Pau, April 20th.
The Pau Grand Prix took place on Easter Monday over the 2.769 kilometre course which is one of the few remaining of the street-race type, and furthermore one which has not been altered in any way since 1935. Two practice periods were allowed for the twelve competitors, the maximum deemed safe on the narrow twisting circuit, and it is a sign of the times that only two private owners were accepted, Rosier and Manzon with 1953 type 2 1/2-litre Ferraris, both Frenchmen at that. There were three works Ferraris, all of the 1953 type, to be driven by Farina, Gonzalez and Trintignant, three Maseratis, Marimon with the new car he had at Syracuse and Schell and Mieres with 1953 models fitted with the latest 2 1/2-litre engines. To complete the round dozen there were four Gordinis, outwardly the same as in 1953 but with the six-cylinder engines enlarged to 2 1/2-litres, and they were handled by Behra, Bayol, Eugene Martin, and the Belgian driver Pilette whose car was painted the national yellow.
On the first afternoon Farina was the man of the moment, probably very conscious of the fact that he was the only Italian driver competing, and he was unbeatable, setting up fastest practice time in 1 min. 36.8 sec., which easily beat Ascari’s 2-litre record of 1 min. 38.9 sec. Gonzalez was also in good form and beat the old record, but could not approach Farina, while Behra was going very fast in the Gordini being third fastest; both his and Bayol’s cars were fitted with anti-roll bars back and front and the cockpit of Behra’s car had been fitted with a scuttle fairing embracing a curved perspex screen and high cockpit sides. None of the Maseratis appeared for the first official practice as the lorry had been held up at the French frontier while the paperwork was sorted out, but they arrived by the end of the afternoon and were allowed to practice after the motorcycles had finished their turn. Marimon overdid things and hit the straw bales, dented the nose cowling and grille, but continued after the cowling had been bent clear of the steering, and Mieres was lapping steadily his car being painted the Argentinian blue and yellow. Schell’s car looked most unusual, being painted French pale-blue, and both these cars were 1953 chassis with 1/4-elliptic rear springs and double radius rods, but fitted with identical engines to the 1954 car of Marimon. Schell’s car was fitted with an additional fuel tank on the right of the driving seat. The two private runners were not very happy, Rosier’s engine giving trouble, it being a new one in his last year’s chassis, and Manzon was going slowly in the car he had at Syracuse not, as first believed, Rosier’s old car but one of last year’s 2 1/2-litres that Trintignant had got from the works before being offered an official team car.
The weather remained perfect for the second afternoon of practice and Farina was still unbeatable getting down to 1 min. 36.3 sec., an average of 103.516 k.p.h. Trintignant was now getting into his stride with the works Ferrari and was only 1 sec. slower than Farina, while Gonzalez was not so fast as the previous day. With so many Ferraris about the place the nose cowlings had been painted with coloured bands for recognition purposes, Trintignant being blue, Gonzalez yellow, and Manzon white. Both Marimon and Mieres really got going and beat the old lap record, the former’s cowling having been beaten out and the grille thrown away, and this time it was Mieres who overshot and bent the front of his radiator cowling and the body sides, but fortunately doing no mechanical damage. Behra was still the fastest Gordini and equalled the old record while Rosier circulated slowly, running-in a rebuilt engine. Martin’s Gordini was lent to a new French driver, Paulit, in order that he might get in some practice for it possible future race and the day ended with everyone intact and ready for the race on the morrow.
