GRAN PREMIO DI MODENA
MODEiNA, September 20th.
THE race at Modena was called a Grand Prix, but it was more like a village fete than a motor race. Held on the perimeter track of the local aerodrome, and surrounded by a 15-ft. brick wall, it held none of the usual attractions of a Continental Grand Prix event and, with a rolling start in addition, it is not surprising that Ferrari said after last year’s race that he would never compete on the track again. Apart from these aspects the organisation was decidedly sketchy over certain points, and the crowd, which arrived from Modena by trolley-bus, would probably have been just as excited over a speedway race or a greyhound meeting. The event was for the Tazio Ninvolari Trophy.
With Ferrari withdrawing from racing after the Italian Grand Prix, it meant that Maseratis were quite unchallenged for this 100-lap event, and how serious Ferrari was about not running at Modena was shown by his action in preventing Rosier taking part with his Ferrari, the car presumably still being the factory’s property. The Ecurie Francorchamps, however, having paid cash for their car, could not be stopped, and Charles de Tornaco was entered to drive the yellow four-cylinder car.
On the Thursday and Friday before the race most of the drivers were out for unofficial practice, and on Friday afternoon Tornaco ran off the road whilst accelerating from a corner, and the car rolled over and he fractured his skull. No ambulance or doctor was present and though be was rushed to hospital in a private car, he died on the way. This naturally dampened proceedings and most people packed up then until the official practice on Saturday. Fangio and Giletti practised with the latest Maserati that Bonetto had driven at Monza, while Bonetto had one of the earlier cars; Marimon’s blue and yellow car Was straightened out after his Monza crash and de Graffenried made up a Maserati fivesome with his red and white car. The first three were all fitted with the double radius-rods on each side of the rear axle and had the extra fuel tank in the cockpit removed, while de Graffenried’s was still fitted with single rods. With no Ferraris present the Maseratis were quite unchallenged, though the Gordini trio of Trintignant, Schell and Behra were trying hard, as was Salvadori with a carburetter-Connaught of the long. chassis type. The other two Connaughts were driven by Coombs and MacAlpine, the former on the original prototype car and the latter with the latest long-chassis model, both with fuel-injection. Towards the end of practice Salvadori tried the early Connaught and found it much faster than his own, and subsequently changed ears with Coombs, recording a time faster than Trintignant and Giletti. Being a typical flat aerodrome circuit, Salvadori obviously felt at home and was really going impressively, and as it was a short circuit of only 2.3 kilometres to the lap, and with only one fast curve on which driving counted for much, the variation in times was small, though naturally Fangio was fastest in 1 min. 6.2 sec.. with Marimon only 0.2 sec. behind. Bonetto and de Graffenried equalled for third fastest, 0.4 sec. slower, and Salvadori clocked 1 min. 7 sec., followed by Trintignant in 1 min. 7.2 sec. After that times did not mean much for Coombs was credited with a 1 min. 8.5 sec. lap that had actually been done by Salvadori, who had also done a 1 min. 9.3 sec. lap on MacAlpine’s number, whereas in fact they were both nearer 1 min. 12 sec. Chiron with his pale blue Osca and Claes with his yellow and rough-looking Connaught made up the field of thirteen, and on Sunday afternoon the cars were lined up in front of the pits behind a particularly ugly-looking open 1,400 Fiat. In rows of threes, on the rather narrow road, the start was obviously going to be all important, even though there were 100 laps to cover. but special supplementary regulations seemed to amuse the organisers, for in addition to having rows of three instead of the snore normal and practical system of three-two-three-two, the cars had to cover a rolling lap behind the pace-car. Then, before the race the teams had to sign an agreement that cars could receive outside assistance if they stopped out on the circuit. so that, altogether, this race, contained as it was in a rectangular grass field, was a very poor imitation of motor-racing. The thirteen cars managed to get off together behind the pace-car and toured round for a lap, but just before the starting line an artificial chicane had been built so that as the mobile starting’ grid” arrived, three abreast, they all had to break formation to go through the chicane. and before they could regain their positions they crossed the starting line and thundered off in a straggly bunch to commence the race. Fangio and Marimon leapt ahead, with Bonetto, Trintignant, de Graffenried. Salvadori, Giletti and Chiron following, the others soon stringing out. Behra stopped before he started the race,
