Les Essarts. July 11th.
Being held just one week after the catastrophic French Grand Prix, the race at Rouen suffered from many of the competitors’ cars not having sufficient time for preparation. The Ferrari team put in a terrific amount or work in order to produce three cars, but Maserati were so disorganised after Reims that they made no attempt to compete at Rouen, while the unfortunate Mieres had every intention of running but was prevented, due to his car being completely written-off in an accident that occurred to the lorry carrying it. Being near home, Gordini was able to field three cars, apparently well repaired since Reims, and various private owners such as Bira and Salvadori were ready in time.
Two practice periods were allowed, the first on the Friday evening before the race and the second from 6 a.m. until 10 a.m. on Saturday morning. These times were rather forced upon the Automobile Club de Normand due to part of the circuit being on a main road, but the arrangement made it very difficult for the mechanics, and many of them had no opportunity to sleep between Friday evening practice and Saturday morning. The Ferrari team fielded Gonzalez with a 1954 car, Hawthorn with a 1953 car fitted with a new engine, and Trintignant with a 1953/54 car, as at Reims. The engine in Hawthorn’s car was particularly interesting as the crankcase and bottom end were it the 1953 pattern, while the head/block one-piece assembly was of the same design as on the 1954 “stumpy” cars, which is to say that it had the valves at a wider angle and larger ports, using Weber 58 DCO A3 carburetters. This necessitated a large bulge in the side of the bonnet, while this chassis was fitted with a new steering-box — the one Hawthorn used in Belgium having the modified gear-change. Rather surprisingly, considering they ran 2 1/2-litre cars at Rouen last year, the Ferrari team were in complete chaos over the axle-ratio question and none of them put in very fast laps, it being left to Behra on the five-speed Gordini to make fastest time in 2. min. 12.8 sec., equal to Hawthorn’s record set up last year.
Pilette was being allowed a place in the Gordini team but his car broke quite early on so he shared the second car with Pollet for the rest of the practice. Three Maseratis were running, the de Dion cars of Bira and Salvadori, and the 1953/4 car of Schell, of which only Bira was really organised, though he did not lap very fast. Rosier and Manzon were out with their Ferraris, the former going round steadily and the latter damaging his transmission so that by the time practice was over his mechanics had removed the complete gearbox and differential assembly: the Rouen circuit being one or those infuriating ones with the paddock in the inside and no way out until practice is finished. There was a lone British car running, the Alta-engined H.W.M. of Whiteaway, who was quietly feeling his way round in his first Continental Grand Prix.
The early hours of Saturday morning saw the complete Gordini team raring to go, accompanied by Berger with the yellow Gordini, while the Argentinian, Clemar Bucci, was awaiting the chance to try Pollet’s car, the quicker of them being given the car for the race. The fast but winding Rouen circuit, with its fine surface, suited the Gordinis and it looked as though they might provide serious opposition for the Ferrari team. Behra proceeded to improve on his previous times, setting a new lap record, but Trintignant then went out and improved on it by nearly 1 sec., recording 2 min. 9.4 sec. (141.885 k.p.h.). while Hawthorn was only fractionally slower than Behra. Gonzalez was not at all happy and could do no better than 2 min. 11.2 sec., which was fourth fastest practice time, so it looked as though the two old-type Ferraris were going to have to deal with Behra on their own.
In the Gordini team there were some interesting observations to be made, for Bucci was having his first try with a Gordini and looking extremely confident and purposeful he was 1 1/2 sec. quicker than Pollet, using the same car. Pilette, who has been improving all season after a very doubtful beginning, was getting into a fine stride and lapped in 2 min. 13.1 sec., which equalled the time of Manzon, whose Ferrari was now mended, and on the downhill swerves after the start Pilette was very impressive. However, he could not match Behra’s times for the Frenchman had really got the Essarts circuit weighed up, while the Gordini was handling extremely well on the smooth surface. Berger us as not very quick with the yellow car, his best being 2 min, 23.8 sec., so he lent it to Pilette to find out if it was him or the car that was slow, and Pilette gave the answer with a lap in 2 min. 14.9 sec.! None of the Maserati drivers turned out for the second practice, but a new man appeared with a 1953/54 car, but with the old central gear-change. This was Daponte, yet another Argentinian, but, unlike most of his countrymen, his driving was not brilliant and he was the slowest of the whole entry.
