I enjoyed very much Bill Boddy’s recent feature on the history and role of riding mechanics. It recalled to my mind a story about the 1921 French GP. Among the entries was the Italian-American Ralph de Palma, sharing a Ballot with his nephew, and future star driver, Peter DePaolo. During practice, the Americans consistently lapped the Le Mans circuit faster than their team-mates, despite having the weakest of the team’s engines.
The reason for this lap time? ‘During the time we rebuilt the Ballot in New York’, DePaolo wrote in his autobiography Wall Smacker, ‘we had moved the gearshift lever to the centre. It was now possible for me to shift gears whenever Uncle signalled me. As a result, he never had to take his hands from the wheel as we approached a curve. He would yell, “Second!” or “First!” This saved a few seconds on every turn and accounted for the faster times we were making around the course.’ An early form of semi-automatic gearchange?
I AM, YOURS ETC,
David Cole, Oakham, Rutland