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#28 1953 French Grand Prix

2021-04-08 00:00

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#28 1953 French Grand Prix

Domenica 28 Giugno 1953, nel corso del pomeriggio, l'autodromo di Monza si riaprirà al non oceanico, ma torrentizio afflusso di appassionati per il co

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Lunedì 29 Giugno 1953, nel corso del pomeriggio, l'autodromo di Monza si riaprirà al non oceanico, ma torrentizio afflusso di appassionati per il consueto Gran Premio di fine primavera, che quest'anno cade in ritardo, come l'andar della stagione: sesto della serie dei Gran Premi dell'Autodromo, da non confondersi con il classicissimo di fine estate, il Gran Premio d'Italia e d'Europa. Abbinata alla Lotteria di Monza, anche questa manifestazione ha tuttavia assicurata una larga risonanza spettacolare. La formula è originale per due ragioni: nella composizione soggettiva delle ammissioni - vetture sport fino a 3000 cc - e nelle condizioni oggettive del confronto, consistente in due distinte e brevi gare successive, ciascuna disputata non ad eliminatoria ma da tutti i concorrenti, con classifica a somma semplice (assoluta) di tempi. Con la prima limitazione, si è voluto ricondurre a minor distanza dal ceppo originario la ragion d'essere della vettura sport, che attraverso le sue maggiori esponenti stava diventando l'autentica vettura da pura competizione, addomesticata proforma in omaggio a un regolamento internazionale sempre meno convinto di se stesso. Saggiamente l'Automobile Club di Milano vuol dare l'esempio di un richiamo al buon senso, alle tradizioni e a quel canone di un minimo di sicurezza che è diventato una caratteristica sempre più rara delle corse motoristiche. Nel contempo la riduzione delle cilindrate consente la classifica in classe unica, con ovvi vantaggi non solo d'ordine economico (per chi dà e per chi riceve il premio) ma anche di chiarezza e di interesse per gli spettatori. Con le due gare a somma di tempi, poi, si lega il corridore ad una perdurante combattività, anche quando quest'ultimo ha conquistato le posizioni d'onore: è ovvio infatti che potrà risultare primo anche chi non abbia vinta nessuna delle due prove.

 

Anche perché è lasciata facoltà, nell'intervallo fra le due gare, di compiere eventuali operazioni di manutenzione sul motore. Il percorso non è eccezionalmente pesante: 220 chilometri pari a 35 giri di pista: adatto anch'esso all'andamento veloce della formula. I motivi di interesse concreto, in base all'elenco dei partenti, sono notevoli ma non moltissimi: la limitazione ai 3000 cc ha eliminato (come del resto era in programma) le più grosse e combattive vetture di classe internazionale: le Jaguar, le Cunningham, le Talbot, le nuove Alfa Romeo. Anzi, l'azienda milanese si è astenuta su tutta la linea. E dei campioni più in vista, Farina, per non dir dei minori, è impegnato a Rouen. Lo schieramento dei venticinque concorrenti è dunque imperniato essenzialmente sul ducilo Ferrari-Lancia: esso è tale però da compensare largamente ogni assenza. La Casa automobilistica torinese ha iscritto, con l'asso argentino Gonzalez, il campione francese Manzon, Bonetto e forse Maglioli, una squadra delle sue nuove 3 litri Sport (sei cilindri di 86x85) di 220 HP, con freni fissi staccati dalle ruote. Due di esse sono doppiamente nuove, perché carrozzate a spider-sport aperto, molto aerodinamico, da Pinin Farina. La Ferrari per contro pare certo che presenterà per la prima volta, in esibizione di collaudo, la sua nuovissima 2500 formula 1954: la vettura cioè costruita per i Gran Premi dei prossimi anni, senza compressore: una 4 cilindri di oltre 200 HP, più leggera e almeno altrettanto veloce della Lancia: essa sarà affidata ad Alberto Ascari. Le faranno compagnia le tre litri 12 cilindri con Villoresi e Marzotto. Temibile terza tra i due probabili protagonisti è la francese Gordini di 2300 cc a 6 cilindri, di 150 cavalli, con Bordoni. Fangio, invece, per quanto in via di ristabilimento, è improbabilissimo che possa partire. Le coraggiose Maserati 2 litri partono per un'affermazione relativa e non assoluta.

