The Montlhèry Meeting

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(Oct. 10th)

The final meeting for 1954 on the Montlhèry track near Paris took place on the Sunday of Paris-Salon week and included races for modified production cars, the Monomill Circus and sports cars, the last-named group competing for the major award of the day, the Coupe du Salon. Practice on Saturday afternoon was held on a damp track that was decidedly slippery, the actual circuit in use being the 6.283-kilometre one, incorporating the northern half of the banked oval, taken in the reverse direction, and part of the very fine road circuit that leads off from the main oval. The entry for the Coupe du Salon was not only large but was also of a very high standard and gathered together a very representative collection of super sports cars. Although the event was to be run as a scratch race over 24 laps, included were four group classifications, the first being for sports cars up to 750 c.c., the second up to 1,500 c.c., the third up to 2,000 c.c., and the fourth for unlimited engine size. There were 29 cars which got through practice safely and were fit to come to the starting line, only three of the total entry failing to make the grade. Of these the Kieft-M.G. of Elles seized its rear axle and the Trouis-Panhard two-seater that Mayers was to drive seized its engine. During some very regular lapping towards the end of practice when the track had dried a little and the wind dropped completely Jean Behra recorded the fastest lap with the factory 3-litre Le Mans Gordini with central driving position.

On the front row of the starting grid were Behra, the American Gregory with his 4 ½-litre Ferrari, and Levegh with his well-known Talbot; behind came Grignard driving a works supercharged 2.8-litre Pegaso two-seater, with right-hand steering and numerous air-scoops spoiling the lines of the bodywork, together with Duncan-Hamilton in his XK120C with disc brakes, Picard with a Ferrari 750S Monza type, a 3-litre four-cylinder with body and chassis like the production 500 Mondial, and then da Silva Ramos driving a works 2-litre six-cylinder Gordini two-seater, having made a better time than the five 2-litre Maseratis that were competing. Two 1,500-c.c. Connaughts were entered, MacAlpine driving the works car and Stirling Moss in the sister car owned by P. H. Bell. The rest of the entry was made up of Oscas, a Lotus-Coventry Climax, a 550 Porsche, French-owned Talbot-Lagos and a supercharged Peugeot Special.

Conditions for the race were very good, being dry and calm, and before the Super Sports category was released the French motorcycle champion Pierre Monneret did a record attempt for the circuit on a four-cylinder Gilera motor-cycle, setting up a new record in 2 min. 20.4 sec., a speed of 161.113 k.p.h. As the 29 cars got away on the opening lap Behra went into the lead and steadily pulled away, driving with complete confidence and always master of the very quick 3-litre Gordini. Barring incidents his victory was going to be undisputed as he was alone in his class, being the only top-flight Grand Prix driver in the big group of sports cars. Behind him came Hamilton, keeping ahead of Gregory’s Ferrari and the rest, while Moss was going very quickly in Bell’s Connaught, keeping up with the leader of the 2-litre category for some time. By five laps Behra was way ahead, followed by Gregory, showing great restraint with the big Ferrari, while a battle was waging for third place between Hamilton in the Jaguar, Picard (Ferrari) and Levegh (Talbot), with Grignard making a very erratic way round the course in the Pegaso, which was very off colour, pouring out clouds of black smoke as it accelerated. The other Pegaso, an unsupercharged 3.2-litre model driven by Palacio, the Spanish works driver, was hopelessly slow and was surrounded by the smaller 2-litre cars. Sparken, driving a works A6GCS Maserati, was having a difficult time trying to stave off the challenge of da Silva Ramos in the Gordini, while the Swiss driver Musy was keeping his private Maserati only a few lengths behind them. Moss was well ahead in the 1 ½-litre class, leading from Veuillet (Porsche) and Peron in his Osca that he used in the Tour of France. The first and second places in the General Category remained unaltered and neither Behra nor Gregory were challenged, though both drivers were driving very hard, cornering very near the limit, especially when they began to lap the slower cars. The three-cornered battle between Hamilton, Picard and Levegh looked as though it would be solved when the Ferrari got in front, but then a slight error on the hairpin at the end of the double track straight put the Ferrari at the back again. About the same time Peron got into his stride with the 1,500-c.c. Osca, it having the new eight-plug head, and he swept past the 550 Porsche and the Connaught of Moss and led his group, while da Silva Ramos was showing surprising ability in the way he was pressing on in the Gordini, leaving all the Maseratis well behind. Grignard’s smoky Pegaso succumbed at the pits for a time, recommencing later without any marked improvement, while the other one was as slow as young Rosier driving his father’s Le Mans Talbot. In the smallest class, there were only two cars running effectively, the Giannini-engined Giaur of the Italian Orsetti and the locally-built Ferry-Renault that so nearly won the Bol d’Or this year, and these two were having a steady battle that entailed cornering at a very high degree of tyre scream. With one or two exceptions the whole field was going at a surprising rate, the degree of “pressing on” round the two sharp corners before re-entering the banked portion of the track being most satisfying to see and to hear.

