In Motor Racing, there is no such clear-cut prize as the heavyweight title or the National League pennant. But a point system based on first-, second-and third-place finishes in Grand Prix races indicates the championship stature, each year, of one driver. This year, no matter what the outcome of the two final Grand Prix races—the Sept. 3 event at Monza and the Oct. 24 competition at Barcelona—the champion is certain to be Argentinian Juan Manuel Fangio, called "The Master."
Fangio has driven a Mercedes in most of his successful races. On August 22 he won the Swiss Grand Prix held on the Bremgarten circuit at Bern. He drove a Maserati to win the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa, but Mercedes brought him home in both the French and European Grand Prix, at Reims and N√ºrburgring. At this writing, Fangio has won five out of six International Grand Prix runs this year and has accumulated 44 points; his compatriot, Froilan Gonzales, is runner-up at 23½ in third place is Maurice Trintignant of France, with 15.
Last year's world champion, Italy's Alberto Ascari, disappeared from the ranks of leading contenders when he joined the Lancia sports-car team. He has made few starts since, but he won the Mille Miglia (Thousand Mile) Italian road race for Lancia in early May and thereby broke the six-in-a-row winning streak gained by Ferrari since 1948.
To the casual observer, the expression "Grand Prix" is somewhat misleading since it is not confined to the seven big events held in Belgium, France, Switzerland, Britain, Italy, Germany and Spain. Many other Formula I events are included under this term and run in these and other countries. Specifically, the term Formula I is used to connote racing cars powered by unsupercharged engines with a displacement of 2,500 cc. or 150 cubic inches. It embraces the most carefully built and efficiently powered of European Grand Prix cars—such machines as Ferrari, Maserati and Mercedes in which the ultimate in power-weight ratios, braking and roadability are dramatically tested for future production designs. Driven by factory teams, these hand-built machines also serve an important promotional purpose.
Although Grand Prix races seemingly overshadow sports-car events, the latter far outnumber Formula I races. By the time the Casablanca 12-hour race has been run in December, no fewer than 72 sports-car events, 40 of them international, will have stirred circuit dust in 1954; this compared with 24 Formula I Grand Prix—a ratio of three to one.
CLOSE RACE IN SPORTS CARS
Although the year's competition may ultimately establish the supremacy of one make of machine, among the sports cars it's currently a close thing between an outstanding newcomer, the 4.9-liter Ferrari, and the 3.3 Lancia. Ferrari leads with wins and places in five international events—Buenos Aires, Le Mans, Hyéres in France, Monza Supercortemaggiore (Italy) and Portugal; Lancia is runner-up with wins in the Mille Miglia and the Oporto (Portugal) Sports-Car race, a second in the Sebring, Florida, 12-hour International, and Liége-Rome-Liége rally. Another newcomer, the D-type Jaguar, is third with a second at Le Mans, a triple score in the Reims 12-hour race and a win and place at Zandvoort, Holland.
At Le Mans, where Ferrari and Jaguar fought it out, the Gonzales-Trintignant Ferrari beat the Rolt-Hamilton Jaguar by only one minute and 29 seconds after 24 hours of grueling speed. The Jaguar spotted the Ferrari 1.5 liters (90 cu. in.) displacement, yet was faster on the Mulsanne four-mile straight, clocking 172.76 mph compared with the Ferrari's 160.03 mph. It was also much superior on brakes, and only the unbelievable skill and nerve of Gonzales in the pouring rain saved the day for Ferrari.
The Mille Miglia showed up one of the smallest cars to enormous advantage. This was the new Type-550 1½-liter sports-racing Porsche, with four overhead camshafts, driven by Hans Hermann, the junior member of the Mercedes-Benz racing team. Hermann came in sixth overall against every kind of road hazard, including mountain passes. Again at the N√ºrburgring (August 1) the Porsches scored two triple-headers in the races preceding the Grosser Preis. Not only did they finish 1-2-3 in both the sports and touring 1500-cc. classes, but they also carried off the 1300-cc. category.
The sensational postwar return of Mercedes to Grand Prix competition began at Reims, July 4 when the new 2.5-liter aerodynamic cars driven by Fangio and Karl Kling ran away from the field. Finishing neck and neck, the two Mercedes averaged 115.67 mph for 305 miles on ordinary roads.
