GREAT RACING MARQUES. VIII.—BALLOT.
By E. K. H. KARSLAKE.
ALTHOUGH Ballot engines had been well-known for many years, it was not until after the war that the Ballot came into prominence as a racing car. After the close of hostilities, however, the company was joined by the eminent Swiss engineer, M. Henry, who had been responsible for the design of the Peugeot racing cars which had carried all before them in the years just before the war. During the war he had been engaged by the French government on the construction of a straight-eight aeroplane engine, which had been designed by M. Bugatti and which has now been used in a very slightly modified form for the new ” Golden Bug.” It was not surprising therefore that when Ballot had decided to enter for the 1919 Indianapolis race, the engine which M. Henry designed for the race was a straight-eight.
The race was limited to cars with engines up to 300 cubic inches (4.9 litres), and the Ballot engine therefore had a bore and stroke of 74 x 140 mms. (4817 c.c.), with the crankshaft arranged on the 4-4 principle— like two four-cylinder crankshafts in line. The engines, like the pre-war Peugeots, had two overhead camshafts and two carburettors. The war ended in November, 1918, and work was begun on the designing of the cars at the end of January, 1919. In spite of this four cars were shipped to America and arrived at Indianapolis in time for the race on 30th May. The drivers selected for them were Albert Guyot, Ballot, Rene Thomas and Louis Wagner, but at the last moment Ballot was replaced by Jean Chassagne. It was not surprising if in the race these cars which had
been prepared so hurriedly were unable to show their best form ; but in spite of this Gttyot finished very creditably in fourth place, and averaged 84 m.p.h. for the 500 miles, while Rene Thomas was eleventh. Of the other two Ballots, Chassagne’s overturned, and Wagner had the misfortune to break a wheel and damage its, axle.
During the race, however, the Ballots proved themselves to be tremendously fast, as one of them attained a speed of 104 m.p.h. in the race. That this was nothing approaching their maximum however was proved when Rene Thomas’ did 103 m.p.h. up Gaillon Hill. The actual maximum speed of the cars was probably in the neighbourhood of 125 m.p.h., a really remarkable figure when it is considered that at that time the short distance records only stood at about 121 m.p.h., and were only raised to just over 122 m.p.h. by the big Sunbeam at Brooklands three years later.
Rene Thomas’ Ballot was entered for the 1919 Targa Florio, which was held in November of that year, and the car was fitted with front wheel brakes for the event. It was considerably the fastest car in the race, but Thomas soon found that his chief competitor was going to be Andre Boillot, who was driving like a demon on the little 21-litre Peugeot. On the first lap the Ballot lost water, and none being in readiness at the pits, eight minutes were wasted while it was being procured. As Thomas entered his fourth and last lap, Boillot was eleven minutes ahead of him on time, and in his desperate endeavours to overtake the Peugeot, Thomas skidded at a corner, his car hit a kilometre stone and damaged the back axle too badly for him to continue. The 1920 Indianapolis race was for 3-litre cars, and some new Ballot racers were therefore built for it. These new cars had straight-eight engines, but their bore and stroke were 65 x 112 mm. (2973 c.c.). The three cars entered in the race were driven by Ralph de Palma, Rene Thomas and Jean Chassagne, and when de Palma made the fastest time in the eliminating race, it was seen that they were redoubtable competitors. On his first lap however he had to change a wheel owing to a pinched tube, and it was not until the 300 mile mark that he got into the lead. In the meantime a terrific duel had been fought out between Chassagne on the second Ballot and Joe Boyer on a Frontenac. Just before the 400 mile mark an incident happened which finally decided the issue of the race. One of the Monroe cars broke a steering knuckle, and after performing several gyrations,
finally ended up a complete wreck. Chassagne, who was following was forced to choose between hitting the wreckage or the grass on the inside of the track. He chose the latter, and although he and his car survived their 100 m.p.h. bumping, poor Chassagne was considerably shaken. Fifty miles from the finish, the Ballots were running 1st, 3rd and 4th, and the two more backward ones were rapidly overhauling Chevrolet on the Monroe who was in second place. Then, however, fate stepped in. One of the magnetos on de Palma’s car failed, and he finally finished on the four cylinders which the other instrument fed, but in fifth instead of first place. As soon as he had dropped back the danger signal was hung out for Chassagne, who was now running second ; but the unfortunate driver was still suffering from his narrow escape 100 miles ago, and when he tried to speed up, he misjudged one of the turns and struck the outer retaining wall, and by the time he had made the consequent repairs, could only finish seventh. There now remained only Thomas who was lapping at 103 m.p.h. in second place, while Chevrolet, who held the
lead, was only averaging 90 m.p.h. It was too late, however, for him to catch the American car, and he finally finished second, some six minutes behind the winner.