With only four laps to go da Silva Ramos was comfortably in the lead of the 2-litre class when a rocker on the Gordini engine broke and he was forced to retire, leaving the Maseratis in full charge of the 2-litre class. Just before the end Musy wore down Sparken and got past to win by a short distance, while Peron (Osca) in the 1 ½-litre class began to lose speed and dropped right to the back, letting Moss regain the lead with Connaught, that he had been cornering at the limit throughout the race. Hamilton just managed to beat Picard’s Ferrari, driving the closing stages of the race with his headlamps ablaze as it was getting towards dark and slower cars were not always aware that they were about to be overtaken, and with the sky darkening and showing every sign of winter, Behra won the Coupe du Salon for Gordini, in what will probably prove to be his last race for the French concern. In the course of his unchallenged victory Behra set up a new lap record for the course in 2 min. 16 sec., not so very much faster than the motor-cycle record.

Results:

Coupe Du Salon — Montlhèry-24 laps – 151 Kilometres
1st: J. Behra (Gordini 3-litre) … 55 min. 56.2 sec. … 161.756 k.p.h.
2nd: M. Gregory (Ferrari 4½-litre) … 56 min. 41.4sec.
3rd: J. D. Hamilton (Jaguar 3 ½-litre) … 57 min. 57.2 sec.
4th: F. Picard (Ferrari 3-litre) 57 min. 58.0 sec.
5th: P. Levegh (Talbot 4 ½-litre) … 58 sec. 09.0 sec.
6th: B. Musy (Maserati 2-litre) 1 lap behind.
7th: M. Sparken (Maserati 2-litre) 1 lap behind.
8th: L Palacio (Pegg’s.) 3.2-litre) … 2 laps behind.
9th: J. Rosier (Talbot 4 ½-litre) 2 laps behind.
10th: S. Moss (Connaught 1 ½-litre) .. 1 lap behind.

Class Winners
Group I: C. Orsetti (Giaur 750-c.c.) … 19 laps in 58 min. 19.2 sec.
Group II: S. Moss (Connaught 1,500 c.c.) … 22 laps in 57 min. 02.6 sed.
Group III: B. Group IV: J. Behra (Gordini 3.000-c.c.) … 24 laps: in 55 min. 56.2 sec.
Fastest lap: J. Behra (Gordini). in 2 min. 16 sec.-166.325 k.p.h.

During the morning a race was held over 17 laps of the same circuit for touring cars of high performance, which more or less meant production cars that were allowed to be considerably tuned. The bulk of the entry was made up of Simca Aronde and Peugeot 203 models, together with Porsches, Renaults and Panhards. There was a lone British entry from R. K. N. Clarkson with his special coupé-bodied Morgan with Triumph TR2 engine, and it was rather pleasing to see him lead the race from start to finish, being completely unchallenged throughout, showing the French boys that they are not alone in souping-up production engines.

Results:

Touring Cars up to 2 Litres – 11 Laps – 106.817 Kilometres
1st: R. K. N. Clarkson (Morgan 2-litre) …51i mm. 36.0 sec. … 123.331 k.p.h.
2nd: P. Chavy (Peugeot 203, s/c.) … 54 min. 04.2 sec.
3rd: Mme. Terray (Porsche 1,500) 1 lap behind.