A Day of Publicity for Mercedes-Benz
Kristianstad, August 7th.
Motor racing in Sweden is still very much in its infancy, due no doubt to the country being rather isolated away in the Northern Hemisphere, but with the 1955 Grand Prix meeting for sports cars there is no doubt that the Sport in Sweden took a big step forward. The Kungl Automobile Club, who organised the event, in conjunction with the Swedish Motor Club, had a rare opportunity with the cancellation of events in central Europe, and they certainly made the most of it. Thanks to the untiring efforts of H.R.H. Prince Bertil of Sweden, who personally visited numerous factories and made arrangements for entries, the Kristianstad meeting attracted a very fine international list of cars and drivers. It says much for the enthusiasm and energy of the organisers that they coped so well with the very strong entry of factory cars, gathered together for the first time in Scandinavia. Under normal circumstances more important events in other parts of Europe would have claimed the top cars and drivers, leaving the Swedish Grand Prix to the private owners, but this time it took on the air of a World Championship event. Being in the nature of an outing for the factory drivers during an off-period of serious racing it was interesting to see the way the various teams approached the meeting. The Scuderia Ferrari sent one 4.4-litre Le Mans car by train, while team manager Ugolini arrived with two mechanics and driver Castellotti; the official Maserati entry consisted of one 3-litre car, also sent by train, and Behra and a mechanic arrived by public transport; Aston Martin sent two of last year’s cars by boat, and mechanics drove them overland from one side of Sweden to the other, while two staff-members followed with a Lagonda shooting-brake, and Porsche sent one factory Spyder on a trailer behind a VW van, driver Frankenberg coming in his own Porsche coupé with his family. To all these factories the long trip to Sweden was undertaken as a personal gesture of friendship to Prince Bertil and the Swedes, to help to make their race more interesting, there being no other events to occupy the time. Daimler-Benz, on the other hand, took the whole thing with their normal serious outlook and the whole “entourage” of the Mercedes-Benz team trekked northwards from Stuttgart, with four lorries, innumerable private cars, the whole of the racing technical staff, team staff, press staff, mechanics and Fangio, Moss and Kling. Mercedes-Benz banners and stars were hung everywhere, they ran special film-shows and dominated the whole scene in a manner that was a little garish for so unimportant an event, and was made even more obvious by the quiet way the other teams had approached the meeting.
The rest of the entry was comprised of private owners, many from the other Scandinavian countries, but a good number from far-off parts, so that the whole atmosphere was truly international. The circuit itself was new and formed an approximate square, three sides being on public roads, the fourth, where the pits were situated, being a private road. The surface was of a fine non-skid material but very wavy in places, which caused the cars to leave the ground for considerable distances, while the roads themselves were rather narrow for cars of the speeds of the factory models. By present-day standards, at any rate since the hysterics of Le Mans, the course was not suitable for really fast cars, though spectator control was perfect, but how the Mercedes-Benz team justified their appearance on such a dicey circuit, after their public statements following Le Mans, is hard to see. The other teams just mopped their brows and said “It’s a bit dodgy, but fun.”
Having learnt a lot from British motor racing, the Swedes organised five races for the meeting. Class 1 was for special sports cars and the entry of 10 consisted of Fangio and Moss with 300SLR models, as used at Le Mans, complete with air-brakes, Collins and Salvadori with Aston Martins, last year’s cars as the new ones were being prepared for Goodwood, Castellotti with the 4.4-litre Ferrari, Behra with a 3-litre Maserati and Musy with his privately-owned car of the same type, Head driving one of Hamilton’s D-type Jaguars, Kvarnstrom with an ex-works 3.5-litre six-cylinder Alfa-Romeo and Carlsson with a 4.1-litre Ferrari coupé. This list was completely dominated in practice by the two German cars, and as has happened before with the sports cars, Moss was faster than Fangio. The big Ferrari missed the first practice period due to its train being delayed, but on the second day Castellotti began to stir things up, though a slight shower of rain prevented him approaching the Mercedes-Benz times. The rest of the runners were nowhere, even Behra being unable to approach with the factory Maserati. Practising at the same time was Uhlenhaut with a 300SLR built with a coupé body on exactly the same lines as the production 300SL. It was one of a set of cars the firm started to build at the beginning of the year for sports-car racing, until the drivers decided they would prefer open cars. The recent lull in racing afforded time to complete one of the saloons and Uhlenhaut drove it up from Stuttgart and intends to use it to replace his special 300SL described a few months ago in Motor Sport. Mechanically this saloon SLR was identical to the cars being driven by Fangio and Moss, though, of course, it did not have the air-brake, but it did have everything else and the interior was finished like a production car. Such was the onslaught of Mercedes-Benz that there was even a spare SLR for Fangio and Moss to use in practice.
