THE YEAR IN RETROSPECT A REVIEW OF THE SEASON’S RACING. ,
IN most other respects, I suppose, 1931 will go down to history as a black year of depression— at least everybody must be toping that the future will show it to have been the trough of the wave ; but in the field of motor racing its reputation will surely not be so unfavourable, for I think that in this respect it has proved the best year that I can remember since 1925. Reviewing the position a year ago in these columns we remarked, “in these days if attention is first directed to races for real racing cars—as opposed to sports cars— one may be accused of a lack of perspective . . . but we are firmly convinced that it is only a matter of a year or two before the real racing car comes back into its own.” In actual fact, this prophecy has been fulfilled perhaps even earlier than we anticipated, for there can be no doubt that at any rate from the European If not from the purely English point of view, sports car races in 1931 have been entirely eclipsed in interest by those for real racing cars. Sports car races on the Continent—with the solitary exception of the first of the kind, the Grand Prix d’Endurance At le Mans—have by a process of evolution become so far less stringent in their regulations that von have only to put some nominal mudguards on a Grand Prix racer to make it eligible, and thus the whole object of these races has been lost ; While in this country there seenis to be at least a serious danger that the whole fabric of these races’ entry lists will go down in a welter of argument about the handi
apping, On the other hand, the real racing car events have disclosed a welcome return of interest on the part of manufacturers, and at last the ever-faithful Bugatti has been faced with opposition worthy of his “steel.”
One of the healthiest signs of all in this respect has been that the three manufacturers who have been the serious contestants in this field have none of them been content with one design of racing car throughout the seasOn, but have all of them finished the year by introducing a faster type than that which they ran in the earlier races. Realising that this year he would have to meet sterner competition than of late. Bugatti first designed his new 2,300 c.c. racer with two overhead camshafts, but before the season was ended we saw the introduction of the still newer 5-litre machine of the same general design. Similarly Alfa-Romeo, having used the new straight-eight 2,300 c.c. model in the earlier races, finished up by presenting the 3,500 c.c. double-six ; while Maserati having started with his familiar 2litre eight, had evolved the new 2,800 c.c. racer before the season was ended. It is, in fact, interesting to notice how the engine sizes of racing cars have been ” growing up ” since the capacity limit was abandoned. .Bugatti may be said to have started from his 60 x 88 mm. 2-litre straight eight originally designed for the 1922 Grand Prix ; then for the 1926 Targa Florio the stroke of this engine was increased to 100 mm. and as such it remained as his fastest racing. type until this year it was superseded by the new 86 x 107 mm. 5-litre racer. Alfa-Romeo after building the 61 x 85 mm. straight-eight 2-litre racer for the 1924 and 1925 ()rands Prix, decided to make a 1,500 C.C. sports car with a 62 x 82 mm. 6-cylinder engine (nearly, that is to say, 1of the Grand Prix motor) and used this little car in the 1928 Targa Florio. Then, requiring more power the 6-cylinder engine dimensions were increased to 65 x 88 mm. giving a capacity of 1,750 c.c., and at the
beginning of this year these dimensions were used for the new 8-cylinder, the capacity thus becoming 2,300 c.c. ; while finally two 6-cylinder engines were put in one chassis to make the latest 3-i-1itre 12-cylinder racer. Similarly Maserati having started with a 2-litre engine, increased its size to 2,400 c.c. for the 1930 Targa Florio and to 2,500 c.c. by the end of last season ; while at the end of this year he launched the new 2,800 c.c. model.
The earlier races of the season witnessed a succession of duels between the new Bugattis and Alfa-Romeos, both of 2,300 c.c., in which the Bugattis proved themselves slightly the faster and the Alfa-Romeos perhaps a little more reliable. The conflict between the two marques has been rendered all the more exciting this season by the fact that Achille Varzi, late of Alfa-Romeo, has been a member of the Bugatti team, while his old team-mate, Tazio Nuvolari, has remained faithful to the Milanese firm. These two drivers can undoubtedly both lay claim to being the greatest ” ace ” at the moment of Italy if not of the world, and although _they are the best of friends, the keenest rivalry exists between the two men. They form, in fact, an interesting contrast, for Varzi is as cool as a cucumber at the wheel and combines soundness with real brilliance, while Nuvolari seems always to be overcome with nervous excitement and is rather surprisingly regular nevertheless ; at all events, though one hears varying opinions, it is hard to choose between them for the better driver.
The Targa Florio.
The Targa Florio, the first and still the greatest of the great races of the year, provided the first round of the Varzi-Nuvolari duel, but did not represent a fair contest between the two marques, for Varzi’s Bugatti ran alone against a full team of Alfa-Romeos. A landslide which necessitated using the Long instead of the Short Madonie Circuit together with atrocious weather conditions made the 1931 Targa an even more strenuous affair than former races of the series and Nuvolari’s victory at 40.3 m.p.h. was a truly magnificent performance which branded the new 8-cylinder Alfa as a really good car from the outset. Varzi’s first lap on the Bugatti, however, was the fastest of the race, and had his lack of mudguards not seriously handicapped him when it ‘began to rain, he might have finished first instead of third while actually second place went to the unassuming Borzacchini on a 1,750 c.c. Alfa, who proved his brilliance by covering the third lap in the worst of the rain faster than any other driver.
