By the late Antonio Ascari
In the August 1925 edition of Motor Sport Antonio Ascari wrote of how he won that year’s Grand Prix d’Europe in his Alfa P2. Here, we reprint that article, with shots from Adriano Cimarosti’s private archive
I am very pleased to have the opportunity of writing my experiences of the Grand Prix d’Europe, especially in Motor Sport, because I have always found the British motorist a good sportsman, and very often a formidable rival on the course.
It has been said that this year’s race was an easy affair for the Alfa Romeo cars, but just because my compatriot and I happened to be the only two drivers to finish the course, one should not imagine the race was what you call a ‘walk over.’ No, indeed, it was a very severe test of endurance, both for the cars and the drivers, and, of course, I am more than delighted to have driven my beautiful Alfa Romeo to victory once again.
My car, as well as that of [Giuseppe] Campari and [Gastone] Brilli-Perri, has been improved a little since last year’s race, and perhaps a few details may go to show that it is really an ideal machine for very fast racing. The eight-cylinder engine (61mm x 85mm) has overhead valves, driven by two separate camshafts, and is supercharged by a compressor, which helps to give the enormous engine speed. During the race my revolution counter frequently registered 7000rpm, and at this speed the engine develops nearly 175hp. The engine, clutch and gearbox are combined in a single unit, and there are four forward speeds, the transmission having an enclosed shaft in a torque tube. All these cars were designed by Signor Jano, who was formerly with the Fiat company. I should like to give further details of this car but I have to speak of the race, so must not wander into the realms of technology.
When testing my car prior to the race, I was literally astounded by the improvement made in the engine, and the feeling at the wheel was that I was being propelled through the air by some indescribable power, which would one moment drive me through space at an incredible speed and the next become submissive to my will, or, to be correct, to the power of the braking system so necessary for safety in road racing.
After a couple of days spent in testing my car it seemed as if we had grown up together, and therefore I went to the starting line with every confidence of success. During the days of preparation my car had been the centre of great attention from the engineers, and Signor Memini, who had made the special carburettors, was in constant attendance to give the final adjustment to his apparatus.
At last we are ready to start, and the wonderful scenery of Spa was a fitting stage for the great race. It was a disappointment when we heard that your Sunbeam cars would not start, so we had to be content with a contest with the French Delage cars, which, we had heard, were very fast indeed. Our plan, as a team, was to go so fast as to make our rivals crack up, if possible, and it appears our plan of campaign was right: the Alfa Romeos were much faster, had more acceleration and better brakes.
To understand the importance of the performance, I should mention that the course measures nearly 500 miles, and we had to cover 54 laps over hilly and tortuous roads. The road surface had been well prepared, but it was a very hard one for the speeds the modern racing car is capable of.
At the start, Campari and I took the lead with a very fast speed, and my first lap was covered in seven minutes and 20 seconds. This showed that the Alfa Romeo was able to hold its own, even though the maximum engine revolutions had not been reached. Without a mechanic it was difficult to know the progress of other competitors. On the second lap I saw a Delage in trouble, and learned later it was [Robert] Benoist with a leaky tank. His frame had twisted and strained the tank beyond hope of repair.
Faster and faster we went, until one lap was covered at more than 80 miles an hour, five miles an hour faster than the best lap last year. One of the greatest helps in winning the race was the speed at which the corners could be taken and, of course, the effect of supercharging on the lower gears gave a simply astounding amount of acceleration.
Lap after lap we thundered and screamed round the course, the eight cylinders giving out a rhythmic song which sang “Victory, Victory, Victory!” all the time. On the fourth lap I saw another Delage in the pits, with the engine running fitfully, so it seemed the Frenchmen were unlucky. On, on, we went, with never a miss, and by this time the changes at the corners and on the hills were becoming almost monotonous in their regularity. I had singled out a landmark at each point where a change of gear had to be made, and, but for the rush of wind past my ears and the stones which flew up when cornering, I might have been at the wheel of a fast touring car.
A little way past Francorchamps, Thomas’s car is seen overturned and in flames — truly a bad day this for the Delage team; we flash past, giving a signal of condolence, and speed onwards without slackening of pace. At about the eighteenth lap I grow anxious about my tyres so, having the race well in hand, pull in to the pits for a new set. Only just in time, too, for the rubber treads had nearly worn down to the canvas, and in another lap or two I might have been hurled off the road with a burst.
The pit attendants tell me what has been happening, all the Delages are out, my team-mate Brilli-Perri has retired, and so Campari and I are the sole survivors of the race. The day is won, and so, taking no further risks, we steady our speed, having driven our rivals out of the race by sheer mechanical durability and continue the course in a less hair-raising fashion.
I shall never forget the ovation when reaching the finishing post, for though we Italians are said to be an emotional race, my victory was most enthusiastically applauded by English, French and Italians alike. Cheers, bouquets, handshakes, and even kisses were our welcome, and I am a proud man to have again driven the Alfa Romeo, that great masterpiece of Italian engineering, to victory in this international event.
Ascari did not mention that he won the race by more than 20 minutes. The crowd grew angry and booed during the closing laps. As the two Alfas drove round more than 20 mins apart. Vittorio Jano, the designer of the P2, moved a table and chair to the front of the team’s pit and ate his lunch. That didn’t stop the booing…
Ascari died after a crash in the next grand prix, at Montlhéry. Also in the August 1925 edition of Motor Sport was printed this short obituary:
Upon going to press we learn of the regrettable death of Antonio Ascari, which happened on Sunday July 26, during the race for the French Grand Prix. The article appearing in this issue was written by himself, describing the Race for the Grand Prix of Europe, and tells in unmistakable fashion the sterling qualities of a great and fearless driver.°
Grand Prix de Belgique et Europe, June 28, 1925
54 laps of a 9.310-mile circuit; 502.740 miles.
1 Antonio Ascari, Alfa Romeo P2, 54 laps, 6h 42min 57s
2 Giuseppe Campari, Alfa Romeo P2, 54 laps, 7h 4m 55s
DNF Albert Divo, Delage 2LCV, 29 laps, valves
DNF Gastone Brilli-Peri, Alfa Romeo P2, 18 laps, suspension
DNF René Thomas, Delage 2LCV, 6 laps, fire
DNF Paul Torchy, Delage 2LCV, 2 laps, iginition
DNF Robert Benoist, Delage 2LCV, 1 lap, fuel tank
Winner’s average speed: 74.859mph
Fastest lap: Ascari, 6m 51.2s