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Prima, però, domenica 28 Giugno 1963 c’è minor affluenza di pubblico che negli scorsi anni sul circuito di Essart per il Gran premio di Rouen. La gara si svolge sulla distanza di 306 chilometri, pari a 60 giri del circuito di 5400 metri. Prendono il via quindici concorrenti. Giuseppe Farina e l'inglese Hawthorn, i due leader della Ferrari, prendono il comando sin dalla partenza, e già al giro 3 il pilota torinese migliora il record del giro portandolo a 2'13"3 alla media di 131 km/h (primato precedente: Ascari 2'11"3). Dopo cinque giri cinque soli piloti rimangono nello stesso giro: sono nell'ordine Farina, Hawthorn, Trintignant, Behra e Rosier, questi due ultimi però con un minuto di distacco da Farina. Al termine del dodicesimo giro Giuseppe Farina ha già doppiato sette degli avversari e fra questi tutti i piloti della Talbot. Il torinese compie una corsa entusiasmante e batte ripetutamente il proprio primato portandolo a 2’13"0, e cioè a più di 138 km/h di media. Shell (Gordini) è pure lui costretto a dare via libera alle Ferrari che doppiano uno dopo l'altro e a un ritmo vertiginoso tutti gli avversari. L'atteso duello Ferrari-Gordini si conclude, si può dire, fin dalla prima parte della corsa con la sconfitta del costruttore parigino di cui due soli rappresentanti, Trintignant e Shell restano in corsa (Behra è costretto a ritirarsi al giro 20 a causa di un irreparabile guasto ai freni). Il solo Trintignant continua coraggiosamente l'impari lotta e il cronometro segna per il francese un distacco di 30 secondi su Farina e 35 secondi su Hawthorn. Ma al giro 81 pure la Gordini di Trintignant scompare dalla corsa. La macchina dell'asso francese è segnalata in panne sul circuito lontano dal suo stand di rifornimento. Anche per Trintignant la corsa è finita. Rosier passa al terzo posto a un giro seguito a 45 secondi dall'ultima Gordini pilotata da Shell.

 

Intanto la marcia trionfale di Farina e Hawthorn continua; l'inglese si prende pure il lusso di battere a sua volta il primato di Giuseppe Farina segnando sili giro 2’12"8 pari a 138.253 km/h di media. La cadenza delle due Ferrari aumenta progressivamente dall'inizio della corsa: e le cifre lo indicano chiaramente: 136 km/h di media fino al decimo giro; 136.1 km/h fino al quindicesimo giro; 136.212 km/h fino al ventesimo; 136.600 km/h al trentesimo. Dopo 200 chilometri solo dieci concorrenti restano in corsa e per le Ferrari la vittoria è virtualmente acquisita. Questo loro carosello trionfale toglie naturalmente molto interesse agonistico alla corsa il cui fatto saliente non risiede più che nella lotta fra i due francesi Rosier ed Etancelin (Talbot 4500) per la conquista del terzo posto. Tutti sono ormai a tre giri da Farina e Hawthorn; e l'asso torinese prosegue indisturbato fino alla fine. La vittoria è pure un buon auspicio per l'avvenire delle Ferrari 2500 cc quali hanno girato a una cadenza che ha rivelato come i piloti abbiano compiuto la corsa seguendo probabilmente un piano prestabilito: che oltre alla vittoria i tecnici del team di Maranello volevano pure conquistare la certezza che i nuovi modelli sono definitivamente a punto, li difficile circuito di Essart mettendo a dura prova oltre al motore i diversi organi e rapporti meccanici della nuova macchina (cambio di velocità, gruppo differenziale, eccetera) ha dato loro anche questa sicurezza. Trentamila spettatori hanno assistito alla prova che è stata preceduta dalla disputa di una corsa riservata alle vetture da turismo di piccola cilindrata le cui categorie sono state vinte rispettivamente dall'americano Bob Said (Osca) e dal francese Bedelé (Beynault). Nel frattempo, il quinto Giro automobilistico dell'Umbria, svoltosi su un percorso di 390 chilometri, segna il trionfo di Luigi Musso su Maseratl 2000, che batte di circa 2 minuti i torinesi Piodi e Valenzano, entrambi su Lancia, classificatisi rispettivamente al secondo e terzo posto.

