Tour de France — Nice-to-Nice

In the world of pedal-cycle racing the Tour of France is recognised as the world’s greatest event and all other forms of long-distance racing are reckoned to be mere practice runs in Preparation for the big event. If the Automobile Club de Nice continue to organise the Tour of France for cars as they have done over the past four years, then it is quite likely that the event will be placed as high in the rally world as its namesake is in the pedal world. This year the Tour of France, the fourth in the series, covered a complete circuit of France, starting and finishing at Nice and the journey of over 6,000 kilometres was covered in three stages and included in the itinerary were nine special tests covering a wide range of types, so that not only were the competitors tested for all phases of competition motoring, as were the cars, but the tests showed no partiality to any particular type of car. This was more than borne out by the result in Group A in which a Renault 4cv and an Alfa-Romeo 1,900 T.1. finished only 2 points apart in a total of over 5,000 lost throughout the rally. Some of this equality was made up by a handicap formula on capacity, and there again the system would appear to have been first rate.

Starting from Nice, on September 3rd at even intervals, the 124 starters drove along the south of France to the foothills of the Pyrenees where a hill-climb was held at Peyrestourde, not far from Pau. Here the cars were timed over a climb of 4.5 kilometres of winding hill and the small cars had a slight advantage, fastest time being made by the Gordini team driver J. Pollet with the 2.5-litre car he used at Le Mans and Reims this season. Sharing the driving and navigating of the rally with him was M. Gauthier and from this first test they set the pace of the rally. A regular habitué of the Tour of France was J. Peron, accompanied by R. Beitramnier, in the former’s 1,500-c.c. Osca, while third was a factory Le Mans type open Porsche, with four overhead camshaft engine, shared by C. Storez, a French amateur and H. Linge, a Porsche tester. The whole entry was divided into three groups, A being for touring cars and special series touring cars. B for series sports cars and Gran Turismo cars and C for sports cars, or virtually free-for-all types.With eight tests during the rally, all of which were of a performance nature, it was obvious that the outright winner would be found among Group C. In addition to the three mentioned there were three Mondial Ferraris, a 3-litre Gordini, the Le Mans car, 1,350c.c. and 1,500,c.c. Oscas, another open four-cam Porsche and a factory coupé Porsche. In Group B were the usual rally-type Gran Turismo cars, such as Alfa-Romeo Sprints, Lancia Aurelias, Porsche supers and various Panhards and Simcas, while in the series sports cars part of this group were Austin-Henley’s, a Triumph TR2, and an A6G Maserati, having just scraped in on the numbers produced, though it seemed a little unfair that Oscas had to compete in the unrestricted sports class. As in all rally events there were numerous winners, there being a large variety of classifications. In addition to the general classification and the three recognised groups, there was a ladies’ class, a special prize for the standard touring part of Group A, and a team event for nominated groups of three cars. Continuing straight on from the base of the Pyrenees the route went up the east coast of France and then inland to Le Mans where the second test was held on the Sarthe circuit. Here a timed test was held over 160 kilometres round the Le Mans 24-hour circuit and once again Pollet/Gauthier made fastest time in 57 min. 13.7 sec., but now the 3-litre Gordini, driven by A. Guelfi and J. Quinlin, got into its stride and was second in the general classification only 7 sec. behind the smaller Gordini. Some way behind, in third place, came Peron’s little Osca. The road sections were not proving very difficult for experienced drivers and good cars, so that these performance tests, of both car and driver, were producing the general results. Naturally the competition in the other groups was very strong, though they could not hope to approach Group C for the outright lead. Arriving at Brest in the north-west corner of France, a slight rest was allowed and next day those still in the running set off for Nancy, on the eastern edge of France. Already 37 of the starters had dropped out, either with mechanical trouble, or disqualification, due to an infringement of rules, or to loss of time. At the stop in Brest the cars had to be left in an open park, no work being permitted on them during this time, and before starting for Nancy an acceleration test over 500 metres was held, from a standing start to a finish astride a line at the other end of the measured distance. The