Puncturing the dream
THE PARTIALLY WET BRMSH GP AT SILVERSTONE WAS A RACE of tyres, Michelin having wets and intermediates of insufficient grip compared to Bridgestone’s. In times gone by, when the racing car was supposed to be tomorrow’s touring car, believers in this theory would have been astonished that racing required not just good tyres but so many variants when it rained, although in 1914 Peugeot had tried smooth, ribbed and studded treads.
Many races have been lost due to tyre failure, which meant burst or down-to-the-canvas covers rather than loss of grip alone. One remembers dramatic occasions when tyres cost last-lap victories and bursts cost lives.
In the 1908 French GP, Cissac and his mechanic were killed when his Panhard suffered from this. In the 1914 French GP, Lautenschlager, aware that no tyres were left at his depot, with some 100 miles still to go, nursed his Mercedes on that worrying final lap at Dieppe, sparing both engine and tyres. Winery’s Benz crawled to second place on a flat tyre.
The same thing happened when Murphy won the 1921 GP for America in a Duesenberg; but he was well ahead of all the opposition. So tyre-consuming were the Talbots that their designer, Coatalen, was reduced to begging supplies of Oldfields from Duesenberg, and Pirellis from Ballot, after Segrave had had to change 14 wheels, Guinness nine, in those stone-strewn 321 miles, the newtype Dunlop rubber proving to be incorrectly cured.
In the 1924 GP, it was Bugatti’s turn to suffer, the Dunlops slinging their treads, not because, it was claimed, the new alloy-spoke wheels transmitted too much heat, but because the wrong adhesive had been used between tread and carcass. In the German GP of 1928, tyre trouble lost Merz the
race in the last half-lap when his 7-litre Mercedes-Benz suffered a tyre deflation, letting team-mates Caracciola/ Werner win. Poor Merz, his hands said to be bleeding after fighting the great car for 310 miles, then had to de-ditch it 71tm from the finish. But he finished second, ahead of the other works 36/220.
It was brakes, not tyres, which decided the 10-hour 1931 French GP, but in ’33, canvas showing on the rear tyres nearly cost Campari’s Maserati the race, two late pitcalls having given Etancelin’s Alfa Romeo the advantage until its gear-change proved difficult on the final lap.
One remembers well how a burst rear tyre stopped von Brauchitsch’s Mercedes-Benz in its titanic battle with Nuvolari’s Alfa Romeo in the dramatic 1935 German GP at the Niirburgring Brauchitsch running in on the rim, in tears of frustration, it was reported; and how Mercedes was robbed of a 1-2-3 result in the 1937 race when Lang suffered a tyre failure on the penultimate lap.
For many years Firestone had a 100 per cent monopoly in the Indianapolis 500, but in the 1924 French GP there was competition: Alfa Romeo on Pirellis, Delage on Michelins, Sunbeam on Rapsons, none of which burst; now it is Bridgestone v Michelin (which do you use?).
In the vintage years, the ordinary car-owner had a wide choice of how to shoe his car. In 1920 the following tyres were competing for custom: Avon, Bedlam, Bergouguan, Belgrave, Burnett, Clincher, Collier, Dominion, Dunlop, Englebert, Firestone, Gofa, Goodrich, Goodyear, Henley, Hutchinson, Jeff, Kempshall, Macintosh, Michelin, Midland, Miller, Moseley, Palmer, Partridge, Pirelli, Rapson, R.O.M., Shrewsbury, Spencer-Moulton, Stelastic, Stepney, Tye and Wood-Milne. No wonder that race and recordbreaking achievements were so well advertised.