Motor SportAugust 1932
ALFA ROMEO AGAIN!
SWEEPING TRIUMPH OF ITALIAN FIRM IN FRENCH GRAND PRIX
TAZIO NUVOLARI CONTINUES HIS AMAZING RUN OF WINS
The impressive massed start. Sixteen cars get away almost together to commance the great Bugatti — Alfa
Romeo duel on the Rheims circut.
BRILLIANTLY lit cafés down the length of the street, crowded tables, and the bustle of waiters; an endless procession of dusty, travel-stained cars, Bugattis and Delages from distant parts of France, Lancias and Alfa Romeos from Italy, cut-outs open and engines revving—and swarms of Citroens, Renaults and Peugeots; fireworks and crackers thrown into the road; the continual peal of "musical" horns, from church chimes to theme-songs; noise, laughter, excitement and gaiety!
We were sitting at a café in the Avenue Drouet d'Erlon, Rheims, on the eve of the French Grand Prix. We drank champagne, the finest in Europe—for was not the festival celebrating the discovery of Champagne held in this very city only a few weeks ago? It was midnight, and so warm was the perfect July night, so beguiling the sparkling wine, and so gay the spectacle before us, that we had little inclination to walk back to our hotel and sleep!
A sports saloon drove slowly down the street. Suddenly the back wheels locked,
and the car came to a standstill. Something seized in the transmission, but the driver and his girl companions only laughed. Twenty people pushed, but the car would not move from the crown of the road. Still laughing, the occupants got out and ordered drinks at a café on the pavement, leaving the car in the middle of the road, with all four doors wide open. What did they care—they had arrived at Rheims!
The car was still there when at last we strolled back to our hotel.
We made our way to the course fairly early on Sunday morning. The sky was clear, and the sun shone, so everyone endured the usual traffic jam without a trace of bad temper. Thousands had
arrived before us, for the "Autobus" service started at 7 o'clock. High overhead swung the Standard Oil kite-balloon, but there were no aeroplanes, for airmen were wisely forbidden to fly near the course on the day of the race.
Wimille (Alfa-Romeo) followed by Felix (Alfa-Romeo) taking the accute right hand
bend through the village of Gueux.
Great excitement prevailed among the officials, for during the night the course had been measured and found to be 134 metres short of its supposed length, 8 kilometres. After a hasty consultation it was decided that the lap speeds should be announced during the race on
the 8 kilometres distance, and the exact distance travelled by the cars worked out after the race was over.
M. Raymond Roche, head of the A.C. de Champagne, had done his work of preparing the course with great thoroughness. For some years now the Grand Prix de la Marne has been run on the Rheims circuit, but this year the grandstand has been completely rebuilt in permanent reinforced concrete, as have the pits, control tower and press room on the opposite side of the road. The severe modern lines of the tribunes are very pleasing to the eye, and we were told that the seating capacity was 20,000. All round the circuit was made a "promenoir," providing almost unlimited accommodation for spectators, and protected from the road by large straw trusses piled on top of each
other. There was a footbridge at the Virage de Thillors, and the surface of the road had been carefully repaired for the race.
Half an hour before the
start the cars arrived at the pits, the Bugattis first from their headquarters at Gueux, followed a few minutes later by the Alfa's from Thillois, and we took this opportunity of inspecting them at close range. Much to the annoyance of our artist, a rope was put round the Alfas to keep prying eyes away, but we greatly admired the clean lines of the three new "Monoposto" cars, to be handled by Nuvolari, Borzacchini and Caracciola. Only three of these cars could be got ready in time, so Campari was a non-starter. Nuvolari, clad in a yellow jumper with short sleeves and a yellow helmet, was talking excitedly to one of the Alfa staff, while nearby stood Rudolf Caracciola, wearing white overalls and white helmet, calmly watching the bustle around him.
