Another Victory for Maserati
Montlhery, June 10th.
The 1,000 kilometre sports-car race, held at the Montlhery Autodrome, south of Paris, was the first real motor race to be held in France since the catastrophic event at Le Mans last year, and this may have accounted for the very strong entry it received. During the winter months the Autodrome underwent a face-lifting operation in which the pits were completely rebuilt, of ferro-concrete, with pressure fuel lines to each pit and a balcony above, while the long road circuit in the grounds of the Autodrome was resurfaced and the corner near the banked track surrounded by a 4-ft. concrete wall with an enormous earth embankment on the outside to enable spectators to get a good view. For this full-scale event a circuit of 7.784 kilometres was used, incorporating the eastern end of the banked oval and the road circuit as far as the sharp bends at the Cote Lapize. The wide starting area was transformed, by walls of straw bales, into a normal-width road leading off the banking and into the road circuit, and a wide pit area as a by-pass. Entry into this pit area began at a white line before the end of the banking with a straight run into the pits. Exit was by means of a narrow passage through the straw bales lining the main track, and controlled by a flag marshal who had a clear view of the approach to this area. When a car was seen heading off the banking towards the pit area a warning was given on whistles by the Gendarmes along the front of the pits, and nothing can be more penetrating than a French Gendarme shrilling on his whistle. The whole arrangement allowed everyone plenty of space and worked remarkably satisfactorily.
This event was new to the French calendar, replacing the old Bol d’Or, and the distance of 1,000 kilometres was one that was obviously popular with competitors and public alike, judging by the numbers that turned up in spite of terrible weather conditions. Altogether there were 40 starters and they all had three practice periods, two in the evenings of Thursday and Friday, and one on Saturday morning, so that with a 10.30 a.m. start on Sunday there had been plenty of time to prepare the cars properly. The circuit was not only very fast, as shown by Behra’s practice lap at almost 100 m.p.h., but was hard on the cars, the flat-out bend round the banking and the two long straights proving tiring to engines, while the corners and the loads applied by the banked track imposed heavy strains on the chassis. In addition, the poor weather conditions, which prevailed throughout practice as well as the race, were tiring for the drivers and there were many corners on which mistakes could be made.
There were only a few factory cars running, the rest of the entry reading like a Super-Club meeting, with nearly every possible amateur and near-amateur driver taking part. Maserati sent along one works 3-litre car, for Behra/Rosier, under the command of Ugolini. There were also two factory A.W.E. 1 1/2-litres, with Barth/Rosenhammer, and Thiel/Binner, and two factory-supported Panhards, now being operated by the Ecurie Monopole, rather as Ferrari runs the Grand Prix Lancias, these little 750 c.c. two-cylinder cars being driven by the Chancel brothers and Hemard/Flahault. For the rest, the Equipe National Belge, under the direction of Pierre Stasse and Paul Frere, fielded Pilette/Milhoux with a 3-litre Monza Ferrari, Rouselle/Bianchi and Dernier/de Changy with 2-litre Mondial Ferraris, and Goethals/Harris with a Porsche Spyder. The Scuderia Guastalla, from Italy had Gerini/Landi with a 3-litre Maserati, and Cornacchia and his son with a 200S Maserati. In addition, there were private Monza Ferraris, driven by Picard/Trintignant, Schell/Lucas, Munaron/Meyrat, de Portago/Hill, and a Ione DB3S with Kyffin/Wharton. Gordini made an onslaught in three categories with Manzon/Guelfi on a 3-litre, da Silva Ramos/Bayol with a 2-litre, and Loyer/Rinen with a new 1 1/2-litre. With 2-litre A6G Maseratis, were Signorina de Filippis/Tomasi and Jose Behra/Houel with cars from the Centro-Sud Scuderia, and Simon/Piotti, and Cotton/Guyot, while there was a Mondial Ferrari in this class driven by Mlles. Thirion/Peduzzi. In the 1 1/2-litre class, apart from those mentioned, were four 150S Maseratis in private hands, and two French-owned Porsche Spyders and the German one of Seidel/Glockler. and among the small cars Panhard D.B., Ferry-Renault. Stanguellini and Moretti.
The whole entry was divided into four classes, 3-litre, 2-litre, 1-litre and 750 c.c. with class prizes as well as an overall general classification, but no complicated Index of Performance was introduced. The race was over 129 laps of the circuit, and all competitors had to complete the full distance up to one hour after the first man arrived. For a pleasant change a Grand Prix type start was given, instead of the over-worked Le Mans run-and-jump start, and cars were lined up in order of practice times, with Behra/Rosier, Trintignant/Picard on the front line, then Schell/Lucas, Manzon/Guelfi and Munaron/Meyrat, behind, the first named in each case doing the start. In rows of two-three-two-three the field was strung out behind, and notable were the two silver A.W.E. cars side by side in the fifth row and ahead of all the 1 1/2-litres and all but two 2-litres.
