The Reims Grand Prix

A Battle – But Not Heated

REIMS, FRANCE, July 1st.

With the French Grand Prix being held at Rouen this year, the Automobile Club du Champagne stood on its own feet and held the Reims Grand Prix as a major Formula One race. Many years ago when the French Grand Prix was regularly held at Linas-Montlhéry the race at Reims was known as the Grand Prix of the Marne, and it is nice to think of it as such again this year.

With work at the Ferrari factory held up by a general industrial strike in Italy and the Porsche team at Nürburgring sorting out their cars for the French Grand Prix, the Reims race was almost a British national benefit, apart from a few Continental independents. B.R.M. had their usual cars for Graham Hill and Ginther, the latter with the 6-speed Colotti gearbox, and both cars had new extractor-type low-level exhaust systems. These were similar to the ones used at Spa but now the four pipes on each side discharged into an open-ended venturi pipe instead of a parallel pipe. The Cooper team had only one V8-engined car, the newest of their two 1962 cars, and this was for McLaren, while Maggs had the C.T. Atkins 1961 ex-works car with 4-cylinder Climax engine. Team Lotus had Clark on the Spa-winning “monocoque,” the B.R.M.-engined Type 24 with 6-speed Colotti gearbox, and at the last moment a new Type 24 with the V8 Climax engine from Taylor’s crashed car at Spa, and a 5-speed Colotti gearbox. Peter Arundell was to take the third Team Lotus entry, but things were in a state of flux until the morning of the race. Brabham had his own Lotus 24, Trintignant had Walker’s similar car, and U.D.T.-Laystall had their usual two cars, Gregory on the B.R.M. V8-engined one and Ireland with the Climax V8 engine. After their chassis breakage at Spa both these cars had reinforced mounting points for the bottom wishbones at the rear. The Bowmaker-sponsored Lola team had their two V8-engined cars for Surtees and Salvadori, and every time you look at them they seem to have had another tube or two added to the chassis frame, increasing its stiffness by a considerable amount; in consequence the handling improves all the time, while suspension modifications seem to have stabilised with similar marked improvements. The S.S.S. Venezia team had Bonnier driving their old 4-cylinder Porsche and Abate on the ex-Rob Walker Lotus-Climax 4-cylinder, while the only other non-British entries were de Beaufort with his 4-cylinder Porsche, and Siffert with his Lotus-Climax 4-cylinder. To complete the entry there was Lewis with his Cooper, his B.R.M. still being back at Bourne, having proved most unsatisfactory, Shelly with a Lotus 18 and Burgess with the Anglo-American team’s Cooper Special.

Unlike some circuits that use normal roads, the Reims circuit can be closed for long periods and very frequently, so that there was practice on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday before the race. A vast collection of Formula Juniors was gathered together for a race in two heats and a final, interspersed with the Grand Prix, and each evening they practised from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., the Grand Prix cars having the circuit from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. On the first day there was a strong cross-wind blowing which caused the cars to dodge about on the grandstand straight, but apart from that conditions were good, not being unbearably hot as it sometimes is at Reims. There was not a great deal of activity for the first practice, but U.D.T.-Laystall and B.R.M. were out, with Masten Gregory setting the pace with the Lotus-B.R.M., having a very flat engine cover with the Weber carburetters sticking up through it. The fastest practice lap last year was by Phil Hill with a Ferrari at 2 min. 24.9 sec., while the fastest race lap was only 2 min. 27.1 sec. by the same driver. Gregory was soon down to 2 min. 27.2 sec. and then Graham Hill got going and did 2 min. 25.5 sec., but Gregory was still in fine form and did 2 min. 25.4 sec., so that one began to wonder whether U.D.T. had got hold of a “works” B.R.M. engine by mistake! Ginther was in trouble with an oil leak and Lewis had barely left the pits before the collets jumped out of an exhaust valve, and that was that. Ireland in the Climax V8-engined Lotus was not as fast as Gregory, who had now got down to 2 min. 25.2 sec., and Trintignant was not at all happy with the way the Walker Lotus was weaving about on the straights at high speed, for here at Reims the cars were going faster than ever before, especially down the hill to Thillois corner. As the Team Lotus cars had not arrived, Jimmy Clark took the Walker car out for a lap or two and afterwards had to admit it wasn’t all that good. Ginther’s B.R.M. was wheeled away as an internal leak was letting the oil mix with the water, but Graham Hill was going well, getting down to 2 min. 24.5 sec. The Team Lotus transporter now arrived, with the Lotus 25 for Clark and the Lotus-B.R.M. for Taylor, and a mad rush got the cars out on the circuit. Clark did his first flying lap at 2 min. 29.0 sec., his third lap at 2 min. 24.9 sec., much to the despair of Graham Hill, his fourth at 2 min. 24.3 see. and his fifth and final lap at 2 min. 24.2 sec., just like that. It made everyone else want to go home. Hill set off again just before practice finished but never appeared again, the B.R.M. very nearly burst asunder but he switched off and stopped in time. Taylor managed to get in one flying lap as practice ended for the day.

