The Lisbon Grand Prix

Author

D.S.J

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Lisbon, July 24th

For a number of years the sport of motor racing has been increasing in popularity in Portugal and the International events held at Porto and Lisbon have been gaining status. Unfortunately they have invariably clashed with some major Grand Prix race or a Formula 1 race of relative importance, and the Portuguese events, being for sports cars, have in the past not been visited personally. This year, however, with France, Germany and Italy, the spiritual homes of motor racing, going berserk since the Le Mans tragedy, with cancellations of races on all hands, the opportunity was taken to visit the little country in the far corner of Western Europe, where motor racing continues unabated.

Cut off from the general centre of motor racing by the vast barren spaces of Spain, Portugal was a virtual closed book to me and the general direction only known by a line on a map. The British Grand Prix having been visited, a hurried departure was made by Silver City Airways, the only way left out of England with a car, at this, the height of holidaying, and the Porsche was headed South West across France at high speed. From previous knowledge of Spanish roads, time was going to be a factor once the Pyrenees had been crossed. While motoring in Portugal was a question mark. Enquiries from some of the mechanics who had driven vans and trailers to Lisbon in previous years solicited the information that Portuguese roads were quite good, and that a recent trip to Porto had seen big improvements in road-building across the North of Spain. Leaving England on Tuesday afternoon a stop was made at Tours for the night and on Wednesday morning an 8 a.m. start was made with the resolve to put over 600 miles into the day. When attempting to get-about-the place on the Continent such a figure is the one to be put into a day’s motoring, while 500 miles should be a minimum unless one wishes to spend all the week either coming or going to race meetings. The Porsche 1,500 coupé is among the ideal cars for such a purpose, overall averages of over 50 m.p.h. coming quite easily, while 10 hours at the exceedingly light and responsive controls cause no fatigue whatsoever; added to this the suspension is such that rough roads and even cobbles can be taken at 60 m.p.h, or more and the road-holding is such that corners are to be enjoyed, not feared.

After a stop in Bordeaux where a Spanish entry visa was obtained from the Consulate in less than 10 minutes, an interesting comparison with the 2 days required by the Consulate in London, the nose was pointed down the long straight road to Biarritz. I had asked a friend about this road and he had suggested that I would average my cruising speed, so straight was it. In fact the average proved just 10 m.p.h. under the cruising speed, but 37 miles in half an hour was effortless. Crossing into Spain and passing through San Sebastian it soon became obvious that the Spaniard’s had at last realised that motoring had come to stay and had done something about their roads. Once over the tail end of the Pyrenees, out onto the desert wastes stretching westward, an 80 m.p.h. cruising speed was natural, though the suspension and shock-absorbers were made to work hard as the surface of the roads was somewhat ripply. However, the disconcerting habit of letting the road follow a river bed every now and then seemed to have died in this part of Spain and sudden dips in the road were non-existent, though always the surface was causing the suspension to rumble at high speeds.

Towards the end of the afternoon, signs of the great trek westwards for the motor race became evident, and first a large open lorry and trailer on Modena number plates was overtaken. This was loaded with three Monza Ferraris, the top one on the lorry being the blue and white one of the American driver Masten Gregory and a wave to the Italian mechanics trundling this racing material along at 35 m.p.h. received an answering fanfare on the horn. Later another Monza Ferrari tail was seen in the distance and this time it proved to be the French driver Jean Limas, his trailer on tow behind a rather weary American car. When one reads of a race in some remote part of Europe, with a list of familiar names in the entry, there is a tendency to forget the efforts required to get all the racing cars to the spot chosen for a race. The whole set-up is rather like a gigantic International circus, the collective miles covered between performances being enormous. After passing a Vanguard station wagon loaded with equipment and Tony Gaze and some of his fellow Australians, on a winding section where big road rebuilding was in progress, nearly 60 Miles into the hour brought me to Burgos. The sight of a green DB3S Aston Martin on a trailer behind a tatty Ford V8 van called for a brief stop. It was another member of the Australian team,

Tom Sulman and his mechanic, and they had been driving almost continuously since leaving Aintree the previous Saturday. A final stop was made at Salamanca, in the centre of which is a most beautiful square, obviously the scene of enormous fiestas and but for a quick passage from one corner to the other, forbidden to wheeled vehicles.

