Motor SportJuly 1931
THE GRAND PRIX D'ENDURANCE.
VICTORY FOR EARL HOWE AND SIR HENRY BIRKIN ON THE ALFA-ROMEO, BEATING RECORD FOR THE RACE.
AFTERNOON at le Mans on Saturday, 13th June, 1931. The thoughts of all the world of motor racing are concentrated on the Sarthe ; the Tribunes are packed with spectators, and in front of them are drawn up 25 cars which are going to take part in the greatest 24hour road race of the automobile calendar. Twenty-five cars, fifty drivers, five nations England, France, Italy, Germany and America, all there with the purpose of winning the classic race.
At the end of the line of waiting machines is Number One, the giant white Mercedes which is to be driven by the Russian Boris Ivanowski and the Frenchman, Henri Stoffel. Next to it is the big Chrysler-Imperial, perhaps the fastest of the Americans, which will have de Costier and Lussau at the wheel, and then another transatlantic hope, the Stutz, which is to be driven by Brisson, that veteran of Le Mans, and Cattaneo. Then, numbers 4, 5 and 6, the cars on which French hopes are pinned the new big black Bugattis with 5-litre super-charged engines, and as their drivers the cracks of the Bugatti team, Louis Chiron from Monaco, Achille Varzi and Count Conelli from Italy, Albert Diva, Guy Bouriat and Rost from France.
The first British car is Number Seven, a 4½-litre Bentley entered by Bevan and Couper ; then comes Sommer and Delemer's 4-litre Chrysler, and Trébor and Ballard's 3-litre Lorraine, of the type which won this race in 1925 and 1926. Then three more British cars, the two neat green Talbots, drivers Lewis, Hindmarsh, Rose-Richards and Saunders-Davies, and the privately entered Arrol-Aster to be handled by Lockwood and Bartlett.
Next comes the Italian attack, a couple of compact red Alfa-Romeos, the first to be driven by the factory drivers Marinoni and Zehender, the second by the English amateurs, Lord Howe and Sir Henry Birkin. Then a 2,300 c.c. Bugatti (Nimmo. and Ano) and two 1,500 c.c. cars of the same make (Mesdames Mareuse and Siko, Sebilleau and Georgie). Next three more English cars, the business-like looking Aston Martins, with Bertelli, Harvey, Bezzaut, Cook, Newsome and Peacock as their drivers ; then the 1,100 c.c. cars, a B.N.C. (Duverne and Girord), two Cabons (Giraud-Cabantons, Labric, Vernet and Vallon), a Lombard (Charrier and Royer), and finally the two 750 c.c. M.G.'s with Samuelson and Kindell, Mrs. Chetwynd and Stistead as their drivers.
The hour of 4 o'clock approaches. Captain Woolf Barnato, winner of the le Mans race for the last three years, does a lap of the circuit on an 8-litre Bentley, in order to declare the road closed, and all is ready. The drivers are drawn up on the opposite side of the road to their cars, and an excited hush falls on the expectant crowd. Monsieur Georges Durand, Secretary of the Automobile Club de l'Ouest counts off the seconds, "five, four, three two, one "—then his starting flag falls, the drivers race to their cars, there is a whirr of starters, and the Ninth Grand Prix d'Endurance has begun.
Bertelli (Aston-Martin) going well at Pontlieu.
Sommer on the 4-litre Chrysler is first away and behind him the whole pack roars away down the road towards Pontlieu. Before the famous corner is reached de Costier on the Chrysler-Imperial has passed his team-mate, and the Bugattis are hard on his heels as the cars disappear round the bend.
