Unlucky Jean Behra
Les Essarts, July 8th.
This year’s Grand Prix organised by the Automobile Club of Normandie was limited to sports cars not exceeding 3,000 cc and, following closely on the Reims meeting most people made the short trip up to Rouen so that a first class entry was received. Having missed running a race last year, due to the French Government’s ban on racing, the club made good use of the spare time by lengthening the circuit and making it not only faster, but also more interesting. After breasting the hill up from the Nouveau Monde hairpin the circuit was continued on towards Rouen, round a very fast and tricky right-hand bend, along a wide fast straight down to a tight right-hand bend and then a length of new concrete road brought the course back onto the original finishing straight by way of another fast right-hand bend. These alterations made a circuit length of 6.542 km and without any doubt the best road-racing circuit in France, and all the drivers were most enthusiastic about it.
Before the Grand Prix itself a shorter event for sports cars up to 1,500 cc was held and the two practice periods had separate sessions for the small cars and big cars. These two practices were not so popular with the competitors as they started at 6 am and, the circuit being some miles outside Rouen, this meant some very early rising. However, both periods were accomplished successfully with no untoward incidents and the Maserati team proved the superior among the big cars while Lotus and Cooper shared the honours among the 1,500 cc.
After the Tour of France bicycle race had used the circuit for the start of their fourth day’s racing, the 1,500 cc cars lined up for their race, which was over the strange length of 1 hr 15 min. In the front row were Chapman, driving a works Lotus-Climax, this being the actual car that had recently competed in the Mobilgas Economy Run in England, while next to him was MacDowell with a works Cooper-Climax and completing the front row was Schell driving Sopwith’s blue Lotus-Climax. Behind them were Phil Hill in the second works Cooper-Climax, and alongside him Allison with the works 1,100 cc Lotus-Climax. In the third row should have been a works Gordini 1,500, but it stripped a timing gear in the morning and there was no time to repair it, so that left only de Changy with the Equipe Belge Porsche Spyder and Hawthorn with Buck’s Lotus. Since its blow-up at Reims it had been fitted with a 1,100 cc engine, there being no more 1,500 cc ones available. The fourth row contained Jopp driving the Moss Cooper-Climax and Frenchman Veuillet with a Persche Spyder. There vere 15 other competitors, including Towse, Nixon and Lane with Cooper-Climax, Piper (Lotus-Climax) and the French rivals Blache (Ferry-Renault) and the two works Panhard-Monopoles driven by Bernard and Chancel.
Schell led for the opening laps, closely pursued by Chapman, Hill and MacDowell and then after a short gap came Allison leading the rest. On the very first lap Jopp overturned the Moss Cooper, fortunately without too much personal damage, and by the fourth lap the leaders were lapping the tail of the field. Then Schell dropped back to fourth position, leaving Chapman in front, who then drew away steadily to build up an unassailable lead.
The English cars were quite uncatchable by the private Porsches and the race developed into a typical English national race, though accompanied by sundry misfortunes. Hill stopped very suddenly when a rod came through the side of the engine and MacDowell stopped for oil as the sump nuts were loose and oil was leaking badly. The other Coopers were also having troubles, both Lane and Nixon calling at the pits, while Hawthorn retired with yet another broken gearbox and Schell was dropping back having lost second gear from his gearbox. The two works Lotus were running superbly and Chapman was nearly a minute ahead of Allison and both drivers were giving a fine demonstration, while Schell was holding third place to complete a Lotus triumph. The 750 cc class, a French national affair, was being hotly contested between the Ferry and the Panhards, just as at Reims the previous week, and this time it was a victory for Hemard with the Panhard, though the scrap made the other Panhard retire with mechanical trouble.
After 1 hr 15 min the chequered flag was given and the three Lotus cars enjoyed a well-deserved victory, Chapman and Allison having given faultless performances.
