BRITAIN ECLIPSED AT LE MANS
ONLY SIXTEEN FINISHERS OUT OF FORTY-TWO STARTERS. TWO DEL AHAYES FINISH IN THE LEAD. MORGAN AND H.R.G. WIN THEIR SPURS. A RACE TO DESTRUCTION.
THE 1938 Le Mans Race will be remembered as a rather curious affair. It started like a lion, -with a terrific Alfa-Delahaye-Darracq battle, and went out like a lamb, as all the leaders fell out and two backmarkers came up into the picture at a considerably lower speed. There were fewer starters than usual, and
even fewer finishers. The British challenge was negligible. And there was no catastrophic pile-up of several cars at White House. By lunch time on Saturday, June 18th, a very fair-sized crowd had assembled already, and the car-parks were rapidly filling up. One by one the drivers brought their cars to the pits, where the arrangements for directing and refuelling them through the long race were made with varying degrees of expedition, ex citement and volubility—according to the nationality of the competitors. The weather did not look too promising, with
heavy clouds and a stuffy atmosphere. At a quarter to four the course was officially closed by Robert Benoist, who won the race in partnership with Wimille last year on a Bugatti. Benoist is tremendously popular among his com
patriots, who remember the days of his world supremacy some ten years ago, when his Delage swept the board in Grand Prix races. He got a good cheer at various crowded parts of the circuit. The loud-speakers blared out instructions and announcements ; the crowds
surged and swayed in the enclosures ; and the drivers lined up facing their cars, on the opposite side of the road to the pits. On the stroke of four, the flag fell, the drivers made a hurried sprint, and from out of the long row sprang one, and then another, and finally the whole field of cars, with several stragglers bringing up the rear. But not quite the whole
field, for the Darracq driven by Freddie Clifford refused to start and was stationary for five frantic minutes while the others completed their first lap. Rene Dreyfus on his twelve-cylinder Delahaye was in the lead as they roared
round the 81-mile circuit, but he was only a few yards ahead of his team-mate, Comotti, on another twelve-cylinder Delahaye, Carriere’s Darracq, Mazaud’s six-cylinder Delahaye, and Sommer’s beautifully streamlined 2.9-litre AlfaRomeo “saloon.” Sommer had made a rather slow start, but now he got going with a vengeance, and by the time the end of the first lap came he had got into third place, behind Dreyfus, the leader, and Comotti.
He was not content to stay there, and on successive laps he overhauled both Delahayes to take the lead, waving his straw hat as he passed the pits in token of his elation. But Dreyfus was hanging on grimly, and three laps later he was in front again—only to be repassed on the following lap ! Already the pace had become too hot for Comotti’s Delahaye, which visited the pits for some excited examination. After a delay, Divo took over to see if he could find out what was wrong with the car. He came in again after a lap, and there the car stayed for over an hour. Meanwhile, the struggle for the lead Was being contested more keenly than ever. ” Pill” Its,tanceli.u, after a bad start with his new 4i-litre Darracq, had gradually gained on the leaders. In doing so he had made the fastest lap to date,, in 5 mins. 20 secs., but this was still 7 secs. slower than the official lap record of 5 mins. 13 sees. established by Benoist’s Bugatti in 1937. On the 7th lap he passed Dreyfus and began to trail Sommer. How close the leaders were can be judged by the fact that 10 seconds covered Sommer, Etancelin, Dreyfus and Carriere. On the 10th lap ” Fill ” managed to scrape past the Alfa, but he was caught on the next circuit. The pace was terrific for a 24-hour race, and it was obviously going to be a question of stamina as to who would ulti mately survive. The next to be in trouble was Dreyfus, whose Delahaye was running hot and lost all its water. With his engine making unorthodox noises he stopped at the pits for a con
sultation, and set off again to try and compkte the necessary twenty-four laps before he was permitted to take on more water. The Delahaye debacle was completed by the retirement of Divo and Comotti with the second twelve-cylinder car with gearbox trouble. With Etancelin close on his heels, Sonuner was forced to put on speed, and he got down to 5 mins. 13.8 secs. on the 11th lap. These two were about 15 secs. ahead of Corriere on his 4-litre Darracq. The Sommer-Etancelin duel tended to overshadow the performances of other cars, some of which were doing excellently. Freddie Clifford, for example, had driven like a master to get into ninth position on the 12th lap, after losing a whole lap at the start. On the other hand several people were in difficulties, Gerard (Delage), Loyer (Delabaye), and Forestier’s Riley
all being seen at the pits. Then the Serre-Daniell 2-litre Peugeot and the Morrison-Watson Atalanta followed Divo’s Delahaye to the dead-car park, the Peugeot with a defunct gearbox and the Atalanta having broken its rear axle after making a promising start.
