SIDESLIPS by "BALADEUR"

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SIDESLIPS

” BALADEUR ” cW-)

ONE of the chief claims to fame of Albert Guyot., it will be remembered by the connoisseur of motorracing history—although, indeed, his claims are many—is that he lost the 1913 Grand Prix at Amiens through running over his own mechanic. As a matter of fact, this unfortunate accident was entirely due to excess of zeal on the part of the mechanic who decanted himself from Guyot’s Delage when it was still doing thirty miles an hour, which after ninety felt to him like three, with the result that the back wheel went over him ; but at first blush it sounds as if it was Guyot who was careless. Such being the case. I was, I remember, greatly intrigued some years ago when I first saw an illustration, in our contemporary The Autocar, of the 1908 races at Dieppe which has for its caption, ” Guyot on the Delage, the winner of the Grand Prix des Voiturettes, being overtaken by Giuppone on a LionPeugeot, who ran third,” and there, sure enough, in the centre of the picture and on the right-hand side of the road, is Guyot’s high, somewhat cumbrous-looking Delage, with its number One clearly marked on the side and rather less clearly marked on the radiator ; and, at the right of the picture, on the left-hand side of the road, is Giuppone’s (or should it not be Guippone’s 7) comparatively squat, compact Lion-Peugeot, with its number Ten clearly marked on the radiator and rather less clearly marked on the side.

So far, apparently, so good, but what really intrigued me about the picture was the position of Guyot’s mechanic, who is turned towards the centre of the car, with his left arm fully extended for all the world as if he had his hand on the steering wheel and was giving it a shove to the right. From all of which I wove an entirely imaginary and apocryphal picture of Guippone vainly trying to dislodge Guyot from the crown of the road, until at, last the latter’s mechanic felt constrained to intervene ; after which Guyot, having patiently waited until 1913 for a suitable opportunity, decided to teach this back seat driver a sharp lesson.

Of’ course I never really believed this story, and having seen the Monkhouse film which shows Guyot and his mechanic at the end of the 1908 race, I have learnt that the latter was an extremely youthful enthusiast who looks most unlikely to be officious. So what he was probably really doing on the road was regulating the dripfeeds or something. But for all that I have continued to be very fond of that picture in The Autocar and I have even studied it under a magnifying glass in an unsuccessful attempt to discover what the mechanic really was up to. After a bit., something else struck me about it. Guyot’s Dclage, as Ihe caption itself remarks, was the wilmer t he Grand Prix des Voiturettes, alll I as t he picture and the text agree, it carried the number One. Guippone’s Lion-Peugeot, on the other hand, which started tenth, finished fifteenth on time. if, therefore, the latter ever passed the winning Delage during the course of the race, there must have been some pretty wild fluctuations in the fortunes of the -day. But as a matter of fact, there weren’t. Guyot, who, as already men

tioned, started first, made the fastest opening lap in 56 minutes 59 seconds, ran non-stop throughout, taking just under the hour for each of his six laps, and never lost the lead. He covered his first live laps of the Dieppe circuit in 4 hours 48 minutes 89 seconds, and as he started at six o’clock in the morning, he must have completed them just after a quarter to eleven. Guippone, on the other hand, took 4 hours 88 minutes 32 seconds for his first four laps, and if he started ten minutes after Guyot, he can only have completed them at just before a quarter to eleven. At this point, in fact, Guyot was within about 5 minutes of lapping him ; and as Guippone took 1 hour 10 minutes 19 seconds for his fifth lap, and Guyot only 57 minutes 24 seconds for his sixth, the latter, somewhere in the course of it, must have passed the former. In fact the picture isn’t of Guippone passing Guyot at all, but of Guyot passing Guippone.

