Indianapolis Brings a Breath of Fresh Air to Italy
Monza, June 29th.
Soon after the high-speed banked track was completed on the Monza Autodrome in August, 1955, the suggestion was made that an out-and-out track race should he held. The principal idea behind the suggestion was to invite a selection of Indianapolis teams over, as they were the acknowledged experts at high-speed track racing, and it was hoped that European drivers and manufacturers would join in the event. After some preliminary suggestions in 1956 it was felt that time was too short for people to prepare cars, so the race on June 29th, 1957, was planned almost one year ago. Barely one month before the event the European Grand Prix stars got together and refused point-blank to have anything to do with racing on the banked oval, without even taking the trouble to go to Monza and make any experiments specifically for track racing. Added to this, certain famous drivers, and some not-so-famous organisations made deliberate attempts to sabotage the event and undermine the morale of all those connected with it or interested in track racing.
In spite of all these attacks by such well-known people as Chiron, Moss, Schell, Collins and others, the Automobile Club of Italy went ahead with their plans and put on an event that was unique in the history of European motor-racing.
In the past various Indianapolis drivers and cars have visited Europe and made rather amateur-like attempts to join in European motor-racing, but this was the first occasion ever that a complete set of the cream of Indianapolis racers came over en bloc and showed their paces on a European track. Not since 1937 has anyone had the opportunity of witnessing such a demonstration of high-speed motoring, and the lap-record for the track proved to be the highest ever made in the world of racing; sufficient justification in itself for going to Monza to see these racing-men in action.
After the recent Indianapolis 500-mile race ten of the cars and drivers, together with four reserve drivers, made the long voyage to New York, where the cars were then shipped to Genoa, while the drivers and personnel flew to Milan at a later date. When the cars and equipment arrived at Genoa the Alfa-Romeo factory provided transport in the form of lorries to the Monza Autodrome, and also loaned two mechanics to each of the American teams to help in the preparation and running of the cars. The race was due to be run on Saturday, June 29th, and the previous Tuesday saw the first of the American drivers arrive and make some tentative test runs. Among the list of drivers from America were names like Jim Bryan, Tony Bettenhausen, Paul Russo, Troy Ruttman, Ray Crawford, John Parsons and Pat O’Connor, all drivers of top calibre in the field of Indianapolis and track racing in America. An equivalent list of European drivers would read Juan Fangio, Stirling Moss, Peter Collins, Mike Hawthorn, Luigi Musso, Jean Behra and Tony Brooks, but they along with many others thought otherwise about meeting the Americans and racing against them in a flat-out blind round the banked track. The only attempt being made by European representatives was the entry of three Jaguar D-types from the Ecurie Ecosse, with Jack Fairman, John Lawrence and Ninian Sanderson as drivers. To say that the American teams were disappointed not to find Maserati, Ferrari, Vanwall and other European racing-car builders present with specially-prepared single-seaters, was to put it very mildly.
Although none of the Europeans who were against this race have ever made any serious attempts to find out at what speed they could lap the banked track, running in an anti-clockwise direction, it was guessed that a time of 59 sec. or 259 k.p.h. could be attained.
Before going on to the actual happenings at Monza during the week of ultra-high-speed racing, it might be as well to get the Indianapolis teams into some sort of perspective. All the drivers concerned are considered professional, inasmuch as they race for money and live by their racing, but the owners are another matter altogether. They are mostly wealthy people in American commerce who have a passion for racing cars and racing, and spend a great deal of money on buying a car, maintaining one or two full-time mechanics, and paying a professional driver, few if any of the owners being interested in driving themselves. As they have made their money in business, it is only natural that they should run their racing cars on strictly business lines, and due to the healthy state of the organisation of track racing in America, it is possible for a successful owner-mechanic-driver combination to make a great deal of money at motor-racing. They race at numerous tracks all over America, culminating in the annual 500-Mile Race at Indianapolis, which is considered the absolute top in American track racing. As a few examples of the people behind this very active and healthy branch of motor-racing, there is Chapman Roots, a Coco Cola stock-holder, and he runs a pair of cars under the title of Sumar Specials, the Sumar Speed Equipment Company being a firm owned by Roots to run his racing cars.