Then one by one the cars started to come in for refuelling and a change of drivers. Etancelin was the first to stop, after 21 hours’ running, thus giving the impression that the 4i-litre Darracq has a healthy thirst for petrol. He handed over to Chinetti, who is an old hand at Le Mans. Sommer did not stop for another three-quarters of an hour, giving way to Biondetti. The pit-work of the Alfa Corse was not particularly bright, with the result that Lebegue was able to take over from Carriere on the 4-litre Darracq without losing the lead which the car had gained when the other two stopped. Dreyfus had not appeared for some time, and at last the loud-speakers announced in funeral tones that Rene had retired at Tertre Rouge with an overheated engine. Louis Chiron, who was due to relieve Dreyfus, shrugged his shoulders philosophically. The Pujol-Rigal 2-litre Peugeot went out with a cracked cylinder head, and
Forestier’s streamlined Riley broke its
gearbox. Biondetti, Lebegue and Chinetti were not driving quite so quickly as their first-string partners, lapping at about 92 m.p.h. as against Sommer’s 95 m.p.h. But the Alfa was still the fastest of the trio, even though it was in third place, and bit by bit Biondetti began to overhaul first Chinetti and then Lebegue. At a quarter to nine Biondetti took the lead for Alfa Corse once more, and a few minutes later he stopped for refuelling and to hand over to Sommer. And now night began to fall over the Sarthe circuit ; the pits took on a fairylike quality with their twinkling lights, and. the drivers switched on their headlamps Six hours had gone by since the start, a quarter of the race, and the cars were in the following order :
1. Sommer-Biondetti (Alfa-Romeo), 60 laps.
2. Etancelin-Chinetti (Darracq), 64 laps.
3. Carriere-Lebegue (Darracq), 64 laps.
4. Trevoux-Levegh (Darriw4), 62 laps.
5. Chaboud-Tremoulet (Delahaye), 61 laps.
6. Clifford-Matbieson (1)arrae0), 60 laps. 7. Serraud-Cabantous (Delahaye) ‘ • 8. villeneuveBiolay (Delabaye), 59 laps ; 9. Rosier-Huguet (Darracq), 56 laps ; 10. Prenant-Morel (Darracq), 55 laps ; 11. Gerard-Viale (Delage) ; 12. De CortanzeContet (Peugeot), 54 laps ; 13. Gordini-Scaron (Fiat) ; 14. Hitchens-Morris Goodall (Aston-Martin), 53 laps ;
15. Orssich-Sauerwein (Adler)16. Viale-Breillet (Fiat), 52 laps ; 17. Lobr-Von Guilleaume (Adler) ; 18. Mmes. Roux-Ronal-1h (Amilear), 51 laps; 19. Ferry-Noiraux (Riley); 20. Horvilleur-Matra (AlfaRomeo), 50 laps ; 21. Levy-Alain (Flat), 48 laps ; 22. Tramer-Piehard (Fiat), 47 laps ; 23. BarnesWisdom (Singer), 46 laps ; 24. Camerano-Robert (Fiat)25. Vernet-Mme. Largeot (Fiat), 45 laps ; 26. Debille-Lapehin (Fiat), 43 laps ’27. Miss FawcettWhite (Morgan) ; 28. Clark-Chambers (H.R.G.), 42 laps ; 29. Mrs. Wisdom-Dobson (M.G.); 30. J.