There now remained a mere 300 miles to cover, so that a leisurely start was made on Thursday and as the road from Salamanca to the Portuguese frontier was almost dead straight across desert wastes, with no traffic whatsoever, a personal record for the number of miles put into an hour was achieved. The first sight on crossing the frontier was an English pillar box and an English telephone box and the absurdity of the sequence with which the various frontier formalities had to be carried out could only be rivalled by the English Civil Service. Motoring once again, the roads proved fast and smooth, though full of corners and very Italian in character in the mountainous parts. Another red car on a trailer drawn by an American saloon was overtaken, this one being a 750 c.c. Stanguellini, also on its way to Lisbon, while later a Fiat Special was seen heading south, a competitor in the National race on the programme.

Lisbon itself was entered on wonderful wide carriageways and the city gave an immediate impression of modernity and spaciousness, together with some excellent taste in architecture and town-planning. After motoring for so many hours in almost complete solitude as regards traffic, the hustle of this great city was most awe-inspiring and the speed and suicidal tendency of the general run of taxis and cars made Italy seem like an old ladies’ tea-party. Apart from the incessant squeal of tyres on corners and locked wheels at traffic lights, another sound was impressive, it being the knock of diesel engines emanating from such cars as Ford Consuls, Vauxhall Velox, Morris Oxford and Austin A40. Investigation showed that they were all used as taxis and were fitted with Mercedes-Benz or Borgward diesel engines in the interests of economy, the original petrol engine being salted away to be replaced when the vehicle was sold. The impression of an outpost of an English Empire was hardened by the sight of Leyland lorries and A.E.C. double-decker buses, with the driver on the left and the staircase on the right, and when, after checking in at a hotel the door opened and Stirling Moss walked in, having left by plane that same morning, I began to wonder just why I had driven 1,500 miles in 48 hours, to get away from England!

Friday saw the serious business of motor racing get under way, though in a very civilized manner not until well after lunch. This left the morning to visit the Automobile Club of Portugal, who were organising the meeting, inspect all excellent table-size scale model of the circuit, complete in every detail and be driven round the circuit a few times in my own Porsche by Moss, he being due to drive a 550 model in the 1,500 c.c. race. The whole meeting had an air of pleasant amateur enthusiasm about it, as distinct from the hard commercialism of Grand Prix racing today, now that factories dominate racing and the public attend in such large numbers. The enthusiasm of the Portuguese was very evident, and on this Friday afternoon the Grandstands were packed to watch the initial practice periods. Three races were due to take place, a National event and two international races, the first for cars up to 1,500 c.c. and the second for cars from 1,500 c.c. to 3,500 c.c., all cars naturally having to comply to the International regulations apertaining to sports cars. The National entry was comprised of three local Mercedes-Benz 300SL cars, two 1,900 Alfa-Romeo saloons, and a group of Porsche Supers. In the 1,500 c.c. category were six Porsche 550 Spyders, two owned by Portuguese drivers, two by German drivers, one by a Dutchman and the sixth a factory car loaned to Moss, by way of providing him with a slight holiday. The aforementioned French-owned Stanguellini and a long list of Portuguese entries made a total of 23 runners which were dominated by the Porsches. Among the Portuguese entries were many home-brewed specials some being quite fast, others quite slow, but all showing a high standard of workmanship and ingenuity. Moss was driving the car used at Le Mans by Glockler and Juhan, differing outwardly from the private-owner by a lesser degree of touring finish and having Weber carburetters in place of the standard Solex. Never having even sat in a Porsche Spyder before, Moss soon mastered the technique of handling and found the lightness and responsiveness of the car very agreeable. His best time of the two training periods was 2 min. 27.27 sec., some twelve seconds better than the rest of the field with but one exception. The exception was a Portuguese driver J. Filipe Nogeuira, who was driving his own Porsche Spyder and, having specialised on Porsches in rallies and small races, made the excellent time of 2 min. 30.6 sec., only just over 3 seconds slower than the Mercedes-Benz team driver. As this race was in the nature of a “boy’s event” before the Lisbon Grand Prix it was a bit naughty of Moss to join in the fun, but no one being willing to lend him a suitable 3-litre sports car for the “man’s race” he did the next best thing, rather than have a “holiday” in Lisbon while the sun was at its height.

