A Near-Miss for Moss
Caen, July 25th
On the weekend following the British Grand Prix the Automobile Club de l’Ouest, organised a Formula 1 race in the town of Caen, a town whose Mayor is one of those enthusiastic and helpful men who appreciate that the way to attract a big crowd to your motor-race is to have it in the middle of the town. In the Centre of Caen is a large, open, grass-covered space on which horse-races are run, as well as being a form of park for the public, and it was on the public roads round this grassland that the Caen race was organised. The lap measured 3.523 kilometres and was completely flat, but it contained right-angle corners, an ess-bend, full-throttle curves and a hairpin, and contrived to produce a reasonably fast lap speed.
The entry was limited to ten drivers and of these only Mieres was a non-starter, his new Maserati still not being ready and his old one not rebuilt since it crashed on the way home from Reims. Gordini entered three cars, his complete team in fact, with Behra on the five-speed gearbox model, and Bucci and Pollet with the normal models. Rosier and Manzon both had their private four-cylinder Ferraris and Moss, Bira and Schell had their own Maseratis. With Gonzalez and Hawthorn competing in Portugal, Trintignant was alone to defend the Ferrari name and he was using the, 1953-54 model that Gonzalez had used to win the British Grand Prix. Two practice periods were allowed, the first early on Friday morning and the second late on Saturday afternoon, with the result that the mechanics had plenty of time to prepare the cars, but for any that ran into trouble at the second practice it meant some hurried work late into the night. This was slightly offset by the race itself being run late on Sunday afternoon, for the morning and early afternoon were occupied by a motor-cycle race and two rather drawn out races for Rene Bonnet’s Monomill “circus.'” The first practice was relatively calm, but the second saw Trintignant, Moss and Behra all record times within 0.5 second of each other. Trintignant doing, 1 min. 26 sec. dead, Moss 1 min. 26.4. sec. and Behra 1 min. 26.9 sec., but then the Gordini driver went out again and equalled the time recorded by Moss. As the road was narrow only two cars were to be on the front row of the grid and Moss had this privilege as he had made his time first. Behra went out yet again and tried really hard to better Moss’s time, but could not, and though the Maserati driver watched this with interest he did not have to go out again, being content with second fastest and the front row. These three were in in a class of their own, Bucci being the next with 1 min. 29.1 sec., just ahead of Pollet, while Schell was having trouble with clutch and Bira was still feeling unwell, though his Maserati had been straightened out since Flockhart turned it upside down at Silverstone, the B.R.M. equipe easing their conscience by lending him one of their mechanics.
A rare occurrence for this season was that it looked as though the weather would remain dry for the race and, though Trintignant was fastgest in practice, there seemed a very good chance that Moss might be abIe to pull off the race. Right from the fall of the flag he leapt into the lead and Trintignant sat on his tail, content to let the English driver set the pace, while Behra was in few yards behind and as indicated in practice these three were on their own, the gap between Behra, who was third, and Manzon in fourth place being quite considerable after only four laps. On the next lap Behra had a very frightening moment when his steering failed going into a corner and he was very lucky to be able to stop the car without hitting anything more solid than straw bales. This left Moss and Trintignant completely on their own, only 2 sec. apart, with Manzon leading the rest of the field, in the order Bucci, Bira, Pollet, Rosier and Schell. Bira had been placed at the back of the start, but had soon caught, and passed Rosier and Pollet, and before 10 laps were completed he had caught Bucci and was lying fourth. Schell was in trouble from the first lap with a reluctant engine and was tailing along, way behind the field. Moss continued to lead Trintignant, increasing the gap to just over 3 sec. and looking to be completely in command of the situation, though the French driver was also looking very comfortable. Round and round these two went, neither of them faulting in the least way and together they began to lap the rest of the field. Behra walked back to the pits and Pollet was flagged in and his car given to the team’s number one driver, but though he was soon lapping faster than Pollet he could make no impression on the leaders, for Moss had set a new lap record of 1 min, 25.7 sec. and Trintignant still had him comfortably in sight. Although there were no furious battles going on there was still much to interest, for Moss had increased his lead to 6 sec. after 30 laps, which was half-distance, and Trintignant was still looking, so comfortable that it seemed certain that he was playing a waiting game, letting Moss set the pace. Schell retired when his flywheel split, Behra caught Bucci and got into fifth place and then took fourth place from Bira, but all the time he was losing ground to the leaders and only Manzon, in third place, was on the same lap as Moss and Trintignant. Bucci came into his pit to investigate some, ominous oil stains on the side of the car and retired with a broken oil pipe and, shortly after Manson’s steady run in third place ended when his timing gears stripped. By lap 40 Moss had a lead of 8 sec. and it began to look as though Trintignant was not going to catch him after all, but then a shower of rain fell which was just enough to wet the course and leave it very slippery for some time afterwards. Moss eased up, not wishing to take any chances with the slippery track and Trintignant seized the opportunity to close right up again to within a few lengths of the Maserati, he presumably being prepared to take chances with the surface. On lap 46 they went into the hairpin together and Trintignant left his braking just that fraction later and nipped past Moss. For the next six laps Trintignant led, but Mass was only two lengths behind, and when the roads were dry again they went round almost side by side. They started the 53rd lap side by side and Moss took the lead again on the fast right-hand curve after the pits and kept in front by a matter of yards for four laps until once, more, approaching the hairpin, the Ferrari out-braked the Maserati and Trintignant was again in the lead. There was now nothing Moss could do and during the last three laps Trintignant gained ground, finishing 3 sec. in front of the Maserati, having worthily upheld the “Prancing Horse” fortunes. Moss had shown his true ability once more and had taken yet one more step up the Grand Prix, ladder, his progress having been very steady since he started with the Maserati two months ago. His dealing with Hawthorn at Silverstone, and now Trintignant at Caen, was to convince even the greatest disbelievers that his ability had been wasted for many years. Only three other cars remained running at the end, Behra on Pollet’s Gordini, Bira whose Maserati had developed a roughness and Rosier who had had a quiet Sunday afternoon ride all on his own at the back of the race.