THE Continental season got away to a bad start, with the Bruxelles Grand Prix having to be cancelled due to the severe winter damaging the road surface. However, Belgium's loss was France's gain, for that same weekend, April 6th-7th was scheduled for a period of testing for Le Mans competition on the 24-Hour circuit of the Sarthe at Le Mans. Had the Bruxelles race taken place the Le Mans test-weekend would have been a bit thin, but as it was a number of the Grand Prix drivers were present. Surtees, Mairesse and Bandini were trying Ferraris, along with Scarfiotti and Parkes; McLaren and Bandini were trying various Aston Martins, with Kimberley Jnr. and Schlesser, and Graham Hill and Ginther were trying the new Rover-B.R.M. turbine car.
The Scuderia Ferrari were trying hard, with one of their Sebring 3-litre open prototypes and the 4-litre coupé prototype, the open car, known as the 250P, being a splendid sports car as we used to know them, whereas the coupé 330LM was a true Gran Turismo prototype. With no room to spare at all, the open car has a V12 engine behind the driving compartment and coupled to a 5-speed gearbox/differential unit in a tubular chassis developed from the Grand Prix cars, with double wishbone and coil spring independent rear suspension, with inboard disc brakes.
Whereas the Grand Prix cars have the clutch mounted in the open on the extreme end of the gearbox, with the drive running from the engine under the diff.-unit with the gearbox and then forward to the crownwheel and pinion, the 250P has the clutch on the end of the crankshaft and in front of the gearbox. The all-enveloping bodywork has a full wrap-round screen and a blade-like "spoiler" over the tail just behind the cockpit, while the cut-off tail has a detachable panel in it which can be replaced by a grille for hot races. On each side of the tail is an air scoop taking air to the disc brakes and the right-hand one also sends air to the six double-choke Weber carburetters, mounted in the vee of the engine, the valve gear being the usual Ferrari layout of single overhead camshaft to each bank with rockers to the inclined valves. Ignition is by coils and two distributors driven at right-angles on the rear of the camshafts.
The coupé 330LM was like a GTO in general shape, except that the vertical blade on the tail has been passed on to Aston Martin, and the whole end of the Ferrari body curves slightly upwards. This car uses a 4-litre V12 engine coupled to a 5-speed gearbox and driving a rigid rear axle, which is sprung on thin leaf springs with vertical telescopic shock-absorbers having light coil springs around them. Location of the axle is by a Watt-link mechanism and twin radius rods on each side. Well trimmed inside with door pockets, window winders and complete upholstery this car is a true GT prototype.
Equally serious were the three Aston Martins being run by the works team, once more back in racing. Two cars were production DB4GT models with Zagato bodywork and the third was the experimental 212 which appeared briefly last year, all three having similar GT bodywork with blunt tails and "spoilers" across the top edge. The 212 was not radically altered but it incorporated lessons learnt last year as regards suspension and handling.
If a coupé means a GT car then the Maserati Tipo 151 is still the GT to end them all, until such time as the Lola-Ford V8 appears on the circuits. Out on test at Le Mans was one of last year's Tipo 151 coupés, owned by Maserati-France and being driven by Andre Simon and Casner. The stability of the "flexible de dion" rear end has been improved and the latest V8 engine with four overhead camshafts was installed. This 4.7-litre power unit was using fuel ignition into a special Maserati manifold by way of a Lucas injection unit, driven from one of the inlet camshafts in place of a distributor, only one of the twin sparking plugs being used. Whereas the two Ferraris seemed to be humming round the circuit, the Maserati and the 212 Aston Martin were charging along by reason of great lumps of power and making the sort of noises that we hope will keep everyone awake for 24 hours on June 15th-16th.
