Motor SportAugust 1931
THE BELGIAN GRAND PRIX
Victory for Bugatti in the race and in the Championship of Europe ; Alfa-Romeos occupy next three places.
THE Belgian Grand Prix, which was run for the usual 10-hour period over the Spa circuit on Sunday, 12th July, represented the final race for the 1931 Championship of Europe, which, as the result of the cancellation of the Spanish event, was to be decided on the results of the Italian, French and Belgian Grands Prix. In the absence of the Maserati team, which had decided to conserve its resources for the German Grand Prix to be run a week later, it was obvious that the race was to be in effect a straight duel between Alfa-Romeo and Bugatti ; the former had won at Monza, the latter at Montlhery, and the Spa race was to decide which was to be the victor in the final round of the combat. Bugatti might claim that the Monza race had been lost solely on tyres, and for the Belgian event he had fitted Dunlops ; while the Alfa-Romeo firm might reply that since their defeat at Montlhery they had altered their back-axle ratio and in consequence had gained a considerable degree of speed.
The issue, therefore, was in great doubt not only at the start of the race, but until the very end. The drivers of the two important teams were for Bugatti, Louis Chiron and Achille Varzi, Albert Divo and Guy Bouriat, Count Conelli
and Williams ; for Alfa Romeo, Cuiseppe Campari and Zehender, Tazio Nuvolari and Borzacchini, Minola and Minozzi. In addition starters comprised half a dozen more or less amateur entries, consisting of another Bugatti driven by Wimille and Gaupillat, two more Alfa-Romeos, one of which was driven by Sir Henry Birkin and Lewis, and the other by Pesato and Felix, Stoffel and Ivanowski on their big Mercedes and Montier father and son on two of their famous Montier Fords.
"Bug" and Alfa Rivalry.
Achille Varzi and Tazio Nuvolari, always the keenest of rivals, had been chosen to represent the van of the Bugatti and Alfa-Romeo teams respectively. As their cars stood side by side on the road awaiting the signal to start, it was obvious that each driver was determined to beat the other or burst his car in the attempt. The starting flag dropped, and the whole field got away well together ; then in less time than the record for a lap of the circuit set up by the late Antonio Ascari, in 6 minutes, 49 seconds, in spite of his standing start, Varzi reappeared, his Bugatti leading Nuvolari's Alfa-Romeo by some 150 yards. By the end of the second lap Nuvolari had cut his adversary's lead in half, and on the third round after a terrific battle he managed to pass the Bugatti and gain the lead. On the fourth lap however, Varzi managed to get ahead again. The two cars were, in fact, going round almost wheel to wheel, and Ascari's record for the circuit was lowered again and. again. First Nuvolari cut it down to 6 minutes 33 seconds, then Varzi replied successively with 6 minutes 31 seconds and 6 minutes 29 seconds, only to be again outshone by Nuvolari with 6 minutes 25 seconds. Then on the same lap Varzi, Nuvolari and Williams all three went round in 6 minutes 24 seconds. It was obvious that this race, in spite of the comparatively small number of competitors, was going to be one of the hardest fought of any ever staged on the Spa Circuit. On the sixth lap Nuvolari had caught up considerably on Varzi, and on the tenth lap he once more succeeded in passing him and taking the lead. At the end of the first hour the order was as follows :—
Competitors rounding L'eau corner en masse with Chiron's Bugatti in th elead. The second and third cars are Divio's and Williams'
"Bugs," and the fourth, Campari's Alfa.
1. Nuvolari and Borzacchini (Alfa-Romeo), 135 km. 900.
2. Varzi and Chiron (Bugatti), 135 km. 880.
3. Williams and Conelli (Bugatti), 132 km. 800.
4. Minola and Minozzi (Alfa-Romeo), 130 km. 500.
5. Wimille and Gaupillat (Bugatti).
6. Divo and Bouriat (Bugatti).
7. Birkin and Lewis (Alfa-Romeo).
8. Campari and Zehender (Alfa-Romeo).
9. Stoffel. and Ivanowski (Mercedes).
10. Montier junior (Montier).
11. Montier senior (Montier).
12. Pesato and Felix (Alfa-Romeo).
During the second hour there was little change in the order, except that Birkin managed to pass Diva and Montier junior slowed somewhat, so that he was passed by both his father and Pesato. The two leading cars, however, continued their wheel to wheel struggle, and after two hours' running Nuvolari had still a lead of but 50 yards or so over Varzi. At this point most of the cars came in to refuel and to change drivers, Nuvolari handing
over the leading Alfa to Borzacchini. while Louis Chiron took Varzi's place at the wheel of the first Bugatti. With a car
whose engine had been nicely warmed up for him, Chiron then proceeded to give a taste of his real ability.
The record goes again.
Then the joint record set up by Nuvolari Varzi and Williams in 6 minutes 24 seconds was lowered by Chiron to 6 minutes 22 seconds, and he then proceeded to improve on his own performance by going round in 6 minutes 21 seconds, 6 minutes 19 seconds, and finally in 6 minutes 18 3/5 seconds ! Chiron still looked as if he could do better, but this fast driving had already put the Bugatti ahead of the Alfa-Romeo, and at the end of the third hour the order was as follows :—
