Ferrari Defeated by Tyre Trouble
After the cancellation of the Belgian Grand Prix, the Royal Automobile Club of Belgium realised what a waste of a good circuit this cancellation was causing, and subsequently organised a race for sports cars over a duration of three hours. In many respects this resulted in a repetition of the meeting organised by the Spa Club back in May, when Aston Martin cleaned up, but nevertheless it resulted in a meeting full of interest.
The only factory team entered was Aston Martin, and they had three cars with them, the Le Mans 3.7-litre back-bone chassis car for Brooks, and their two DBR1/300 models for Salvadori and Cunningham-Reid, but unfortunately the latter driver crashed the 3.7-litre car while he was trying it in practice. Cunningham-Reid himself was unhurt, but the car could not be repaired in time, so he had to forfeit his drive and Brooks took over the second 3-litre car, this one having the new cylinder head with the valves at 95 degrees in place of the normal 60-degree valve angle. Naturally there were no official Jaguars present, but the Ecurie Ecosse had their three cars running, Lawrence in the 3.8-litre injection car, and Fairman and Seidel in the normal 3.5-litre D-types. The German driver was taken on at the last moment having been “fishing” to try a D-type for some time. Other Jaguars were the white one of Murkett Brothers, this time being driven by Naylor, in place of Henry Taylor, he being stood in the corner for bending the car in the Leinster Trophy, the Equipe National Belge Jaguar driven by young Bianchi, and Broadhead’s Jaguar driven by Bueb. The two Whiteheads had an Aston Martin apiece, these being the 1956 works Le Mans DB3S models, with the wide slot radiator grille, but minus the head-fairings. The Equipe Belge provided the main opposition to the British cars with a borrowed 4.1-litre, 4-o.h.c., vee-12 Ferrari works car, painted yellow, as it was supposed to be a private entry, and this was driven by Gendebien. This team also had their own 3.5-litre 12-cylinder Ferrari running, driven by de Changy. To complete the list of over-1,500-c.c. runners were Loens with a brand new 200S Maserati, Milhoux with the Belgian Testa Rossa Ferrari and the Temple Buell pair of blue-and-white Ferraris, with Gregory in the 3.5-litre 12-cylinder car and Brabham in the 2-litre Testa Rossa.
Running concurrently but viewed as a separate race was a class for sports cars up to 1,500 c.c., and Team Lotus had two single-cam cars running, Allison in the one with the F. II elektron wheels, and Ireland in the normal team car. There were four private Lotus, one 1,500 driven by Moran and three 1,100 models driven by Piper, Hicks and Campbell-Jones, while the main opposition came from the Osca of de Tomaso. This was the new, shorter, narrower and lighter car, and was fitted with the new engine with desmodromic valve gear, making its first competition appearance. Isabelle Haskell had a normal 1,500 Osca, as had Fast, the Swedish driver, while Porsche opposition was provided by de Beaufort, Goethals and Houdusse with 1500RS models, and Tassin with the old Belgian team Spyder, and to complete the list there was Berger with his old 150S Maserati. Gran Turismo cars up to 3-litres were also allowed to compete, but only one turned up, this being the Europa Ferrari of Ringoir, so he had a race all by himself.
There were two days’ practice, and apart from the 3.7-litre Aston Martin being eliminated, Milhoux upset his 2-litre Ferrari, and Goethals upset his Porsche, while Loens broke the final drive on his new Maserati and Brooks ruined the bearings on one of the DBR1/300 Aston Martins. However, the Aston Martin mechanics put in some hard work and repaired the car, and Loens fitted another final drive, but far too low for the fast Spa circuit, it being the only one available. Gendebien was easily fastest of the big cars, with a time of 4 min. 11.7 sec., and everyone got excited because this was faster than the Formula 1 lap record of 1956. In their excitement they all forgot that the pits have been moved back, making the downhill rush from La Source a lot quicker, and that all the corners from Stavelot to La Source have had the edges cleaned up, giving as much as 3 ft. more width to play with, and at 140-150 m.p.h. that counts for a great deal. Due to these circuit changes lap speeds can no longer be compared with previous records, and the only conclusions to be drawn are that the circuit and sports cars are very fast, for Gendebien’s time represented an average speed of 201 k.p.h. The desmodromic Osca was going very fast also, lapping in 4 min. 41 sec., and making the Lotus boys whistle through their teeth a bit.
