The Dutch have always been keen on the sporting side of motoring, but before the War were handicapped by not having a track suitable for car racing. This need was adequately met in 1948 by the construction of the Zandvoort road circuit, which is situated on the North Sea coast five miles from Haarlem. In 1948 and 1949 the car races were run on the Albi principle, with several heats and a final. This year the Royal Dutch Automobile Club broke new ground by instituting a full-scale Grand Prix, 80 laps of a 4.8-km circuit or 300 km. in all, with a 500-c.c. race as a curtain-raiser.
The course and its setting form a considerable attraction in themselves. You drive five miles through woods and thickets out from Haarlem, then follow a wide road running parallel to the sea, with miles of bathing beach below you. The course winds up and down amongst the sand-dunes, which form natural grandstands at every point, with mounted policemen on the skyline to see that spectators do not get in without passing through the turnstiles.
The circuit offers plenty of variety. Just after the pits comes a banked 180-degree corner, then a tricky S-bend leading directly on to another 180-degree corner. All these are in view of the grandstand. From here the circuit strikes out over the sand-hills, winds round three sides of a square and so returns to the kilometre straight down past the stand and pits. The many corners and the non-skid surface make the circuit exceptionally hard on tyres.
At one time it had been expected that the Alfa team would be running in the Grand Prix, but this arrangement fell through. This left the field exceptionally open, with half-a-dozen winners amongst the fourteen who started.
Fangio and Gonzalez (1-1/2-litre s/c. Maseratis).
Villoresi (1-1/2-litre s/c. Ferrari).
Ascari (2-litre non-s/c.Ferrari).
Whitehead (1-1/2-litre s/c. Ferrari).
Sommer, Etancelin, Rosier, Giraud-Cabantous, Claes (4-1/2-litre Talbots).
Enrico Platé, "Bira," Reg. Parnell and Murray (1-1/2-litre s/c. Maserati).
Sommer made fastest time in the first day's practice, then Whitehead, Claes and Murray and the Argentines Fangio and Gonzalez turned up on the second day, and with some pretty wild laps gained leading places on the starting grid, times being Sommer, 1 min. 51.8 sec. (83.89 m.p.h.); Fangio, 1 min. 53 sec.; Gonzalez, 1 mm. 54.7 sec. Sommer also put up fastest time on his Cooper-J.A.P. in the 500-c.c. class, with a lap at 2 min. 06.9 sec. (73.91 m.p.h.).
Sommer was driving in some discomfort, with a scar still on his leg from the burns which he received at Albi, but took both his cars round the course with a convincing smoothness of technique. He told me that the new Talbots, with their three horizontal carburetters and two plugs per cylinder, were shaping very well, and would go better in six months' time.
Ascari was down to drive a 4-1/2-litre unblown Ferrari, but this was not ready in time. The 2-litre car which he drove had three downdraught Zenith carburetters above the cylinder blocks, transverse leaf springs all round with transverse links in front. The rear wheels are carried on trunnion bearings, with long radius-rods outside the body, driven by live axles from the gearbox-cum-differential. The red mark on the rev.-counter was at 7,000 r.p.m. and, judging by Ascari's lap speed, only five seconds slower than that of Sommer, the engine must have been producing something really useful.
Race day brought a tremendous crowd of people, but the parking arrangements worked smoothly. The background of sadhills suggested the final of the Open Championship at St. Andrew's, but I doubt if golf finals bring together 50,000 people. A strong northerly wind was blowing, the sky cloudy but bright. Every sand-dune held its crowd of spectators, and the brick-built stand was crowded, with flags of the competitors' countries flying above the pits.
Soon the cars running in the 500-c.c. race were making their warming-up laps, and then took their places behind a yellow open car, ready for the rolling start. Twelve ears started, four of them with English drivers.
On the first lap Sommer had established a 6-sec. lead from Parker and Dryden, with Wharton some distance behind. By the third lap Sommer was 13 seconds ahead, with only three lengths between Parker and Dryden. Dryden caught Parker on the lifth lap, then Parker got back the lead on the sixth. Wharton meantime had come into the picture, being then only thirty yards behind in fourth place.
After eight laps, Sommer had built up a lead of 30 seconds, anal was starting to lap the field. Interest focused on the Dryden-Parker duel, and a second one between Wharton and May, with Wharton making great efforts to catch the leading pair.
Sommer's driving was too much for his little car, and he retired with a failing engine on the 11th lap. Parker passed Dryden on the 12th lap and on the 13th raised the lap record to 2 min. 8.1 sec., but. Dryden kept only a length behind, finally catching Parker on the last lap and winning by 50 yards. Altogether an exciting start to the day's racing:
1st: R. M. Dryden (Cooper).
2nd: D. Parker (Parker Special).
3rd: K. Wharton (Cooper).
All set then for the Grand Prix of Holland. The line-up on the starting grid was:
Sommer, Fangio and Gonzalez
Rosier and Villoresi
G. Cabantous, Ascari and "Bira"
Etancelin and Parnell
Whitehead, Claes and Platé
The start was as usual terrific, with the two Argentines in the lead, closely followed by Sommer, then Villoresi and Rosier. Fangio set, a cracking pace and beat "Bira's" record of last year (1 min. 58 sec.) in the second lap and again in the third (1 min. 52.4 sec., or 83.47 m.p.h.). In the fourth lap Sommer had passed Gonzalez.
