ALFA-ROMEO COVERS GREATEST DISTANCE: BIENNIAL CUP WON BY ASTON MARTIN
THE GRAND PRIX D’ENDURANCE
LE MANS ! What wonderful memories these two magic words conjure up ,
. in the minds of motor-racing enthusiasts ! Burning sun, cool pine trees and the sweet scent of heather, swarming crowds of excited people, nightfall, the long beams of headlights swinging into the straight past the tribunes, dawn and a renewal of excitement, cars falling out after long hours of battle, the short stacatto announcement of the loud speakers, ” Allo ! Allo ! ” intense heat, the yellow flag—and Le Mans is Over for another year !
This year’s race—the tenth of the series—held every indication of being the best ever run. The quality, of the cars which started left nothing to be desired, 7 Alfa-Rom-eos, 2 Bugattis, a Mercedes-Benz, a Talbot, 3 Aston Martins, a Stutz, and numerous small French cars, while the drivers, including such names as Earl Howe, Sir Henry Birkin, Louis Chiron, Brian Lewis, Minoia, Brisson, and Count Czaikowski, could be relied on to provide a spectacle worthy of the Le Mans. tradition.
Half the Secret of success in a longdistance race is to arrive in plenty of time before the event, and it was no surprise to see such an experienced driver as Lord Howe among the very first arrivals at the Hotel de Paris, where he was joined a day later by his co-driver, Sir Henry Birkin.. Practising started in earnest, both Howe and Birkin being seen constantly on the course at all hours of the day and night. Another early arrival was Coma Czaikowski, who, with his drivingpartner, Friedrich, put up at the Pavilion de Saint-Hubert. We drove out one evening to this charming house, which is situated in the heart of a forest about 10 miles from Mulsanne and we were greatly impressed by its delightful surroundings. . . Then the Alfa-Romeo team arrived, the tars having been driven up by road from Milan. The Managing Director, Signor Gianferarri, and the designer, Signor jam, had been at Le Mans since the previous Friday, but now the team personnel took up their headquarters at Arnage, under the eagle eye of the chef
equipe, Signor Giovanni.
Practice times were so high that everyone predicted that the record time for the race would be comfortably beaten. Historic irony ! The Bitgattis were just as fast as the Alfas, while a driver who seemed to be lapping very quickly was Fourcet, on his Mercedes-Benz. On collecting their new Alfa-Romeo, Earl Howe and Sir Henry Birkin decided that the mud-guards, head-lamps and windscreen Were not sufficiently rigid to withstand the pounding the car was bound to receive. In addition, the shape of the screen was all wrong, as it merely
RESULTS. GRAND PRTX D’ENDURANCE. miles ,
sucked dUst into the cockpit, and the gauze of the windscreen would quickly become solid with dust and flies. How true their fears were, was quickly borne out as the race progressed, When the Alfa drivers were neatly blinded with dust, and in order to see where they were going had to look over the top of their windscreens—to say nothing of the fact that at the end of the race the mudguards were entirely held on by straps and rope. The Alfa-Romeo people were adamant in their opinion that the cars were alright as they were—had they not won the 1 000 Miles Race ?—but Howe and Birkin fitted a new windscreen, and drove in comfort !
Mechanically, the Alfa-Rome.os were the usual 2,337 c.c models, • with the exception of the winning car, which had a larger engine capacity of 2,349 c.c. On all the cars the supercharger speed had been increased from 1.1 to 1.3 engine speed.