On Thursday there was much more activity, for the Lola team arrived, also Coopers, the Venezia team, de Beaufort, Shelly and Burgess. U.D.T.-Laystall were experimenting with megaphones on the B.R.M. exhaust stubs and Ireland’s car had been fitted with a narrower rear suspension from a Lotus 18, reducing the track quite considerably. Hill’s B.R.M. had a new engine and Ginther’s engine had been repaired. Ireland had not gone far before he decided the narrow rear track set-up was handling badly and he looked round, to see that the left-hand rear coil-spring/shock-absorber unit had broken off at the top mounting and tied itself in a knot, so his practice ended abruptly. Gregory was no more fortunate for the bell-housing cracked on his car, so both pale green cars were put away. The works Lotus-B.R.M. came in plastered with oil, having lost its gearbox filler plug, and Ginther was in more trouble with his engine, this time a broken tappet being found. Siffert stopped practising in a cloud of smoke, and at 7 p.m. there was a dull pause and nobody was circulating. Brabham arrived at last and went round relatively slowly, and McLaren, Hill and Surtees suddenly all went out together, but stopped just as quickly. Towards the end of the evening’s practice things speeded up and Surtees started moving with a lap in 2 min. 24.2 sec., equallying Clark’s fastest time of yesterday. Hill tucked in behind Clark and got in a lap at 2 min. 24.9 sec., but no sooner had the B.R.M. dropped out of the slipstream of the Lotus than Clark got well wound-up and did 2 min. 24.2 sec., and followed it with 2 min. 23.6 sec., once again holding f.t.d. as practice finished.

The final practice session had dull and overcast skies and very little wind and Brabham was soon away and got down to 2 min 24.7 sec. with ease. After a lot of work and experimenting he had got his Lotus 24 to handle to his liking and this was the satisfying result. Ginther’s B.R.M. engine had been mended again; but he had hardly started before trouble developed in the selector mechanism of the Colotti gearbox so he was once more spending a lot of time in the pits. U.D.T.-Laystall were awaiting another bell-housing for Gregory’s car so only had their Climax V8 car out, the normal wide track rear suspension having been refitted. Lola were certainly getting themselves sorted out for Surtees was soon carrying on at the speed he had left off yesterday and stirred things up with a lap in 2 min. 23.7 sec. Trevor Taylor stopped out on the circuit with trouble in the wiring of the transistor ignition system on the Lotus-B.R.M., but he managed to fix it and get back to the pits and then Arundell was sent out in the car to try his hand at Formula One. Clark, Hill and McLaren were now out together and in close company and the B.R.M. was tucked very close in behind the Lotus and they went round like this for a number of laps until Hill was credited with 2 min. 23.5 sec., just one rather dubious tenth of a second faster than Clark’s best of yesterday. As Clark had been “towing” the B.R.M. it was obvious that he had done virtually the same lap time. Trintignant was still unhappy with the Rob Walker Lotus so Ireland agreed to try it, but came back feeling much happier about the U.D.T. car and went out in the pale green one to scrub some tyres. This gave de Beaufort his chance and he slip-streamed Ireland to the tune of 2 min. 30.9 sec., in his 4-cylinder Porsche, which was a sec. quicker than he had done unaided. Lewis had got his Cooper going again and Burgess was going all right but Abate and Shelly were both in trouble with their 4-cylinder Climax engined cars. With just over a quarter of an hour of practice left Clark went out again in the “monocoque” Lotus all set to have a real go, but on his opening lap he saw Arundell in the Lotus-B.R.M. and Ginther (B.R.M.) ahead of him down the Thillois straight and it was obvious he would catch them in the course of three or four laps, so he hung back and waited for them to get well ahead. He then put in four very fast laps, all around 2 min. 24 sec., and got well into the groove, and his fifth lap was 2 min. 22.9 sec. during which he caught and passed both Arundell and Ginther. That was the end of practice and it looked as though Clark was going to be unbeatable, but a study of the lap times showed that the Lola was getting into its stride and McLaren had done an unaided 2 Min. 24.2 sec. with very little fuss.

