Ascari Dominates Fatiguing Race – BORDEUX MAY 3RD.
Sixteen cars faced the starter to cover 123 laps of the T-shaped 2.457-kilometre circuit in the middle of the town. Excitement in practice had been caused by Maurice Trintignant, driving a Gordini, who worried the Ferraris a great deal by recording lap times equal to Ascari. Looking completely unruffled. Trintignant was right on form and his braking points for the hairpin at the end of the straight seemed quite impossible. When practice finished on Saturday evening the difference in times between the three Ferraris of Ascari, Villoresi and Farina, and the Gordini was purely fictional. As Hawthorn was flying the Ferrari flag on his own at Silverstone and Dundrod on the two following weekends, he was not entered at Bordeaux. A surprise in the Gordini team was the appearance of Fangio at the wheel of a car fitted with a two-pipe exhaust system similar to the Maserati’s. All the Gordinis had been modified to the latest pattern double-piston shock-absorbers, and the third and fourth cars were driven by Schell and the Argentiaian, Mieres. Britain was represented by the H.W.M. team consisting of Macklin. Cabantaus and Bira, replacing Collins for this event. The cars were making their first race appearance in 1953 form, having shorter wheelbase, pannier fuel tanks in addition to the tail tank, and the new H.W.M. -built engines, fitted with Borg and Beck clutches and Type C Jaguar gearboxes, while the final drive incorporated the Allard-inspired reduction gears. Larger rear brakes were fitted and impressive looking, turbine-blade, finned front drums were used on all three cars. The new engines looked very workmanlike with their gear-driven twin o.h.c. cylinder heads and Ferrari-type dual-exhaust system. The fourth British car was Whitehead’s Cooper-Alta, using his last year’s engine mated to a Bristol gearbox, operated by a very neat right-hand remote control. Of the British contingent the Cooper made best practice time and was going well.
The rest of the field was made up by Rosier (Ferrari), Chiron and Bayol (Osca), both making very good times, and Claes (Connaught), fitted with two double-choke Weber carburetters for practice, but reverting to the four Amal layout for the race as the Italian installation was not spot-on. To complete the sixteen there was de Graffenried in a Platé Maserati, fresh from his Goodwood triumphs.
As the flag fell Whitehead made an excellent Continental getaway and was up with the leaders on the first lap. As one has become accustomed to seeing, the three Ferraris were soon out in front, but with Trintignant keeping within striking distance, while the rest of the field soon dropped behind. Whitehead went well, keeping in front of Graffenried for a time, holding seventh place. The H.W.M.s lacked speed, but were sounding regular enough and running in team formation. It took only 10 laps for the Ferraris to lap the tailenders and Ascari led most of the time, followed by Villoresi and Farina. Mieres was the first to make a pit stop, when his Gordini went on to five cylinders and, though he made frequent stops later changing plugs, it was never going properly and ran the whole race with a consistent stammer. Graffenried’s Maserati was sounding perfect as it passed the Tribunes and obviously had great speed, but the Baron could not do better than a steady sixth place, behind Fangio, who was driving in a very cautious manner. It was not long before Ascari was out on his own and Farina caught and passed Villoresi, with Trintignant always in fourth place, the only one not to be lapped by the first three. Shortly before half-distance Farina came into the pits with gearbox trouble and as it could not be rectified he was out. Already Cabantous had been forced out with clutch trouble, while Whitehead’s steady run had also come to an end when the Bristol gearbox gave up the unequal struggle of coping with the powerful punches of the Alta engine, combined with the effect of a ZF differential.
Ascari had now settled down to lap at 1 min. 26 sec, with monotonous regularity and hardly had Farina’s car been wheeled away than Trintignant stopped out on the circuit with a half-shaft broken. This left Ascari and Villoresi way out in front by over a lap from Fangio and two or more laps front the rest. Bayol, who had been driving a nice race, came in and changed a buckled wheel, the result of a slide, and Chiron brought the other Osca in to refuel, his having only a tail tank, compared with Bayol’s car which had extra tankage alongside the driver. In the excitement of a not very quick pit stop, Chiron was push-started from pit, with the result that he soon received the black flag and was disqualified, the rules definitely forbidding push-starts. Rosier, who had been circulating rather slowly, came to a gentle rest when his gearbox gave trouble and then Macklin came in to refuel. He was then in seventh position and the job was soon completed, but when the starter motor was inserted the dog on the crankshaft sheared and that was that. There was no way of starting the car and it had to be withdrawn. With 25 laps still to go both the Gordinis of Fangio and Schell began to stammer, the former running on five cylinders and going slower and slower, and the latter intermittently on five and six and then having no top gear. With the race drawing to a close and the two Ferraris lapping just as steadily as at the beginning. Schell proceeded to accelerate as high as possible in third gear and then coast the rest of the way along the straight, while Fangio was caught and passed by Bayol who took third place, only to lose it again when he stopped to change a front wheel that had broken its spokes. This delayed him five minutes and dropped him to fifth place. Just before the end Bira came in for fuel with the third H.W.M., having driven an unspectacular but steady race, and it almost looked as though he was going to suffer the same fate as Macklin, but the engine burst into life and he carried on. While all this was happening Graffenried was being lapped by Ascari for the third time and then proceeded to sit on the tail of the Ferrari and refused to be shaken off. The wily Italian did not stand this nonsense for long and slowed down, letting Graffenried go ahead, being content to complete the race at a lap speed of 1 min. 34 sec, while the Maserati broke a half-shaft as an objection to being thrashed so hard, so near the end of the race. As Ascari crossed the line there was not the usual high-spirited waving and smiling face, but a very tired and worn Alberto, who said afterwards that 123 laps were a little too much.