The racing at Rouen

ROUEN, FRANCE, July 10th

AT the Reims meeting the Formula Two and Formula Three races had been the supporting events, but at Rouen they were the main attractions and as support the V.S.C.C., in conjunction with their French equivalent, organised an Historic Car Race, which to many eyes was the major attraction! The Formula Two race was the third round in the French series, further events being planned for Montlhery, Albi and Le Mans, on the new Bugatti circuit at the last-named venue, and if Brabharn and his car continue the way they have been going they can hardly fail to win the championship. This is not a championship for individual drivers, but for entrants, the entrants naturally being closely tied to a manufacturer, so that the accent is on teams rather than individuals, which I think is a good thing.

The circuit at Les Essarts, a few miles south of the historic town of Rouen, is claimed by the Automobile Club of Normandy people will argue with this sentiment. For drivers it must be a real joy with its 6½ kilometres of varied driving, a lot of it at “the most beautiful in France” and I don’t think many very high speed, with downhill sweeps, climbs and fiat-out sections. For the spectators it is excellent with high natural grass banks on the interesting parts and it is one of the circuits where I enjoy watching practice from the public enclosures. The sooner the French Grand Prix settles at Rouen Les Essarts and stops going to lesser circuits, the better it will be in my opinion. Practice was arranged for Thursday and Friday, in the evenings, and providing everyone went fast enough they qualified for the start, the entry not being over-subscribed. The F.2 contingent were more or less the same as at Reims, with Surtees still replacing Stewart in the Ken Tyrell Matra team, and Rodriguez replacing Clark in the Ron Harris Lotus team. Needless to say the Brabham-Hondas of Brabham and Hulme dominated the scene, with Rindt being the main opposition, backed up by Surtees and Graham Hill with Matras. The Formula Three entry was not ridiculously large, like some meetings, and those drivers who could drive had the chance of proving it on this interesting circuit.

There was no racing or practice on Saturday, which gave everyone plenty of time to prepare properly for the race and the vintage contingent made the day a club meeting at the Automobile Museum at Cleres, just to the north of Rouen. The owner of this delightful Museum is Jackie Pichon, and his family own the Hotel du Cheval Noir on the opposite side of the street, so that Cleres was a busy place all week, being the headquarters for a lot of the Vintage Sports Car Club members. There is no problem in France if you want to try out your racing car, you put a number on the back and belt off up the road. Saturday was a riotous day with E.R.A.s, Bugattis, Delage and Pichon’s Le Mans Delahaye dicing up and down the road to Rouen, while some Edwardian cars were taken out of the Museum and joined in the fun.

Sunday was warm and fine and after the day’s racing had been got under way with a National race for amateurs in R8 Renault-Gordinis, the Coupe de l’Age d’Or for cars built between 1921 and 1939 took place over 12 laps. There were 23 starters and the turn-out by the V.S.C.C. was magnificent, some drivers of modern racing machinery who were watching expressed wonderment that the owners would dare to race such beautifully rebuilt pieces of machinery. The French entry was very small as the French equivalent of the Vintage Club has not yet got round to the idea of rebuilding and racing old cars, and many of them were rather tatty compared to the British entry. The presentation of the V.S.C.C.-owned cars must have encouraged many French owners to start renovations on their own vehicles. The race proved to be an excellent one, with the E.R.A.s of Bill Morris, Waller, Lindsay and Brewer racing against the monoposto Tipo B Alfa Romeo of Summers and the 4-litre Sunbeam Tiger of Sir Ralph Millais, driven by Burton. The Alfa Romeo began to overheat after four laps so Summers wisely stopped, and the younger and spritelier E.R.A.s wore down the big vintage Sunbeam, while Brewer dropped out when an oil pipe broke. Behind this group Martin Morris was driving the famous Mike Couper Talbot 110, number BGH 23, now owned by Blight, and going magnificently, vanquishing Bugattis, Aston Martins, Delahayes, Lago Talbots, etc. Peter Waller backed up his Seaman Trophy victory by taking the lead from Bill Morris on lap seven and holding it to the end.

It says a great deal for the preparation and care with which these cars are raced that only four cars dropped out and the only mechanical disasters were a burnt piston in St. John’s Bugatti and a broken axle in Gahagan’s E.R.A. The Clutton/Williamson 10½-litre V12 Delage was making a welcome return to vintage racing, having been rebuilt most beautifully and it ran well, driven by young Williamson, but could not hope to challenge the E.R.A.s. On handicap Martin Morris won with the Talbot 110, which was a well-deserved victory.

