Moss Unbeatable in F.2
Clermont-Ferrand, July 26th
The City of Clermont-Ferrand lies more or less in the centre of France, surrounded by the hills of the Massif Central and is a large and thriving city with seemingly little connection with the outside world. Last year the Automobile Club D’Auvergne, which is centred in Clermont-Ferrand, built an entirely new circuit up in the hills overlooking the town, using some existing roads and cutting many new ones. The result is an 8.057 kilometre circuit which represents true mountain motoring, and is in effect a little Nurburgring, with some 50 corners, no straights of any real length, and at no point does the road run level, either climbing steeply or descending, even the pit area being on a downhill section. Of a constant 23 feet in width, with flush fitting white edging all round, the surface is literally a billiard-table and one of the best finished roads of all the European circuits. In addition great thought has been given to drainage problems, there being concrete draining channels on one side or the other all the way round, while elevation of the corners ensures that no water will collect. The actual circuit itself, its shape, its construction, its surface and so on is first class and causes many people to acclaim it as the best yet, but while this may be so from the sheer fun of driving round it, there still remains a lot to be done to finish it off, from the point of view of being a perfect circuit on which to hold an important race. For example, having edged the circuit with a foot-wide white band of concrete, the banks have then been levelled off for another three or four feet back from the road, to allow for improved visibility and for a margin of error on the part of the drivers. It was obviously assumed that drivers would respect the white border as being the edge of the road, but drivers in a hurry have little respect for anything, and it was not long before wheels were cutting across the smooth earth surface on the insides of corners, throwing earth and stones onto the roadway. Now the organisers have had to put straw bales at frequent intervals all round the inside of the fast curves just on the edge of the white border, not only making it dicey for anyone in a hurry but losing the whole point of bank removing in the first place. There is no doubt, as Nurburgring has proved for so long, that an earth bank, or a thick hedge is the best way to edge a circuit and makes drivers respect the width of the road. At the start of the Circuit of Charade, the nearby village which gives its name to this fine piece of construction, the Shell petrol company have erected a solid row of concrete pits, and the B.P. company have built a fine three storey timekeeping tower. Unfortunately the B.P. company have taken precedence and the pits are after the tower, so that during practice a driver has to cover a whole lap of five miles of mountain motoring, before he arrives at the timekeepers to start recording a lap time, and anyone who wants to do detailed tuning for local conditions might find himself credited with no fast lap times. It is worth digressing here to recall the system employed on the long Pescara circuit, where the timekeepers are stationed half-way along the pits and competitors in those pits beyond the timing line are allowed to wheel their cars back over the line before starting a lap, in order to be timed, while those before the line are allowed to finish a flying lap, stop, and wheel their cars back over the line to their pit. Perhaps the saddest thing about the wonderful new Clermont-Ferrand circuit is the paddock area, which is a small and inadequate cinder-covered area, quite lacking in imagination, for not only does it underestimate the entourage that always accompanies an entry of racing cars, but it is in the middle of the circuit and completely inaccessible without doing a section of the circuit itself, so that once a race has started, or practice for that matter, the pits and paddock are cut off from the outside world, which always causes trouble. From a personal point of view the most lamentable thing was the Press Stand, built from what seemed like old sugar boxes, and about as rigid, so that the slightest movement by anyone caused the whole thing to rock about; but worse, was the fact that only the first two cars on the starting grid were visible from the stand, and the start is always interesting to watch.
The foregoing criticisms are not offered in a carping manner, but more as observations on conditions as they stand, for the Club and the town have obviously spent a small fortune on building the circuit itself and have made a truly magnificent job of it, but for the sake of a little more money, and a little more thought, they could have made the racing conditions so much better, in fact the equal of the joy in driving round the circuit. Well aware of the shortcomings, they hope to be able to rectify them as time goes by, and then they will surely have a “mountain circuit” to surpass all others. An extremely friendly and sympathetic organisation, the Automobile Club of the Auvergne deserve the splendid support they get for the races, and there is no doubt that in a few years’ time this circuit is going to be one of the most popular in France.
