8.1.11

GRAND PRIX de MARSEILLE

ASCARI - BUT NOT EASILY

A splendid, close race but with a predictable outcome. Read the whole story of the Grand Prix du Marseille below.

ENTRY

Twenty cars are assembled for the race around the horse race course and the park down in Marseille. The Parc Borely circuit is twisty, with a very tight section around the memorial which may well suit the little Gordinis more than any circuit they have raced on so far.

It's good to see so many non-French entries appearing at a relatively minor non-Championship race in France. The Grand Prix de Marseille has attracted nine Italian cars and two British to go against nine from the home country - albeit one of them Belgian entered.

Gordini are resting Simon at the event and the up and coming driver from along the coast, Jean Behra, will be driving the third of the tiny French cars along with regular pilotes Trintignant and Manzon. Six Talbots are entered for Rosier, Sommer, Etancelin, Giraud-Cabantous and Levegh with Johnny Claes bringing along his yellow version.

From across La Manche comes the H.W.M team with Macklin partnered on this occasion by Peter Collins. The works Ferraris are here, driven by Ascari and Villoresi with Piero Taruffi getting a turn in a 375 for the first time this season.

The remainder of the entry is Maserati mounted; red ones for three non-Italians Chiron, Schell and de Graffenried while the three blue ones are not to be driven by Italians either. Bira has his car fresh from an excellent race at Perpignan while the Argentine cars are in the care of Fangio, as usual, but the second is being driven by his protege the young Argentine Onofre Marimon.

PRACTICE 1

First practice was little short of sensational. Who could have predicted that a. the Ferraris would go so poorly; b. a Gordini would be faster than the best Ferrari; c. two Talbots would top the time sheet? But that is exactly what transpired! Quite why Ferrari were slow is hard to fathom, although they are fairly large cars and seem to struggle around the monument - but then, the Talbots are not small and they went well enough. Save Giraud's car which expired in a cloud of smoke and may not be seen again at this race.

Fangio too had a fraught session. First of all the front end of the chassis was found to be broken. It was rapidly fixed and Juan Manuel went out to do some gentle laps. His speed was building when suddenly the left front suspension collapsed and stranded him out on the circuit. Expect MUCH more from the Argentine in the second session.

Whether or not the normal status quo is to be restored tomorrow is open to conjecture but it should be well worth waiting for.

PRACTICE 2

Sanity was partially restored in the second session although there were still some major surprises. Not least of those being the pole position time set by Onofre Marimon driving the Argentine Maserati. Admittedly the young man was out at the very end of the session when the track was clearly at its quickest but to produce a lap quick enough to gain top spot was a brilliant effort. Shortly after his stunning lap, Sommer leaped up to second, pushing Villoresi in the quicker Ferrari down to third and Fangio off the front row.

For Ferrari things looked much better and at one point during the session only Fangio prevented an all-Ferrari front row but then other got into their strides and the Maranello machines were pushed down the list. No-one would bet against Ascari though, despite Alberto being only 7th on the grid. His best lap was turned in very early in the session and one suspects he may well have gone quicker had he been on the track towards the end of practice.

Apart from the Ferraris the biggest improvement came from de Graffenried who went from last to 11th, again running right at the beginning of the session. As expected Yves Giraud-Cabantous' Talbot's engine has failed and his car has been withdrawn. Levegh sportingly allowed Yves to take over his car and the man from St. Gaudens went very well, lapping much quicker than he did in his own car before the engine failed and quicker than Levegh had done yesterday, which justifies the swap. A word must be said for the Gordinis, two of which have qualified in the midfield, which given their performances so far this season, is quite astonishing.

THE RACE

Before practice begun it would have been obvious that the two drivers one would have expected to dominate the event were Ascari and Fangio. After practice, with Fangio 4th and Ascari only 7th on the grid one might be forgiven for changing that viewpoint. However, in the end, that's exactly how it panned out. Ascari made a tremendous start and by the end of the first lap he was in the lead and by lap 12 he had already stretched away by 9 seconds. Early on he was backed up by team mate Villoresi and the Ferraris looked very strong. Fangio took a while to get into his stride but once he did he quickly moved past Sommer's Talbot and Villoresi, cutting the gap rapidly between himself and the Ferrari, moving into the lead by lap 35. Thereafter, the two drivers traded fastest laps with first Fangio stretching the lead, then Ascari dragging it back again. It tended to be around 15 seconds but was sometimes bigger, sometimes smaller. As lap 100 approached Fangio was 24 seconds ahead and the contest appeared to be over. Not so. Alberto really began to crank up the speed and at the same time Fangio seemed to be having a difficult time with the blue and yellow Maserati. The gap suddenly reduced rapidly and on lap 116 Ascari passed the Maserati for the final time. Fangio did his best but the speed just wasn't there any more and Ascari stretched away over the last 20 laps to win by 14 seconds.