On the morning of the race the usual bustle of activity took place in the town. Cars and motor-coaches arrived in a steady stream from all over France, and the road to the tribunes was a solid jam. As the morning wore on the Place de la Republique was absolutely black with cars of all description, from magnificent Delages with glistening ” carosserie ” to rakish Bugatti chassis with 4 bucket seats fixed precariously to the frame. The heat was terrific, and people wandered about in flimsy clothes and large straw hats. Justbefore the start of the Le Mans race there is always a hush of expectancy. This year this silence was intensified by M. Durand, the founder of the Grand Prix d’Endurance, making a speech over the loud-speakers in memory of the untimely death of Andre Boillot, and asking the crowd to pay their respects to the great driver by standing in silence for one minute. The sight was most impressive thousands of spectators standing with bared heads under the
blazing sun ; the row of brilliantly coloured cars drawn up in front of the pits ; and the roar of cars heard faintly on the breeze as they approached the stands from Arnage. It is the usual practice at Le Mans for the course to be opened by a car of the same make as last year’s winner, and accordingly Earl Howe and Sir Henry Birkin did a lap in their blue Alfa Romeo. An innovation was introduced this year, however, when G. E. T. Eyston did a
a preliminary lap on the record-beaking Panhard. The famous British driver received a wonderful ovation from the crowd all round the course, and with the assistance of specially fitted front wheel brakes, recorded a standing lap at 70 m.p.h. M. Charles Faroux s t e p.p e d into the roadway, carrying the large yellow flag, and the crowd was hushed. The flag was raised, chopped, and 26 drivers scampered across the road to their cars. Engines burst into a roar, and Foucret’s Mercedes
got away first, closely followed by Bria.a Lewis and Sommer’s Alfa-Romeo. There was a cloud of dust and exhaust smoke and the pack of cars disappeared out of sight. The crowd relaxed, and eagerly discussed the problem of which car would appear first at the end of the first lap.
Six minutes passed, and the crowd leaned forward, craning their necks to catch the first glimpse of the cars as they entered the straight in front of the tribunes. Suddenly a roar came from the spectators. Four cars appeared in sight in close formation: as they approached we could see that Cortese was leading, followed by Minoia, Birkin and Foucret. Alfa-Romeo held the first three places !
Misfortune quickly befell several competitors. Giraud-Cabantons stopped on his first lap with magneto trouble, while early pit-stops were made by the Alta, Lewis’s Talbot, Peacock’s Aston-Martin and Mine. Siko’s Alfa-Romeo. The tropical weather upset the mixture of the Talbots and Aston-Martins, and pre-ignition ensued. From the first a terrific battle was waged between Minoia and Cortese, but their dashing driving was emulated by two other Alfa drivers, Marinoni and Schumann, who quickly picked up to 4th and 5th place on the second lap. Sir Henry Birkin, affectionately called by the crowd “le grand champion, le rude. Birkin,” was driving with superb skill, holding third place by a magnificent combination of daslItempered with cool judgment. 1VIarinoni began to overdo things. He covered the second lap at the wonderful average of„:84 m.p.h., and the fifth at 86 m.p.h., but soon afterwards at Arnage, he tried to pass Newsome’s Aston-Martin (which was cornering at the safe limit of speed) at 15 m.p.h. faster The result was that he went straight off the road, fortunately without injury to himself. PI • Lewis stopped, as did Bertelli, to
change plugs, and three retirements were announced, namely, the Citroen with magneto trouble, the Alf a, with clutch slip, and the Rally driven by Danne. The little M.G. Midget driven by Samuelson was putting up a splendid show, lapping regularly, in marked contrast to
