Ascari Robbed of a Certain Victory. Pau, April 11th.
The interest at Pau was not so much the cars that were present, but those that were not, and the biggest surprise was the complete absence of the Ferrari team cars and drivers. After the complete fiasco the Maranello team suffered at Turin they had returned home unhappy about the way the Lancias were going and with much work to do. The entry of the Lancia team for Pau, as well as the Maserati and Gordini teams, obviously caused Ferrari to think again and the result was that the Pau Grand Prix was not supported by him. Having suggested that the new Vanwall Special might make its 1955 debut at Pau, a very suitable course for the car, it was also disappointing to find it had not been entered after all.
The Lancia team cars were virtually the same as at Turin, except for small details, in particular the brakes had been altered yet again, this time there being two shoes in place of the four-shoe arrangement used at Turin, and also the cylinder mechanism was mounted in the more orthodox position, on the inside of the back-plates. In place of the single large-tube oil coolers all three cars were fitted with multi-tube coolers, running the whole length of the inboard sides of the fuel tanks. On Villoresi’s car the rear radius rods that locate the de Dion tube were anchored to the tube much farther apart, so that the double rods were no longer parallel with the axis of the car; also, the shock-absorber arm was no longer vertical, but worked at a large angle from the extremities of the de Dion tube. On the cars of Ascari and Castellotti the rear ends were unchanged, while all three cars had been repainted a lighter and much more Italian shade of red.
With the loss of poor Mantovani from the Maserati team, there were only three Modena factory cars running, driven by Behra, Musso and Mieres, though Rosier had his own blue Maserati and Andre Simon was driving one of last year’s team ears, now his personal property and painted French blue, this being his first drive with the six-cylinder car. Behra’s engine was fitted with a different cylinder head, having larger valves than the other two team cars, and using three double-choke Weber 45 DCO 3 carburetters, in place of the normal 42 DCO 3 models. In addition, his carburetters were fitted with larger and longer intake pipes and these diminished in length from number one cylinder, back to number six, the long ones at the front necessitating a large bulge on the side of the body. Originally Gordini entered two cars, with the hope, many people thought, that they might be completely raceworthy, but the promised financial backing did not materialise and Gordini continues to struggle along as before. However, three cars were brought along to practise, and the third was added to the starting list at the last moment. The new car, with the Messier disc brakes, that made its debut at Barcelona last year, was in the hands of Bayol, once more back in favour with Gordini, and this car was now fitted with the new six-cylinder engine, with twin o.h.c. operating directly onto the valves, and not through rockers, as before. The second car was the one used by Behra all last season, with the normal brakes, with 2LS on the front, and this too was fitted with the new type of engine. It was quite like old times to see Robert Manson back in the Gordini team, and he was driving this second car, while the third car was another of last year’s models, completely unchanged, and driven by Pollet. Rene Bonnet entered two of his absurd-looking front-wheel-drive DB single-seaters, fitted with supercharged 750 c.c. engines, the rather small supercharger being mounted on the front of the crankcase, fed by a downdraught double-choke Solex carburetter. These cars were fitted with Messier disc brakes on the front wheels only, those at the back being normal drum brakes, while the wheels were special magnesium alloy disc type, also made by Messier. With the air-cooled flat-twin engine way out at the front, the cars looked most peculiar and added to this was an enormous ground clearance, almost enough for a “trials car.”
Of the rest of the sixteen entries de Portago was driving his new 625 model Ferrari, and the Frenchman Jean Lucas was driving Rosier’s old four-cylinder Ferrari, these two being the only representatives of the Rampant Horse. Finally, there was a newcomer in the form of an Anzani-Volpini, a nicely-made Italian special, built in Milan and using some parts from the Scuderia Milan cars of the old Formula I. It had a twin-cam four-cylinder engine, with eight plugs, and four single-choke Webers, a four-speed gearbox on the rear axle, double-wishbone front suspension with torsion bars, and trailing link independent rear with a transverse leaf spring. It was being driven by a newcomer, Mario Alborghetti.
The race was over 110 laps of the twisty 2.769 kilometre circuit and it is generally agreed that the Pau Grand Prix has always been one of the most difficult races on the calendar, and while the circuit remains unchanged over the years, it will continue to represent pure road racing, along with the Monte Carlo circuit. For drivers such as Ascari, Behra and Villoresi the circuit was very familiar, they only having to adapt their knowledge to new cars, but to others the two practice periods were most useful and necessary. On the first afternoon it was Ascari who set the pace, lapping under 1 mm. 40 sec., which is a good average time, and he gradually reduced this to just under 1 mm. 36 sec. Castellotti was 1 sec. longer, which was remarkably good for a first appearance at Pau, and Villoresi was 3 sec. longer than the team leader. All three cars were running perfectly and sounding very reliable. During the afternoon Ascari took all three team cars round and there was very little difference in their performances, his own car being taken to 8,400 r.p.m. and the others a little less. Continuing the principle of making Castellotti gain as much experience as possible, he was made to circulate practically the entire afternoon, and only once did he make a mistake when he spun on the downhill section, but without touching anything. The Maserati team were content not to try too hard, on this first practice period, being content with Behra doing 1 mm. 37.6 sec., just a little slower than Castellotti.
