Formula One on Ice

Imagine, if you can, Patrick Depailler, Jean-Pierre Jarier, Rene Arnoux, John Watson, Rupert Keegan, Derek Daly and a few lesser lights, taking Formula One Cars to Sweden to race on a frozen airfield circuit for the Swedish Winter Grand Prix. Today, when the Formula One circus is sweltering in the heat of Argentina and Brazil it seems unthinkable, but in early 1947 a hardy band of Grand Prix drivers went to Sweden to take part in a race on the airfield at Rommehed, 10 kilometres south of Borlange, on a 3½-kilometre circuit of straights and sharp corners. The “foreign” entry comprised Reg Parnell, George Abecassis and Leslie Brooke with pre-war ERAs, supercharged 1½-litre 6-cylinders running on alcohol fuel, and a group of French and Swiss drivers from the European mainland which included Raymond Sommer and Henri Louveau with 4CL Maseratis, Louis Chiron with a 1939 single-seater Talbot and Eugene Chaboud with a 3½-litre Delahaye. The British drivers arrived in good time but the ship carrying the European contingent became locked in the ice outside Gothenburg and though the drivers got ashore there was no way of landing the racing cars.

The Winter Grand Prix was run on February 9th 1947 with but four starters, the three ERAs and a local Bugatti, with the rest of the entry as spectators. Something like 45,000 people turned out for the meeting, which included sports car races as well as the Grand Prix and the temperature was minus 24 degrees Celsius, (minus 10 degrees Fahrenheit). In view of the intense cold the race distance was cut drastically to just under 70 miles. Parnell won it in 59 min. 02.3 sec., from Brooke and Abecassis.

Two days later the stricken ship was freed from the ice and the Stockholm section of the Swedish Motor Club offered to put on another race for the benefit of those who had missed the Rommehed event. The venue was a frozen lake at Vallentuna, north of Stockholm, where a 5 kilometre circuit was laid out on the ice by first clearing off the snow and then rolling hot gravel into the ice, making a smooth and quite grippy surface. This event was scheduled for February 23rd and when the English drivers returned they brought with them special twin-tyred rear wheels for the ERAs, as used in hill-climbs. The temperature continued to fall and on race day an all time low of minus 35 degrees Celsius was recorded; even so, 30,000 heavily muffled spectators turned out to watch. With the full entry taking part this was a much better race and Sommer led for the first nine of the 25 laps, but then spun off and filled his engine with snow. Parnell was again the winner, ahead of Abecassis and Chaboud. Leslie Brooke had demonstrated a line speedway style of opposite-lock cornering, which delighted the crowds, but had to retire with engine trouble and poor old Chiron could not come to grips with the scene at all. This time Parnell drove for 1 hr. 09 min. 19.4 sec. in the arctic conditions, averaging just over 67 m.p.h.

A Motor Sport reader of today was a small boy living in Stockholm at the time of these Winter Grand Prix races and remembers the ERAs being tested in the streets outside his home. He made the journey out to Vallentuna to watch the racing, wrapped up like all well-winter-dressed Swedes, but still recalls the intense cold. We are indebted to him for the photographs and notes on these very cold races. – D. S. J.