the rest of the British cars, which were having to make innumerable calls at the pits. The speed of the Alfas continued unabated. Cortese was still in The lead at the end of the second hour, followed by Minoia, Birkin, Schumann and Bouriat (Bugatti). Then Marinoui joined the fray once more, having spent a frenzied hour or so getting his Alfa-Romeo back on to the road. The pace began to tell, however, and two important retirements w er e announced, namely, the big Mercedes, whic h had seized a piston through lack of oil and 13ouriat’s Bugatti. which split its petrol tank and lost all its fuel. No sooner had the crowd got over their regret that the Bugatti’s second driver, Louis Chiron, would not have a drive at all, than still greater excitement was caused by Lewis stopping for a brief moment at his pit and shouting out that there had been a “pile up” at White House Corner. On the first lap of the race Trevoux a a young Frenchman, driving the actual supercharged Bentley which Sir Henry Birkin had piloted in the 1930 race, turned over at White House Corner. Happily his crash helmet saved him from serious injury and Ile crawled out of the wreckage with nothing more serious than his right wrist broken and a slightly bruised shoulder. The heavy car was dragged to the side of ‘the road, but its presence materially reduced the speed of cars on the corner. Apparently Minoia, hot foot after Cortese, had just passed Brisson on the Stutz and -found himself going too fast for the corner. He braked heavily, and began to gyrate, and in performing these evolutions was caught up by Brisson, who in turn was forced to adopt similar tactics. Both cars left the road at speed, Brisson being hurled over the hedge into soft ground, in the manner of George Duller in the great Bentley crash at the same spot in 1927. while the Alfa Romeo dashed through the hedge backwards into a field. By a miracle, neither of the drivers was badly hurt, although Minoia was severely bruised
Accidents were plentiful, for a few laps later Ano, who had just taken over Schumann’s car, got into a terrific skid when trying to pass Earl Howe on a corner, and overturned, fortunately without injury, while the irrepressible Marinoni once again tempted Providence too far, and added a fourth car to the already full ditch at White House Corner. Most of the cars had by this time refuelled, and now a lull came, when the cars continued to lap regularly and with
out materially changing that positions for several hours. Night fell, and the drivers became less lurid in their methods and settled down for the long spell of driving by headlights. The sight from the stands was fascinating. The brilliantly lit pits seemed like so many shop-fronts, while in the sky above the kite-balloon advertising Standard Oil was illuminated by searchlights from the ground. The restaurants were filled to overflowing, while in the pine-woods alongside the new stretch of road people in the special ” camping enclosure ‘ settled down to sleep as best they could, in spite of the car-splitting roar of cars passing every few minutes. The Midget was handed over to Norman Black, who promptly turned round twice At the difficult brick-paved Arnage turn,
The Talbot, although persistently dogged by irritating troubles, was holding its position fairly well, while that excellent driver, Count Czaikowski, was driving a careful race in fourth place. Then trouble once more overtook the Talbot, which was delayed at the pits for 26 minutes, while every component that could possibly give trouble was changed. This let the AstonMartin driven by Newsome and Widengren up, so that at 10 o’clock, quarter distance, the order was :
I. Alfa-Romeo (Cortese-Guidottij, 58 laps, average speed 82 m.p.h.
2. Alfa-Romeo (Howe-Birkin), half a lap behind.
3. Alfa-Romeo (Sommer-Chinetti).
4. Bugatti (Czaikowski-Friederich). S. Bugatti (Sebilleau-Delaroche). 6. Aston-Martin (Newsome-Widengren) 7. M.G. (Samuelson-Black)
8. Aston-Martin (Peacock-Bezzant).
9. Salmson (Vernet-Vallon).
10. Aston-Martin (Bertelli-Driscoll).
11. Bugatti (Druck-Virlouvet).
12. Talbot (Lewis-Rose-Richards).
13. Alfa-Romeo (Mme. Siko-Sabipal.
14. Arun= (Martin-Bodoignet). 15. Caban (Labrie-(frand Cabantous).
Then Cortese hact to stop with a broken windscreen. Fortunately, a complete new screen was available, and he fitted this in 8 minutes, but the delay reduced his position to third, behind Earl Howe, who was now leading, and the Alfa-Romeo, driven by Sommer and Chinetti. Morerretirements The brave little
Midget, after putting many of the larger cars to shame by its amazing regularity and speed, was forced to stop with a split petrol tank. The crowd had been deeply impressed by its performance, and it was particularly hard luck to have to stop for a non-mechanical failure. The Aston Martin driven by Bezzant and Peacock. also retired with a broken rocker, thereby reducing the English chances of success. When the Alfa-Romeo driven by Earl Howe and Sir Henry Birkin, stopped for the third time, Earl Howe discovered that a plug was shorting through an ominous water leak. However, the plug was changed, and as the engine restarted without difficulty, it was hoped that the water leak was not serious. Alas soon afterwards, Sir Henry Birkin saw the radiator temperature gauge rise to boiling point.