British cars having won the first race it was hoped that the works Aston Martin team were going to win the major event of the day, for they had Moss, Salvadori and Brooks driving, while in opposition were Behra and Perdisa with 300S factory Maseratis, Castellotti with a 3-litre four-cylinder Ferrari and de Portago with a similar car fitted with a 12-cylinder 3-litre engine. Private 3-litre Monza Ferraris were being driven by Hill, Picard, Rosier, Rouselle and Schell, while Lucas had a 2-litre, and Musy, Whitehead and Godia had privately owned 300S Maseratis. Tittering-ton was driving the Ecurie Ecosse D-type Jaguar, reduced to 3 litres, and da Silva Ramos had a works 2.5-litre Gordini, two 300SL Mercedes-Benz making up the total of 21 starters. Just before the start Moss and Collins agreed to change cars, the former preferring the drum-braked Aston Martin to the type with Girling disc brakes and then all was set for this 50-lap race. The front row contained three red cars, in the order Behra, Castelotti, Perdisa, while behind them were Moss and Collins, and then Hill, Brooks and Schell, with the rest spaced out in twos and threes.
Moss made a searing getaway round the right-hand side of Behra, while Collins did the same round the left of Castellotti and as they went down the hill the two Aston Martins were right behind Perdisa, who had made a very good start. As all these 3-litre cars roared by on the opening lap they made a sight and sound almost the equal of Formula I cars, and being driven by the cream of today’s drivers, this was motor racing at its best. Perdisa led from Collins, Moss, Hill, Behra, Castellotti, Salvadori and Brooks, and then came a slight gap and all the others. Schell went out on the fifth lap with a broken transmission, his car having been involved in a road accident in the morning when out on test with a Ferrari mechanic, but the rest were still going as hard as they could. With a clear road Perdisa was showing surprising form and was keeping the 3-litre Maserati ahead of Collins, Behra who had overtaken Moss, and the rest in the same order. Lap six saw Perdisa pushed down to third place, while Salvadori dropped down to 13th place due to his disc brakes seizing-on and bringing him to a complete stop at the Nouveau Monde hairpin. He managed to free them off and continue, but lost a lot of time. Behra then got past Collins, and on lap eight the order was Behra, Collins, Perdisa, Moss in Maserati, Aston Martin, Maserati, Aston Martin, but it was pretty obvious that even the two British champions could not make the green cars go as quick as the Maseratis, and the next lap Perdisa went by into second place. In fifth place was Castellotti„ closely followed by Brooks and Hill, the American being the only private owner to keep up with the works cars. After a considerable gap came de Portago and Musy having a wheel-to-wheel battle, and then Titterington, Salvadori, Godia and Silva Ramos, the others being close to being lapped by the leader.
The battle was now over and Behra was the complete master, driving with a neatness that was a joy to watch, especially in contrast with the others who were having to try all they knew to keep pace with slower cars, the Aston-Martins looking rather wild in comparison. After 10 laps Collins retired at the pits with an unwilling engine and British hopes rested with Moss, who was still scratching away and Brooks who was settling down in fifth place. Behra went on increasing his lead first to 10 sec then 12, then 19 and by half distance he was a comfortable 20 sec ahead of his team-mate Perdisa, while Castellotti was about to pass Moss and take third place. In the middle of the field Salvadori was going very well and pulling up rapidly after his delay and was the last car not lapped by Behra. The duel between de Portago and Musy ended briefly when the Swiss driver overshot the Essarts hairpin and then finished altogether when the Ferrari had to stop for oil. Perdisa now made a big effort and set up a new lap record and began to close up on Behra, but the leader was quite firmly in the lead and quite untroubled by what was going on behind him. Godia went out when his Maserati threw a connecting-rod and Salvadori was eventually lapped by Behra, but almost immediately he repassed Behra, and it was obvious that the French driver had no intention of getting involved in a scrap with someone he was lapping, so he let the Aston-Martin go ahead again. On lap 37, just when a Maserati first and second place seemed certain, Perdisa drew into the pits and retired with no more drive between the prop-shaft and the half-shafts and then it was noticed that Castellotti was closing rapidly on Behra. Not only that, but Moss was also closing up, and a stop-watch soon showed that what was actually happening was that Behra was in trouble and slowing down.