The next year Ralph de Palma started alone on his 3-litre Ballot, but he soon showed that the French car had lost none of its speed. He got the lead on the first lap, and there he stayed for 200 miles, in spite of concerted efforts on the part of the field to wear him down. After 100 miles he was a full lap to the good, but finally on the 112 circuit, he was put out of the race by a broken connecting rod. The big effort which was made by the Ballot firm in 1921 was in the French Grand Prix. Three of the 8-cylinder cars were entered in this race which was for 3-litre machines, while Jules Goux started on a 2-litre
4-cylinder Ballot of 69.9 x 130 mm. (1986 c.c.). The big Ballots were driven by Ralph de Palma, Louis Wagner and Jean Chassagne, and their chief rivals in the race at le Mans were the American Duesenberg ears. The lead changed many times between the members of these two teams, but at half distance Chassagne had the lead, and looked a likely winner. At that point, however, his petrol tank fell down on to the cardan shaft and was too badly damaged for him to continue. In the end the race was won by Murphy’s Duesenberg, with Ralph de Palma a good second. The American car finished with no water in the radiator and a flat tyre, so that if the race had been but a few miles longer de Palma would have won. The real sensation of the day, however, was scored by Jules Goux, who succeeded in bringing his little 2-litre Ballot into third place at 71.8 m.p.h. Louis Wagner drove a steady race and succeeded in finishing seventh. Though beaten in the French Grand Prix, the Ballots won an important victory later on in the year in the Italian Grand Prix on the Brescia circuit. The three
cars were driven by de Palma, Chassagne and Goux and had as their only adversaries the new 3-litre straighteight Fiats. The reputation of the Torinese firm, however, meant that these racers were treated with considerable respect. The pace was terrific, and in the end the race was won by Jules Goux, who averaged 89.9 m.p.h.—an amazing speed for a road race. Chassa.gne was second, averaging 88.9 m.p.h., while de Palma dropped out during the race.
After this victory, two cars of the 2-litre type with two overhead camshafts which Goux had driven in the Grand Prix, were entered in the next big Italian race, the 1922 Targa Florio, and were driven by Goux and Foresti. At the end of the first lap, Goux was second behind Masetti on the 1914 Grand Prix Mercedes, but on the next lap he gained the lead. He held it for the third lap, but on the fourth and final circuit, he was held back by tyre trouble, and finally finished 1 min. 47 secs.
behind Masetti, with Foresti on the other Ballot third.
The 1922 Indianapolis race was again for 3-litre cars, and marked the last appearance of the 8-cylinder Ballots, one of which in the hands of Eddie Hearne finished third. The Grand Prix limit, however, was now brought down to 2-litres, so that three of the 4-cylinder cars started in the hands of Goux, Foresti and Masetti. These racers had very curious shaped barrel-like streamlined bodies, an idea which was also used that year by Bugatti ; they were not, however, blessed with good luck. Masetti went out with a broken connecting rod and Goux crashed at a corner after a difference of opinion with Nazzaro’s Fiat. Foresti, however, got into third place on the thirty-sixth lap, and stayed there until the forty-fifth, when he was put out by a broken piston.
The 2-litre Ballot made another appearance later on in the year, when one was entered by the Spanish amateur Haimovici in the San Sebastian Grand Prix. He held the lead with it for a time, but finally finished third behind the two Grand Prix Rolland-Pilains.
This driver appeared again at the wheel of a 2-litre Ballot in the 1924 Coppa Florio, the other member of the Ballot equipe being Goux on a 3-litre machine. Goux had originally been going to drive a Peugeot, and had transferred at the last minute to a Ballot, for which he was paid out when the Peugeot men started borrowing the Ballot’s tyres during the race ! He did not have occasion to miss them, however, as his throttle stuck open at a corner, and the Ballot was crashed. Haimcovici, too, was put out of the running half way through the race.
The last successful appearance of the 2-litre Ballot was when one was piloted by de Buck which won the 1925 touring Grand Prix at San Sebastian. Of late, however, the Ballot firm have rather retired from racing,but everyone must wish that the cars which proved themselves by far the best of the European racers just after the war might be seen once more in the big races.