An Endurance Race
PAU, FRANCE, April 18th.
THE Automobile Club Basco-Bearnais, who organise each year the Grand Prix of Pau, in south-west France, and have done so since 1930, are an extremely old-established concern, being founded in 1898 at the very dawn of motoring. As early as 1899 they organised a motor race, from Pau to Bayonne and back, won by a Peugeot at 52 k.p.h. average speed. Consequently it is not surprising that they tackled difficulties when they arose, such as holding the Grand Prix of Pau in 1947, as soon after the war as possible, and in 1956 reconstructing the safety measures to comply with the Paris Federation requirements, whereas other circuits had to close down. This year saw the twentieth G.P. of Pau being held and a return made to the traditional date of Easter Monday, while, as always, a select entry of drivers was assembled, including World Champion Jack Brabham. Unlike some organisers, the A.C. Basco-Bearnais are content to leave their circuit alone, and though they may resurface the roads the shape of the circuit remains unaltered, so that drivers know exactly where they are when they arrive for practice.
Saturday afternoon saw the first outing for practice and fifteen of the eighteen entries were present, many of them having journeyed direct from Bruxelles the previous Sunday, these being Brabham, Lewis, Campbell-Jones, Marsh, Trintignant, Flockhart, Seidel, Schlesser, Frere and Bianchi, all with F.2 Cooper-Climax cars. An additional Cooper was that of Collomb, while Hicks and Niven changed the scene a little by having Lotus-Climax cars, the former with one of last year’s works cars and the latter having his first F.2 race, with an early Lotus single-seater. To complete the entry the works Porsche had been back to Stuttgart and been repaired, and was now present for Gendebien to drive, as Bonnier and Hill were occupied at Goodwood. Last but by no means least was the Scuderia Centro-Sud entry of a Cooper-Maserati for Gregory to drive, this being a brand new project having a 1½-litre Maserati four-cylinder engine in one of the team’s last year’s F.1 chassis frames. This was a new 1,500-c.c. Maserati engine having the latest type of cylinder head with semi-downdraught inlet ports, water take-offs just above each valve, and a single distributor on the rear of the inlet camshaft to fire all the eight sparking plugs. The layout of this head was similar to the very fast 2.8-litre sports Maserati engine, and used two Weber 45 DC03 carburetters. Mounted in the normal position in a Cooper chassis it was coupled to a Cooper gearbox casing containing Centro-Sud’s own internals, still four-speed but much stronger and having their own oiling system, with an externally-mounted oil pump. The engine used a four-branch exhaust system and a long tail-pipe ending in a small megaphone, while in the cockpit a Maserati gear-lever and gate had been fitted and adapted to the Cooper gear-selecting mechanism.
A slight shower of rain fell just as practice started, so that lap times were very slow while everyone was having a look round, but after about three-quarters of an hour the track dried, and Paul Frere was among the first to put in some fast laps, going round in 1 min. 42.0 sec. It was not long before everyone else got down to this figure, though all were not happy, Gendebien having difficulty selecting gears on the Porsche and finding that having six speeds in the box he was continually changing up or down. Bianchi was troubled by fluctuating oil pressure on his Equipe National Belge Cooper, later to be traced to broken main-bearing caps, and Gregory was not happy with the handling of the Cooper-Maserati, though it appeared to have plenty of steam, while Hicks was losing oil from his gearbox. Brabham was running his Cooper-Climax with single wishbones on the rear, to encourage it to over-steer round the tight corners, and Trintignant, who had double rear wishbones, was trying to achieve the same effect by juggling with tyres and pressures. Gendebien, Trintignant, Gregory and Brabham all began to approach the 1 min. 40 sec. mark and then, in no time at all, young Lewis was the first to start lapping below 1 min. 40 sec., and he rapidly got down to 1 min. 35.8 sec., his Climax engine sounding beautifully crisp. This time was better than the existing F.2 lap record, set up by Behra last year with his Porsche in 1 min. 36.8 sec., but not quite as good as Trintignant’s best practice time of last year, which was 1 min. 35.6 sec. This excellent time by Lewis caused quite a stir and the loud-speakers, which had been happily chattering about Gendebien being the fastest, suddenly went quiet. Last year Lewis put in some fast practice laps, the twisting up-and-down town circuit obviously being to his liking. The only other driver to approach his time was Gendebien, who went out again and got down to 1 min. 35.9 sec., and then the rain started again and these two remained the only ones to break 1 min. 36.0 sec. However, both Trintignant and Brabham improved on the old lap record.