What of the circuit itself, from the driving point of view? With its superb surface and consistency a driver can really apply the technique of controlled power-sliding round the long curves, while on the other hand he needs to be able to flick the tail round on the numerous hairpins, either on uphill or downhill ones. Brakes are used pretty heavily, though not from high speeds, for at no point on the circuit do Formula 2 cars attain much more than 125 m.p.h. but there is plenty of downhill braking to do, while some of the climbs really make the engines work hard and gearboxes are at a premium with so many changes of direction. It is a circuit that takes quite a lot of learning, and a complete knowledge of its configuration is essential before any attempt to go fast can be started, so that it must be taken seriously, and to arrive at the last moment of practice would be foolhardy. While there are some 100 m.p.h. downhill swerves, one after the other, there are also some wiggly 60 m.p.h. sequences of corners in which a wheel placed wrong on the first one lands you in big trouble by the time you arrive at the fourth subsequent corner. With most of the large radius curves elevated on the outside, there is ample opportunity for fast drivers to “run round the outside” of a slower car, so that it is a circuit that calls for study of both the right and wrong line on a corner. In short, it is a driver’s circuit, and one that anyone who enjoys driving, as distinct from just high speed, cannot fail to enjoy. However, it is not a Grand Prix Driver’s circuit, due to its low top speed, which is under 80 m.p.h., for it is not until you get on a 150-160 m.p.h. corner that the cream of drivers begin to stand out from the good ones, but nevertheless, the Circuit of Charade offers some real opportunity for motor race driving, and a challenge to anyone who thinks he can drive, in a similar way that the Targa Florio or the Nurburgring is a challenge to a driver.
In 1958 the first meeting was held at Clermont-Ferrand, and this year the pattern was similar, having a Two-Hour Race for sports cars, with assorted capacity classes, and then a F.2 race with practice sessions during the afternoon and evening of Friday and Saturday before the race day. The sports car event contained three classes, the first being 501-1,100 c.c. which contained four works D.B. entries, three of them the open Le Mans cars and the fourth the ugly little sawn-off coupe, these being driven by Laureau, Armagnac, Jaeger and Bartholoni; the private Lotus-Climaxes of Hicks, Campbell-Jones and Lefebvre and the Lola-Climax of Ashdown. The second category was 1,101-2.000 c.c. and contained Jean Behra with his private Porsche RSK, now driving for his own account, having severed all connection with the Scuderia Ferrari, Goethals with a similar car, Ireland and Graham with Lotus XV cars with twin-cam Climax engines, Munaron with a new OSCA 1,500 and a motley collection of French amateur drivers with anything from a 2-litre Testa Rossa Ferrari to an A.C. Bristol. The third category of 2,000 c.c.-3,000 c.c. contained but two cars, driven by amateur drivers, both cars being old four-cylinder Monza Ferraris. Altogether 23 cars lined up for the Le Mans type start, in order of practice times, and Ireland headed the list and was hot favourite, followed by Behra, Goethals, Campbell-Jones, Ashdown, Munaron, Graham and Siebenthal with one of the Monza Ferraris, the rest of the runners being somewhat out of things and not serious competitors to any likely winners. The team of D.B.s could not hope to present a challenge in the 1,100-c.c. class and were intent only on a private race amongst themselves to sort out a French Championship.