Saturday was devoid of any activity so there was plenty of time to prepare the cars for the race, due to start at 2.30 p.m. on Sunday, and a brand-new Lotus 24 with the old V8 Climax engine from the car crashed at Spa and a 5-speed Colotti gearbox, arrived for Trevor Taylor, but it still required detail finishing. On Sunday morning the Juniors were sorted out into two heats and raced over 10 laps of the circuit and the first fifteen in each heat went into the final, due to be run after the Grand Prix. Unhappily there was an accident in the first heat when Bill Moss (Gemini) and Peter Ryan (Lotus) collided and crashed, the young Canadian Ryan subsequently dying from his injuries. After Fangio had toured the 8.3 kilometre circuit in a DS19 the Grand Prix cars were allowed a few laps of reconnaissance and were then lined up on the grid. Conditions were overcast and hazy with a fairly strong wind but for Reims the temperature was cool. All the cars were present, the “monocoque” Lotus running without a tail, Taylor having the brand-new Lotus 24 and Arundell the Lotus-B.R.M. Masten Gregory was taking his time about getting into the U.D.T.-Laystall Lotus-B.R.M. and when he finally did so all the other cars had their engines running and the volume of noise was such that he couldn’t hear whether his starter was turning the B.R.M. engine and consequently got the mixture too rich. The 30 second board was up so all he could do was to raise his arm and hope everyone would dodge him; de Beaufort who was just behind was signalling frantically to drivers behind him that Gregory was not going to get away and that he was going to swerve round the pale green Lotus. The flag came down and nineteen of the twenty cars on the grid accelerated furiously and from the front row Surtees forged ahead in the Lola, but at the back of the grid Maggs had gone round the outside of de Beaufort, not leaving the Dutchman sufficient room to dodge Gregory and the Porsche left front wheel gave the Lotus right rear wheel a terrific clout as it went by. When the dust and smoke had cleared, Gregory was left on the line with two very bent radius rods and a cracked hub carrier, in addition to an engine that was not running, so even if he could have cleared the mixture and started he couldn’t have joined in the race. Meanwhile, Surtees had snatched a few lengths lead as the field disappeared under the Dunlop bridge and he then scratched for all he was worth on the uphill right-hander, the following lefthander, the braking for Muizon hairpin and round the hairpin itself, so that when he started on the Thillois straight he was far enough in front to avoid anyone getting in his slip-stream and he finished the opening lap with quite a considerable lead, followed by McLaren, Clark, Brabham, Hill, Ireland, Trintignant and Ginther, all more or less nose to tail, the rest already being some way behind. Taylor had arrived at Thillois hairpin to find petrol pouring onto the pedals from a leak in the scuttle tank and while his feet slipped about in the cockpit the car got sideways on and hit the retaining fence, crumpling the nose of the car and he limped back to the pits to retire. Shelly also retired after only one tap with a bodged-up Climax engine, so already three cars were out of the race. Clark got into second place on lap two but Surtees was really profiting from his efforts on the opening lap and by lap three was two seconds ahead of Clark and still gaining ground. With a clear road in front of him the ex-motorcyclist was really flying and no-one was making any impression on the Lola-Climax V8. At Reims one is used to seeing cars passing the stands at 140-150 m.p.h., as many as three abreast so it was strange to see the leading group strung out trying to catch the Lola. In the second half of the field there was some “Reims Racing” going on for de Beaufort, Bonnier and Maggs were having a terrific scrap, the two Porsches being side by side most of the time. On lap five, McLaren came by in second place and Clark pulled into the pits, the swill-pot in the cooling system had split and let the water out, so the Lotus was wheeled away. While sorting this out the overworked Lotus mechanics had Arundell come into the pits with the connection from the main fuel feed to the fuel pressure gauge adrift. It was put back on again and as Arundell was going to drive in the junior Final, Clark took over number 54 not with any hope of catching anyone but to find out if the Lotus-B.R.M. was ever going to be much good.

Surtees was just running away and hiding from everyone and Brabham and McLaren were racing side by side in their efforts to keep the Lola in sight, while Graham Hill was keeping in their slipstream, and Ireland just about had this trio in view, but was losing ground gradually. After 10 laps Surtees had 12 1/2 seconds lead and was still drawing away, the bright-green Lotus was just ahead of the works Cooper and Hill’s B.R.M. was still in their draught, but Ireland was on his own. Then came Trintignant, followed by Ginther, and Salvadori after a slow start had gone past the duelling Porsches of Beaufort and Bonnier and got away from them. Abate had been into the pits twice and changed plugs and was now even behind Clark in the Lotus-B.R.M. V8 that was going so badly that the Scotsman couldn’t stay in the slipstream of Salvadori’s Lola-Climax V8. Surtees was lapping at around 2 min. 26.0 sec., but Brabham had been given the fastest lap so far at 2 min. 25.0 sec. At 20 laps Surtees had 20 seconds lead, which is enormous for a Reims race, but behind him Graham Hill had got his B.R.M. in between Brabham’s Lotus and McLaren’s Cooper and these three were swopping places all the time. Surtees had been going by lying back in the cockpit in a very relaxed fashion and looking most confident, but on lap 21 he came by sitting more upright and obviously listening to his engine rather then concentrating on the road ahead. Next time round he had lost 5 seconds of his lead and had a worried look on his face, and kept to the pits side of the straight in order to let “Uncle Reg” listen as he went by. McLaren who was leading the trio for second place was now only 11 seconds behind and the Lola was definitely in trouble. The engine was misfiring at high revs., but by keeping it down to under 13,000 r.p.m., Surtees was almost maintaining his pace, but on lap 25 which was half distance, he had only 8 seconds lead over McLaren, Brabham and Hill, who were still close enough to be touching. After 26 laps Surtees drew into the Lola pits to see if anything could be done and the mechanics checked everything such as carburetters, ignition and fuel lines but nothing was wrong so Surtees went off again, now a lap behind the leaders. After one more lap he came in again, the engine being perfect up to 6,500 r.p.m., but thereafter fluttering, and it was decided to withdraw the car, which was sickening for the Lola team after such a splendid run. Subsequent investigation revealed a broken valve spring as the cause of the trouble.

