A Hard-Fought Victory for Mercedes-Benz
Belfast, September 17th.
For the first time the Ulster T.T. became a straightforward, simple race, in which the first car to cover 84 laps of the Dundrod circuit would be adjudged the winner of the Tourist Trophy, presented by the R.A.C. In the past, complicated handicapping systems have invariably resulted in lack of public interest as well as lack of International interest as there was no guarantee that the combination of fastest men and machine would win. With the re-arranged rules the race became a normal free-for-all, and counting as it did for the World Championship for Sports Cars almost everyone entered. To encourage the smaller cars an index of performance was drawn up in which the winner would be the car making the most meritorious performance on calculation. This was achieved by multiplying the average speed of each car by a factor K, this factor being found by adding the capacity of the car’s engine in cubic centimetres to 240 and dividing by the capacity multiplied by 97. This complicated sum giving a figure of merit for each car, the highest being the winner.
An entry of 55 was received, ranging in power and speed from D-type Jaguars and 300SLR Mercedes-Benz to 900-c.c. D.K.W. and 750-cc. Panhards. Having full works support the cream of Grand Prix and sports-car drivers were competing, among the top being such names as Hawthorn, Fangio, Moss, Musso, Castellotti, Taruffi, Maglioli, Kling, Collins, Salvadori, Walker and Parnell, and among the bottom were comparative novices, whose feelings must be considered so no names will be mentioned, and the in-between class contained most of the regular sports-car drivers from home and abroad. A study of the narrow and highly exacting Dundrod circuit, where there is no room for a single mistake to be made and bad driving stands out like a sore thumb, together with the entry list should have caused many of the entries to be withdrawn on the spot, either for lack of performance of the cars, or lack of experience of the drivers, but none were brave enough to admit of such weaknesses. As a result the Thursday afternoon practice found the really fast boys muttering dark things about the “traffic” on the course, and difficulties of trying to get past certain ill-mannered slow drivers. It was the old story, popular wherever organisers accept entries from every Tom, Dick and Harry, and continue to insist on running 170-m.p.h. cars at the same time as 100-m.p.h cars, a problem a hundred times more critical on such a tough course as Dundrod, which is a circuit that is difficult for Grand Prix drivers, let alone novices. The essence of sports-car racing seems to be that it allows class racing as well as a general classification and this is all right up to a point, but it is high time that the particular point was clarified. There is no justification in these days of high speed to allow a difference in lap speed of 10 m.p.h. between the fastest and the slowest IN ANY GIVEN GLASS.
The Continental invasion of the Dundrod circuit was the best yet, consisting of three works Ferraris, with Castellotti, Taruffi, Trintignant, Maglioli, Gendebien and Gregory as drivers; three Mercedes-Benz with Fangio, Moss, Kling, Simon, Fitch and von Trips to choose from, and two 3-litre Maseratis with Behra, Musso, Bordoni and Musy as drivers. Against these and some private Continental entries in the big classes Jaguar pitted one factory car with Hawthorn and Titterington as the drivers, while Aston Martin fielded their full team of DB3S cars, driven by Collins/Brooks, Parnell/Salvadori, and Walker/Poore. There was a team of factory Porsche Spyders, an official B.M.C. team of M.G.s, a team of French DBs and numerous English small cars such as Lotus, Connaught, Cooper and Kieft.