The standard of starting after the drivers had run to their cars was pretty poor and it was Ashdown who shot off into the lead in the Lola, while Ireland had a bad time starting and then went off sounding very rough. Poor Douglas Graham’s Lotus XV just refused to start at all, even though it had been driven to the circuit, and it had to be wheeled back into the paddock. Meanwhile Ashdown was tearing round the circuit holding a 15-sec. lead over Behra, while Ireland had stopped soon after leaving the start as his engine was running so badly. After a long and puzzling investigation he finally discovered that the plug leads were crossed, having been replaced wrongly on the starting line after changing the plugs! By the time he completed his first lap the leaders had been going for 27 minutes of the two hours and were six laps ahead, so all hopes for a Lotus win were gone, but nevertheless Ireland did not despair and drove splendidly from then until the finish coming home in 14th place. On the opening lap Goethals had gone off the road, and Campbell-Jones was running on three cylinders, so that the only serious cars in the race were the little Lola that Ashdown was driving splendidly and Behra’s Porsche which was steadily gaining ground after its bad start. With two hours’ racing ahead of him Behra did not worry too much about the 15-second lead that Ashdown built up on the first lap, and by the end of the first half-hour the Porsche had practically caught the Lola, but this was no disgrace for Ashdown. By the time they had covered 10 laps the Porsche was leading but just for fun Ashdown clung on to Behra for a number of laps, knowing full well he could not beat the bigger car, and equally Behra knew that he was a sitter for an outright win. In third place, and now a lap behind the leading pair, came Siebenthal’s Monza Ferrari, with Munaron slowly but surely gaining ground, while the rest were falling further and further back. Campbell-Jones stopped and changed a plug and the Lotus Seventeen then went very fast and he began to romp his way up through the field of assorted cars, getting into fifth place by the end of the first hour. By this time Ashdown had eased off, secure in second place and leading his class, and was getting a bit concerned about his oil level, for the Climax engine was a hastily borrowed one and was using oil. After 1 hr. 10 min. he stopped and took on two or three tins of oil and set off again still in second place but a minute and a half behind Behra. After 1½ hours Behra could hear a grinding noise coming from behind him so he stopped at the pits suspecting the gearbox or the differential. There was nothing visibly wrong so he made a really Grand Prix start away from the pit, on the principle that if the axle was going to break it might as well break at the pits rather than two or three miles further on. Nothing broke so he appeared again at the end of that lap going as well as ever, but the noise was still tbere. With 20 minutes to go the grinding was getting worse so he slowed right down, and Ashdown’s mechanic waved the Lola on to greater things for there was every possibility of catching the stricken Porsche. Meanwhile Campbell-Jones’ progress came to a halt when his throttle linkage came adrift and required a long pit stop to repair, Munaron had passed the old Monza Ferrari and was now third but an awful long way behind and after that the runners were not very inspiring. With 10 minutes to go the grinding behind Behra ended and his engine went on to three cylinders; a cam follower had broken. Painfully Behra dragged on sounding terrible, hoping to struggle home before the Lola caught him, but Ashdown was going extremely well and with only a few minutes of the two hours left he went by into the lead to win overall as well as to win the 1,100-c.c. class, while Behra managed to struggle the sick Porsche home into second place and to win the 1,101-2,000-c.c. class. While the Porsche had been running well Behra had made fastest lap in 3 min. 56.1 sec. which constituted a new sports car record.
After a short break the F.2 cars were wheeled out on to the grid and there was a fine field of 21 cars, all but one being of British manufacture, the one exception being Behra’s single-seater Porsche Special, which he was now free to drive. Hot favourite was Moss with Walker’s Cooper-Borgward, though within striking distance on practice times were Graham Hill in a works Lotus, and Bristow in a B.R.P. Cooper-Borgward, these three being on the front row, with Behra and Henry Taylor just behind in row two, followed by Trintignant, McLaren and Pilette. The rest of the field represented the usual galaxy of F.2 drivers, such as had raced at Reims and Rouen, including Bueb, Halford, Schell, Gregory, Marsh, Burgess, Gendebien, Lewis, etc. The start was chaotic, being in the hands of Raymond Roche, for first of all a Red Cross helicopter insisted on hovering just above the cars making it impossible for anyone to hear anything as regards final instnictions; then Roche estimated the final “minute” before the off, which he varies from 20 seconds to 80 seconds and on top of that he stood right in front of Moss’s car until he actually dropped the flag. Moss was too much of a gentleman to knock Roche down, as everyone hoped he would, with the result that he muffed his start and it was Bristow who shot off into the lead. By the end of the opening lap Moss was on the tail of the light-green Cooper-Borgward, and Bristow was brushing the edges of the road with his rear wheels in his endeavours to stay out in front. He was certainly driving very fast, but a bit on the ragged edge and Moss was content to sit and wait for the inevitable, with 26 laps to go. Behind these two came Taylor, Gregory, McLaren, Hill and Behra, all nose-to-tail and giving nothing away. Then came Bueb, Gendebien and Schell in a similar situation and the rest followed on at intervals. On the next lap the situation remained more or less the same, except that Behra got his Porsche into the middle of the second group, while Marsh stopped at the pits with fuel pump trouble, as did Trintignant. On lap three disaster struck, for Bueb ran wide on a fast right-hand bend, lost control as he went over the edge of the camber and crashed heavily into an earth bank. Unfortunately this popular driver died from his injuries a week later, after a struggle for life in Clermont-Ferrand hospital. A very short distance after this accident Halford had a tyre puncture on a fast right-hand swerve and he also crashed badly, but was lucky to get away with superficial injuries, though Fisher’s Lotus was badly wrecked.
