Monte Carlo, Sunday Night.
Never has there been a more thrilling race! For the whole distance, occupying nearly 3½, hours, the blue and the red, France and Italy, Varzi and Nuvolari, Bugatti and Alfa Romeo, have waged a battle that will live forever in the annals of motor racing history. As the two cars roared up the hill on that last 99th lap, and Nuvolari’s car slowed down in a wreath of smoke, I have never seen such intense, hysterical excitement in a crowd before. But let me begin at the beginning.
On the first day, the new Caracciola/Chiron team of Alfas made the fastest time, both getting within one second of the record. Then, in trying to better this, Caracciola had one of his brakes seize, crashing badly on that tricky little twist between the Quai de Plaisance and the Quai d’Albert. The car skidded sideways, crashed into some steps, and the force of the impact fractured Caracciola’s thigh. So, to his great chagrin, the German driver was a non-starter in the race. On the second day it was wet, but in spite of this Varzi equalled his own record of last year with a time of 2 mins 2 secs.
A word about the cars. Nuvolari and Borzachini drove Alfas with the 2.3-litre chassis and two-seater bodies but fitted with 2.6-litre engines from the famous “monoposto” cars, tuned to give 25 extra hp, making about 210 bhp in all. These Alfa Romeos weighed 14 cwt.
The official Bugattis of Varzi, Williams and Dreyfus were the usual “2.3’s,” but with geared-up blowers, and developing about 180 bhp. Earl Howe drove his last year’s 2.3 Bugatti, and Sir Henry Birkin, after failing to obtain delivery of a 3-litre “Monoposto” Maserati from Bologna, rushed to Milan, secured a 2.3 Alfa-Romeo, drove furiously to Monaco, was delayed by an accident en route, fitted a new front axle, and arrived just in time for the race. The Maseratis of Sommer and Zehender were the new 3-litre “Monoposto” cars with hydraulic brakes.
The day of the race dawned fine and clear, the hot sun being tempered by a cool breeze. An enormous crowd had gathered all round the course by the time the cars were lined up in threes. On the suggestion of M. Charles Faroux, the order of the cars was decided by their fastest lap speeds in practice, so that the front row was Borzacchini (Alfa Romeo), Chiron (Alfa Romeo) and Varzi (Bugatti). Nuvolari was in the second row.
The noise was simply deafening as the cars revved up when the drivers saw the flag raised. Then, with a rising note, the whole pack roared away, leaving a blue haze behind them. Who would be round first? It must be one of the first row. Yes, it was Varzi, with Borazcchini (Alfa Romeo), Lehoux (Bugatti), who had started in the second row, and Nuvolari all close on his heels.
Round they came again, Varzi still in the lead, but Nuvolari had passed Lehoux. On the third lap, he caught Borzacchini and went after Varzi – the duel had begun. Then a great cry rang out all round the course. Nuvolari was in the lead! But Varzi was equal to the occasion, and to the accompaniment of a still greater shout, once more led the field.
For 30 laps there was only one second between them, both giving a flawless display of driving, until on that lap Nuvolari managed to slip by at the Gasworks Corner. Meanwhile, Lehoux (Bugatti), after a magnificent start, had to retire, but another driver was making a performance that would firmly establish him in the front rank of racing drivers. It was the wealthy French sportsman, Phillipe Etancelin, at the wheel of his new 2,3 Alfa Romeo, and who was now lying third, being ahead of Borzacchini (Alfa Romeo), Dreyfus (Bugatti), and Chiron (Alfa Romeo). At 40, and 50 laps he was still third, only once faltering, when he turned right round at that dangerous “kink” on the Quai de Plaisance.
Then, on the 60th lap, his differential broke and Etancelin was out. Birkin started slowly, for his Alfa Romeo was not properly run in, and after a short run retired with the inevitable back-axle trouble, when lying seventh. Earl Howe was another back-axle sufferer and was forced to retire on the 40th lap, being then in 9th position. Sommer dropped out with magneto trouble on his Maserati – the same defect he experienced at Tunis.
At 60 and 70 laps Nuvolari still led, winding his steering wheel fiercely from side to side, and sitting bolt upright. Another sensation, Varzi was in the lead, but only by 10 yards. On the 90th circuit Nuvolari was ahead again, but on the 93rd Varzi pushed his Bugatti to the fore. What a race! Everyone was on tip-toe with excitement, for at this rate a really terrific finish would result. At the end of the 98th, Nuvolari appeared first, and as the cars streaked up the hill to the Casino the spectators, eyes glued to the two flashing specks of colour, suddenly uttered a tremendous roar.
Nuvolari’s red Alfa Romeo, its driver keeping in third gear all the time, had slowed, smoke pouring from the bonnet, and in a trice Varzi was past. By the time Nuvolari had finally coasted to a standstill Varzi had the race in his pocket, but Nuvolari, never admitting defeat for a moment, courageously began to push his car with the assistance of his mechanic and others, reaching the line in an exhausted condition.
Varzi, to the terror of his pit-staff, drove like one possessed, even though his nearest rival was out of the race, and on the last lap set up a new record for the circuit in 1 min 59sec or 59.9 mph. Nuvolari, not having finished under the power of his Alfa Romeo, was unplaced – appallingly bad luck! Borzacchini was second, 2 minutes behind, and Dreyfus completed the triumph of Bugatti by finishing third.
1. A. Varzi (Bugatti), 3hr 27min 49sec – 57.01 mph
2. B. Borzacchini (Alfa Romeo), 3hr. 29min 49sec
3. R. Dreyfus (Bugatti), 3hr 30min 10sec
4. L. Chiron (Alfa Romeo), 3 laps
5. Count Trossi (Alfa Romeo), 3 laps
6. P. Zehender (Maserati), 6 laps
(Varzi’s Bugatti was equipped with Dunlop tyres)