CIRCUIT TOURS ARE NOT A NEW PHENOMENON FOR MOTORING SCRIBES. SOME 65 ‘YEARS AGO AN AUTOCAR REPORTER BORROWED AN MG FOR A 3000-MILE ODYSSEY BY BILL BODDY THE VISITS OF ANDREW FRANKEL. AND Matthew Franey to race circuits which have fallen wholly or partly into disuse ‘Wow an Autocar journalistic tradition. A similar exploration was made forthe motoring weekly 65 years ago by that wellknown author of motor racing and MG history who used the nom de plume Barre Lyndon. His books Circuit Dust and Combat are excellent records of the successful racing undertaken by the Abingdon the most
most British sportscar of that era, with a fine racing pedigree. Lyndon’s expedition to look at some of the European racecourses, makes an interesting comparison, I think, with how
such historic racing venues are today. For the purpose Lyndon used an MG Magnette, needing, he said, a car which would cover long distances at high speeds. I suspect that it was lent to him from the factory for this circuit of the circuits taking in some 3000 miles of hard driving, took over 13 days. Some of the circuits were visited in time to see the races held at them, like the first
one, Reims, where the GP de la Marne took place the next day. As the MG slowed for Thillois comer after the hill out of the town the blood-red Alfa Romeo of Soffietti was encountered, its driver having to change plugs while indulging in some unofficial practice. Down the hill were the concrete grandstand and pits opposite with a tunnel connecting them. The starting-grid had been marked out, so the Magnette was placed on one of them for the first lap of the tour’s first circuit, past the cornfields, down the mile-long straight to Gueux corner. Some three miles later they took the Garenne turn and returned along the Route Nationale from Soissons, and so back to
the difficult, straw-bale protected Thillois hairpin. A title road circuit, five miles to a lap, one of the fastest in Europe. The 1934 race was won by Chiron (Alfa Romeo) at 91.7mph, collecting a 100,000 francs prize.
Reluctantly missing the race next clay, Lyndon and his companion pressed on to the next objective. In nine hours they had gone from France, crossed Switzerland and, after an 80mph clash along the ComoMilan autostrada, had arrived at Monza. At this pennanent race coutse in an ex-Royal Park, there was no need for the straw bales and temporary roadside wire fencing of Reims. If the entranceway was commonplace, the sight beyond of 13 stands with tiled roofs and blue-painted seats divided by yellow gangways, impressed, as did the width of the course at this point, as it was a double, cars turning to race past twice a lap, splitting into two separate routes.
Tricky? Well, the two straights were separated by a low painted wall and where they divided, in front of the grandstands, was a concrete warning rather like the prow of a battleship, in black and white, like the safety walls around the course. After the accident in the 1928 GP when Emilio Materassi’s Maserati went off and killed 22 spectators, a massive wall was built opposite the main stands, with a deep ditch and a wire fence behind it.
Going round, the MG took a long right curve as maize fields gave place to woods, after which a series of bends led under a tunnel. Beyond, a mile-long bend and a short straight took the driver to the South Curve of the 61/2-mile circuit At the latter, in 1933, Campati and Borzacchini were killed, and just beyond Count Czaykowski lost his lie; the tyre marks were apparently still clearly visible.
A short course was used for the 1934 GP, which Lyndon thought slow and disappointing Caracciola and Fagioli (Mercedes-Benz) won it at 65.35mph for the 311 miles, from an Auto Union and an Alfa Romeo.
The MG managed another lap after the race, before heading south, reaching Alessandria by late afternoon. The object was to see the five-mile circuit on the edge of the town. Starting on a boulevard flanked by balconied houses, a short straight took the drivers to a right-angle turn on an iron bridge over the Tanaro river and out into open country, to a hairpin taking them back towards the town via a second bridge, where Carlo Fedrazzini’s Maserati had hit the railings. Repairs were in progress here and also where Nuvolari’s Maserati had turned over in the ditch at the curve just beyond, breaking his leg. Tramlines surfaced the last half-mile of what was seen as a narrow, depressing course.
A long run to the Italian frontier and on to Genoa saw the MG at Monaco early the next afternoon. Enough is known of this famous street circuit to bypass what Lyndon saw in 1934, but it was noted that so difficult was the course that only the top drivers were invited.
The next objective was Nice, 12 miles distant. Starting from opposite the Casino on the Promenade des Anglais., fount-tins were playing and Lyndon found Nice enfite on race day. With the Mediterranean but 20 yards away and exhausts competing with the waves breaking on the shore, the cars roared through the shadow of the palms providing quite a spectacle. The section by the Jardin du Albert Premier incorporated tight comers, and the divided straights were of only half a mile; 300 tons of straw bales protected the onlookers, but most were on hotel balconies or in the windows on a course bounded by expensive shops. Slow but interesting; in 1934 Varzi won, at 65.7mph for the 199 miles. Next, our travellers went in torrid heat over the Esterel Mountains, making good
time to Marseilles. The object was to find the Miramas ring of concrete last used for an important race, the GP de 1.:ACF, in 1926, eight years before this discovery if a race with only three Bugattis contesting it can be called important. Lyndon had not expected the place to be in such a desolate spot “why was it built there?” and found it only after driving 30 miles from Marseilles over narrow, winding ways, guided uncertainly by almost derelict signposts. A battered concrete wall beside the road indicated arrival at the one-time entrance, guarded by a wire barrier, with a farmyard in the background.
Ignoring the pecking chickens, a small girl who approached was persuaded to remove the barrier and let the MG through. After proceeding over a grass-grown track, past the old executive buildings, now the living quarters of the little girl’s family, they came to an open space. At the far side of this reared the back of what must have once been the finest grandstand in all Europe, able to hold 50,000 people on the day in 1924 when the Miramas track was opened. But how many turned up to see the cars race over a 50-foot wide three-mile oval with short straights coupling the unbanked curves? This fine stand now had broken windows, cobwebs and dust everywhere.