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Lunedì 29 Giugno 1953 il VI Gran Premio dell'Autodromo, non favorito particolarmente ne dal tempo imbronciato, ne dalla discreta ma non imponente affluenza di pubblico, avrebbe meritato sorte più brillante. Esso va tuttavia annoverato tra le belle manifestazioni di successo, per la classe e la combattività dei concorrenti, per l'interesse della sua formula, per la vivacità dei suoi episodi a sorpresa, per l'elevatissimo e serrato ritmo di corsa. Tra i concorrenti, molte firme di primissimo piano, come il campione del mondo Ascari, Luigi Villoresi, l'argentino Gonzalez, il campione francese Manzon, e persino Giuseppe Farina, vincitore domenica al Circuito di Rouen, col compagno di squadra Hawthorn, secondo arrivato, giunti in volo nel corso della mattina a Monza, appena in tempo per pochi giri di affrettata ricognizione sul circuito, con la nuova Ferrari di 2 litri e mezzo. La formula, come è noto, consiste nella limitazione alle vetture sport di cilindrata inferiore ai tre litri, chiamate a disputare, in categoria e classe unica, due distinte gare di 35 giri ciascuna, con classifica a somma di tempi. Assente la Veritas 2100 del belga De Kando, che non è stata qualificata, innocue le Gordini B250 di Casella e di Bordoni, come la Maserati 9000 di Giletti, le due prove in programma sono vissute sul duello Ferrari-Lancia. Il team di Maranello allinea il Campione del Mondo Alberto Ascari, Farina, Villoresi e Hawthorn, la Lancia porta l’argentino Gonzalez, Bonetto e Manzon. Quando tutto, nella prima prova, fa prevedere un facile successo di Ascari, che doppia quasi tutti i concorrenti, un banale incidente deve, purtroppo, toglierlo di gara: alla curva di Lesmo, nel tentativo di superare la signora Bianca Maria Piazza, fAscari finisce con l’investirla quasi dolcemente. Fortunatamente i due, pure finendo nel prato, se la cavano senza danni e possono, dopo una buona bevuta di cognac, far ritorno con i propri mezzi ai box. Un vero peccato, che nella gara Ascari era stato sino a questo momento pari a se stesso. Il pilota italiano, dopo la partenza volante alla maniera di Indianapolis, aveva assunto subito il comando, seguito da Bonetto, Gonzalez, Farina, Manzon e Hawthorn. Al secondo giro però Palmieri era già fermo per un guasto, e per lui la corsa era già finita.

 

Poco dopo anche Gonzalez si ferma ai box per disturbi alla frizione; il tempo perduto agevola il doppiaggio da parte di Alberto Ascari. Il pilota argentino si ferma ancora una volta ai box nel giro successivo. Poi, al giro 13, Ascari e la signora Piazza si scontano alla curva di Lesmo. Villoresi viene a trovarsi automaticamente al comando, davanti a Farina e a Bonetto, Hawthorn, Castellotti e Bordoni e la classifica rimane invariata fino al termine della gara. Col ritiro di Gonzalez al giro 21, la Lancia ha perduto il suo primo alfiere, ma ha ritrovato Bonetto. Infatti il piemontese, con una tattica intelligente, riesce, giro su giro, secondo su secondo, a sottrarre a Farina i 3.6 secondi che lo distanziavano e a finire buon secondo, dopo un drammatico, impetuoso serrato duello con l’ex compagno di squadra. La lotta è quasi impari nella seconda prova: Bonetto, su Lancia, deve lottare contro la coalizione delle Ferrari, ossia contro Villoresi, Farina, Hawthorn. Ma il leader della Lancia al via assume subito il comando, trascinandosi Villoresi e Farina, che si alternano nell'inseguimento. Gli attacchi dei due alfieri del team di Maranello, insistenti e prolungati, si susseguono, ma Bonetto non intende cedere la posizione. E ad ogni giro, sia pure di una frazione di secondo, pare aumenti il vantaggio. Ma per poco ancora: infatti, gli sforzi di Villoresi sono coronati da successo: proprio alla curva di Lesmo, il pilota italiano passa in testa, seguito da Bonetto e, a una trentina di metri, da Farina. Per due giri le posizioni non subiscono varianti; Farina incalza e Bonetto deve difendere la seconda posizione a denti stretti; ma successivamente viene superato. La corsa ormai è un monologo delle due Ferrari, anche se il campione della Lancia, al giro 16, riesce a portarsi nuovamente in seconda posizione, per cederla subito dopo a Farina, e riprenderla poi, definitivamente. La lotta tra i due piemontesi è avvincente. Alternative di poco conto nelle retrovie. Lo spyder chiuso di Villoresi non conosce soste e prosegue la sua corsa vittoriosa, mentre Bonetto e Farina, con carrozzeria aperta, proseguono la lotta ravvicinata. Uno scroscio di applausi da parte dei 40.000 spettatori, accoglie l'arrivo trionfale di Villoresi, vincitore di entrambe le prove: a lui va anche la Coppa Arturo Mercanti. Nell'applauso sono accomunati Bonetto e i due instancabili reduci dagli onori di Rouen, Farina e Hawthorn.

