Once a year people like myself, who spend their time voicing opinions on motor-cycling matters, are given a chance to compete in an event held especially for the Press. Wisely, this event takes the form of a mud-plug trial, as a road race or speed hill-climb would probably result in a massacre. The idea of the event is to see whether the writing types are capable of riding, and I am pleased to report that this scribe justified himself by winning the sidecar class. It was one of those frightful, but efficient, trials horrors of an outfit with a 88 in track and a centre of gravity a long way from the ground, but even so I managed to keep the number of inversions down to one.
It is only January and the mud-pluggers are in full swing, but news comes of the 1952 racing season. The calendar contains more International Road Race Meetings than ever before, and it is interesting that the “Circus” events can be grouped in two, a concentration of Belgian and German racing, or French, Italian and Swiss racing. If all the events take place the regular riders will be in the happy position of being able to choose events instead of the usual business of riding in everything. As far as the coming World Championship Series is concerned a further event has been added, it being the German Grand Prix on the excellent Solitude Circuit near Stuttgart. It was here last year that I witnessed my largest crowd, 450,000 spectators round a seven-mile circuit, and the organisation by the ADAC was beyond criticism and showed that the Germans are more than capable of putting on a great International event. The addition of this race is balanced by the dropping of the French Grand Prix, not because it was a bad event, far from it, but one of French internal policy. Another change that will have far-reaching effects is the moving of the Spanish Grand Prix from the month of April to the month of October. In other words the Spanish race, round the twisty but fascinating Montjuich circuit, will include the 1952 Championship series and in all probability will prove to be a decisive meeting in the final results. In some ways this is a pity, for up to now Monza has always concluded the series and to my way of thinking the Italian event was most suitable. Monza is a circuit that calls for sheer speed above anything else, and as the various “works” teams spend the whole season getting faster and faster it seems fitting that the season should wind up with a glorious “blind” where the faster bicycle can prove itself. Surely one of the main points of racing is the development of the fastest machine, and the Monza “win-or-bust” spirit that always prevails seemed most appropriate every September. Now I fear that Monza will be treated with a certain amount of reserve with Barcelona following on, and as the Spanish circuit is very slow it will come as an anticlimax and the season will fizzle out instead of going out on a blaze of glory and ultra-high speed. The FIM motto is “pro virtute et scientia” and after each Monza meeting I have always felt that the racing fraternity were upholding this saying in a most noble manner.
This delaying of the Spanish race was brought about by the inability of the British manufacturers to be ready in time for an event as early as April. The Spaniards only alternative was a date late in the season, but I feel it is not too late to change the date of October 5th for one early in September and put the Italian race more towards the end of September. Doubtless there are numerous internal matters in each country which would make such a change difficult, but I still think it would be nice to view International racing from a strictly purist point of view.
Regarding riders who will be riding for the “works” teams, it is interesting to see that Reg Armstrong, the young Irish rider, has been signed up by Nortons along with Kavannagh, the Australian, Bennett and, it goes without saying, Geoff Duke. AJS retain Bill Doran as a very sound number one rider, backed up by the New Zealand rider, Rod Coleman, who showed such brilliant form during 1951. The third recognised British racing team, Velocette, are in a very sorry condition and appear quite incapable of making any definite plans for the near future. In the sidecar races Eric Oliver will again have the backing of Nortons, as he fully deserves, but it is said that this year he will be up against a team of three four-cylinder Gileras, ridden by Albino Milani, who won the last Monza sidecar race, Frigerio and Ernesto Merlo. Whether Eric will be able to deal with such a powerful trio is not known, but it would be nice to think that he was going to be backed up by, say, Cyril Smith and Peter Harris mounted on works machines for the Grand Prix events.
An interesting state of affairs has arisen in Florida where the annual 200-mile Daytona races are held. Over the past few years this American race, which has received rather a lot of unjustified publicity in this country, has been dominated by Norton machines, and every year difficult regulations are framed with the idea of keeping the Bracebridge products out of the race, but every year Nortons comply with the regulations and win. For the forthcoming races, which would obviously have been dominated by the latest “Featherbed” frame Manx Nortons, the regulations have been so worded as to bar this type of Norton completely, but allowing earlier models. Many people attach great importance to this event, but as it is purely an American National race and a cross between a road race and a scramble and very much a one-off event I see little reason for worry. Undoubtedly the Americans have provided Nortons with the finest free advertisement possible, for what is better than to hear someone say, “you cannot bring your machines as they are far too good.”
The last spate of record breaking by NSU during 1951 resulted in a magnificent run by Hermann Bohm to clock 154 mph for the flying kilometre sidecar record. This was done on a solo “rekordmaschine” with an outrigger wheel encased in a spat, and it caused rather a stir as many people did not consider it to to be a true sidecar. As the regulations stand at present it was a sidecar, but as the ballast and necessary frontal area was contained in the wheel cover, it was difficult to look upon it as a sidecar that could carry a passenger. I do not blame NSU for producing such a machine, rather do I blame the FIM for wording its regulations in such a manner that this sort of thing can happen. I see no real reason why record machines should not carry a human passenger, over 18 years old and weighing a minimum of 60 kilogrammes, as specified for the World Championship races. If it was set down that an adult passenger had to be carried and that he must be situated in the triangle formed by the wheels and not above the highest point of the wheels, it would cause reasonable sidecars to be used for records and, also, would prevent the absurdity of carrying the passenger as a pillionist in an endeavour to cheat the wind. The thought of being passenger on a two-hour Montlhery run is rather harrowing, but the thought of being a static passenger at over 160 mph for the next World’s Record I find most intriguing, and would be only too pleased to put my name at the top of the waiting list. Just why a machine for a World’s Record in the sidecar class was ever allowed to run without a proper passenger is beyond me. It seems as absurd as racing without a passenger, and the FIM are already in agreement with that viewpoint.