The Italian Grand Prix which was run at Monza on 24th May, was the first of this year’s 10-hour races, and this time Bugatti and Alfa-Romeo teams met on level terms. This race also saw the first appearance of the 12-cylinder Alfa, but the car was obviously not yet quite. “au point “and the real struggle developed between the! straight-eight cars of the two marques. At first the Bugatti driven by Diva and Chiron showed itself slightly the fastest car on the course, but it was eliminated by a mechanical failure and the second Bugatti having been held back by tyre troubles, the first two places went to Alfa-Romeo. The second round, however, came in the French Grand Prix a month later, and this time Maserati who had been
absent at Monza, once more reappeared. At the start of this race it seemed to be confirmed that the Bugattis were faster than the Alfa-Romeos, although they were equalled in speed by the Maseratis ; the latter cars, however, could not stay the course while those from Alsace could, with the result that the final order was Bugatti, Alfa-Romeo, Maserati.
The last-named stood down again for the third of the national Grands Prix, the Belgian race over the Spa circuit in the middle of July, and once more there was a straight Bugatti-Alfa fight. This time the Italian cars seemed to have found more speed, or on the Spa circuit there was less scope for the Bugattis to use theirs, and throughout the race there was little or nothing to choose between them. Various mechanical failures intervened however, and the first place went to Bugatti and the second and third to Alfa, with the result that it is hard to say which proved more successful in the great races of the year.
The contest, however, was not yet over for a week later the three marques came to grips again in the German Grand Prix. This time, however, there came a new intervention and Rudolf Caracciola on his giant Mercedes showed that on his home course he could beat allcomers. Of the others, however, Bugatti proved the most successful, taking second and third places, while Alfa-Romeo had to be content with fourth. Then all repaired to Italy for the Monza Grand Prix.
This race saw the first appearance of the new 5-litre Bugattis, the reappearance of the 12-cylinder Alf aRomeos and the debut of the -2,800 c.c. Maserati. In the event the 12-cylinder Alfas did no good, but the 8-cylinder model managed to beat the big Bugatti ; while both of them were beaten by the new Maserati. While therefore, it is hard to say which of the two, Bugatti or Alfa-Romeo, has proved the more successful this year, it would seem that Maserati has actually produced the fastest car. At this time last year we prophesied that Maseiati would one day win the Targa Florio, and we added later, “if he can keep Fagioli.” So far he still has this driver, who has proved really brilliant, and although Maserati has sometimes flattered only to deceive, we are inclined to repeat this prophecy.
• In this country the only race which is held for real racing cars is the fin de saison “500 Miles.” But this year no factory teams of modern racing cars were sent to compete, and the leading places were all taken by cars of touring type. Their performance nevertheless, was magnificent and one rather wonders which to admire most, the (31-litre Bentley which averaged 118 m.p.h., the 3-litre Talbot which did 113 m.p.h. or the 750 c.c. M.G. with its 92 m.p.h. Turning now to the touring car races, the season has resulted in a succession of triumphs for the new M.G. Midgets with, as their only real challengers, the AlfaRomeos and Mercedes. Great Britain must now be regarded as unquestionably the centre for races of this type, and all three of the big events in this country have been triumphantly won by the little M.G. ‘s. This has been the 750 c.c. Midget’s first season, and the new
model was developed after comparatively little racing experience with the older and larger engined type in consequence the practically 100% success of these little cars must be regarded as an unprecedented event in racing history. Starting with the capture of the first five places in the “Double Twelve ” race at Brooklands, with the Earl of March and C. S. Staniland at the head of affairs, the marque went on to win the Irish Grand Prix a month later and the Tourist Trophy a month after that, Norman Black being the successful driver on both occasions. Surely this triple confirmation of merit must completely silence all talk of luck or favour of the handicap, and give all credit where credit is due, to Mr. Kimber and the Abingdon factory.
In the Irish Grand Prix and the Tourist Trophy, however, the runner up to the M.G. was on both occasions one of the new 8-cylinder Alfa-Rorneos, the first driven by Sir Henry Birkin and the second by Borzacchini, and the worth of this model was unequivocably shown by its victory in the hands of Earl Howe and Sir Henry Birkin in the Grand Prix d’Endurance at le Mans, which it won at a speed which wrested the record for the race from a far bigger car. On this occasion the runner up was Ivanowski and Stoffel’s Mercedes, and this marque also did • not go without its victory, which it scored in the Belgian 24-hour race at Spa, its drivers being Prince Djordjadze and Zehender.
In general, therefore, 1931 has been a season full of interest not only from the point of view of the races which have been run, but also because of the promise which it has given for the future. Undoubtedly interest in real motor races is reviving, already rumours are afloat of the great marques which will shortly return to the game, and if only economic conditions are not too unfavourable, the immediate future may show us a great period of revival.—K.