Eagerly we scan the road in the other direction to see who will be the first to appear. Here is a car, yes, it is Number 4, the big black Bugatti driven by Louis Chiron, and hard on its heels is Number One, the giant white Mercedes, with Stoffel at the wheel. The cars flash past the grandstands, Albert Diva on Number 5 Bugatti third, then Sir Henry Birkin on Alfa-Romeo 16, Rost on Number 6 Bugatti, Nimmo on the 2,300 c.c. Bugatti, de Costier (Chrysler-Imperial), Marinoni (Alfa-Romeo), Sommer (Chrysler 8), Lewis and Rose Richards on the two Talbots in line ahead formation, Brisson (Stutz), Couper (Bentley), Trebor (Lorraine), Bertelli and Newsome on the Aston-Martins, Sebilleau on the 1,500 c.c. Bugatti 23, Giraud-Cabantons (Caban 28), Madame Mareuse (Bugatti 23), Vernet (Caban 29), Duverue (B.N.C. 27), Samuelson (M.G. 31), Lockwood on the Arrol-Aster, and finally Mrs. Chetwynd's M.G.
Brisson's Stutz stops for a moment at its pit but gets going again. At the end of the second round Chiron (Bugatti) is still in the lead and Stoffel (Mercedes) is second, but Birkin on the Alfa-Romeo has passed Diva and gained third place. Already the Bugatti-Mercedes-Alfa-Romeo duel is developing fiercely, but more is to come, for on the third lap Stoffel managed to pass Chiron, and the Mercedes travelling at tremendous speed gained the lead. At the end of the lap poor Brisson again stopped with the Stutz and began to work on his car, and Duverne came in for a moment with the B.N.C., but rapidly got going again.
For the next eight laps the Mercedes led, followed by Chiron and Birkin, but Marinoni on the second Alfa-Romeo managed to pass Divo and gained fourth place, while Brisson got going again. Then at the end of the eleventh lap the big Mercedes drew in at its pit with a tyre already in ribbons at this early stage of the race, and shortly afterwards the same fate overtook Chiron on the leading Bugatti. It looked as if tyres were going to play an important part in this race. In the meantime Marinoni had been coming up rapidly on Alfa-Romeo 14 and had passed his team-mate Birkin with the result that he now leapt into the lead, followed by Divo and Rost on the big Bugattis. Brisson on the Stutz stopped once more at his pit, and Sommer on the Chrysler also drew up, but the Mercedes having got going again proceeded to beat the lap record at 83.8 m.p.h. At the end of the second hour the order of the leaders was as follows :—
1. Marinoni (Alfa-Romeo 14), 257 km. 657 (15 laps).
Divio and Marinoni duelling on the narrow stretch between Arnage and the Tribunes.
2. Divo (Bugatti 5), 255 km. 500.
3. Rost (Bugatti 6), 255 km 420.
4. Nimmo (Bugatti 19), 254 km. 400.
5. Stoffel (Mercedes 1) 249 km. 700.
6. Chiron (Bugatti 4) 245 km. 400.
By the twentieth lap Stoffel on the Mercedes had succeeded in passing Nimmo and Rost and had captured third place behind Divo, but Chiron had had to stop again on the seventeenth lap to change a wheel and had dropped further back. Then, shortly after 6 o'clock Rost on No. 6 Bugatti failed to appear, and anxiety spread among the crowd as an ambulance was seen going off down the road. It was not long before news came through of what had happened. It appears that while Rost was travelling at about 115 m.p.h., along the Hunandieres straight, the tread flew off the near rear wheel, wrapped itself round the brake mechanism and locked the wheel. The tyre immediately burst and the car, now quite uncontrollable, skidded across the road, leapt the ditch and after tearing down the pallisade mounted the bank. The driver was thrown out, but the car continued, and after felling a tree finished up among the spectators of whom one was killed and three injured, one seriously. Rost was picked up with a broken collar-bone and a torn scalp as well as a number of bruises.
In the meantime Marinoni had come in with the leading Alfa-Romeo and had turned it over to Zehender, while Stoffel also brough the Mercedes in for Boris Ivanowski to take a spell at the wheel. Divo on the Bugatti thus gained the lead, which was not lost when he came in to fill up and to hand over the car to Guy Bouriat.