Ferrari had all three cars out for practice, two being 3-litre Monza models and the third an enlarged Monza of 3.4 litres, though this was giving trouble and blowing out clouds of smoke. One of the 3-litres was completely written off when the Belgian driver Gendebieu crashed at Wheeler’s Corner, sustaining a broken arm, and as a consequence the co-driver, Masten Gregory, was loaned to Porsche for their official team. Mercedes-Benz had three new 300SLR models, basically the same as at Le Mans but without the air-brake, while the drivers had two training cars to play with. One was an old Le Mans car, with air-brake, and the other the coupé model described last month in Motor Sport. Contrary to daily paper stories this coupé did not arrive in a sealed crate as a closely-guarded secret, but was actually the works hack, being driven by road from Stuttgart by von Trips, to give him a chance to become accustomed to the 300SLR as the Ulster T.T. was to be his first appearance in the Rennsportwagens. During the practice this coupé proved useful as Moss broke his car on the far side of the circuit and Kling was able to give him a lift back to the pits in the comfortable two-seater cockpit. Also Fangio and Kling were a bit naughty in going round together to discuss the circuit in the comfort of this coupé, and it evoked cries of protest from Jaguar’s team manager on the score of “regulations” but it sounded much more like “sour grapes” when looking at the passenger’s seat in the D-type. That the 1955 Ulster T.T. was going to be a classic event was shown by the serious way most of the teams arrived prepared for any emergency, there being spare Jaguars, Aston Martins and M G.s on hand as well as numerous engines. The first practice afternoon managed to stay dry throughout, but on the second day Northern Ireland did its best to discourage the visitors and conditions ranged from “full wet” to “full dry” and most of the time was spent watching the good drivers show how well they could drive and the bad ones making, it even more obvious that in the interests of human safety they should have packed up and gone home. Observing at most of the corners on the mountainous circuit, thanks to an excellent system of lanes in the centre of the circuit, it became more and more obvious that the time is rapidly approaching for either the abolition of sports-car racing and the substitution of Formula II and Formula IV class racing, or some pretty serious weeding out of entries and sub-divisions.
All the efforts and striving of the fast drivers in practice proved fruitless as the line-up for the Le Mans-type start on Saturday morning saw the cars in order of engine capacity and not performance. This is a thoroughly bad practice copied from Le Mans that should be stopped forthwith, for among other absurdities it saw Fangio, Moss and von Trips in the works Mercedes-Benz lower down the line than a complete nonentity in a production 300SL coupé. In spite of this Moss managed to streak through to the lead on the opening lap and with complete ease he drew right away from the rest of the 49 starters. Behind him Hawthorn was on terrific form in the works D-type and was lying in second place, ahead of Fangio, von Trips, Behra, Walker and Musso. An eye-opener was the sight of Chapman, in his 1,100-c.c. Lotus-Climax, leading all the 2-litre and 1½-litre cars, even the fabulous Porsche Spyders. There had been some last-minute alterations to pairs of drivers in the various teams, which commentator Findon had not bothered to find out about, so that the public were kept fully mis-informed throughout the afternoon, as were the Press in the apology of timber and steel tubing that was called a grandstand. This wonderful performance by Chapman with the 1,100-c.c. car was going to be supported by Allison, while Anthony and Jopp were to share the 1½-litre Lotus-M.G. entered by the works. The factory Connaught was in the hands of W. T. Smith and J. Young, while Taylor had joined Russell on one of the works Cooper-Climax cars and Lord Louth was co-driving with Rippon on a Kieft-Climax. The silent open two-seater D.K.W. was with Vard and Rudd, the former acting as stand-in to Wharton on the works Microplas-bodied Frazer-Nash. The House of Porsche had shuffled around, having the Americans Shelby and Gregory on one car, Frankenherg/Linge and Glockler/Seidel on the other two, Competitions Manager von Hanstein being content to run the pit. Mercedes-Benz had paired their drivers as follows: Fangio/Kling, Moss/Fitch and von Trips/Simon, in spite of reports to the contrary, while Ferrari had thrown away the 3.4-litre engine and substituted a normal 3-litre, the drivers of the two cars being Castellotti/Taruffi and Trintignant/Maglioli.
While awaiting the appearance of the field at the end of the seeond lap a column of smoke was seen to rise from the neighbourhood of Deers’ Leap and it later transpired that seven cars were involved in a multiple Crash, these being the Mayers/Brabham Cooper, the Smith/Young Connaught, the Macklin/Dalton Austin-Healey, the Russell/Taylor Cooper, the Wharton/Yard Frazer-Nash, the Kretchmann/McMillan Porsche and the Jopp/Anthony Lotus-M.G., in each case the first-named driver being in the car. This terrific crash resulted in the death of popular Jim Mayers and promising young W. T. Smith, as well as injuries to Ken Wharton. On this same lap the Berry/Sanderson 1954 D-type Jaguar retired and Frankenberg was forced to spin his Porsche Spyder to avoid another competitor who was driving badly.