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The sports-cars haven’t been put away until midnight Saturday, the Formula II cars have their final practice and Ferraris and Maseratis are out in full force until the practice battles we are becoming used to proceed. All the faster times are an improvement over the sports-car record and it is Gonzalez who appears to have the upper hand, but then Ascari and Villoresi deal with him severely, only to have the Argentine take Bonetto’s Maserati and equal their times. Outwardly neither of the teams have changed their cars since the Belgian Grand Prix and it is surprising that Ferraris can challenge the speeds of the Maseratis, but with two hairpin bends, requiring really heavy braking the Ferrari brakes are making up for a slightly inferior maximum speed. Although practice has been slow off the mark it finished at a peak with the sports-car race art open one between Cunningham, Jaguar, Gordini and Ferrari, and the Grand Prix with Ascari, Gonzalez, Villoresi, Fangio and Farina having only 1.3 seconds between the fastest and the slowest. Of the new boys Hawthorn makes a better time than Marimon, while of the private owners Graffenried beats Rosier. Behind comes the rest, led by Bira driving a works Connaught, and Gerard’s Cooper-Bristol thanks to some quick laps puts in by DA Clarke. As midnight approaches on Saturday the whole of the pit-area is superbly floodlit, bands play, fireworks are let off, cabaret turns are performed on open-air stages and the restaurants and stands are full to overflowing. Starting a race in the dark is indeed a novelty to the public but the drivers of the faster cars are not looking forward to it, for a Le Mans start at 4 o’clock in the afternoon is hair-raising enough and the added handicap of plunging out of a pit-area like daylight into the pitch black of midnight is not a comforting thought. Officially there is no general classification in this race, though naturally everyone is interested in the team that is going to go the farthest distance in the 12 hours.

 

There are three categories, the first being up to 750 cc, the second 750-2000 cc and the third over 2000 cc, so that there are to be three races and three winners. That is officially, but generally speaking the Le Mans atmosphere has so invaded Reims that a general classification is expected. As at Le Mans the cars line up in order of engine size with the drivers on the opposite side of the road and a quick glance down the line shows two Cunninghams, both open models, the new one driven by Fitch-Walters and the old one by Cunningham-Johnson, three Talbots as at Le Mans driven by Rosier-Cabantous, Levegh-Meyrat and Mairesse-Grignard, the 4.5-litre Ferrari of Maglioli-Carini, a 4.1 open Ferrari of Hill-Chinetti, the Moss-Whitehead works Jaguar, the Ecurie Ecosse, Jaguar driven by Scott-Douglas and Sanderson, a French 120C of Roboly-Simone, the Abecassis-Frere HWM with transverse-leaf ifs, and torsion bar de Dion rear, and two Gordinis, the 3-litre of Behra-Lucas and a 2.5-litre of Trintignant-Schell. On account of a supercharger Constantin’s Peugeot 203 is in this group, which comprises category three. ln the middle class are the two Le Mans Bristols, bravely having another go, driven by Macklin-Whitehead and Fairman-Wilson, three assorted Gordinis, Mieres-Guelfi aud Layer-Rinin with two open versions of the 2-litre and Bourelly-Creapin with a 14-litre coupe. Clarke and Scott-Russell are driving Gerard’s Le Mans Fraser-Nash, the owner running in the Grand Prix, Salvadori and Crook with the works Fraser-Nash coupe, two 2-litre Ferraris, a coupe driven by Picard-Pozzi and an open one by Legenier-Rubirosa, while Said’s blue and white 1350 cc Osca makes up the class. Naturally the 750cc class is especially for French cars and has most of the Le Mans competitors running, with D.B., Panhard, Monopide, Renault, and V.P.-Renault, making a total of fifteen in this class. It would have been nice to see a specially prepared Lotus-Austin having a go at this French monopoly.

