Behra Banishes B.R.M. Bogey
Caen, July 28th.
Taking place one week after the British Grand Prix and one week before the German Grand Prix the race at Caen did not hope for a very exciting entry, relying mostly on private-owners and the smaller firms. However, Jean Behra was keen to take part and as the Scuderia Maserati were not interested in supplying a car, being too busy preparing for Nurburgring, the Frenchman approached Bourne and persuaded them to lend him a B.R.M. Realising that this was an opportunity to gain invaluable experience with a top-line driver the Owen Racing team sent two cars to Caen, one for practice and one for the race.
There were two entries from the Cooper factory, Salvadori on a rear-engined car and Brahham with a 1,500 Formula II car, while Brooks was driving R. R. C. Walker’s 2-litre Cooper-Climax. There were private Maseratis in the hand of Gould, Halford, Piotti and Bonnier, while Schell borrowed the ex-Louis Rosier Maserati from its new owner Bourely and Marc Rosier had the old blue four-cylinder Ferrari. To complete the field of eleven cars was Lucas driving Alan Brown’s Formula II Cooper-Climax.
The circuit was the same as in previous years, and the Automobile Club de l’Ouest, who also run Le Mans, were looking after the organisation, a friendly and personal atmosphere prevailing with the town of Caen being the focal point of activity. The existing lap record stood to Salvadori in 1 min. 26.2 sec., with the Gilby Engineering Maserati, but as the first practice period was wet this time could not be approached, even by Behra with the B.R.M. Brooks was having trouble with a misfiring engine, Salvadori had trouble with the gearbox mainshaft, but Brabham was going well. Halford had no car as his transporter had broken down on the way from Modena, Schell was waiting for his borrowed Maserati and Bonnier arrived just as practice finished. Gould did a few fairly quick laps and Piotti did lots of fairly slow ones, so that the first practice was rather dull.
Behra found both B.R.M.s rather hopeless to start with, but got to work with the mechanics and effected alterations that were to transform the car for him. He had found that when he tried to slide the car the driving seat flexed and the resultant body twitch caused him to jerk the steering wheel; with the very sensitive steering this threw the car completely out of control. After fixing the seat sides rigidly and modifying it to fit the driver the front suspension was altered to give more than twice the normal amount of castor angle and then Behra found the car very much to his liking. The car prepared for the race was fitted with new half-shafts having fixed universals at the ends and a sliding splined joint with alternate splines containing steel balls, a system used first by Lancia, then Ferrari and Vanwall and now B.R.M., thus doing away with grease-filled pot joints. This latest car also had a new brake disc on the rear of the transmission that had turbo-finning and circumferential air-flow slots. The spare car still had the old type of shafts and brake disc.
For Saturday’s practice everyone had arrived and Schell was casting covetous eyes on the spare B.R.M., especially after his borrowed Maserati broke a piston. The Walker Cooper sorted itself out and Brooks was going really fast, but with the circuit dry and the sun shining Behra was knocking seconds off the lap record and delighting the B.R.M. team with his efforts. Halford was easily the fastest of the Maserati drivers and Salvadori tried hard to equal Brooks’ time without success. This practice session cheered everyone, especially as the weather was getting warmer every minute and the whole atmosphere was one of satisfaction. Behra got down to 1 min. 21.7 sec. on the first B.R.M. and then a vibration started in the prop.-shaft so he took out the training car and did 1 min. 21.1 sec. Brooks did 1 min. 23.6 sec. on the Cooper, Salvadori 1 min. 24,5 sec. and Halford equalled the lap record with 1 min. 26.2 sec.
