The practice periods
An account of the practice sessions will be found on pages 465-6. It is suggested that these pages be digested before this race report.
So the R.A.C. 500-c.c. National Race and International Grand Prix at Silverstone have come and gone! What a day it was. A perfect sunset on the Friday evening gave way to a beautiful day on October 2nd, and at an early hour streams of vehicles flowed along the admirably policed and sign-posted routes to the new course. Soon the two grandstands were packed with humanity and people mingled on the track with the mechanics preparing cars for the races. Hundreds of club members were briefed as marshals, Dennis May functioned an efficient news bulletin Press service, Antone dispensed music, and, apart from a shortage of flapping flags, we had all the atmosphere of a big Continental Grand Prix.
Opposite the line of pits the grandstands flanked the road, where the cars would come up a slope from Abbey Curve under the foot bridge and roar past and away to Woodcote Corner. News began to filter through. Strang had changed his gearbox, ” Bira ” had had an all-night session on his new 4CTL/48 Maserati, while Fry, having three times sheared the drive to the rotary valve of his 500-c.c. car had bought a J.A.P. engine from John Cooper and hastily installed that.
Everyone agreed that the course was first-class, Baron de Graffemied remarking at last he could enjoy himself, with no trees to hit!
At 11.45 a.m. John Cobb drove unobstrusively round the circuit in a Healey “Sportsmobile” escorted by racing motor-cyclists Bell, Frith and Cann, and Silverstone officially existed. Somehow the crowd was cleared, and, cars still choking the entrance roads, the 500-c.c. competitors were assembled.
The 500-c.c. Race
Gale, the new 500 Club Secretary, marshalled his members for their first real race, 50 miles round Silverstone’s three-mile 1,180 yards 55 ft., wide circuit. The non-starters were Lones (Tiger Kitten), Bacon (F.H.B.), Russell (Russell), Hartwell (Monaco), Bond (Bond), Davison (Ardilia) and Sparrowe (S.M.S.), letting in three reserves, Page (Cooper), Messenger (Messenger) and Smith (C.F.S.).
Grid positions, determined on practice times were :—Front row : Strang (Strang-U.R.D.) Dryden (Cooper-Norton), Coward (Cowlan-Norton), Rhiando (Cooper-J.A.P.) and MOM (Cooper-j.A.P.), the last-named a firm favourite.
Row two : Samuelson (Cooper-J.A.P.), Coldham (Cooper-J.A.P.), Brandon (Cooper-J.A.P.), and Cooper (Cooper-J.A.P.).
Row three : Page (Cooper-.T.A.P.), Grose (Grose-Norton), Saunders (Cooper-J.A.P.), Aikens (AikensTriumph), and Smith (C.F.S.-J.A.P.).
Row four : Clark (A.S.A.) Phillips (Fairley-Norton), Gibbs (M.A.C.), Stoop (Spink-Rudgu).
Row five : Strathcarron (Marwyn-J.A.P.), Fry (Frelkaiserwagen-J.A.P.), Wharton (Wharton-B.S.A.), and Flather (Marva-Scott).
Row six : Messenger (Messenger), Underwood Underwood-Scott), Smith (Smith-J.A.P.), and Bosisto (TWA° II).
Unfortunately the start was marred because only Strang and Moss saw Earl Howe drop the flag and they gained an appreciable advantage thereby, as some drivers, Brandon included, were not in their cars and mechanics were still on the grid. Indeed, past the pits Strang led from Moss, Dryden, Aikens, Coward and Cooper, while Brandon was right away at the end of a crackling, jostling procession. After a lap Moss led Strang, with Dryden, Cooper and Coward behind. Already the Underwood was in for a plug-change, and Page’s Cooper for repairs to a broken final-drive chain. The Marott called at its pit, but continued almost at once, the Spink’s driver got an ” O.K. ” from a funnel held aloft and Strathearron badly overshot his pit, and was restarted with difficulty. It was all the greatest fun and rather reminiscent of the 1,100-c.c. class of the 1921 200-Mile Race—save that then the cars had 200 miles to do, at rather better speed!
After three laps, Moss led, at 60.67 m.p.h., 0.7 sec. ahead of Rhiando’s golden Cooper, with Dryden 10 sec. behind the American and John Cooper a bare second behind d”curly.” then Coward’s Cowlan 3 sec. further back. Brandon caught smith at Woodcote, the A.S.A was motoring slowly round making weird noises on the overrun and the Fairley sounded healthy and looked very vintage -American-board-track, as its driver wore a motor-cycle crash hat at a rakish angle.