The Bugatti team was to be Chiron on a 2,300 and Varzi and Divo on 4.9's. Chiron, in pale blue overalls finally decided car, and Varzi
overalls, with a dark red scarf twined tightly round his neck, and wearing his usual dark blue, woolly helmet, was talking earnestly to Achille Varzi. Of the " independants" Williams' car was painted green, in token of its driver's nationality.
The heat was intense, and people walked about with sheets of newspaper on their heads, with caps on top, while many made peaks for their berets out of programme slips.
Then the cars were lined up in the centre of the road, first three abreast, then two, then three, and so on. The front row was composed of Gaupillat and Fourny (Bugattis) and Etancelin (Alfa Romeo).
The loud speakers shouted "Cinq minutes," "quartre minutes," and at each announcement a section of the vast crowd in the tribunes stood up, only to be howled down by those behind them. A band in front of the stands began to play. We walked down the road about 100 yards and stood at the edge of a cornfield.
2. J. GAUPILLAT (Bugatti).
4. Ph. ETANCELIN (Alfa Romeo).
6. M. FOURNY (Bugatti).
8. A. VARZI (Bugatti).
12. T. NUVOLARI (Alfa Romeo).
16. J. P. WIMILLE (Alfa Romeo).
18. R. CARACCIOLA (Alfa Romeo).
24. F. ZEHENDER (Alfa Romeo).
28. Lord HOWE (Bugatti).
30. BORZACCIINI (Alfa Romeo).
32. Louis CHIRON (Bugatti).
36. Marcel LEHOUX (Bugatti).
36. Alb. DIVO (Bugatti).
42. WILLIAMS (Bugatti).
44. Rene DREYFUS (Bugatti).
46. Pierre FELIX (Alfa Romeo).
The Vicomte de Rohan, President of the A.C. de F., slowly raised the huge starting flag. Immediately the drivers in the back rows moved forward, locking hard over and then straightening their front wheels, ready to nip in front of the car ahead. With a magnificent sweep the flag was slowly dropped and 16 of the fastest road racing cars in the world leapt forward in a solid phalanx. After seeing the front row pass us, noticing that Gaupillat led, our impressions were completely confused, and we could not distinguish any individual cars in the pack.
After passing the tribunes the road dips out of sight, down to a wicked, very fast
curve to the right. We reached the top of this dip before the cars came round for the first time. Caracciola's Alfa Romeo was the first to appear, but he was only a few feet in front of Varzi (Bugatti 4.9).
Then came the whole pack, in the following order, Gaupillat, Williams, Borzachini, Etancelin, Chiron, Nuvolari, Wimille, Fourny, Dreyfus, Lord Howe, Lehoux, Divo and Felix. After doing about 120
m.p.h. along the straight in front of the stands, the cars cut out momentarily on the slope, and then went into the curve full bore, the drivers forcing the cars round in a series of lightning skids. The new Alfas were faster on this corner than the 4.9 Bugattis, and on one occasion we saw Nuvolari pass a 4.9 Bugatti actually on the corner, at about 100 m.p.h. on a 20 ft. road! On the other hand the 2.3 Bugattis were as fast as any, Williams being particularly good.
We decided to make a fairly wide detour round this corner, so we walked into a swede field, and kept about 50 yards from the road. Then our photographer took it into his head that he would like to get a close-up of a car on the corner. We heard
a car approaching and watched him adjust his camera, and raise it to his shoulder. Suddenly Nuvolari appeared and hurtled down the slope towards him at what seemed a hopelessly uncontrollable velocity— and our brave photographer fled for his life!
Back at the pits Earl Howe and Zehender were already in trouble, both with various carburettor troubles, the
latter's Alfa Romeo having caught fire at La Garenne on the first lap.
The fight for the lead went on unabated. Nuvolari began to pick up, and soon got into third place, behind Varzi. On the 9th lap he was second, and on the 11th he succeeded in
passing Caracciola. There was evidently some misunderstanding in the Alfa Romeo team, for Nuvolari seemed very incensed with
Caracciola, shaking his fist and pointing backwards as he passed the pits.
