15 minutes of fame -- Rolland-Pilain

San Sebastian Grand PrIx, 1923

The entry was hardly bursting at the seams. The Rolland-Pilains — entered for Albert Guyot and Victor Héméry — at the first San Sebastian Grand Prix faced a lone Ballot driven by a local amateur and a pair of Bignan sports models with four-seat bodies. But no matter, this Spanish race still counts as a GP victory and it would be the high water mark for the French marque's short affair with post-WWI racing. (It ran two cars in the 1912 French GP.)

The new GP formula introduced in 1922 was designed to encourage variety: its 2-litre maximum and 650kg minimum allowed scope for engines of four, six, eight and 12 cylinders. The entry for the Grand Prix de l'ACF at Strasbourg reflected this diversity: Rolland-Pilain and Bugatti chose eight cylinders, Fiat six, Sunbeam, Ballot and Aston-Martin four.

The Rolland-Pilains bore a resemblance to the Duesenberg that had won the previous year's race at Le Mans — and not by accident; Guyot had driven for Duesenberg in that race and his influence carried weight at his new team. The car's steering wheel was on the left and hydraulic front brakes were installed under Duesenberg licence. The aerodynamic excesses of the age were avoided in favour of a neat, sculpted body and a low centre of gravity. Three cars — Guyot, Héméry and Louis Wagner — were entered but none finished. The French make had been overshadowed by Fiat.

The 1923 ACF race would be held in Rolland-Pilain's home town, Tours. Its alloy-block DOHC engine was much improved and Guyot ran fourth early on. But once again none of its cars finished.

Then came San Sebastian. The weekend started badly when Guyot and Héméry were struck by food poisoning, the latter being forced to withdraw; mechanic Delalande took his place. And when Guyot pulled into the pits during the race suffering from nausea, it allowed Haimovici's Ballot to take the lead. But Guyot recovered to take the victory, with Delalande completing a 1-2 for the team. But at Monza's European GP in September Rolland-Pilain fell back to earth. Guyot and Delalande were off the pace: the latter retired early with a broken roller bearing; Guyot burnt his leg on the exhaust pipe and handed over to his team-mate, who was disqualified for this action. And that was it for the team, although Rolland-Pilain the marque survived until 1932. -- DS