THE WINNING OF THE GRAND PRIX DE BOULOGNE.
By BERTRAM S. MARSHALL.
ON the mantelpiece of my office there stands a figure of Pan, from whose pipes I seem to hear that peculiar music in which the roar of a Bugatti at speed mingles with the hum of voices as the Car flashes past the winning post, for this figure is the Trophy of the Grand Prix de Boulogne I was fortunate enough to win again this year.
Readers of MOTOR SPORT are now familiar with all the details of the great race, but at the Editor’s request for a personal narrativ e, I have pleasure in recording my impressions.
Having gained a place in the 1923 race after persistent tyre troubles, and also having won the event last year with my veteran ” Brescia ” Bugatti in the 500 kilo. category, the idea occurred to me that by careful consideration I could enter it in the Voiturette Class (below 500 kilos.), and thus, after studying various details, it became possible to present the 1,5oo c.c. Bugatti to the A.C.F. officials, who were obviously somewhat surprised when the scale turned at 465 kilos. How this was actually effected is too long a story to relate at present, but readers will recollect the general methods I described in my recent article entitled “The Reliability Factor in Speed Events,” the latest
success over the Boulogne Circuit indicating that there is something to be said in favour of meticulous care to details in car tuning, and learning the course. On completion of my preparations at home, my mechanic, J. Papworth, and I proceeded to Dover by road and duly arrived at Boulogne, where, recognised by the landing officials as an old friend, the little black Bugatti was greeted with friendly smiles, this incident serving as a pleasant augury of success. As in previous years, I found accommodation for my car in the garage of Mm. Gournay Freres in Rue
Thiers, of which the proprietors are keen motoring sportsmen, and were obviously looking forward to the prospects of first-class Anglo-French duels in the forthcoming races.
The week I had allowed for practising on the actual course was very fully occupied, and although the circuit was supposed to be available for competitors daily between the hours of 6 a.m. and 8 a.m., there was so much traffic about that I decided to commence my road work with the dawn of each day. With regard to practising, I may mention that no attempt was made to set up high practice speeds, for I knew quite well that the ” Bug” would respond to any
call, and was therefore content to work at moderate speeds with the object of improving my already extensive acquaintance with the circuit. This perhaps, is a hint likely to be useful to aspirants for road racing honours ; for many are inclined to waste precious opportunities by driving too fast instead of studying the course.
On the Friday prior to the day of the race, all competitors had to present themselves with their cars at the Boulogne Abbatior, where the cars were officially weighed, the ceremony being performed under the supervision of Capt. Darragh, an official of the A.C.F. and a well-known English resident at Boulogne. As already stated, the Bugatti came well within the stipulated weight for the Voiturette Class, and having been duly passed was in readiness for the event.
Witb the recollection of last year’s tempestuous weather in mind, I decided at the last moment to fit mudguards to the car, which had a sequel to be mentioned later.
The Morning of the Race.
From experience of this race in the past, I knew the need for keeping physically fit, and part of my training consisted in a six mile forced walk each day over an unofficial course on the Digues, and at last, after a very busy week, the day of the race arrived.
Rising early and enjoying a good old-fashioned English breakfast I made my way to the starting point, and after a final conference with my pit attendants and Papworth, got ready to start. Rain began to fall as the start was made en masse, and the Bugatti was No. II ; my first problem was how to get on favourable terms with the drivers who had got away before us, for the Frazer-Nash and Senechal teams, together with a B.N.C. and a Salmson created something in the nature of a mobile barrage.
This possibility, however, had been foreseen, and by taking full advantage of the terrific acceleration for which the Bugatti is famous, I was able to account for at least three of the leaders within the first hundred yards. Warming up to its work, my car screamed past another as we rounded St. Martin’s corner, two others being added to our bag immediately after. On approaching the last corner we were close upon Frazer-Nash, who was moving in good style, but eventually he too was passed long before Devres village was reached.
Towards the end of the first lap, Papworth and I were feeling quite comfortable, our spirits rose as we heard a roar of surprised greeting as we passed the grand stand, as the spectators were not expecting the Bugatti to arrive so soon.
Onwards we sped towards St. Martin’s corner again, and keeping the car well within her stride followed close on the heels of Clive Gallop, who was very wisely taking the fullest possible advantage of the clear road he had at the start. Then it became a question as to whether he could hold the advantage from his pursuers, for yard by yard we began to make up for our unfortunate position in the mass start.
The second circuit gave me the chance of driving with a clear course, and on passing the pits I knew by a prearranged signal that the priceless seconds lost, owing to the start, were being made up.
During the third lap I began to feel a little uncomfortable, for having prepared myself for wet weather, the heat of the sun. became oppressive, I wanted to take off my muffler, which was tied at the back of my neck, and after several gallant attempts to remove it—in which he untied everything he could feel—Papworth succeeded in releasing me. I seriously thought of taking off my coat, but by this time a chilly wind cooled me down fairly effectively.
“Are you feeling strong ? ” shouted Papworth as in a whisper, and when I nodded he stuffed a piece of chewing gum into my mouth which kept me quiet for the next couple of circuits.
On passing the grand stand on this, the third lap, I saw a car at one of the pits, which turned out to be Gallop’s Frazer-Nash, and at the same time a very welcome buzzing noise greeted my ears. It was the signal that we were leading ! And, as you may guess, it sounded really musical.
