E.R.A.s ALL-CONQUERING AT PERONNE
MAYS WINS THE GRAND PRIX DE PICARDIE AFTER SPIRITED DUEL WITH ” BIRA.” LORD HOWE’S PRACTICE LAP AT 94.57 M.P.H.
RACING on one of the fastest road circuits in Europe, E.R.A. cars showed a striking superiority over the Maseratis in the Grand Prix de Picardie, held on the Peronne circuit on the 12th June. The race was organised, as in previous years, in two heats and a final. The first heat was won by Prince Birabongse, with Lord Howe second, and the second heat saw Mays in first place. Mays was again successful in the final, after an exciting tussle with ” Bira” brought to a close by the disintegration of Hanuman’s engine. Wilson, driving an E.R.A. once the property of the lamented Pat Fairfield, also drove excellently, and but for some carburation trouble would have finished higher than fourth. The race was limited to cars of a capacity under 1,500 c.c. and there were thirteen starters. Mays had the latest type of E.R.A., with independent front springing by torsion bars contained in a gigantic front cross member and Luvax
shock-absorbers. The cars of ” Bira ” and Howe were last year’s models, with friction shock-absorbers, and all fitted with an enormous Zoller blower behind the engine.
Wilson and Wakefield had the older type E.R.A., with normal suspension and Jamieson blowers, while Hanson, the other English competitor, was running his six-cylinder Maserati.
Opposed to these were four Maseratis, driven by Arnold Hug, the Swiss driver, Bianco, Soffietti, and Lanza. Hug’s car was the latest ” Tripoli” type fourcylinder, with transverse link front suspension and splayed quarter-elliptics at the back, and great things were expected of it. The other entries were Herkuleyns and De Burnay on M.G. Magnettes and Villeneuve on a four-cylinder Bugatti.
The circuit is a triangular one with a lap distance of 9.76 kilometre& Two sides of the course are almost dead-straight with the stands just after the right-angle turn which joins them. The third side, between the villages of Brie and Mesnil, is narrow winding and steeply cambered. To average over 94 m.p.h. with 14-litre cars says something for modern small racing-cars and their drivers, but is more easily understood when one realises that Mays was doing about 155 m.p.h. along the straight to Brie. The race was run off in two heats and a final, where the added interest of three starts and finishes more than compensated for the thinner field. The ” elan aries ” were of ten laps each, and the final 15 laps, roughly 60 and 90 miles respectively. There were high hopes of an E.R.A. victory, especially after Lord Howe’s practice lap in 3 nuns. 44 secs., but Mays’s engine had been in pieces all the day before in order to rectify seized piston rings and ” Bira” had been busily engaged in trying different axle ratios. Of the
Maseratis Hug’s Tripoli car was the most dangerous, with Soffietti the most experienced of the Bologna contingent. Bright sunshine and a light wind. calculated to cool the newly tarred roads greeted the competitors as they were marshalled into position on the upward slope in front of the stands. Starting positions were decided by the practice times put up, and in. the first heat the positions were the following :—
” Bira ” and Howe, Bianco and Soffietti, Hanson and Herkuleyns.
There was a healthy roar as the engines were started, and considerable excitement as” Bira,” whose car seemed to have a dragging bottom gear, gesticulated to the starter to give them the signal. This latter official, being Charles Faroux, the veteran French journalist, was unmoved by this display of temperament, hut by reason of it ” Bira ” got away a fraction ahead of Lord Howe, with Bianco half a length behind.
Lord Howe was ahead at Brie, said the loud-speakers, Soffietti was hectic, Herkuleyris on the M.G. was in difficulties. Howe was still ahead at Mesnil, and all eyes turned to the long treelined highway down to the last corner and the pits. The pale green works car was seventy yards ahead of ” Bira’s ” dark blue ” Hanuman,” with Bianco and Soffietti already 15 seconds behind.
Howe’s first lap time was 3 mins. 57 secs., a standing lap at close on last year’s record figures. However, next lap there was more excitement, for not Howe but ” Bira” first came into sight, the Siamese driver now having an advantage of some six lengths. Bianco and Soffietti were by now almost half a minute behind, and were distinctly unsteady when taking the stands corner in their efforts to keep in touch with the leaders. Hanson was steady but dropping well behind, and Herkuleyns on the M.G. was quite outclassed by the bigger cars.
By the third lap” Bira” had increased his lead to 8 secs., with Bianco 19 secs.
farther back. ” Bira’s ” speed for the first four laps was 152.181 m.p.h. and on his fifth he put up a new course record, lapping in 3 mins. 49 secs. (95.09 m.p.h.). Barring accidents, then, Howe could not hope to catch ” Bira” but hung on grimly some 12 seconds behind, actually lapping Bianco on the far-from-slow Maserati on the seventh lap. Hanson had by now retired from the struggle with supercharger trouble, and after a final effort by Howe, in which he got within 6 secs. of ” Bira,” the latter driver roared over the finishing line some two hundred yards ahead of the works car.