The morning of race day was bright and sunny a rare occurrence this season. and was taken up by the Tour de France bicycle race, which had a two-lap dice round the Essarts circuit before continuing on their way round France, so that after lunch the circuit was clear for the Grand Prix cars which lined up in rows or three-two-three. Trintignant, Behra and Hawthorn heading the field of 14 starters. Having won the practice battle, Bucci was on the second Gordini, so that there was a French car on each of the first three rows. Pilette being in row two with Gonzalez and Bucci in row three with Bira and Manzon. This year the race was over the full Grand Prix distance of nearly 500 kilometres, or 95 laps of the 5.1-kilometre circuit. and as first prize was £3,000, running down to £200 for eighth place, everyone was determined to try to drive carefully and avoid any serious dicing that might break the car. Added to this was a fact that has become increasingly apparent this season, which is the question of fuel consumption. Last year the 2-litre cars could easily go 500 kilometres, without refuelling, but this year the 2 1/2-litres have been rather on the limit, and as more power is being found so the consumption is becoming heavier and already tankage is reaching the limit. The Ferrari team had taken great pains to check the consumption in practice, and before the start the tanks were topped up to the brim.
At flag-fall the two Ferraris in the front row got in front of Behra by a few inches while poor Bucci stalled his engine and had to wait until everyone had gone by before he could be push-started. By the end of lap one Trintignant, Hawthorn and Behra had already left the rest of the field, which was headed by Gonzalez, while Bucci had already caught Whiteaway.
The leading trio were soon completely on their own, the Ferraris playing with the Gordini just as they wished, running steadily together, with Behra having a rather dangerous dice behind them in order to keep up, using a lot of grass every time he rounded the hairpin leading into the finishing straight. Hawthorn was now taking command and led for most of the time, making a new lap record in 2 min. 10.4 sec., though Trintgnant was never more than a few yards behind, actually leading on laps 9 and 10 by which time Behra was 5 sec. behind and Gonzalez nearly 30 sec. farther back, but well ahead of the rest led by Bira, driving another very smooth and regular race. Bucci was rapidly making up for his bad start, passing Daponte and Berger with ease, soon catching Rosier and, after a time, he caught up with Manzon, but then he met his match: these two indulged in a battle for some 15 laps, Bucci eventually getting away and setting out to attack Schell.
On lap 15 Gonzalez spun on the far side of the course, dropping back to sixth place, behind Salvadori, and two laps later he coasted into the pit with a dead engine and retired. With only 20 of the 95 laps completed the race had developed into a dull procession or Ferrari demonstration, with only the first four on the same lap, these being Hawthorn, Trintignant, 3 sec. apart, Behra 20 sec. behind and Bira more than half a lap back all the rest having been lapped by the leading pair. Round and round went the two Ferraris in complete command and the only interest centred around Bucci, who was still working his way up through the field, now having a battle with Schell for a few laps before getting away from him. Bucci, it will be remembered made some good impressions in his home country with one of the rare V 12-cylinder 4.5-litre Alfa-Romeos and his handling of the Gordini in his first European road race was gaining excellent comments from all sides. This processional race went along steadily until just after a third of the distance had been covered and then the strain of this short arduous circuit began to tell. First Schell stopped for fuel and oil and the next lap stopped for good with mechanical trouble, and then on lap 38 Behra swept into his pit stamping up and down on the brake pedal. The front brakes were re-adjusted and away he went just as the Ferrari pair swept by, now a lap in the Iead, with Trintignant in front for an lap or two. Manzon had also stopped, with a cracked block and after sitting and looking at it for a long time he filled up with water and continued slowly in an endeavour to finish. Rosier was in trouble, coming in with his gearbox deranged, and his mechanics set to and effected a repair. In taking the lead from Hawthorn momentarily, Trintignant had set up a new lap record in 2 min. 9.9 sec., but when the halfway mark was reached Hawthorn was back in the lead. Salvadori came in for a leisurely refuel, while Whiteaway stopped to repair a broken throttle spring on the H.W.M.
Behra came back into the pit, screaming for more brakes and in a thoroughly bad temper, and while the mechanics did their best he jumped up and down in the cockpit until Gordini himself ordered him abruptly into the pit. Obviously the strain in trying to keep up with the two Ferraris had used up the Gordini’s brakes and no amount of adjusting was going to make much difference, but eventually Behra rejoined the race, lapping at 2 min. 16 sec. and making despairing signs as he passed the pits. Pilette on the third Gordini came to rest with no clutch, and Manzon was back in for more water, all of which reshuffled the general run of the field considerably. Bira now being third, running like a train. Bucci was fourth, Salvadori fifth, Behra sixth, and then Berger, Daponte, Manzon and Whiteaway bringing up the rear. Rosier still awaiting his gearbox to be repaired.