Then there is Bob Estes, a Lincoln and Mercury dealer and agent on the West Coast of America and he runs the Bob Estes Special, or there is J. C. Agajanian, who among many businesses has an enormous pig-farm, the profits from which undoubtedly pay for the running of the Agajanian Enterprises Special, or Al Dean who has a Coast-to-Coast transport company and sponsors the Dean Van Lines Special, or Lou Welch who has a big engineering concern in the city of Novi, where among other things he makes Industrial Air Condition plants, and he sponsors the Novi Specials. So it goes on, almost every big-time American track car being owned by someone as a hobby, the capital coming from some sort of business other than motor-racing, which explains some of the strange names given to American track cars. This whole set-up is entirely self-contained having no connection with the general run of the motor industry, and because of this there is a very pleasant open and honest atmosphere about the thing, no one having any axes to grind, or industry big-bosses to cover up for, or reflections to be cast on a manufacturer’s motor car or accessory, as we find in European racing.
This professional group of racing people, and it is an enormous one, start with “dragster” and “hot-rod” enthusiasts, passing through stages of midget-racing, dirt-track racing, sprint-racing, short track racing, to reach the peak in the Indianapolis-type of car, or “big-car category” as it is known. This whole branch of motor-racing has no connection with sports-car racing in America, such as is held at Palm Springs, Sebring, Elkhart Lake and other circuits, for that can be viewed as Club racing of a very amateur category, and a weekend sport. From this type of racing stem such names as Phil Hill, Masten Gregory, Carroll Shelby and so on. The drivers competing in the Monza race were from an entirely different field altogether. At first glance it would seem strange that there were enough wealthy industrialists to support a complete system of motor-racing, but we have the equivalents even in Great Britain, such as Tony Vandervell and the Vanwalls, David Murray and the Ecurie Ecosse, A. G. Owen and the B.R.M. team, Kenneth MacAlpine and the late lamented Connaught team, and so on, down to smaller groups such as Willment the contractor and the Willment special, the Lister Agricultural Engineering concern and the Lister-Jaguar and many more, the basic principle behind all the activities being the same, namely a love of motor-racing of some sort.
When the first of the Indianapolis cars went round the track the drivers felt their way carefully along, only one of them getting down to a time of 1 min., this being Eddie Sachs (Jim Robbins Special), followed by Bryan (Dean Van Lines Special) with 1 min. 01.3 sec., Jim Rathman, a reserve driver (John Zink Special) 1 min. 04.1 Sec. and John Parsons (Agajanian Special) 1 min. 05.8 sec. The next day saw official practice begin and a minimum lap speed of 140 m.p.h. was imposed, a speed achieved by an 1,100-c.c. Lotus last year, so that qualifying to take part was not going to be difficult. Before starting any high-speed runs every driver had to run three laps at an average of 185 k.p.h., followed by three at 200 k.p.h. and then four laps at 225 k.p.h., for in this way it was felt that even the youngest novice would become used to the banking before he tried to go fast. Unlike some Grand Prix drivers last year, when a similar habilitation test had to be done, the Americans all complied with the driver-test without complaining and some of them turned-the-wick-up on their ultimate lap, just to see what it was like. During the afternoon of Wednesday most of the cars were being tuned to the track, from the point of view of tyre pressures, shock-absorber settings, spring rates, steering geometry. castor angles and gear ratios, but now and then one or other of the drivers would try out a quick lap as they got used to the track. During these initial sorties Bettenhausen opened up the 550 b.h.p. Novi Special and clocked 57.7 sec. (269.841 k.p.h.) and before the end of the afternoon the up-and-coming young driver Sachs whipped the Jim Robbins 4.2-litre Meyer-Drake-engined special round in 56.4 sec., equal to a lap speed of 271.276 k.p.h. (168 m.p.h.) so that the sceptics began to sit up and take notice.