Trouble was rife and Ken Hutchison waited for customers at the pits, his job being to record competitors’ misfortunes. The push-stick was rushed across country to the Grose, the Underwood gave best to its oiled plugs, Saunders’ Cooper broke a chain at Abbey Curve, but Rhiando went round at the record speed of 63.22 m.p.h., taking the lead sensationally when Moss was reported missing. The latter walked unconcernedly in as Father Moss calmly lit his pipe — alas, the engine sprocket had worked loose. Smith stopped at Maggott’s Corner, the Marott, with a broken magneto bracket, at Copse, and Fry pushed off and retired.
After six laps Rhiando led at 61.25 m.p.h. by 32 sec. from John Cooper, with the Cowlan 8 sec. behind in third place, Coldham fourth, Smith fifth. Haze was seen to be issuing from the engine compartment of Rhiando’s car, and, had we but known it, he was being badly burned by leaking fuel—later a broadcast appeal was made for the loan of a pair of trousers for him, and fears were expressed for his famous shirt. Dryden had been chased hard by Cooper until his exhaust pipe broke and he retired. The fun waxed fast and furious. Early on the Spink needed more fuel, Wharton had oil all over his car and a plug change and attention to the carburetter controls were hampered because many small nuts secured the bonnet—clearly he had hoped not to stop ! The M.A.C. was distinctly unwell, and poor Smith went out with his engine all but on fire and the tank split. The M.A.C. followed, but the Grose restarted for a while. Aikens lost all his oil pressure and ran one or more big-ends, the Spink refuelled again, the Wharton needed more work and restarted only after a long push, but Brandon was going well, a piece of cowling flapping below the Cooper’s engine. The leaders ran on in something of a procession and so ended a most intriguing race, Rhiando winning at 60.08 m.p.h. from Cooper, while Sir Francis Samuelson worked up to third place (he drove back the wrong way of the course after being flagged-in) and Brandon to fourth place. Rhiando used Ferodo brake linings and Dunlop tyres. The full results were :—
1st : S. Rhiando (Cooper-J.A.P.) 60.68 m.p.h.
2nd : J. Cooper (Cooper-J.A.P.) 60.55
3rd : Sir F. Samuelson (Cooper-J.A.P.) 59.90
4th : E. Brandon (Cooper-J.A.P.) 59.87
5th: R. Coward (Cowlan-Norton) 12 laps
6th : S. Coldham (Cooper-J.A.P.) 11 laps
7th : R. Phillips (Fairley-Norton) 11 laps
8th: J. Stoop (Spink-Rudge) 11 laps
Sanders (Cooper), chain, No lap
Underwood (Underwood), plugs, 1 lap
Bosisto (Buzzie), gearbox, 1 lap
Messanger (Messanger), engine, 1 lap
Strang (Strang), seizure, 2 laps
Lord Strathcarron (Marwyn), seizure, 2 laps
Fry (Freikaiserwagen), seizure, 3 laps
Clark (A.S.A.), 3 laps
Gibbs (M.A.C.), 3 laps
Dryden (Cooper), broken engine bearer and exhaust pipe, 4 laps
Flather (Marrott), magneto, 4 laps
Wharton (Wharton), 4 laps
Moss (Cooper), engine sprocket, 5 laps
Smith (Smith), split fuel tank, 6 laps
Grose (Grose), broken brake pipe, 6 laps
Smith (C.F.S.), 7 laps
Aikens (Aikens), big-ends, 8 laps
Page (Cooper), chain, 9 laps
This was great stuff and we look forward to a 200-mile race next year, at Silverstone or Goodwood !
