15th April 2011

MONACO GRAND PRIX

FANGIO WINS SENSATIONAL RACE

The second round of this season's championship takes the cars to the Principality of Monaco. The organisers have accepted an entry of 21 cars although only the fastest 16 will be allowed to start the 100 lap race.

ENTRY

As is the regular routine at Monaco, the entry is listed in alphabetical order based on the nationality of the car's entrant. Thus, the first two cars on the list are the Argentine Maseratis which are being driven, on this occasion, by Froilan Gonzales and the unknown Alfredo Pian. Johnny Claes from Belgium brings his yellow Talbot-Lago while Harry Schell (Etats-Uni) will drive his Maserati.

Four French entries are made up of two Gordinis for Robert Manzon and Maurice Trintignant and two Talbots for Louis Rosier and Phi-phi Etancelin. Raymond Sommer has his Talbot on the list, too, but he is numbered down with the Italians as originally he was down to drive a Ferrari but this was changed back to his regular Talbot.

The British representation consists of two E.R.As, Cuth Harrison and Bob Gerard and the Thinwall Ferrari for Peter Whitehead. And then there are the Italians; three Alfa Romeos for the three Fs - Farina, Fangio and Fagioli are ranged against only two works Ferraris - Villoresi and Ascari. The final Italian entry is that of Franco Rol with the new OSCA. Local hero Louis Chiron has his Maserati and there are 4.CLTs for the Swiss Toulo de Graffenried and the Siamese Prince Bira.

1st PRACTICE

Naturally, being a public road circuit, the early runners during the first practice session, found the track surface dusty and it took quite a time for it to clean up. Thus, those who set their times early found that they were way down compared with those who went out later. One who never saw the track at all was Bira whose Maserati had a serious structural problem that precluded any chance of the light blue Maserati setting a time.

It was, predictably, an Alfa Romeo that topped the timesheet but not necessarily the one that might be expected. It was Luigi Fagioli who set the best time with Ascari's Ferrari next up. followed by Farina's Alfa. Fangio and Villoresi in the other Alfa and Ferrari respectively, were both early runners, so found themselves some way down the list. Fangio suffered from a front suspension problem that will be remedied by tomorrow. Honourable mentions must go to Sommer, Whitehead and Claes, each of who went very well to post 4th, 7th and 8th fastest times. Alfredo Pian went surprisingly well too, finishing only six places below his team-mate Gonzales.

In addition to the non-running Bira, the other four who currently sit outside the top 16 are Rol, Trintignant, Gerard and Harrison - the two E.R.As and the OSCA were indeed the first three cars to set times, underlining the difficulties the early runners experienced.

2nd PRACTICE

Having set a relatively slow time in the first session Luigi Villoresi got his Ferrari wound up to a much higher level in the second to set the fastest time, a little quicker than Fagioli's time from the first practice. It stood as the best time until the last few minutes of the session but then the big guns came out firing. It was a little surprising to see that Fangio was unable to beat the Ferrari but the front suspension on the Argentine's Alfa is still not quite right - better, but not perfect, so he dropped into second place. But then it was Farina who caused eyebrows to rise by going around in a time that was way ahead of anything anyone had achieved thus far and although both Ascari and then Fagioli improved to jump ahead of Villoresi, neither were close to the time set by the Good Doctor.

The rest remained more or less where they were yesterday although Bira, having his first run, was able to jump into the race in 15th place while Claes and Manzon could not better their times from session 1. With the improvement by Trintignant and Bira's time Rosier and Manzon dropped into the non-qualifiying spots along with the two E.R.As and Rol's OSCA. Both Rol and Rosier had chassis problems but these have been dealt with so the final session tomorrow will be a hectic scramble down at the bottom end of the field.

FINAL PRACTICE

Nino Farina retained pole position for the race and did not need to go any quicker so to do. However, it was a close run thing because Villoresi very nearly beat his time, failing by just .06 of a second to pip the Alfa. A surprise on the outside of the front row is Froilan Gonzales who flew around to take third less than half a second from pole. Ascari and Fagioli share row two with Fangio, surprisingly relegated to row three, his Alfa still not right at the front end. Fagioli suffered similar problems today, too. Alongside Fangio is the excellent Raymond Sommer with his Talbot while the Thinwall Ferrari improved by more than two seconds to take 8th place. Behind Whitehead it's all Talbots and Maseratis. Neither Gordini made it into the race, nor did either E.R.A while Franco Rol made a huge improvement from the second session but was still almost a second and a half too slow

So the scene is set for 100 gruelling laps and with the troubles that have afflicted the Alfa drivers throughout practice, this one is not a foregone conclusion. The chickens are coming home to roost; the flat, level surface at Silverstone gave no indication of the problems that the Alfas have experienced on the ups and down of the Principality. Perhaps Alfa Corsa should enter a few non-Championship races to give them a chance to iron out the shortcomings of their extremely potent machines....

THE RACE

It is virtually impossible to convey to the reader the pleasure and excitement that I get from running these slot car races. Not always, admittedly, but this one will go down in my list as one of the best that I have ever run.

