Ice racing: Chamonix 24-Hour Race

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Snow wonder

While most circuit activity comes to halt for the closed season, the sport of ice-racing thrives in winter, and the most glamorous of these Continental events is the Chamonix weekend. Known as the 24-hour ice race, this actually comprises some 15 separate heats which include driver changes and night racing, with points from six of these counting for the Grand Prix de Chamonix.

Running outside FIA regulations, obsolete Group B rallycars such as the Lancia S4 met specials such as a 4WD Matra Murena and production 4WD vehicles — Lancia, Citroen and BMW all figuring amongst the leaders. But the dominant force was a Group B-based special, a Renault Maxi 2 4×4 driven by French rally veteran Jean Ragnotti and Gerard Roussel, which took four out of six races to win the GP title.

Their only strong challenge came from one of the two 325iX BMWs entered by BMW France, driven by Francois Chauche and Max Mamers. Team-mate Bernard Beguin’s similar 4WD car suffered transmission problems, missing two night races and losing any hope of victory.

Third place honours were shared between Lancia and Citroen— Jacques Laffite giving the Lancia Integrale its competition debut, with equal points going to Citroen Visa 4×4. Another Formula One name was that of Jean-Pierre Beltoise, co-driving Denis Marcel to sixth in the Murena 4×4.

Letter to readers

Easy way out?

Dear Reader,
The times they are a-changing, people keep telling me, and I am happy to accept the fact most of the time. But now and then I wish they would not change.

A recent announcement by the governing body of Formula One made me very sad, for it told us that the Austrian Grand Prix on the spectacular Osterreichring has been cancelled; not by the Austrians, but by FISA itself, for which you can read Jean-Marie Balestre and Bernard Ecclestone.

Unlike some circuits I could name, the Austrians built theirs from sheer enthusiasm for motor racing, rather than as a speculative venture on an expanding public interest. I still recall the enthusiasm with which the Austrian race organisers took me into the hills in a 4WD Hafflinger to show me the vast hillside they had purchased for the construction of a permanent circuit to replace the temporary one on the local military airfield. They had got backing for the project from local government in the province of Styria, and the end result was one of the best Grand Prix circuits in Europe.

Drivers came back from their first contact with the Osterreichring, saying “Cor!” or “Whew!”, and few could wait to get back and have another go. It was fast and undulating in the steepest sense of the word, and you needed to be able to drive with high-speed precision. With an eventual lap record of around 160 mph, I do mean high-speed.

It had one big drawback for the Formula One “circus” and its followers, especially the posers and non-workers, and that was its location. Even if you climbed to the top of the nearby mountains you could not see a Holiday Inn or a Post House Hotel; the local Gasthofs were friendly and cheerful, providing you did not want television, bathroom, bedside telephone, Telex and Telefax facilities and gourmet restaurants; the nearest international airport was two hours away, and if the weather was not blazing hot, it was pouring with rain. But at least it was warm rain.

For those of us who enjoyed the country atmosphere, in total contrast to the city atmosphere of Detroit for example, it was one of the more enjoyable European Grand Prix events. I know I have enjoyed every visit I have made since it opened in 1969.

Last year, due to the structural failure of one of the Formula One cars, there was a multiple accident at the start which caused the race to be stopped. The re-start was marred by another accident, caused by a driver error, and the third start saw another driver error, and a third accident was narrowly avoided. All this was blamed on the start-line area being too narrow and too constricted. Nobody put any blame on the constructors or the drivers.

In its usual dictatorial fashion, the Formula One governing body demanded that sweeping changes be made to starting area and the pits, without the slightest thought as to where the money was coming from. There was not much in the way of financial help offered by the Formula One Constructors Association or the International Federation which governs our motor racing.

With the likelihood of snow on the Knittelfeld plateau below the circuit until April, there was no guarantee of getting all the work demanded completed by the middle of August, even if the money was available. So, without suggesting a possible “second option”, FISA has cancelled this year’s Austrian Grand Prix.

In passing, it is worth noting that the Formula One teams have put a limit of 16 on the number of races to count for the World Championship, and FISA had 17 races on its application list. Its decision has therefore solved its problem. Easy, wasn’t it? But it makes me very sad.

It is not a question of this being a “doom and gloom” month, but at the other end of my motoring interest there is another noticeable change taking place. This is the price of motor racing books. Not the old out-of-print “collectors items” which the second-hand book trade demands absurd prices for, but brand new books.

A recent advertisement in Motor Sport featured a new Ferrari book for £500 (yes, five hundred pounds), another for £130, a Targa Florio history for £99.95 (which is £100 of anybody’s money) and a Porsche book for a mere £99.50. It was not so long ago that we all staggered back from the first £35 book. By comparison with these latest offerings, a £30 book must rate as a paperback!

One of the weekly motoring journals recently reviewed a handful of new books (not including the £500 Ferrari book) and had you found them all desirable and worthy of purchase they would have set you back nearly £350, which makes you realise how lucky book reviewers are in getting free copies. If our magazines had to buy the books we review there would not be many reviews published.

When I mentioned the £500 Ferrari book to a friend, his view was that if people were prepared to spend £100,000 on an old Ferrari, then £500 for a brand new book wasn’t too bad. He added that at least the book would be new, unlike the old Ferrari which could well be a fake. He had a point there.

A proliferating scene at the moment seems to be extravagant auction sales, and in last month’s Motor Sport there were seven forthcoming auction sales advertised, most of them splashing out on the cost of a full page advertisement. One even went to a two-page spread.

All this is excellent news for our advertising department, but I can’t help wondering where all the buyers are going to be found, or for that matter where all the exotic and expensive cars are coming from. These auctions range from Las Vegas, through Monte Carlo to a castle in Kent. Nothing simple or tawdry like the local market place on Saturday morning.

Professional auction-goers most spend a few hundred pounds on buying the expensive catalogues which are the ticket of entry for spectators, and on travelling to and from the venues. A remarkably expensive hobby — but then all hobbies are expensive by some standard or another.

A final motoring thought. Driving on a motorway after dark I wondered why some large lorries are so dimly lit that you can barely see them, while others have a light on every conceivable corner and coming up behind them is like driving into a fairground. There doesn’t seem to be any reasonable compromise. Yours, DSJ

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