France shows us the way
While Britain remains without a motor course or road circuit, France has had her first road race meeting since the cessation of hostilities. This took place on September 9th over a twisty 1.75-mile asphalt circuit on the outskirts of Paris. A straw chicane was used on the straight leg and the grandstands and timekeeper’s offices were on the edge of the Bois boating lake. The meeting was organised by the Independent Drivers’ Association, assisted by Groupement Nationale des Refractaires et Maquisards, revenue from the race going to a fund for assisting returned French prisoners of war and deportees. So great was the enthusiasm which greeted this meeting that some 80,000 to 100,000 persons spectated, willingly paying the equivalent of 10s each (or £5 each if they spectated from the grand stands). The revenue came to about £50,000, and has decided France that she must develop her motor-racing programme in 1946. M. Mauvre was in charge of arrangements, aided by Mestivier, the latter also competing.
Three separate race were contested – the Robert Benoist Cup, for cars up to 1 1/2-litres engine capacity; the Coupe de la Liberation for 1 1/2 – 3-litre cars; and the Coupe des Prisonniers, for cars over 3-litres. In addition, there were three motor-cycle races and a display by the motor-cycle police of Paris. M. Ettore Bugatti attended in a 12-litre Bugatti “Royale”, fitting car for such an occasion.
The Robert Benoist Cup race attracted 17 entries and was run over 36 laps. Starters included Gordini and Cayeux on Simca Fiats of 1100cc, Brunot and Ferry on Rileys, Savoye’s Singer, Alin’s small Simca Fiat, Polledry’s Aston Martin, and Bouchard’s 1100cc Salmson. Gordini ran right away with the race, doing his 32nd lap at 60.5mph, to cover the 63 miles in lhr3m32s, an average speed of about 59mph. His Fiat was unsupercharged. Brunot’s sports Riley followed it home, with the Salmson third.
After this race Mme Gamier, daughter of the late Robert Benoist, was presented with a bouquet and the spectators observed a minute’s silence in memory of a very gallant patriot, trumpeters of the Paris police then sounding the ‘Last Post.’
The Coupe de la Liberation attracted a mixed field, which included Mestivier himself in a blown Hake Amilcar Six, Brugel, Ondet, and Grignard with Amilcars of this type, Polledry this time with a 1750cc All Romeo, two 2 1/2-litre Amilcars, Veuillet’s K3 MG Magnette, two supercharged 1 1/2 GP Bugattis, Martin’s blown 1 1/2-litre Bol d’Or Salmson, a blown 1-litre LM, a 2-litre Citroen-engined DB, a BNC, and two 4-cylinder 16-valve supercharged Maseratis handled by Roger Deho and Henri Louveau. The Salmson was a most intriguing single-seater with circular, protruding, grilled radiator cowl and all-wheel ifs. Louveau’s Maserati ran away with the race, his 11th lap covered at just over 66 mph (1min 33.9sec), a class record. He averaged over 61 mph for the race, his drive taking 1hr 1min 9.7sec. The MG was second, a lap behind, and a 2 1/2-litre Arnilcar was two laps behind Veuillet.
Naturally, the Coupe des Prisonniers caused the greatest excitement. Sixteen started, including the last-minute entry of jean-Pierre Wimille’s unblown 4.7-litre Bugatti, now slimmer than when it ran at Prescott in 1939; Raymond Sommer’s unblown 4 1/2-litre Formula Talbot, which Mays drove in the 1939 French GP; Levegh’s 4-litre Darracq, Louis Gerard’s old 3-litre Maserati, Etancelin’s 2.3-litre “Monza” Alfa Romeo, Trintignant’s, Friedrich’s and Balsa’s 2.3-litre Bugattis, Chaboud, Villeneuve, Comet (with Mathieson as reserve driver), Trillaud, Chotard, Wonnser and with sports Delahayes, and de Sauge’s unblovvn 3.3-litre Bugatti. Sommer was first past the grandstands, closely followed by Wimille (who had not been able to practice).
The Bugatti took first place on the second lap and a great battle developed, both drivers displaying considerable skill in negotiating this slippery, winding course. After 10 laps Wunille drew further ahead and, gaining about 3 sec a lap, had a lead of about 1 1/2 miles by lap 42. The Bugatti put up a fine show, almost lapping the Talbot, and averaging nearly 71 mph for the 75 miles. Several laps were done at an average of over 78 mph Chaboud’s Delahaye was third, far behind the Talbot. Only seven cars reached half distance. Etancelin drove well to get his old “2.3” Alfa Romeo gradually into third place, only to “blow up” at threequarter distance and walk in. Gerard, wild as ever, crashed the Maserati.
It is pleasing to record that no bad smashes or any personal injury resulted, although pre-war, non-synthetic tyres were used. Speed was wisely restricted by the chicane in the Allee des Fortifications. Altogether an excellent meeting – Vive la France! Whether we shall ever attract 100,000 persons to Hyde Park for a similar event is doubtful. But certainly we would welcome racing between cars such as these at Donington or Brooldands next year. Let us hope the RAC obtains it for us. To France, anyway, goes the credit for resuming motor-racing after six years of war.