Continental Notes, May 1959

Over the years the Continental racing scene has been gradually changing, for better and for worse, but this year it took a decided step backwards, for Easter went by with no racing whatsoever taking place. For years now it has been traditional for the Pau G.P. to be held on Easter Monday, and, depending whether Easter was early or late, this event or the Syracuse G.P. opened the European racing season, and both were full-blooded Grand Prix races with factory support. Last year the Pau G.P. was a travesty of its former glory and was more like a small English Club meeting, while this year the whole meeting has been put back until Whitsun, making a complete break in the continuity of the event, and, with Easter being early and the Syracuse race at the end of April, racing on the Continent has been very late in getting under way. However, once started, the Continental scene will really start humming, with World Championship Grand Prix races and World Championship Sports Car races following each other in quick succession; at one point in early summer the Dutch G.P., Nürburgring 1,000 kms., Belgian G.P. and Le Mans follow one another on successive weekends, and no doubt there will be a full team of Ferraris at all the events.

Apart from the World Championship races it seems that Grand Prix racing for Formula I cars is on its way out, for Syracuse, Pau, Rouen, Clermont-Ferrand and Caen are all contemplating holding Formula 2 events; just the way things went in 1952-53 as a prelude to the new Formula that was due to start in 1954. Now we are in the throes of the prelude to the new Formula in 1961. How time does go by!

The classic Italian open-road races, such as the Tour of Sicily, Tour of the Dolomites, Tour of Calabria, and  —  the greatest of all  —  the Mille Miglia, show no signs of returning to the calendar, the Italian Government still refusing permission to close the roads for these events. The Tour of Sicily takes place, but only as a regularity run or rally with some pretty interesting special tests, while the Mille Miglia is once again being run this year as a long-distance rally, but one cannot help smiling when it is seen that one of the special tests in the rally is a timed run from Florence to Bologna, over the Futa and Raticosa mountain passes. This section of road was part of the real Mille Miglia route and the record for the crossing is 1 hr. 1 min. by Moss with the SLR Mercedes-Benz. As the Italian idea of a special test is to close the roads, or at least make it pretty obvious to the public that they are not wanted on the roads, it might almost be worth while entering this year’s Mille Miglia just for the fun of a closed-road dice along some 60 miles of the old classic route.

After trying to interest Europe in high-speed motoring by putting on the Monza 500-Mile Race for two years, the Italians have now abandoned the idea for the time being, so that June 28th will see a meeting for Gran Turismo cars on the Monza road circuit, instead of the 180-m.p.h. Indianapolis cars on the banked track. Every year a nation-wide lottery is held in conjunction with whatever race is held at Monza at this time, starting with the Supercortemaggiore sports-car races, and the outcome of the race means that some lucky Italian wins millions of lire. This year it is quite likely that the lottery winner will gain by the efforts of some amateur Italian club driver, for G.T. racing has not really caught on among the star drivers. The French tried hard last year to encourage G.T. racing but it was only a success for those taking part, and this year the 12-hour race at Reims has been dropped. Instead of the fast Reims circuit being in use from midnight Saturday until 6 p.m. Sunday, racing will only take place on Sunday afternoon, starting with the French G.P. for Formula 1 cars and, after that, a shorter race for Formula 2 cars. Apart from G.T. racing not proving a success with the public, the cancellation of the 12-hour race will mean that the G.P., which, after all, is the important event of the meeting, can be held on a clear, dry track, for in the past the surface has been well coated with rubber and oil by the time the fast cars have their race, which has been the cause of more than one accident.

Just before the Reims meeting, which is on July 5th, the Alpine Rally takes place, and there is no doubt that this event has received a shot-in-the-arm so far as this country is concerned, by the showing of the wonderful colour film made by the Shell Film Unit. Already the regulations are out for this event, which is officially known as  “La Coupe des Alpes  —  the XXth International Criterium of the Mountains,” and that name is no misnomer. Much of the terrain of last year is used, but, in addition, the run is going into Austria and making more use of the Dolomites and, while still starting from Marseilles, it is finishing this year at Cannes. If any readers fancy their luck as rally-drivers, I would suggest writing to the organisers and getting a copy of the regulations and then sit down quietly with some maps and follow the route. After that, if you still think you can dice, I would suggest you enter for the event, but do not blame me afterwards if you feel you never want to see another hairpin bend or another mountain. After the Coupe des Alpes last year I felt that a holiday in Holland would be just the thing! It takes place this year from June 23rd to June 30th.

Returning to the racing scene, which always looks and seems so much safer than Continental rallies, there is still much speculation about what car or cars Stirling Moss is going to drive. For sheer ability as a driver it is doubtful whether there are more than one or two drivers who are capable of giving him any opposition this year in the Grand Prix races, but unless he has the right car an inferior driver could easily beat him for the World Championship. At the moment he has four possibilities for use in the major races: the ” bitza ” that R. R. C. Walker is having built for Moss, consisting of a modified Cooper chassis, a B.R.M. engine and a special Italian gearbox; then there is Walker’s 2-1/2-litre Cooper-Climax, which is a known quantity; there is no reason why he should not drive a B.R.M. some time; and, although Mr. Vandervell has withdrawn his Vanwall team from G.P. racing, it would not surprise me if there was a 1959 Vanwall available for Moss to use at Zandvoort or Spa, for example. Remember how he drove a race of perfection with a Vanwall at Zandvoort last year to lead the Dutch G.P. from start to finish. With four widely differing cars most likely available, Moss is not going to have an easy time in choosing his mounts, and one cannot help feeling that the Ferrari team are sitting pretty. With Behra, Brooks, Phil Hill and Allison as the leading drivers, with Gendebien and Gurney in reserve for sports-car racing, Enzo Ferrari must be thinking that he has a combination of car and driver suitable for almost any type of racing that organisers might like to think up, and his drivers must feel very secure, knowing that whatever race they are entered for they will be driving a Ferrari car.