Chain Chatter, February 1950
The introduction, by the F.I.M., of the World Championships for the various classes during the past season proved to be an unqualified success. Apart from the fact that this country won three out of the five championships, the series as a whole have proved to be a first-rate idea and have more than helped to promote greater interest in the Grand Prix motor-cycle events. Keen, but friendly, rivalry between riders from all the European countries, as well as rivalry between manufacturers, has been the keynote of all the Grand Prix events of the past season. Although Italy had it all her own way in the 125-c.c. and 250-c.c. classes, while we had a virtual monopoly in the 350-c.c. class, the truly international battles that took place in the 500-c.c. and sidecar classes have produced some of the finest road-racing yet seen.
There was no doubt whatsoever that the F.I.M. would continue the series for 1950. In the main the rules governing the Championships follow those used in 1949, but various modifications have been made, in the light of experience gained in the Championships’ first year. The French Grand Prix has regained its status as a “classic,” thus making a total of seven Grand Prix events rated as “classics” and counting for the World Championships. These seven are the French, Belgian, Swiss, Dutch, Italian and Ulster Grands Prix and our own Isle of Man T.T. The five classes, as before, are 125-c.c., 250-c.c., 350-c.c., 500-c.c. and 600-c.c. sidecar, there being Championships for the rider in each category and also for the manufacturer. Points will be scored by individual riders on the basis of eight for a win, six for second place, four for third place, three for fourth, two for fifth and one for sixth. In view of the rather unfortunate misinterpretation of what constituted “fastest lap” during the 1949 period, the point for fastest lap has now been dropped.
Various recommendations have been passed with regard to the running of classic events, the circuit chosen must be a well-established one in the history of the sport, and, of course, must receive official approval by the Commission Sportive Internationale, while events may not be held on the same day on the same circuit as a car race, and if a car race is scheduled to use the circuit, then the motor-cycle race must be held first. At first sight, this last recommendation appears to be rather a hard one, especially in the cases of the Swiss and French events, who normally run combined meetings, but it has been felt necessary to make this rule as some trouble has been experienced due to motor-cycles having to race on a circuit heavily impregnated with tyre rubber left by racing cars. While the existence of a coating of rubber and oil on the corners does not worry the driver of a sidecar outfit, it can be very worrying to a solo rider who is far more reliant upon the coefficient of friction between tyre and road surface. Even the rider of a 125-c.c. machine can get into trouble on such corners, while the 500-c.c. chaps have a very bad time.
Of the seven “classics” in which points for the championships may be scored, the riders and manufacturers may enter all seven, but only the results of four (as against last year’s three) will count in the final reckoning. These four being, of course, the best of the series as far as each rider or manufacturer’s score is concerned. Thus, if anyone can emulate F. L. Frith’s 1949 performance, and win the first four classics in a row, then there is little need for him to compete in the remaining three.
What are the prospects for this year’s championships proving as successful as the first year’s? At the time of writing it looks as though some classes are going to be better while others are going to lose interest. Unfortunately, the 500-c.c. class would seem to be the one that will stiffer most, for Guzzis have announced their intention of withdrawing factory support, for a while at any rate. Whether we shall see any of the “bicylindri” “500s” competing in private hands is not known, although it is quite possible. World Champions, A.J.S. will be in the field once more, as will the indomitable Norton team. Velocettes will most probably run their “500s” again, although their showing last season was not very brilliant and may possibly decide them against supporting this class. From Italy will come the most serious contender for “500” honours, the four-cylinder Gilera, probably the most advanced racing motor-cycle yet built and certainly the fastest of the present day. The A.J.S.-Gilera battles of last year will again be the high-spot of the 500-c.c. class, and races will be as hard fought as ever. Nortons will obviously not have spent the winter resting and with yet more power coming from their single-cylinders, combined with their new-design frames and suspension, the battles for world supremacy may prove to be a very tight three-cornered contest. On the other hand, if Nortons are ready to discard their singles for . . . something else, then who knows.
