for the Reims I2-hour sportscar race to follow the next week-end. Ferraris played about with different tyre sizes in order to find the right gear ratio and for some time Hawthorn held the fastest lap time and new record for the circuit, but finally Farina went home contented with having beaten the junior member by a mere fraction of a second. Hawthorn’s car made a most ” interesting ” noise when the throttle stuck open just as he changed from first to second gear when leaving the pit area, but the solid four-cylinder did not seem to suffer front having the needle go right off the scale of the tachometer. With the exception of Moss, whose car would not steer properly, most of the competitors were fairly happy and lap times were returned more or less in accordance with the quality of the cars. Moss, getting rather tired of trying to sort out his Cooper-Alta, had a go in Lyons’ Connaught and without any effort got the car into the third row of the start, much to Lyons’ embarrassment. Observing on the fast, blind, right-hand, downhill bend after the start it was very clear that there were only two drivers who were ” motor-racing ” and they were Trintignant and Moss. Both of them were driving to the absolute limit of the car’s ability, whereas all the others, including the Ferrari drivers, never had their cars closer than 85-90 per cent, of the limit. Race day opened with three sports-car races, comprising mostly local drivers, though fastest race time was recorded by the American Bob Said with a 1,350-c.c. Osca, the first time a blue and white
car has received the chequered flag in Europe for many years. Outstanding among saloon car efforts were those of three local men in Peugeot 203s who really cornered on the absolute limit, while the driver of a Citroen Six provided the unique spectacle of 6 in. of’ daylight under one of the rear wheels as he cornered.
The line-up for the Grand Prix, over 60 laps of the 5,100-kilometre circuit, saw the three 21-litre cars occupying the front row, followed by Rosier and Behra and then the rest of the field spread equally between 41-litres and 2-litres. Naturally the Ferraris led away but Moss made a terrific start, running round the outside of those in front and nearly collecting a photographer in the process. Bayol seized his gearbox as he changed from first to second and everyone dodged him and rushed off down the twisting hill to the Nouvelle Monde hairpin. For the first four laps it was Hawthorn who led, going all he knew to stay in front, but sheer determination by Farina eventually got him past as they started the twisty descent on the fifth lap. So great was the Italian’s determination to get in front that he went down the hill in a series of uncontrollable slides in front of the Englishman, resulting in both of them being very frightened indeed. Arriving at the hairpin more or less under control Farina managed to stay in front for the rest of the race, but he could not shake Hawthorn off. These two soon outstripped the rest of the field, with the exception of Trintignant who was driving right on the limit the whole time in an endeavour to keep the inferior car in sight of the leaders. Moss started off well, leading the 2-litre ears and all the Talbots, but then lost bottom gear and dropped right back with no acceleration from the two hairpin bends. For the opening stages of the race Behra kept the 2.3 Gordini well in the picture, but then had to stop at the pits to sort out some brake and suspension trouble and Schell then moved up among the big cars. Having moved up into fifth place -with the 2-litre Gordini his number one plug hole became filled with water spraying from the radiator filler cap and he came in to change the plug, dropping back to eighth place. The Talbots were having a grand scrap amongst themselves, with Etancelin, now in his 57th year, driving with more fire and zest than most drivers of half his age and consequently holding a brilliant sixth place, which changed to fifth when Schell stopped.
By half distance the order was still Farina, Hawthorn 7 sec. behind and then Trintignant another 1 min. 16 sec. behind, but on lap 31 the 21-litre Gordini toured into the pits making the most awful noises with its rear axle and the Frenchman’s brilliant efforts came to an end. This left only the two Ferraris on the same lap, with Rosier third one lap behind, followed by Etancelin still driving like fury, then Levegh driving carefully, Schell having a real go to make up for his pit stop, Grignard appearing to have little idea where he or his car were going, Gerard driving regularly and steadily in the Cooper-Bristol, Lyons going consistently and looking as though he was enjoying every moment, followed by Moss waiting patiently for his Cooper-Alta to accelerate out of the hairpins on its rather high second gear. By this time Claes had dropped by the wayside with a broken transmission shaft, his Connaught being very tired after a long series of races without an overhaul, Behra ‘s front brakes and suspension were uncontrollable and he stopped for good, and Ca bantous had stopped very early with a damaged gearbox.
By three-quarter distance Farina had drawn 18 sec. in front of his team-mate and Rosier was now going very slowly with only top gear left in his gearbox, which allowed Etancelin to pass into third place, while Schell was still making up seconds a lap. Watching on the hairpin before the finishing straight it was interesting to note how Etancelin arrived with the brakes hard on and the clutch out, coasting round the apex of the corner with the inside rear wheel off the ground. Having rounded the corner, down went the accelerator pedal and with full revs, on, the clutch was released letting the airborne wheel come back to earth and take the full power of the 44-litre engine, which resulted in immense acceleration, the spinning rear wheel acting as an infinitely variable bottom gear. Lap after lap Etancelin did this drill, with no faltering whatsoever, his timing being perfect each lap. In contrast Levegh and Grignard with their Talbots crept slowly away from the corner with the clutch right home and the engine trying to accelerate from some 1,500 r.p.tn. Schell was equally enterprising on this hairpin, using every possible ounce of braking power available and being quite unperturbed by locking wheels, rounding the corner with the power hard on and correcting the subsequent power slide with delicate precision. The progress that the European-American’s driving has made this season has been outstanding and is noticeably better in each race. With 10 laps to go Hawthorn suddenly put on a spurt and got to within 5 sec. of Farina, but then the Italian looked in his mirror and hurried on, waving to his pit to stop Hawthorn trying so hard. Continued on page 423
Meanwhile Schell had now got within sight of Etancelin and both were going all they knew, and the Cordial would have taken third place had it not spun round at the foot of the hill, losing a plug in the process and finishing an excellent fourth, on five cylinders.
Immediately the two Ferrari drivers received the chequered flag they stopped at their pit, leapt out of the cars and without pausing to say a few words into the microphone dashed back along the course to Hawthorn’s Ferrari coupe which was parked outside the entrance to the circuit. The reason for this seemingly peculiar behaviour was that it was then 6 p.m. and they had to catch the 7.50 p.m. night train from Paris to take them to Italy where they were due to drive at Monza the following morning. It was left to Etancelin and Schell to record their impressions of the race and while doing this the grey Ferrari coupe was breaking all records for the journey from Rouen to the centre of Paris, which it accomplished in lf hours. amidst Sunday evening traffic, causing hundreds of gendarmes to blow their whistles and have fits of apoplexy. Whether any of them realised that the two men in the car had just finished a two-hour Grand Prix race is unlikely. No one can say that factory drivers do not earn their salaries.
The aged Etaneelin, who lives in Rotten, was undoubtedly and justifiably the hero of the day and when reminded that his drive at Rouen last year was supposed to be his last, he said : “This time really is my last Grand Prix—I think.” The experiment of running a combined Formula I and Formula H race had proved remarkably successful and had been full of interest from start to finish and, though some Formula II drivers did not like the idea of competing against bigger cars for the same prize. Schell had shown that by trying hard and really motor-racing it was possible to get among the leaders.
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