Continental Notes, June 1956

Before the International Trophy meeting at Silverstone the Scuderia Ferrari were rapidly making history, for out of nine events in which the factory team competed they won eight, these being the Argentine, Mendoza, Agadir, Dakar, Sebring, Giro Sicilia, Syracuse and the Mille Miglia. Their only defeat was by Maserati in the 1,000-kilometre race at Buenos Aires, and everything pointed to 1956 being a Ferrari year, with the Rampant Horse badge swamping all others. Then came disaster in the form of the thorough beating at Silverstone, followed the very next day by the debacle at Naples, and from bad, things went to worse, for Maserati trounced them at Monaco. This was all very sad for the Maranello firm, but a fine thing for the Sport as this complete breaking up of the Ferrari monopoly has encouraged everyone to make bigger efforts, and now nothing is certain any more and the racing season is once more an open field where anyone might win. Without a doubt the Vanwall victory at Silverstone was a red-letter day for Britain and it was unfortunate that their very next race saw both cars eliminated by crashes through no fault of the drivers. As forecast in the January Motor Sport, once our cars can prove that they can go we shall not have to worry about who is to drive them. Already Moss is wondering whether he did right by signing with Maserati, while Fangio and some of the Italian drivers were taking a great interest in the Vanwalls at Monaco. The Ferrari retirements at Naples gave a welcome win to Gordini, for not only were the prize money and bonuses a much-needed drop in the kitty, but it was a great morale booster for the whole team, and Manzon was a most deserving winner for he drives the little Gordini well, even if it is at the end of the field.

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Since the Maserati team returned from the Argentine and started the European racing season they have been in something of a shambles, and there has been a certain amount of discontent on many sides. There are two factions over the question of the fuel-injection engines, one for and one against, while at times it has been difficult to see just who is number one driver in the team. Behra was sent to the North African races with Perdisa, while Taruffi drove in the Tour of Sicily, and then, after withdrawing from Syracuse, Behra turned up with a factory car. Then Moss was badly messed about over the Mille Miglia, Taruffi was offered the first new 3 1/2-litre, and the factory team was then withdrawn from Naples, though for a moment it looked as though Perdisa was going with a works car.

Meanwhile the firm were selling sports cars as fast as they could make them, and in many cases they were making them too fast and they were far from right, while the Grand Prix department was in a terrible state. However, when the World Championship event at Monaco approached there was a complete change of attitude and a more serious attack by the Trident of Modena you could not have wished to see. There was no question of doubt who they considered their Number 1 driver, and he justified this by leading the race from the first corner to the finishing flag, and the car went perfectly. Those in charge of a factory team do not have an easy task with drivers and often the drivers do not realise this or see the position from the other side. Maserati, for example, are not very friendly towards Fangio for they feel they could have won the World Championship in 1954, had he not changed over to Mercedes-Benz half-way through the season. Similarly, Ferrari are not very interested in Moss, having made him an excellent offer in Formula II days, when the British driver was trying to get into real motor racing, and having been turned down. Gordini would really like to race without drivers, as for many years now as soon as he finds an up-and-coming man he leaves and joins another team; examples are Fangio, Schell, Behra and Trintignant, but you cannot blame them for they want the best cars and will go to the manufacturer who makes them. While mentioning drivers, it was good to see Gonzalez back in Europe, looking remarkably slim and healthy. but unfortunately his back injury incurred at Lisbon still troubles him and he thinks it unlikely that he will join in the Grand Prix game again. He could, of course, drive the Vanwall in short-circuit British events.

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At a supper in Mantova recently, a new Italian award was announced, this being the Trophy Nuvolari, to be given to the most outstanding young Italian driver who was showing similar spirit to the remarkable Tazio. After his incredible drive in the Mille Miglia, it did not take long to present this new trophy to Eugenio Castellotti. Although he did not get anywhere in the recent Monaco G.P. he was on the front row of the start and, in fact, the only Italian driver in the first two rows. At this presentation supper the respective mayors of Mantova and Brescia made speeches, and for sheer eloquence and feeling they would have been hard to improve upon. The theme was quite simple; being what the Mille Miglia means to Italy, the Italian industry, the towns of Brescia and Mantova, the sport of motor racing, the sport Internationally, sport any way and the whole mechanised human race. If two English towns, such as Harrogate and Salisbury, had mayors like these there would be a Mille Miglia round England next year.

