THE DIRTY WORK
THE French sporting paper ” L’ Auto ” recently published a most interesting series of articles dealing with the mechanics of various well known racing drivers.
The first to be described was Fred Cann, the 23 year old mecanicien of the Mrs. Stewart and Douglas Hawkes team. Cairn is the son of a Brooklands gatekeeper, and on leaving school at the age of 13 went to work at the little workshop in the grounds of the Track where Col. and Mrs. Stewart used to manufacture pistons and valves. He became intensely interested in motor-cycles, and used to jump at every opportunity of being a side-car passenger he could—when his father was not looking !
When Mrs. Stewart moved to Paris, she received urgent entreaties from Cann to allow him to join her and Hawkes, and she eventually acceded to his repeated requests in January, 1931. He could not speak a word of French, but as he lived near Montlhery this did not matter much.
After the great fire at Montlhery the team moved to the Derby works at Courbevoie, and Cann soon picked up French. He has become completely acclimatised to France, would not hear of returning to England, and has married a French girl he met at Afontlhery.
During record attempts, and on the Derby stand at the Paris salon, Fred Cann guards the Derby Special like a lioness with its cubs. He always wears a spotless white overall, and his ability as a mechanic is proved by the fact that his charge is the holder of the Montlhery lap record.
The next in the series was Ernst ‘Lim, Chiron’s mechanic. Zirn was born in the Lower Rhine district 29 years ago, and at the age of 14 was apprenticed to the Bugatti factory at Molsheim. In 1921 when he was 16, he had his first ride in the cockpit of a racing car, as Baccoli’s mechanic at Brescia. He had found his metier, and he took part in the French Grand Prix of 1922 at Strasbourg with MonesMaure, of 1923 at Tours with Marco,
Little credit is given, though much is due, to the mechanics who prepare racing and record-breaking cars.
and of 1924 at Lyons with Gamier. A year later he went down to Sicily for the Targa Florio as mechanic to the late Pierre de Viscarya.
Then military service intervened for 18 months, but 1927 saw him again in the Targa Florio, this time with Dubonnet. Next year he had his first ride with Chiron, also in the Targa. Since then he has driven with the Mongasque in the Grand Prix of Rome, San Sebastian, Monza, Monaco, Nurburg-Ring, Belgium, and Czecho-Slovakia.
A delightful story of the 1928 Tarp Florio is told in the” Auto ” article. At the end of the first lap Chiron noticed from the scoreboard that he was leading in his first Targa Florio. He turned to Zim and said : “I haven’t tried yet. Now you watch ! ” With that he trod on the accelerator and began a lurid progress which ended with the Bugatti skidding into the parapet of a bridge. Poor Zim was in tears. ” I shan’t finish after all,” was his complaint, for on both his previous races in Sicily some misfortune had befallen his car.
A tyre was burst, a wheel broken, and the chassis bent, but they changed the wheel and got going again. The steering was affected, and only the hand brake worked. Zirn implored Chiron to go slower, for he went off the road once on a straight. On the last lap, when Chiron arrived at the tribunes he expected to see a flag waved, although he was eighth, but no one seemed to notice his arrival. He turned to Zirn “This is the last lap, isn’t it ? ” But the wretched mechanic was too dejected to reply. Chiron raised his voice, “Damn it all, you have raced here before, what signal do they make at the end of the race.” Ernst Zirn rolled his eyes, full of tears, in Chiron’s direction. “How should I know,” he said, “I have never finished “
The last man in the series was Emile Bidon, the mechanic of the well known Algerian driver, Marcel Lehoux. Some five years ago Lehoux happened to be a spectator at a Rally in Morocco. There he was drawn towards a car which was giving trouble, and was immediately impressed by the cool, quick, and clever movements of the mechanic who was attending to it.
Now Lehoux wanted a mechanic for his car which he had entered for the Morocco Grand Prix a few days later. He gave Bidon the chance, and the pair have been associated ever since. In the race itself Bidon acted with complete sang-froid, although it was his first experience of a racing car, and at the end jumped out of the car like a Jack-in-the-Box.
Bidon can always be distinguished at a Continental road race by his unruly mop of hair—he never wears a hat—and overalls which are incredibly oily, greasy and muddy.
Marcel Lehoux gets very annoyed if he has to retire from a race with mechanical trouble, and fires a usual volley of questions at Bidon. If the latter has neglected something, Lehoux reads him a lengthy sermon on the error of his ways. He is not free with compliments if he wins, but Bidon knows that he is happy. There is a perfect understanding, not to say affection, between master and man which accounts for a good deal of Lehoux’s successful racing career in the last few years.