In the comparative cool of the evening the first training for the big cars took place and there was an excellent turn-out of private owners. The Australians Gaze, Cosh and Sulman were on Aston Martin DB3S as was Graham Whitehead, Peter of the same name was with his Cooper-Jaguar, Hamilton his D-type and against the green cars were a row of Monza 3-litre Ferraris. This year’s models were driven by the Swiss drivers Daetwyler and Jonneret, while a third Swiss owned car, though an early model, was driven by the Spaniard Godia. Then there was Lucas with his 1954 model fitted with Messier disc brakes, the Portuguese drivers Nogeura Pinto and Mascarenhas with new models, a Brazilian/American, Mackay-Fraser, with an early model fitted with a later engine, and in addition three 12-cylinder 3-litre Ferraris, two in the hands of Portuguese drivers and the third belonging to a Dutchman. Added to this list was the 1955 model of Gregory, but he did not arrive in time for the first practice. To complete the entry, and subsequently to provide a great deal of interest, were two brand new 3-litre 6-cylinder Maseratis, the first to be sold to private owners, and the fortunate drivers of these desirable cars were Benoit Musy and de Graffenried, both from Switzerland. The former driver owned his car, while the latter had his on loan from a friend. Finally, looking very forlorn amongst such monsters, was an Austin-Healey 100S, locally owned, but it was soon withdrawn in face of the opposition.

Musy was in great form and was on by far the fastest car on the course, while Whitehead was pushing the Cooper-Jaguar round very effectively, though Hamilton’s D-type was hopelessly overgeared and was awaiting another axle ratio by plane. Moss tried Graham Whitehead’s Aston Martin, as the owner was suffering from a damaged foot due to dropping a gate on it at the family farm, such are the dangers of the gentle art of land cultivation, as he was down as reserve driver, should the foot injury prove troublesome. Once again Moss demonstrated that his position as second to Fangio in Grand Prix affairs is no fluke but the result of ability. As with the Porsche Spyder, this was the first occasion on which he had sat in a DB3S and his first flying lap was seconds faster than any previous Aston Martin time, much to the depression of other owners, but more embarrassing was the fact that his best with the three-litre was more than 3 seconds slower than his best with the Porsche!

When the sun had set and the practice finished, the Marquis de Frontiers, who races under his normal name of Fernando Mascarenhas, invited everyone in the paddock and pits to an orgy of food and drink at his palace. The whole affair was entirely informal, most people including the host going directly from their racing cars to the gathering, and it was typical of the keen amateur enthusiasm on which Portuguese motor racing is being built. Saturday saw the second practice period for the big cars, but this was preceded by the National race, a procession of the three 300SL cars, followed by the Alfa-Romeos battling furiously with a Porsche apiece. Then the 1,500 c.c. race took place and was naturally dominated by Moss with the factory car, but as in practice Filipe Nogeuira was the outstanding driver. On the opening lap Moss could only pull 1½ seconds lead and until they began to lap the tail-enders the Portuguese driver kept the silver Porsche in sight, losing only two or three seconds a lap. When the traffic became heavy the hall-mark of’ a great Grand Prix driver began to make itself felt and Moss drew right away, but even so, during the 25 laps of the 5.4 kilometre circuit the Portuguese driver only lost 63 seconds, all the other runners being lapped by the leader.

