Continental Notes, July 1956

There is a rule in Grand Prix racing that allows a team manager to change his drivers from one car to another during a race, providing, of course, that this is done at the pits, and with the World Championship events this is frequently done, not only in an attempt to gain a victory, but to keep the top drivers supplied with points. In many ways this is a reasonable regulation, but in other ways it is not and it could easily be abused. While the private owner has little or no chance of winning a Championship event, it is possible that he could be placed if all the top drivers broke down or crashed, but with the rule that lets one team driver take over another car in the team this possibility is slight. If the private owner breaks down that is the end of his racing for the day.

Personally I should like to see this rule eliminated, for it would make the World Championship much more open and also allow more people to share in the credit of winning races. A good example was the recent Belgian G.P. in which Collins was first and Frere second. Had Fangio broken down at the pits it is almost certain that he would have taken over one of the Ferrari team cars, though which one would have been interesting to see. As it was he did not get back to the pits until right at the end of the race, and according to the rules he could still have taken Collins’ car for the last lap and consequently shared the eight points that the winner receives towards the championship, which would have left the British driver with a total of only seven, instead of being in the lead with 11. As the World Championship in Grand Prix racing is for the drivers I feel that they should be made to stick to the car they start with: if it breaks down, or they spin off the road, then it is just too bad. There is so much chance in motor racing, that some of the lesser drivers should be allowed to profit from the misfortunes of the “great.”

In sports-car racing it is an entirely different matter, for in those events in the World Championship it is the manufacturer who gets the points, the races being inter-marque instead of inter-driver. With a minimum distance of 1,000 kilometres two drivers are required, so that the whole race becomes a team effort, and the ruling brought in by the A.D.A.C. at the recent Nurburgring event seemed a good one. This allowed, in the event of a breakdown or withdrawal, the substitution of a pair of drivers to another car in the team. Note that it was both drivers of the abandoned car, not just the “prima donna,” so that the team aspect was retained. In a race where drivers share a car they must work as a pair, and this permissible substitution was a good idea for the whole essence of the sports-car races is that the car shall win, rather than any particular driver. At Nurburgring Maserati won the race, thanks to the efforts of Taruffi/Schell/Behra and Moss, a real team effort.

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While on the subject of sports-car racing, it is with some pleasure that I perceive a semblance of order appearing among organisers as regards distance. The Manufacturers’ Championship events are fixed at 1,000 kilometres, a good round figure by Continental standards, and now the A.C. de I’lle-de-France have followed this lead with the 1,000-kilometre event at Montlhery. If all major sports-car races were to conform to this distance it would ease the problems of manufacturers and, I feel sure, be popular with drivers and teams. At present all the organisers seem to be trying to out-do each other, with the 24-hour Le Mans, the 12-hour Reims, the 10-hour Messina, the 9-hour Goodwood and so on. Time races usually end up a bit of a farce, for invariably when the appointed finishing hour arrives the leader is on the opposite side of the circuit and the first car to receive the chequered flag is some non-entity who is about 47th in the general classification. The Italians see the point of this 1,000-kilometres distance, for the Supercortemaggiore race has been over this length for the past three years. Grand Prix racing has retained its position of importantance for many reasons, but one of them is that a Grand Prix is a Grand Prix and no ifs or buts. Each classic Grand Prix stands alone, so that a driver can say he won the Monaco Grand Prix, or the French Grand Prix, the German Grand Prix and so on, but in sports-car racing there is such a muddle that he can only say “I won a race at so-and-so last year, over a length of 17 1/2 hours. I cannot remember what race it was, but I think it was in France.” For this reason sports-car racing, and, of course, I am referring to big-time racing not five-lap sprints, carries far less prestige. Various classic events such as Le Mans or the Mille Miglia can stand on their own merits, while the latter, and its counterpart in Sicily, cannot be altered, being a single lap of a continuous open road circuit. If organisers continue to show some semblance of agreement, as is beginning now, then sports-car racing will probably benefit. In the early days of racing events were from town to town and the starting and finishing points were significant, but now that civilisation has spread itself and stopped real road racing, we must be content with artificial circuits. We already have 1,000-kilometre events at Buenos Aires, Nurburgring, Paris and Monza, and if we can add to these other important towns, such as Reims, Rome, Lisbon, Barcelona, etc., together with other circuits such as Goodwood, Imola, Solitude, etc., then I am sure that sports-car racing as a complete whole will benefit.