The Class 2 race was for series sports cars, and though in principle the idea was good, things did not work out as planned. The list comprised Frere and Carlsson with Monza Ferraris, Lincoln, a Finnish driver, with a normal Jaguar 120C, Loans with an A6G Maserati, Frankenberg with a factory Spyder Porsche, a local boy, Kaiser, with a production Spyder, two Swedish drivers with 3-litre 12-cylinder coupé Ferraris, another with a 2-litre Mondial Ferrari, and an Austin-Healey 100S. In reality the two Monza Ferraris and the factory Porsche should have been in Class 1, or equally the two Aston Martins and the 1954 Jaguar D-type should have been in Class 2, but then these complicated decisions over the classifying of sports cars seldom work out right. Naturally the two Monza Ferraris were easily fastest, but during the first practice Frere was trying too hard and lost the car on the corner after the pits. Confirming a personal opinion about the handling of the Monza, the car broke away at the front and there was nothing the driver could do to correct. It struck one of the big rocks that were lying about just off the edge of the track and then went end-over-end, the driver being thrown out and very luckily escaping with only a cracked bone in his knee. Running concurrently with these cars was Class 3, touring cars over 2 litres, and the entry of five consisted of 300SL Mercedes-Benz, three factory ones driven by Kling, von Trips and a Swedish driver, Lundgren, the other two being privately-owned Swedish cars. Most impressive was the factory Porsche, driven by Frankenberg, and it lapped faster than all the SL cars, much to the consternation of the Mercedes-Benz equipe. Every effort was made to gain more speed for the SL cars, even to removal of bumpers, grilles, seat cushions and so on, but still the Porsche was faster. With the exception of the unhappy Frere, the two northern drivers in the Monza and the 120C dominated practice times in this group.
The next group in the list of events was Class 4, comprising touring cars up to 2 litres and the entry was made up of a line of Porsche Supers, three Alfa-Romeo Sprints with body by Zagato and two 8V Fiats, driven by the Leto di Priolo brothers from Italy. To complete the racing was a Formula III event consisting of a solid block of Coopers of various ages, with either Norton or J.A.P. engines, depending a great deal on the country of origin. This group was dominated by well-known exponents of this art, Loens, Tyrell, Davis, BeeIs, Hutchinson and Kuhnke, all with Cooper-Nortons. The American/Dutch driver Hutchinson having the special twin-plug Jackson engine used last year by Beart in his special Cooper.
A fine day, an excellent entry, much publicity and Royal Patronage combined to draw enormous crowds to the circuit with a resultant good income for the club, which was most necessary in order to pay the cost of attracting the factory teams, and racing started with the Formula III cars. This was clearly going to be a contest between Hutchinson, Tyrell, Loens and Davis, but the last-named dropped out on lap one with a burnt-out clutch. However, the other three came by nose-to-tail, in that embarrassing way that five-hundreds have. They did this for two laps and then at the end of the third Loens came by on his own, Hutchinson having run into Tyrell while trying to overtake with a resultant spectacular somersault to the Dutch car, with the driver rather badly hurt. Tyrell was brought to rest with a damaged rear-end and that was that. Loens was quite unchallenged and followed at a long distance by Tervooren, driving Beel’s Cooper. Towards the end of the eight laps Loens began to lose power and the orange car very nearly caught him as they finished the race.