But of course it is quite easy to see what happened ; and I trust that our contemporary will not take it amiss ‘if, after an interval of more than forty years, I am impelled by historical accuracy to point out the caption writer’s very natural mistake. In the picture the Delage, as already mentioned, is on the right-hand side of the road, the Lion-Peugeot on the left ; the scene is laid in France, where one keeps to the right and overtakes on the left ; clearly, therefore, or so one would think, the Lion-Peugeot is passing the Delage and not the Delage the Lion-Peugeot: Unfortunately, however, the factor which this argument overlooks is that the races on the Dieppe circuit were run left-handed and that in consequence it was the English and not the French rule of the road that applied to them. Which, of course, makes all the difference to the story which every picture of the racing tells. The mystery of the photograph is thus cleared up ; what remains is the mysterious origin of this leftist tendency in French Edwardian motoring circles. As a matter of fact it. all seems to have been started by the Belgians, and they in their turn seem to have been influenced by those complications of the rule of the road on which I have previously animadverted, at probably excessive length, in these columns. At the present juncture I NX ill only repeat that the use of side lever for brakes and particularly the change-speed mechanism seem inevitably to locate the driver on the right ; and it is at: least arguable that, with right-hand drive it is more convenient to keep to the left. The consequent difficulty, in a country such as France with a righthand rule of the road, had been seen as early as 1900 by the Military Commission which inspected the automobiles at the

Paris Exposition. “The opportunity which presents itself,” they remarked, “to place the steering and controls either on the right or the left-hand side of the seat was at one time discussed at great length. Custom having now confirmed their installation on ‘the right, it is necessary to conform to this practice in order to avoid confusion, but it may be regretted that it was ever established. Automobiles constantly have to overtake other vehicles by passing them on the left at speed, and the driver while seated on the right cannot assure himself that the road is clear as easily as he could if he was on the other side. This is a constant source of serious accidents.”

All the same the risk of these serious accidents had, presumably, just to be faced in the town-to-town races of the early days—after all you could hardly expect the ordinary traffic On the Bordeaux road to accommodate itself, for one day in the year, to the convenience of the racing ears. But when in 1902 the Belgians organised the Circuit des Ardennes, which was the first race over a course which had to be covered more than once, they decided to run it lefthanded. At the same time, presumably, they instituted the left-hand rule of the road for the racing ears, an innovation which is not recorded as having caused any trouble, unless, of course, the famous incident in which Leon Thery, in the words of a contemporary report, “eel entre dam tine vaehe et y eel reale,” was due to conservatism in the matter on the part of the cow.

In any ease the Belgian innovation accustomed the drivers to the left-hand rule of the road before they carne to Ireland the next year to take part in the 1003 Gordon Bennett race. The cars kept to the left in the Irish race because it was the normal thing to do in Ireland, but curiously enough this natural advantage was largely thrown away by choosing a figure of eight course, and while the longer circuit was covered lefthanded, the shorter, which, as it measured 40 miles in circumference was not by modern standards so very short, was covered right-handed. The use of a righthand circuit with a left-hand rule of the road was then, and has remained, something of a curiosity ; but it was apparently so successful that when in 1904 the Automobile Club authorities mapped out a course in the Isle of Man for the Eliminating Trials for the English GordonBennett team, they chose, presumably, because of the lay of the land, to send the cars on a right-hand circuit of the island ; and continued to apply this practice when organising the early Tourist Trophy races over the same circuit. On the Continent, however, they had other ideas, and when the French Eliminating Race for the 1904 Gordon Bennett team took place on the Argonne Circuit, the race, which was the first in France over a closed circuit, was run lefthanded. This time Thery, instead of running into a cow, won the race, and repeated this performance in the Gordon Bennett contest itself in Germany, the Taunus course also being followed anticlockwise. Then just when the left-hand rule seemed to have become firmly established for circuit racing, the French proceeded to run the 1905. race in the Auvergne right-lumded. This did not make the slightest difference to Thtry, who won both the race itself and the eliminating race, and got himself dubbed “the chronometer” he was, in fact, just as good as a clock as he was as an antielock. •

In view of what had gone before and what was to happen later, however, the decision of the A.C.F. to run this rape right-handed, although it seems to have been very little commented on at the time, is decidedly puzzling; and after mature consideration, I have come to the conclusion that, curious as it may seem, it may well have been due to the first attempts to streamline the racing car. In the earliest racing ears, be it noted by the vintage enthusiasts for the bucket seat, it was customary for driver and mechaniö to sit side-by-side on a benchseat ; but by about 1898, some of the more enthusiastic drivers, to decrease wind resistance, were making their mechanics sit on the floor, with their feet on the step. A photograph of Jenatzy on the 1903 Gordon Bennett Mercedes shows that five years later he, at least, still adopted this practice ; but, while the outline of the 1903 Mercedes was still that of the classical racing car (except that, be it noted by modern designers, the bench seat had given place to two bucket-seats since about 1899) the contemporary Mors and De Dietrichs had high-sided streamlined bodies, somewhat resembling upturned boats. In these it was impossible for the mechanic to sit with his legs hanging out, and apparently it soon became unsrnart for him to do so even when he could. In any case from 1904 onwards it will be noted that even in Mercedes-type racing cars without sides, the mechanic is seated beside the driver and on alevel with him. This development, I suggest, must have given the A.C.F. authorities the idea in 1905 that the mechanic, having now as exalted a view as the driver’s, and being seated on the left-hand side of the car, could be relied upon to observe the position when overtaking, and thus remove the obstacle to right-hand circuits and the right-hand rule of the road.

