THE GRAND PRIX d’ENDURANCE
OVERWHELMING BRITISH VICTORY IN THE CLASSIC 24-HOUR RACE.
Barnato’s Bentley at full speed on the long straight down to Mulsanne.
When on the afternoon of Sunday, 22nd June, Woolf Barnato drew up after his run of 24 hours at le Mans, Bentley had scored its fourth successive win in the Grand Prix d’Endurance. During the two rounds of the clock Barnato and Kidston had covered 1,821 miles, thus averaging nearly 76 m.p.h.: it is but four short years since the world stood aghast at an average of over 60 m.p.h. for 24 hours on this course. Thus have speeds gone up, for the course is a little, but not materially, faster.
Behind the winner came another 6-cylinder Bentley driven by Clement and Watney, but of the six cars of the marque which were entered, and the five which started, these were all that got home: the others had fallen by the wayside in a duel, which will remain for ever epic, with the giant Mercedes. Thus Bentley won again, and their performance was nothing short of magnificent; but when one comes to think calmly of the race one cannot but be almost more impressed by that of the pair of Talbots. Two of these cars started, and two finished; they had engines of only just over 2-litres capacity, but both of them covered in the 24 hours under 200 miles less than the winner. Their run was one of complete regularity and freedom from trouble. The new Talbots looked like being cars to reckon with when they made thir first tragic appearance in the Double-Twelve: now they have undoubtedly won their spurs.
At 4 o’clock on Saturday afternoon eighteen cars stood waiting in echelon formation opposite the grandstands of the permanent road-racing circuit of the Sarthe. The solitary Mercedes, long and low, challenged the three 6-cylinder Bentleys, formidable as battle cruisers beside the pair of squat vicious looking 4½-litres. The sixth of the Bentley team, the 4-cylinder which was to be driven by Harcourt Wood and Jack Dunfee was an absentee. These half-dozen big cars were, however, the centre of the picture, with a background of the American Stutzes, the neat Talbots and the smaller cars. The starters with their official numbers were as follows :
1. Mercedes-Benz, 7,069 c.c. (Caracciola and Werner).
2. Bentley, 6,597 c.c. (Clement and Watney).
3. Bentley, 6,597 c.c. (Davis and C. Dunfee).
4. Bentley, 6,597 c.c. (Barnato and Kidston).
5. Stutz, 5,355 c.c. (Brisson and L. Rigal).
6. Stutz, 5,355 c.c (Philippe and Bourlier).
8. Bentley, 4,389 c.c. (Benjafield and. Ramponi).
9. Bentley, 4,389 c.c. (Birkin and Chassagne).
15. Talbot, 2,276 c.c. (Lewis and Eaton)
16. Talbot, 2,276 c.c. (Hindmarsh and Rose Richards).
20. B.N.C., 1,999 c.c. (Charrier and. Jouclas).
23. Alfa-Romeo, 1,752 c.c. (Lord Howe and Callingham).
24. Lea-Francis, 1,498 c.c. (Newsome and Peacock).
25. Bugatti, 1,496 c.c. (Mines Mareuse and Siko).
26. Tracta, 988 c.c. (Bourcier and Debeugny).
27. Tracta, 986 c.c. (Gregoire and Vallon)
28. M.G., 847 cc. (Hicks and Murton-Neal).
29 M.G., 847 c.c. (Samuelson and Kendall).
Four o’clock, M. Coquille, donor of the Rudge-Whitworth Cup, drops his flag and the drivers leap for their cars. A whirr of starters and the orderly rank breaks into life and confusion. The Mercedes, with Caraeciola at the wheel, is away and the whole Bentley pack on its heels, the 4½-litres screaming, the 6-cylinders thundering, with the field strung out like the tail of a comet.