northern coast of France was now followed right along to Dunkerque, where the course turned south to Roubaix, and here a straightforward acceleration test with a flying finish was held over 500 metres. In the Brest event Guelfi in the 3-litre Gordini and Linge in the Le Mans Porsche tied with 15.4 sec., while next came Pollet with 16.1 sec. followed by the ever-present Peron with 16.3 sec. The two Gordinis were now trying hard and it looked as though they were forcing each other rather unnecessarily, but they had little choice for the 1 1/2-litre Osca and Porsche were always at their heels. Pollet was still leading on overall classification, with Guelfi second, but Peron and Linge were close behind. At Roubaix the very fast little Osca was easily first, with 17.4 sec., while the big Gordini was next with 18 sec. and the Porsche was only 0.2 sec. slower. Until now the weather had been remarkably kind, though the eastern side of France turned rather dull, it managed not to rain while the competitors drove from Roubaix through Paris and back to Reims. In the Champagne district another speed test was held, this time over five laps of the 8.301 kilometre Grand Prix circuit of Reims-Geux and here the 3-litre Gordini was in its element, Guelfi making fastest time in 14 min. 27.5 sec. Both the Gordini drivers had a slight advantage here as they were conversant with the circuit, Pollet being 2.4 sec. slower than his team-mate, but still the little Osca was hounding them, Peron being third fastest. Arriving at Nancy on September 8th a short hill-climb of 2.8 kilometres, through innumerable hairpins, had to be tackled before the cars were put in the locked park for the second rest period of the rally. The Porsche now repeated the attack on the two Gordinis and the result of the hill-climb showed Linge in between the 2.5 and the 3-litre Gordinis, only 0.1 slower than Pollet. In all these tests the fastest time, either for general category or group classification, counted as basic time and a prescribed number of points were lost for every second and fifth of a second slower than the basic time that competitors recorded. At the Montet-Brabois hill-climb at Nancy, every second slower than the fastest time lost 3 points and every fifth of a second lost 0.60 points. Naturally, in addition, points could be lost for lateness at the various control points on route, while in the Groups A, B and C the handicap formula for cylinder capacity was calculated. On September 9th competitors restarted on the final stage, from Nancy to Nice, via the Vosges mountains and the Maritime Alps, but before beginning this stage a flying kilometre had to be covered. The amazing little Osca of Peron/Bertramn ier set the time with 28.2 sec., a speed of over 190 k.p.h. (approximately 118 m.p.h.) which was 0.2 sec. faster than Pollet with the 2.5-litre Gordini and one whole second faster than the works Porsche. Guelfi, however, by equalling Peron’s time on his run, saved the Gordini day. With only 1,439 kilometres to cover to the final check point at Nice those remaining set off, the two Gordinis being first and second on general classification, in the order Pollet, Guelfi, with 3 points between them, followed by the hard trying Peron, over 100 points behind but still close enough to be a worry. On this last stage, with time schedules to keep and mountain passes to be tackled, there were no further special tests until the finish was reached. It was on this final stage, during the comparatively easy part, that Guelfi’s navigator made a miscalculation and they became hopelessly lost, getting 180 kilometres off course during the night before realising their mistake, it then being too late to regain the course and get to the next control before it closed, with the result that the 3-litre Gordini had to abandon the rally. This left Pollet in a very strong position and when the remaining competitors arrived at Nice they had to tackle a climb of La Turbie, the famous 6.3-kilometre mountain road that runs from the outskirts of Nice to the top of the Grande Corniche. This was immediately after crossing the Maritime Alps so that neither driver nor car had much respite. Once more it was Pollet who excelled and he was easily fastest, with 3 mm. 53 sec., followed by Linge with 3 mm. 56 ses., again each second counting for a loss of 3 points. Although Peron was third, his time was considerably slower than he was normally capable of and this slow climb lost him his chance of winning his group on handicap as well as leaving Pullet an almost certain winner. The last of the 54 survivors clocked in at Nice on the afternoon of Friday, September 10th and the following day was one of rest, though the cars had to remain in the open under the eyes of the club officials, no work being allowed while they were in the “Pare Ferme.”