During Thursday there was a great deal of activity as the drivers discovered more and more about the track and the bankings, and everyone was out circulating, including the three Ecosse drivers on one of the D-types. Naturally, all the Indianapolis cars were using very large Firestone tyres, specially developed for the Monza track and were not having any problems at all, while the Jaguar was running happily on road-racing Dunlops, albeit at a slower speed than the Americans, but even so Fairman put in some laps at 1 min. 05 sec. (around 145 m.p.h.). The general run of American cars were now going round in well under 60 sec., and many of them were approaching 57 sec., with speeds rising into 265 k.p.h. regions. Russo and Bettenhausen were beginning to turn on the power of the supercharged V8 Novi cars and were going past the pits at a fantastic speed, far higher than anything ever before witnessed at Monza, but they then had to lift off before the banking was reached, and did an awful lot of motoring on the over-run. Compared with Indianapolis the Monza track was proving very rough and bumpy, but no one seemed to mind very much, and frames were being strengthened, shock-absorber brackets redesigned, stronger torsion bars being fitted and there was a general air of “it’s rough, but we’ll get over it somehow.” Before the day finished young Pat O’Connor raised the record to 274.685 k.p.h. (170.6 m.p.h.) with a time of 55. 7 sec. for the lap, which made the disbelievers stand up and remove their hats, for these were speeds that Europe had forgotten about. It was pretty obvious by now that the Indianapolis boys knew what they were doing, and that these big hairy motor cars were not toys for school children to play with. Among the others who began to show their paces were Andy Linden (McNamara Special) with 57.0 sec., Bryan (Dean Van Lines Special) 57.5 sec. and Ruttman (John Zink Special) 58.7 sec. Before the end of the afternoon there was a courageous but pathetic little demonstration by Maserati, who arrived with two cars and Jean Behra as driver, showing more courage than the rest of his Grand Prix collegues put together. The first car he took out was the modified 250F chassis used at Monaco for the 2½-litre V12 Grand Prix engine, but now fitted with the 3.5-litre V12 engine tried out in a sports car recently. Worried by the thoughts of tyre treads flying off their Pirellis, Maserati accepted a present of a set of Firestone tyres and a set of Halibrand magnesium track wheels, which were grafted on to the Maserati hubs. In place of the normal 5.25-in. section road-racing tyre on the front they were now using a 7.60 in. section, and it apparently did not occur to them to alter the steering and suspension geometry accordingly. As a result the car did not steer down the straights and the best that Behra could achieve with the 330 b.h.p. engine was 1 min. 03.2 sec. (240 k.p.h.). This was rather ludicrous for he has done 59 sec. in the other direction with a normal 285 b.h.p. Grand Prix car. He then took out the other car, which was the Le Mans open 4.5-litre car, devoid of “sports” equipment, and also fitted with the large Firestone track tyres. It was said to have been fitted with a linered-down V8 engine of 4.2 litres capacity, but like the single-seater it did not steer and finally split the rubber gaiter on a rear universal as at Le Mans, and the pot-joint seized, so Maserati packed up and went back to Modena, leaving Monza to those who knew more about high-speed running. The general pace was now such that even the slowest of the Indianapolis cars was approaching the 1-min. mark, a speed of 255 k.p.h. (approx. 158 m.p.h.). The Jaguars, while not able to approach this speed, were running well and having no trouble at all, hoping that consistent running might get them somewhere in the 500-mile race itself.
On Friday the fur really began to fly, for Linden started the ball rolling quite early in the morning with a lap 56.4 sec., followed by some more in 55.0 sec. and a really singing one in 54.6 sec. — an average of 280.219 k.p.h. (174 m.p.h.). This stirred up the more adventurous spirits and O’Connor went round and round, trying all he knew on the bankings and over the bumps, where they were having to lift off, but he could not do better than 54. 7 sec. As soon as he had finished his try Eddie Sachs took out the dark red Jim Robbins Special, and watching on the far side of the track where the cars entered the north banking, it was more than impressive to watch these men and machines going really fast. Sachs could not better 55.8 sec. and it looked as though O’Connor and the Sumar were going to rule the roost, but then the old-hand Bettenhausen, who is a sort of Indianapolis Fangio, came out in the supercharged Novi. After a couple of warming-up laps, to get the feel of things, it came down the back straight faster than any racing car I have ever seen; passing me at all of 190 m.p.h. he went onto the banking for several hundred yards at that speed before he lifted off and “feathered” the throttle for two-thirds of the way round the banking, and then “Wham,” the noise of the blown V8 came in again as he went down the pits straight. Even my amateur hand-timing gave a time of under 54 sec., and the official time was 53.7 sec. — a speed of 284.916 k.p.h., or 177.046 m.p.h. Not once did he break 54 sec. but on three consecutive laps, and then he pulled into the pits, for the rear shock-absorbers had bent their mountings out of shape, the chassis was cracked and the rear axle was “bottoming” on the bumps. After this little demonstration of high-speed motoring it was understandable why many of the Europeans had talked themselves out of becoming involved in such a dice. Later in the day Russo took out the other Novi Special and was approaching the 54 sec. mark when the flywheel burst and came out through the clutch housing. The driver pulled his feet smartly out of the way and coasted back into the paddock and resigned himself to becoming a spectator on race day, for the engine and clutch housing were a complete write-off.
As the final day of practice ended there was much grief in the paddock, for bits had broken off, tanks had split, suspensions had sagged and bodywork had split, but no one was griping, they were all working away like beavers getting everything repaired for the race on the morrow, the electric welding plant working overtime.
With all this excitement the efforts of the three D-type Jaguars were rather overshadowed and a lap by Fairman in 59.8 sec. — 159.762 k.p.h. (approx. 161 m.p.h.), was most praiseworthy, even though it caused Dunlops to get hot under the collar over the tyre question, they quite reasonably asking for a limit of 62 sec. to be put on Jolly Jack, who was revelling in this high-speed motoring.
