Long-time proprietor of bristol cars Tony Crook recalls a lap-chart error which put his Frazer-Nash a place down with a handful of laps to go
1952 Monaco Sportscar Grand Prix
The race i enjoyed more than any other in my career, and in which I drove as fast as I could for the longest period, was held 45 years ago, almost to the day, in Monte Carlo.
In that year, 1952, the Monaco Grand Prix for open-wheeler racing cars had been replaced by two sportscar races, one for machines under 2.0 litres on the Saturday, and over 2.0 litres on the Sunday. I was entered for the Saturday race, the Prix de Monte Carlo, in a works Frazer-Nash Le Mans Replica, alongside Moss in a similar car. There was a third Le Mans Rep, driven by David Clarke, but Stirling’s car and mine were lightweight versions, which we reckoned were that little bit quicker.
My car had performed really well at Silverstone the previous weekend, so I was really annoyed when it suddenly struck an oil pressure problem. I’d done the early practice session on Thursday, but had to miss the two Friday sessions while we fixed the problem. The delay meant I had to start from the third row of the grid, whereas Mossy and Clarke were further up.
Our toughest opposition came from Bordoni in an Osca and Manzon in a Gordini (the latter combination was very fast, but had to start well back in the field) and there was a good complement of other decent cars and good drivers. The weather, I remember, was warm and breezy, though only a few days earlier along the Cote d’Azur they’d had storms so severe that some houses had actually been swept down the hillsides and into the sea.
The Autocars columnist liked the weather, too. “Geraniums were growing like weeds,” he noted, “in a range of colours made more vivid by the gleaming white of newly-arrived faces from England.” He was right, too, when he described our event as “a tremendous race from the start”.
Off the start, Bordoni sprinted away in his Osca, with Moss and Clarke in their ‘Nashes not far behind. I was fifth or sixth, I don’t remember which, but by lap four I’d been passed by Manzon’s Gordini, moving up from behind. It was pretty apparent that this was the fastest car in the race. On lap 15 he passed Moss into second and started gaining on Bordoni.
By the time we were about 45 minutes and about 20 laps into the 65-lap race, I was enjoying myself hugely. Then Moss, third to the Osca and Gordini, started having a problem with one of his rear wheels, which had loosened on its splines. He made the first of a number of pitstops that put him out of contention. That moved me up to fourth. Soon afterwards I passed David Clarke into third, and was able to pull away.
With about 25 laps to go there was a confusing incident involving several cars. I can’t remember the details, but in the melee Valanzano’s Lancia Aurelia lunged ahead.! saw him do it, but didn’t worry because I thought I’d already lapped him. It took my pit crew a few more laps to realise that I’d lost my third place. By the time we’d woken up, Valanzano had a handy lead. I wasn’t having it, of course, so I set out to catch the Lancia, braking later and later, and throwing the car sideways all over the place. It was all great fun, of course, because Monte Carlo in 1952 was just as challenging as it is now, what with a corner every six seconds, and well over 1000 gearchanges in a race. Passing other drivers was just as difficult, too.
I caught Valanzano with about 10 laps to go, but he managed to make his Lancia twice as wide as its measurement. The people in my pit were jumping up and down, because they reckoned he was blatantly blocking me. At one point I thought about grabbing one of the spare spark plugs I carried in the car’s cockpit, and throwing it at the fellow, just to let him know I wanted to pass.
The Autocars reporter must have had a really good view of the racing. “On each succeeding lap,” he wrote, “Crook left his braking later, and at each corner it seemed he would either pass or take to the grandstands.” With two laps to go l did make it past at the foot of the hill leading down from the Casino Square. By the time we crossed the line I had opened a couple of seconds’ lead, which showed how badly I’d been held up.
Everyone said it was a thrilling race, and a well-deserved win for Gordini. It was wonderful fun for me, as a driver, but for our team it wasn’t so good. Stirling had been very unlucky, and my own lack of practice time on the Friday had also cost me places at the start. I’ve always thought that with a bit more luck, Mossy and I could have finished one-two.
After the race Amedee Gordini came up and offered his congratulations on my driving, and asked me if I’d care to race his cars when they came to Britain. There was a good commercial link to it, because my firm in the UK was selling Simca cars at the time. But I was very closely wedded to Bristol and Frazer-Nash, and had to refuse. Still, it was nice to have had the offer.