Portago stalled his engine trying to jump the flag, and Behra was slow off the mark, so that it was Trintignant, followed by Schell, who led the stream of cars round the banking at the end of the opening lap, spray flying out behind them from the wet track. Behra soon got into the lead, and it was a fine sight to see the low red Maserati high on the banking, followed by the blue Ferrari of Trintignant then Schell’s blue and white one and Pilette’s yellow one with the rest of the multi-coloured entry strung out at various heights on the banking according to their speeds, the faster cars doing nearly 140 m.p.h. past the pits. The regulations insisted that each driver should do a minimum of 30 laps and a maximum of 50 laps, so for the first hour or so, things settled down, though at a considerable speed in spite of the pouring rain. Naturally, the 3-litre cars were dominating the scene, but outstanding were the two A.W.E.s., which were leading all the 1 1/2-litres and 2-litres with the exception of da Silva Ramos who was going very fast in the 2-litre Gordini. The new Gordini was well up in the 1 1/2-litre class and the Monopole Panhards were leading the “tiddlers.” One of the Belgian Ferraris, driven by Dernier, provided the first incident when it spun off at the Wirage Ferme together with a Panhard, and then Cornacchia Junior retired the 2-litre Maserati with clutch trouble. Alter one hour racing, still too early to draw any real conclusions, the order was Behra (Maserati), Trintignant (Ferrari), having difficulty in seeing due to a broken windscreen, Schell (Ferrari) with Portago right on his tail, Manzon (Gordini) having a real dice on the banking due to an unstable chassis, da Silva Ramos (Gordini 2-litre), Barth (A.W.E.), Landi (Maserati) and Manzon (Ferrari) in close company, and Wharton (Aston Martin) having a dice with Thiel (A.W.E.). Gilberte Thirion (Ferrari) was second in the 2-litre class, much to the chagrin of many male drivers. Shortly before the two-hour mark the faster cars completed their first 30 laps, and the first to come in for fuel and change of driver was Barth (A.W.E.), followed the next lap by Wharton (Aston Martin). It was still pouring with rain and the co-driver had the unenviable task of taking over a car with a wet cockpit and on a slippery track either trying to keep up the position of the car set up by a better driver, or to improve upon its position caused by a worse driver. There was a panic when the A.W.E. stopped for fuel, as someone had forgotten to turn on the supply at the main storage tank, and while the East-Zone Germans tried in vain to make the filling hose function, Wharton stopped, and finding the same trouble in his pit put Kyffin in the car and sent him off again to return later when they had got the refuelling system to work. Due to this delay to the A.W.E., the second driver, Rosenhammer, left in a frenzy and almost immediately went off the road into the ditch, putting the car out of the race. At the same time, Munaron was contemplating finishing his spell at the wheel when he too spun off and turned over, fortunately with no serious personal damage. Portago came sliding into the pit area with his front wheels locked, having no rear brakes working, and during the refuelling the oil pipe was repaired before Phil Hill took over. The leading three cars were still lapping consistently and Schell got past Trintignant into second place, but Behra was now a long way ahead. After two hours of driving in the rain, the Belgian girl refuelled and Mlle. Peduzzi took over, waiting on the pit counter with an armful of cushions, she being tiny by comparison with Gilberte, while Papa Thirion directed operations for his rapid daughter. The Equipe Belge did one of the quickest change-overs on their 3-litre Ferrari, Pilette to Milhoux, and then the second A.W.E. which was leading the 1 1/2-litre class retired at the pits with a broken fuel pump. It was not until 1 p.m. that Behra came in to change, the Maserati pit being prepared for trouble with the pressure refuelling system by having churns of fuel standing by. This was at 45 laps, and Rosier took over, having lost the lead temporarily to Schell and Trintignant who were still close together. However, 10 minutes later, they had to stop and Rosier took the Maserati back into the lead. Both Ferraris made excellent pit stops and they rejoined the race in the order Lucas, Picard, though there was little to choose between the two cars. This was interesting as the abilities of Trintignant and Schell are about equal, so that the two French amateurs could continue the battle unabated, they also having equal ability, though inferior to the number one drivers.