The Grand Prix
Amid intense expectation the cars assembled—a grand spectacle—on the grid for the big race. The Emeryson had been banned by the Stewards, the Alfettes were absent and Sommer’s Ferrari and Brooke’s Maserati were other absentees, so that Watson’s Alta, Bolster’s E.R.A., Richardson’s E.R.A.Riley and Nixon’s E.R.A. of the reserves, were able to run—making 25 cars in all Ascari, of course, replaced Farina. The (mid positions were :—Front row : Chiron ( 1948 Talbot), de Graffenried (4CL Maserati), Etancelin (Talbot), Gerard (B/C-type E.R.A.) and Johnson (E-type E.R.A.). Row 2: ” Bira ” (4CTL/48 litserati), Parnell (4CTL/48 Maserati), Walker (B-type E.R.A.), and Rolt (AlfaRomeo). Row 3: Harrison (B/C-type E.R.A.), Comotti (Talbot), Rosier (Talbot), Bolster (B-type E.R.A.) and Richardson (E.R.A.-Riley). Row 5: G. Ansell (B-type E.R.A.), Watson (1939 Alta), Mays (D-type E.R.A.) and Hamilton (6C Maserati). Row 5: Hampshire (special A-type E.R.A.), Nixon (B-type i.f.s. E.R.A.), Bob Ansel! (4CL Maserati), Salvadori (8-valve 4C Maserati) and Gilbey (0C Maserati). Last row : Aseari and Villoresi (4CTL/48 Maseratis), so placed because they practised late. Parnell’s Maserati already dripped fuel and was topped-up on the line, Baron de Graffenried’s engine received attention after it had been started, and Harrison’s transmission was warmed on the jack up to the very last minute. Lord Howe called a conference of drivers, search having to be made for Ascari, Villoresi and Bira.” Then he raised the flag, it fell, and that finest of sights was witnessed—the whole pack ‘howling away in a tumult of sound and smoke, each man watchful and jockeying for an opening ! As it happened, not everyone started, for Mays stalled and Salvadori oiled a plug . . .
There was a short “breather,” then the singing of racing exhausts came across the fields, the multi-coloured procession was seen scurrying downhill to Stowe Corner and soon the leaders were roaring up to Club Corner and through Abbey Curve.
In front was Chiron, with Parnell, Etancelin and Comotti in hot pursuit. At the very end Nixon and Gilbey came by. Already fate had played a hand, for poor Johnson hit a marker tub and had a drive shaft break on the E-type E.R.A. as he was opening up from Maggots’ Corner to take second place, the shaft pushing a hole in the fuel tank. He walked in, a bitterly disappointed man. Then they were round again, and Parnell was missing, Chiron being some 100 yards ahead of Etancelin, ” Bira ” following, ahead of Ascari, Villoresi, Comotti, de Graffenried, Gerard and Rolt. It transpired that Parnell’s fuel tank had sprung an impossible leak on Seaman’s Straight. Salvadori changed his faulty plug and got off, but Comotti was already in trouble, the Talbot’s bonnet being lifted and the front wheels jacked up at the pit while the near-side brake was adjusted, the driver staying anxiously in his seat. The Talbot, however, was withdrawn. After three laps, Villoresi led Ascari with Chiron a long way behind in third place, ” Hint ” fourth. The Italian ace’s fourth lap was a record one-76.12 m.p.h., but slower than many of us expected. The tank of Watson’s Alta was apparently leaking and the driver left the car on the grass beside the course, while already
Hamilton had hit the marker barrels and Bob Ansel’ had spun his Maserati round at Seaman Corner. After 31 minutes racing Rolt’s AlfaRomeo engine, in spite of being unblown, gave up. At 10 laps it was Ascari who led Villoresi, for the Italians were having a fine battle—some said they would break each other up, remembering Ascari is really an Alfa driver, others sagely observed that the race average-74.65 m.p.h.—was well below their limit. One lap car No. 11 would lead, the next car No. 18, and sometimes they brought the grandstand spectators a thrill by being “neck and neck.” Chiron held third place at 10 laps, 50 see… behind the leader, ” Bira ” was fourth, Etancelin fifth, At Stowe Corner the surface seemed to be getting slippery, much sliding happening, and even the great Villoresi shot though the barrier at Seaman Corner, resuming at once, however. Hamilton spun round at the same spot and Bob AnseIl smote the straw bales at Beckett’, Corner, dented the Maserati’s nose and 15 minutes later had to call at his pit to remove straw from his boiling radiator Watson, having reached his pit on foot, started a repairs expedition to his Alta, and Nixon had lost a minute having the front wheels of his E.R.A. changed. Next it was Mays’ turn. He came in for a plug change, yelling the cause to his staff, and saying “use grade 51.” “Fill him up,” said the mechanics, but it was a bad re-fill, almost the whole contents of the third churn going over the car on to the ground. The E.R.A. had to be pushed clear and the tail wiped to reduce the fire risk before it could be push-started and it wasn’t surprising that Mays got away none too well.
Then a board was set to indicate the stopping position at Etancelin’s pit, and as the Talbot slithered in can after can of water went into the radiator, Etancelin sucking at half an orange and not seeing his wife’s desire that he should accept fresh gloves. He stalled in restarting, then roared back into the fray. Meanwhile. Villoresi overtook Ascari at Woodcote, but they still duelled, Ascari leading by 0.4 sec. at 74.48 m.p.h., after 15 of the 65 laps. Etaneelin’s stop had given Gerard, who was driving splendidly, fifth place, behind Chiron and ” Bira.”