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It is doubtful whether more than two drivers saw the flag fall, but they all get away and the race is on, with Villoresi in the Ferrari coupe soon going into the lead, followed by Behra (Gordini), Walters (Cunningham), Trintignant (Gordini), Moss (Jaguar), and Abecassis (HWM). Mieres leads the 2-litre class, ahead of the other works Gordini and the Fraser-Nash coupe goes out with clutch trouble. Drivers soon get used to the darkness and the Ferrari draws away from the rest of the field, while Behra comes in with a flat rear tyre. It is found that the new car is too low for the jack, when the tyre is flat, and the whole staff try lifting, but to no avail; eventually another jack is produced and the wheel changed, the car now being way back among the 2-litre class by the time it restarts. By 1:00 a.m. things have settled down, the Ferrari being still farther ahead, followed by Trintignant, Walters, Moss, Abecassis, and Rosier with the first of the Talbots. The leading 2-litre Gordini has broken its accelerator pedal, letting the Loyer-Rinin car take its place, while Plantivaux and Bruwaere are leading the babies with one of the super-streamlined Panhards. Graham Whitehead retires one of the Bristols with a broken clutch before Macklin has a chance to drive, and Roboly’s nice new Jaguar runs a big-end. Just before 2:30 a.m. pit-stops for fuel and new drivers begin and at one end of the pits the marshals allow only two mechanics to work on the cars, while at the other end marshals allow three. Officially the rules says that one mechanic can refuel and while he is doing that two others, or one and the driver, can work on the car, but no one is too sure and it is soon clear that few of the marshals had practice at supervising long-distance race pit-stops. However, nobody bothers too much and everyone refuels and changes drivers, fuel is spilt everywhere, no one catches fire, by a miracle, and the numbers around the cars depend on the nationality of the crew. The leading Ferrari continues to retain its lead, except during the pit-stop reshuffling, and Carini takes some time to get into the stride of Maglioli but by 3:00 a.m. he achieves it near enough.

 

Before handing over Maglioli makes the fastest lap in 2’42"8, a speed of 184.585 km/h, which would have put him in the second row of the Grand Prix line-up. The Ferrari now seems quite uncatchable and sounds perfectly healthy and the order in Class 1 is the Ferrari, followed some way back by the new Cunningham, Trintignant still driving the 2.5-litre Cordial, Whitehead having taken over from Moss on the Jaguar, Frere driving the HWM, and Rosier driving the leading Talbot single-handed. Loyer and Rinin are still leading the 2-litres and the Chancel brothers have now taken the lead in Class 3 with the second streamlined Panhard. According to the regulations lights have to be kept on until 5 am irrespective of weather conditions and when the Ferrari goes past at 4:30 a.m. with no lights it is quite obvious that it is asking to be disqualified. A visit to the Ferrari pit to hear what the organisers have to say is imperative and as Charles Faroux, the Race Director, approaches he has disqualification written all over his face. Before he reaches the pit Cornet’s Panhard coupe goes by without any lights, as do several DBs, the French-owned 2-litre Ferrari, one of the Gordinis and many others on sidelights only. The disqualification changes to a warning and the pit waves frantically to Carini to put the lights on again, as do all the other offenders, while Faroux gesticulates to those on sidelights, and nobody really knows whether the regulations mean sidelights or headlights. Returning towards his office Faroux meets Divo, the Assistant Race Director, and at that point the Ferrari comes in for a pit stop. It is refuelled and Maglioli gets in, and then fuel gushes out of the filler onto the ground. Many hands push the car clear of the spilt fuel, the engine bursts into life and Maglioli is back in the race. This is at 4:40 a.m. and as he leaves there are no rear lights showing, while to those behind the car, including the Race Director, the car appears to have been push-started.

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Without more doubts a meeting of the marshals is called and five minutes later the loudspeaker announces that no more lap times are going to be taken for Ferrari #18 as it has infringed numerous regulations. No mention is made that it has been disqualified, merely that no more times would be taken. It is now nearly three laps in front of the second car and going at the same furious pace. Ugolini, the pit manager, is soon at the Director’s office to find out what rules have been infringed and a furious argument starts, which goes on for over 1 hours. From this point the race turns into a farce as partiality has been shown over the interpreting of rules and, much more serious, the organisers flagrantly ignore one of the most important rules of the International Sporting Code. As Faroux states to Ugolini, a decision has been made; why or how or whether it is justified is another matter which can be discussed, but the actual decision to stop taking times for the leading Ferrari can not be altered. When a car is disqualified, for whatever reason, it must be stopped by the Race Director with a black flag and the number of the car concerned. This is not done and the Ferrari continues unchecked, while the loudspeakers, at 4:50 a.m. announces that it has completed 100 laps of the circuit. The rights or wrongs of the disqualification depend entirely on the statements of the marshals concerned and when questioned more closely by Ugolini these statements begin to vary. For example, those behind the car say it left without any lights, those in front say the headlights were on; those behind say the car was push-started, those beside the car say Maglioli pressed the starter, though no one is sure whether the car was still rolling or stationary at the precise moment. The question of the number allowed to work on the car arises again and it is clear that opinions or interpretations of the rules vary, but still the Ferrari is allowed to circulate; nothing is said about putting all the lights out before 5:00 a.m. After a while Lofty England appears on behalf of the Jaguar that is now officially leading, to suggest stopping the Ferrari if it is out of the race, as Moss is needlessly racing with it, thinking that he is still leading.