Still the pit stops continued, some being a quick refuel and change of drivers, others demanding work to be done on the cars. Behra’s young brother arrived with a rear shock-absorber and part of the chassis trailing, but it was torn off and Houel continued without the right-hand rear shock-absorber. Bianchi, the son of the late Johnny Claes’ mechanic, had not been in the Belgian 2-litre Ferrari long before the engine went woolly and he retired with some internal trouble. The rain was now stopping, though heavy clouds still covered the sky, and Kyffin retired the Aston Martin with a broken gearbox and Dutoit crumpled Olivier’s Porsche Spyder into a ball, but managed to crawl slowly back to the pits to explain to the owner. One of the last to change drivers was the 3-litre Gordini and before Guelfi took over a large quantity of oil was required.
By 1.30 p.m. all the pandemonium in the pits had died down and the various pit stalls and first drivers settled down to lunch, this varying from large tables spread with food and wine, to legs of chicken held between finger and thumb, or a hunk of bread and slice of sausage washed down with a bottle of beer. The order of the race was still the Maserati leading, Rosier keeping up the pace remarkably well, followed by Luucas and Picard having a good scrap, Hill making up time, and then Guelfi, Milhoux, Gerini (on the Guastalla 3-litre Maserati), and Rinen leading all the 1 1/2-litres and 2-litres with the little Gordini. Poor de Silva Ramos had received the signal to come in next lap, and for a fleeting moment his thoughts wandered and he found himself going through the hedge to land in a field unhurt but with a very battered motor car. During the early afternoon the track began to dry, especially on the banking, and the first to make this obvious was the American Hill who began to set up a series of fastest laps and close rapidly on the two Ferraris dicing for second place. At half-distance the general order was unchanged, and the class leaders were Behra/Rosier, Thirion/Peduzzi, Loyer/Rinen and Laureau/Hechard with a private D.B. Panhard, the Monopole cars having run into mechanical trouble. The Ferrari battle for second place came to a temporary end when Picard spun, but continued still ahead of Hill, and all the while the works Maserati was running like a clock. The American’s progress was halted however, when a fuel leak appeared under the bonnet and he came into the pits unexpectedly. As there were now 54 laps to the end of the race, and Portago intended to do the last 50, Hill was sent away again and told to come back later. At 3 p.m. the leaders refuelled and handed over to their first drivers, and again the Lucas/Schell equipe were outstandingly quick, as were the Equipe Belge. The track was drying quite rapidly and Behra soon started making new lap records even though he was nearly a minute ahead of the second man. Guelfi dropped out on the circuit, just beyond the pits, when the big Gordini blew up, the fuel leak on the Portago/Hill Ferrari became worse so that starvation set in going round the banking. With his legs soaked in petrol the Spaniard came in for a further refuel, the mechanics looked at the leak, but there was nothing to do and away he went again, still holding fourth place. In the 2-litre class, Tomaso had got the A6G Maserati in front of Mlle. Peduzzi driving the Mondial Ferrari, but now the two women drivers, Thirion (Ferrari) and de Filippis (Maserati), were battling for the lead, the Ferrari being the quicker car, but not making up time very quickly for there is little to choose between these lady dicers. The 1 1/2-litre Gordini had lost the lead in its class to the Belgian-driven Porsche, the two new drivers, Goethals and Harris, showing excellent form and the 750 c.c. class was depleted to only four runners. Just before 4.30 p.m. the ladies’ race came to an end when the Maserati gave out on de Filippis, and the big Maserati of Landi/Gerini, running steadily but not very high up, stopped at the pits to change a wheel, the tyre of which was being chafed by a damaged rear suspension. Trintignant could not hold Schell, who was on top of his form, and Behra lapped his compatriot Trintignant, the Maserati still going wonderfully well. As the leader was completing the last few laps, Portago stopped for more fuel, most of the previous tankful having poured over the rear tyres causing him to spin five times in one lap, before he got used to the conditions, and then the ladies’ Ferrari dropped its undertray necessitating a stop to fix it up again. On his penultimate lap Behra set another fastest lap, in 2 min. 50.0 sec. – 164.848 k.p.h. – and the next time round received the chequered flag. Everyone waited while he went round on his lap of honour, and then Schell arrived in second place, Trintignant in third place, and still no Behra. Finally, he arrived in an official car, the Maserati having run out of fuel on the extra lap, due to a slight leak in the tank that had developed towards the end of the race, unbeknown to driver or pit staff. Taking a can of fuel Behra went off in the official car and eventually brought the victorious 3-litre Maserati to its rightful place in the winner’s bay in front of the grandstands.
One by one the 16 finishers in this hard-fought and arduous race were flagged in, until one hour after Behra’s arrival the course was closed and the four 750s were flagged off.