In this race of 84 Laps, a total distance of 993 kilometres (625 miles), the problem of pit-stops and team tactics as well as pairing of drivers was going to play an important part in the result. With Hawthorn going so fast in the lone works Jaguar the Mercedes-Benz team had to throw aside all orders and the drivers were given a free hand, with the result that Moss went streaking on into a longer and longer lead while Fangio was tangling with the Jaguar. Von Trips was bringing up a firm fourth place and showing his worth to the German team, keeping ahead of all the Aston Martins, Ferraris and Maseratis, as well as the Whitehead/Whitehead Cooper-Jaguar, while the cheeky Chapman was still well ahead of all the 1½ and 2-litre cars. In spite of this terrific performance he was lapped by the flying Moss after only seven rounds, and already the Lockett/ Flockhart M.G. was making calls at the pit,. This car was a new Le Mans type, with a twin-o.h.c. engine by Morris, fitted with two double-choke Weber carburetters in place of the Solex ones used in practice. It was giving nearly 110 b.h.p. but still required a lot of work before it was considered right and was being run as a gesture to show that M.G.s are at least having-a-go at some serious competition work. The chassis of this car. and also-the normal-engined one of Fairman/Wilsom was fitted with Girling disc brakes, the third team car, driven by Lund/Stoop, being near-standard.
At 10 laps Moss was 47 sec. ahead of Hawthorn, who was in turn leading Fangio by a mere two seconds, and three laps later Fangio moved up into second place. Throughout the field English cars were putting up a stirring fight, for Walker and Collins had each got to grips with a 3-litre Maserati, Peter Whitehead was battling against Castellotti and Maglioli with the works Ferraris, and Chapman was still making all the Porches look silly, ably Supported by Bueb with a Cooper-Climax 1,100 c.c. This was all most interesting to watch as the Dundrod circuit is surely one of the finest road-racing courses in Europe and it was neutral ground to almost everybody. Just after the starting line is the only real straight and level portion of the course and along this the cars were electrically timed, the faster cars accelerating all the way through the measured kilometre, and the slower ones travelling at their maximum speed. Hawthorn was recording over 147 m.p.h.. while Moss was 1 m.p.h. slower and Collins was doing 138.2 m.p.h. with the Aston Martin whose engine had been enlarged by 71 c.c. according to the programme. On lap 19 Hawthorn set a new absolute record for the course, beating the time of Farina with the 1½-litre Alfa-Romeo Grand Prix car by 2 sec. his time being 4 min. 42 sec., a speed of 94.67 but in spite of this he could not make any impression on Moss, who was really going now that the restraining hand of Neubauer had been lifted. After passing the Jaguar, Fangio found that he could not shake it off so he later let Hawthorn by and eased up, content with third place watching-distance behind the D-type. Slowly but surely Collins was beginning to close the gap between his Aston Martin and the Mercedes-Benz of von Trips, but the new German boy was still driving well and not making the Englishman’s task easy. Castellotti spun at Leathemstown and battered the near side of the Ferrari, necessitating much time being lost at the pits to straighten things out. When he restarted Chapman was passing the pits and he tucked in behind the big Ferrari and stayed there for more than three complete laps.
Routine pit-stops to refuel and change drivers now began to take place, among the first being Whitehead, P. N. handing over to A.G., while on lap 25 Hawthorn handed over to Desmond Titterington, the local boy, and he set off in third place amid the cheers of the crowd. Fangio stopped for fuel and rear tyres and handed over to Kling, the car being stationary for 1 min. 50 sec., a not-too-slick stop. This let Titterington into second place and on the next lap Moss had a tyre burst while travelling at 130 m.p.h.. and after swooping from bank to bank he got the Mercedes-Benz under control and stopped at the pits. It took the mechanics over 2 min, to fit new rear wheels and tear away bits of the torn rear of the body, and as Fitch set off Titterington went by into the lead, while the grandstand rocked with Ulster cheering. Now it looked as though Mercedes-Benz had made a mistake with their pairing of drivers, for Fitch could not hope to lap as fast as Moss, while Titterington was proving to be every bit as fast as Hawthorn. The result was that the lone Jaguar drew farther and farther away into the lead, in spite of Fitch driving as hard as he could. A concerted British attack now took place for Collins not only dealt severely with von Trips but also trounced Kling, taking third place, while the other two Feltham cars were leading the Ferraris, though behind the Maseratis of Behra and Musso, Castellotti had at last got rid of the embarrassing little green Lotus.
