It was a refreshing to witness once more a small Formula I race containing none of the complications and pandemoniums of World Championship events, a race in which all the competitors were on equal terms. In European racing the meeting at Caen was the first Formula I event not in the World Championship to be held since the Naples race back in May, and that such an event was justified was shown by the interest of the race itself – and the 30,000 spectators who turned up in spite of appalling weather conditions.
Held over 70 laps of the 3.52- kilometre circuit, a field of 13 cars lined up in rows of two for the start, which was on a dry track but with rain clouds in the offing. The Friday practice had been dry and Salvadori and Rosier, with their maseratis, had both profited by their early appearance by making the front row; the second practice period, on the next day, was held in rainy conditions and no one could approach their times. Neither of these two drivers had an easy time in the first practice, for Hosier had an end come off a valve, which caused ruination of the cylinder head. piston and con-rod, and Salvadori broke his gearbox, which necessitated the mechanics working hard to rebuild it. However, both were rebuilt in time for the race, and behind them in the line up came Halford, (Maserati) and Manson (Gordini eight-cylinder), then Schell with the Maserati belonging to the Scuderia Centro-Sud and Gould (Maserati). In the fourth line were Simon (Gordini six-cylinder) and Lucas (driving Rosier’s old four-cylinder Ferrari), with behind there Burgraff, an ex-motor-cyclist from Grenoble having his first drive in a six-cylinder Gordini, and da Silva Ramos in an eight-cylinder Gordini. To complete the field were Emery (Emeryson), Morice (Cooper-Bristol) and Pedini with the 2-litre four-cylinder Ferrari of the Centro-Sud team.
Salvadori was in great form and shot off into the lead, followed by Schell and Gould, while Halford nearly stalled and finished lap one in seventh position. Poor Ramos had the clutch disintegrate on the opening lap and came to rest on the far side of the circuit. Nothing could stop Salvador; and he went away into the lead, while Gould managed to force his way past Schell and Halford was up in fourth place by lap live, being followed by Manson. On this lap Emery came into the pits with a broken engine, and the four Maseratis looked like giving a demonstration run. However, on lap 11 Gould overdid things on the Ess and shot off the road into the neighbouring fields, bending the Maserati but luckily escaping unhurt, and this left Salvadori with a lead of 1 min. 28 sec, over Schell, with Halford 6 sec. farther back.
Salvadori lapped-all but the second and third men by lap 18, and then three laps later Halford overshot the hairpin and rammed the straw bales, stalling the engine in the process and was unable to restart. This let Simon into third place, for Manson had made a pit-stop with the eight-cylinder car to inspect the engine, and Rosier was now fourth. As Salvadori and Schell were on their 31st lap heavy rain swept across the circuit and Manson spun off into the deep ditch, and while the rain deluged down Rosier stopped and had rain tyres fitted to his car. Oddly enough he set off again and crashed on the very next corner, sliding straight on through the straw bales and into a wooden shack in which the Gendarmerie were sheltering, causing much panic amongst that august body hut no harm to anyone. Then Salvadori became a victim of the terrific rain as he spun and stalled the engine, letting Schell through into first place. By a herculean effort Salvadori push-started the Maserati on his own and came round to the pits to see if he had damaged the fuel or oil tanks in his gyrations. All was well as he set off again, now in second place and over a minute behind the wet but determined Schell.
It was now a question of which drivers could withstand the teeming rain, and outstanding were Simon and Burgraff in the little six-cylinder Gordini, cars which were ideally suited to the conditions. Simon bore down on Salvadori relentlessly and passed into second position on lap 52, while Burgraff was lapping even faster but had nearly two whole laps to make up. What was happening was interesting, for the ex-motor-cycle champion was lapping at almost the same speed in the wet as he had done in the dry, whereas the Maserati drivers had dropped their lap times considerably when the rain started. Simon was doing the same, so we saw Simon pass Schell and come on the same lap as the leader, and Burgraff pass Salvadori and reduce his deficit to 1 1/2 laps. Simon tried as hard as he could, drawing away from Schell on the road to the tune of three or four seconds per lap but still nearly a whole lap behind in actual fact. Schell was not to be fooled, and as long as he kept the little Gordini in sight he knew he was a sure winner, and though Simon had no hope of making up whole hip in the remaining, time he hoped his energies would worry Schell into trying to go faster and thence make a mistake, but this did not happen and Schell drove an intelligent race, to win by just over tote minute.
Of the others, Morice just kept on going in the 2.2-litre Cooper-Bristol, unable to match the speed of the other car, but keeping well out of everyone’s way and moving up a place every time someone retired, while Pedini went slower and slower as the rain poured down, not really enjoying himself at all. Very unusual was the sight of Rosier’s old Ferrari keeping going, Juan Lucas not pressing it hard and finishing the race. Fortunately the rain stopped just before the end of the race, and as the large and very wet crowd gave Simon a terrific reception for his spirited drive a quick tour of the circuit was made to see how the long-suffering racing mechanics were getting on with scooping up the wreckage caused by their over-zealous drivers.
At the pits lay the Emeryson; on.the first corner Rosier’s dented Maserati had been hauled out of the police hut; down the back straight stood the abandoned Gordini of da Silva Ramos; at the Esses, a huge crowd were watching Gould’s very bent Maserati being pulled back on to the road, while a little farther on lay Manzon’s eight-cylinder Gordini with its nose well down the embankment, and at the hairpin Halford’s Maserati had been manhandled behind the straw bales. All that carnage round the circuit was happily without any personal injury and was occasion to appreciate that though Grand Prix drivers may not look to be trying very hard, their cars are in fact much closer to the limits of adhesion and road-holding than one would imagine. Sports cars usually begin to look dangerous long before they reach their limit and most of them certainly feel dangerous at that point, but a Grand Prix car can look safe even when it is out of control; while 260 rather excitable horsepower in a relatively light car with a safe feeling right up to the breakaway point calls for very delicate handling.
All told, the Caen Grand Prix was an interesting little meeting, and it is to be hoped that more such events will follow in other parts of Europe, with the re-instating of such regulars as Pau, Bordeaux, Aix-le-Bain and so on.