While all this had been going on, Maggs had dropped out of the dice with the two Porsches, for coming out of Thillois the Cooper 4-cylinder suddenly lost power as the plugs cooked and as the oil pressure was beginning to sag he packed it in, he too being in the Junior Final. Abate had spun off into the long grass and out of the race but Bonnier and de Beaufort were still neck and neck, the Dutchman thoroughly enjoying the situation. On lap 26 he overdid the braking at Thillois and went round the outside of the grass island, but by lap 29 he had not only caught up with Bonnier again, but got past him. Ginther had been having a little private battle with Salvadori but it ended when the B.R.M.’s Colotti gearbox burst asunder and the American had to park the car on the grass just after Thillois hairpin and walk to the pits. McLaren was beginning to dominate his old team-mate Brabham and Graham Hill, and led them consistently until lap 33 when he tried braking a little later, “just to find out,” and went up the escape road at Muizon, letting Brabham actually lead the race for a few laps. Although Hill would nose his B.R.M. into the lead down the long straight and hold it round the Thillois hairpin, Brabham’s Lotus would always out-accelerate the B.R.M. and lead across the timekeepers’ line. McLaren had obviously been keeping something in hand for he soon caught up again after his “experiment,” being between the other two on lap 36 and in front ot them on lap 37. By lap 40 he had opened out a small gap, but at this point he was about to lap Bonnier and de Beaufort, yet again, but they were side-by-side and so engrossed in their personal battle that they did not realise they were blocking the road for McLaren, and this allowed Hill and Brabham to catch up again. They all got by the Porsches and Hill led down to Thillois but McLaren led across the line by a few feet, and next time round they were side-by-side down the hill, but once again McLaren led at the end of the lap, with Brabham right behind them.

It was all very exciting but somehow could not be taken too seriously as all the cars were green and the three drivers were nice friendly lads enjoying themselves but with nothing to stimulate them into doing anything heroic or desperate, such as we saw in 1961 when Bonnier, Gurney and Baghetti were in a similar situation with the end of the race in sight. The three “chums” were not hanging about for McLaren clocked 2 min. 24.8 sec., on lap 44, an average of 206.397 k.p.h. (approx., 128 m.p.h.) and this got the other two out of his slipstream. On lap 47 Graham Hill did 2 min. 24.0 sec., fastest lap of the race and on lap 48 the issue was settled for McLaren led Hill by 5 seconds and Brabham by 9 seconds. Jimmy Clark had failed to appear on lap 37, the B.R.M. engine having drunk all its petrol for Team Lotus had not thought of topping-up after Arundell had stopped with the petrol gauge pipe leaking. This was a long race of 415 kilometres and continual full-throttle was extravagant and on lap 49 Brabham’s engine died on him. In the heat of battle he had forgotten to turn his fuel tap on to the reserve tank and by the time he got going again Ireland had passed him into 3rd place, so that a sadder but wiser Brabham arrived home 4th., behind McLaren (Cooper), Hill (B.R.M.) and Ireland (Lotus). The duel between Bonnier and de Beaufort continued right to the chequered flag, the Dutchman winning by just a car length, to his very great satisfaction and the pleasure of a lot of spectators, for de Beaufort has been making big efforts to be a proper driver this season. Some laps behind came Siffert, followed by Lewis whose Cooper had lost speed when a valve spring broke, but he had kept going, and finally came Burgess who for once had had a trouble-free run, stopping only to refuel leisurely.

To complete the day 30 Juniors took part in the 10-lap Final, from which the yellow Ian Walker Lotus of Michael Spence emerged victorious ahead of Attwood who had driven well after a slow start; among the favourites who retired were Arundell, Rees, Gardner and Youl. – D. S. J.