By lap 31 the Jaguar was leading by 54 sec. from the Moss/Fitch Mercedes-Benz, with Collins firmly in third place, but he then stopped to hand over to C. A. S. Brooks just as a misfire appeared in the engine. The mechanics worked for over five minutes to try and find the fault but with no success, and though Brooks rejoined the race he was right out of the picture, eventually retiring. In the 1.4-litre class Shelby was leading and he handed over to Gregory, who had equal ability and kept the Porsche in its position, showing the importance of having evenly matched drivers in a long-distance race .
Rain now started, first on one side of the course and then on another, and Fitch lost more and more ground, the gap widening, to over 2 min. After only seven laps’ rest Moss called in Fitch, the car was refuelled and the “wonder boy” took over again, now in third position, for Kling had gone past during the stop. The rain had ceased but the roads were very wet and Moss drove on relentlessly, overtaking Kling and slowly but surely reducing the gap between himself and the hard-driving Titterington in the D-type Jaguar. Other Stops were made, Trips handing over to Simon, Maglioli to Trintignant, Chapman to Allison, Parnell to Salvadori and Musso to Bordoni, while a little later Walker handed over to Poore and Behra to Musso. The Cooper-Jaguar went out with a broken chassis and the twin-cam M.G. retired, while Castellotti gave place to Taruffi in the second works Ferrari. During the laps in the forties really torrential rain fell in the starting area and many drivers stopped to change goggles for visors, while the Jaguar/Mercedes-Benz gap was now closing rapidly, Moss the “rain-master” being fantastic. On lap 50 Titterington stopped, one rear wheel was changed, the car filled with fuel and oil and Hawthorn took over the Jaguar mechanics doing a really slick job of work. Moss was now nearly in sight of the flying green car and with that relentless howl from the Mercedes-Benz engine that will go down in history, just as the supercharger whine of the Mercedes-Benz of the early T.T. races has become immortal, he closed the gap and swept by into the lead on lap 56. He was really looking comfortably determined now and nothing Hawthorn or the Jaguar could do could hold on to the silver German car, the gap widened as rapidly as it had closed. As each lap passed so the gap grew bigger, 4 seconds, 19 seconds, 32 seconds, 45 seconds, 65 seconds, and on went Moss until lap .62, when he made his final stop for fuel and tyres. Just as the Mercedes-Benz moved away from the pit Hawthorn went past amid loud cheers from the crowds, but his task was hopeless for Moss had already regained the lead by the time they reappeared again, and then it was all over.
For the last 20 laps the sun came out and dried the road, as well as the thousand upon thousand of drenched spectators, and though the closing stages of the battle for the lead become a procession it had been a battle worth travelling a long way to witness. This Moss/Hawthorn battle had almost overshadowed the rest of the racers, but behind them there was much of interest, for Fangio had taken over again from Kling and von Trips from Simon. The Chapman/Allison Lotus had climbed to 12th position overall and was leading the Index of Performance by minutes, but then an oil-pipe broke and this resulted in a long delay at the pits which not only lost it the Index prize but also dropped it to second place in the 1,100-c.c. class, behind the Bueb/McDowell Cooper-Climax. Musso gave back the leading Maserati to Behra, later taking over his own Maserati from Bordoni, while the works 2-litre Maserati driven by Bellucci had blown up, letting the Loens/Bonnier car of the same make lead the class. With the 1,100-c.c. Lotus out of the running for the. Index the little D.B.s came into their own at last, and the one driven by Armagnac/Laureau, last year’s winners, now took over.
The diminutive little Elva-Climax overturned at Tornagrough and caught fire, causing the death of its driver Richard Mainwaring, while some time later Behra crashed at Leathemstown and sustained serious cuts.
As Dennis Poore was beginning to look like catching von Trips, who was in fourth place, behind Fangio, Mercedes-Benz called him in and gave the car to Kling, who was able to maintain the position without danger. Salvadori had to stop and have his exhaust system refitted, which dropped hint back two places, behind the two works Ferraris, and he rejoined the race just behind Maglioli, who had taken over again from Trintignant.
Among the other cars two Triumph TR2s were surviving this gruelling race, as was the Austin-Healey of Flower/Llewellyn, while the Frankenberg/Linge Porsche had been running for some hours with only second gear in use, the sturdy air-cooled flat-four engine withstanding continuous running at 7,500 r.p.m. in this low gear. The B.M.C.-engined Kieft of Baxter/Trimble and the Bristol-engined one of Fisher/Adams were still running as was the ex-Gerard Frazer-Nash of Tew/Kelly, but none of these were actually racing, compared with the giants at the head of the field, nor was the Lotus-Connaught of Coombs/Burgess that spent most of its time on three cylinders.