For the next 10 laps the two Ferrari drivers took turns in leading and at 60 laps they were signalled to take things easy and do no more dicing, and though they slowed considerably they continued to pass and re-pass, now being two laps ahead of the third man. Salvadori had stopped once more, this time to empty an overflow oil tank that was spilling over, and Manzon was still taking on water at frequent intervals, though stretching it out as much as possible by switching off past the pits and coasting down the hill. Behra suddenly disappeared for a time, having stalled the engine due to a gearbox malady and having no low ratios left he was unable to get up enough speed on the Ievel when pushing to be able to get the engine to start: consequently he pushed the car back to the pits, but to his mechanics’ surprise he did not stop but went on past and over brow of the hill. On the downhill section the engine was heard to burst into life and he rejoined the race. Hawthorn and Trintignant were still going “hand-in-hand” until lap 77 when the pits put a stop to it by calling Hawthorn in for fuel, a single churn-full being flung in while Hawthorn got out of the car, and he was off again in 30 sec. Two laps later Trintignant was called in and this time the mechanics really got down to it and the same quantity of fuel was put in and he was away in 15 sec.
By deliberate planning Agolini now had Trintignant leading Hawthorn by 15 sec., with their nearest rival nearly two laps away, this being Bira, who was making no efforts to do anything about it, being content to drive steadily and consistently along in third place, but sufficiently fast to keep ahead of Bucci who was fourth. Hawthorn now put in a lap at 2 min. 15 sec., whereas they had been doing more than 2 min. 20 sec. before the stops, and on lap 83 he was back in the lead, but the next lap his engine blew up in a big way and he let the car run up an escape road on the far side of the circuit. This blow-up deposited the whole of the engine oil on the approach to a right-hand bend, and next along was Behra, who proceeded to do an immense spin which finished up on the grass verge with the engine stalled and no low gears in which to restart.
Trintignant now toured round, a certain winner if his car kept going, but meanwhile Behra was once more pushing his Gordini and Hawthorn decided to push his Ferrari, realising that his lead had been so great that if he could get back to the finish he would qualify in the money. There now occurred two incidents which must surely have never been known before, but which were not reported until the race was over. While trying to restart the Gordini on the uninhabited back leg of the course, Behra stopped Berger in the yellow Gordini and got him to push on the blue car’s tail with his own car, shunting him along until it restarted. Also, on the same part of the course, Hawthorn got Trintignant to slow down and to the same for him, he however not being able to start the engine but being helped on his way back to the finishing line, where he arrived out of breath and very hot.
On lap 85, Bucci, who was a certain third, suffered from Gordini trouble and came to rest with a broken rear axle, so that there were now only nine cars running, and that of Manzon was in a sorry state, Behra’s car was showing signs of clutch slip and Rosier was way behind using only third gear; in fact, a motley collection of cars all hoping to complete the distance. Trintignant finished his tour, Hawthorn pushed over the line, only to be disqualified, Bira arrived a worthy second, followed by Salvadori with a broken steering box, Berger fourth from merely having kept going, and then the sick Gordini of Behra, Daponte with a healthy Maserati driven very slowly, and Whiteaway running quietly along, as Berger had done. With Behra and Hawthorn disqualified there were only eight finishers, but as that meant there was no on outside the prizes, everyone was content.
Grand Prix De Rouen — Formula I — 95 Laps — 181.5 Kilometres
Warm and Dry
1st: M. Trintignant (Ferrari), 3 hr. 10 min. 31.5 sec. … 131.791 k.p.h.
2nd: B Behra (Maserati), 1 lap behind.
3rd: R. Salvadori (Maserati), 5 laps behind.
4th: G. Berger (Gordini), 5 laps behind.
5th: J. Daponte (Maserati) 10 laps behind.
6th: L. Whiteaway (H. W. M.) 15 laps behind.
7th: R. Manzon (Ferrari) 15 laps behind.
8th: L. Rosier: (Ferrari), 25 laps behind.
Fastest lap M. Trintignant (Ferrari, on 18th lap, in 2 min. 9.9 sec. 141.339 k.p.h. [new record]).