The Seventh Gran Premio Del Valentino

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Sweeping Victory for Lancia Turin, March 27th.

Originally the Valentino Grand Prix was given a date in June, but this was changed at short notice to the second week of the European season, and in consequence the three Italian Grand Prix teams gave it their support. This was at the expense of the Syracuse Grand Prix, in Sicily, which should have opened the season on March 20th, but had to be abandoned due to lack of entries. Thus the seventh Valentino Grand Prix saw the first meeting of the Italian teams in the 1955 European season, there being full teams from Ferrari, Maserati and Lancia, though no Mercedes-Benz cars as that firm intend to race only in World Championship events.

The Valentino circuit is situated around the park of that name, and some of the adjoining public roads, and runs along the edge of the River Po in Turin, and the Automobile Club of that town, who organise the event, hold the distinction of having organised the first post-war motor race in Italy, in 1946, when the Valentino Grand Prix was won by the late Achille Varzi with an Alfa-Romeo.

Usually the first race of a new season is somewhat mild by comparison with later events, but after the initial try-out in the Argentine, everyone was ready and eager to win this first 1955 European Formula I race. There were three very obvious factions out to do their utmost to win; Lancia because Turin is their home-town, Farina, driving for Ferrari, for a similar reason, and Ascari because it was about time he won another Grand Prix. The first practice session was on the Friday afternoon preceding the event, while during that morning official scrutineering took place in the local Ferrari agent’s garage. The Lancia team were the first to appear and checked in four cars, three to be driven by Ascari, Villoresi and Castellotti, with the fourth as a spare. Ferrari had four entries and brought along five cars, comprising four of the new Tipo 625 and one new Tipo 553, now called a “supersqualo” to distinguish it front the 553 of last year. The nominated drivers were Farina, Trintignant and Schell, the fourth place being left to “X.” Gonzalez was temporarily out of the team as he was in the Argentine undergoing an operation that has long been pending, and nothing to do with motor-racing. In addition to the “works” Ferraris the Spanish driver de Portago was making his first Grand Prix appearance with a new “private-owner” Tipo 625, while Taraschi had a nicely rebuilt I2-cylinder car and Girard the early four-cylinder that the Swiss driver Fischer used to race. Maserati were naturally out in great numbers, the factory cars being driven by Behra, Mantovani, Musso and Mieres, there also being a spare one, and they were supported by Bira and Rosier with their own 1954 cars.

The afternoon practice was divided into two sessions and the first was almost entirely dominated by the Lancia team, the fourth car being driven by one of the head testers. Finished in the same dark red as at Barcelona last year, they were not outwardly changed, but had numerous detail differences, most a which had already been tried in the Argentine. The four-shoe brakes, with the operating cylinders mounted outside the back-plates, had very wide normally finned drums, the fuel tanks were of heavily riveted alloy, mounted on a multiplicity of struts in place of the previous aerofoil section supports, and oil coolers were no longer mounted in the left-hand sponson. in their place large-diameter pipes ran along the side of each fuel tank, taking oil from the rear-mounted oil tank forward to the engine. Fuel pipes fed from the lower rear end of each sidetank to a fuel pump driven from the rear end of the left-hand exhaust camshaft, this feeding to the four double-choke downdraught Solex carburetters. A new gearchange mechanism was fitted, controlling the rear-mounted five-speed gearbox by two rods, one imparting a rotating movement to the selectors and the other a push-pull motion. Also out in the first half of practice were Bira and Taraschi, the former having some trouble with the underside of his car grounding on the dips, for the surface of the circuit was very bumpy. Later the Ferrari and Maserati teams turned out and then Lancia went back to their factory, leaving Castellotti and the spare car to do occasional laps just to keep their rivals on the alert. Farina tried the new 553 model, but after a few warming up laps an oil connection burst and the car was withdrawn. This was a completely redesigned version of the car that Hawthorn won with at Barcelona, retaining the same engine and the four-speed gearbox/differential unit, with de Dion rear suspension, and having coil springs and an anti-roll bar at the front, with wide-base double wishbones. In place of last year’s multi-tube frame a new one with two main large-diameter tubular members was used, this having a multi-tube superstructure carrying the body, fuel tanks and final drive unit, but in no way being a true space-frame as used on the original 553. The bodywork was much lower than before, bulging out over the pannier fuel tanks and having a very abbreviated tail. The other factory Ferraris were as used in the Argentine, being cleaned-up versions of last year’s 625 model, using the 100 by 79.5 mm. engine with the two forward-mounted magnetos with the water pump horizontally above them. Fitted With five-speed gearboxes and with the rear transverse leaf-spring mounted above the final drive, they also had coil spring and anti-roll bar front suspension, while the bodywork was greatly improved, being sleeker and covering up the rear radius arms, as well as incorporating a built-in curved Perspex windscreen and having a downswept exhaust system. Having broken the new car in Farina took one of the 1955 models, and Trintignant and Schell did likewise, the fourth car being used by them all in turn. The new model driven by Portago was similar in most respects to the factory cars, but was slightly longer in the wheelbase and had only four speeds in the gearbox. In the Maserati camp the cars were identical to the new one that appeared at Barcelona, with the smooth-contoured body devoid of louvres, but having large openings on either side to let air escape. There were three of these cars, while Mieres had a 1954 model and a similar one was spare. Although no official times were taken Behra put in the fastest lap, and close behind came Ascari and Farina.