He brought the car to a Standstill, not to fill up, for this would have been against the rules, but to check the water level. The radiator was dry ! And the AlfaRomeo, which at that time held the lead, was out with a blown gasket. Less than half distance had been covered, and already 14 out of 26 cars had retired !
Four o’clock arrived, and the character of the race began to change. So far the Alfa-Romeos had so comfortably held the lead that they had appeared the inevitable winners But now, as had. been predicted, the bodywork and fittings of the Alfas began to give trouble, and both Cortese and Sommer had to call frequently at the pits in order to secure broken mudguard stays, exhaust pipe clips, headlamp brackets and windscreens. Then the Bugatti driven by Czaikowski and Friederich began to pick up slowly, and the crowd grew excited at the prospect of a French car making a bid for victory, and thousands of stop watches were produced to check his progress. Friederich, the veteran of vast experience, had said before the race : “I will only push forward in the last six hours of the race,” and the Alfa-Romeo personnel began to follow his progress with interest. By this time only three cars were left in the race for the final of the 1931/1932 Biennial Cup. The Aston-Martin led, Bertelli’s car running with extreme regu
larity, with the Talbot second and the little privately-built Ca.ban, which was putting up an excellent show, third. All this time several slower cars were unobtrusively making splendid performances in the rear. The Bugatti driven by Delaroche and Sebilleau, the Amilcar and the Salmson, and Mine. Siko’s 2-litre Alfa-Romeo.
Then came two retirements, the Salmson with clutch trouble, and Druck’s Bugatti, which disappeared through the fence at IVIuLsanne. The two leading Alfa-Romeos continued
to have trouble with their mudguards, etc., but just as the hopes of the French crowd were really rising, it was announced that Friederich had retired at Mulsanne with a seized piston caused by a broken oil-pipe. Only three hours from the end ! Nothing could now stop the triumphant progress of the two Alfa-Romeos, although Cortese made several stops for the usual strapping and roping of mudguards. The end drew near. A bigger crowd than we have ever seen before thronged the tribunes and the public enclosures all round the 8.4 mile course. Then there was a movement of the crowd towards the presentation box. M. Charles Faroux once again stepped into the road carrying the great yellow flag, a low aero-dynamically stream-lined car roared past the pits, and Sommer, an amateur, partnered by Chinetti, was flagged in the winner of the 1932 Grand Prix d’Endurance. His Alfa-Romeo had averaged 76 m.p.h. for the distance, and his victory was y et another wiln” or the
all-conquering Italian firm. Sommer and Chinetti drove like masters, never letting the excitement of the race tempt them to take unnecessary risks.
England had hergshare of the spoils. The new Aston-Martin, piloted by Bertelli and Driscoll, put up a wonderful performance, and their victory in the Biennial Cup 1931/1932 came as a long-deserved win for the Feltham firm. It was exceedingly gratifying to see a concern which has so ably represented the British industry for many years rewarded.
Second place in the Grand Prix d’ Endurance was taken by Cortese and Guidotti, who drove their Alfa-Romeo with magnificent skill. Third came the Talbot, which in spite of a series of exasperating troubles, was able to pull off a double third,” by taking the same place in the Biennial Cup.
Alfa-Romeo has won again, but in the hearts of thousands of Frenchmen, as they slowly filed down the road to Le Mans, was the thought, “Now for Rheims on July 3rd !
Jaeger instruments on all cars to finish race. Champion plugs on first three cars, and also on Cup winner. linglebert tyres on winning AlfaRomeos. Ferodo brake linings, Alfa-Romeo and Aston-Martin. Dunlop tyres, Aston-Martin and second Alfa-Romeo. Pratt’s oil, Aston-Martin. S.U. carburetter, Aston-Martin. Rotax, AstonMartin. Rudge-Whitworth wheels, Alfa-Romeo and Aston-Martin. Andre shock absorbers, Alfa-Romeo and Aston-Martin.