We arrived at Albi, for the Grand Prix, in a Lancia Aprilia at about. 8 p.m. It could have been earlier but we spent quite a part of the day helping the French to celebrate the fall of the Bastille, which is always a good thing to do if you happen to be in France on this date. A fair amount of fluid has to be absorbed in the Midi, and why hurry, anyway?
The following morning we decided to go to the Bank and then call on the Moto-Camping-Club-Albigeois to collect Press Passes for ourselves and grandstand seats for the ladies. We casually asked the Patron of the Hotel Grand Vigan, where we were staying, what time the Bank shut on Saturdays, when he told us that the Banks were closed for three days and re-opened on Tuesday. Having only about 2,000 francs between the four of us, we were not quite so lighthearted. We left the ladies to do some window shopping and went to the Club headquarters. We obtained the necessary Press Passes without difficulty but were still faced with the problem of buying grandstand seats, when to our rescue came M. Louis Barthe, the Club’s Interpreter. We explained the money trouble to him and he said that the hotel proprietor must lend us some money. We said that we thought that he had something there and perhaps he would like to come with us and break the news to the hotel. This he immediately did, with great success, as we were advanced 20,000 francs.
M. Barthe, however, decided that a foreign visitor to his Albi must have even better treatment, so he arranged with the authorities that a temporary Bank be opened on the Sunday night and the Monday morning for the benefit of the few that wished to cash travellers’ cheques. We were able to obtain money and leave Albi (reluctantly) after lunch on the Monday. The morning was spent being shown over Albi Cathedral by M. Barthe – very well worth giving up the morning for.
This is not intended to be a report on the race itself but a few words must be said about the event in general.
It is a superbly organised meeting, both from the spectators’ and the competitors’ angle; nothing appears to be left to chance. This year the meeting was run in two parts, the morning being devoted to the two motor-cycle events, one for 350 c.c. and, after a short interval, the 500 c.c. Both these were won in great style by Les Graham on A.J.S. machines, and he really did give the customers value for their money. It gave us a great thrill to hear the National Anthem played after each event and we stood ourselves a bottle of champagne at lunch to celebrate.
After a lunch break of three hours – which, after all, does give one a chance to enjoy a French lunch – we returned to the course.
The Grand Prix was run in the afternoon and this year was run in two heats, all competitors running in both heats and their times being added together. This is a very good arrangement from the spectators’ point of view as one gets two massed starts and two complete races of 17 laps each, which holds one’s interest much more than the very long-distance Grands Prix which are difficult to follow.
Fangio, who must be the fastest Grand Prix driver today, led the first heat for 16 laps and on the last lap his Maserati developed engine trouble, which allowed Sommer, who was driving a 4-1/2-litre Talbot, superbly, to catch him up. On the last corner, which is also the finishing line, Sommer passed Fangio at an impossible speed and in a shower of strawbales and one photographer went over the finishing line almost broadside, to win. It was a most spectacular finish!
These two, having both broken their cars, were out of the second heat, which was won by Fangio’s team-mate, Gonzales (Maserati), with Rosier (Talbot) a very well-deserved second. Rosier having put up a better time in the first heat won on the final classification. Fangio put in the fastest lap and broke the course record at over 105 m.p.h. The pit work of the de Graffenried—”Bira” team was appalling. They tried to start de Graffenried’s Maserati with an open-ended spanner on the starting-handle shaft and, when this failed, the electric starter was rushed to the car, but on pressing the button they realised that there was no battery on the end of the cables – a really pathetic display.
The 3.3-litre unblown Ferrari driven by Villoresi appeared to be a handful and he did not seem to be at all happy with his mount – perhaps significant in view of his tragic crash at Geneva.