Letter from Europe

[By means of which the Continental Correspondent, while he is motoring abroad, keeps in touch with the Editor.]

Dear W. B..

Most of my journeys about Europe are dictated by the planning of the International racing calendar by the FIA and some years it is good and other years it is terrible. One calendar layout that I do not want to be repeated is to have the Spanish Grand Prix in Madrid the week after the Targa Florio in Sicily. The journey from Palerno to Madrid is one of those that it is nice to have done, but would not be much fun repeating. Driving for twelve hours a day, with eight hours sleep and the other four spent in booking in and out of hotels, eating and generally unwinding at the end of the day and rewinding next morning, the journey took four days. I left Palerno on Monday morning and got to Madrid Thursday afternoon, not an epic of all-night motoring and non-stop endurance, but a good steady trip so that I was still bright and cheerful when practice began at Madrid. In the E-type Jaguar it was no great strain, the over-night stops being Naples, Nice and Toulouse, but at the same time a Japanese journalistic colleague was also doing the trip, unbeknown to me, in a Toyota tin-box. When we met in Madrid on Thursday evening I was amazed to find he had driven the same route and more amazed when he said it had taken him four days. I found later that whereas my "working days" had been twelve hours, his had been fourteen and eighteen hour "working days". He was very tired and reckoned it was a very long way.

On other occasions the calendar will keep me journeying up and down Europe, like Monte Carlo up to Spa and back down to Monza and then up again to Nurburgring, but occasionally the races are in sequence and a nice round trip results, like this year when the route went in a splendid circle from Hockenheim, near Frankfurt, to Monza near Milan, across Southern France and down to Madrid via Barcelona, North through San Sebastian and across the middle of France to Belgium and then South down to Monte Carlo. All this travelling averages out at about 750 miles a week, except that the motoring week comprises only Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, for practice usually begins on Thursday, unofficially if not officially. Recently the calendar gave me the opportunity for a memorable trip, some of which I have done before, and this was the French GP at Clermont-Ferrand being held the week after the 1,000-kilometre race in Austria at the Osterriechring. Now the Osterriechring is situated in the middle of Austria more or less midway between Innsbruck and Vienna, and Clermont-Ferrand could not be more in the centre of France if it tried, in the Massif Central mountains, and the two circuits are about on the same latitude. Osterriechring to the East and Clermont-Ferrand to the west, but nearly 1,000 miles apart by road. A straight line between them passes through the Austrian Alps, the Swiss Alps, the Northern end of the French Alps and the Eastern side of the Massif Central: in other words a good mountain trip, so being a mountain enthusiast I took the direct route and it came out at around 1,500 kilometres (930 miles). Of course I could have gone North and crossed Europe on the Austrian and German Autobahns, or I could have gone South and crossed Italy east to west on the Autostrada, but that would have been dull. Most people seem to do the trip by going all round Europe in aeroplanes, but that must be even duller.

The first major obstacle was the Grossglockner Pass, or it would have been in a lesser car than a 4.2 litre-powered one, and then the Arlberg Pass was crossed, and on through Lichtenstein and into Switzerland. Lichtenstein is a strange little Principality that is to Switzerland what Monaco is to France. After that came the Klausen Pass, still with a lot of snow on the top and clouds right down on the road. Halfway up I came across a helicopter parked on a slope below the road, with some Swiss fellows doing something to it with a couple of military vehicles in attendance, but quite what they were up to was not clear. It seemed a strange thing to come across up in the mountains on a wet and gloomy evening. After that came, the Susten Pass, and with everyone at supper it was a super third gear climb at speed on empty roads, with no commercial vehicles or 2 cv Citroëns to bring me down to first gear. That evening I went on until 9.30 p.m., by which time it was very dark and pouring with rain (it's still that sort of summer), and I eventually stopped at a Gasthaus in the middle of nowhere that appeared in the headlamp beams and looked inviting. Next morning I was tilling in the hotel register and where it enquired "Coming from" I wrote Austria and "Going to" I put France. I then looked at the previous entry, filled in the evening before and found a Dutchman had "Come from" Italy and was "Going to" Germany. I was travelling directly East to West and he was travelling directly South to North and our paths had crossed at this wayside inn in the middle of nowhere in Switzerland!

After two more smaller mountain passes my route had a brief respite as I took the Motorway between Lausanne and Geneva, and then it was back on winding twisting roads across to Lyon and on to Clermont-Ferrand. As big towns waste so much time and are no fun to drive through any more, the traffic being too dense to be amusing, I always get out a local map and find a detour. I did this for Lyon, passing to the North of it, and quite by chance met up with some friends travelling from Geneva to Clermont-Ferrand as well, and also taking a town avoiding back road. They had a rendezvous for supper at a town some 60 miles before Clermont-Ferrand and invited me to join them. There we met a friend of theirs who was travelling from Bruxelles to Barcelona on a Honda 500 c.c. four-cylinder motorcycle, he actually arriving before us, after a trip of over 400 miles that day. After a quick trip up the road on his four-cylinder Honda we enjoyed a very convivial evening and then finished our journey to Clermont-Ferrand, leaving him to stay the night and continue South next day.

While this trip was not unduly long it involved a lot of very enjoyable motoring and some wonderful scenery, and for the first day, while in Austria, I was actually able to have the top down on the Jaguar and motor in glorious sunshine. I think that was the day of the 1972 Summer. Now really the point of telling of this trip came on the Monday after the French GP when I went to the Circuit of Charade, for one final drive round and to survey the black marks left on the road after the previous day's racing. In the paddock there remained one transporter, the Bedford Duple coach of Tom Wheatcroft racing, containing a Formula Two car for Roger Williamson, and the Ford Transit mobile home in which Williamson's two mechanics live while "on tour". The Formula Three GRD with which Williamson had won the previous day's race was on its way back to England on a trailer and these two chaps were preparing to set off to their next race, one driving the coach and the other driving the caravan. Chatting to them as they washed the two vehicles, for they always reckon to start a journey with the outfit looking clean and tidy even if they can't finish the journey that way, I asked them where they were going. "A Formula Two race at the Osterreichring" they said and I nearly collapsed, having just done that trip in the Jaguar. They had never been to Austria before and had no idea of the journey or the distance. They told me their driving day's work was from dawn until dusk, so we planned out the best route for them, avoiding the Southern one through Italy, as you can get very tied up with customs formalities at the Frontier with a racing transporter, and avoiding any serious mountain passes. It was a slow route but fairly flat, which counts in a transporter, and used a certain amount of Autobahn, which is a great help, but even so it was going to be four very long day's work for them, and I didn't envy them their trip. All I had to do was to drive North to the French coast and return home to England in preparation for the British GP at Brands Hatch, and give the E-type a wash, grease and oil change after its 12,000-mile Continental Holiday. — D. S. J.