The weather was getting hotter and hotter as the pace of the cars rose, but even so the Firestone experts were quite happy with their new tyres and all the American cars were given a free hand to run the race as they wished. As this was the first attempt by the Automobile Club of Italy to run a race on the banked track at Monza in its entirety, they wisely decided to divide the 500 miles into three heats of 63 laps per heat, allowing about one hour between heats for repairs and adjustments. The first race saw nine Indianapolis cars and the three Jaguars lined up in order of practice times, the missing member being Russo with the broken Novi Special. After lining up in pairs, in the order Bettenhausen/ O’Connor, Veith/Linden, Bryan/Sachs, Parsons/Crawford, Sanderson/Ruttman, Fairman/Lawrence, the twelve cars set off on an opening lap behind an Alfa-Romeo Giulietta, and as they returned down the pits straight once more, at about 80 m.p.h. the flag fell and they were away to a flying start. With prize money for the leader at the end of the opening lap crafty old Fairman took off in second gear and wound the Jaguar up to 6,500 r.p.m., into third and on up to 6,500 r.p.m. again and he passed all the American cars, which were still picking up revs on their highest ratio of their two-speed gearboxes. Down the back straight Fairman led, and all the way round the North banking, surprising not only himself, but all the people at the pits as he led by 100 yards or·more from the thundering pack of highly coloured American cars. Next lap was another story altogether and at the end of the North banking this time Sachs, Bettenhausen, O’Connor and Bryan were four abreast behind the Jaguar and as they left the banking they seemed to pass Fairman in all directions. A few more laps and they were all in their full stride and the Jaguars were all in their rightful place at the back of the field. Bettenhausen was setting the pace with the Nevi Special, but on the fourth lap his throttle link broke (just like any good Grand Prix car), and he stopped at the pits, letting Bryan (Dean Van Lines Special) and O’Connor (Sumar Special) into the lead running side by side, down the straights and round the bankings as well.
For the first 20 laps this was track racing and high-speed motoring that would excite anyone, for Sachs got his front wheels amongst the other two cars and kept them there, the three of them now not giving an inch to each other on the bankings, finding more than enough room to run side by side and lapping at well over 160 m.p.h. Bettenhausen rejoined the race with a blast of sound that made one realise just what a big hairy motor car the 550 b.h.p. Novi Special really is, and he settled down to some steady lapping in 58 sec., or 163 m.p.h. By 30 laps the big brawny Jim Bryan was beginning to pull away from the two younger drivers, and Sachs was having trouble with the bottom of his car grounding on the bankings, and he slowed, eventually letting Linden take the gold-painted McNamara Special into third place. He also being a solid and tough sort of character, his stamina began to wear down O’Connor, who is a slim youth. and by 50 laps they were wheel to wheel, passing and repassing, but O’Connor’s car just had the edge on Linden’s for speed. Bettenhausen was back in the pits again, needing new rear tyres and nitrite plugs changing, for the fierce Novi was proving to be very temperamental, though it was really fast when it was going. Bryan now had the situation well in hand and was lapping steadily at just under the one minute mark. Bob Veith brought the Bob Estes Special into the pits with the exhaust pipe trailing, and next lap stopped with broken shock-absorbers, while Ruttman was taking things easy in the John Zink Special as the oil tank had come adrift, while John Parsons (Agajanian Special) and Crawford (Megiuars Mirror-Glaze-Polish Special) were lapping quietly at the end of the field, but in front of the Jaguars nevertheless. On the last few laps O’Connor recovered his wind and made a last-minute effort to catch Bryan, reducing the. eight-second gap down to just under three seconds, but the Dean Van Lines car arrived home first at an average of 261.049 k.p.h. for the 63 laps.