Although torrential rain swept the Spa-Francorchamps countryside during the morning, by the time the cars were lined up for the Le Mans start a bright sun was shining and the circuit was drying rapidly. The arrangement for running the race was that it should be for three hours’ duration, but at the end of the third hour if the leader was somewhere out on the circuit, he would be allowed to complete that lap before the flag fell. This meant that instead of the chequered flag falling at exactly three hours, probably as some back-marker was trundling by, it would be given to the winner of the race, but possibly some minutes after the three hours. On paper it looked like being a runaway win for Gendebien with the 4.1-litre Ferrari, with Brooks trying to keep up, but things went wrong from the beginning, for the Ferrari took a long time to start its engine, and it was nearly last away, while also having trouble starting were Lawrence with the injection Jaguar, the electrically-driven fuel pump not being right, and Naylor, who was making his first start in a Jaguar and did not know the drill. On the opening lap Brooks took the lead from Gregory and de Tomaso lost the lead of the 1,500 class by spinning madly, but luckily keeping on the road and being able to carry on, with a rather pale face. Gendebien made a fantastic opening lap, coming by in sixth place, and interest then lay in seeing if he could catch the flying Brooks. On the next lap he was fourth and the one after that third, the order being Brooks, Gregory, Gendebien, Bueb, Salvadori, Graham Whitehead, de Changy and Peter Whitehead. While the big cars were becoming strung out the 1,500 leaders were in a tight cut-and-thrust group in the order, on lap four, Allison, de Beaufort, Ireland and de Tomaso, but the next lap saw the order changed, and these four had a real scrap. Naylor was making up for his bad start and was now amongst these 1,500-c.c. cars and gradually worked his way through them and set off after the tail of the big cars. Gendebien got past Gregory on lap six but was 35 sec. behind Brooks, and a fastest lap in 4 min. 23 sec. reduced the lead to 28 sec., but then trouble began, for the Ferrari threw the tread off its left rear tyre and Gendebien stopped to change it. This set him back behind Gregory again, and Bueb and Salvadori went by before the yellow Ferrari rejoined the race. In one lap Gendebien passed the two British drivers, and was back in third place, now setting up new fastest laps almost every time round, getting down to 4 min. 16.5 sec., but then another tread came off, this time on the right rear tyre, and he came into the pits once more.
One hour had now passed, and Brooks was running comfortably in the lead, carefully and accurately controlled from the pits by Wyer and Parnell, and Gregory was still second in the American-owned Ferrari. The 1,500-c.c. scrap had at last been settled, and it was the desmodromic-valve Osca that was way ahead, with a fastest lap in 4 min. 44.8 sec., followed by Allison, de Beaufort and Ireland, while Lawrence suddenly arrived at the pits, having been missing for a long while out on the circuit with the troublesome Lucas fuel-injection pump. The Ecurie Ecosse were having a bad time, for Fairman had lasted only two laps before valve-gear trouble intervened and Seidel had been passed by Naylor, who was now up to ninth place and going strongly. Gendebien rejoined the race with a new tyre fitted, still in third place, for Bueb was too far behind to be a challenge, and once more the Belgian driver set about reducing the gap between the Ferrari and the leading Aston Martin, while Gregory held on to second place. After these two delays Gendebien got really mad with the 4.1-litre and flung it round the circuit faster and faster, lap records flying in all directions: 4 min. 15.3 sec. then 13.1 sec., followed by 13.0 sec., and by the end of the second hour he got down to 4 min. 10.4 sec., a speed of 202.715 k.p.h., but he was still over 1½ min. behind the serene and comfortable Brooks in the healthy-sounding Aston Martin.
Gendebien was now back in second place, ahead of Gregory, and these two were the only ones not to be lapped by Brooks, for Salvadori, who was fourth, was a whole lap behind. Bueb had retired just after half-distance with a broken oil pipe to the valve gear, limping into the pits with oil spraying into the cockpit, and de Changy was in trouble with the Belgian Ferrari, having only third gear left in the gearbox. The Whiteheads were in reasonably close company, Graham leading, and holding fifth and sixth places behind Salvadori, but Naylor was catching them rapidly, which their pit did not seem to realise. Bianchi had stopped out on the circuit when the Jaguar engine went dead and, opening the bonnet, he eventually traced the trouble to a broken spring on the contact-breaker points. By sheer chance the Lotus of Campbell-Jones was lying in the ditch nearby, he having spun off and bent the car, so the resourceful Bianchi realised that it would have a Lucas ignition unit and went and robbed it of bits to repair his Jaguar. He rejoined the race after some while, going as well as ever but being a long way back. Ireland was in trouble with the Lotus 1,500, losing water, and getting very hot, and eventually got back to the pits to retire, but Allison was still going well, having taken the lead when the Osca stopped for fuel and oil, but it was short-lived as the Lotus then had to refuel and the Osca went back into the lead. Poor Brabham in the Testa Rossa Ferrari did not seem at all happy, and could not even keep pace with the leading 1,500-c.c. cars.
At two hours Brooks had covered 27 laps and was still going round in 4 min. 20 sec. with consumate ease, while Gendebien was driving harder and harder, setting an all-time lap record on lap 29 of 4 min. 09.8 sec. — 203.202 k.p.h. — and this got him within 47 sec. of the leading Aston Martin, but then a third tyre gave out and once more the yellow Ferrari pulled into the pits. While Gendebien was limping back to the pits Gregory retook second place and after this tyre change it was all over, for the time lost was more than even Gendebien could cope with, so when he restarted it was to settle for third place and lap about the same speed as the leader.
