Carocciola (Mercedes-Benz) wins the Tripoli G.P. by a narrow margin from Varzi (Auto-Union). The Bimotore Alfo-Romeos handicapped by tyres.
122.03 m.p.h. for 500 kilometres, including several pit stops! What an amazing race this Grand Prix of Tripoli is, with its fastest road-circuit in the world, magnificently constructed grand stands, vast crowds, and blazing sunshine.
This year’s race will probably rank as one of the finest events of the season, for it brought into direct conflict the cream of the world’s drivers and cars : Varzi and Stuck on Auto-Unions, Caracciola, Fagioli and Von Brauchitsch on Mercedes-Benz, and Chiron and Nuvolari on Bimotore Alfa-Romeos – to say nothing of a host of ” slower ” Alfa-Romeos and Maseratis. The race is not run under the A.I.A.C.R. formula, and consequently the Italians were making a desperate bid to uphold their prestige with the big Alfas, which weigh well over 1,000 kilos, as opposed to the 750 kilos of the “Mercs” and Auto-Unions. In addition to the two twin-engined cars, the Scuderia Ferrari had also entered monopostos of 3-litres and 3.2-litres in the names of Dreyfus, Brivio, Pintacuda and Tadini. Maserati had not finished his preparation of the new 8-cylinder cars, and had to defend on a variety of 3.7 six-cylinder and 3-litre 8-cylinder models.
With a first prize of 35,000 liras and a percentage of the sweepstake money, it was not surprising to find everyone taking the race very seriously. The first practice was due on the Thursday before the race, but before then several cars could be seen on the circuit, checking over carburetter settings and tyres. Some of the cars and drivers arrived by road from Tunis, while the rest came by ship and aeroplane from Europe.
The first day’s practice saw Varzi (Auto-Union) make the fastest lap at 217 k.p.h.
Stuck’s sister clocking one second slower. Nuvolari (Alfa-Romeo Bimotore) was 7 seconds slower than Varzi, with Caracciola (Mercedes Benz) a second behind. There were two Bimotores for the race, one having a couple of 3-litre engines and the other two “3.2s.” The larger one was entrusted to Nuvolari as “chef de file,” while the second was to be given to the driver who made the fastest qualifying lap on a monoposto. This was achieved by Chiron. The second day of practice showed the Auto-Unions in the lead still, Stuck getting round at 220.373 k.p.h. Nuvolari’s best lap was 214.753 k.p.h., and Caracciola’s 212.432 k.p.h. Too much attention could not be paid to the latter’s speed, for the starting positions did not depend upon practice times and were decided by drawing lots. Etancelin (Maserati) clocked 205.042 k.p.h., so that the race would obviously lie between Auto-Union, Mercedes-Benz and Alfa-Romeo.
The Mellaha circuit is roughly quadrilateral in shape, with a straight “leg” running beside the sea. There are several fast right-angle bends and many curves on the back stretches. It is therefore amazingly fast, and extremely hard on engines and tyres. The high temperature makes matters even more difficult. The Continental factory sent 300 tyres in anticipation of the worst! Two non-starters had already been announced, Lord Howe (Maserati) and Lehoux (Sefac). Sommer and Zehender had repaired their cars after their trouble in Tunis, but Soffietti was doubtful of being
able to renew the blower drive of his Maserati.
On the evening before the race Marshal Balbo held a magnificent reception at his palace, to which all the well known motoring people were invited.
The weather was glorious on Sunday the 12th, and a vast crowd gathered at the circuit during the morning as the trains disgorged their burdens. The grandstands at Tripoli are worthy of the name, and by the time 3 o’clock came round no less than 20,000 people were tightly packed on the concrete tiers, making a variegated splash of colour under the bright sun. Then the Marsellaise rang out, and all eyes were turned to a Panhard which had driven up. Out of it stepped M. Marcel Peyrouton, Governor-General of Tunis, and a few minutes later Marshal Balbo himself arrived, to the accompaniment of the Marche Royale. The cars were lined up in rows, and that peculiar atmosphere of tension, which always precedes a big motor-race, descended on the whole proceedings. The drivers received last minute instructions from the Clerk of the Course, Signor Castagnetto, well known to English competitors for his masterly direction of the Mille Miglia and the Alpine Trial.