We walked on towards Gueux, through open country, with few trees. By the time we reached the village, one hour had elapsed and at this point the order was : Nuvolari, Caracciola, Borzacchini, Williams, Chiron, Dreyfus, Wimille, Divo, Etancelin, Lehoux, Gaupillat, Fourny ,
Howe, Felix and Zehender. Then we decided that personal replenishments were needed, and we ate a very excellent luncheon at a restaurant just before the corner in the village, with champagne which came from a press a stone's throw from where we sat. The charming host, who spoke English fluently, told us that Gueux had not yet recovered from the terrible bombardment it received during the War. The repairs to the church were not yet finished, and many other buildings were still in a shattered state. Through the open French
windows we could see the cars braking heavily for the corner, a cheer from the crowd heralding the approach of Chiron or Nuvolari, but none of the other drivers were applauded.
The bend in the village provided an interesting illustration of the various methods of cornering. Chiron was neat and smooth, as were Williams and Dreyfus, but Nuvolari and the other Italians seemed to throw their cars violently round the corner in comparison.
The escape road had been used a good deal, judging by the skid marks. Lehoux ran into it, not through inability to get round the corner, but to retire with gearbox trouble, an apparently weak spot in the 4.9 Bugatti. Then Chiron appeared, driving on the rough stuff at the side of the road. He waved the crowd to keep clear, signifying that he could not get round the corner. He made for the escape road, but at the last moment changed his mind, and just got round.
Lehoux, who retired with gear-box trouble, is seen on the Escape road at Gueux.
Etancelin made rather a noise with his gears, as he changed down for the corner, but his cornering was fast, nevertheless. A man set up an electrically-operated film camera on a brick, right on the corner. He spent ten minutes adjusting and focussing it, and then Borzacchini braked rather late and had to take a wide sweep. He missed the camera by inches, the operator jumped away to a safer spot, and the crowd laughed. Hamilton appeared, at the wheel of Earl Howe's Bugatti. Braking for the first sharp corner after leaving the pits, he found that the brakes were not as efficient as they had been in practice, so he wisely did not attempt to corner, and ran down the escape road. Later he found that one of the shoes had cracked.
We were given permission to enter a house on the corner, in order to take photographs from the window. No sooner had we arrived than a shout of laughter rose from the crowd. Zehender appeared, the front of his Alfa Romeo covered with hay, almost concealing its identity. With a wave of his hand he roared away towards la Garenne. We learnt that just past the tribunes he went off the road in order to pass another car. A few minutes later there was more laughter when a Ford ambulance with red cross flags flying from the top of the windscreen, tried to emulate the speed of the racers, and nearly upset on the corner.
Varzi (Bugatti 4.9) had retired with gear-box trouble, and Gaupillat walked to his pit and withdrew. In spite of the lack of Bugatti opposition for first place, the members of the Alfa Romeo team continued to fight it out among themselves with intense fury, and Caracciola took the lead from Nuvolari for several laps through the latter's stop for refuelling. Nuvolari, Caracciola, Borzacchini, Williams, Chiron, Dreyfus and Wimille were all on the same lap. Then Divo retired at Thillois with a cracked petrol tank, and the last of the 4.9 Bugattis was out of the race. The "2.3's" however, in the hands of Chiron, Dreyfus and Williams, were putting up a magnificent show against their rivals in spite of being less powerful. In addition they were handicapped by having broad two-seater bodies, in comparison with the slim streamlined Alfa "Monoposto" cars.
A Lap at 99 m.p.h.!
Nuvolari passing Chiron on the fast bend just after the tribunes.
Most of the cars came into the pits for refuelling, and to change tyres, and consequently the lead changed hands several times. When they all got going again, Nuvolari, by dint of superhuman driving (he did a lap at 99 m.p.h.!) regained the lead, followed by Caracciola, Borzacchini; Chiron, Williams, Dreyfus, Etancelin, Fourny, Howe, Felix, and Zehender. Earl Howe and Hamilton were putting up a brave fight in the face of great adversity. Their 4.9 Bugatti had developed a series of troubles with the carburettor and brakes, causing many pit-stops, and then to crown matters 2nd and 3rd gears "passed out" so that they had to accelerate away from corners in "top." It can be seen that, though Alfa-Romeo held the first three positions, the three 2.3 Bugattis were ready to step into their places should any trouble develop in the Italian cars.
