The 500-Kilometer Race-Nurburgring

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76

Maserati Conquer a Fresh Field

Adenau, August 28th.

The sports-car race at Nurburgring on August 28th was originally intended to be in the World Championship series and to have classes for all types of sports cars, but as a sop to public opinion in Germany a limit of 1,500 c.c. engine capacity was imposed and the race distance halved, to 500 kilometres, This precaution was really quite artificial as so-called public opinion was no more than the opinion of unqualified writers in the daily newspapers; Germany suffering from the same type of “popular” Press as England. This attempted safety measure of limiting the cars to 1,500 c.c., and consequently the speeds, had a reverse effect on the public, for instead of coming to watch now that the Nurburgring had been declared safe and the entry made slower, they did not come at all and the die-hards who did turn up were thoroughly bored by the small cars. It is to be hoped that organisers everywhere will learn from the hard lesson the A.D.A.C. suffered. The general public who attend motor racing for the spectacle value want the biggest, best, fastest and most dangerous, in spite of what newspaper writers think, and the A.D.A.C. deserve thanks for giving a practical demonstration of this.

To the technically and sporting minded followers the race at Nurburgring was full of interest, for the entry included four E.M.W. cars from the Eisenach factory, two factory Porsches and a lone entry from Maserati. It was this last car that was the star of the whole meeting, and the Maserati factory not only made a serious attack on the 1½-litre class but dominated it from the word go. Arriving the day before official practice began, they produced two new cars, both with four-cylinder 1½-litre engines, one with ¼-elliptic rear springs and a one-piece axle and the other with de Dion rear end suspended by a transverse leaf-spring. Their number one driver Behra tried both care and decided to use the de Dion one, and his times round the 22.8-kilometre Nurburgring while it was open to tourists caused a stir in the paddock when training officially started on the Friday before race day.

The race was divided into five classes and the outright winner was clearly among the 20 starters in the racing/sports-car class up to 1,500 c.c. In numbers the list was dominated by Porsche Spyders, there being 12 privately-owned cars and two factory cars, and with the lone Maserati and a lone Kieft-M.G. from France they faced the four East-German E.M.W. cars. The 1½-litre class on the Nurburgring has been the province of Porsche for many years and with the Spyder models the firm had settled into a feeling of complacency, even to the point of not intending to run factory cars during 1955, but on one occasion last year they found an E.M.W. in their midst and earlier this year it was there again, and Porsche began to look about them. Due to the Porsche driver Frankenberg spinning off the road on some oil during the Eifelrennen, that race was won by Barth, driving an E.M.W. and at a very respectable speed, so that Porsche were not at all complacent about the result of the 500-kilometre race and were without a driver for their second car. The E.M.W. team were humming round with four team cars and a spare one, but were handicapped by having two new drivers, though the regulars, Barth-and Rosenhammer, were making up for this. Behra was using the two Maseratis and continually lowering the existing lap record, and this new four-cylinder 1½-litre was going at a terrific pace. What with having to nurse many of the private Spyder owners, Porsche were rather harassed and, in trying not to get left behind during the practice sessions, Frankenberg overdid things and crashed. The car was wrecked and the driver unhurt, he returning, to the pits to look for another car. The other factory Porsche was not going too well and von Hanstein also had a minor accident with it, but the damage was mostly superficial. Among the private Porsches the Portuguese driver Filipe. Nogueira was making an excellent impression for his first visit to the notorious Nurburgring, as was the Swedish driver Kaiser on his second visit; many of the regular inhabitants being outpaced by those two.

In the 750-c.c. class there was a match between the French drivers Chancel, Cotton and Stempert with Panhards and three Italian Stanguellini 750-c.c. cars, driven by Signora Peduzzi, Cecchini and Frenchman Faure. The touring class had a limit of 1,000 c.c. and had only five entries, two D.K.W., two Renault and a lone Panhard, while the other two classes had only Porsche entries, the first a row of eleven 1,300-c.c. Supers and the second a group of fifteen 1,500-c.c. Supers. Practice ended with Maserati merely dusting over their new de Dion car, E.M.W. carefully checking over their four cars, and Porsche with bits and pieces strewn everywhere, one wrecked car, one slightly bent one and the almost standard spare one having to be used by Frankenberg. The slightly bent one was repaired and ex-mechanic Herbert Linge was given his chance to drive, he having done much good work in high-speed rallies with Polensky.

A Le Mans-type start was employed, the cars being lined up in order of practice times; Behra was at the head with a time of 10 min. 27.2 sec., at a speed of 130.9 k.p.h., a truly remarkable time for a 1½-litre sports car — and it would have been a creditable me for a racing car, the absolute unofficial fastest being 9 min. 33.3 sec., set up recently by Fangio with a Grand Prix Mercedes-Benz. The fastest E.M.W. was that of Barth, with 10 min. 29.5 sec. which was close enough to Behra to be a menace and an excellent time for a driver who was nowhere near the class of Behra. The rest the times were more than a quarter of a minute slower, and the best Porsche time was so slow as to be unmentionable. Before the start, at 11.30 a.m., the question was whether the Maserati would last for 22 laps and what was the reliability factor of the very fast E.M.W. cars. Porsche reliability is a by-word and in spite of being slow they were still looked upon as likely winners. Altogether there were 61 starters, and some sports-car owners were looking rather embarrassed at having normal Porsches ahead of them in the line-up, for the Nurburgring will find out the drivers from the owners very quickly. All four E.M.W.s made poor starts, while Behra was not impressive, and it was the two Porsches of Frankenberg and Linge that led the field for most of the first lap. After passing a number of cars Behra overtook the leading Porsche on the straight near the end of lap one, the Maserati being comfortably faster than anything else, with the possible exception of Barth’s E.M.W., which had also galloped its way up from a bad start.