Then silence, while we wait for the first one round. Abruptly one hears a murmur which grows and grows until it becomes a shrill roar and the Mercedes sweeps round the bend and tears past the grandstands, in the lead on the first lap. Eighteen seconds later Birkin on No. 9 supercharged 4½-litre Bentley flashed by with his team mates and the field behind him, all except the. B.N.C., which fell out on the first lap. Evidently Birkin was going all out to press the Mercedes hard. Do you remember that hot day at Lyon in July, 1914, when the Grand Prix was run there? Trouble was brewing in the Balkans, and a mentally unhinged Slav had decided to throw a bomb at an Austrian Arch-duke in the dusty little town of Saragevo. All Europe was on edge, and France and Germany eyed each other narrowly across the Rhine. It was then that they met in that famous Grand Prix, and Germany had sent five Mercedes to do battle with the three French Peugeots. Georges Boillot, the Peugeot champion, was every bit as fast as Seiler on the first of the Mercedes, and the German went down in the grim struggle; but as in a death grip he dragged Boillot down with him, and it was three of the Mercales that came home first, second and third. One wonders if Caracciola and Werner thought of how the tables had been turned on them as their single white Mercedes fled before the pack of Bentleys.
There was something strangely reminiscent of the old days about the giant Mercedes as it fled by. Rudolf Caracciola looks always little more than a youth, but he wore his peaked cap back to front like the late Count Louis Zborowski used to do, following a fashion of an earlier age. And Wilhelm Werner seemed like a spirit of the distant past. Do you remember how Charles Jarrott describes that in the Paris-Madrid race of 1903, the last great inter-country town-to-town race ever run, and known for ever afterwards as the “Race of Death,” as he swept along the long straight road? Werner, on one of the first 90 h.p. Mercedes ever built, roared past him in a cloud of dust; and a mile further on he came upon the German driver calmly lighting a cigarette beside the tangled wreckage of his car. Twenty-eight years later there was the same wiry Werner flying round this circuit in the Sarthe.
Thus for three laps the Mercedes led, but on the third, Birkin on the first of the Bentleys broke the lap record at over 92 m.p.h., and on the fourth he had passed the Mercedes and gained the lead. We watched them disappear, but the fifth time round, it was the great white car that led again, and Birkin dashed into the pits, a rear tyre flapping wildly in ribbons. Thus for the first few laps it kept on. The Mercedes, running silent at first, was now letting its supercharger scream all round the course and Birkin’s Bentley was pressing hard, howling up to 126 m.p.h. as if this was a race for 100 miles instead of 24 hours. But the two 4½-litres were obsessed with tyre troubles, and time and again No. 9 and Benjafield’s No. 8 had to come into the pits to change the battered remains which clung to their back wheels. They suffered, in fact, much more severely than the larger Mercedes, which seems to suggest that the suspension and weight distribution which were their undoing in Ulster last year are still not quite right.
No. 9 Bentley was still chasing the Mercedes, though a lap behind, when it began to feel the strain. A stop at the pits to change plugs was the forerunner of many more, and the 4½-litre began to fall back. Now it was the turn of the 6-cylinders, and first Davis, then Barnato moved up into second place behind the Mercedes. The latter was still going strong. Each lap one heard, a whine in the distance, then an anxious rumble as the driver cut out for the bend before the grandstands straight, and then again the shrill note of the supercharger as the car accelerated to its maximum past the tribunes.
No. 3 Bentley, driven by Sammy Davis, was running hard in third place. We noticed no slackening of its pace till the signal was given to come in, refill and change drivers. Then the great car drew up at the pits. Davis helped his teammate, Clive Dunfee, to fill up, and the car got away again. The driver who had just come off removed his helmet and goggles, and it was seen that his left eye was cut and bleeding. Three laps before a flying stone had smashed his goggles and driven the fragments of glass into his eye; but Davis, although be must have been in agony, just carried on at full speed until the signal was given to him to come in. “Luckily I had another eye,” was all he said as the doctor at last removed the fragments; but among all the incidents of motor racing this one deserves long to be remembered.
