Continental Notes, August 1962

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The dreadful accident at the end of the French Grand Prix at Rouen demands comment, and it is to be hoped that many lessons will have been learnt. At most French races the crowds tend to swarm on to the track as soon as the winner is flagged in, and to prevent this happening rows of police, or gendarmes, line the barriers to control the crowds. At Rouen this was done with a row of police between the straw bales lining the finishing straight on the left, and the grandstands, which was reasonable enough, but there was also a line of police on the right of the straight, in front of the pits, to prevent those people in the pits from getting on the track. Now this was absurd, for most of the people in the pits are closely connected with racing and are capable of controlling themselves, and are all aware of the danger of a fast-travelling racing car. The pit area is divided from the circuit by a solid yellow line, and this must not be crossed by any car at any time, entry to the pit area being from the beginning of this yellow line, some hundreds of yards before the pits. This is a sound and sensible layout, and during practice any driver seen crossing the yellow line gets a rocket from the Race Director, and rightly so. This yellow dividing line should be regarded as a concrete wall, dividing the pits from the circuit, and in some cases there is a dividing strip of grass. The layout of dividing the pits from the track itself, with a deceleration zone well before the pits, is sensible, for it means that cars are forced to come into the pits at a reasonably low speed, and that from the moment they decide to enter the pits they are well out of the way of those going by at full bore.

Now another well-chosen rule is that when a driver crosses the finishing line he should continue for a further lap of the circuit, on a “slowing down” lap, or “cooling off” lap, returning to the pits next time round. This is such an obvious safety regulation that is plain common sense that nobody can argue against it. At the end of the French Grand Prix, while Gurney was finishing his last lap, the organisers permitted the police to place a cordon of men almost shoulder to shoulder along the yellow pit line, and then there was a bit of shouting and they moved back a pace or two, but still periously near the edge of the track. Gurney finished and crossed the line at speed, continuing on down the hill, and so did Maggs in second place. These two were still racing and travelling at 120 m.p.h. or more on the correct side of the track, which was the left side away from the pit area which was on their right. There were probably thirty or more photographers crowding round the Race Director as he gave Gurney the chequered flag, and after the first two had finished there was the usual general air of confusion, with officials, photographers, friends, mechanics and so on around the finishing area and pits.

Surtees now arrived, travelling comparatively slowly, only having 3rd gear, and was correctly placed on the right-hand side of the track, or in the “slow lane,” but not in the “stopping lane.” Not wanting to struggle round for another slow lap, he prepared to stop at his pit by turning right after the finishing line and crossing the yellow pit line, which in itself is forbidden. Arriving knee-high to a solid line of police he could not see where his pit was and became confused and stopped, at which point Trintignant arrived, also running in the “slow lane” even though his car was quite healthy, and he claims he intended to do a “slowing down” lap, but if that was the case why was he not travelling at speed as on all the previous laps and on the left of the road. Seeing Surtees in the Lola stationary in front of him and being unable to stop in time, he swerved to the left, out into the middle of the track, heading for the “fast lane.” He could not turn to the right because of the solid line of police. At this point Trevor Taylor was approaching the finishing line at a good 120 m.p.h., on the left of the road, with every intention, and rightly so, of receiving the chequered flag at speed and continuing on a “slowing down” lap. Now the finishing line at Rouen is on the brow of a hill, and it is not until you are practically on the line that you can see over the other side and actually see the ground in front of the pits. When Taylor could see it was too late, for there was Trintignant across the road and travelling at perhaps 30 m.p.h.

Fortunately Taylor did some quick thinking, sized up the situation and realised he had a choice of three alternatives. He could try and swerve and pass Trintignant on the right, and collide with the stationary Lola; he could have swerved to the left and run into a solid wall of straw bales; or he could keep going straight on with the brakes hard on and hit Trintignant’s Lotus fair and square. He wisely chose the third alternative, knowing that it is far safer to hit a moving object than a stationary one. By the time the works Lotus 25 hit the Trintignant Lotus it was probably down to 80 m.p.h., and with Trintignant still doing 30 m.p.h. or so the impact was less severe than it looked, but even so both cars were torn apart and bent and buckled in all directions, being completely smashed. By remarkable good fortune neither driver was hurt in the impact, but had Taylor made any other decision the outcome hardly bears thinking about. Had he gone to the left or right his car would have certainly cannoned off the stationary object and bounced in all directions, taking everything and everybody with it and there would have been a massacre.

Who was to blame for the whole affair ? Just about everybody except Trevor Taylor. The organisers, if they gave the police permission to marshal the finish, were to blame; if not, then the Chief of Police was to blame. Surtees was to blame for not continuing on a “slowing down” lap, even if his car was sick, and anyway he should not have been crossing the yellow pit line for the race is not over until everybody has arrived. Trintignant was to blame for not taking the chequered flag in the normal fashion, Which is at speed on the left of the road, and he is also to blame for swerving out across the track. He would have been quite justified in hitting the Lola up the back.