After four laps Moss got by Bristow and was leading by a few feet, while Behra was now ahead of the second group, but still had Hill, Taylor, Gregory and McLaren hot on his heels and these had outstripped the rest of the field, which was being led by Gendebien in one of the Equipe National Belge’s Coopers. On lap five the race as such was over, for the Borgward engine in Bristow’s Cooper could stand the strain no longer and he came into the pits with a head gasket gone and retired, leaving Moss seven seconds ahead of Behra’s Porsche, which was still closely followed by the works Lotus, but the others had fallen back a bit. On lap six Trintignant gave up, as did Burgess who was driving Nixon’s Cooper, hastily rebuilt after a practice crash, and on the next lap Hill brought the Lotus into the pits with a leaking oil radiator. Using an additional length of pipe the radiator was by-passed and Hill rejoined the race, but now a lap behind. Driving with little or no strain Moss pulled out three or four seconds a lap on Behra, who in turn was comfortably ahead of Taylor and McLaren who were dicing hard for third place, followed my Gregory and Gendebien. After leaving the pits Hill was positioned between Moss and Behra, and after a while Behra caught the Lotus but was then hung-up for a number of laps before he could get by, for Hill was lapping at about the same speed even though he was a lap behind. This let Moss pull out an 18-second lead, and then Behra reduced this to 16 seconds once he got clear of the Lotus, but Moss soon put it back up to 18 seconds, then 19 seconds and then 24 seconds by 15 laps. On lap 16 Behra stopped out on the circuit when a petrol pipe to his left-hand carburetter split and he had to watch the whole field go by while he made a temporary repair with a piece of plastic tubing from a breather pipe This left Moss 43 seconds ahead of Taylor who still had McLaren a few inches from his tail and the dice between these two for second place now became the feature of the race, for Moss could now win as he pleased. While Moss was away on his 19th lap Behra arrived at the pits to complete his 16th lap and to have his piece of plastic tubing wired on to the copper pipes, and then he set off as fast as ever with no hope of getting anywhere, but willing to “have a go.” Until now Moss had held the lap record with 3 min. 53.9 sec. but on his 20th lap Behra went round in 3 min. 50.1 sec. and meanwhile Moss was completing his 23rd lap. By the time the news was given on Behra’s lap record Moss was completing his 24th lap and his mechanic signalled the information as he went by to start his 25th lap or his penultimate one. Seeing the sign Moss waved and accelerated visibly into the next corner and away out of sight to return later having lapped in 3 min. 48.8 sec. from a leisurely start. It was too late for Behra to reply for Moss was now on his final lap which he completed at his ease, to win his third French F.2 race and thus the French Championship. The dice between Taylor and McLaren continued throughout the last lap and they crossed the line as if tied together, with Taylor in the lead, having driven one of the best races of his career. Gregory and Gendebien followed home on the 26th lap and the rest of the field were a lap or more in arrears, Behra still being three laps behind and finishing 12th.
2nd Circuit de Montague d’Auvergne — Formula 2 — 26 laps — 208 kilometres
1st: S. Moss (Cooper-Borgward) 1 hr. 41 min. 46.1 sec.
2nd: H. Taylor (Cooper-Climax) 1 hr. 42 min. 43.1 sec.
3rd: B. McLaren (Cooper-Climax) 1 hr. 42 min. 43.3 sec.
4th: M. Gregory (Cooper-Climax) 1 hr. 43 min. 40.6 sec.
5th: O. Gendebien (Cooper-Climax) 1 hr. 45 min. 16.8 sec.