Heavy clouds had been threatening towards the end of the first heat, and a sharp shower came down a few minutes afterwards. It soon finished and spectators discarded their newspaper head-coverings when the second set of cars were pushed into position on the narrow road. Mays (E.R.A.) and Hug (Maserati), Wakefield (E.R.A.) and Lanza (Maserati), Wilson (E. R .A. ) and Villeneuve (B u gat ti) and De Burnay (M.G. Magmette) took their places in a well assorted company. At the drop of the flag Mays fairly leapt away and a report from Brie three minutes later told that he was in the lead through that section. Soon we spotted the first cars far up the road, and the English camp was thrilled to see Mays already nearly 10 secs. in the lead on the first lap. The latest E.R.A. certainly has some urge ! Hug’s red and white Maserati was second, then Wakefield on Connell’s E.R.A. Wilson and Lanza were a further 200 yards to the rear, while the M.C. ard the Bugatti were half a mile behind that. Next lap Mays had gained another 4 secs., ‘proving quite definitely the superiority
of the E.R.A. on a fast course, and Wakefield was driving well in third place. The corner at the pits, at which stands a memorial to Bouriat and Trintignant, was becoming distinctly sticky, and Lanza and the M.G. driver performed considerable wheel-twisting each time they came round. Mays continued to gain, but Wakefield was in after three laps with a misfiring engine. An oiled plug it sounded like, but further examination at the pits showed that a piston had gone. Hug was in shortly afterwards, but started again
without losing his second place. Once again he came in and this time his mechanic really got down to things, the trouble being lack of brakes. Wilson, who had thus moved up into second place, held off Lanza without any unnecessary fireworks and Mays romped home in easy style with a lead of nearly four minutes.
After an hour’s interval everyone was thoroughly keyed up for the final, which consisted of 15 laps of the 91 kilometre circuit. The cars were lined up as follows : Mays and ” Bira,” Howe and Wilson, ‘Lanza and Bianco, Soffietti, Hug, Be Burnay and Villeneuve. Once again ” Bira’s ” car kept creeping over the line, but when the flag dropped Mays gave his No. 30 all he knew, disappearing over the rise with a few yards’ lead, and pursued by a howling mob of red, green and blue cars. He kept his foot hard down all along the 150 m.p.h. straight to Brie, but dropping into what he hoped was bottom gear as he reached the corner, but things just failed to happen. Bottom. gear had burnt out as a result of his furious get-away and he ran up the bank, allowing ” Bira ” to scrape past. Knowing nothing of all this, those at the pits were amazed to see ” Bira ” 150 yards ahead as they came into view
half a mile away. The lines of trees magnified the exhaust noise to Grand Prix intensity and there was terrific excitement as Hug dived his car down into the ditch a hundred yards before the corner and hauled it out again to snatch third place from Bianco. Lord Howe came into the pits with his
engine spluttering and retired. The supercharger, which had given trouble in the first heat, had now gone completely out of action. The position remained unchanged until
the sixth lap. Mays waved his hands despairingly, though as his motor sounded extremely healthy no one quite knew what was the matter. Actually, without bottom gear and. the slow-running Zoller blower he could only get away at a crawl from the corners. He was still more than a minute in the lead however when he got away, and Mays continued with despairing gestures, but on the ninth he came round alone. No news for a considerable time, then “
Bira” was announced as stopped at the Water Tower, between Brie and. 3.11esnil.
More waiting, then a further message, that Prince ” Bira” had got going again, but his luck did not hold for long. Half a mile later, as the announcer said, the engine had leapt from the chassis, flinging a connecting rod away in close proximity to Mays, who had now gained a lap.
With a lead of 11 minutes over Bianco Mays had nothing to fear from the rest of the field. Soffietti had suddenly found extra speed and at 10 laps had passed Wilson, whose car sounded rather woolly coming away from the corners. And so the race came to a finish and Mays crossed the line for the last time with a lead of over two minutes. He had been lucky in that ” Bira’s ” car had dropped out, but he had driven a flue race, handicapped by not having bottom gear, and, still more disconcerting, a broken throttle spring, which meant raising the pedal with his toe after each gear change. The car had otherwise acquitted itself perfectly and augurs well for the success of the Grand Prix E.R.A.
Lap Distance 8.07 miles. Record Lap 1937 Raymond Mays’s 3 mine. 54 sees. RESULTS First Heat 1. ” ” (E.R.A.), 38m. 451s. (94.1 m.p.h.)
2. Lord Howe (E.R.A.), 38m. 59s.
3. Bianco (Maserati), 38in. 47s., 9 laps.
4. Soffletti (Maserati), 9 laps.
5. Herkuleyns (M.G.), 7 laps. Second Heat 1. Mays (E.R.A.), 40m. 53s. (89.07 m.p.h.)
2. Wilson (E.R.A.), 44m. 47-1s.
3. Lanza (Maserati, 9 laps in 41m. 441s.
4. De Burnay (MM.), 8 laps.
5. Hug (Maserati), S laps.
6. Villeneuve (Bugatti), 8 laps. Final I. Mays (E.R.A.), lb. Om. 33s. (00.94 m.p.h.)
2. Bianco (Maserat1), lb. 2m. 261s.
3. Soffietti (Maserati), 111. Om. 25s. for 14 laps.
4. Wilson (E.R.A.), lb. Om. 31s. for 14 laps.
5. Lanza (Maserati), lb. 2m. 561s. for 14 laps.
6. Villeneuve (Bugatti), 12 laps.
7. Be Burnay (M.G.), 11 laps.