1. Varzi and Chiron (Bugatti), 404 km. 400.
2. Nuvolari and Borzacchini (AlfaRomeo), 403 km. 700.
3. Williams and Conelli (Bugatti), 398 km. 500.
4. Minala and. Minozzi (Alfa-Romeo), 387 km. 350.
5. Diva and Bouriat (Bugatti), 387 km. 300.
6. Wimille and Gaupillat (Bugatti), 381 km 900.
7. Campari and Zehender (Alfa-Romeo). 380 km. 900.
8. Birkin and Lewis (Alfa-Romeo), 373 km. 700.
9. Stoffel and Ivanowski (Mercedes), 362 km. 600.
10. Montier senior (Montier), 319 km. 600.
11. Pesato and Felix (Alfa-Romeo), 318 km. 800.
12. Montier junior (Montier), 299 km. 050.
During the fourth hour the leading Bugatti gradually drew away from the Alfa-Romeo, but the privately owned Bugatti driven by Wimille and Gaupillat fell back somewhat and was passed by both the third Alfa of the official team and the one with English drivers, while Pesato and Felix's car got ahead of the Montier which had previously been in front of them. No change of major importance occurred however, until nearly the end of the fifth hour, which marked half distance of the race, when suddenly drama stepped in. Chiron by this time had a lead of about four minutes over Borzacchini, and then suddenly it was realised that he was overdue. The Alfa-Romeo, in fact, flashed past the grandstands, and still there was no sign of the Bugatti. At last from down the road on our left there appeared a man running, and Chiron arrived from the direction of Eau Rouge at top speed—but on foot. Although he had sprinted for about 2½ miles, he did not appear particularly blown, and explained that his car's magneto drive had sheared. He promptly collected some spare parts from the Bugatti pit and set off again, still at top speed, to try and effect a roadside repair. By this time, however, the Alfa-Romeo was far ahead, and halfway through the race the order was therefore as follows :—
1. Nuvolari and Borzacchini (AlfaRomeo), 679 km. 300.
2. Williams and Conelli (Bugatti), 667 km. 600.
3. Varzi and Chiron (Bugatti), 660 k.m.
4. Minola and Minozzi (Alfa-Romeo), 655 km. 400.
5. Diva and Bouriat (Bugatti), 637 km. 500.
6. Birkin and Lewis (Alfa-Romeo), 626 km. 900.
7. Stoffel and Ivanowski (Mercedes), 611 km. 800.
8. Campari and Zehender (Alfa-Romeo) 604 km.
9. Wimille and Gaupillat (Bugatti), 587 km. 300.
10. Pesato and Felix (Alfa-Romeo), 546 km. 500.
11. Montier senior (Montier), 531 km. 700.
12. Montier junior (Montier, 504 km. 100.
Thus in spite of the fast pace set by the leaders half the race was over and none of the competitors had definitely retired from the contest. The Alfa-Romeo driven by Campari and Zehender, however, was obviously not going as well as the others of the official team, and shortly afterwards, its withdrawal was announced. There was no further sign of Chiron, however, and the position of the leading Alfa-Romeo now looked particularly secure, as it had a lead of over seven miles on the Bugatti driven by Williams and Conelli. There seemed nothing surprising, therefore, in the fact that Nuvolari should reduce speed somewhat, but gradually we realised that his lap times had risen to nearly seven minutes and that slowly but surley Conelli on the Bugatti was creeping up.
Towards the end of the sixth hour it was finally announced that Chiron had retired, having been unable to effect the necessary repairs to his Bugatti, and about half an hour later it was announced that the car driven by Diva and Bouriat had also been withdrawn from the race. The Bugatti hopes were now therefore centred on the
Williams-Conelli team, and their car was certainly still running as well as at the start. At the appointed time Conelli brought it into the Bugatti pits, filled up and changed all four wheels and brakedrums, as is possible with the Bugatti design, in 2 minutes 2 seconds, a truly remarkable performance. At the same time Nuvolari also came in, filled up an handed over to Borzacchini, and when Williams got away on the Bugatti, as the result of the efficient pit-work, the Alfa-Romeo had a lead of less than two minutes.
Williams catches up.
Williams now had a car which was going as well as ever with fresh brakes, and he proceeded to make good use of it behind Borzacchini. He was catching up rapidly now, and the Alfa-Romeo lead was cut down to 1 minute 51 seconds, 1 minute 42 seconds, 1 minute 36 seconds, 1 minute 30 seconds, and then at last Williams passed Borzacchini and took the lead. Almost immediately the Alfa-Romeo driver came in to his pit and leapt out of the car, explaining that he could not get the petrol through properly. For a minute or two they worked on the car, and then Nuvolari, losing patience, jumped into the car and shot off amid enormous applause. Violent misfiring as he dashed up the hill towards Eau Rouge however, suggested that all his efforts were likely to be in vain. Had he not reduced speed so drastically when he saw that he was safe from the attacks of Chiron his lead might have been sufficiently substantial to deal with the situation, but as it was, it seemed hopeless. Nevertheless, he actually succeeded in catching and passing Williams, but the Bugatti had a lead of a lap, and it was never really seriously threatened until 7 o'clock came and the race was over. The final result was as follows :—
1. Williams and Conelli (Bugatti), 1,320 km. Average speed, 82.7 m.p.h.
2. Nuvolari and Borzacchini (Alfa-Romeo), 1,309 km.
3. Minoia and Minozzi (Alfa-Romeo), 1,274 km.
4. Birkin and Lewis (Alfa-Romeo), 1,240 km.
5. Ivanowski and Stoffel (Mercedes), 1,206 km.
6. Pesato and Felix (Alfa-Romeo), 1,088 km.
7. Wimille and Gaupillat (Bugatti), 968 km.
8. Montier senior (Montier), 864 km.
9. Divo and Bouriat (Bugatti), 759 km. 900.
10. Varzi and Chiron (Bugatti), 655 km. 600.
11. Campari and Zehender (Alfa-Romeo), 596 km.
The International Driver's Championship, 1931, was won by Minola, the classification being decided on the results of the Italian, French and Belgian Grand Prix. Minoia finished second at Monza, sixth at Montlhery, and third at Spa.