During the fourth and fifth laps nothing unusual occurred, but my sympathies were awakened for the unfortunates who had been lapped, and having raced for many years, I have, on many occasions, experienced the sickening feeling which overwhelms one at periods of ill-luck. It is very curious how certain trivial things create a lasting impression during a long race, and my thoughts became centred on a picturesque view of two horses pulling a plough on the skyline in contrast with which the speedy Bugatti in the foreground would have made an ideal subject for an artist called” Horsepower.”
We had arranged to stop for replenishments on the sixth lap, and on drawing up at our pit everything had been prepared in readiness. My attendants with one exception were voluntary helpers, unassociated with the trade, and they carried out instructions to the letter. We filled up with petrol, water and oil, the only other attention being the tightening of the front Hartfords.
Papworth, who whilst putting back the empty petrol tins with one hand, snatched a drink with the other, but before he had finished distributing it inside and outside his neck, had to clamber into his seat as I accelerated on first gear. He was an agile fellow, and his gymnastic prowess was put to good account as we darted off to make up the lost time. From the time the wheels stopped to the moment they restarted a lapse of only I min. 25 secs. occurred. During the seventh lap, one of the glasses blew out of my goggles and I felt the most peculiar sensation of driving with one eye exposed to the wind. I dug Papworth violently in the ribs and pointed to my eye, whereupon he produced one of the four spare goggles we carried in reserve. Changing goggles at speed on a bumpy road is no easy matter, and after jamming the goggles on various portions of my face, my mechanic
fixed me up and comfort was restored, we went merrily on. A rather exciting incident took place on the eighth lap when on approaching the right hand corner in Devres village another car was seen immediately in front. Unfortunately, the driver mistook our intentions, and instead of allowing us to pass he accelerated round the acute bend, forcing us to take the wrong camber dangerously near the palisade. It was touch and go whether we should crash, but we just managed to scrape round
with a couple of inches to spare. What happened to the marshal with the blue flag I do not know, but no one was there to warn the” obstruction ” that we wanted to pass. We managed to overtake our affectionate friend on the next left hand bend, and consequently felt much relieved to leave him as we sped up the hill out of the village.
By this time I was getting very thirsty, and thanks to the wonderful road holding qualities of the Bugatti, was able to drive with one hand at 8o m.p.h.. whilst taking a refreshing draught with the other. It was on the tenth lap that I became aware of the approaching lunch hour, for all along the course spectators were preparing for picnics in real French style. The outstanding impression on my mind at this period was that of a continuous rapid motion film of people taking lunch, and I found myself making absurd calculations about the miles that would be covered if all the long loaves were to be placed end to end along the course. Then with my problem still unsolved, I passed the pits to become aware that we were on the last lap but one with a safe lead to our credit.
The twelfth and last lap I opened up a little more and increased our lead by half a minute, the car running comfortably all the time, and our last lap was our fastest. Our course was now marked by a continual toasting, our health being drunk by wildly gesticulating spectators, all sorts of people drinking all sorts of liquids out of all sorts of glasses. The long loaves were waved with glee, but the toast I appreciated most was from a sporting ploughman who proffered all his bottle of unlabelled Vin Blanc Ordinaire with a most magnificent gesture ! On approaching the line we were slowed down by the blue flag, and received an ovation of which any Englishman might be proud. My friend of many years, Monsieur Franchomme, kissed me in approved French fashion ; and surrounded by enthusiastic crowds, I was presented with a bouquet by Monsieur Walther of Hartford fame. The “reliability factor” was again vindicated, but my victory was not without its detractors, for on reaching the official garage, I was informed that an objection had been lodged by another driver. As mentioned earlier, wings had been fitted at the start, and this formed the grounds of the complaint, it
being asserted that these must have increased the weight of the car above the stipulated 500 kilos.
Thereupon, the car was taken into the custody of a commissionaire, and off we went to a weighbridge to test the validity of the complaint. At this stage of the proceedings I received the pontifical and benign attentions of M. Charles Faroux. The car was weighed —found correct, and the objection was over-ruled. I was then received by the prefect of the Department of Pas du Calais, the Mayor of Boulogne and other notabilities, also receiving a bouquet from the wife of the President of the Boulogne Club.
The French sportsmen certainly know how to appreciate a victory, even though their own countrymen may not have gained the victor’s laurels ; and whilst awaiting the return of my pit helpers at the garage, I received the undiluted congratulations of crowds of French people.
Reviewing the race as a whole, I never had an easier task, my car ran perfectly throughout without a single hitch, and never gave a moment’s anxiety. My amateur pit helpers discharged their duties loyally and faultlessly, their signals enabling me to determine my exact position in relation to my nearest opponents at all stages of the race.
I had set out to run the 280 miles course in a regular fashion, and had no ambitions to set up lap or short distance records, considering these to be more satisfactorily performed on the occasion set aside for sprints on the previous Thursday. In conclusion, perhaps I may be permitted to remark that though engaged professionally in the motor business, I participated in a sporting spirit with one mechanic only and my car the only entry of its make—without any racing or factory organisation—proved more than equal to the task. I trust, therefore, that these remarks may serve to demonstrate the possibilities which are open to all who still hold that the future of motoring sport depends largely upon the support of sporting enthusiasts ; especially those who are prepared to give up time and take trouble to prepare themselves and their cars for a race in which reliability is the only foundation—for dazzling, brilliant patches, although more striking than mundane regular monotony, they never did win a race, even if numbers do increase the apparent chances.