Meanwhile the battle in the 1,500 class was getting more furious tor Allison was creeping up on the Osca, and by 2½ hours he was within 5 sec., but then de Tomaso saw the danger and opened up the taps and the sleek little red car drew away. In doing so he set two more 1,500-c.c. record laps, first in 4 min. 39.3 sec. and then 4 min. 34.4 sec., the remarkable speed for a small car of 184.985 k.p.h. With a little more than five minutes before the three hours still remaining, the Osca had a comfortable 20-sec. lead over Allison, but then as it rounded La Source hairpin there was a puff of smoke and it came down the hill to the pits running on three cylinders and making an odd noise. The mechanic raised the bonnet, took a quick look and shut it again. There was a serious mechanical derangement and the car was wheeled away, but at the same time Allison arrived and also drew into the pits, quite unexpectedly. He was rapidly running out of fuel, due to it slopping out of the filler on one of the tanks, so a churn of fuel was poured in and he went off again, now certain of winning the 1,500 class.
The three hours concluded while Brooks was on his way round on his 41st lap, and when he arrived back at the finish the chequered flag was lowered and a race that had been very full of interest was over. Gendebien was not breaking records any more, but was still gaining on Gregory, and by the finish he had him in sight, and these two were still the only ones not to be lapped by Brooks. In fourth place came Salvadori and then there was a last-minute scrap for fifth place, for Naylor had been quietly working the white Jaguar closer and closer to the Whitehead Aston Martins, first of all catching Peter and then Graham, and though the latter got by the Jaguar again on the last lap, Naylor pipped him on the hairpin and led across the line by a few feet, taking fifth place. After Peter Whitehead came Seidel, who had driven a steady and unspectacular race, but not fast enough to get anywhere, and then Brabham, de Changy and Bianchi. In the 1,500 category Allison was right out on his own and though there were eight finishers in the class they were all way behind the Lotus 1,500.
Three-Hour Sports-Car Race — Spa — 14.1 Kilometres — Warm and Dry
1st: C. A. S. Brooks (Aston Martinn DBR1/300) 41 laps — 578.1 kms. 3 hr. 01 min. 47.5 sec. — 190.800 k.p.h.
2nd: M. Gregory (Ferrari 3.5-litre) 41 laps — 3 hr. 03 min. 14.9 sec.
3rd: O. Gendebien (Ferrari 4.1-litre) 41 laps 3 hr. 03 min. 39.1 sec.
4th: R. Salvadori (Ferrari 4.1-litre) 40 laps
5th: B. Naylor (Jaguar D-type) 39 laps
6th: A. G. Whitehead (Aston Martin DB3S) 39 laps
7th: P. N. Whitehead (Aston Martin DB3S) 39 laps
8th: W. Seidel (Jaguar D-type) 39 laps
9th: J. Brabham (Ferrari TRC) 38 laps
10th: A de Changy (Ferrari 3.5-litre) 37 laps
11th: L Bianchi (Jaguar D-type) 35 laps
Fastest lap: O. Gendebien (Ferrari 4.1-litre) 4 min 09.8 sec. — 203.202 k.p.h.
1st: C. Allison (Lotus-Climax 1,500) 38 laps — 535.8 kms. — 174.980 k.p.h.
2nd: G. de Beaufort (Porsche 1500RS) 37 laps
3rd: I. Haskell (Osca 1,500) 35 laps
4th: C. Tassin (Porsche 1,500 Spyder) 35 laps
5th: D. Piper (Lotus-Climax 1,100) 35 laps
6th: J. Fast (Osca 1,500) 34 laps
7th: R. Hicks (Lotus-Climax 1,100) 34 laps
8th: J. Houdusse (Porsche 1500RS) 33 laps
Fastest lap: A. de Tomaso (Osca 1,500) 4 min. 34.4 sec — 184.985 k.p.h.
The race could really be considered a victory for Avon tyres, for Aston Martin had no limit to their speed, whereas the 4.1-litre Ferrari had to compromise between the Ferrari power and the Englebert tyres.
Maserati supplied Andre Loens with a brand new 200S four-cylinder and first of all the crown-wheel stripped and in the race a piston collapsed. Not a good advertisement for Modena.
Berger went straight off the road in his 1½-litre Maserati and down a steep bank, luckily without hurting himself, but the car was rather bent.
In view of the speed and length of time of the race the Murkett Brothers’ Jaguar was fitted with an extra fuel tank just forward of the bulkhead, to avoid having a pit stop.
The de Tomaso Osca with desrnodromic valve gear was the property of the Argentinian, but it had the blessing of the Osca factory and the support of their mechanics.
In the paddock was a beautiful Aston Martin with bodywork by Carrozeria-Touring of Milan. It was a close-coupled four-seater with wishbone and coil-spring i.f.s., de Dion rear axle, disc brakes, and adjustable rear shock-absorbers, operated from the driving seat. As it was driven by David Brown one assumes it was a 1958 prototype. — D.S.J.