On Sunday for the second practice period the track was dry and the weather had improved, so that the moment practice began there was a concerted effort by the faster drivers to right the wrongs of yesterday, for it had looked bad for the established stars to be beaten by a new young driver. Gendebien was soon lapping in under 1 min. 36 sec. and was getting progressively faster, finally clocking 1 min. 35.1 sec., but then the Porsche jumped out of gear and the revs. went sky high and resulted in bent valves, so the car was wheeled away to the paddock and a new engine fitted — just like that, there being a spare one all ready in the van. The car was running again by the end of the afternoon, but not in time for any more practice. Brabham went out in his usual quiet and unobtrusive way and in a very short space of time was down to 1 min. 35 sec., and then did a shattering 1 min. 34.5 sec. and followed it with 1 mm. 34.0 sec. exactly, which left everyone breathless except Brabham, who then stopped and sat in the pits smiling to himself.
Flockhart had got Alan Brown’s Cooper working properly, and was at last content with it, and he and Marsh did 1 min. 36.2 sec., but Lewis was still well ahead of them and near the end of practice he improved his time down to 1 min. 35.2 sec. This was done while being chased by Trintignant, who worked incredibly hard but made no real advance on Lewis, and after they had covered a number of laps, with the Frenchman gaining a little ground, he had recorded 1 min. 34.5 sec., but he really had to work for it, his Formula 1 Cooper chassis not being so nippy down the twisty hill as the Formula 2 chassis. Trintignant also had a few laps in the Centro-Sud Cooper-Maserati as they are now looking after his Cooper and entering him under their name, all connections with the Walker Team having been terminated after the Bruxelles race. Most people improved on their times, though Bianchi had no opportunity to do so as his engine was still being rebuilt. and Schlesser had gearbox trouble and had to borrow some second-hand pinions from the Equipe Belge in order to make his car a runner. Some indication that the pace was going to be hot could be gained from the fact that eight drivers improved on the existing lap record for F.2 cars.
On Easter Monday it was dry but dull when the cars lined up on the grid as follows, to start the 90 laps round the 2.76-kilometre circuit.
When the flag fell everyone got away to a clean start and Brabham took the lead, followed by the next four cars in starting-grid order. It only needed three laps for the entry to divide itself up into groups, the first consisting of Brabham, Trintignant, Gendebien and Lewis, the second a nose-to-tail procession of Flockhart, Campbell-Jones, Gregory, Marsh, Bianchi, Frere, Schlesser and Hicks, while already Seidel and Collomb were being left behind and Niven was way at the back after a slow first lap, but was now gaining ground and going quick enough to have been up with the second group. Brabham was pulling away and Gendebien was trying hard to keep up with Trintignant, and Lewis had settled for a very comfortable fourth place. At 10 laps Brabham had 4 sec. lead over Trintignant, but once the Frenchman had shaken the Porsche from his slipstream he began to gain on Brabham, but there seemed little hope of anyone passing anyone else, even in the second bunch of cars, which had now subdivided, with Frere, Schlesser and Hicks being left behind. Bianchi came into the pits with his gear-lever broken and lost five laps while a repair was made by jamming the swivel with a screwdriver and taping it to the broken lever; before he had rejoined the race Gregory stopped out on the circuit in a cloud of steam with an overheated engine.
