In January we recalled how two racing drivers got unexpected opportunities to drive the very latest Grand Prix cars, when the regular drivers met trouble. The opposite extreme occurred during the 1912 French Grand Prix at Dieppe.
M. Pilain had entered two Rolland-Pilains, with four cylinder 6.3-litre engines having four inclined valves per cylinder operated by an overhead camshaft, and chain drive, entrusting them for this two-day, 956-mile race to the reasonably experienced Albert Guyot and the anonymous driver “Anford”. Guyot had a slow first lap and retired on the second, when the advanced engine packed it in. But the unknown driver “Anford” did better being in seventh place at the end of the first day’s racing, behind Bruce Brown’s leading monster Fiat, Boillot’s Peugeot, another Fiat, two of the Coupe de L’Auto Sunbeams which were to make such an impression on the morrow, and a Vauxhall.
The finishers were put in a guarded park for the night, ready for the 6 am start the next day. Alas, the remaining Rolland-Pilain was reluctant to start, remaining at its pit for about an hour, in the rain, and during this period M. Pilain became anxious that the mechanic who had been cleaning the sparking-plugs might have got the leads crossed.
So he stepped forward, and inadvertently touched the car. This involved either disqualification, or the person concerned taking over. As the car was quite well-placed, fourth in the Grand Prix proper in fact, the manufacturer had little option. He took the driving seat as the engine restarted, telling Guyot to climb in beside him. For Guyot, who had some racing experience as a driver, this must have seemed a mixed blessing!
As it turned out, Pilain did remarkably well, especially considering the long stop before the car restarted, coming home in eighth place, with five cars behind him overall. But one wonders what Guyot thought of his unexpected role of mechanicien?
The incident recalls the time when Ettore Bugatti stepped forward to remove the radiator cap of one of his Brescia Bugattis, which was leading an important voiturette race. The Bugatti was disqualified, there being no question of the great designer-manufacturer taking it on, as its engine was finished. To this day no-one knows whether Ettore really thought the car might need more water, or whether this was quick thinking on his part to draw attention away from the mechanical disaster. Motor racing history is full of unusual and unexpected episodes! WB