The second training for the big race saw the appearance of Masten Gregory, a favourite for the race in view of his third place in 1954, but he was unable to get into his stride in the time available and the final times showed the front row to consist of Musy (Maserati), Whitehead (Cooper-Jaguar) and Hamilton (Jaguar), with Nogeuira Pinto and Godia in the second row and Gregory, Filipe Nogeuira and de Graffenried in row three, the rest following in rows of two and three. The evening after this final practice was enlivened by an enormous fire in a film depository in the middle of Lisbon and there not having been any serious rain for more than two months, the result drew a crowd bigger than any motor race.

On race day a motor-cycle event in the middle of the afternoon opened proceedings and it was not until the cool hour of 5.30 pm that the Lisbon Grand Prix started. As the field surged forward the transmission on Musy’s Maserati sheared and he would have come to rest had not Gregory been just behind him and determined to make a good start. The result was that the Ferrari pushed the stricken Maserati out of sight of the starting line, there being no room to swerve due to other competitors. The nose of the Ferrari was badly crumpled but fortunately with no damage to mechanical parts and Gregory roared away in the middle of the field once he had pushed the Maserati to one side. It was de Graffenried who led in the opening stages, going very fast, the Maserati looking most steady on the corners, and he was followed by Hamilton until the Jaguar brakes began to fail. Nogeuira Pinto then took up the challenge, showing that here was yet another Portuguese driver who would have a go with anyone, but he was no match for the young American, Masten Gregory, who was forging his way through the field in a most purposeful manner. The race was being run over 55 laps of the Monsanto circuit and after eight had passed Gregory was in the lead from de Graffenried, but the Baron was hanging on grimly. Pinto retired with a broken shock-absorber, after having held a sure third place and then the race developed into three exciting paired-battles. For the lead Gregory was just keeping de Graffenried at bay, though the Maserati would draw up alonside going into the pits hairpin, a little way back Daetwyler and Godia, both on Monza Ferraris were only inches apart and changing repeatedly and then came Whitehead with his Cooper-Jaguar fending off the onslaughts of Filipe Nogeuira with his 12-cylinder 3-litre Ferrari. Hamilton was losing ground all the time with his failing brakes and eventually disappeared at speed up the escape road under the Autostrada, when they failed altogether, fortunately with no serious damage. Graham Whitehead was having a ding-dong battle with Borges Barreto on the other Portuguese-owned 12-cylinder Ferrari, and leading all the Aston Martins, while Gaze eventually went out with a brake that locked on solid. After half-distance de Graffenried began to tire and dropped back, Gregory continuing with that unruffled case which marks him as a good driver, and seeing the Maserati slowing Godia got-his-skates-on and, leaving Daetwyler, sailed past de Graffenried into second place. The race was now nearing its close and things happened all at once, the Cooper-Jaguar consumed its gearbox and stopped, Gregory went momentarily straight on at the corner after the start and seeing this Godia put in a fastest lap in 2 min. 22.21 sec. and then spun on the hairpin entering the Autostrada, allowing de Graffenried to regain second place. This spurred the Baron on and he got his second wind and began to close on Gregory rapidly. As they started the last lap there was 2 seconds between them and round the final hairpin de Graffenried made a big effort to overtake but he failed by a mere length and the young American boy chalked up a well-deserved victory. The local driver Filipe Nogeuira finished on the same lap as the leader, in spite of ramming the straw bales on one occasion and the other fast local driver, Mascarenhas was chased throughout by Mackay-Frazer driving in his first European race.

A pleasantly informal prize-giving took place late the same evening to round off this first visit to Portugal. Next day as I put in a quiet 400 miles in order to reach the civilization of Madrid I pondered on many things, among them the knowledge that I would return to Portugal, the impossible scarcity of petrol pumps in Spain, the size of that country and its barrenness in contrast to the modern and prosperous Portugal tucked away in the far corner, the fact that Madrid was one fifth of the way towards my next race meeting and the ghastly journeys some of the mechanics were going to have to drive their lorries home from Lisbon. — D.S.J.

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