and Schell started on five cylinders as the car had been held up in Milan since the Monza race and had not received any attention. Fangio and Marimon gave a nice demonstration run and after five laps had left Bonetto, who had in turn left de Graffenried, Salvadori, Giletti and Chiron. For four laps there was almost some excitement as the last three scrapped together, but then the Connaught burnt a piston and Chiron dropped back, and from that point onwards all motor-racing ceased. Fangio proceeded to give his protege some
driving lessons, in particular the art of lapping -slower ears, and the way these two ran for lap after lap only inches apart, overtaking other ears on the braking point goinginto corners, each time Marimon going through as well, was most impressive. Being a small flat circuit, the whole of it was ‘visible from any point, for the shape of the track was rectangular with one of the corners radiused off into a flat-out curve, the one following beinga normal left-hander, as the race was run anti-clockwise, and the other two having chicanes just before the angle was reached. During this demonstration by the two Argentinians, which was run at a com paratively slow speed, lap times being as much as 4 sec. down, Marimon showed good ability in the way he followed Fangio through gaps as if tied to his tail. Twice they caught ears just as they went into the left-bander after the long curve, once Giletti and another time MacAlpine, and on both occasions there was never a fraction of a second hesitation, both cars went straight into the closing space between the slower car and the line for the corner, showing really delightful judgment. On three occasions Marimon went in front for a short way, only to be passed again by Fangio shortly afterwards, and these two gradually lapped most of the field and some of the ears many times. Bonetto was sitting comfortably in
third place about a quarter of a lap behind, and de Graffenried was fourth, followed by Trintignant, who could beat the Swiss on braking and corners but lose again on acceleration, and this went on for a third of the race, when a loose exhaust pipe caused the Gordini driver to stop and lose a lap. So the procession went on and on and round and round, the leading pair never making a mistake and going slower and slower until Trintignant, who had started off again four laps to the bad, caught them up and got right on to their tails going into one of the chicanes, though still four laps behind. Bonetto had also closed up to a few hundred yards, whereupon the two leaders pressed harder on the pedals and drew away again to a comfortable distance. Claes was in and out of the pits, Salvadori took over Coombs’ car until that broke a piston, and MacAlpine had scavenging trouble which delayed him for a number of laps. Chiron was going slower and slower and Schell was fast losing cylinders, now barely able to drag himself along. Giletti went out in a cloud of smoke as a valve dropped into a cylinder, and seven laps later, on lap 77, Bonetto stopped hurriedly by the pits as his gearbox jammed, which put him out. On lap 80 Marimon’s car began to sound woolly as he accelerated and he dropped right back, leaving Fangio to finish the 100 laps on his own, but they had made so much ground on de’ Graffenried that the sick blue and yellow Maserati got home safely in second place, with the Swiss driver following in third position. Trintignant drove in his usual Grand Prix manner but could not make up for his four-lap loss, though he gained one on de Graffenried
and finished fourth, covering the last 30 laps with a fractured kingpin. After that came Schell, making clanking noises in the engine.
Chiron going very slowly. Claes going at his usual pace and MacAlpine going well, minus his exhaust tail pipe, but a long way back after resting at the pits while the oil was removed from the engine and put back into the tank, the scavenge system having become temporarily blocked.
Had it not been for the fine display of accurate judgment and quick thinking by the two Argentinians and Trintignant’s driving, which is always a joy to watch, the Gran Premio di Modena would have rated as being the absolute bottom of Grand Prix racing unless it was merely the reaction setting in after the Italian Grand Prix the week before. Anyway. the wonderful song of the Maseratis in full flight can be guaranteed to cheer the dullest meetings.