THIF VIC1017S1S C
ANOMALIES IN OUR RACING RULES AND REGULATIONS.
T0 the student of motorracing history, the year 1931 will stand out as a turning point in the long-debated question of
whether races for specially-built racing cars or for standard sports cars are the most beneficial from the point of view of improving the breed.
So long as the French Grand Prix retained its place as the most important event on the racing calendar, it was generally conceded that ” the racing car of to-day is the touring car of to-morrow.” In 1925, however, when the post-War boom in business began to wane, and the competition in selling ordinary cars became keener, it was discovered that the expense of building and preparing a team of specially-made racing cars was not a commercially sound proposition. The inevitable result was a falling-off in the entry lists of such races as the French Grand Prix, and the realisation that unless some drastic step was taken, motor racing was likely to die out altogether.
The obvious course to adopt was to organise races for production sports cars, and with the characteristic habit of human nature of turning a necessity into a virtue, people discarded the old theory that racing cars improve the breed, and comforted themselves by asserting that in this way the sports car would find a quicker impetus towards perfection. Production car races were not new. In 1922 and 1923, the Grand Prix de Tourisme had been run as a sort of curtain-raiser for the French Grand Prix, while since 1923 the A.C. de l’Ouest had rim the highly successful 24-hour race at Le Mans for the Rudge-Whitworth Cup. The old Grand Prix races were quickly forgotten, and the Le Mans Race became the most important event of the year. The rest of Europe soon followed suit, and England had her 6-hour race and later the Double Twelve, Italy the 1,000 Miles Race, Belgium her
24-hour Race, and Ireland organised the Dublin Grand Prix and the Tourist Trophy Race. One race alone, as if to assert the truth of the saying that there must be an exception to prove the rule, remained unchanged, the classic and inimitable Targa Florio.
Now let us turn to another aspect of the case, the cars themselves. At the end of the ” racing car era,” the peak of development had been reached in such designs as the 2-litre 8-cyl. Alfa-Romeo, the 1 ,1-1itre 8-cyl. Delage, the 2-litre 6-cyl. Sunbeam, and the 2-litre 8-cyl. Bugatti, all of these cars being supercharged. An attempt at building the fastest possible road car, irrespective of size, was the 12-cylinder 4-litre Sunbeam, which was in essentials two of the 2-litre engines installed in a larger chassis, although the two cylinder blocks were on a single crankcase.
At the beginning of the “sports car era,” the most efficient designs used were the 3-litre 4-cylinder Bentley and the 6-cylinder 3k-litre Lorraine. Both these cars were highly efficient touring machines, capable of propelling a hill-sized body at a high average speed, and were, in marked contrast to the racing cars quoted above, tractable to drive. Now let us follow the development of the cars used in these “production car races.” Competition was keen, and it soon became apparent that cars like the 3-litre Bentley and the Lorraine Six were not fast enough. Designers had to find means of improving the performance of their cars, and where else could they look for
knowledge but to the old Grand Prix racing cars ? Engines of six and eight cylinders became the rule, and supercharging, the use of multiple carburettors, hemispherical combustion chambers by means of double overhead camshafts, greater care in weight distribution and in determining the centre of gravity, and vastly improved brakes, all became the normal attributes of the “sports car,” until now, in 1932, maximum b.h.p. and a high power-to-weight ratio are at a premium, while tractability counts for nothing at all.
And so the cycle is completed. The most highly developed “sports cars” of 1931 season were the 2.3litre, 8-cyl. Alfa-Romeo, and the 21–litre Maserati , in fact the Grand Prix racers of 1925 camouflaged with sports bodies in order to comply with the rules and regulations of “sports car races.” To make the resemblance to the conditions obtaining in 1925 still closer there is the 12-cylinder twin-engined Alfa-Romeo, a car powered in a similar way as the old 12-cylinder Sunbeam, and possessing approximately the same performance. Today we have the absurd position of pukka racing cars running in the free-for-all Continental events equipped with streamline racing bodies, and the same cars competing at Le Mans, Phoenix Park and Belfast complete with 4-seater sports bodies. In other words, progress by production car racing has resulted in a car which is identical with that produced by years of racing with special cars, and has produced a car that is not, as far as all round performance is concerned, a sports car. The truth of the matter seems to be that the raciag car and the sports car are fundamentally different types. It may be argued that the average performance of cars in general, and of sports cars in particular, has improved vastly in recent years, as is admirably proved by a comparison between the 1925 3-litre Bentley and the 1931 3-litre Talbot. Furthermore, it may be contested that in time, production cars will have the same degree of efficiency as racing cars. While admitting the improvement in performance however, to anyone who has handled a racing car it will be obvious that such fierce acceleration, such lightness and accuracy of control, such refined roadworthiness, can never be possessed by a
docile, high-speed touring car. On the other hand, the same driver will have to admit that no racing car will ever have that same degree of reliability, smoothness and ease of control under normal road conditions, as he would find in a typical modern sports car.
All of this brings us again to the question of ” What is a sports car ? ” It is a term which is so loosely and widely applied that its meaning is now very indefinite. The type, as at present conceived would appear to fall under two main headings. First, the car which, by reason of its capabilities of sustained speed, good roadholding, acceleration and general safety appeals to the connoisseur of motoring, who requires something out of the run of utility vehicles, and which will give pleasure in actual driving as well as being a sound means of transport.
To the type of driver who requires such a car, ordinary competition work or racing has an appeal only as a spectacle with a technical interest. He will regard the success of a particular firm as evidence of their knowledge of the requirements of high-speed work, and if a suitably modified standard model is on their lists he will buy it. He does not, however, wish to compete in person. The second type of sports car is the replica of the actual racing machine, sold in a form suitable for partaking in races with a good chance of success, and the more genuine it is as a replica, the less suitable it is for normal use on the road. This type should not be called a sports car, as it is actually a pro duction racing machine. When it is necessary to change to a different type of plug for traffic work to that
which will stand full throttle on the open road, it is no longer correct to call the car a sports car, however many have been sold to the public.
As has been already pointed out, races for cars based on standard productions have made the game financially possible to many who would otherwise be barred.
Nevertheless modifications are, and must be, allowed and the resulting cars are racing models in spite of their bodywork and mudguards. The fact that some cars must have been sold to the public stops the price from becoming entirely prohibitive, though in some cases it is high enough, and thus enables the amateur to buy a racing car. At the same time greater freedom in modi
fications from standard are necessary to research, and will automatically bring the races back to the conditions of the undisguised racing car events of the past. This is borne out by the decision of the R.A.C. to allow cars to run in next year’s T.T. race without windscreens, wings, hoods or lamps. To those who will cite the magnificent performance of the Talbots in the recent 500 miles race as an example
of docility and quietness combined with a very high maximum speed, I would reply that (a) the Talbot is not a fair example, as no one, except its brilliant designer, Mr. Georges Roesch, knows how it obtains its performance, and that (b) the same car is somewhat overshadowed by a racing car on a road circuit. Will 1932 see the last of sports car racing ? It cer
tainly seems so, except for the fact that so far as British firms are concerned, the building of production racing models is not a paying proposition. In fairness to ourselves, however, it must be added that it is rumoured that Italian manufacturers are financially subsidized by the Government. Meanwhile, we shall continue to hear complaints from the uninitiated because our wealthy drivers “buy foreign.” Our only hope seems to be that, as was suggested by a reader in the correspondence columns of MOTOR SPORT recently, the benevolent assistance accorded to the Schneider Trophy Contest and the motor-boat speed record attempt may one day be extended to the production of a team of British racing cars.
H. F. L. N.