Two weeks later, however, the Germans flopped badly in the British GP at Silverstone, where Mercedes reappeared with the same drivers. The twisting course was unsuited to these cars, and the best Fangio could do was finish fourth, behind his pupil and fellow countryman, the late Onofre Marimon, who beat him with a Maserati. Gonzales, another protégé of Fangio's, won handsomely, followed by Britisher Mike Hawthorn, both with Ferraris.
But the Germans had another ace up their sleeve—the new "Einsitzer" (single-seater) 2.5-liter Mercedes without an envelope body, which was then being readied for the third round of the Mercedes-Ferrari battle. This was the European GP in Germany on August 1. Fangio won it for Mercedes at 82.70 mph, beating Hawthorn (Ferrari) by two minutes and Trintignant (Ferrari) by five.
This German event was marred by the death of Marimon, whose Maserati had crashed in practice the day before. Fangio had taught Marimon a thousand finesses and encouraged him in every way. On his part, Marimon's regard for "The Master" amounted to hero worship.
HE PUSHED TOO HARD
It may have been the fact that his fastest practice time around the tricky course—featuring 170 curves and bends to every 14-mile lap—was 21 seconds slower than Fangio's best that ultimately caused Marimon to crash. He missed a corner after a downgrade, jumped a ditch, rolled over several times and smashed against a tree.
Marimon was succeeded as the No. 1 Maserati man by Britisher Stirling Moss, an excellent driver who has had an exceedingly unlucky year. On six occasions—Le Mans, Silverstone, N√ºrburgring, Pescara, Rome and Bern—mechanical failures have eliminated Moss when victory seemed likely. At Silverstone, for example, his Maserati broke its drive shaft when the race was nearly over and he held a secure second spot.
Despite these misfortunes, Maserati has done well this season, winning the Argentinian, Belgian, Rome and Pescara Grand Prix and taking second at Caen. The company is now putting the finishing touches to the latest Formula I machine with the road-holding De Dion rear axle and some 230 brake horsepower under the hood.
In the United States the 1954 season will turn out to have been the busiest (30 events, 15 national races) and most colorful since the rebirth of racing at the 1948 Watkins Glen Grand Prix. Its most notable feature was the definitive triumph of the U.S. Ferrari over the Cunningham sports car, king of the American racing picture for the last three years. The occasion was the 200-mile race at MacDill Air Force Base, Tampa, Florida, when Jim Kimberly brought his newly acquired 4.5 Ferrari to the line on January 31. Despite rain, Kimberly beat the seasoned Phil Walters while giving away 60 cu. in. to Walters' Cunningham. To prove this was no fluke, Kimberly repeated the performance six weeks later at Hunter AFB, Savannah, Georgia when he lapped Sherwood Johnston's Cunningham.
FERRARI'S ON THE MARCH
Following Kimberly's sensational start (six wins in his first seven races), the moneyed boys took up the 4.5 Ferrari. Bill Spear's Ferrari arrived in March, followed by the machines of Masten Gregory and Tony Paravano (driver Jack McAfee) on the West coast and by a similar model purchased in the East by Irwin Goldschmidt. On the weekend of July 25, Goldschmidt three times—twice with the Ferrari—broke the Giant's Despair Hillclimb record that Walters had set in a Cunningham.
This further proved to Briggs Cunningham that the timeworn dictum, "you can't beat inches," is a fallacy. He has dropped the manufacture of the Cunningham and is now experimenting with a new, smaller, lighter competition chassis intended for the 180-cu.-in. Meyer & Drake engine of proved merit. Furthermore, at Reims Cunningham discussed with M. Perouse, Secretary of the all-powerful Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile, the possibility of limiting 1955 sports-car engine displacement to three liters.
In the smaller classes (1100 and 1500 cc.) the overwhelming superiority of the Osca proved conclusively that the logical power unit for any winning sports car is not a souped-up touring engine but a detuned racing unit. Notable Oscas have been those of Rees Makins (1100 cc.), which has won its class in every one of a dozen AFB events, and the Jim Simpson car (1500 cc.) with an equally impressive record.
AND THEN SHE BLEW UP
The most exciting 1954 race was at Andrews AFB, Washington, D.C., on May 2. Throughout the 200-mile President's Cup, Kimberly and Spear, with identical Ferraris, fought a merciless battle. One lap from the checkered flag, with a two-minute lead over his rival, Kimberly was a sure thing for a trip to the White House to receive the trophy from President Eisenhower. Then his engine blew up.