A noise that will no doubt attract a lot of people to the Sarthe circuit is that of the Rover-B.R.M. turbine car. This interesting project is made from cutting a Grand Prix B.R.M. chassis in half and fitting a 2-seater width tubular centre-section. In place of the rear mounted V8 B.R.M. engine is installed a Rover gas-turbine unit giving some 150 b.h.p. driving to a B.R.M. differential unit. A rather simple aluminium bodywork covers the mechanism, with open cockpit and enclosed rear wheels and at the time of testing it was unpainted. The driver has but two pedals, a small "go-faster" one which controls the fuel to the turbine and a large brake pedal wide enough to be used by either left or right foot. The turbine being a free-running vertical constant-speed unit, running at 35-40,000 r.p.m., it is essential to drive through corners with the power on, which means that the driver must keep the turbine up to working r.p.m. with his right foot while braking with the left one, so that there is no delay once the brakes are let off. Unlike a conventional internal combustion engine which can be speeded up almost instantaneously by use of the throttle pedal, the turbine takes time to regain peak revs if allowed to drop low, which is why the driver has to keep it turning fast even though he may have the brakes hard on. This technique for fast turbine motoring calls for smooth driving and accurate judgment of speed of entry into corners, so Graham Hill and Ginther had plenty to learn. The turbine exhausts through a large opening on top of the tail and certainly makes a noise new to motor racing, but it is not possible to compare its performance with any normal car, apart from the fact that it develops 150 b.h.p.
The Le Mans organisers have set a target of a race average of 150 k.p.h. for any turbine car competing in the 24-Hour Race, and if it achieves this they will award a special prize. In practice both Ginther and Hill were lapping at around 179 k.p.h. average, which means that the car should achieve the target providing it does not run into any trouble. Its participation poses two problems in that it runs on paraffin, so will have to have special refuelling arrangements, and due to the time taken for the turbine to build up r.p.m. from when it is started, its getaway is rather languid to say the least, so that it will have to start at the far end of the starting line and will probably get under way long after everyone else has accelerated out of sight under the Dunlop bridge, and it probably will not catch the slower cars. To compare this interesting project with any other competitors would be foolish in the extreme, but I fear some of the "popular pundits" will no doubt do so, but if Motor Sport readers will regard the whole thing as a technical experiment it will be worth a visit to Le Mans to see and hear it running.
Of those cars practising at Le Mans, Ferrari, Aston Martin and Maserati were all lapping in times well under the lap record, and Surtees was the fastest of all with the 250P prototype 3-litre, which must be significant if it is remembered that it was his first visit to Le Mans. For the cars the conditions were exceptional in that it was fine and cool, the track was free from rubber and oil, there were very few cars on the track and the drivers knew they didn't have to keep going for 24 hours.
On another subject, but prompted by the visit to Le Mans, is the recollection that at the same time last year the Italian Gilera motorcycle factory took one of their 4-cylinder 500-c.c. racing bikes out of cold storage, having withdrawn from racing in 1957 and let Pierre Monneret give a few demonstration laps. This year on the same weekend as the Le Mans testing, two of these 4-cylinder Gileras were finishing 1st and 2nd in a big race at Silverstone, to mark the re-entry into motorcycle racing of the Italian factory using the same machines as raced in 1957. In Grand Prix motorcycle racing the Formula does not change, apart from detail rules and the "big boys" class is still 500 c.c.
The effect on the motorcycle world of the re-entry of the Gilera team is rather as if the car world was still racing supercharged 1 1/2-litre cars and the Alfa Romeo team returned. As in car racing where a great deal of the increase in lap speeds can be traced directly to Dunlop tyre development, so in motorcycle racing can it be attributed to Avon tyre development, for the Melksham firm have the same stronghold in two wheeler racing as Fort Dunlop have in four wheelers, which accounts to a large extent for Gilera being able to join in again with a design that is some years old. If Gilera's re-entry could encourage Norton, A.J.S., Velocette or Moto-Guzzi to join in again the future would be very rosy and it would be completed by the return to car racing of Jaguar, Mercedes-Benz, Alfa Romeo and Maserati, for after all Aston Martin have come back.—D.S.J.