P. Savoye (Singer); 31. Monneret-Loyer (Delahaye) ; 32. Bonneau-Mme. Hier (M.G.), 41 laps ; 33. AlinePlantivaux (Fiat), 39 laps ; 34. Leduc-Querzola (Fiat), 24 laps. Shades of the days when the Bentleys reigned supreme at Le Mans ! The first British car, the 2-litre Aston-Martin, lying fourteenth in the general classification and second in its class to the Peugeot. No British big cars at all to challenge the leaders. In fact we are not in the picture at all
The Alfa-Romeo outstayed its last real rival when Etancelin’s Darracq stopped for good with a broken valve, for the Carriere-Lebegue Darracq was some way behind. Soon there were more retirements; Gerard’s Delage with a warped cylinder head causing gasket leakage ; Horvilleur’s old 2.3-litre Monza Alf aRomeo with a similar trouble ; Vernet’s 1,100 c.c. Sim ea-Fiat with a broken oilpipe ; and the Mazaud-Mongin Delahaye with an outbreak of fire. As the night wore on the SommerBiondetti Alfa-Romeo increased its lead by a bigger and bigger margin, until it was four clear laps ahead of the second car, Carriere’s Darracq. It looked as though nothing could stop its triumphant progress. To make matters worse, the Darracq started to suffer from clutch slip, than which there is no more irritating trouble. After repeated stops, all of which were ineffectual, the car was finally with
drawn. At about the same time the Delahaye driven by the two motorcyclists, Monneret and. Loyer, fell by the wayside, when their lighting system gave out, and yet another retirement came shortly afterwards when the Amilcar driven by Mesdames Roux and Rouault ran a big-end. At four o’clock in the morning the cars had completed half their journey, and. the flying Alfa was now five laps ahead of the next car, the 4-litre Darracq driven by Trevoux and Levegh, who were in turn three laps ahead of Clifford and
Mathieson on a similar car. The last two were putting up a fine performance, which did much to console the many British spectators present for the absence of any home cars among the big stuff in the race. For the rest, Gordini’s 1,100 c.c. Simca-Fiat, the two Adlers with streamlined closed bodies, the 2-litre Aston-Martin and the De Cortanze-Contet Peugeot were all going well in the struggle for class positions. Two recent British casualties were the M.G. driven by Mrs. Wisdom and Arthur Dobson, which had developed clutch slip and consequent overheating, and the Barnes-Wisdom Singer, which had suffered a broken crankshaft. The official order at half-distance was as follows :
1. Sommer-Biondetti (Alfa-Romeo), 128 laps.
2. Trevoux-Levegh (Darracq), 123 laps.
3. Mathieson-Clifford (Darracq), 120 laps.
4. Chaboud-Tremoulet (Delabaye), 118 laps.
5. Serraud-Cabantous (Delahaye), 116 laps.
6. Villeneuve-Biolay (Delahaye), 114 laps.
7. Prenant-Morel (Darracq), 109 laps ; 8. De Cortanze-Contet (Peugeot), 108 laps ; 9. OrssiebSauetwein (Adler), 105 laps ; 10, Lohr-Von Guilleaume (Adler), 102 laps; 11. Hit&bens-lilorris Goodall (AstonMartin), 101 laps ; 12. Ferry-Noiraux (Riley), 100 laps ; 13. Gordini-Scaron (Fiat), 98 laps ; 14. VialeBreillet (Fiat), 95 laps ; 15. Clark-Chambers (H.R .G.), 80 laps ; 16. Miss Fawcett-White (Morgan), 85 laps ; 17. J. & P. Savoye (Singer), 81 laps ; 18. DebilleLapchin (Fiat), 81 laps ; 19. lionne.au-Mme. Itier (M.G.), 78 laps ; 20. Camerano-Robert (Fiat), 76 laps ; 21. Levy-Alain (Fiat), 76 laps ; 22. AimePlantivaux (Fiat), 74 laps ; 23. Leduc-Querzola (Fiat).