Opposite was the equally neglected fourstorey control tower, behind a row of pits, grit and dust everywhere; it was, in fact a gutted building, with wiring and fittings torn out. The centre of this forgotten course was ban-en, yet the track surface had survived well, except where weeds intruded, as they did at Brooklancls after 1945, until the Brooklands Society did some valiant clearance work. Mira mas had apparently cost some t100,000 to create but by 1934 the fine racing car garages and workshops were being used for fami storage. As far as I can see, the only at all interesting race which took place there in the opening yearwas a Formula-Libre event won by M d’Algaz,a, an Argentinian enthusiast, with a Sunbeam,
at 91.43mph, which must have been hard work on the unbanked, badly-cambered going; second place was taken by Arthur Duray’s rare D’Aoust, third place by Albert Guyot’s Guyot, which somehow suggests financial inducement. Lyndon recorded that the place was so depressing that even the Magnette ran low on petrol, unobtainable in this remote place, so that he only did a kw laps of the forlorn circuit before departing for Nimes. The AC du Gard ran the Nimes GP up and clown the Avenue Jean Jaures, the start a quarter-mile from the first corner, then over tramlines to a hairpin opposite the blue railings of the jardin de la Fontaine, to gain the other side of the Avenue. I.+
Another quarter-mile brought the cars to an artificial sand-bagged S-bend, and took another artificial bend before turning back into the Avenue. In 1933 Nuvolari won the first prize of about £250 by doing 80 laps of this monotonous Mickey Mouse course at 69.48mph. By 1934 financial problems caused abandonment, but racing was resumed in 1947. The town held few attractions, so Lyndon was soon on the 250-mile run to St Gaudens. Here it was very different. The GP du Comminges was held on the. seven-mile permanent circuit which Lyndon thought the most striking of Continental courses, with every type of corner and bend a road race should possess. Sitting on the brickwork terrace of the grandstand built into the hillside, he was able to look across the interior of the circuit to wooded foothills and the snowy peaks of the Pyrennees rising above them. Beside the road the pits were formed of a weed-filled ditch,
With the counters above them. The drive round showed that from the start drivers had immediately to turn right, and in another 200 yards turn right again to a downhastretch. If you went off there, Lyndon said
you’d be likely to crash into the tree-tops and fall 40 feet into a field below. The bottom of the hill brought another right hand turn to a 70-yard straight, after which
would yet again turn right, sharply, onto a three-mile section of very fast bends between straights. That ended in a long curve which seemed endless, to a short straight over the river Lavillon, followed by another long curve taking them onto the wide tarred RN from Tarbes, the fastest part of the circuit. So a .fast.course, with mountains dominating the background, one for driver skill as well as engine-power That year Comotti’s Alfa Romeo mastered it at 93.35mph for the 299 miles.
Next it was to off to Pau. The round-the-town race had been abandoned in 1934 after snow -had fallen during the previous year’s February’ race. race. Lehoux’s Bugatti had won at a mere 45.4mph in the snow in 1933, but in fact Pau was run again from 1935 on, Nuvolari’s .Alfa taking the first of these. Those races apart, Pau had been associated with motorfrom 1901 and the French GP had been run over a ten-mile course there in 1930. But all that remained of this circuit was a fine footbridge with curved stairways over the one-time grandstand area. It was decided to abandon a check on the circuits ofMontenero, Littorio outside Rome, and Pescara, and drive into Spain to look at San Sebastian. The .grandstand was a rough wooden one, at the village outside Lasarte, built of planks and with cane mats to keep intruders out. A narrow road with houses on its edge took the cars through Otsai to a more impressive section, where faster bends led to the climb to rneita, likened to the English downs,
until the course met an ugly bend in the village. Then a curving wide road took the MG along the main San Sebastian highway to the end of the lap. The town was more interesting than the race course, said Lyndon, but I hope that when Segrave’s Sunbeam won the 1924 GP there it drew the crowds from the bull-fight The story is Segrave was asked to fight a bull and said he would, if the bull-fighter would do a few laps with him in the Sunbeam. After seeing it in action, the matador refused!
The four-mile Quatre Parillions course at Bordeaux, last used in 1930, was equally dull, but Tours was “a real thrill”, for had not Segrave won for Sunbeam them in 1923? It was virtually as it had ben then, the road dusty and rough, the straights flat-out. Fifty miles on, Le Mans was in annual use, but by then some parts had lost the ‘road’ aspect, with stands to Mulsanne, although from Arnage to White House the old flavour remained.
Next was Orleans, where the enthusiastic club had a 21/4-mile circuit, all twists, with two hairpins, yet the straight was well surfaced but with tramlines in its centre.
The circuit of the circuits was now nearly over, with only Mondhery and Dieppe to see. The former had scarcely changed since 1924 and the same applies today,. its bankings intact, unlike those of Monza and Broddands. To Dieppe the MG reached 80rnph along the straights after Totes. Arriving on the evening before the GP, won 1,v Phi-Phi Etanccliir. NI.Iserati at 75.16mpl, fur the two hours, the five-mile course was likened by Lyndon to Reims, but inferior due to the extra hazards of the Val Gosse and St Aubyn corners. The MG had given no trouble, despite averaging some 250 miles a day and being thrashed over many of the circuits. The only other British car met with was an MG Midget, screen flat, going fast outside Bordeaux. I hope this recall., based on his own records, will be a small tribute to a well-known author with a very definite liking for this make of sportscar. LI