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One of the interesting sides of motor racing, apart from the actual dicing, is the vast field of controversy available when discussing motoring, for it is a never-ending subject and as fast as new ideas appear new controversies break out and liven up the meetings between motoring enthusiasts. A very regular one that has been going for a long time now is the question of disc brakes versus shoe brakes. One advocate of the old-fashioned two-shoe expanding brake made a sound point recently when he had gone sailing into the rough in his disc-braked car. It had been a long and arduous race and the pads of the disc brakes had worn completely away, with the result that the plungers reached the end of their travel and there was no more braking effect. The pad linings on most disc brakes are very thick, much more than a shoe lining, and the operating mechanism obviously has to have a limit of movement. Had the car been fitted with shoe brakes, as was the ultimate winner, this particular driver could have gone on slowing the car by pumping the pedal and pressing the aluminium shoes against the steel drums. Admittedly this is not the best co-efficient of friction, but at least there is some and the car will slow down, while the disappearance of stopping power is gradual, the symptoms being the need for greater pedal pressures and perhaps four or five pumps on the pedal before the shoes are expanded sufficiently to touch the drums. Naturally, if a car finishes the race like this the brakes have to be thrown on the rubbish heap as scrap, but at least the car can finish. There was a recent occasion when an official went to move a car that was in this condition, put his foot on the pedal and it went straight down to the boards, and the car ran away with him. No one had told him that there were no linings and it took three or four strokes of the master-cylinder to expand the shoes sufficiently to rub on the drums. The driver knew, for he had been racing for quite a considerable time in that condition. To the casual onlooker the car was completely devoid of brakes. Brakes, whether disc or drum, are a continual headache to the chassis designer, for he is continually striving towards less and less unsprung weight and wants to make brakes smaller and lighter all the time. In opposition, the engine designer is producing more power, and consequently more speed, and wants bigger brakes to reduce the higher speed when the occasion arises. When the brakes are powerful enough to stop a 170-m.p.h. racing car at the end of a three-hour race then they are often so big and heavy that the roadholding is ruined. If the chassis designer has his way and gets the right amount of unsprung weight then the car runs out of brakes half-way through the race. This is one of the major problems in the Connaught design office. It is possible to mount the brakes on the chassis instead of on the hubs, as Mercedes-Benz did last year, and the Vanwall and B.R.M. do at the back today, but this brings in other problems, such as cooling or extra total weight. The more a car weighs the more power it must develop; the more power it has the faster it goes and the harder it is to stop. Pity the poor designers, whose lives are one continuous series of vicious circles, all revolving round a central point, which is to win races. Occasionally the designers and engineers get all their circles into some semblance of coherence for a fleeting moment and the answer is a clear-cut victory, such as the Connaught victory at Syracuse, or the Vanwall victory at Silverstone. The poor B.R.M. team have some really good vicious circles in their design knowledge, and when they fall into order the answer should be pretty shattering victory, but at the moment they have not reached that stage.

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The Production Races at Spa

Every year the Belgians hold a saloon and sports-car race meeting on the magnificent road circuit near Spa, and every year the cars eligible get faster and more interesting. At one time this meeting used to see American cars being driven at impossible speeds and achieving lap times that were hard to believe, but this year’s meeting saw a relative return to sanity. It seems only a few months ago that such cars as D-type Jaguars, Porsche Spyders, DB3S Aston Martins and A6G Maseratis were special works sports/racing cars, yet now they all constitute production sports cars and formed the major part of the entry for the Spa races. Titterington was well in the lead with a D-type and had set a new all-time sports-car record for the course, when he had to retire only two laps before the end. However, Sanderson established a nice lead from Parnell’s twin-plug, disc-braked Aston Martin DB3S, to the huge delight of the Ecurie Ecosse.