There had been a heavy mist hanging over the high parts of the mountainous circuit until half-an-hour before the start, but now the track was drying and visibility was excellent, and Behra went on and on into the lead He had no need to stress the Maserati engine at all, keeping well below his rev.-limit, and for lap after lap of the arduous and lengthy circuit he roared round, the four-cylinder engine sounding just like a Grand Prix car. Apart from Barth keeping the Maserati in sight, the rest were also-rans, but among them was some keen competition, in particular Nogueira, Kaiser and Linge having a battle, the last named in difficulties with front-suspension trouble. Rosenhammer was keeping his E.M.W. in front of Frankenberg, but only just, and it was clearly the superior power of the six-cylinder car that enabled him to do this; these two were battling for third place, but way behind the first two cars.

The race distance of 500 kilometres represented 22 laps of the circuit, or a full Grand Prix, which for 1½-litre sports cars was quite an ordeal, for many find one lap sufficient to break chassis components, as many English cars have found out in the past. As the outcome of the race was clearly going to be one of endurance and not a close dice, a visit was made to many of the corners, as access to all parts of the Nurburgring is very simple though requiring a good deal of time. At all points it was obvious that Behra was doing a high-speed tour, the Maserati roadholding being of Grand Prix standards, yet his average was a new class record and his third lap in 10 min. 39.7 sec. (128.4 k.p.h.) a new 1½-litre lap record, some 12 seconds slower than the absolute possibility of the car, as shown in practice.

The fast Porsche Spyders were going round nicely in the special groove they seem to have worn on the Nurburgring over the passage of years, and Rosenhammer was keeping up with Frankenberg through the corners but looking rather wild. The E.M.W. cars, being very light, showed a tendency to dance about on the more difficult bends, especially those in dips or over hummocks. The tactics of the f.w.d. Panhard and D.K.W. cars was horrifying to watch but incredibly fast, and every time it seemed that the cars would go straight on, the drivers put on full lock and full power and cornered at very impressive speeds. The little Renaults were proving faster in lap speeds and their cornering was equally frightening, the tail swinging wildly and the inside rear wheel doing its best to Ssake itself free from the axle. Eventually one of them did, on the leading car driven by Helmut Glockler, and though he was able to continue it eventually lost him the class. The normal 1,300 and 1,500-cc. Porsche coupés were being driven in all sorts of fashions; and this one-type racing certainly showed up the better drivers, the new “coming-man” Graf von Trips being way ahead in the 1,300-c.c. class and leading all but two of the 1,500-c.c. Porsches. The Portuguese driver Mascarenhas spun his Spyder Porsche and finished up in the ditch, unhurt and undamaged, for such is the safety of the Nurburgring for the drivers, but had to be lifted back on to the track by the crowd and was disqualified. The other Portuguese driver, Filipe Nogueira, was showing brilliant form until he spun on some oil, continuing undamaged but then handing over to Nogueira-Pinto. One of the 1,500-c.c. Porsche coupés did a typical flick-roll and, also typical, the driver stepped out of the battered wreck with a small scratch on his arm. Later, however, the German driver Spingler inverted his Porsche coupé and subsequently died front his injuries, this being the first fatality with a Porsche in all the thousands of racing miles accomplished by these strange little “beetle cars.” While observing around the course, the E.M.W. lying in second place, driven by Barth, went out with a broken crankshaft, and Rosenhammer was losing ground on Frankenberg, so this retirement let the Porsche into second place. Still the Maserati was touring round in the lead, never sounding any different and seemingly set to complete the 22 laps.

Returning to the pits by lap 18 there was time to see Barth take over from Rosenhammer in an attempt to catch the flying Frankenberg, who was driving all he knew how, to make up for the lack of performance of the factory Spyder. Behra had refuelled as a precaution rather than a necessity, and altogether there were surprisingly few retirements recorded. The very streamlined Panhard of Chancel was leading the 750-c.c, class, he having been learning he circuit for nearly a week, in a very conscientious manner at it was his first visit to “the Ring” and the result was gratifying. As the Maserati started its last lap the mechanics hardly dare breathe and when Behra was overdue on the 22nd round they were nearly in tears. However, all was well for the wily Behra was making no mistakes at the crucial hour of this triumph and took things very easily on the last circuit, keeping well away from many of the rather wildly driven Porsche coupés, having already bumped three of them while overtaking. Sounding as healthy as at the beginning, the 1½-litre Maserati completed its first race in first position, on Europe’s most punishing circuit and against the cream of the 1½-litre class. No better result could be wished for, and it was a lucky Porsche factory that netted second place with the car driven by Frankenberg. The E.M.W. team took third and fourth places and their last remaining car, driven by a new driver, Egon Binner, was a long way behind.

By no stretch of imagination was the 500-kilometre race to be considered exciting, and the winning car hardly did any real racing, but as an event to provide interesting data for the future and valuable history it was well worth while. Until this year the normal Porsche Spyder has been considered a fast 1½-litre, while the factory Spyders were considered the top. Now, on their home ground, the E.M.W.s have proved themselves vastly superior in speed, and the new Maserati 1½-litre is above them all. No longer can we take the factory Porsche Spyder as a standard, for it is now a rather poor third in this 1½-litre race, and Maserati have only just started.

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