It is sad that the Grand Prix de l’A.C.F. cannot stand on itsown as a Grande Epreuve and that it is deemed necessary to have supporting races. However, it was some consolation that both extra races were for single-seater cars, even though neither group was really fast enough to justify their existence on the very fast Reims circuit. On the Saturday afternoon before the Grand Prix a Formula Two race was held over 37 laps of the circuit under very hot weather conditions. This was another round in the French championship for F.2 entrants, the previous one having been at Pau. As in all the F.2 races so far this season the works Brabharn-Honda 4-cylinders of Brabham and Hulme set the pace with Cosworth- and B.R.M.-powered cars trying to keep up. True to form, the Winklemann Brabham-Cosworch cars of Rindt and Rees provided the main opposition, backed up by the Tyrell cars, John Surtees replacing Stewart temporarily in the Matra-Cosworth. All the regular Formula Two teams and private owners were competing, and by holding the race the day before the French Grand Prix it was possible for all the stars to take part with the 1,000-c.c, midget cars. After practising with 3-litre Grand Prix cars the Formula Two cars must have felt a bit lacking in power.
As expected, Jack Brabham ran away from the field, the superior power of the Honda engine really telling on the long straights, but the Japanese equilibrium was slightly upset when it was-seen that Hulme was not keeping up with his team-leader. He could not get away from the faster Cosworth- and B.R.M.-engined cars, in particular young Ickx, Rees and Ahrens, and when he could not keep up with them it was obvious that he was in trouble. After 14 laps Hulme was forced to retire with a broken engine, suffering trouble in the valve department, so for the first time the all-conquering works Brabham-Hondas were seen to be vulnerable. Brabham was untroubled however, and was well ahead of the rest of the field and the little Japanese engine ran strongly to the finish, the Brabham finishing comfortably ahead of Rees. A good scrap for third place developed between Beltoise (Matra-B.R.M.), Spence (Lotus-Cosworth) and Attwood (Lola-Cosworth) which continued right to the end of the race. A number of cars suffered from the heat, developing vapour locks in the fuel systems, causing misfiring or weak mixture running, Surtees, Hill and Rindt having these problems, while Ickx was delayed when an inlet pipe broke off his B.R.M. engine.
On Sunday afternoon, when the French Grand Prix was finished, 25 Formula Three cars lined up for a 20-lap race, these runners having been sorted out from an enormous entry that took part in the practice sessions during the week. It was a question of the fastest and fittest of the entry qualifying for the start and on the very high-speed circuit there was not much that any of the better runners could do once the race had started. A packet of 15 to 17 cars circulated in a solid bunch, there being no room for anyone to show much driving prowess, or even braking ability, for they were all so close that they were inevitably getting in each other’s way all the time. That the leading packet were not going as fast as an individual might have gone was seen when one of them overshot on braking yet caught up again in a few laps. Also, with no apparent effort a car would drop from first place to fifteenth place, and be back up the front again in no time at all. To some people it may have looked exciting, but it was really rather farcical and it would probably have been quite fair to pick the winner out of a hat. As it was, Fenning nipped out of the solid bunch of cars while those at the front weren’t looking and won by a short head. Such a close crowd of cars approached the finish that it seemed as if the first one to raise his arm as they crossed the line could be assumed to be the winner.
During the race thunder and lightning could be heard and seen all round the countryside and rain fell in various parts making conditions very tricky and all the drivers in the leading group deserve praise for staying on the road. If closeness means racing then this was racing, but I can’t believe this is good training for real drivers who wish to achieve the ability of high-speed driving as an art.
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