Reflections on the G.P. de I'A.C.F.

It is strange how some circuits and organisers have to have at least one Formula One race before they can hold a World Championship Grand Prix, and yet the A.C. d’Auvergne held the Grand Prix of the Automobile Club of France on the Circuit of Charade near Clermont Ferrand without any preliminary Grand Prix event. The circuit was built in 1958, since when F.2, Junior, Sports car and G.T. races have been held, but no F.1 event. It seems as if the rules made by the F.I.A. are for guidance only, or as applicable only to non-French countries. As a circuit for drivers to enjoy their driving and to show their skill it rates very high, even if it is slow by Grand Prix standards, but there its suitability for a Grande Epreuve ends. The trace of the circuit, its corners, descents, ascents are all excellent, but it lacks a straight of any serious length and the corners follow one another in such quick succession that overtaking is difficult, especially if the leading driver is on the correct line through a series of corners.

Fortunately the circuit is about five miles in length so a small field soon spreads out, but if Grand Prix racing was always “wheel-to-wheel, and hub-to-hub,” like American track-racing, then it would not be a good circuit. The surface is impeccable and the edges of the tarmac road are painted white, but it would appear that the builders assumed that drivers would not go on these white edges. A Grand Prix driver in a hurry not only puts—his wheels on the whine lines, but very often over them and into the “rough” and at Clermont this resulted in a shower of grit and earth being thrown onto the road. Although track marshals did their best to sweep the earth back onto the sides of the road, the next fast car threw it all back again. The paddock area was an even worse situation for it was surfaced with rock shale, small boulders and earth and all the mechanics were having trouble and justifiably complaining of the conditions, and the fact that the main paddock was on a steep slope did not help. Also, if was hopelessly small for a Grande Epreuve, for a major race brings more than just the 17 competing cars in its wake. Besides the big transporters, the drivers private cars, the team managers car and so on, there are cars and vans from Dunlop, Goodyear, Ferodo, Lucas, Champion, Girling, Armstrong etc., to say nothing of the fleet of petrol and oil tankers. Space at Clermont was so small that the petrol and oil service vehicles were parked in a lay-by about a quarter of a mile further on round the circuit from the paddock, while the Honda team had to descend a steep slope down into a field behind the pits.

Added to this confusion of layout was some worse confusion caused by the organisers and the police. A big song and dance was made about taking cars and vans full of equipment from the paddock to the pits, and vice-versa, it being assumed that it would all be carried by hand along the dusty footpath behind the pas. The organisation lost that battle, for team managers like Tony Rudd of B.R.M. or Tim Parnell have better things to do than bicker with petty officialdom, and they just got on with the job regardless of “regulations.” The B.R.M. mechanics met me best part of the farcical organisation when they arrived at the Paddock early on race day, towed their two cars beyond the paddock to the Shell fuelling bay and were then told they must tow the cars the 4 1/2 miles round the hilly circuit to regain the paddock! This was some two hours before the F.3 race was due to start and it would have taken them about 2 min. to return the way they had come, but the regulations were the regulations and they set off round the circuit. They had gone barely one mile when the road was blocked by straw hales and Gendarmes. This was at a crossing where spectators were gaining access to the inside of the circuit and the regulations said the circuit would be closed until a certain hour and it took a lot of shouting and yelling and sending for senior officials before the B.R.M.s were allowed through the straw bale barricade, and by the time the mechanics got back to the paddock they had wasted nearly 1 1/2 hours of valuable time, and were pretty bad tempered.

The Press service during the race was a riot, for in the Press stand was a blackboard and a man wrote on it with chalk, giving interesting announcements, such as record laps or retirements or pit-stops, but if you didn’t sit and watch the board for the whole race the notices were rubbed off while your back was turned. Fortunately I prefer to stand out on a corner or in the pit area where you can see what is going on, and it was noticeable that a great number of press-people who normally sit in the press-stand were also out on the circuit. While being a pleasant Formula One race meeting, it was-difficult to take it seriously as the 51st G.P. de PA.C.F.