Sommer pursued Fangio relentlessly, unruffled, but fairly heaving his Talbot round the bends, and on the sixth lap came into the lead. He pulled steadily away, and by the 15th lap had built up a lead of nearly a kilometre. Reg. Parnell had been in to change plugs and his brakes were squealing fiercely, Villoresi seemed completely relaxed at the wheel, while Ascari was pressing on hard and passed Fangio, who retired with suspension trouble and a leaking tank.
At 25 laps the order was: Sommer, Gonzalez, Villoresi and Rosier. Etancelin, fierce as ever and wearing his usual back-to-front cap, had pulled up to fifth, then Ascari, "Bira," and Whitehead, less than three minutes behind the leader.
Tyres were already wearing down: Gonzalez changed tyres and refuelled in two minutes, Villoresi much neater in 45 seconds, and Sommer changed rear tyres in 45 seconds, then hard off again, still in the lead.
Gonzalez' long pit-stop had cost him second place, but otherwise the order remained unchanged at thirty laps. At 35 laps Etancelin was evidently slowing, and Villoresi took fourth place. Sommer was now leading by 36 seconds, apparently all set for the remainder of the race, when trouble developed. He shot into the pits, tyres were changed, and a major operation seemed to be taking place on the engine. Eventually the car was pushed away, the trouble apparently a slipping clutch.
At half distance eleven cars were still running and motoring very quickly. Parnell came in and rear tyres were changed in 52 seconds, then back in again, this time finally. A brand-new reduction gear in the back axle had seized up. "Bira" refuelled and changed tyres in 52 seconds.
Now came an exciting incident. Gonzalez came in for refuelling. The fuel from the pressure hose spilt on to the exhaust pipe, and in a second the car was enveloped in flames, with burning fuel spreading towards the other pits. Firemen dealt promptly with the blaze, mechanics worked furiously to clean up the cockpit and steering-wheel, and in a few minutes Gonzalez was off again, loudly cheered, and driving as fast as before the fire.
Etancelin now retired, his engine out of action with a burst oil pipe. This let Whitehead, who had been driving a sound steady race, into fourth place, a position which he held until the end of the race. A heavy rain-shower at the 60th lap made a sudden change in driving conditions, and caused the drivers some anxious moments on the Tarzan curve and the S-bend following. Villoresi and Ascari enlivened the last few laps by a wheel-to-wheel struggle, the unblown 2-litre Ferrari being little inferior in speed to Villoresi's blown 1-1/2-litre, but Villoresi managed to keep ahead.
This last-minute sprint by the Italian drivers cost Rosier some of his lead, and his pit-staff hung out signals calling for more speed, but Rosier refused to be flurried and finally scored a well-deserved victory with an average speed of 76.65 m.p.h., beating Villoresi by over two minutes.
1st: L. Rosier (Talbot).
2nd: L. Villoresi (Ferrari).
3rd: A. Ascari (Ferrari).
* * *
Other Continental Races:
Circuit of Posillipo (July 23rd)
1st: Cortese (Ferrari), 2 hr. 1 min. 1 sec. (65.45 m.p.h.).
2nd: Macklin (H.W.M.), 2 hr. 1 min. 33 sec.
3rd: Fagioli (Osca).
4th: Musmecci (Maserati), 48 laps.
5th: Belucci (Lancia), 46 laps.
6th: Godia (Abarth), 44 laps.
The Geneva Races (July 30th) - Formula I
(68 laps, 170 miles)
1st: Fangio (Type 158 Alfa-Romeo), 2 hr. 7 min. 55 sec. (79.74 m.p.h.).
2nd: De Graffenried (Type 158 Alfa-Romeo), 2hr. 8 min. 18.7 sec.
3rd: Taruffi (Type 158 Alfa-Romeo), 2 hr. 8 min. 20.1 sec.
4th: Giraud Cabantous (Talbot), 6 laps behind.
5th: Manzon (Simca-Gordini), 7 laps behind.
6th: Chiron (Maserati), 7 laps behind.
Fastest lap: Taruffi (Type 158 Alfa-Romeo), 85.03 mph.
Prix de Geneve - Formula II
(45 laps, 113 miles)
1st: Trintignant (Simca), 1 hr. 29 min. 18,3 sec. (74,98 m.p.h.).
2nd: Simon (Simca), 74.59 m.p.h.
3rd: Serafini (Ferrari), 74.29 m.p.h.
4th: Mieres (Maserati), 1 lap behind.
5th: Canonica (Simca), 2 laps behind.
6th: Macklin (H.W.M.). 3 laps behind.
Fastest lap: Villoresi (Ferrari), 77.6 m.p.h.
Mont Cenis Hill-climb (July 30th)
1st: Bracco (Ferrari), 15 min. 14,23. sec. (58.7 m.p.h.).
2nd: Cortese (Cisitalia), 15 min. 40 sec.
3rd: Marcy (Veritas).
4th: Grignard (Talbot).
1st: Carini (Osca), 15 min. 53. sec.
2nd: Guy Warburton (Allard), 15 min. 57 sec.
G.P. of Naples (July 23rd)
1st: Cortese (Ferrari), 65.45 m.p.h.
2nd: Macklin (H.W.M.), 32 sec. behind.
3rd: Fagioli (Oscar)
Moss (H.W.M.) crashed and broke his leg.