7th February 2012

GRAND PRIX des FRONTIÈRES, Chimay

ROSIER'S TURN IN BELGIUM

It has taken a long time but finally, Louis Rosier has won a race this season. Following the enormous accident that befell Red Parnell in the B.R.M (details below) it took Louis just a few laps to overtake fellow Talbot driver Raymond Sommer and thereafter, the man from the Massif Centrale drove away to a comfortable win. There was quite a battle over second place that looked as though it was going the way of the remarkable Raymond Mays and his black E.R.A but the other Raymond regained the place he had held for much of the race although he was almost caught at the end by Prince Bira, whose Maserati never came alive until the final ten laps of the race.

ENTRY

It should be noted that this is a partially fictitious race. There were races at Chimay before the early 1950s, as there were later too, but there was no Formula 1 race in 1950 or 1951. My determination to race on as many different circuits as possible prompted me to create a race for my 1950-51 cars. The Chimay circuit was a long one at over 8 miles and given the size of my lounge in Malta, I have been able to do it much more justice than I was able to back in Wales.

Apart from Prince Bira with his blue Maserati, the entry for the race is entirely made up of French and British cars. There are seven Talbot Lagos, five from France for Etancelin, Rosier, Giraud-Cabantous, Sommer and Guy Mairesse who will be taking part in his first race of the season, while Claes, being Belgian, is naturally here, as is another Belgian, Jacques Swaters with a brand new Talbot, unusually finished in a cream colour. The other two French cars are the Gordinis of Trintignant and Manzon.

All eight of the British cars are known by initials; a B.R.M for Parnell, H.W.Ms for Moss and Macklin and five E.R.As for Mays, Gerard, Graham Whitehead, Shawe-Taylor and David Murray having his first race of the season in one.

Somewhat surprisingly, there is no red to be seen in the paddock.

PRACTICE

At the end of the first of two practice sessions it appeared that Italian technology was going to be too good for that from France and Britain because little Prince Bira set comfortably the fastest time with only Sommer in his Talbot able to get with three seconds of the Siamese Royal. Etancelin in 3rd place was no less than 7 seconds slower (this is a long lap, remember.) Many of the runners found themselves a great deal further behind the leader than 7 seconds; indeed, even Stirling Moss was mortified to find that he was 23 seconds behind Bira but was buoyed by the fact that several others were not much better off.

Rosier had a very troubled session with a big problem in the gearbox or final drive area while Swaters was playing himself in gently with his new car and was only slightly quicker than Moss and Macklin in their 2 litre cars. The B.R.M was going quite well but perhaps the biggest surprise came from four of the quintet of E.R.As all of whom were in the top nine on the list with Raymond Mays remarkably, up in 4th place.

The second session changed everything. Every driver bar one was able to lap much faster than they had done the day before and the order was turned upside down completely. The exception was Bira who was finding the Maserati going nothing like as well as it did the day before and he dropped from pole position down to 5th. He was just pipped for 4th by Giraud-Cabantous but these two we a very long way away from the three drivers who sat on the front row. It was Reg Parnell who delighted the British contingent by setting a tremendously quick pole position lap that was 10 seconds faster than Bira went the day before and gave him pole position almost a second and a half quicker than Sommer. Rosier got his drive train sorted and set third best time but 5 seconds slower than the flying Parnell.

The rest, quite frankly, were nowhere. Behind Giraud and Bira came Whitehead, Mays and Claes, with the whole group of five covered by just over one second. Etancelin, Swaters and Murray came next, very close to one another, while the rest lined up behind the Scot in his E.R.A. Stirling managed to find 17 seconds on day two and got himself up to 13th, just ahead of his team-mate Macklin. The Gordinis were, predictably, at the back but at least Manzon had gone quicker than Mairesse's Talbot. Trintignant bought up the rear, half a minute slower than the B.R.M.