Next came the combined Classes 2 and 3, with the Ferrari and Jaguar on the front row of the start, followed by the works Porsche and von Trips, the fastest of the 300SL drivers. Carlsson, with the Monza, shot off into the lead, followed by Trips, Lincoln with the Jaguar, Kling and Lundgren, with the cheeky little Porsche just behind. On the fourth lap Carlsson had 17 seconds lead and then he went too fast over the wavy section and landed out of control, finishing up unhurt in a thick hedge. This left Trips in the lead, now followed by Kling and Lundgren, the Swedish driver showing excellent form to keep right on the tail of the two German drivers. The Jaguar was leading the sports category comfortably from the Porsche, the rest of the field being a long way behind, but then Lincoln made a mistake on one of the corners and slid off the edge of the road to land upside down, but unhurt, in the neighbouring field. The three factory SLs were now in full command, though the Porsche had them in sight still, and on the 10th lap Kling took the lead from Trips, so that they were running in team order. Loens was keeping his Maserati ahead of one of the Swedish Mercedes-Benz, but was being led by Martenson with a 3-litre Ferrari coupé, and the Austin-Healey 100S was bringing up the rear. After 12 of the 16 laps had passed Trips suddenly lost all his brakes and would have gone straight on into Kristianstad at Fredrikslund corner, had not a wall of straw bales brought him to rest without damage. This left Kling to win his class, and Frankenberg his, the race being a procession to the end.
It was now the “men’s” race, over 32 laps, and for this a Le Mans-type start was used, the cars lining up in order of practice times, with Moss at the head of the line. There was one car missing from the line, the Aston Martin of Collins, for during the second practice the internal moving parts had decided it was time to see the outside world and most of the engine finished up in the under-tray. Moss and Fangio made perfect starts, while the big Ferrari hesitated and as all the power suddenly appeared the red monster almost turned round, narrowly missing the other cars and making all the Mercedes-Benz mechanics jump high in the air, as Castellotti went off with spinning back wheels. After leading for the first lap Moss waved Fangio by and they settled down in team order, followed by Behra, losing four or more seconds per lap, and then came Castellotti and the others. On lap four Castellotti got past Behra going over the wavy bumps after the pits, Musy had overtaken Head, and Salvadori had overtaken Kvarnstrom’s Alfa-Romeo. There followed a long and dreary procession until the end of the race, there being one retirement, when the Alfa-Romeo had brake trouble, while Moss followed Fangio close enough to collect a face full of stones from the leader’s rear wheels as he cut across the loose edges of the circuit. Both cars were_using the air-brakes and lapping as much as 4 seconds slower than in practice. Salvadori’s Aston Martin seemed to lack shock-absorbers and pranced about over the bumps, while Behra easily won the height record, the front of the Maserati being 18 inches off the ground at times. The two Mercedes-Benz lapped everyone except the works Ferrari and Maserati, and completed the Stuttgart publicity period with ease.
As a wise precaution the organisers staged the under-2-litre touring class at the end of the meeting, so that the crowds of less enthusiastic spectators would begin the exodus from the circuit while it was in progress. For those who stayed, the race proved to be one of the most exciting of the day. Massimo Leto di Prioli led to begin with, driving a drophead coupé 8V Fiat, followed by the Swedish driver Bonnier in an Alfa-Romeo Sprint; then came Dore Leto di Priolo with a coupe 8V Fiat, Nottorp with a Zagato Alfa-Romeo, and a pair of Porsche Supers, the rest of the field trailing behind. Bonnier closed up on the Fiat and pressed hard on his tail until the Italian made a mistake and spun on one of the corners, the Swedish driver taking to the grass and going into the lead. Now the other Priolo brother took up the chase, while Massimo began to make up lost ground, and the coupé Fiat slowly but surely closed on the Alfa-Romeo. It had virtually drawn alongside when a piston collapsed and the car came into the pits in a cloud of smoke, leaving the triumphant Bonnier a very worthy victor.
Thus the biggest and best Swedish Grand Prix came to a close and the Swedish organisers deserve every credit for the way they handled a meeting that could have overwhelmed them.