 

Roche produces a black flag which he gives to Divo, who in turn produces a number 18 which is given to Faroux; meanwhile the public scream abuse and call for the reasons for the uproar. Faroux with the number and Divo with the flag wait for the Ferrari to appear and first of all show them to a red Panhard coupe and then to the 2-litre Ferrari coupe. When Maglioli finally appears there is a distinctly unassured air about the Race Director, and as the car passes he holds up the number and points to the car while Divo keeps the flag by his side. Naturally Maglioli does not stop and a lap or two later Divo goes down to the beginning of the pit area and waves the black flag, but with no number, so again Maglioli does not stop. By now the whole affair has gotten completely out of hand and the officials are all for sitting down and forgetting the whole incident, but Ugolini does not have it and continues to keep the pot boiling. No more official attempts are made to stop the Ferrari and just before 5:30 a.m., amidst an uproar from the public, the Ferrari pit signals Maglioli to come in, which he does immediately, accompanied by a continuous chant of sympathy from the crowd, some of whom proceed to pluck the decorative flowers from the grandstands and throw them on the car as it stops. Maglioli justifies his action of not stopping before by simply quoting the International Sporting Code, pointing out that a number on its own means nothing, neither does a black flag. This utter farce and mismanagement on the part of the officials cause much of the interest of the race to die away, the crowd begins to disappear and go to sleep, and the remaining hours drag heavily. While all this has been going on Fitch has crashed the new Cunningham while in the lead, writing it off completely, Schell has pushed the leading Gordini in with its starter motor permanently locked to the flywheel, the H.W.M. has broken its rear suspension and pit stops have continued, with fuel splashing about everywhere, cars being pushed about, more than three people working on cars, depending on which end of the pits they are at. What has been a first-class race has turned into a shambles.

 

As those people who have been to bed begins to filter back to the course after breakfast Moss-Whitehead are leading with the Jaguar, followed by Rosier-Cabantous in the Talbot and Cunningham-Johnson in the Cunningham in Class 3, Loyer-Rinin are still leading in Class 2 from Fairman-Wilson in the Bristol and Picard-Pozzi in the Ferrari coupe, while many of the little cars are still going round, the Chancel brothers in the lead. Little of the daybreak excitement is known to them and no official announcements are made, so that opinions can only be gathered from hearsay and various improvements are made to the actual happenings, by the sleepers. Ferraris finally packs up and goes home to bed threatening to return to Modena and not run in the Grand Prix, while Carini starts the coupe on the starter and drives it round the back of the pits, unintentionally disproving any stories about the car being unable to be started other than by pushing. As the heat of the day approaches and the hours to midday tick slowly away it is becoming rather obvious that the experiment of starting a race at midnight is not a good one, from the point of view of those keen ones who stayed up all time. Also, the much advertised music and dancing that was supposed to go on all night has fizzled out before the race even started and as Moss brings the dark green Jaguar into the finish he is loudly acclaimed by the crowd that is beginning to assemble again for lunch. Cabantous finishes second in time to Talbot, followed by Johnson in last year’s Cunningham, which he has shared with the owner. That, officially, is Class 3, though to the crowd it is the race itself, while Class 2 sees the Bristol finish a deserved first after their Le Mans set-backs, the Loyer-Rinin Gordini having broken its gearbox, followed by the Picard-Pozzi Ferrari and the Clarke-Scott Russell Frazer-Nash, having run many hours without a filler cap on the tank and having to stop twice as many times as scheduled. In Class 1 the brothers Pierre and Robert Chancel keep their odd looking, but effective, Panhard in front of their team-mates and third is a DB Panhard driven by Bayol and Hannenmuller.