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Deploring the almost complete absence of real road racing the other day with a well-known racing driver, I suggested that it would be nice to have enough money to build an imitation Monte Carlo, Naples or Pau circuit, in an English park, complete with kerbs, drains, pillar boxes, level crossings, brick walls, houses, shops and so on. In fact, a proper street racing-circuit of the type that used to be so popular in the early 1930s, for somehow, to me, that was real motor racing as distinct from track racing, which is also fun. My companion agreed absolutely, being one of those who enjoys street racing, but suggested that many drivers would not like it, they preferring the wide open spaces of aerodromes and fields, but he added that such a driver would never get into the top group of Grand Prix drivers, which after all is the aim of most people who are racing seriously. Developing my suggestion for building a street circuit, there being no visible hope of being allowed to motor race on English streets, he proposed the idea that when a vast housing estate is next completed, a syndicate of motoring clubs should buy the whole thing from the contractors and sell or rent the houses and shops only to people who would agree to there being four or five motor races round the streets of the estate during the year. With the enthusiasm for motor racing that exists in England there would be a rush to live on such an estate, with bedroom-window views of the racing. Between us we soon thought of a number of large housing estates on which a good two or three-mile street race could be held, but there we had to stop, for it occurred to us that there would probably exist some ancient byelaw from the horse-and-cart age that would prevent such a Utopia. The basic idea, however, still remains; almost all enthusiasts would like to see real road racing, preferably through their own towns, and any racing driver worthy of the name enjoys Continental road racing, so why not build our own street circuit as the Government will not let us use the public streets. At present Britain is inundated with little sprint-like circuits all battling against one another to get the best entries, and such as happened at Whitsun, each circuit had one star driver. If all the financial experts and organisers got together and made one good circuit I feel sure it would be more beneficial all round. Last month we reported in Motor Sport the American idea of Utopia, as being built near Los Angeles: we have no Los Angeles in Britain, but neither have we Utopia.

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As a change from motor racing, I slowed down and cast an eye on some of the Continental attempts at improving road conditions, with especial regard to accident prevention. The Italians have taken a bold and sound step by forbidding overtaking through villages and small towns, where a main road goes straight through. From each direction at the entrance of the town or village there is now a sign consisting of the silhouettes of two saloon cars one beside the other. One is blue and the other red, and as red is a universal warning colour it is pretty obvious to the meanest intelligence from another country that it is forbidden to have two cars side by side going the same way; i.e., no overtaking. Actually this is a universal European sign and needs no written explanation; it is understood by all people. At the same time, in similar circumstances, where a main road goes straight through a small town or village, all parking is forbidden, and that is final. No silly subsidiary clauses about a limit of 20 minutes, which results in a continuous line of parked vehicles throughout the day, nor obscure time limits such as after 8 p.m. or on odd dates only. No parking in the main street is the rule. The result is that even enormous lorries can rumble gently through the towns unimpeded and the overall flow of traffic is greatly improved. Like most police, the Italians are open to bargaining, and if you want to stop at midnight or 4 a.m. they are unlikely to get nasty about the word of the law, but during the better part of the day the system works well.

In Germany, where the accident rate and subsequent insurance rates are high, there are many attempts at control, some of them seemingly severe. For example, a learner-driver can only drive an official driving-school car until he or she has passed the driving test, and during training of driving it is obligatory to attend some classes on the theory of the motor car and driving in general. Before any vehicle is allowed to be taxed it has to undergo a Government-controlled inspection and road test, which may explain why one hardly ever sees an old car in Germany and very few tatty ones. Another new safety-law has just been imposed, and that is the fitting of an obligatory outside mirror, a sound idea in a way but very few drivers seem to look in it, even so.

France is still happily devoid of all this civilisation and regimentation, being still spacious and sparsely populated, so that Jean-Claude can still trundle along in his ancient rear-braked Citroen or Peugeot on tyres showing two layers of canvas. It will be a sad day for those of us who love motoring for its own sake when France is overrun by the bureaucratic Controller of Road Vehicles. – D.S.J.