Race day remained fine and conditions were perfect as the twelve cars lined up on the grid in pairs, Farina and Trintignant in the front row, with Gonzalez and Marimon behind. Then came Mieres and Behra, Schell and Manzon, Bayol and Martin, and Pilette and Rosier. The race was to be run for a duration of three hours, the driver covering the greatest distance when the three hours elapsed being acclaimed the winner, any part of a last lap being calculated on the time taken for the penultimate lap. Last year the Formula II cars had covered over 100 laps and it was expected that the new Formula I cars would approach 110 laps of the sinuous circuit. Everyone got away to a good start and Trintignant leapt into the lead followed by Gonzalez, but halfway round the first lap there was a gefuffle which resulted in Farina getting “elbowed” to the back of the field with the front of his car badly dented. Marimon having the tail of his Maserati severely dented and Behra’s Gordini having a flat nose. Farina was the only one to suffer and had to stop twice to have the cowling cleared from the steering, being nearly a lap to the bad on Trintignant and Gonzalez who were leaving the rest of the field with only 1 sec. separating them, the fat Argentinian bouncing about and waving his arms even though he could not get alongside Trintignant. After only seven laps Schell withdrew his Maserati and by 10 laps the Belgian driver Pilette was lapped by the leaders. Of the 12 starters the Belgian was the only one who could not keep up with the general run and the other eleven drivers showed a remarkably small difference between the fastest and the slowest. Farina gradually worked his way through the field catching Pilette, Manzon, Martin and Rosier in turn, and by 20 laps was in seventh place but making up nothing on his two team mates. As Gonzalez completed his 24th lap, still behind Trintignant, he lapped Martin in the Gordini, and approaching the pits his engine literally had the bottom drop out, spewing, oil all over the road in front of the Gordini driver who hit it, and immediately spun round and rammed the straw bales; meantime Gonzalez slithered to a stop just beyond the pit area with bits hanging out of the bottom and oil everywhere. This slight “moment” caused no personal damage but two more cars were out of the race, and for some laps everyone had to slow down as they took the curve past the pits until the oil was dried off. The maximum reading needle on the Ferrari rev-counter was well beyond 8,000 r.p.m. and Gonzalez had obviously being trying too hard in his efforts to catch Trintignant, for Ferrari does not enforce any set team order until a race is drawing to a close and only then if there is no opposition about the place. Farina was now in fifth position, but lost a complete lap when he came in to have the plugs changed, and after one hour of racing Trintignant had 35 sec. lead over Behra, with Marimon third and Mieres fourth, these four being on the same lap. Bayol was one lap behind as was Rosier, and Farina was now two laps to the bad, while poor Pilette was trying hard not to get in the way. Behra did not appear to be able to make any impression on the leading Ferrari, gaining a few yards but nothing noticeable, and Trintignant seemed all set to do another two hours at the head of the procession, lapping steadily around 1 min. 38 sec., which was a little bit faster than Farina who was still trying to make up for lost time. At half-distance Behra began to speed up a little and reduced the gap to 25 sec., setting up a new lap record on the 48th lap in 1 min. 37.6 sec. Marimon went by with his offside rear wheel leaning in as though the car had swing-axle suspension, which indicated a broken de Dion tube, and two laps later he too noticed it and withdrew from a comfortable third place, letting Mieres move up one followed by Bayol, Rosier, Farina and Pilette.
On lap 54 Behra knocked 0.5 sec. off his previous record and Trintignant speeded up, caught and passed Farina and held his lead, but by now the Gordini was beginning to pile on steam and lap by lap the distance between them diminished. At the two hour mark Behra had the Ferrari in view along the straight and set up another record lap in 1 min. 36.3 sec. to which Trintignant replied with 1 min. 35.7 sec., and after more than 70 laps of this tortuous course these two were really motor-racing. The French crowd was in a flap not knowing whether to urge on Behra realising that another Frenchman was driving the leading car, but the announcer persuaded them to support the Gordini driver, it being a French car that was catching an Italian, so that Behra pressed on remorselessly to the accompaniment a wild cheering and waving. Second by second Behra pared down the distance and when the 2 1/2-hour mark was reached he was only 7 sec. behind the red Ferrari. Trintignant clocked 1 min. 35.5 sec., yet another record lap, and Behra replied with 1 min. 35.3 sec. on his 99th lap, now so close that only a few yards separated the two cars along the straight and on the 100th lap he was alongside, but Trintignant got to the next corner first. With only 10 minutes of the three hours remaining. Behra scrabbled by to the accompaniment of rocking grandstands and cheers for Gordini echoing round the circuit. On the 105th lap Trintignant equalled Behra’s record and two laps later the Gordini clocked 1 min. 35.2 sec., only two laps before the end of the race, which was indeed motor-racing at its best, and when the three hours expired it was Behra in the Gordini who was first over the line a mere 30 yards in front of the Ferrari. It was a magnificent victory, beautifully timed and driven with precision. Trintignant had put up a grand fight and with French drivers first and second everyone was happy. Farina finished in fifth place, behind Mieres and Bayol, and though he had lapped consistently around 1 min. 38 sec., he was completely overshadowed by the two leaders, as was Mieres whose third place was very well earned. It was a grand race and everyone was most happy for Gordini who has put in such an enormous single-handed effort these past few years. Amedee was there in person to see this great victory and to shower congratulations upon Jean Behra, who for the second time in history gave the all-conquering Ferrari team a beating. Results On page 246.
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