Pau (France), April 7th.
Oh dear! How times do change. The pleasant town of Pau, basking in hot sunshine at the foot of the Pyrenees, Easter and Grand Prix cars have all been synonymous in the past. Looking through the records list we find names such as Nuvolari (Alfa-Romeo), Wimille (Bugatti), Lang (Mercedes-Benz), Fangio (Maserati), Ascari (Ferrari) and Behra (Maserati), all great drivers at the top of their form winning the gruelling Grand Prix of Pau after three hours of racing on the 2-3/4-kilometre winding, twisting circuit in the town. Easter and the Pau G.P. have been traditional on the International Calendar, attracting the best in drivers and machinery, but what have we now, in 1958? A glorified national club meeting, masquerading under the illustrious title of the International Grand Prix of Pau, with races for Gran Turismo cars, the “Monormill circus,” and a motley collection of cars and drivers comprising a Formula II race; and, as if in violent protest at this change from the tradition of real Grand Prix racing, the weather clerk poured buckets of ice-cold rain over everything. Indeed, times do change.
To set the scene, on Easter Sunday, 14 cars set off on the first 3-hour race, for Gran Turismo cars of 501 c.c.-750 c.c. and 751 c.c.1,000 c.c., and they included three Le Mans coupé Panhard-Monopoles, D.B. coupés, Renault 4 c.v. coupés and Zagato in a very pretty 750 Abarth-Fiat fitted with his own tiny coupé body. In torrential rain, which left puddles like lakes across the track, these tiny cars buzzed and crackled round with the drivers peering gloomily through wet screens with wipers vainly trying to keep the glass clear. For the spectators a 10-lap race would have been exciting; after 20 laps the novelty wore off and three hours became positively boring, but no doubt it was hard work and great fun for the drivers. Many of the contestants blew-up their engines or crashed, and the results were:—
501-c.c. – 750-c.c. Gran Turismo:
1st: Condrillier (Renault Alpine) … 228.890 kms. – 76.296 k.p.h.
2nd: Zagato (Fiat-Abarth) … 227.226 kms.
3rd: Hemard (Panhard-Monopole) … 225.733 kms.
751-c.c – 1,000-c.c. Gran Turismo
1st: Laureau (D.B.) … 237.642 kms. – 79.214 k.p.h.
2nd: Armagnac (D.B.) … 235.648 kms.
3rd: Bartholome (D.B.) … 228.399 kms.
After a short break, and at last the rain stopped falling, the next two categories set off on their three-hour grind round the delightful little town circuit. At least the cars in the previous races looked like Gran Turismo cars; that is to say, close-coupled coupés of sporting lines and fit for road motoring to carry two people and all their luggage. In the 1,101-c.c.-1,300-c.c. class were many Sprint Veloce Alfa-Romeo Giuliettas in various hues, but there were also two unpainted Lotus Elevens, which to my eyes looked exactly like sports cars. In the 1,301-c.c.-2,000-c.c. category, running concurrently with the previous class, were Porsche Carrera coupés, an 8V Fiat coupé, an A.C. Aceca, some Porsche Carrera Speedsters, which are open two-seaters, and two A.C. Ace-Bristols which are sports cars.
While the encouragement of Gran Turismo racing is to be applauded, the F.I.A. really must open its tired old eyes and try and visualise a Gran Turismo car before accepting certain makes for homologation. I know what a Gran Turismo car is, and you know what a Gran Turismo car is, and by no stretch of imagination is it a Lotus Eleven or an A.C. Ace, or a Porsche Speedster. I do not blame the owners of these cars who entered at Pau, but I do blame the manufacturers for offering them for homologation and the F.I.A. for accepting them, for they are not in the true spirit of Gran Turismo.
After the Le Mans start Storez shot off into the lead in his Porsche Speedster, hotly pursued by a horde of Giuliettas, led by the Swiss driver Schild, and Houel in an A.C. Ace. Vidilles in a Lotus made a poor start but soon overhauled most of the Gran Turismo coupés, while Hicks in the other Lotus retired with a damaged engine. Storez did not last long and went out with clutch trouble, while Houel gradually cooked his Bristol engine, and Whiteaway in the other Ace-Bristol ran steadily and beat Jose Behra, though Sunley in the Aceca was slow. Swiss driver Berney was terrific in a Giulietta, hurling it into corners at the very limit of its roadholding, but his engine was tired and he could not keep up with other Giuliettas being more soberly driven. Vidilles in the Lotus Eleven sports car, with two seats and neat full-width screen, had no difficulty in leading the race as a whole as well as his category. After approximately one hour he stopped at the pits and handed over to da Silva Ramos, who continued to lead the race until the end of the three hours increasing his lead as the roads dried out.
1,001-c.c – 1,300-c.c. Gran Turismo:
1st: Vidilles/da Silva Ramos (Lotus Eleven) … 258.438 kms. – 86.146 k.p.h.
2nd: Pegaso (Alfa Romeo Giulietta S.V.) … 253.016 kms.
3rd: Schild (Alfa Romeo Giulietta S.V.) … 251.591 kms.
1,301-c.c. – 2,000-c.c. Gran Turismo:
1st: Sala (Fiat 8V) … 253.082 kms. – 84.361 k.p.h.
2nd: Whiteaway (A.C. Ace) … 248.578 kms.
3rd: Behra (Porsche Carrera) … 246.263 kms.