The tremendous pace set by the Alfa in the earlier stages had put its average speed well ahead. of the Bugatti in last year’s race, but with the gradual wilting of the opposition Sommer and Biondetti slowed up a little. They could have done so even more, for first the TrevouxLevegh Darracq and then the MathiesonClifford Darracq went out, leaving the Chaboud-Tremoulet Delahaye as the nearest rival to the Alfa, 11 laps behind. Trevoux’s trouble was a blown gasket, but Mathieson’s was much more excitingand unpleasant. As he approached White House the car caught fire. Realising that at all costs he must get it off the road, he stuck to his guns until he was round the curve, drove the car onto the grass, and jumped out. A nice example of presence of mind. Two more retirements, those of the Viale-Breillet Fiat with a broken oil pipe and the Ferry-Noiraux Riley with a seized piston, brought the total number of withdrawals up to twenty-two—or more than half the starters. Eight o’clock on Sunday morning found the Alfa leading the general classification and its class by nine laps from the Delahaye ; the De Cortanze-Contet Peugeot surprising everyone by leading the 2-litre category by four laps from the Orssich-Sauerwein Adler, with the AstonMartin third, three laps behind the Adler ; the second Adler leading the 1,500 c.c. class and its nearest rival the H.R.G., by no less than 19 laps: the GordiniScaron Sinica-Fiat way ahead of the Morgan (18 laps to be precise) in the 1,100 c.c. division and going marvellously; and the Ahne-Plantivaux Fiat ” mouse”
leading its sister car by seven laps, in the 750 c.c. class. So far there had been only one notable case of a car going off the road, when ” Vel d’Hiver Molinari’s Sirnca-Fiat rammed a sandbank on a corner and had to be dug out. But now a second and more vigorous crash occurred, involving
another Fiat. The driver was Jose Seaton, who was second-string to Gorclini, and the car was put right out of action. A pity, for it had been putting up an amazing show and was an almost certain whiner of the Rudge-Whitworth Cup and the special cup to be awarded for the best performance on formula. And so we come to 10 o’clock on Sunday morning, three-quarter distance, with the cars in the following order :
1. Sommer-Biondetti (Alfa-Romeo), 189 laps.
2. Chaboud-Tremoulet (Delahaye), 178 laps.
3. Sermud-Cabantons (Delahaye), 174 laps.
4. Prenant-Morel (Darracq), 163 laps.
5. Villeneuve-Biolay (Delithaye), 163 laps.
0. De Cortanze-Contet (Peugeot). 162 laps.
7. Orsaich-Sauerwein (Adler), 158 laps ; 8. LohrVon Guilleaume (Adler), 153 laps ; 9. HitchensMorris Goodall (Aston-Martin), 147 laps ; 10. ClarkChambers (H.R.G.), 147 laps ; 11. Miss FawcettWhite (Morgan), 147 laps ; 12. J-. & P. Savoye (Singer), 129 laps ; 13. Debille-Lapehin (Fiat), 127 laps ; 14. Bonneau-Mme. Itier (141.0.), 121 laps ; 15. Camerano-Robert (Fiat), 121 laps ; 16. AimsPlantivaux (Fiat), 112 laps ; 17, Levy-Alain (Fiat), 109 laps ; 18. Leduc-Querzola (Fiat), 105 laps. Now it was the turn of the AstonMartin crew to experience trouble. The car pulled into the pits with bad misfiring, which was traced to a broken
valve. It was decided to change the offending piece of mechanism, which meant removing the cylinder-head, with the result that the car was at the pits for two solid hours. The French crowd, always ready to applaud a plucky effort, gave a cheer when at last the car set off again. The hard work was in vain, however, for a few laps later the car came to a standstill on the far side of the circuit with more engine trouble. Bad luck. But the crowd soon had its attention diverted to an event of the most sensational character. Biondetti on the Alfa failed to appear at the appointed time. Those in the Alfa pit had their eyes fixed on the far end of the straight past the stands, but the minutes ticked by and still the low red coupe did not come into sight. A few laps earlier Sommer had had the devastating experience of bursting a tyre while travelling at something over 130 m.p.h. on the Mulsartne Straight. The tread slashed its way through the streamlined mudguards, seriously upsetting the steering of the car as it did so. Sommer had an anxious time holding the car straight, but after some hectic slides from side to side of the road he managed to slow down and motor slowly round to the pits. The question now was whether this incident had led to further trouble. Actually it was not so ; it was the engine that had given out, at Aruage. Biondetti made heroic efforts for some time to restart the car by pushing it, and finally to push it back to the pits single-handed. Then Sommer arrived on the scene in an official car, and after a consultation it was decided that the car was well and truly out with a broken valve. With the race in their pocketsthey had a lead of 12 laps, or 100 miles over the second Delahaye-this was the
worst possible luck. The car had gone splendidly, dealing with its many rivals single-handed, and to go out like this was heartbreaking. Just to show that the trouble was not really serious, the car was driven to the pits after the race under its own power. This left the Chaboud-Tremoulet Delahaye the easy task of wiping out its deficit of 12 laps, and then winning as it pleased, for its nearest rival (the Serraud-Cabantous Delahaye) was two
laps behind. Behind that came the Villeneuve-Biolay Delahaye at an interval of 14 laps, with the Prenant-Morel Darracq still one more lap astern.