The 350-c.c. class, while virtually an all-British affair, will not be lacking in interest for Velocettes, Nortons, and A.J.S. will all be out for Championship honours, and one foresees a wonderful series of races between these three manufacturers’ teams, as was seen in last year’s Swiss Grand Prix. The withdrawal of the Guzzi factory from racing will mean that the promising 350-c.c. “bicylindri” will not be seen, although one can’t help feeling that their official retirement will prove to be rather akin to the retirement of Nortons in 1939 and Velocettes since the war. Whether an equivalent Italian benefactor to our own Dennis Mansell and Nigel Spring will be found to keep the Guzzi racing team going is not known, but it is not unlikely. In the same way that English manufacturers dominate the 350-c.c. class, so Italian manufacturers will continue to dominate the 250-c.c. class. Again Guzzis withdrawal may or may not have a bed effect, but whether official or unofficial, there will certainly be “Gambalunghino” models representing the Mandello factory. The little Benelli firm continue to get more and more on to their feet again, since their war troubles, and their wonderful twin o.h.c. models will be ready to take on all comers. It is indeed a pity that they have never been able to discover the whereabouts of their magnificent supercharged four-cylinder “250’s”, for Gileras have successfully developed an unblown version of their supercharged four, so that it would appear to be quite possible for an unblown Benelli four to be made to work. The other racing “250” manufacturer, Parilla, will continue to develop the very pretty twin-o.h.c. single-cylinder model and will be an ever-present menace to the other two Italian firms.
The new and popular 125-c.c. class would seem to offer most interest for the coming season and rivalry for the manufacturers’ championship will be greater in this class than any other. It is indeed unfortunate that no English manufacturer had the foresight to see that this class of racing would become as popular as it has. While we in this country were content to look upon 125-c.c. racing as being a pleasant novelty, Italy, Spain and Holland saw a great future in it, and in consequence the development of this type of machine has gone almost beyond our reach. Last year’s champions, F. B. Mondial, together with their rival concern Moto Morini have taken this type of racing about as far above the man-in-the-street’s conception, as Mercédès and Auto-Union did Grand Prix racing before the war. The overhead camshaft, 10,000 r.p.m., all-sprung, four-speed Mondials and Morinis will undoubtedly prove to be the mainstay of these races, while the change-over from two-stroke to four-stroke by M. V. Augustas introduces a further serious competitor. Having developed their two-stroke models to speeds of over 80 m.p.h., their use of overhead-camshaft four-strokes will certainly mean a very exciting machine. In addition to these three concerns there will be the new two-stroke, shaft-drive Lambretta, which, if it follows the form set by the Lambretta Motor-Scooter, will be a very definite force to be reckoned with, and similarly the twin o.h.c. Moretti may be joined by further models from that manufacturer. From Holland we shall see the successful Eysink machines pitting two-stroke lore against the Italian four-stroke, and they will be supported by the Spanish Montesas. Reverting again to the four-cylinder 250-c.c. Benelli, half of it as twin-cylinder 125-c.c. machine is a pleasant thought. The 125-c.c. class will have some of the most closely fought and fiercest battles for championship honours that one could wish to see and it would be nice to see as many manufacturers, both English and Continental, supporting the new Formula III which is the racing-car parallel of the 125-c.c. class.
In the 600-c.c. sidecar class, entries will be mostly private, as Gileras are the only manufacturers to consider this class worthy of support. Perhaps the apathy among manufacturers for “works” sidecar outfits is due to the that that normal theories and design principles as used in connection with roadholding, steering and suspension for solo machines do not apply to the accepted idea of a sidecar outfit. Possibly the factory design staffs are incapable of finding new principles with which to tackle the problem of designing a vehicle which is fundamentally impossible to design! Gileras are content to field a “works” outfit of comparatively archaic design as far as frame and chassis are concerned, while many of the private owners who make up the main body of the entry will continue to rely upon the fundamental “motor-cycle with chassis attached.” From the machine angle the water-cooled 500-c.c. four-cylinder Gilera will be the predominant machine, although the twin o.h.c. 600-cc. single-cylinder Nortons will continue to provide the main bulk of the opposition, backed up by B.M.W.s and various private “specials,” as well as G.P. Triumphs and single-cylinder 600-cc. push-rod Gileras. In view of the fact that the sidecar plays as important a part in the winning of the championship of this class as does the machine, it would not be a bad idea to inaugurate a sidecar manufacturers’ championship, for already there will be competing the English Watsonian, the French Imperial, the Belgian Precision, the German Steib and the Italian Longhi and more might be interested in building a road-racing sidecar chassis.
The winning of the various manufacturers’ championships in 1949 by A.J.S., Velocette, Cozzi, Mondial and Norton has certainly been of enormous value to them as advertising propaganda and the eyes of the motor-cycling world will again be on the championships to see whose products are going to prove the most successful.
The forthcoming season’s battles for the individual championships for the riders is an even greater subject and presents keener opposition than that between manufacturers, and the situation will be dealt with at length in next month’s issue.