Lap by lap the Ferrari and the Aston-Martin got closer, and it was obvious that Behra could do nothing about it and on the 44th lap Castellotti went by into the lead, and the next lap Moss was by into second place and suddenly waking up and pressing after the Italian driver. Poor Behra’s race was finished for a stone had flown up from a rear wheel and knocked a piece off the right-hand rear shock-absorber and all the fluid had drained away. On such a difficult circuit as Rouen it was almost impossible to drive fast with only one rear shock-absorber, but Behra struggled gamely on. Moss really began to clip the grass on the closing laps in a desperate attempt to catch Castellotti, but the Aston-Martin just was not capable of responding any further and the Ferrari completed the 50th lap a bare 4 sec in front of the green car. With Perdisa out Brooks had moved into fourth place, but he could not catch the unhappy Behra; though Salvadori caught and passed Hill who was having similar trouble to Behra. So ended a very surprising race, for after practice it had seemed certain that it would prove a Maserati victory, while had Moss not eased up a little in the middle of the race, he might have been able to beat Castellotti’s Ferrari. That the day had been warm and the pace hot was shown by the state of the drivers who finished the race, for they were all very tired and soaking wet from perspiration. The new circuit of Rouen-Les Essarts had proved to be an enormous success and everyone had thoroughly enjoyed driving on it, while it had sorted out the cars in a very big way.
Moss and Collins were driving for Aston Martin as part of their contract for a limited number of races with that firm for 1956. Neither was very happy to see “their” Italian cars going so much faster than the Astons.
The Lotus is really proving itself an all-round sports car, the winning car having been used recently in an economy run, fitted with a full-width screen and carrying a passenger. The Coopers, on the other hand, can carry a passenger, but not for long. Aston Martin are getting in a vicious design circle with Girling over disc brakes. They want high stopping power and light unsprung weight, a difficult thing to achieve with any brakes, especially disc type.
Apart from Behra’s broken shock-absorber, Whitehead’s Maserati also had shocker trouble, the offside front one tearing its mounting plate away from the chassis.
The day was so hot that Picard’s Ferrari just would not go, having vapour lock in its fuel system.
Phil Hill drove his Monza Ferrari so fast that the Ferrari team took a poor view; it made the other customers think he had better attention from the factory than they did. Actually he was just driving faster.
Notes on the cars at Rouen
Aston Martin produced four team cars and two of these were new ones ready for Le Mans and being given their first try-out. Mechanically they were not radically changed, but the bodywork had been greatly cleaned up. The front had a single air entry divided internally for sharing the air amongst radiator, carburetters, tyres and brakes. The cockpits were fitted with wider regulation seats for Le Mans, and there was a headrest behind the driver, with a filler cap concealed beneath a hinged panel. These two cars and one of the normal ones were fitted with disc brakes, while the fourth car had drumbrakes. It was this car that made fastest practice lap and finished second in the race.
The two works Ferraris were the universal chassis type based on the Monza, which during the season have had 3.5-litre four-cylinder and 12-cylinder engines fitted, and this time one had a 3-litre four-cylinder engine and the other a 12-cylinder 3-litre, this multicylinder unit being prepared from a normal Gran Turismo unit, but fitted with three downdraught Weber carburetters, each having four choke, presenting a formidable array of tubes above the engine. It was very unsuitable for the circuit, having none of the punch of the four-cylinder car to help up the hills. Some bewilderment was caused by the Ecurie Ecosse D-type Jaguar in the paddock for everyone knew that Jaguars made 31/2-litre engines. However, “Wilkie” of Mercheston Motors explained that he had made a new crankshaft during the winter with a stroke of only 91 mm, and this with the standard bore of 83 mm gave them a 3-litre engine.
The works Maseratis were quite normal 300S models; and outwardly were identical to the private ones. This 3.-litre is a reliable easy to-handle sports car that is well suited to twisty circuits and has many successes to its credit.
The rest of the cars were normal production racing sports cars.
Criminal motorist beware
On A30, between Egham and the “Jolly Farmer” large (and unsightly !) notices proclaim that plain-clothes police ore patrolling this stretch of road.