After this the Formula Three racers took to the track and the heat of the day was making the road surface very slippery. A number of spins and slight accidents robbed the field of such promising runners as Cardwell, Pike and Hart, so that Piers Courage was left alone to fight off the attacks of various French drivers in Alpine and Matra cars, which he did to good effect. Apart from material damage to cars, the only personal injury was to Brian Hart, who was involved in an accident started by two slower drivers, but his injuries were not serious.

Finally 21 Formula Two cars lined up, with Brabham, Hulme and Rindt on the front row, and Surtees and Hill in the second row. The whole field got away to a magnificent start, with Brabham leading down the hill to the Nouveau Monde hairpin, hotly pursued by Rindt and Beltoise. As they braked for the hairpin Beltoise locked his wheels on the slippery surface and struck the back of Rindt’s car and next moment there were cars going in all directions, as drivers dodged and spun. One driver described the scene as being like Piccadilly Circus, and by luck or judgment the only damage was to the nose cowling of Beltoise’s Matra, and this broke right off and flew away while he was going up the hill a short while later but he pressed on regardlessly. All this left Brabham well out in front with his team mate Hulme down amongst the struggling pack, along with Rindt and Rees. It took a few laps to sort things out and Hulme got away from the midfield runners and worked his way up to second place, closing right up on Brabham so that by half-distance the two Brabham-Hondas were running comfortably in first and second position, nose to tail. Rindt had consolidated himself in third place, but fourth place was anybody’s position, with Beltoise, Rees, Ahrens, Surtees and Schlesser all being eligible, while Hill and Rodriguez followed on behind.

A lot of people think that the supremacy of Brabham and Hulme is due entirely to the Japanese Honda engines, but observation during practice on one of the very fast corners proved that the Brabham cars handle better than most and Hulme was driving smoother and faster than anyone, while Brabham’s driving ability can never he under-rated. The reliability of Formula Two cars leaves a lot to be desired and they were falling out of the race with a variety of troubles, Beltoise with a punctured radiator, Rindt with a wrecked Hewland gearbox and final drive, Surtees with similar trouble, as well as a loose battery earth wire and misfiring, Schlesser with a split oil radiator, Hawkins with a broken drive-shaft rubber joint, and so on. With only six laps to go Brabham failed to appear, his Honda engine having blown up, though he said his gear-lever had broken! (Crankshaft was more like it.) Luckily Hulme was just behind so he was able to take over the lead and keep the Brabham team in the lead of the F.2 championship. Rodriguez had been running very steadily in the Ron Harris Lotus and gaining places as faster drivers ran into trouble and he passed Hill and Surtees to take third place as the ex-Ferrari driver’s Matra-Cosworth expired and the B.R.M. ex-World Champion struggled along in a sick Matra-B.R.M.

FORMULA TWO – 46 laps – 300.932 kilometeres – Hot

1st: D. Hulme (Brabham-Honda) 1 hr. 46 min. 33.5 sec. – 169.446 k.p.h.
2nd: A. Rees (Brabham-Cosworth) 1 hr. 46 min. 58.7 sec.
3rd: P. Rodriguez (Lotus-Cosworth) 1 hr. 47 min. 54.0 sec.
4th: K. Ahrens (Brabham-Cosworth) 1 hr. 48 min. 41.4 sec.

FORMULA THREE – 25 laps – 163.550 kilometres – Hot

1st: P. Courage (Lotus-Ford) 1 hr. 00 min. 59.6 sec. – 160.886 k.p.h.
2nd: R. Weber (Alpine-Renault) 1 hr. 01 min. 27.9 sec.
3rd: J. Servoz-Gavin (Matra-Ford) 1 hr. 01 min. 42.3 sec.
4th: T. Hitchcock (Brabham-Ford)  1 hr. 01 min. 42.4 sec.

COUPE DE L’AGE D’OR – 12 laps – 78.504 kilometres – Warm

1st: P. Waller (E.R.A.) 34 min. 13.6 sec. – 137.619 k.p.h.
2nd: W. R. G. Morris (E. R. A.) 34min. 30.4 sec.
3rd: P. Lindsay (E. R. A.) 34 min. 35.9 sec.
4th: G. Burton (Sunbeam 4-litre)  34 min. 43.3 sec.