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As if all the foregoing are not enough for one meeting, preparations now begins for the 40th Grand Prix Of France and the Ferrari threat of not starting does not materialise, naturally—the FIA consequences being too great—but they delay their arrival until the last possible moment and receive a huge ovation from the crowd when they eventually line up in front of the pits. The cars form up on the grid, there being Ascari, Villoresi, Farina, Hawthorn and Rosier on four-cylinder Ferraris, Gonzalez, Fangio, Bonetto, Mathison and Graffenried on Maserati Sixes, Moss with his Cooper-Alta, Bira and Salvadori with fuel-injection Connanghts, Claes with his standard Connaught, Collins, Macklin and Cabantous with HWMs, Bayol and Chiron with Oscars, Wharton and Gerard with Cooper-Bristols, and right at the back, having not practised, are the four works Gordinis driven by Trintignant, Schell, Behra and Mieres. While Faroux prepares to drop the starting flag, amidst cries of derision from the crowd every time his name is mentioned, it is rather noticeable that Moss and Cabantous have only recently finished completing the 12-hour race, doing the last three hours of driving, and Chiron, Mieres and Behra have not practised on the Grand Prix cars. Violation of regulations seems to be part of the Reims organisation. With a Maserati-Ferrari duel coming to boiling point trifling matters take a back seat, and as the whole field roars off in a glorious start everyone waits to see the cars appear out of the Garenne woods on the far horizon and hurtle down the hill to Illinois. A long line of red cars appears, bunched closely under braking and then comes screaming past the pits in a glorious tumult of noise and dust that restore everyone’s sense of proportion. It is Gonzalez who is leading, from Ascari, Villoresi, Bonetto, Hawthorn, Farina, Marimon and the rest, with Bira leading the non-Italian cars.

 

Round they come again and Bonetto spins at Thillois, letting the four works Ferraris into a line behind the flying Gonzalez, then comes Fangio and Marimon, followed by Trintignant showing his usual superiority over the followers. Gonzalez draws away relentlessly and Ascari, Villoresi and Hawthorn run so close together that at times they are literally side by side, chopping and changing positions all the time. Farina is back a little with Fangio and Marimon at his heels, and Trintignant crouching down in the Gordini cockpit endeavouring to do his utmost to keep the tail of the Italian horde in sight. A large gap soon appears between him and Graffenried and Bonetto, and then another long gap sees Bira come by with the Connaught way ahead of the rest of the field. Lap by lap Gonzalez increases his lead until he has some 20 seconds in hand by the end of lap 22; the three Ferraris are still engaged in a furious battle amongst themselves, while Fangio begins to get into his stride to shake off Marimon and starts catching Farina. This he does, and just before half-distance he gets by and is soon amongst the Ascari-Villoresi-Hawthorn trio. In making this gain he naturally tends to draw Farina and Marimon along with him and when at 30 laps Gonzalez comes in to refuel, Fangio, Hawthorn, Ascari, Farina, Marimon and Villoresi are in such a tight bunch that all or any of them can be leading at any moment. This is a really cracking pace and it is going to be a survival of the fittest, with no time for tactics. With half the race run the first seven cars are still going as if on the opening lap, while the rest of the field struggles along behind. Trintignant has burst the Gordini, Schell and Mieres also, Moss is having clutch slip and Salvadori has lasted no time at all. The air behind Gonzalez is now clear; he started with a small amount of fuel hoping to make up a sufficient lead in the first half of the race, but it does not quite work out that way and be restarted in the midst of the battling mass of Ferraris and Maseratis.

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Still it is anyone’s race and by lap 33 Hawthorn and Fangio begin to share the lead between them rather consistently and after another half-dozen laps a gap begins to appear between these two and the remainder, which is still a turmoil of Gonzalez, Ascari, Farina and Marimon, Villoresi having tired and dropped back. The young English boy is driving all he knows and lap after lap he and Fangio appear out of Thillois so close behind one another that it looks like one car, which then split into two as they approach the pits and disappear under the bridge and round the full-throttle right hand curve, side by side. This itself is real motor racing, but there is more to come, for behind comes Gonzalez and Asian locked in an equally deadly struggle and going through the same motions. Now another flaw in the organisation makes itself apparent, for the programme says the race is over at 56 laps, while the store sheets handed to the Press says there are going to be 60 laps. To make matters worse there are two loudspeaker announcers, operating and one says 56 laps while the other says 60 laps. If it had been 100 laps it would have made no difference to the furious battles waging out on the Circuit. Neither Maserati nor Ferrari give in and finally someone must have tossed up and said the race is going on for 60 laps. By three-quarter distance Bonetto is lapped by the open war, as is Graffenried, though for a time these two have played the part of the prelude to the storm, for the scream of their Maserati exhausts is acting as a warning of the approaching fury. Fifty laps go by and still no quarter is given. The Ferraris refuse to let go of the Maseratis, making up on braking anything they might be losing on speed. Hawthorn loses a little on the climbing right-hand turn past Geux and making it up again on the following left-hander and the hairpin leading to Gurenne.