From the start Ascari's Ferrari took the lead while the Alfa Romeo drivers were treading more carefully, given the problems they had experienced in practice. For the first quarter of the race the Ferrari pulled steadily away and all looked rosy for Alberto. Indeed, not only did Farina take it very carefully to begin with but Fangio allowed himself to slide down to 6th place by lap 20, almost three-quarters of a minute behind the leader. The longer the race went on the quicker the Clover Leaf boys went. By lap 40 Farina had passed Ascari and Fangio was up to 3rd.

By then, we had lost Villoresi whose engine expired as early as lap 6 while both Chiron and Schell had retired their Maseratis, neither performing anything like as well as they did in practice. Etancelin had retired by then, too.

For 30 laps Ascari hung on to Farina, never falling more than 4 seconds behind the leader, while Fangio was whittling away the gap between himself and the two in front. Everything changed between laps 70 and 75. On lap 71 Farina stopped at the pits to have a loose rear wheel tightened. Ascari went by and then Fangio who was getting very close to the Ferrari. Farina came roaring out of the pits not long after the other two had passed and had a grandstand view of Fangio taking the lead on lap 74 while Nino passed the Ferrari a lap later. By lap 80 the three were covered by just 5 seconds although Ascari had begun to slip back. With just 10 laps left to run Fangio's lead was just over 7 seconds, with both the Alfa drivers turning in laps way faster than anything achieved in practice. Their pace was sensational and over those final laps Farina just went faster and faster, carving the gap away between himself and his Argentine team-mate. No team orders here so Nino went for it in the biggest possible way. His 99th lap was a staggering 3 seconds faster than his pole position time and had the race been 101 laps he would almost certainly have won. But he didn't and Juan Fangio crossed the line 0.39 of a second ahead after an epic Grand Prix.

Ascari's 3rd place was no disgrace but Ferrari need to find something extra to match these Alfas, although Fagioli's 4th place was 70 seconds behind Ascari. Froilan Gonzales drove a beautiful race with the Argentine Maserati and was an untroubled 5th. His team-mate Pian had run very well for over half the race but stopped with no drive to the wheels. Behind Gonzales came Sommer, de Graffenried, Rosier and Whitehead, all of whom had good steady races. Whitehead did suffer some engine problems midway through but towards the end he was flying and his best lap would have put him on pole position in practice, indeed, in the race only three cars lapped faster!

Claes and Bira both ran at the back at some point in the race but both failed to finish. Bira's chassis broke while Claes' Talbot, which had run very smoothly all race finally stopped at the Station Hairpin when he had but 7 laps left to run.

So there it is - a sensational Monaco Grand Prix that will live long in the memory of this slot car nerd....

Here is the full race result:

   1.   34 J. FANGIO ALFA ROMEO 158  3. 07. 58'59
   2.   32 G. FARINA ALFA ROMEO 158  3. 07. 58'98
   3.   40 A. ASCARI FERRARI 375  3. 08. 26'56
   4.   36 L. FAGIOLI ALFA ROMEO 158  3. 09. 36'56
   5.     2 F. GONZALES MASERATI 4.CLT     99 laps
   6.   42 R. SOMMER TALBOT LAGO T.26     98 laps
   7.   52 E. de GRAFFENRIED MASERATI 4.CLT     98 laps
   8.   16 L. ROSIER TALBOT LAGO T.26     97 laps
   9.   28 P. WHITEHEAD THINWALL Spl. FERRARI 375     97 laps
Fastest lap:   G. FARINA, ALFA ROMEO 158,   on lap 99,   1.47'33
Retired:
    6 J. CLAES TALBOT LAGO T.26     89 laps
  50 B. BIRA MASERATI 4.CLT     78 laps
    4 A. PIAN MASERATI 4.CLT     59 laps
  14 P. ETANCELIN TALBOT LAGO T.26     29 laps
    8 H. SCHELL MASERATI 4.CLT     20 laps
  48 L. CHIRON MASERATI 4.CLT       6 laps
  38 L. VILLORESI FERRARI 375       5 laps
Non-qualifiers:
  26 R. GERARD E.R.A B-type     1.57'53
  12 M. TRINTIGNANT GORDINI 15     1.57'59
  44 F. ROL OSCA     1.57'67
  24 C. HARRISON E.R.A B-type     1.59'74
  10 R. MANZON GORDINI 15     2.00'59

MONAGASQUE MUMBLINGS:

  • The loose wheel undoubtedly cost Farina victory. He couldn't have been closer to Fangio at the end.
  • Fangio drove the first 20 laps very carefully indeed, half expecting the front suspension to lock up as it had in practice.
  • Ascari was disappointed but knew that he could have done no more. He was a little concerned about his tyres towards the end.
  • Gonzales too was rather downbeat. His practice times indicated that he would be much closer to the Alfas than he subsequently was.
  • Both Sommer and Rosier had excellent races. Raymond was particularly impressive throughout.
  • This was the second time that Bira's Maserati has suffered a broken chassis. Much investigation is required.
  • The local crowd did not have long to cheer Chiron. Louis' Maserati ran poorly from the start.
  • So for the second time this season Fangio beats Farina. The Good Doctor will not be a happy man.
  • The circus now moves the short distance to Nimes for the Grand Prix around the aerodrome in that town.

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