At this point in the story the evidence becomes confused in a very curious manner. The first Grand Prix, which in 1906 took the place of the Gordon Bennett race, was run at Le Mans, and the leading motor papers published a map of the circuit, which was reproduced in Mr. Gerald Rose’s classic Record of Motor Racing. I do not know who prepared this map, but on it are drawn arrows, arranged around the circuit and obviously intended to indicate the direction taken by the cars. These arrows show a clockwise course, and as a result more than one reliable motoring historian has stated that the first Grand Prix was run right-handed. A few pages further on, however, Mr. Rose shows a photograph of Duray at La Fourche, and there can be no doubt about it that he is taking the hairpin bend left-handed. Moreover, the description of the course given in Pierre Souvestre’s Histoire de l’Automobile makes it pretty clear that the evidence of this photograph is not deceptive and that the course was in fact covered anti-clockwise.

How, then, can one account for the change in practice which took place between 1905 and 1900, and for the evidence of the map which indicates by arrows that in the latter year the ears ran right-handed? The map must, I think, be an official one, as the roads constituting the course are heavily overprinted on the background of what appears to be the French equivalent of an Ordnance Survey map ; but there is no indication on it of the wooden bypasses which it was eventually decided to build in order te avoid the bad pieces of road at Vibraye and St.. Calais. I suggest, therefore, that this map must have been prepared when the circuit was first decided upon, and before its modifications had been found necessary, and that at that time it was intended to run the race right-handed, in the direction shown by the arrows.

Why, then, was this original intention abandoned ? The answer may, I think, be found in the fact, that on the Auvergne Circuit of 1905, the cars were ” controlled ” at several points, and that if two of them arrived in the control close together, the second was held back until the first had got well away, in order to reduce the necessity for passing to a minimum. On the Le Mans Circuit of 1906, on the other hand, although, as Mr. Rose says, “there was trouble at first over the corner at St. Calais . . . and it seemed as if a neutralisation would be necessary,” once the wooden by-pass there had been put in hand, it was “decided to make the race a two-days’ affair, with no neutralisations or stops of any kind whatever.” This meant that there would be much more passing to be done in 1906 than in 1905, and it seems that it must have been this consideration which induced the authorities to revert to the lefthand rule of 1904, and thus relieve the mechanics of an undue measure of responsibility.

The Gordon Bennett race of 1905 was, in fact, the last major French event run with controls, and when in 1907 the Grand Prix moved to Dieppe, the same considerations by which they had been swayed in 1906 doubtless decided the authorities to run the race left-handed. The precedent having thus been established for the Dieppe course, it was very naturally followed for the Grand Prix races of 1908 and 1912 over the same circuit. In the meantime, however, Pilate had been organising its highly successful Coupe des Voituretfes, consisting in 1906 and 1907 of a six-day reliability trial followed by a race over the same circuit on the seventh day, to determine the winner. These contests had been run over unclosed roads,, with the natural result that the French rule of the road had been adhered to, and the circuit had been covered right-handed. This had proved so successful, in spite of a fairly short course and a very large number of competitors, that no change was made in this respect when the event became a race pure and simple over closed roads ; and so powerful was the force of example, that when in 1913 the A.C.F moved its Grand Prix from Dieppe to Amiens, it fell into Ibie and also ran its race righthanded. As far as I know, this practice has been followed in French road races over since.

During the history of road racing, it may be noted, the onus of passing in safety has been shifted from the driver of the overtaking car to his mechanic, from his mechanic to the mechanic of the car to be overtaken, and, with the coming of the single-seater rating car, from the slower machine’s mechanic to its driver. But the rise and fall of the riding mechanic is really a separate story, and not primarily he theme of the present effusion, which, had not Sir Osbert Sitwell forestalled me, I might have called “Left lJ:mmul, Right Hand ! “