The other Maserati drivers were going steadily, Mieres being very much at home at Pau, but Musso not so. Portago was feeling his way round in his Ferrari, until he bumped the straw bales near the Monument, crumpling the nose cowling, and the two DBs were rather pathetic. Driven by Armagnac and Martin, they were fast downhill, but completely lacked acceleration up the long slope away from the station hairpin. On the second afternoon of practice it was Behra who set the pace, speeding up each lap until he recorded 1 min. 36 sec. dead, and this spurred Ascari on and he flung the Lancia round the corners until he was bright red in the face and his time was 1 min. 34.5 sec., an unofficial lap record. On the downhill swerves he had the Lancia sliding from side to side of the road, and he really looked as though he was trying. Behra then went out and on the same section looked completely at ease, and his time was 1 min. 35.4 sec., second fastest and good enough for the starting grid. Meanwhile, Mieres had been working away quietly, though he spun once at the station hairpin, and he got in an excellent lap in 1 mm. 35.6 sec. and this remained third fastest, the end of practice seeing him followed by Villoresi, still in excellent form, and Castellotti. Armagnac was putting all he knew into his cornering with the DB, but was prevented from making a good time by the lack of power, while Martin was not at all happy and his car was taken over by Storez.
Easter Monday was warm and sunny as the cars lined up on the narrow road with Behra and Ascari on the front row, and Mieres just behind them in the centre of the road, followed by the Lancias of Villoresi and Castelotti. Apart from one of the DBs everyone shrieked away from the start with Behra and Ascari side by side as they went into the first hairpin. It was the Maserati that got round first and these two then left the rest of the field behind, Behra leading Ascari by a few feet only. As they went into the station hairpin on the first lap Ascari elbowed his way past on the inside, but at they next hairpin Behra gave as good as he got and took the lead again and stayed there until lap 11. Behind them Castellotti, Mieres, Villoresi, Musso, Bayol and Manzon were running in a very close group, literally nose to tail through the corners, and then there came a pause and Simon led the rest of the field. At the end of the 12th lap it was Ascari who carne round in the lead and he then built up a 4 sec. lead over Behra, but after that the Frenchman sat tight and the gap remained constant. Castellotti had drawn away from the other factory drivers but he was losing ground rapidly on the leaders, so that by lap 20 he was just 20 sec. behind Ascari. Villoresi had got in front of Mieres, but could not shake him off and Musso was ever present; the two Gordinis had dropped back. The two DBs were not quite last, for the Arzani had stopped at its pit and was now way behind.
As so often happens the race settled down for what might be termed a regulation period of endurance, and the slower cars were being lapped at steady intervals. Retirements were surprisingly few, only Musso’s Maserati and Bayol’s Gordini retiring by this time, although at about this time Alborghetti was braking for the station hairpin and Pellet went by on the inside, lapping him. Whether this unnerved the young Italian is uncertain, but the Arzani accelated violently and crashed into the barriers, the driver receiving fatal injuries.
At lap 40 Behra had closed to within 1 sec. of Ascari, but the wily Alberto soon put a stop to this and began to try hard for a few laps, increasing his lead to 10 sec. by lap 50, having set up the fastest lap on lap 49 at 1m. 35.3 sec., still a tenth of a second off Behra’s record of last year with the Gordini. Meanwhile Mieres had got past Villoresi for a few laps, only to be repassed again, but then the Lancia driver made error of judgment on one of the corners and lost a great deal of ground, dropping back to fifth place. On and on went Ascari, with Behra making no attempt to catch him, being content with a certain second place rather than risk breaking the machinery, and these two gradually lapped the rest of the field, so that by lap 80 only the leading Lancia and Maserati were on the same lap. Manzon had retired out on the circuit, as had Storez, and Pellet retired at the pits.
Just when victory seemed certain for Ascari, with a 45 sec, lead over Behra, he caused a great stir by drawing into his pit at the end of lap 90. The brake fluid pipe from the master cylinder to the junction of the two pipes from the rear brakes had split, and while the mechanics cut the pipe and hammered it flat, leaving only the front brakes operating, Ascari sat in the cockpit and watched Behra go into the lead, to the accompaniment of wild cheering from the French crowds. Then Castellotti went by into second place, Mieres into third, and Villoresi into fourth and still Ascari was waiting with controlled patience for the mechanics to finish their work. After losing two laps on Behra, he rejoined the race in fifth place, but it was too late to make up lost ground, as well as having the handicap of only front-wheel braking. He had been lapping regularly in 1 min. 36 sec., but he could now only tour round in 1 min. 42 sec. and the remaining laps were reeled off by the leaders, Behra slowing right down for the last two or three and he completed the final one amid the waving and cheering of the crowd, a popular winner for the second year in succession. Villoresi and Castellotti finished the race in close company, though a lap apart, and once again the full Lancia team completed a 300-kilometre Grand Prix race, though this time only morally the winners.
Grand Prix Of Pau—Formula I, -110 Laps,-304 Kilometres—Mild and Dry
1st : J. Behra (Maserati 250F) … 3 hr. 02 min. 09.6 sec. … 100.326 k.p.h.
2nd : E. Castellotti (Lancia D50) … 3 hr. 03 min. 10.6 sec.
3rd : R. Mieres (Maserati 250/F.I)… 3 hr. 03 min. 40.1 sec.
4th : L Villoresi (Lancia D50) … 1 lap behind.
5th: A. Ascari (Lancia D50) … 1 lap behind.
6th : A. Simon (Maserati 250/F.I) … 5 laps behind.
7th; L. Rosier (Maserati 250/F.I) … 6 laps behind.
8th : de Portage (Ferrari 625) … 7 laps behind.
9th; J. Lucas (Ferrari 625) … 13 laps behind.
10th: Armagnac (D.B. 750 c.c., s/c.) 18 laps behind.
Fastest Lap: A. Ascari (Lancia), in 1 mm. 35.3 sec.-104.600 k.p.h.
Retired : Alborghetti (Arzani), lap 21; Russo (Maserati), lap 33; Bayol (Gordini), lap 36; Marmon (Gordini), lap 49; Storez (DB), lap 65; Pellet (Gordini), lap 81.