THE RACE

From pole position, Reg Parnell shot away from the rest like a rocket and set a string of fast laps right from the flag. His 5th lap was easily the fastest lap of the race but disaster struck on the next one. At the end of the long, long straight the B.R.M failed to slow for the gentle right hand curve that leads into a slower left hander and the car mounted the bank and somersaulted at least twice before coming down on its wheels, some distance from the track. Happily, the Derbyshire driver was only shaken, not having been thrown out of the car in flight, but clearly it was the end of a promising day for the B.R.M. It appears that the engine had lost power at the beginning of the straight but with his foot hard down towards the end of the straight, it all came chiming back in but Reg was already past the braking point for the corner and was helpless to prevent the ensuing crash.

The race then settled down to be a duel between the Talbots of Sommer and Rosier which initially looked as though it would be quite close but Louis quickly gained the upper hand and drew steadily away, eventually winning by well over a minute. Sommer seemed to be comfortable in 2nd but he lost pace around half distance and began to be threatened by Mays and Whitehead, both going splendidly in their old E.R.As. Sadly, Whitehead's engine failed on lap 23 leaving Mays to chase down Sommer. The two Raymonds needed to look over their shoulders too, because coming up fast from behind was Bira who had an extremely lack-lustre first half to the race but who really began to get moving as the laps passed. By lap 25 Mays had passed Sommer and Bira was closing in but the French Raymond, probably feeling somewhat ashamed to be overtaken by such an elderly car, found some speed and retook Mays a few laps from the end. Bira homed in on the black E.R.A and just pipped it for 3rd place literally on the line, the gap between the two being just a quarter of a second. It says much for the preparation and driving of the old E.R.As that Whitehead's was the only one of the five to fail to finish. The other four filled places four to seven, beaten only by the two Talbots and the Maserati. Following the four British cars home were the two Gordinis, pleased to finish but still very disappointed with their inability to compete with, well, anyone else in the race.

The two Talbots that finished first and second were the only survivors of that marque. There were various reasons for the failure of the other five; Etancelin's engine went wrong right at the start and he completed just one slow lap while Claes also stopped early on as did Mairesse whose engine had never really worked properly all weekend. Giraud crashed lightly at the last bend before the start while Swaters showed a good turn of speed in his new car, running as high as 5th early on but then the handling seemed to go awry and Jacques was clearly having problems with several spins which in the end caused him to give up on safety grounds.

Finally there were the H.W.Ms. Neither of the little British cars finished although Moss made tremendous progress after a very good start, rising as high as 4th after half a dozen laps but then he slipped back gradually and retired after 22 laps at which time he was just outside the top six. Macklin, meanwhile had stopped just before half distance with some sort of engine related issue.

So finally, Louis Rosier has done what he has threated to do several times already this season - he has won a race, but even he would admit, I'm sure, that had that B.R.M kept going as it started, no-one would have seen which way it went.

HERE IS THE FULL RESULT - 30 LAPS:

   1.
24
L. ROSIER TALBOT LAGO T.26
2. 07. 44'64
   2.
22
R. SOMMER TALBOT LAGO T.26
2. 09. 00'77
   3.
30
B. BIRA MASERATI 4.CLT
2. 09. 12'83
   4.
14
R. MAYS E.R.A
2. 09. 13'10
   5.
16
D. MURRAY E.R.A
2. 10. 32'98
   6.
12
R. GERARD E.R.A
2. 12. 43'53
   7.
18
B. SHAWE-TAYLOR E.R.A
29 laps
   8.
8
R. MANZON GORDINI 15
29 laps
   9.
6
M. TRINTIGNANT GORDINI 15
29 laps
Fastest lap:   R. PARNELL,   B.R.M P.15,   on lap 5,   4.04'15

Retired:
  
20
G. WHITEHEAD E.R.A
22 laps
  
2
S. MOSS H.W.M ALTA
22 laps
  
38
J. SWATERS TALBOT LAGO T.26
16 laps
 
4
L. MACKLIN H.W.M ALTA
13 laps
 
28
Y. GIRAUD-CABANTOUS TALBOT LAGO T.26
11 laps
 
34
G. MAIRESSE TALBOT LAGO T.26
5 laps
 
10
R. PARNELL B.R.M P.15
5 laps
 
36
J. CLAES TALBOT LAGO T.26
3 laps
 
32
P. ETANCELIN TALBOT LAGO T.26
1 lap

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