Third place was contested for much of the race by Sommer and Onofre Marimon in the pole winning Argentine Maserati but the light blue car's engine went off around lap 90 and the talented young Argentine was forced to retire. Prince Bira came home 4th, not bad, but three laps behind and he was followed home by de Graffenried who had a splendid battle for more than two hours with Taruffi in the third Ferrari but just ten laps from the end the front suspension of the Ferrari collapsed, leaving the Swiss to cruise into 5th place. Peter Collins brought the H.W.M into 6th having gone faster and faster as the race progressed, eventually leaving the three Gordinis far behind him. Two of the Gordinis, Trintignant and Behra, went very well, setting tremendous lap times (for them, that is) as the race wore on but Maurice eventually rolled his car out of the race leaving Behra to bring the surviving car home last, seven laps behind, but with a performance way better than anything achieved by these little cars so far this season.

Honourable mention must go to Rosier, who was running ahead of Bira up to half distance but then suffered a huge and as yet undiagnosed vibration problem which caused him to retire. And a special word for Raymond Sommer who drove a beautiful race in his Talbot, lapping consistently quickly and falling only one lap behind the leading two on this very short circuit.

Here is the complete result of the 134 lap race:

   1.     8 A. ASCARI FERRARI 375   2. 57. 15'55
   2.   28 J. FANGIO MASERATI 4.CLT   2. 57. 29'00
   3.   32 R. SOMMER TALBOT LAGO T.26       133 laps
   4.     6 B. BIRA MASERATI 4.CLT       131 laps
   5.   26 E. de GRAFFENRIED MASERATI 4.CLT       130 laps
   6.   22 P. COLLINS H.W.M ALTA       128 laps
   7.     4 J. BEHRA GORDINI 15       127 laps
Fastest lap:   A. ASCARI, FERRARI 375   on lap 95,   1.15'49
Retired:
  10 P. TARUFFI FERRARI 375      123 laps
  14 M. TRINTIGNANT GORDINI 15      106 laps
  30 O. MARIMON MASERATI 4.CLT        91 laps
  16 L. ROSIER TALBOT LAGO T.26        77 laps
  36 P. ETANCELIN TALBOT LAGO T.26        62 laps
    2 R. MANZON GORDINI 15        57 laps
  12 L. VILLORESI FERRARI 375        39 laps
  18 L. MACKLIN H.W.M ALTA        34 laps
  24 L. CHIRON MASERATI 4.CLT        25 laps
  40 H. SCHELL MASERATI 4.CLT        11 laps
  34 J. CLAES TALBOT LAGO T.26          3 laps
  38 Y. GIRAUD-CABANTOUS TALBOT LAGO T.26          1 lap

MARSEILLE MUTTERINGS

  • The Ferrari 4.5 litre engine seems unbreakable. Maserati's supercharged motor less so.
  • Fangio really thought he had Ascari beaten but the Italian is NEVER beaten - unless you have an Alfa.
  • Villoresi was pushing hard and made a genuine mistake. It looked a nasty crash but the driver was unharmed.
  • Marimon showed great promise and is a worthy back-up for Fangio; somewhat better than Campos.
  • Poor reliability from the Talbots this time. Happily, Sommer kept the tricoleur flying with a brilliant third place.
  • At Perpignan Bira ran Fangio a very close second - here he was three LAPS behind. Difficult to explain.
  • The pace of the race was astounding. All bar Giraud and Schell lapped faster than in practice, some by huge margins.
  • For example Behra in practice - 1.22'71, in the race - 1.20'60; Collins, practice - 1.24'36, race - 1.17'78, faster than pole position.
  • Ascari's fastest race lap was 2.5 seconds faster than pole position. These little used road circuits just get quicker as the laps go by.
  • The three very tight corners around the monument seemed to handicap the Gordinis more than any other cars. Strange!
  • The next event for the Titans will be the Grand Prix de Forez - a very French affaire....

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