On Sunday the final test was held and this consisted of 47 laps of a circuit in the town of Nice. The lap measured 2.11 kilometres and consisted of a dash down one side of the promenade, round a hairpin and up the return side of the front and then a short wiggly section through the town. In Group A there were 28 competitors left and these were run in two separate races, over the 47 laps, of 100 kilometres. In this group there had been a severe battle between Martignoni/Rabezzana (Alfa-Romeo T.I.) and Redele/Pons with a competition Renault 4cv. These two were in the second half of Group A but unfortunately the Renault refused to start when the flag fell, the starter contact having given out. Martignoni leapt away and cornering his Alfa-Romeo on the rims he built up a good lead. The little Renault, driven here by Pons, was made to start by tearing the starter switch out by the roots and winding the wires together and it set off 34 sec. to the bad. Martignoni was out to make sure of his lead in the group, for he pressed on relentlessly, but the faster he went the faster everyone else had to go in order not to lose too many points, for in these 100-kilometre races every second behind the fastest man at the end lost 0.25 points. Pons drove the little Renault superbly and managed to get by a number of much bigger cars, for some laps keeping company with a 3-litre Citroën, which only kept up by a little extra speed on the straight, the Renault having better acceleration and being driven nearer the limit, until it got away from the larger car. There were three T.I. Alfa-Romeos running and they all gave a remarkable demonstration of the ability of a modern family saloon to be thrown about from right-band bends to left-hand bends, while the Dyna 54 Panhards were remarkably steady while being driven fast. Bearing in mind that all the competitors had covered more than 6,000 kilometres as well as competing in all the tests, this final one was remarkable for the way everyone was cornering on the limit of adhesion for the whole 100 kilometres. During his efforts to make up for the bad start Pons lost the Renault on one corner and he became tangled up in the straw bales; he managed to get back onto the road again and finish the race, but had lost 30 sec. and when the final result was worked out Martignoni had beaten the little Renault by 2 points, so that the straw-bale incident cost the French team a victory.

Group B had a race on their own and this proved to be the event of the day. The A6G Maserati of Estager/Proto had been driven carefully and sensibly throughout the rally, with no attempt made to challenge the outright Leaders, but a keen eye kept on a class win, so that the Maserati did not have to he strained at all. At the beginning of the final test the issue lay between Estager and Gendebien, the Belgian driver of a Sprint Alfa-Romeo coupé fitted with the enlarged Super Sprint engine. Providing Estager finished at least second and had Gendebien in sight at the end he could not be beaten in the overall group classification. The Belgian driver had slightly different ideas, however, and he decided that he would do his utmost to get away from the Maserati or at any rate make the Frenchman’s job of keeping up a difficult one. Handling the coupé Alfa-Romeo in the most fantastic manner. Gendebien drove at a seemingly impossible pace for the whole 47 laps, his cornering through the wiggly section in the town being a series of uncontrollable slides that he somehow managed to make coincide with the corners. All the time the Maserati followed at a discreet distance, keeping the Alfa-Romeo in view, though at times the Belgian driver did some incredible overtaking while lapping slower cars and then managed to get quite a big lead, but the Maserati soon made up the loss by superior speed along the straight. Gendebien finished the race still in the lead, but not far enough to beat the Maserati in the group classification.

The last race of the day was for Group C and was also to decide the outright winner of the whole Tour de France; once again it was a question of calculation, for providing Pollet kept in front he could not be beaten as winner of the Tour de France, but if he was going to win the group after the handicap had been taken into account he had to make up a considerable distance on the Osca and Porsche, both of which were 1 litre smaller in engine size. Driving a nicely judged race Pollet beat the two smaller cars without risking his outright win, though he could not make up enough time to win the group. Peron and Linge engaged in a very hard duel throughout the race, finishing only a few feet apart, the German tester showing a very good ability at handling the open Porsche. In this group were the two main contestants for the Ladies’ Cup, they being Gilberte Thirion with a works Porsche coupé, with normal engine, and Anne Bousquet with a production open two-seater Porsche 550, with the four-camshaft engine. After Mme. Bousquet had spun the open Porsche on one of the corners, the Belgian girl went ahead unchallenged in the coupé and won the Ladies’ Cup as well as finishing fifth in the group.

The IV Tour de France ended in a superb victory for Pollet and Gauthier with the 2.5-litre Gordini, the car having given an excellent demonstration of performance and reliability, while second came the Porsche of Storez/Linge, followed by the Osca of Peron/Bertraninier, three widely differing types of sports cars which tended to prove that the Tour de France does not favour one particular type of machine. Apart from finishing in the first three places the teams in question deserve every credit for covering the full distance in sports cars of the stark type in which comfort has little place, performance being the keynote.