During the closing stages Salvadori caused a flutter in the stands by passing the Claes/Swaters yellow Ferrari on the wrong side as it moved out to prepare for some distant overtaking, while Poore came by on one lap literally surrounded by little cars and succeeded in dodging the lot with great skill. With only two laps to go and Moss a certain winner everyone was ready to welcome Hawthorn, who together with Titterington had put, up a tremendous fight against the might of Mercedes-Benz, when the announcer said Hawthorn had stopped and was walking in to the pits. For once the loudspeakers were correct and the tall figure of Hawthorn was indeed finishing his 82nd lap on foot, the Jaguar engine having failed so abruptly that all the oil fell out and the car literally spun round on its own oil. It was an almighty cheer that welcomed Hawthorn on his arrival and half of it also went to the Belfast driver who had supported him so ably, but an equally loud cheer was given for a tired and dirty Moss as he crossed the line the outright winner of the 1955 Tourist Trophy. So misguided and ill-informed were many of the officials that they were still under the impression that Simon had taken over from Moss, and it was only his own shouts for John Fitch that enabled the American to join him in celebrating their victory and sharing the congratulations of the high dignitaries. One by one the remaining 27 cars were flagged in and this hard race won at record speed came to a close.
T.T. Tittle Tattle
Before the blind brow of the steep descent of Deers’ Leap a new flag-sigual was in use to indicate to drivers of fast cars that a slower one had just disappeared out of sight. An excellent safety measure.
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In front of the grandstand an enormous ditch had been dug to protect the paying customers from flying cars. Rather a case of “after the horse has gone, etc.”
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The pits had been moved back some way, but would have been better still had they been placed at an angle to the track, affording complete vision to drivers as they approached.
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The Continental drivers were very impressed by the efficiency of the flag marshals, all keen sporting enthusiasts and not “local yokels” as used on some circuits abroad.
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Public commentators really should make a little effort to “find out about things” before the race starts. Five minutes’ intelligent observation or questioning in the paddock is always worth five hours’ bar-room back-chat, and some of the public like to know what is really happening. A classic was Findon’s announcement that car No. 5 had crashed, obviously read out blindly, just as car No. 5 came down the hill towards his box. Organisers should provide commentators with powerful field glasses or the help of a knowledgeable enthusiast, it would save a lot of nonsense being talked.
Les Thorn, at Tornagrough, was at least following the race closely and gave some interesting information, badly needed in the Press stand, where race bulletins were non-existent, but he was never allowed long enough on the air.
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Knowing the roadholding ability of the D-type and the 300SLR, Moss must have been full of admiration for the driving ability of Hawthorn and Titterington.
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Protests on thin reasoning, however valid, always leave a nasty smell, and the Jaguar protest about the damaged bodywork which left a rear wheel exposed on the winning Mercedes-Benz did nothing to enhance the wonderful performance of the Jaguar drivers. That the engine blew-op two laps before the end might be termed “mechanical poetic justice” for poor sportsmanship.
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Some slick work by the publicity boys produced a large placard declaring that the T.T. had been won on B.P. fuel. This was placed on the pit counter as soon as the race was finished.
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The privately-owned Maserati of Loens/Bonnier was a last-minute entry in the race and it won the 2-litre class; convincing proof that one should never give up hope.
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The officially printed results sheets were a masterpiece of misinformation, five pairs of drivers being quoted wrongly, including the winners. That the daily papers cause anguish and suffering to true enthusiasts by their bad reporting is not surprising, especially when this sort of wrong information is given to newshounds who can barely tell a Jaguar from a Mercedes-Benz.
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Although the T.T. was bad the Monte Carlo race still holds the all-time-low record for poor Press facilities.
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After its terrific performance the Chapman/Allison Lotus 1,100-c.c. lost a class win by 5 sec. after more than seven hours racing. Both this and the 1½-litre works car were fitted with Girling disc brakes.
The sight of a 750-cc. D.B. overtaking a 1,500-c.c. M. G. was embarrassing to some people, just as the 1,100-c.c. Cooper passing a Porsche Spyder was embarrassing to others.