The next morning was relatively quiet, though all three Lancia drivers were out on the practice car, while Farina had another go with the “supersqualo.” Bira had packed up the front suspension of his car to avoid the bumps, but was having brake trouble, and Mantovani and Musso were sharing the spare works car. Shortly before the morning practice ended Mantovani was putting in some very good times until he overdid things and crashed ; alas, a leg had to be amputated. In the afternoon official times were taken to decide the starting grid and things started to hum; a split-second battle began in real earnest. Lancia set the pace, with Ascari doing 1 min. 42.0 sec., followed by Villoresi with 1 min. 44.4 sec. and Castellotti with 1 min. 44.8 sec, and content with this the team retired once more, leaving Castellotti to keep the pot boiling with the spare car, turning occasional laps at 1 min. 47 see. Maserati took up the challenge, Behra doing 1 min. 42.4 sec. and Musso, after much trying, got a 1 min. 43.2 sec., followed by Mieres with 1 min. 44.4 sec. Mantovani’s car was taken over by a new young driver, Cesare Perdisa, who drove sports cars last year, and he made very good progress in his first Grand Prix attempt, eventually getting down to 1 mm. 46.4 sec. The other “new boy”, Portago, was also doing well, his best being 1 min. 47.6 sec. Ferrari were still in trouble with the new car, Farina having to use the 625 model, and he could do no better than to equal the time of Villoresi and Mieres, while Trintignant and Schell were a little slower.

When the cars lined up for the start Maserati were in a very strong position with two cars on the front row, Behra in the centre and Musso on the left, while on the right was the Lancia of Ascari, it now being fitted with multi-tube oil coolers along the fuel tanks. In row two were Mieres (Maserati) and Farina with a 625 model Ferrari, and behind them Castellotti, Trintignant and Villoresi, with the rest of the fifteen starters ranged behind. As the flag fell Musso leapt into the lead, with Mieres and Behra close behind, and at the first corner, only 200 yards away, the three Maseratis crowded Ascari into the inside, of the corner and Farina to the outside, so that the end of the lap saw Maserati cars 1-2-3, in the order Musso, Mieres and Behra, with Ascari in close attendance, the others already having fallen back appreciably. This unusual situation lasted for six laps with Ascari pressing hard, and then he and Behra both got past Mieres and after three more laps Ascari was wheel to wheel with Behra as they went past the pits. Meanwhile Musso, with a clear road, had drawn a lead of 4 sec. and when, on lap 13, Behra’s de Dion tube broke, Ascari set after the leader unhampered, cutting off a consistent half-second per lap. Behind this excitement other battles were raging, Farina, Castellotti and Trintignant being only inches apart, until the Lancia driver clouted a kerb and stopped at his pit to make sure the wheel was not damaged, his place in the three-cornered struggle being taken by Villoresi on the third Lancia, which had been just behind. Schell was motoring steadily but not very fast and Perdisa was just behind him until his Maserati also broke its de Dion tube, oddly enough on the same lap as Behra’s went.

By lap 21 Ascari was right behind Musso, almost looking into his rear-view mirror, and the next lap saw Musso spin off on a corner, leaving Ascari complete master of the race. The total distance was 378 kilometres, or 90 laps of the winding course, and though Ascari had no close opposition he could not relax as Mieres was only 10 sec. behind, and driving a beautifully steady race. However, Ascari increased his lead by a few yards a lap, until he had built up more than 30 sec. advantage and then the two of them circulated consistently at around 1 min. 46 sec., both well out of danger of the third man, who was Villoresi, driving on top of his form. Farina stopped to complain that his gearchange was not working properly, but was already too far behind to provide any challenge to the first three and it was left to Trintignant to plug away and hold the hopes of Ferrari. Of the others, Portago was leading Bira and Rosier, until the Siamese stopped for brake adjustment, while the two elderly Ferraris were way behind. The race now settled into a dreary procession with the three Lancias sounding very healthy and clearly capable of finishing the race. Just after two-thirds of the distance had been covered Lancia pulled an interesting tactical move; Ascari was still in the lead by 37 sec. when he began to close up on Castellotti, who was then fifth behind Trintignant, these two now being a full lap behind the leader. Instead of sweeping past the two of them Ascari kept close company with his team-mate and urged him on to greater efforts, gradually drawing him closer and closer to the Ferrari until they both got past, Ascari to be a full lap in the lead and Castellotti into fourth place. It did not stop there for they carried on together, Castellotti occasionally leading, until just before the end of the race they caught up with Villoresi. The result of this was that the Lancia team, in first, third and fourth places, were running in line-ahead formation, in the order Villoresi, Castellotti and Ascari, so that they were all actually on the same lap. Trintignant’s Ferrari eventually gave in to the single-handed struggle and the engine broke, while Portage had also stopped out on the course, while Bira was still having pit stops. With a wave of joy Ascari was flagged in the winner, his first victory since 1953, and the Lancia team finished in perfect condition and in close company, their third Grand Prix attempt more than making up for the previous two failures.

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A Useful Bubble Lamp

A useful rubber “bubble lamp” which can be fitted merely by boring a 1 -in. hole and pressing it home, should interest “special” builders, caravan users and those who like to have an emergency light aboard. The lamp is 2 in. in diameter, with either red or white lens to M.O.T. requirements. The bulb and contacts are sealed within the strong plastic rubber case; a bulb is not supplied but a standard stop/tail S.B.C. bulb can be used. The price of this handy extra lamp is 9s. 6d., or 12s. 6d. with chrome ring. The makers are Plastilite Patents Ltd., 25, London Road, Bromley., Kent (Ravensbourne 0021/22).