Meanwhile Clive Dunfee had roared off on No. 3, determined to keep well up in the battle. A slight exces de zele on a corner and the big Bentley landed with a dull thud in the sandbank. Dunfee leapt out and began to dig madly with his hands: the sand flew this way and that and at last he staggered back into the car. But the big 6-cylinder could not pull herself out, only dug herself deeper. Dunfee got out and began to dig again; at the last, utterly exhausted, he was still just scooping with one nerveless hand. Thus No. 3 was out, the Mercedes still led, but No. 4 Bentley was hot on its heels. Dusk came, then darkness, and with headlamps ablaze No. 4 Bentley passed Werner on the Mercedes to gain the lead. At 10 o’clock Caracciola took over and just before midnight the Mercedes was again ahead of its pursuers. Thus the fight among the leaders continued, but behind, various lots had fallen to the field. The Stutz had never been able to threaten the Bentleys seriously. On the second lap Philippe’s car No. 6 had gone off the road, and although it was not damaged, it was much delayed, and after completing some 40 laps it went out with engine trouble. Just before dark a red low illuminated the woods on the other side of the course, for Brisson’s Stutz was burning. Luckily, this driver, once a member of the invincible Lorraine-Dietrich team, was not injured, as he was last year. Round after round Lewis’ Talbot and Lord Howe’s Alfa-Romeo came round together engaged in a glorious dog-fight. There seemed hardly a shade of difference in the speed of the two cars, and the Talbots were marvellously impressive in their regularity. Behind, the M.G. pair were scrapping merrily with the couple of Tractas. The latter were undeniably terrifically fast on the corners,coming round each time with their tyres screaming, but they were not particularly rapid on the straights. Gregoire, however, their designer and driver of the leading car, seemed well pleased with their regularity of running.
At 1 o’clock in the morning Werner took over the Mercedes and the great fight continued. The big cars’ brakes were losing their power now, and corners had to be approached slowly. Then at about 2.30 the giant Mercedes appeared round the bend with scarcely a glow showing from its headlamps. It drew in at its pit and, in accordance with the regulations, Werner stopped the engine. It was almost impossible to drive like this: the dynamo had passed out and the battery was exhausted. Still, it might be tried, but the engine, according to the rules, could only be restarted with the starter, and this was too feeble to turn the engine. Thus was the Mercedes out, though as a motor car it was still intact. It was a mournful end to a great battle.
The big Bentleys now had things all their own way: No. 4 was in the lead, with No. 2 in second place. But the day which was just dawning held much in store for some of the competitors. Early in the morning Samuelson on the first M.G. ran a big-end, and a little later the other car of the team ran off the road when running at full speed and wrecked its engine. Neither of the two 4½-litre Bentleys which had been the sensation of the first part of the race was destined to finish. Benjafield’s car came in popping badly, and was withdrawn with a broken piston, and three hours before the end, Birkin’s No. 9 was also brought to a standstill. But there was no stopping the two remaining 6-cylinders, which continued serenely till the end and captured the first two places. Behind them came the Talbots, which had provided one of the most impressive features of the race by their speed and utter regularity, and whick secured the honour of exceeding their schedule stipulated by the regulations by the greatest margin. They had both got ahead of the All which was followed by the Lea-Francis, which, too, had made a creditably regular run.
Thus ended the Eighth Grand Prix d’Endurance, and the curtain fell on another epic race.
POSITIONS OF THE FINISHERS
1. Woolf Barnato and Glen Kidston (6,597 c.c. Bentley). Distance, 1.821 miles. Speed, 75.88 m.p.h.
2. F. C. Clement and R. Watley (6,597 c.c. Bentley). Distance, 1,760 miles. Speed, 73.33 m.p.h.
3. Brian Lewis and H. S. Eaton (2,276 c.c. Talbot). Distance, 1,648 miles. Speed, 68.66 m.p.h.
4. J. S. Hindmarsh and T. E. Rose-Richards (2,276 c.c. Talbot). Distance, 1,631 miles. Speed, 67.96 m.p.h.
5. Lord Howe and L. G. Callingham (1,752 c.c. Alfa-Romeo). Distance, 1,620 miles. Speed, 67.5 m.p.h.
6. S. H. Newsome and K. S. Peacock (1,498 c.c. Lea-Francis). Distance, 1,424 miles. Speed, 59.33 m.p.h.
7. Mesdames Mareuse and Siko (1,496 c.c. Bugatti). Distance, 1,345 miles, Speed, 56.04 m.p.h.
8. Gregoire and Vallon (986 c.c. Tracta). Distance, 1,306 miles. Speed, 54.42 m.p.h.
9. Bourcier and Debeugny (986 c.c Tracta). Distance, 1,251 miles. Speed, 52.12 m.p.h.
FINAL OP THE SIXTH TRIENNIAL RUDGEWHITWORTH CUP.
1. Barnato and Kidston (Bentley).
2. Clement and Watney (Bentley).
3. Gregoire and Vallon (Tracta).
4. Newsome and, Peacock (Lea-Francis).
5. Bourcier and Debeugny (Tracta).
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