Gilbey lost 3 minutes for plugs, then Richardson’s E.R.A.-Riley, going well, stripped something vital in the differential —half-shafts were at first suspected— and had to retire. Official timing gave Gerard and Walker as 0.4 sec. faster through Woodcote Corner than Ascari. That made us check on the back-markers, to find Rosier sixth, Harrison seventh, de Graffenried eighth, Hampshire ninth, Bob Ansel’ tenth and Bolster eleventh.
After 20 laps the first five positions were unchanged, Ascari leading by a full second, at 74.48 m.p.h. Hamilton stopped, Abecassis looked at the Maserati’s engine, a mechanic pulled a face and George observed “There’s not much we can do about it.” Hamilton went on, only to spin at Club Corner, later retiring with no oil pressure and riding in on the pillion of a motorcycle.
Mays had another stop, the engine starting on the handle and the E.R.A. accelerating away with spinning wheels— but already Ray had said he would go slower in an endeavour to carry on. After two hours racing he came in with a fearful hot-smell from the engine and retired with a broken piston. Meanwhile Ansell’s ex-Sommer 16-valve Maserati skidded in, Hamilton discussed chances with the driver, who eventually continued, but was destined to make many more stops. Bolster and Geoffrey Ansell were having a private duel, and Bira ” had passed Chiron to occupy 3rd place. Gilbey refuelled with much overflow, but soon came in again. Etancelin was seen to point to his offending radiator, the Talbot coming in next lap and boiling water showering the pit personnel as the filler cap was released. Etancelin had a drink, Comotti talked with him, then the car was retired, the driver changing his cap for a clean one, donning a wonderful tweed sports coat and resigning himself to watching from the pit counter.
At 30 laps Villoresi led at 73.65 m.p.h., Ascari was 52 seconds behind, Chiron, ” Bira “, Gerard, Rosier and de Graffenried following and amongst those still going well were Bolster, Hampshire, and Ansell in their E.R.A.s.
Immense anticipation as Villoresi was expected for refuelling ! The Maserati came in, the driver, dirty and excited, leapt out, wiped his goggles and leapt back, the fuel going in under pressure, without a hitch. Pumping with his right hand Villoresi was push-started, and the stop cost but 35.6 seconds, the crowd clapping appreciatively. Then Ascari coasted in with dead engine, Sanesi ready if needed. He stayed in the
cockpit, watching impatiently as rear wheels were changed and the fuel put in, also oil and water. Then he caught sight of a mechanic holding a cloth, wiped his goggles, the jack was released, and the car was away-1 mm. 27 sec., with only two men on the job.
Walker came in soon afterwards for a steady refuel and plug change, asking. “Am I 9th or 10th ?” as he was pushed off. Shortly afterwards Ascari’s exhaust pipe fell off, but he did not come in.
The pace was certainly telling. Geoffrey Ansell, duelling with Bolster, experienced fading brakes and mounted the straw bales at Maggots Corner, his E.R.A. ran along the top, then rolled over. Ansell bravely refused the ambulance, although his right leg was injured, his fingers cut and he nearly fainted from shock. Red Cross men helped him into a Bristol after the race and he was driven home. Fotheringh am-Parker relieved Hampshire, Bainbridge took over from Bob Ansell, and John Bolster contrived to gyrate at Seaman Corner without stopping. Then Chiron was in trouble. He came in, got out, grabbed a bottle, drank, yelled, waved ! The rear Dunlops were changed at his request with lots of tread left, the engine was started as the car dropped from the jack and, amid applause, the veteran French ace sped away. Later he was reported as having stopped “out in the country” and then he came into his pit again—more fireworks, and air bottles were hastened to the scene by “Dunlop Mac.” But the Talbot was retired, Schell calmness personified, with gearbox trouble—or engine trouble ?
Then Gerard’s turn came. For some laps his mechanics debated how much fuel he would need, hoping 25 gallons would do, what time Mrs. Gerard sat on a low stool on the counter of the pit, chart-keeping, and her friend moved coloured pegs along a board as a second check. Poore prepared a drink for the driver, a mechanic was quickly briefed in case tyres would be needed, and checked by stop-watch, the pit got ready for Gerard’s arrival. He seemed quite calm and the crowd really let itself go when the green E.R.A. roared away in 48 seconds, having taken on 30g. of fuel, oil and water. It was a pit stop that did justice to a magnificent drive.