This is how the cars were drawn up:
1st Row: Dreyfus (Alfa-Romeo), Premoli (Maserati), Barbieri (Alfa-Romeo), Magistri (Alfa-Romeo), Fagioli (Mercedes-Benz). 2nd Row: Siena (Alfa-Romeo), Zehender (Maserati), Etancelin (Maserati), Brivio (Alfa-Romeo). 3rd Row: Sommer (Alfa-Romeo), Tadini (Alfa-Romeo), Varzi (Auto-Union) Caracciola (Mercedes-Benz), Ghersi (Alfa-Romeo). 4th Row: Farina (Maserati), Soffietti (Maserati), Balestrero (Alfa-Romeo), Rosa (Maserati). 5th Row: Taruffi (Maserati), Reusch (Maserati), Nuvolari (Alfa-Romeo), Widengreen (Maserati), Pintacuda (Alfa-Romeo), 6th Row: Stuck (Auto-Union), Carraroli (Maserati), Brauchitsch (Mercedes-Benz), Bonetto (Alfa-Romeo). 7th Row: Chiron (Alfa-Romeo).
Marshal Balbo dropped the flag, and with a stupendous roar the 28 bolides shot forward, Faglioli’s white Mercedes-Benz darting into a clear lead. Four minutes later they were round again, Caracciola leading Fagioli, Nuvolari, Etancelin, Varzi, Dreyfus and the rest. The field made a wonderful spectacle as they howled past the Stands, the sleek white “Mercs,” the squat, elongated Auto-Unions, and the sombre, almost evil-looking bimotore Alfas.
Nuvolari’s blood was up, and on the second Iap he passed Fagioli and set out to catch Caracciola. The latter was ready for him, however, and raised his speed a little. On the following circuit Tazio pulled into his pits for a change of rear tyres which gives some idea of the speed of the race. Brivio (Alfa-Romeo) and Balestrero (Alfa-Romeo), winner of the first Tripoli G.P. nine years ago were also at the pits.
Fagioli could not rest secure in second place, for Varzi began to push the snub nose of his Auto-Union nearer and nearer to the tail of the “Merc.” On the fifth lap a murmur of sensation ran through the stands when “Carratsch” pulled in to change his tyres and Varzi roared past in the lead, having caught Fagioli on that lap. Third came the irrepressible Etancelin, whose Maserati gained on longer tyre wear what it lacked in speed. “Phi-Phi” was followed by young Farina, handling his Maserati like a veteran, Dreyfus and Chiron, whose 5.8-litre bimotore was not running too well. Two more people drove into the pit-area, Bonetto and Ruesch, the latter retiring soon afterwards with a broken oil-pump. The first blow among the favourites fell when Brauchitsch’s Mercedes-Benz was posted as retired with engine trouble. The “Mercs,” incidentally had been having valve trouble in practice.
On the 7th lap Nuvolari came in for another tyre change, (55secs), followed by Caracciola on his 8th circuit. These stops put the two drivers right back in the running. Varzi was still leading, and Hans Stuck on the second Auto-Union had worked his way into second place, ahead of Fagioli and Farina. Stuck was gradually overhauling Varzi, until on the 10th lap only a couple of seconds separated them. At 10 laps, or quarter-distance, the order was :
1. Varzi (Auto-Union), 37m. 57secs.
2. Stuck (Auto-Union), 37m. 59secs.
3. Fagioli (Mercedes-Benz), 38m. 36secs.
4. Farina (Maserati). 40m. 17secs.
5. Dreyfus (Alfa-Romeo), 41m. 0secs.
6. Etancelin (Maserati), 41m. 12secs.
7. Zehender (Maserati), 41m. 33secs.
8. Tadini (Alfa-Romeo). 41m. 34secs.
9. Nuvolari (Alfa-Romeo). 41m. 36secs.
10. Caracciola (Mercedes-Benz). 41m. 37secs.
12. Sommer (Alfa-Romeo), 42m. 8secs.
12. Widengren (Maserati), 43m. 27secs.
With the fastest cars making frequent stops for tyres, the lead changed hands constantly, and it was anybody’s race. Stuck was the next to come in, followed by Varzi, making their first tyre change on the 11th and 12th laps respectively. Fagioli was still on his first set of tyres, but Caracciola had changed twice!