In the meantime, however, there had been several casualties among the field. Sommer had already stopped with the 4-litre Chrysler as a result of an irreparably leaking radiator due to chassis distortion, and shortly afterwards de Costier withdrew the big Chrysler-Imperial for the same reason. Then Nimmo who had been running extremely well in fourth place with the 2,300 c.c. Bugatti also drew up at his pit and retired with a broken universal joint. At the end of the third hour twenty-two cars remained in the running, and the order of the leaders was as follows :—
1. Divo and Bouriat (Bugatti 5), 23 laps.
2. Marinoni and Zehender (Alfa-Romeo 14), 23 laps.
3. Stoffel and Ivanowski (Mercedes), 23 laps.
4. Chiron (Bugatti 4), 22 laps.
5. Lewis and Hindmarsh (Talbot 10), 22 laps.
6. Rose Richards and Saunders-Davies (Talbot 11), 22 laps.
Chiron was now going very fast in an effort to make up for lost time, and proceeded to break the lap record at 84.3 m.p.h. Shortly afterwards, however, his Bugatti cast a tread in exactly the same way as Rost's had done, fortunately, however, without fatal consequences. Chiron drove slowly round to his pit and stopped while a consultation seemed to be taking place. Then the stop signal was hung out to Bouriat on Bugatti 5, the only remaining member of the team still running, and he too drew up at his pit. Shortly afterwards Monsieur Jean Bugatti, who in the absence of his father as the result of his recent accident, was acting as team-manager, announced that it had been decided to withdraw the Bugatti team as the unsuitability of their tyres rendered their further participation inithe race unsafe. The announcement was received with considerable popular disapproval, but the decision was probably a wise one. The Bugattis were using a tyre with a very heavy tread of the same type as was used most successfully by Varzi in the Targa Florio. It was, therefore, unfortunate that these tyres should have proved unsuitable under the different circumstances ruling at le Mans. On the other hand I can remember a number of cases during the last ten years when the chances of the Bugatti team in an important race have been entirely ruined by the failure of their tyres, and I am inclined to think that the Molsheim firm is a little too much inclined to experiment in this direction instead of sticking to tyres of proved type on which it could rely unhesitatingly.
The withdrawal of the Bugattis altered the whole aspect of the race and robbed it of one of its greatest features of interest. Zehender on Alfa-Romeo 14 was now leading the field, and the rest of the competitors after four hours running were in the following order :—
1. Marinoni and Zehender (Alfa-Romeo 14), 507 km. 160.
Ivanovski's "Merc" at Pontlieu.