 

It does not seem possible that this pace can go on, for it is telling on spectators so must be absolute hell for the drivers, but continue it does and Hawthorn, in his green wind jacket, continues to do battle with Fangio in his blue and yellow jersey. At the end of lap 58 the absolute peak is reached, of this and possibly any race ever before, when Hawthorn and Fangio dead-heated across the finishing line, to be followed by Gonzalez and Ascari also in a dead-heat as they cross the line. The passing of Farina and then Villoresi, on their own at over 140 mph come as quite a relief. As they start the last lap Hawthorn has a slight lead over Fangio, while Gonzalez and Ascari are still in a dead-heat. Everyone is on their toes, this is going to be the finest finish of all time, the English are inches off the ground, Hawthorn, leading at Garenne, is still leading down the bill to Thillois; not only is this the motor race of the age, but an English driver is leading. Round the Thillois hairpin for the last time, four cars in a tight build, all of them red, all of them with oval-shaped air-entries, for the Maserati has removed their grilles before the Start. The tension is terrific, Faroux raises the chequered flag and whoosh, a blur of cars passes, Hawthorn, Fangio, Gonzalez and Ascari, as quick as that. The cheering reached fever pitch, the crowds surge onto the course and the also-rans, who have all driven hard and fast for over 2 hours, come in one by one. Following the first four come Farina, then Villoresi, Graffenried, Rosier, Mathison, who have been forced to stop and repair his oil-radiator when a stone from Ascari’s rear wheel punctures it, Behra limping along minus many cylinders. Gerard, his Cooper-Bristol sounding very healthy but lacking Italian speed, with Claes and Collins bringing up the tail. The race finishes with an Englishman coming out on top. The fact that he is not driving an English car matters little; when the flag fell he started on equal terms with the great names in motor racing and is the first to receive the chequered flag. 

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Not only has he kept the Union Jack high, but he has also put the Scuderia Ferrari back on its hind legs after it has stumbled noticeably. The Reims-Gueux Circuit is not a difficult one on which to drive in comparison with many, so that sheer finesse of driving skill is not vitally important, but endurance and judgement are needed and, as all the drivers started on the same footing as the circuit has never been raced on before, Hawthorn can feel justifiably proud at having beaten the world’s finest drivers. Let us hope that every Englishman is equally proud of his effort. La sportività dei dirigenti della Ferrari, ha evitato che il 32" Gran Premio francese naufragasse nei problemi. All’origine dell'incidente, che per parecchie ore ha messo in pericolo il successo della grandiosa manifestazione automobilistica, sta la stranamente severa decisione del direttore della 12 Ore, Charles Paroux. In questa competizione, che come è noto precede il Gran Premio, il direttore, applicando con eccessiva severità il regolamento, aveva deciso di squalificare la Ferrari pilotata dalla coppia Maglioli-Carini che a metà corsa si era installata al comando con oltre un giro di vantaggio sulla Jaguar di Moss-Witheahead. Maglioli, che in quel momento si trovava allo stand dove si era rifornito di carburante, veniva spinto, per ripartire, da tre meccanici anziché da due come è previsto dal regolamento.

 

E questa lieve infrazione, unita al fatto che i fari erano stati spenti anzitempo verso l'alba, era bastata a far si che i due italiani venissero squalificati e dichiarati fuori corsa. La 12 Ore veniva vinta così dagli inglesi Whitehead e Moss su Jaguar, i quali hanno percorso 2036.356 chilometri alla media di 169.296 km/h. Seconda la Talbot di Rosier-Giraud con 2002.806 chilometri (alla media di 166.856 km/h). L'unico altro episodio movimentato è stato l'incidente, senza gravi conseguenze, occorso a Fish che è uscito di strada sbattendo contro un albero, per fortuna senza farsi male. Il fatto del giorno, però è stato la squalifica di Maglioli-Carini. Questa decisione, comunicata dopo più di mezz'ora di discussioni fra gli stessi commissari per nulla unanimi nell'omologarla, ha sollevato molte proteste da parte del pubblico e provocato il legittimo risentimento dei dirigenti della Ferrari, i quali hanno deciso di comunicare con la sede di Modena al fine di chiedere direttive. Le telefonate si sono moltiplicate nel corso delle due ore che hanno separato l'arrivo della 12 Ore dalla partenza del Gran Premio di velocità e quando l'astensione della casa Ferrari pareva ormai un fatto compiuto un ultimo intervento telefonico degli organizzatori presso Enzo Ferrari è riuscita a salvare la corsa dal fallimento sportivo e le quattro Ferrari si sono allineate al nastro di partenza salutate da una calda ovazione della folla. Dalla drammatica lotta scaturita dal Gran Premio di Francia è uscito vincitore il giovane pilota britannico Mike Hawthorn, battendo in volata Juan Manuel Fangio e José Froilan Gonzalez.

 

Ludovico Nicoletti

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