We set out for la Garetme. After a long detour, involving many pit-stops for drinks, we managed to regain the course at a fast curve where the cars were just changing up into top gear, after leaving Gueux. Leaning over a fence on the inside of the corner, we had a wonderful view of the cars as they flashed by within a few feet of us. The cornering speed was simply terrific, the cars "snaking" round the corner in a series of instantly corrected skids, the drivers wrenching the steering wheel rapidly from one lock to another. Nuvolari seemed the most awe-inspiring of the lot, his near side wheels occasionally lifting slightly in the middle of skids!
A Relic of the Great War.
The road then dipped down hill to another curve to the right, with an ugly drop of 12 feet on the outside, and then up hill into a wood, round a tricky corner where
front-wheel skids were apt to develop. We were not allowed to enter this wood, for it was surrounded by a double fence of wire netting. We peered inside, and found many traces of the War; trenches, barbed wire, shell cases, a tin-helmet, and a French water bottle.
So far we had experienced no difficulty at all with the gendarmerie in walking round the course, in one case a rough sketch of Chiron's Bugatti by our artist making the official in question a friend for life. But now, at the Virage de a Garenne, we were met by an obstinacy that was completely proof against all the press passes, brassards, and papers at our
disposal. All our entreaties drew the same stubborn "Non!" so we had perforce to make yet another short detour, and we eventually struck the fast leg of the course, just after the corner.
The speed of the cars down the Route Nationale No. 31 was tremendous. The sight of Nuvolari's red Alfa-Romeo or Chiron's blue Bugatti, roaring down the straight road at 130 m.p.h., between two lines of black poplars, with flat cornfields on each side, under the blue sky and blazing sun, is one that we shall remember
for a long time to come. Over our own time down the "straight leg," and of our thirst when we at last arrived at the Virage de Thillois, we will draw a discreet veil.
By this time Chiron had been lapped by all three "Monoposto" Alfas, but he was still going as well as ever. One of Earl Howe's wheels disintegrated as he passed the pits, and a flying piece of
aluminiun struck a press photographer on the shoulder. Wimille had the misfortune to run out of petrol on the far side of the course, when lying sixth, his pit-team having made an error in their calculations and not calling him in to refuel.
We arrived back at the stands. The three Alfa-Romeo team cars swept steadily past in the lead. Nothing could prevent an Alfa-Romeo victory now, and as the fourth hour gradually drew to an end, the team assumed its predetermined finishing order, Caracciola falling back to allow Borzacchini to take
Precisely at 5 o'clock the flag was once more waved, and a great reception was given to Tazio Nuvolari as he flashed by the stands. Louis Chiron received an equally fine ovation as he finished 4th, the band struck up the Italian National Anthem, and the 1932 French Grand Prix was brought to a successful close.
By winning every race for which they have entered, Alfa Romeo have definitely proved themselves to be champions of the 1932 racing season. Their
new 2,650 c.c. 'Monoposto' car is
the last word in racing design, and has been remarkably free from those annoying "teething" troubles which dog so many new models.
The Bugatti "2.3" gave of its best. To give away weight, power, speed and streamlining, and yet to average only 1.21 m.p.h. less than the winner is a performance of which the Molsheim manufacturer may be justly proud.
Of the driving, one has only to say that in spite of the tremendous speeds of which the cars were capable, and the narrowness of the road, there was not a single accident, and with the exception of Zehender's temporary lapse, no incident likely to endanger any of the drivers. All the finishers drove with splendid skill, and Earl Howe deserves special praise for his perseverence in keeping going, without hope of winning, until the very end.