In the West, car-builder Sterling Edwards took the four-year-old Palm Springs main event with a 4.1 Le Mans Ferrari, to become the first repeat winner. The fifth annual Pebble Beach road race (April 11) was another Ferrari success when Edwards won the Del Monte Trophy, beating two Cad-Allards and a C-Type Jaguar; but at Golden Gate, San Francisco (June 6), before 100,000 spectators, it was Jack McAfee's turn with the Paravano 4.5 Ferrari. Edwards managed a second though. Meanwhile, at the Bakers-field Sports Car Races, Britisher Ken Miles won both events with his fabulous MG Special, beating (believe it or not) two Ferraris and a Maserati. In professional racing, the year's outstanding event—the 500-Mile Indianapolis Memorial Day Classic—went to that human bomb, Bill Vukovich, with an Offy-powered Keck Fuel Injection Special. He became third man to win the race two years running—after Wilbur Shaw and Mauri Rose.
Although the future of sports-car racing at Air Force bases is uncertain, press reports about definite cancellations have been premature. There is a fair chance that several events will be run in 1955 at the larger airfields. Whatever the outcome, enthusiasts need not fear that the sport will die. Already this season the Sports Car Club of America has been offered 47 possible venues for race meets by progressive groups and communities. In addition, at least 10 Eastern and five Western road and airfield courses, several of them new this year, will hold races in 1955. The tentative date for next year's Sebring 12-hour international sports-car race is March 20; the event is definitely on, and many top-notch European entries are expected.
Judged by any standard—Top Ten or the proposed new Class Championships—Kimberly is not only the season's champion driver of the United States but also the most improved one. The leading candidate for rookie-of-the-year honors is Ralph Durbin, a skilled, aggressive, 36-year-old Detroit enthusiast, who drives a well-tuned TF-MG. Durbin has logged six class firsts, four seconds and two thirds in seven major competitions covering 12 races, in addition to an overall first and two thirds against such opposition as Porsches.
Looking toward next year, American sports car enthusiasts are hoping that some effort will be made to restore the balance in favor of true road races. The Brynfan Tyddyn, Pa. race on July 25, though limited to 2,000-cc. machines, showed that airfield racing has encouraged slack habits among drivers. There were three unnecessary flips (an MG, a Maserati and a Kieft-Bristol) when contestants forgot that real roads have crowns and that soft shoulders, ditches and stone bridges are more treacherous than cardboard boxes filled with sand.
FASTER AND FASTER
In the overall picture, 1954 has brought to light some interesting things. First: Grand Prix racing's Formula I gave impetus to the attainment of a long-sought ideal—a high-efficiency engine able to develop 100-brake horsepower per liter. Both Mercedes and Ferrari have achieved this goal without sacrificing reliability. Mercedes, with a straight-eight, double-overhead-camshaft, fuel-injection engine, produces 280 b.h.p. at 8,500 r.p.m. for only 2,496 cc. Ferrari, with the new GP 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine, is good for 256 b.h.p. at 7,500 r.p.m. Maserati isn't far behind.
Second: A freakish relationship has developed between the performance factors of sports and GP cars. Several of the latest sports cars are nearly as fast as their outright racing counterparts, yet have neither the roadability nor the brakes to cope with this speed. As if affected by the Detroit virus, both Ferrari and Lancia are engaged in a horsepower and displacement race—Lancia with 3.1, 3.3 and now 3.8 liters; Ferrari with 4.1, 4.5 and latterly 4.9 liters. Yet the comparison is unflattering to the sports car. In terms of efficiency, the Lancia requires 3.3 liters to produce 250 b.h.p., whereas the GP Ferrari tops this output with 2.5 liters and also weighs much less. In terms of performance, the big 12-cylinder sports Ferrari takes 4.9 liters and 347 b.h.p. to do 175 mph, whereas the new Formula I Mercedes needs but eight cylinders, 2.5 liters and 280 b.h.p. to reach close to 200 mph.
Too much power in sports cars can be a hindrance—even a danger. The accidents to Umberto Maglioli (Tour of Sicily) and 1950 World's Champion Nino Farina (Mille Miglia), both of whom crashed in much-fancied 4.9 Ferraris, were clear evidence of the serious errors in judgment that can beset even experienced drivers surfeited with an overdose of torque and horsepower.