During the interval before the next heat Bryan’s car was found to need only fuel and tyres, O’Connor had the rear axle gears changed for a higher pair, Sachs had the body off the Jim Robbins car and his mechanic was welding up the splits, Crawford’s car needed the fuel tank welding, and the Novi was withdrawn as it was found that the oil cooler had split, as well as the suspension breaking and the chassis cracking. Lining up for the next start in the order of finishing the first heat, Bryan and O’Connor were side by side, followed by Linden/Sachs, Veith/ Parsons, Ruttman/Fairman, Crawford/Lawrence and Sanderson on the back row. All three Jaguars had survived the first heat without trouble and apart from fuel and oil checks, and a change of tyres they were ready to go again. This time the Americans put a stop to any cocky moves by Fairman and made sure there was not enough room for him to get by in the initial sprint, so that by the time they got into their stride at the end of the rolling-lap the order was O’Connor, Ruttman, Bryan and Sachs in such a tight bunch that it was almost impossible to decide who was in the lead. Ruttman now flashed off into the lead, but not for long because O’Connor and Sachs started another of their side-by-side 170 m.p.h. dices and swept through into the lead, each urging the other to go faster, and Bryan sat steadily behind them watching. The pace was a lot hotter in this second heat and the leaders were going round in 57.8 sec., while Fairman was doing wonders with the Jaguar, hanging on grimly to the tail end of the Indy cars. The other two Jaguars were being left behind and every now and then were lapped by the leaders, sometimes one on each side down the straight, sometimes by both on the same side and on one fantastic occasion by them both passing underneath the Jaguars on the banking itself. These Indianapolis drivers did not seem to mind where they passed other cars, or each other for that matter, and they made the reputedly narrow and dangerous Monza track seem like a vast open space, never at any time feeling crowded. This furious battle could not last for long, and sure enough after 16 laps O’Connor drew into the pits with a split fuel tank and retired, leaving Sachs way out on his own, with Bryan and Ruttman following. So furious had the O’Connor/Sachs battle been that Bryan was now 23 sec. behind, so that Sachs could now slow to 61-sec. laps, a mere 155 m.p.h. Linden was nowhere on this occasion, and succumbed before 30 laps with a split fuel tank, and the race seemed a certain win for Sachs, but towards 40 laps he began to slow, and seeing this Bryan’s pit speeded him up and the Dean Van Lines Special put in some laps at 57.5 sec. By lap 40 Bryan was up alongside Sachs and a few laps later he was on his own for the Jim Robbins Special had run its race. Two holding-down studs in one of the camboxes had sheared and the camshaft was floating, so poor Eddie Sachs was out, leaving Bryan a sure winner of the second heat, this time at 257.809 k.p.h. Following came Ruttman„ Parsons, Crawford and the three splendid Jaguars, many laps behind but still running perfectly, The American ranks were now getting sadly depleted, with O’Connor, Sachs, Linden, and Veith having retired in the second heat.
During the second interval the Dean Van Lines, the Agajanian and the John Zink all had new tyres fitted, but apart from that they were in perfect condition. The rest of the American cars told a different story, O’Connor was having the fuel tank welded. Sachs was having his engine repaired, and Crawford had borrowed a cambox from the Bob Estes car to replace his own that was giving trouble. Heat three started with Bryan and Ruttman in front, followed by Parsons and Lawrence, with Fairman, Sanderson and O’Connor in the rear, while Crawford and Sachs were at the pits trying to get their cars finished. O’Connor led from Bryan and Ruttman, while Fairman was keeping ahead of Parsons. However, with the leaders turning laps at 59 sec. the Jaguar was being tempted to go faster than Dunlops could guarantee the 6.50 by 16-in, road-racing tyres, so Fairman dropped back into fifth place. After only eight laps the split in the Sumar fuel tank opened up again and O’Connor was really out this time, leaving Ruttman and Bryan well in the lead from Parsons. Of the two cars that had been left at the pits Sachs never did get going, while Crawford did only a lap and was back in again, this time with a split fuel tank that was irreparable. This breaking-up of the cars due to the bumps and speed of the Monza track had reduced the “Ten big American boys” down to three, while the three blue D-types were still running faultlessly, though not terribly fast by comparison with the leaders, for Bryan and Ruttman were still battling madly, lapping at under 58 sec. Knowing that all he had to do to win the whole 500-mile race was to finish, Bryan wisely eased off at the end of the third heat and let Ruttman win, with an average speed of 254.918. By totalling up all the laps of the cars finishing, together with their running times, Bryan came out the winner, followed by Ruttman and Parsons, then Fairman, Lawrence and Sanderson in the Jaguars, with Crawford and Sachs qualifying as finishers, having totalled sufficient laps.
Monza 500 Miles — 189 Laps of Monza Speed Track — Three Heets — Very Hot
1st: J. Bryan (Dean Van Lines Special 4.2-litre) 257.504 k.p.h. 189 laps
2nd: T. Ruttman (John Zink Special 4.2-litre) 187 laps
3rd: J. Parsons (Agajanian Special 4.2-litre) 182 laps
4th: J. Fairman (Jaguar 3.5-litre) 177 laps
5th: J. Lawrence (Jaguar 3.5-litre) 171 laps
6th: N. Sanderson (Jaguar 3.5-litre) 159 laps