2. Stoffel and Ivanowski (Mercedes 1), 490 km. 800.
3. Lewis and Hindmaxsh (Talbot 10), 490 km. 800.
4. Rose-Richards and Saunders-Davies (Talbot 11), 490 km. 800.
5. Birkin and Howe (Alfa-Romeo 16), 490 km. 800.
6. Bezzant and Cook (Aston-Martin 25), 441 km. 720.
7. Newsome and Peacock (Aston-Matin 26), 425 km. 360.
8. Trébor and Ballard (Lorraine 9), 409 km.
9. Bertelli and Harvey (Aston-Martin 25), 409 km.
10. Sébilleau and Georgie (Bugatti 22), 376 km.
11. Mdes. Mareuse and Siko (Bugatti 23), 376 km.
12. Samuelson and Kindell (M.G. 31), 376 km.
13. Giraud Cabantons and Labric (Caban 28), 376 km.
14. Lockwood and Bartlett (Arrol-Aster 12), 376 km.
15. Couper and Bevan (Bentley 7), 359 km.
16. Mrs. Chetwynd and Stisted (M.G. 32), 343 km.
17. Vallon and Vernet (Caban 29), 343 km.
18. Charrier and Royer (Lombard 30), 343 km.
19. Pesato and Felix (B.N.C. 27), 300 km.
The Stutz after having made numerous calls at its pit had finally retired, the trouble being described as a broken oil pipe. Then at about half past eight Ivanowski drew up at his pit with the big Mercedes, which was suffering from tyre troubles. The car stopped for about 8 minutes and while it was there it was passed by both the Talbots and by Lord Howe on No. 16 Alfa-Romeo. The latter was now going really well and before long had succeeded in passing the two Talbots and gained second place behind Zehender on Alfa-Romeo 14. The order of the leaders after six hours or quarter of the race had gone was therefore as follows :—
1. Marinoni and Zehender (Alfa-Romeo 14), 46 laps.
2. Birkin and Howe (Alfa-Romeo 16), 45 laps.
3. Rose-Richards and Saunders-Davies (Talbot 11), 45 laps.
4. Lewis and Hindmarsh (Talbot 10), 42 laps.
5. Stoffel and Ivanowski (Mercedes 1), 42 laps.
6. Bezzant and Cook (Aston-Martin 25), 40 laps.
Hindmarsh on Talbot 10 had had to stop to rectify a blown fuse and had been passed by his team-mate Saunders-Davies on Number 11, who was now three laps ahead. The grandstands by this time had been somewhat thinned of their spectators as the result of the counter-attraction of dinner, but otherwise the large crowd followed the course of the race with absorption. Just as dusk was falling, however, two more competitors fell by the wayside. The 4½-litre Bentley Number 7 broke its crankshaft down by the Pontlieu corner and shortly afterwards Stisted appeared on foot and announced that M.G. 32 had broken down with ignition trouble. Then just after midnight through some mistake on the part of the pit organisation, Madame Mareuse brought her Bugatti in to fill up and was disqualified for doing so two laps earlier than she was entitled to under the regulations.
In the meantime Lord Howe's Alfa Romeo 16 had been gradually creeping up on its team-mate driven by Marinoni and Zehender, and at midnight only 3 seconds separated the two cars. Quarter of an hour later the English driver passed the Italian, and Alfa-Romeo 16 took the lead in the race for the first time, hotly pursued by the other Alfa.
Sir H. Birkin straking round one of the Pontlieau corners.
Just before one o'clock in the morning the Lombard No. 30 drew up at its pit and retired with engine trouble. The Aston-Martins were being held back with a peculiarly annoying trouble as it was found that the head-lamp mounting was not strong enough, with the result that the bolts continually broke and the lamps pointed at the sky instead of down the road. The night so far had been beautifully fine, but about 2 o'clock lightning began to flicker in the sky and in about half an hour a tremendous clap of thunder heralded a short but violent downpour of rain. In the meantime Caban Number 28 when drawing up at its bit swerved and charged the bank at the side of the road, whence it had to be dug out by its driver which wasted a great deal of time. The leaders, however, continued serenely, the only change in their order being that Talbot No. 10 had caught up and passed its team-mate. During the rain also Zehender with Alfa-Romeo 16 ran off the road at the Arnage bend and damaged one lamp and wing. Some time was lost but he retained second place.
An Alfa Retirement.
At four o'clock in the morning, half way through the race, Howe and Birkin had covered 92 laps, Marinoni and Zehender 88, the two Talbots 86, the Mercedes 84, and Bezzaut and Cook's Aston-Martin 79. Just before 6 o'clock in the morning, however, Marinoni drew up at his pit with Alfa-Romeo 14 and commenced a lengthy examination. Eventually it was discovered that the back axle had been put out of truth as the result of Zehender's crash, and the car was withdrawn. This let Rose-Richards and Saunders-Davies' Talbot No. 11 which was ahead of its team-mate for the moment, up into second place, and the Mercedes became fourth.