SIZE AND SENSE
Third: As a direct corollary to the above, the big sports-car races tend to encourage the development of machines so remote from their production counterparts that they are beyond reach of the public. For this reason, Donald Healey's decision to withdraw the Austin-Healey team from Le Mans and elsewhere is to be applauded rather than criticized as it was by sections of the French press. The Dunlop disc brakes fitted to the Sebring Austin-Healey, for example, cost as much as the entire production model. William Lyons of Jaguar told Briggs Cunningham that Jaguar engineers could build a three-liter (or smaller) engine just as easily as they can build the present one. They don't care one way or the other. Cunningham says, "The present exaggerated displacements are not only dangerous but simply don't make sense."
These are the lessons of the 1954 motor-racing season and the challenges for 1955.
FERRARI: New-Type Formula I (1954 Champion Grand Prix car) has a four-cylinder engine developing 256 b.h.p. "Oversquare" bore results in lowered piston speed. Top speed: 165 mph.
MASERATI: Type 250F, second of Italy's contenders, is derived from model A6SSG, but disposes of 30 more b.h.p. Engine is a six-cylinder, twin-overhead camshaft unit. Top speed: 160 mph.
MECEDES: Aerodynamic 2500 cc. Formula I with a straight-eight engine and advanced fuel injection, is capable of 200 mph. It easily exceeds designers' dream if 100 b.h.p per liter.
FERRARI: 4.9-liter model, winner at Le Mans, has a 12-cylinder engine with output of 347 b.h.p. A faster offshoot of the 4.5-liter car, it is unwieldy, sometimes dangerous. Top speed: 175 mph.
LANCIA: 3.3-liter model, which won 1954 Mille Miglia, has a V6 overhead-camshaft engine and inboard-mounted front brakes. Top speed: 155 mph.
JAGUAR: streamlined D-type model utilizes light alloys. Six-cylinder 250 b.h.p. engine with overhead camshafts is basically similar to that of KX120 sports job. Top speed: 185 mph.
THE WORLD AND U.S. CHAMPIONS
Juan Manuel Fangio, "The Master," is a 43-year-old Argentinian ex-mechanic who in seven years has twice reached the pinnacle of World Championship against the elite of European Grand Prix drivers. Described by the late Professor Ferdinand Porsche, Germany's top designer, as "just the best there ever was," Fangio scored his first triumphs in 1948. He is regarded by many as the suave prima donna of the track because of a studied laziness and condescending politeness highly deceptive to the casual observer. Behind the wheel of a 200 mph Grand Prix machine, his nerves are ice, his judgment faultless and his determination unrelenting. Probably the greatest tribute to Fangio was paid three years ago by Mercedes when, laying their plans for their return to Grand Prix racing, they invited him to head up their team.
Jams Holbrook Kimberly, 47-year-old Chicago sportsman and tycoon, is not only America's No. 1 amateur driver but also an individualist with a flair for elegant dramatization. Driving his 4.5-liter Ferrari to an almost unbroken string of wins at major SCAA events, "Gentleman Jim" has crammed into less than a year a measure of success that normally would take many seasons. He was first attracted to the sport in 1950, and climbed to stylish competence through a succession of ever faster, more powerful cars, finally reaching speeds of 160 mph on his first try with the big Ferrari at MacDill AFB. Suave, handsome and aloof, Kimberly favors bright red racing dress (SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, Aug. 16) to match his car colors. The proudest feather in his cap was a recent offer from Ferrari to join the team as a reserve driver.
RACING ON THE RUNWAYS-A NEW ARENA
The Strategic Air Command's program of national airfield races, initiated in 1952 by General Curtis LeMay and sponsored by the SCCA, gave tremendous impetus to the revival of sports-car competition. Crowd control presents no problems at SAC races such as this typical event held at Chanute AFB, Rantoul, Ill., where Jaguars were preponderant. Smooth, wide runways permit safe speeds of over 150 mph. The use of artificial turns leading into perimeter tracks calls for skillful cornering and gear-shifting.
Italian Grand Prix (Monza) 315 miles—1, Fangio (Mercedes); 2, Hawthorn (Ferrari); 3, Maglioli (Ferrari), Gonzales (Ferrari), tied. Time: 2:47.47 9/10
S.C.C.A. National Race Meet (Thompson Raceway, conn.)—Main event (Class C Modified 3,000-5,000 cc) 15 miles: l, Bill Spear (Ferrari), 73.03 mph; 2, Walt Hansgen (Jaguar-C); 3, Paul Timmins (Jaguar Special)