I have never judged a driver’s ability simply by the number of races he wins, but take into account how he wins them and more important, his performances in races he doesn’t win. An outstanding driver will really rise to the occasion when conditions appear impossible and all the odds are against him. You have only to look back on the exploits of Nuvolari, now befuddled by journalistic legends unfortunately, Fangio or Moss. Unwittingly, because he is a “natural,” Jimmy Clark is following in their footsteps and practice at Clermont Ferrand was just another instance. On the first day of practice there were those who knew the way round the circuit from past races and those who didn’t, and the only driver to challenge the “knowers” was Clark. On the second day he was scratching about with Chapman on the 32-valve engine car, not really getting down to any serious laps, when it broke. He then took the old spare car and in a slightly “niggly” frame of mind went straight out and made fastest practice lap, while others had been hogging round and round for lap after lap. Having pole position on the grid he was offered the choice of the left or right hand side of the front row and his choice really put the cat among the pigeons. He chose the left hand side, which meant he was on the inside of the first corner after the start, which is a fairly fast downhill left hand swerve leading on to a short straight. Normally this bend is taken from the right hand side of the road in the pits area, and many people thought Clark had placed himself badly. They overlooked the fact that the first corner was being taken from a standing start so that it could be taken on full acceleration from almost any part of the road. On the front row with Clark were Stewart and Bandini, and the young Scot was in the middle whatever happened, but with Clark choosing the left-hand side it meant that Bandini was on the outside of the approach to the first corner. Knowing Bandini’s enthusiasm and complete disregard for the “young gentlemen players” of the Grand Prix. Drivers Association, Clark’s plan was clear. He could hug the white line all the way round the corner, like a speedway rider, and leave it to Bandini to charge across the entrance to the corner and shut-the-gate on dangerous rivals like Stewart, Gurney and Surtees, which is exactly what happened. The funny thing was that after the race a number of drivers complained about Bandini blocking them at the start, yet a photograph taken at the entrance to the corner shows the true situation. Clark was away first, on the inside, Bandini is next and is diving in behind Clark, and is ahead of Stewart. Behind Stewart are those drivers who complained about Banditti and they are being blocked by Stewart, not Bandini! To any driver who “bitches” about Bandini my reply is that they should have been on the front row of the grid alongside Clark; they had four hours of practice to beat the young Italian, though some of them couldn’t beat Clark if they were given four years to do it. Come to think of it, it is now four years since some drivers have been trying to beat Clark. I feel that Stewart is too new to Grand Prix racing to start “bitching” and anyway he is too good to be bothered, he looks as if he’ll just go on towards winning races.

There was in unusual spate of electrical trouble during the race and as it affected Anderson and Bonnier it was a situation that can arise all too easily on British Grand Prix cars. They use Lucas fuel-injection which incorporates an electric pump to supply the 100 lb./sq in, and Lucas transistor ignition and between the two systems they require 9 amps. The belt-driven alternator pushes out 9 1/2 amps, which means that the battery is getting the surplus of 1/2 amp, which just about balances things. If the belt breaks or the alternator packs up charging it does not take long for the battery to run down, and if the battery has been used a lot for starting before the race and is a bit down it means that the 1/2 amp. surplus is not enough and the electrical systems are dependent entirely on the alternator. Bonnier had the belt break, unbeknown to him naturally, and Anderson’s alternator had stopped charging, so that both cars died from lack of fuel pressure to the injection system. Luckily for Surtees the V8 Ferrari uses Bosch injection which gets its pressure from a mechanical pump, so that alternator trouble on the V8 will only affect the ignition, and a well-charged battery could probably cope with the situation. The 12-cylinder Ferrari uses Lucas fuel-injection so, like the British cars, it is running on an electrical knife-edge. All teams fit freshly-charged batteries before a race, but even so the electrical side of the modern Grand Prix car is still a worry and a headache. Team Lotus fitted a new high-pressure pump to Spence’s car before the race and yet it failed for no obvious reason.