On Monday the weather-man relented a little and a comparatively feeble sun shone amongst the clouds, and while most of Pau were having lunch the Deutsch and Bonnet “Monomill circus” had their go. This consists of a club of novice drivers who use weird little single-seaters constructed by D.B. from 850-c.c. Panhard components and known as Monomills, the idea being that all drivers have an equal chance of winning as the cars are identical. The club also has a strange notion that it is training future racing drivers and even goes so far as to suggest that their “circus” should form the basis for a Junior Formula for beginners in 1959! As these Monornills are under-powered front-wheel-drive devices with the c. of g. just behind the front axle, the handling characteristics are like no other known car, so that the drivers learn to race on cars that no-one in his right mind is going to copy. They would learn as much about racing by going on the “dodgems” at a fair.
When the harsh banging of the flat-twin Panhard engines had died away another one-make race took place, this being the three-hour event for Gran Turismo cars over 2,000 c.c., and it consisted of 10 Ferrari 250 Europa models, the beautiful 3-litre V12 coupés that vanquished the 300SL Mercedes-Benz all last year. The sound of 120 tiny cylinders bursting into life after the Le Mans-type start was quite something, and with the sun shining did much to arouse interest in the meeting. Although there were 10 wealthy owners dicing in this event, there was only one driver and that was Gendebien, who simply walked away with the race, his only possible opponents being da Silva Ramos and Seidel.
On lap two the former had a brake lock-on and he spun into the straw bales and retired, and a little while later the latter spun and lost a lot of time. For three full hours the city rang with the scream of the 12-cylinder Ferrari engines, though some fell by the wayside, and by 4.30 p.m. Gendebien finished his tour de force an undisputed victor.
Over 2,000-c.c. Gran Turismo:
1st: Gendebien (Ferrari Europa) … 280.010 kms. – 93.336 k.p.h.
2nd: Seidel (Ferrari Europa) … 277.671 kms.
3rd: Munaron (Ferrari Europa) … 277.205 kms.
At long last the real racing cars took the scene, for a 50-lap Formula II race, but just as we were deceived in the Gran Turismo races so this deception continued. There were five Cooper-Climax single-seaters at which no-one could argue for they were pure Formula II cars, and there was a very old Simca-Gordini 1-1/2-litre from 1946-47 which at least was a single-seater, but for the rest it was another matter. There were two Porsche Spyder RS 1500 models, complete with headlamps, stop-lamps, starters and so on, Cabianca with a sports 1,500-c.c. Osca from which the electrics had been removed, a 1,100-c.c. Halsylec, and to make up the number a Lotus Eleven, and a Monomill; not the best of Formula II fields by any stretch of imagination.
For a fleeting moment in the opening laps it looked as though there was going to be a motor-race, for Cabianca in the sports Osca led Trintignant in an R. R. C. Walker Cooper, this being the ex-Leston 1957 car, and da Silva Ramos in the. only 1958 Cooper in the race. This new car, painted blue, was part of the Alan Brown equipe and his other car, a 1957 one, was driven by Tyrrell making his first graduation from Formula III. After only four laps Trintignant passed the Osca and then da Silva Ramos went by and there was no more racing. Just as Gendebien had given a demonstration in the Ferrari race, so Trintignant did likewise in this Formula II event, building up a steady lead from the 1958 Cooper. Behind them the two New Zealanders, Moore and Thackwell, were having their first outing with twin-cam Climax engines in their 1957 cars, while at the back Veuillet and Schiller were running wheel to wheel in their Porsche Spyders. The Lotus Eleven that Hicks drove the previous day had been mended and was now stripped of all equipment and being driven by W. S. Frost, while behind him Cales in the old Gordini was battling with Armagnac in the Monomill, and Latchford in his Halsylec brought up the rear.
After 15 laps a shower of rain made the circuit like an ice-rink and as the Monormill took to a pavement, the Gordini rammed the straw bales, Thackwell went sideways and Schiller spun, the rest of the runners dodging cars and officials in a hair-raising low-speed melee.
It all sorted itself out, though Thackwell retired with a damaged gearbox, and then Tyrrell went out with a broken universal-joint on one of his Cooper’s half-shafts. Trintignant was never seriously worried and drove comfortably according to the conditions of the road, and between rain-showers recorded fastest lap, all but lapping the second man by the end of the race. The two Porsches never lost sight of each other throughout the 50 laps and the Monomill was taken over by Mougin after a time and just before darkness descended the very mixed Pau G.P. meeting came to a close, the rather dissatisfied customers going home as more rain fell. The win by Trintignant was popular with the French but that was about all. The sooner the Automobile Club Basco-Bearnais returns its attention to real Grand Prix racing, as it has done for the past 17 Grands Prix of Pau, the better it will be for the sport in general
Pau G.P. – Formula II – 50 laps – 138 kilometres – Cold and damp
1st: M. Trintignant (Cooper-Climax) … 1h. 26min. 0.4 sec. – 96.085 k.p.h.
2nd: H. da Silva Ramos (Cooper-Climax) … 1h. 28min. 31.3 sec.
3rd: G. Cabianca (Osca) … 1 lap behind
4th: R. Moore (Cooper-Climax) … 2 laps behind
5th: A. Veuillet (Porsche RS 1500) … 2 laps behind
6th: H. Schiller (Porsche RS 1500) … 2 laps behind
7th W.S. Frost (Lotus 1,100) … 3 laps behind
8th: P. Armagnac/R. Mougin (Monomill) … 5 laps behind
9th: J. Cales (Simca-Gordini) … 8 laps behind
10th: D. Latchford (Halsylec) … 10 laps behind
Fastest lap: M. Trintignant (Cooper), 1min. 38.4 sec. – 100.975 k.p.h.