At about half past eight the Arrol-Aster, driven by Lockwood and Bartlett came into the pits and retired with ignition trouble. The big Mercedes, however, which had been suffering from tyre trouble all night changed over to a different make at about this point and got going really well again. On the 138th lap, Boris Ivanowski, who was now at the wheel, proceeded to break the lap record at 85.8 m.p.h. and his efforts were rewarded by passing No. 10 Talbot and gaining third place. The order at 10 o'clock in the morning, after three quarters of the race had been run, was therefore as follows :—
1. Birkin and Howe (Alfa-Romeo 16), 138 laps.
2. Rose-Richards and Saunders-Davies (Talbot 11), 131 laps.
3. Stoffel and Ivanowski (Mercedes), 131 laps.
4. Lewis and Hindmarsh (Talbot 10), 129 laps.
5. Trebor and Balard (Lorraine 9) 111 laps.
6. Bertelli and Harvey (Aston-Martin. 24), 110 laps.
Shortly afterwards Bugatti 22, driven by Sebilleau and Georgie, which had been running well behind the Aston-Martin team, retired with a broken clutch. Then Hindmarsh suddenly came in with No. 10 Talbot and it was found that the chassis had broken just where it is upswept to pass over the back axle. Attempts were made to effect a temporary repair and the car actually completed two more laps before the matter was seen to be hopeless and it was finally withdrawn. This let the Lorraine, which had all along been running remarkably well, up into fourth place. This car was an absolutely amateur entry driven by its owner, and its performance in the race is a convincing answer to those critics who assert that no really standard car has any chance of doing well at le Mans. The Caban Number 28, however, driven by its manufacturer Giraud Cabantons and Labric, retired with trouble with the fuel feed and shortly afterwards No. 25 Aston-Martin driven by Bezzant and Cook, had to be withdrawn owing to the loss of a wing which could not be replaced. These cars in fact were most unfortunate as they suffered from no mechanical troubles but were continually held back by breakages in accessories.
This left only nine cars in the race, but the leaders were still going strong, and the Mercedes succeeded in passing the remaining Talbot and gaining second place. It was quite unable, however, to catch the Alfa-Romeo which was going as fast as ever. At about half past two, with only 1 hours of the race left to go, Aston Martin 26, driven by Newsome and Peacock was forced to retire.
At a quarter past three the Alfa-Romeo had broken the record of 2,930 km. 663, for the 24-hours established by the winning Bentley last year, a performance which was greeted with loud cheers. Four o'clock approached and Monsieur Charles Faroux, the well-known journalist, stepped on to the course with his yellow flag. The little M.G. which had been held back with transmission trouble, could only just keep moving, but it carried on bravely. Four o'clock struck, and one by one the cars were stopped, the winners being greeted with ovations, flowers, cinematograph cameras, handshakes and all the usual paraphernalia of victory. The final classification was as given before, the M.G. driven by Samuelson and Kindell and the B.N.C., driven by Pesato and Felix not being placed as they had not completed the minimum distance. The result of the final of the 1930-31 Rudge-Whitworth Cup and the Eliminating Race for the 1931-2 Cup was as follows :—
Brian Lewis at Pontlieu - there seem to be some lamps missing !
Figure of Merit:
1. Howe and Birkin (Alfa-Romeo) 1.26
2. Rose-Richards and Saunders Davies (Talbot) 1.19
3. Ivanowski and Stoffel (Mercedes) 1.12
4. Trebor and Balard (Lorraine) 1.016
5. Harvey and Bertelli (Aston Martin) 1.015
6. Vernet and Vallon (Caban) 1.002
The 1906 Grand Prix Anniversary.
The twenty-fifth anniversary of the first Grand Prix of the Automobile Club de France which was run at le Mans in 1906 was celebrated by a luncheon which was given on 13th June before the start of the Grand Prix d'Endurance in honour of the surviving drivers who took part in the original race. Among the veteran "au du volant" present were Louis Szisz who drove the winning Renault, Felice Nazzaro, who finished second on a Fiat and Louis Wagner, who drove a Darracq. Mr. Ainsworth and M. Jacobsen who represented the Hotchkiss concern, which took part in the race, arrived on a 6-cylinder Hotchkiss built in 1906, which completed the journey from Paris at an average speed of nearly 40 m.p.h.