Was it true?

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Sir,

May I wholeheartedly endorse your view that the story related by Sir Henry Segrave about the incompetence of “a driver of the old school” was completely apocryphal? Unfortunately, his willingness to perpetuate such nonsense does not rebound very greatly to his credit.

I suspect that the background to the whole alleged incident may relate to the fact that Nazzaro, when interviewed after winning the 1922 Grand Prix, is on record as saying “my little Fiat ran excellently throughout”. This somewhat condescending reference to his car may not have been very welcome to a “new boy” like Segrave, naturally elated to find himself at the wheel of a Grand Prix racer. But in fact these unsupercharged 2-litre engines of 1922 only developed about 90 hp and were probably the least powerful built fitted to Grand Prix cars since the days of the 90 hp Renault which won the first French Grand Prix in 1906. No wonder if they seemed rather small beer to some of the older drivers who had handled more powerful machinery.

At the same time these racers were at least as well made as other vintage cars, and while it is conceivable that rough treatment might damage the gearbox, the suggestion that it might result in a broken gear lever is patently ridiculous. What, moreover, did Segrave mean by his allegation that the steering wheel “came completely off’ in the hands of the old-time driver because he had “tried to skid the car round as was frequently done in the old days”? Was it not also done in Segrave’s day even if the word “skidding” had become somewhat outmoded, and something like “drifting” taken its place? Call it what you may, it is unlikely to result la the steering wheel coming off unless it has been improperly fitted.

Segrave’s contempt for his elders should have been dispelled by his STD team-mate, Sir Algernon Lee Guinness. Guinness was unquestionably an “old-timer” if only because he had driven the 200 hp. V8 Darraco of 1905, which must have been something of a handful, and had came second, on a smaller Darracq, in the 1908 Tourist Trophy “Four-Inch” race. Yet only a few weeks before the 1922 French Grand Prix, around which Segrave’s story centred, he was back in the Isle of Man to win the “Fifteen Hundred” Trophy on a 1500 cc Talbot Darracq, averaging 53.3 mph for six lays compared with Chassagne’s 55.8 mph fnr eight laps on the 3-litre Sunbeam which Won the Tourist Trophy. I remember reading a description, by someone who did a Practice round of the course with him, of Guinness’s impeccably “heel and toe” exercised on this hilly circuit. I suspect that 4 may also have “skidded his car round some of the corners”, without the steering wheel coming off. No mention of the gear lever breaking either.

KENT KARSLAKE

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