While Bucknum’s electrical trouble on his Honda was obscure Ginther’s was very obvious, being a wire shorting behind the instruments, which he could see through the perspex windscreen that also covers the top of the scuttle.—D. S. J.

Cars in books

This month I am indebted to a reader, Roger Came of Wadebridge, who draws attention to “Musical Adventures in Cornwall,” by the Misses Maisie and Evelyn Radford (David & Charles and Macdonald). Chapter 5, “The Car and the Fiddle,” quotes, our correspondent, contains the following: “Our first car was a Trojan. As a concession to modernity it had discarded the original solid tyres for pneumatic ones, but as it had no differential and had to be forced round the sharp bends in our roads by violent pressure on the steering wheel, punctures were frequent. The engine had a tendency to stall if it was pulled up at all suddenly, and took time and violent pumping of the inside starting-handle to get moving again. The battery was hardly strong enough to stand this and the amount of night driving we did, and we often crawled home with only a glimmer of light, realising painfully that the slower we went the less we were charging up the reluctant electricity.” Also, on page 50, they continue: “Helen, as she was inevitably called, was a slightly comic car in appearance: an open tourer with rounded contours, very high sides, and straight-hacked seats, so that the driver and passengers looked, as a friend observed, like four tulip’s in a bowl.”

There is also a reference on page 52 to a friend’s car: “a secondhand Morris of the old long bull-nosed type” which had “a different set of idiosyncracies from our Trojan’s.”

Another reader reminds me of a De Dion Bouton in “Maigret’s First Case,” but this is really a case of “cars in fiction.”

Another reader quotes the following, about a model-T Ford, in Alsace, very late in 1918, from “What is Remembered— An Autobiography,” by Alice B. Toklas (Michael Joseph, 1963):—”One day on the road something was making a noise in the engine of the car. Gertrude got out to see what it was. At that moment two American soldiers passed by and asked if they could help. Gertrude said, yes, I do not think it is serious but there is a little noise. Whereupon they got down on their knees and before you knew it they had taken the engine down, looked it over, brushed all the parts and put them back again. This did not take them any time at all. Gertrude and I were astonished.”

Finally, for this month, Mr. Erie Edwards of W. Kirby sends this odd reference to a Morgan 3-wheeler from “The Thurber Carnival—A Ride with Olympy” (Hamish Hamilton and “Penguin”):—”Olympy Sementzoff rode to and from his work in one of those bastard agglomerations of wheels, motor, and superstructure that one saw only in France [sic]. It looked at first glance like the cockpit of a cracked-up plane. Except for the engine—which Maria said was a “Morgan Moteur—and the wheels and tyres, it was handmade. Olympy’s boss at the boat factory had made most of it, but Olympy himself had put on the ailes, or fenders, which were made of some kind of wood. The strange canopy that served as a top was Maria’s proud handiwork; it seemed to have been made of canvas and kitchen aprons. The thing had a right-hand drive. When the conducteur was in his seat he was very low of the ground: you had to bend down to talk to him. There was a small space beside the driver in which another person could sit, or crouch. The whole affair was not much larger than an overturned cabinet Victrola. It got bouncingly underway as with all the racket of a dog fight and in full swing was capable of perhaps thirty miles an hour. The contraption had cost Olympy three thousand francs, or about a hundred dollars. He had driven it for three years and was-hand in glove with its mysterious mechanism. The gadgets on the dash and on the floorboards which he pulled or pushed to make the thing go, seemed to include fire tongs, spoons and door knobs. Maria miraculously managed to squeeze into the seat beside the driver in an emergency but I could understand why she didn’t want to drive to the Nice Carnival in the ‘Morgan’.”—W. B.