Overnight the B.R.M. team changed the new drive shafts onto the training car for Behra to use in the race and were about to put the other car in the corner when the organisers persuaded them to let Schell drive it in the race. A quick bodge was done on the prop.-shaft, which reduced the vibration, and the car was hurriedly prepared to enable Schell to take part, his borrowed Maserati being beyond repair. Race day was warm and dry and Behra and Brooks were on the front row with Salvadori and Halford behind them, cars being in pairs due to the narrowness of the road. All being well Behra could hardly be beaten, but 86 laps round the 3½ kilometre circuit provided lots of opportunity for trouble to occur. Schell had done two slow laps in the other B.R.M. while the cars were being lined up on the grid and that was the sum total of his knowledge of the car. Naturally, Behra shot off into the lead, followed by Brooks, Salvadori, Halford and the rest and after four or five laps Schell had got the feel of the B.R.M. and moved up into second place and caught Behra. Then the two cars gave a demonstration run, passing and re-passing in friendly competition and though they had no opposition they were going at a reasonable pace, lapping, steadily in 1 min. 21.0 sec. Apart from some trouble with the gear-lever operation Behra was having an untroubled run, though Schell was occasionally having a front brake lock-on going into the hairpin, but generally speaking the two B.R.M.s looked comfortable and the drivers were using all the available acceleration away from the corners once the cars were pointing straight. Salvadori and Halford were doing some pretty power-sliding through the corners, though the Maserati driver lost it out of the hairpin on one occasion and only a firm foot hard down on the throttle saved the day, while the Cooper went straight-up the escape road on one lap. Brabham had dropped out right at the beginning with ignition-drive trouble and Lucas was driving the other Formula II Cooper very gently. Both Brooks and Salvadori were taking the long curve on the back leg of the course at terrific speed, the angles of the wheels looking horrible, while Gould did not look happy in his Maserati and Piotti was his usual slow self.
Although the two B.R.M.s were lapping quite fast and Behra set the lap record at 1 min. 20.7 sec. (nearly 100 m.p.h.), Brooks, Salvadori and Halford were all keeping on the same lap, being only a second or two slower, so that it was obvious that the B.R.M.s were not being extended. With no opposition Behra was setting a wise pace, driving to finish and win, rather than go off like a squib. Brooks dropped out before half distance when his clutch packed up and Salvadori was beginning to nurse his car along afraid that the 2-litre engine was going to break up the rear end, but even so he was holding a few seconds lead over Halford. With a most impressive bang and a stream of oil from underneath the car Schell arrived at the hairpin on lap 44 with most of the B.R.M.’s internals lying in the undertray and promptly retired, leaving Behra to tour round on his own keeping a comfortable 30 sec. ahead of Salvadori. With the gear-lever mechanism giving bother Behra went on in top gear, the four-cylinder engine having such a good rev-range that he had no trouble in finishing the race without using the gearbox.
As a morale booster Behra’s win did much for B.R.M., while he also gave them useful tips on adapting a given car to a given circuit and driver. At the speeds they were driving at Schell had also found the car easy to become accustomed to and it was clear that the B.R.M. is beginning to show signs of getting itself sorted out. Naturally this win in a small Grand Prix against negligible opposition does not mean that the B.R.M. is a winner, but it was something that it lasted out a complete race at a reasonable speed. This race also showed that the 2-litre Cooper-Climax has little hope of ever becoming a serious Grand Prix car, for though the engine was down on power Brooks could not get away from a well-driven old Maserati and Salvadori was not prepared to risk a blow-up by driving hard. If a car is to be a serious racing proposition it must be capable of standing really hard driving and, if necessary, being over-driven for a time. — D. S. J.
Grand Prix of Caen — Formula 1 — 86 Laps — 301 Kilometres — Warm and Dry
1st: J. Behra (B.R.M.) 2 hr. 01 min. 35.0 sec.-149.385 k.p.h.
2nd: R. Salvadori (Cooper-Climax 2-litre) 2 hr. 01 min. 47.2 sec.
3rd: B. Halford (Maserati 250F) 2 hr. 02 min. 02.0 sec.
4th: J. Bonnier (Maserati 250F) 4 laps behind
5th: H. Gould (Maserati 250F) 4 laps behind
6th: L. Piotti (Maserati 250F) 7 laps behind
7th: J. Lucas (Cooper-Climax 1500) 13 laps behind
Fastest lap: J Behra (B.R.M.) on 45th lap in 1 min. 20.7 sec. —157.027 k.p.h.
Retired: J. Brabham (Cooper-Climax) lap 3, ignition timing; M. Rosier (Ferrari) lap 14, ignition; C. A. S. Brooks (Cooper-Climax) lap 38, clutch; H. Schell (B.R.M.) lap 59, engine.