Oh Cropley!

In Autocar recently Steve Cropley, whose page I always read first, in establishing which was the first car to win Le Mans on its initial appearance there, called Lord Selsdon “quite a duffer behind the wheel” because he drove for only two hours of that race in which this claim was substantiated, letting Luigi Chinetti do the remainder, to win at 82.27mph. I must emphatically disagree.

As the Hon Mitchell-Thomson, the Ferrari’s owner had raced his Frazer Nash car often at Brooklands, where he had finished seventh in the BRDC 500-Mile Race with Don Aldington, in Fane’s single seater. In 1939 he drove a Lagonda with Lord Waleran, finishing fourth, and later he took a second place at Brooklands in one of the V12 Lagondas, lapping at 128.03mph. But it was tougher after the war, and if Chinetti had the stamina to drive for most of the 1949 24-hour race, why endanger the result by putting on a less quick driver?

From MOTOR SPORT’S detailed report of the race it is clear that Selsdon waited until Chinetti had a lead of some three laps before having his brief spell in his own Ferrari. He is said to have been out for only 1hr 12 1/2min including time spent in the pits cleaning the screens and adjusting the shock absorbers. (Who did the timing in the pits, an onerous task surely? Yet essential when later drivers were restricted to limited spells before swapping, so that timing of stops was important and changeovers had to be properly observed.) In 1950 Selsdon again had a Ferrari for Le Mans but his co-driver turned it over. I cannot accept that the racing Lord was a duffer, except perhaps in his choice of second driver on this occasion!