Brabham had already set up a new lap record in 1 min. 35.4 sec. but on lap 16 Trintignant improved this to 1 min. 35.3 sec. and had closed the gap to 3 sec., being well ahead of Gendebien and Lewis, who were following. The fact that Brabham was not hanging about, or that Trintignant was not relaxing, was indicated by the way they were lapping the tail-enders, and the whole field had now spread out into a procession, everyone driving fast but consistently and bearing in mind that the race was going on for 90 laps, a distance of 248 kilometres. The gap between the two leaders fluctuated slightly as they lapped slower cars and by lap 25 was 7 sec., but three laps later it was down again to 5 sec., and then Brabham had a slide on the bends up in the Park and this slight delay allowed Trintignant to come right up close behind him. On lap 30 the gap was only 1.5 sec., and Trintignant then pushed until he was only a few feet behind World Champion Brabham, and there he stayed, refusing to be shaken off. The race now became one of stalemate for Trintignant had no hope of passing and just had to keep up relentless pressure, hoping Brabham would make another mistake. But there wasn’t much hope, for the Australian isn’t like that, and the green and blue Coopers went on and on as if there was a towbar between them, the little Frenchman never relaxing his pressure for an instant, looking for any opportunity to get alongside, but it was impossible. Even though Brabham occasionally left openings when they lapped slower cars. the openings were never large enough or for long enough.
At lap 30 Lewis stopped at the pits, also with a broken gear-lever on his Cooper, so that his consistent run in fourth place came to an end, for although his mechanic borrowed the gear-lever off Seidel’s car, which had retired with gearbox trouble, it was 10 laps later before Lewis could rejoin the race. By then he was right at the end of the field and contented himself with running in company with Marsh, who was holding sixth position. With Lewis out of fourth place, Flockhart now took over, but he was a long way behind Gendebien, though comfortably ahead of Campbell-Jones, who in turn was leading Marsh easily. On lap 36 Niven had to give up as one or his rear suspension castings had cracked, and on lap 43 Campbell-Jones lost his steady fifth place when his header tank split and he had to keep calling at the pits to take on water. Still the leaders were running nose to tail, even when they lapped the slower cars, and on lap 47 Flockhart was just lapping Hicks when Brabham and Trintignant lapped them both, but even the ensuing melee did not allow Brabham to shake off his shadow. Again it happened when they lapped Marsh and Lewis, and then on lap 64 they lapped the third place man, Gendebien, with the works Porsche. Trintignant was refusing to give up and was forcing Brabham to continue circulating at 1 min. 37 sec., for having won the Pau G.P. for the past two years the Mayor of Vergaze was doing his utmost to win it a third time, but his job looked hopeless for Brabham had that serious look of determination on his face and was not putting a foot wrong. Schlesser was in trouble with his gearbox again, now having only top gear, and although he had been keeping up with Frere and Hicks he now had to drop back, leaving the other two to circulate within sight of each other. As fast as Hicks began to speed up his Lotus, Frere’s pit gave him a signal and the yellow Cooper speeded up, so the result was a deadlock and they settled to lap regularly a few seconds apart. Flockhart was running in a lonely fourth place, as was Marsh in fifth place, and the latter still had Lewis tailing him, though many laps in arrears.
Reliability was proving to be of a remarkably high order, in spite of fourteen corners to the lap, and continuous gear-changing and braking, so that for everyone the race became one of concentration and endurance. At 80 laps Trintignant was still making Brabham lap in 1 min. 37 sec. and with five laps to go he began to push furiously, pressing on Brabham’s tail in the corners and trying to get alongside on the straight, in a last desperate effort to fluster the Australian, but it was useless, there was no way past and the leader was completely unflurried, though all the time wishing his shadow would go away, and the lap times reduced to 1 min. 36 sec. On the last lap Trintignant was getting all set to slipstream Brabham and pip him over the finishing line, or at least make it a photo-finish, when they caught up the works Porsche to lap it for the second time. This was one of those unpredictable things, and as they went round that last lap Brabham nipped by Gendebien and Trintignant was blocked, so the photo-finish was spoilt and the two Coopers finished the race with the Porsche trapped between them. A great relief for Brabham and frustration for Trintignant, who had kept up the pressure for 57 laps, only to be cheated of a “sprint” at the end by the luck of the game. Trintignant is extremely popular with the crowd and they felt they had been “cheated” from seeing him win his third Grand Prix of Pau in succession, and many of them thought that if Brabham had been a “true English Gentleman” he would have made a present of the race to the little Frenchman. They did not appreciate that Brabham is a hard-hearted “racer,” and that of the two he had suffered most throughout the race, for to have someone pushing relentlessly for so long and so close is the hardest thing to stand up against, and calls for remarkable powers of concentration, to say nothing of the skill, for one tiny mistake would have seen victory lost. — D.S.J.