The only interest left in the race was whether Villeneuve’s Delahaye could, keep going, because it did not sound so healthy, and whether the H.R.G. could complete its necessary number of qualifying laps, for it, too, was sounding extremely woolly. As it turned out, the Delahaye kept going but was passed by the Darracq, and the H.R.G. got home with laps to spare.
The last hour of the race, with the leading Delahaye touring round at 75 m.p.h., was rather an anti-climax to the furious pace of the beginning, but no one could blame Chaboud and Tr 6moulet for making sure of victory. At last the chequered flag was waved, and two 3i-litre Delahayes were given
the finishing signal-quite in the old Bentley tradition-and very thoroughly they deserved their win. Out-paced at the start of the race, they had got there by dint of sheer reliability, while the faster cars broke themselves up with the fury of their battling. Third came the coupe Darracq driven by Prenant and that fine driver Andre Morel, one-time member of the Andlcar Six team at Brooklands. Outstandingly good was the performance of the 2-litre Peugeot in finishing fifth in the general classification, at an average speed of 74.77 m.p.h. The Adlers won the final of the thirteenth Biennial Cup, and the special cup given for the first time by the A.C.O. for the best performance on formula in the whole race went rightly to the little 568 c.c. Fiat driven by Aline and Plantivaux, which had covered 1,269.3 miles at an average speed of 52.88 m.p.h. The H.R.G., well driven and controlled from the pits, finished tenth, and Miss Fawcett’s Morgan, jointly driven by
White, was placed thirteenth. Both these cars put up really good performances.
1. Chaboud-Tremoulet (Delahaye 3,558 c.c.), 1,976.4 miles, 82.35 m.p.h.
2. Serraud-Giraud Cabantous (Delabaye 3,658 c.c.), 19,59.69 miles, 81.65 m.p.h.
3. Prenant-Morel (Darnel 3,985 c.c.), 1,839-07 miles. 76.62 m.p.h.
4. Villeneuve-Bielay (Delahaye 3,575 c.c.), 76.26 m.p.h.
5. De Cortanze-Contet (Peugeot 1,998 c.c.), 74.77 m.p.h.
6. Orssich-Sauerwein (Adler 1,679 c.c.), 73.95 m.p.h.
7. Lohr-Von Guilleaume (Adler 1,495 c.c.), 71.59 m.p.h.
8. J. 4.4t P. Savoye (Singer 974 c.c.), 61.12 m.p.h.
9. Debille-Lapchin (Simes.-Fiat 1,090 c.c.), 60.31 m.p.h.
10. Clark-Chambers (11.R.(I. 1,499 c.c.), 59.63 m.p.h.
11. Camerano-Robert (Sinica-Fiat 1,087 c.c.), 58.23 m.p.h.
12. Bonneau-Mme. Itier (M.G. 954 c.c.), 57.67 m.p.h.
13. Miss Faweett-Whitc (Morgan 1,122 c.c.), 57.20 tn.p.h.
14. Aime-Plantivaux (Simes-Fiat 568 c.c.), 52.88 m.p.h.
15. Ledtte-Querrola (Simca-Fiat 568 c.c.), 48.96 m.p.h.
All the above qualify for the final (to be held in 1939) of the 14th Biennial Ruclge-Whitworth Cup. The 13th Rage-Whitworth Cup
1. Orssich-Sauerwein (Adler 1,679 c.c.) fig, of merit 1,236.
2. Lohr-Von Guilleaume (Adler 1,495 c.c.), 1,230.
3. Dc Cortanze-Contet (Peugeot 1,998 c.c.), 1,204. A.C. de l’O. Cup
Aime-Plantivaux (Simca-Fiat 568 c.c.). Class Winners
750 c.c. : Aime-Plantivaux (Simea-Flat)*. 1,100 c.c. : J. & P. Savoye (Singer). 1,500 c.c. : Lohr-von Guilleaume (Adler). 2,000 c.c. : De Cortanze-Contet (Peugeot)”. 5,000 c.c. : Chaboud-Tremoulet (Delahaye).
The winning Delahaye used Dunlop tyres, Castro oil and Shell petrol.