Then came the first accident. Brivio was just about to pass another car when a stone, thrown up by its back wheels, struck him full in the face. Stunned by the blow, he lost control of his Alfa-Romeo which turned over several times after leaving the road. Brivio was unconscious when taken to hospital, but recovered soon afterwards. He had had an astonishingly lucky escape, for the doctor said that he would be fit to leave hospital in a week’s time.
Varzi and Stuck made lightning wheel changes and were soon on Fagioli’s heels once more. Behind these three came Farina, Nuvolari, Zehender, Etancelin and Dreyfus. This order did not last for long, for Fagioli and Varzi both stopped for tyres and Stuck failed to appear on schedule. It transpired that his Auto-Union had suddenly caught fire on the far side of the course, the driver getting out in the nick of time. A fire-squad was quickly on the scene and saved the car from complete destruction, but it was too badly damaged to think of continuing. Varzi was quicker than Fagioli at the pits, so that at 20 laps he was leading, the order being :
1. Varzi (Auto-Union) 1h. 19m. 47secs., 197.017 k.p.h.
2. Fagioli (Mercedes-Benz), 1h. 21m. 35s.
3. Dreyfus (Alfa-Romeo), 1h. 22m 18s.
4. Caracciola (Mercedes-Benz), 1h. 22m. 18secs.
5. Zehender (Maserati), 1h. 22m. 23s.
6. Nuvolari (Alfa-Romeo), 1h. 23m. 12s.
7. Tadini (Alfa-Romeo), 1h. 23m. 40s.
8. Ferina (Maserati), 1h. 23m. 44s.
9. Sommer (Alfa-Romeo), 1h. 28m. 46s.
10. Widengren (Maserati), 1h. 25m. 64s.
Caracciola after his early tyre troubles, was now coming back into the picture. He overhauled Dreyfus, who was driving a magnificent race with his 3.2-litre Alfa, and at that moment Fagioli pulled in for a tyre change, leaving “Carratsch” in second place, 1m. 22s. behind Varzi. Pit signals were urging the “Merc” driver to go faster and faster, and the distance between the two cars gradually lessened until on the 30th lap only 42secs. separated them.
The bimotore Alfas at this point were a lap behind, Nuvolari’s 6.4-litre car consuming tyres with a voracious appetite and Chiron’s not giving its full power. This was how they stood at 30 laps :
1. Varzi (Auto-Union), 1h. 58m. 56s.
2. Caracciola (Mercedes-Benz), 1h. 59m. 38secs.
3. Fagioli (Mercedes-Benz). 2h. 1m. 27s.
4. Nuvolari (Alfa-Romeo), 2h. 2m. 42s.
6. Dreyfus (Alfa-Romeo), 2h. 5m. 88s.
6. Chiron (Alfa-Romeo), 2h. 8m. 25s.
7. Sommer (Alfa-Romeo). 2h. 8m. 47s.
8. Zehender (Maserati), 2h. 12m. 41s.
9. Widengren (Maserati), 2h. 12m. 44s.
Varzi having led at to, 20 and 30 laps, the Auto-Union people had every reason to hope that their man would be leading at the end. Their feelings were tempered, however, by the fact that Varzi’s was their only car left in the race. Mercedes-Benz were anxiously clocking the gap between Varzi and Caracciola, comforted by the thought that Fagioli, too, was still running.
Farina’s retirement on the 28th lap had received everyone’s sympathy. This young man had shown remarkably good form in the race, and will undoubtedly be one of the world’s leading drivers in the near future. He has a pronounced flair for the game. His Maserati suffered from the same carburetter trouble which had caused Etancelin’s retirement a few laps earlier.
And now came Ferrari’s last desparate bid to snatch victory from the German’s grasp. Nuvolari was given the “All-out” signal, and the crowd immediately leaned forward in their seats. With foot hard down, and reaching over 200 m.p.h. on the straight, Nuvolari simply devoured Fagioli and Caracciola. Soon he was on Varzi’s tail, and then they came past the stands wheel to wheel. The two greatest rivals in modern racing, both with the fastest cars of the day – no wonder the vast crowd went almost mad with excitement!
