Continental Notes and News, November 1939

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Curtain!

Well, the curtain has rung down on the motor-racing stage, and it would take a man with second sight to say when it will be lifted again. For the time being most of our thoughts and activities are concentrated on encompassing the downfall of Public Enemy No. 1 and his mob of gangsters, but it won’t do any of us any harm to talk now and again about the things that interested us most in peace time. In that way we shall perhaps retain a sense of perspective and thus make a better job of building up a normal way of life on what is left of our civilisation when peace returns once more.

That little homily over, let us practice what we preach and talk about motor-racing. The Munich crisis of September last year showed us how the German racing teams were determined to carry on till the very last moment, for they only departed from Donington when war was really imminent. The same sort of thing happened this time, and both the Mercedes-Benz and Auto-Union teams actually took part in a Grand Prix at Bucharest on Sunday, September 3rd, the day Britain declared war on Germany. The race was won by Nuvolari, with Muller second and von Brauchitsch third and I understand that Hermann Lang crashed when leading. Whether he was badly hurt or not I do not know, as news is rather hard to come by these days, especially from foreign sources.

By the same token, it is extremely difficult to find out what is happening to the various drivers and team officials. Caracciola is believed to be in Switzerland, apparently having decided—quite rightly—that the war is no concern of his. For some years, of course, he has had a very charming villa at Lugano. It would not surprise me to hear that Hans Stuck is in Switzerland too. He has had a place on the shores of the Lake of Zurich for a long time, and he was never really happy in Nazi Germany after the incident at Kesselberg, where posters were stuck on trees lining the hill denouncing him for having a wife with Jewish antecedents. Von Brauchitsch, as nephew of the German Commander-in-Chief, no doubt has an important rank in the Army. Lang one would expect to find in charge of a mechanised unit, while Muller, who is an expert pilot, is doubtless in the Luftwaffe.

And what of the cars? It is a peculiar thing that one of the few— the very few—good feats of the murderous career of Hitler should have been the development and production of the finest racing cars the world has ever seen. It can be taken as absolutely certain that even if the war does not last long (which in itself is far from certain), the German motor factories will not be able to afford to continue motor racing for many a long day. Of course, no one knows what form of government will take the place of National Socialism, but it would seem that under a purely competitive capitalistic system, at any rate, motor manufacturers cannot justify the expense of building and maintaining a team of Grand Prix cars. I hasten to add, however, that this does not imply that I am in favour of National Socialism! In any event, it is probable that the whole of Europe, as well as Germany, will be so impoverished after this war that such sport as motor racing will have to start all over again, as it were, and to begin with will be supported entirely by independent sportsmen.

All this, however, does not alter the fact that there are in existence to-day, and there will be after the war, a number of 3-litre and 5½-litre Auto-Union and Mercedes-Benz racing cars, at least a couple of 1½-litre Mercedes-Benz and a couple of Auto-Unions or so of similar size. What will become of them? It is an intriguing thought. Will they be for sale—assuming that the factories will not be able to race them?

French drivers are all very much engaged on warlike activities, as one would expect in a country where military service is compulsory in peace time. Louis Chiron, for example, has a responsible position in the Army as a Transport Officer, and I can imagine the drivers under him quickly becoming infected with the desire to skid corners on their heavy lorries. I fully expect to hear of him organising races for transport vehicles!

Raymond Sommer is in the army, Jean-Pierre Wimille is a sergeant therein, and no doubt taking his job as seriously as he does motor-racing. The place one would expect to find racing drivers is in the Armee de l’ Air, but so far the only people I have heard of flying are Louis Villeneuve and Giraud-Cabantous.

Although Italy has managed to keep out of the war, Italian motorists have been harder hit by in the matter of petrol supplies than most people. In fact, at the present time no one is allowed to drive a private car at all. The result has been an enormous increase in the number of bicycles on the streets. A friend of mine who was in Milan recently tells me that the Italians are applying to this method of transport all the completive instinct which distinguished their motoring manners. Everybody pedals flat-out the whole time, being utterly determined to pass the cyclist in front and in turn stave off the challenge of those behind. No quarter is asked or given, and age does not count. Old men and women are just as anxious to keep in front as young people, and a thoroughly satisfying race is had by all.

Dr. Guiseppe Farina and Luigi Villoresi have been declared motor-racing champions of Italy in the Grand Prix and 1½-litre categories respectively, and it can be presumably taken as an indication that Italy has not lost interest in motor-racing that this announcement was made after the war had been in progress nearly two months. The winter is generally a close season in Italy, as elsewhere, for motor racing, but no doubt the usual programme of events will be carried out next year.