One way to avoid a repetition of this accident, assuming those concerned did not learn any lessons, would be to have the finishing line at all circuits at the end of the pit area and not at the beginning. This is done at Aintree and Monza, for example, and at neither of those circuits could such an accident have happened. Admittedly the Lola was sick and maybe it could not have cornpleted another lap, but it approached the finish line at a good 50 or 60 m.p.h. and even had it then blown apart, which it didn’t, it could have gone on rolling by and down the hill out of harm’s way. Although this accident was an isolated one, and let’s hope it stays that way, similar accidents have very nearly happened many times before, and at many a race I have watched drivers braking really heavily to avoid a confusion going on around the pit area, and even at the end of the “slowing down” lap racing cars are still travelling fast enough to do damage to the human being and many a photographer has had his foot run over, while on one occasion, at Monza, one was sent flying into the air. It is practically impossible to keep the finishing area of a race completely clear of people, especially mechanics, team members and so on, but they all know enough about motor racing not to need an army of police to control them and any attempt at control should he done with the aim of having less people on the track, not more as was done at Rouen. Altogether a lamentable affair that should teach somebody something.

On the organisation side of motor racing the French seem to have been in trouble on all sides just recently, for all was not well at Le Mans during the scrutineering, The Automobile Club de l’Ouest, who organise Le Mans, protested a long time ago at the F.I.A. ruling that such events would count for a G.T. World Championship for Manufacturers, knowing that the 250,000 or so who attend Le Mans went to see something more exciting than a production Grand Touring car going round. They wanted sports cars to run in the 24-hour race, as has been traditional since the first race held in 1923, so they thought up a category called “Experimental Prototype” which left the way wide open for manufacturers to enter sports cars on the pretext of them being prototypes of something or other. This category produced some splendid hairy monsters, some thinly disguised as G.T. cars, others being out and out sports cars. Last year the sports-car class was limited to 3-litres, but this year, with Prototype cars allowed up to 4-litres, Ferrari put a 4-litre V12-cylinder engine of G.T. type into his last year’s Testa Rossa sports car and called it an Experimental Prototype. It was one of the fastest cars ever seen at Le Mans and Gendebien and Hill made good use of it to win the race and the American driver set up a new lap record for the circuit in 3 min. 57.3 sec. – 204.2I2 k.p.h. (127 m.p.h.). Ferrari had three other works cars entered, the G.T.O. coupé with 4-litre engine that had run at Nürburgring in the 1000-km. race, and which is a genuine Prototype; the V8-cylinder 2.6-litre sports car which is a blood-and-thunder sports car at its best, but of which the engine is new this year and could be considered a prototype G.T. engine, with its single o.h.c. per bank of cylinders layout; and the Dino 246 rear-engined car that has won so many sports-car races in the past and is nothing more than a thinly disguised 2 1/2 -litre Formula One car. The Ecurie Ecosse also produced a thinly disguised old-type Formula One car in the shape of the Tojeiro coupé., a low and fierce-looking car with rearmounted 2 1/2 -litre 4-cylinder Coventry-Climax engine and 5-speed Cooper Grand Prix gearbox. Maserati produced three splendid “Prototypes” in the shape of the “rortiest” coupés yet seen, with space-frame chassis, 4-litre 4 o.h.c. V8-cylinder engines derived from the famous old 4.5-litre sports cars, the 5-speed gearbox/differential unit from that design, disc brakes and so on. They were noisy and fast, being timed at 285 k.p.h. on the Mulsanne straight (approximately 177 m.p.h.), and everything, that a racing enthusiast could wish for, but whether it was what the F.I.A.. had in mind when they were talking about G.T. cars is another matter.

Thinly disguised sports cars were not only found amongst the big boys, for Rene Bonnet, who is now working in conjunction with Renault, having abandoned Panhard, had a 706-c.c. twin o.h.c. sports car with rear engine that would have been hard put to comply with sports-car regs., let alone Experimental Prototype. However, he showed willing because his other entries were genuine little G.T. coupés, with the same engine/gearbox unit and suspension in well-finished cars that could easily be put into production as competition coupés. The engine in these Rene Bonnet cars is designed by Amedee Gordini with the Regie Renault concern prominently in the background, which is very good for motor racing.

All these Experirnental Prototypes were very exciting and great fun, and the organisers were happy until Colin Chapman arrived with his Experimental Prototype. This was a lotus 23 rear-engined sports car with a 997-cc. version of the twin o.h.c. Ford engine that had run at Nürburgring when Clark led the race for eleven laps to everyone’s consternation. It was not obvious at the time but the consternation was deeper than imagined, for without question of doubt the twin o.h.c. Lotus 23 was excluded from Le Mans in the minds of many officials before it even appeared for scrutineering. The shilly-shallying that went on was terrible and wasted everyone’s time, and the excuses for excluding the car were futile and even after complying with certain requests Team Lotus were still refused on other grounds. Had the Lotus 23 not gone so fast at Nürburgring it would have competed at Le Mans, but it was a dead certainty for winning the Index of Performance, and probably the Index of Thermal Efficiency, providing it held together for 24 hours. and that was a chance certain people were not prepared to take. It will be remembered that last year Dan Gurney stirred things up at Silverstone with a Chevrolet Impala in the saloon car racing world, and when he tried to do it a second time all sorts of “strange and peculiar manoeuvrings” came into play and he was ruled out. I am not going to suggest that Jaguar got rid of the Chevrolet in the saloon-car field, nor am I going to suggest that Panhard got rid of the Lotus at Le Mans. but I am, going to suggest that when big manufacturers are involved in motor racing it gets pretty serious. The U.D.T.-Laystall team intended running a Lotus 23 with twin-cam Coventry-Climax 750-cc. engine, but that was out too. One cannot help feeling that had there been a Bugatti or Talbot entered, capable of winning the race outright then some of Mr. Ferrari’s entries would have been excluded.

D. S. J.