At 40 laps Villoresi still led, at 73.41) m.p.h., 49 seconds ahead of Ascari, Rosier now 3rd, Gerard 4th, Harrison 5th, for ” Bira ” had paused for fuel and oil, from a huge gun, getting away rapidly in spite of leaving his seat to cries of “Third—Go on ! ”
Walker lost three minutes having his. brakesadjusted, Fotheringham-Parker was obliged to remove bits of a marker barrel from his E.R.A.’s front suspension and de Graffenried stopped more than once for lots of water, suggesting a. cracked block, everything very hot and clouds of steam, his mechanic brave to open the cap at all.
Still Villoresi kept 49 seconds ahead of Ascari and Rosier held third place. As the afternoon wore on, there were more casualties. Harrison broke a valve after a grand run, Gilbey damaged his gearbox and retired, Hampshire took over his E.R.A. again, just stuttering away, although the old form soon returned. Salvadori overshot his pit by yards and naughtily reversed back at speed, to•
Craner’s rightful disgust, and Nixon paused for a few moments near Seaman Corner.
The Maseratis came in to refuel a second time, Villoresi’s car taking oil also but getting away in 25 seconds—more clapping, while Ascari’s was refuelled in 84 seconds, the driver taking on clean goggles.
” Bira ” seemed unable to regain his former speed, and at 50 laps Rosier and Gerard led him by 2 min. 31 sec., and 2 min. 24 see., respectively. Five laps later, amid great excitement, Gerard was 25 seconds ahead of Rosier, in spite of the latter’s non-stop run, the fuel held in readiness in his pit not being required. So they ran on, Ascari closing quite a lot on Villoresi, but de Graffenried now badly troubled by overheating. Towards the end, it was clear that, try as he might, Gerard could not catch the Maseratisfive laps from the end he was 1 min. 45 sec. behind the second man. And so ended the first Silverstone Grand Prix.
Villoresi won at 72.28 m.p.h., 14 seconds ahead of his team mate and also set fastest lap at 2 min. 52 sec.–76.82 m.p.h. Gerard came home 3rd, at 71.54 m.p.h., a stupendous effort for which he was mobbed by the crowd, which surged uncontrolled on to the course in a most alarming manner as soon as the winner was flagged, the many marshals who had sat on the grass before the stands all afternoon, powerless to stop it. The race had to be hastily stopped with flag signals. It was a scene unparalleled in the history of British motor racing, and caused Villoresi and Ascari to drive hastily over a potato field in their Lancia Aprilia when they managed to get away ! Fortunately no accidents happened, but 1i hours later the exit roads were still choked with spectators’ cars, traffic police with walkie-talkie radio notwithstanding.
The official results follow, and it will be seen that the best the Lago Record Talbots, regarded as likely winners, could do was to get Rosier home in 4th place. ” Bira’s ” latest Maserati was a rather hopeless 5th, certainly not for want of hard preparation and fine driving by ” Bira.” Bolster deserves the highest praise for bringing Bell’s old E.R.A. home 6th, ahead of Hampshire, and Salvadori for beating de Graffenried’s 16-valve Maserati in his very hard-used 4-cylinder, 8-valve car. Nixon was 10th.
Notes on Silverstone
- The winning Maserati was entered by the Scuderia Ambrosiana and used Esso fuel, Castrol oil, Lodge plugs, a Weber carburetter, Ferodo brake linings, Rudge-Whitworth wheels, Marelli ignition and Pirelli tyres.
- Ascari deputised for Farina, who could not bring his Ferrari.
- The dense crowd which invaded the course after the finish rendered the scheduled prize-giving impossible.
- John Cobb went home in the latest Humber Super Snipe.
- Did you encounter the Silverstone spiders ?
- The R.A.C. has asked us to place on record their appreciation of those spectators who got into the grounds without being asked to pay, but who have since sportingly sent the money to the organisers. They also wish to express appreciation to the many marshals provided by provincial clubs and the crowd’s good behaviour.
- There is a rumour that the Villoresi/ Ascari Maseratis had bigger blowers than those of Parnell’s and Bira’s ” cars. Villoresi had his bothers, hitting a straw bale early on and losing his rev.-counter towards the end; the counter wedged beneath the clutch pedal and made clutchless changes unnecessary.
- Gerard’s E.R.A. had a Roots blower giving a 15 lb./sq. in. supercharge and it did 4.77 m.p.g. for the race distance.