Varzi seemed to say “Thus far and no farther,” for he kept ahead of the fiery Nuvolari in spite of all the latter’s efforts. The Auto-Union driver knew that the pace would prove too much for the Alfa’s tyres, and sure enough Nuvolari came in on the following lap, to the accompaniment of an audible sigh from his compatriots in the stands.
And so we came to lap 35, five laps from the end. Now came the greatest suspense of all, and an incident which permits the 1935 Tripoli G.P. to rank as a classic example of the glorious uncertainty of the sport. As Varzi flashed past the stands there was a sharp report and a small piece of tread flew off one of his rear tyres. Varzi promptly lifted his foot, and was faced with an 8-mile lap at reduced speed. Worse still, the tyre went flat, and he hobbled round as best he might, pulling into the pits with the wheel buckled and dangerously hot. Caracciola was due to pass at any moment, and the mechanics worked like furies to remove the wheel, which had become jammed. At last it came off, and the new one was being secured when the telltale scream of a Mercedes-Benz was heard and Caracciola roared by in the lead.
Varzi went after him like an ice-cold fury, and on the 39th lap was only 2 seconds behind. A truly wonderful finish was in prospect, for Varzi was quite capable of wiping out the distance in one lap. But fate decided against him, and another burst tyre caused him to slow, and he had to concede the victory to Caracciola by a margin of 67 seconds. Fagiola was a good third, and fourth place would have been taken by Dreyfus but for a signalling error on the last lap.
What a race it had been! Caracciola’s average was 122.03 m.p.h. and he had broken the lap record on his 38th circuit with a speed of 137.6 m.p.h. Only 10 finished out of 28 starters. The most excited people in the stands during those last hectic laps were Signor Gaetano Giacomini, a tax official from Rome, and Signora Rozina de Gerraro of Casacalenda. These two had drawn Caracciola and Varzi in the great sweepstake, the former on his own account, and the latter on behalf of herself, her sister, and the wife of the local mayor. They won 6 million and 3 million liras respectively. Third prize (1,400,000 liras) was won by Signora Albertina de Valle, of Turin, and fourth (700,000 liras) by Signora Gioyanna Califano, from the Isle of Icilia.
1. Caracciola (Mercedes-Benz), 2h. 49m. 47s. 197,998 k.p.h.
2. Varzi (Auto-Union), 2h. 39m. 54.2s.
3. Fagioli (Mercedes-Benz) 2h. 41m. 3.8s.
4. Nuvolart (Alta.-Romeo), 2h. 47m. 36.4s.
5. Chiron (Alfa-Romeo), 2h. 49m. 14s.
6. Dreyfus (Alfa-Romeo), 2h. 49m. 15s.
7. Sommer (Alfa-Romeo), 2h. 50m. 20s.
8. Zehender (Maserati), flagged 88 laps.
9. Carraroli (Maserati), flagged 87 laps.
10. Taclini (Alfa-Romeo), flagged 37 laps.
Record Lap: Caracciola, on his 38th, 3m. 34s. (220.167 k.p.h.).
Also Ran: Siena (Alfa-Romeo), 2 laps; Barbieri (Alfa-Romeo), 4 laps; Soffietti (Maserati), 4 laps: Von Brauchitsch (Mercedes-Benz), 5 laps; Premoli (Maserati), 6 laps; Ruesch (Maserati), 6 laps; Bonetto (Alfa-Romeo), 7 laps; Ghersi (Alfa-Romeo). 11 laps; Brivio (Alfa-Romeo), 18 laps; Pintacuda (Alfa-Romeo), 15 laps; Magistri (Alfa-Romeo); 16 laps Taruffi (Maserati), 17 laps; Stuck (Auto-Union), 20 laps; Etancelin (Maserati), 24 laps; Farina (Maserati), 28 laps; Balestrero (Alfa-Romeo), 35 laps; Rosa (Maserati), 37 laps; Widengren (Maserati) was disqualified for not finishing the lap following the arrival of Nuvolari, otherwise he would have been placed fifth.