MOTORING IN MAY
First there’s Indy. The earliest Indianapolis 500 was run on Memorial Day, the last Monday in May in 1911, and next year will mark the 100th running of the ‘500.’ May also means the Monaco Grand Prix. Prior to World War II the Grande Epreuve was mainly run in April, but since 1948 the F1 race has been a May event — with a single exception, in 1962, when Bruce Mclaren won. So, some trivia for your next car club quiz — name the only driver to win the Monaco Grand Prix in June?
May once also meant the great road races in Italy — Targo Florio and the Mille Miglia, the former in Sicily on a track that ended up at 72 kilometres per lap, but when it started in 1906, it was twice that length. The Mille Miglia, however, was only ever a single lap — Brescia to Rome, and then back. All up it was 1000 Roman miles, hence the name, and even though it was run 24 times from 1927 to 1957, this month marks the 60th anniversary of perhaps the most famous Mille Miglia race of them of all. Italians won all but three of them — Mercedes-benz–mounted Rudolf Caracciola in 1931, fellow German Huschke von Hanstein aboard a BMW in 1940 and, of course, 60 years ago the 1955 event was won by Stirling Moss and his trusty sidekick, Denis Jenkinson.
Moss and Jenks averaged 160kph and completed the course in 10 hours, seven minutes and 48 seconds thanks to superb preparation, including Jenks’ legendary ‘toilet roll’ pace notes and the wondrous Mercedes-benz 300 SLR — its number 722 (their start time) forever immortalized.
Second was Juan-manuel Fangio no less, driving solo in his 300 SLR, but his time was 32 minutes slower, while third was a Ferrari. Jenks was, of course, already the world’s most widely read motorsport writer, and further cemented his place in history with his magnificently evocative and detailed report of what it had been like to sit beside Moss, a new boy in the Mercedes team, and still not 26. He completed his piece soon
May has always been a significant month when it comes to
after the event — longhand — and slipped it into an envelope before placing it in the care of the Italian postal system.
Six decades on that report remains one of, if not the most powerful pieces of motor-racing prose in history. Jenks normally observed his motorsport from the edge of the track and then wrote in his — ah — unique style, but this time he had witnessed it alongside an emerging maestro. ‘The Boy’ had come of age — 10 weeks later he took the first of his 16 Formula 1 victories, again in a Mercedes, and again ahead of his mentor Fangio (although the Argentinean was much closer at Aintree for the 1955 British Grand Prix than he’d been on that wobbly figure-of-eight 1000 miles in northern Italy), and from there he went on to become arguably the most famous name in motor racing.
Thinking about May 1955 leads me to Alberto Ascari, the last Italian to be crowned world champion. People lament the fact that the accident that ended the career of Stirling Moss meant the world never had the opportunity to see him go head-tohead with Jim Clark. More recently, Ayrton Senna died just as Michael Schumacher’s star was rising and again, a clash of titans was averted. Right up there with those was another potential grand battle which never quite happened.
Between them, Fangio and Ascari won every world championship from 1951 to 1957, yet rarely did they ever have similarly competitive hardware on the same day. In 1955 the Lancia D50, in Ascari’s hands at least, looked like it just might be a match for the all-conquering Mercedes in Formula 1, and indeed the Italian led — briefly — 80 laps into the 100-lap Monaco Grand Prix until he stuffed up the exit from the tunnel and crashed through the barriers and into the harbour. It remains one of motor racing’s more unusual, but not unique, accidents. The powerfully built Ascari swam to shore, but was killed four days later on May 26, testing a Ferrari at Monza.
Fangio and Ascari, who often attended the cinema together while at race meetings, never got the chance to determine who was the best. Most people, who never saw either race, always rate the five titles of Fangio over the two of Ascari — fair enough, but a funny little bearded journalist who navigated the winning Mercedes in the Mille Miglia always thought otherwise. He rated Fangio, but he rated Ascari higher — although not as highly as he rated Moss.
Alberto Ascari was a member of one of Formula 1’s more exclusive ‘clubs’ — the only other member being a hard-nut Aussie called Paul Hawkins. He went for his unwanted swim a lap earlier than Ascari, and put his privately entered Lotus into the harbour on lap 79. Of note is that this was the race in which Denny Hulme made his Formula 1 Grand Prix debut — two years later he won the world championship! On debut, however, he was eighth after some problems, while compatriot Bruce Mclaren was fifth.
Lotus at the Brickyard
Interestingly, the only Grand Prix Jim Clark never won was Monaco (apart from the New Zealand GP that always eluded him) and although he might have won it 50 years ago this month, the fact is he wasn’t entered. Indeed, he wasn’t even in Europe.
Clark and the Lotus team owner/founder had much bigger fish to fry — half a century ago this month a rear-engined car won the Indianapolis 500 for the first time, and the format has won every one of them since.
Colin Chapman’s earliest visit to Indy was in 1962, as a guest of Dan Gurney. He was horrified and excited — horrified at the dinosaur-like ‘roadsters’ that had dominated the Brickyard since the early ’50s, but excited at the size of the prize money. He was back with his ace driver Clark in 1963, thanks in no small part to Ford, and they damn near won on debut. They were fast again in 1964, but still the ‘roadster’ prevailed — despite extinction looking imminent and inevitable.
Like Moss and Jenks in the Mille Miglia a decade earlier, Clark and Chapman didn’t just win in 1965 — they humbled the opposition, setting new records that would take a few years to beat. For Team Lotus it was a huge payday, but back at Monaco, Graham Hill had won for BRM and he, along with John Surtees (Ferrari) and Dan Gurney (Brabham), would be the people to beat if they were to repeat their 1963 world championship. Clark had already won the season opener in South Africa on New Year’s Day and then, after Indy, won the next five GPS in a row and so, in those days when it was common for a title to be decided over 10 events, had the championship well and truly sewn up — missing Monaco didn’t matter after all!
Phillip Island Classic
This event is held over the first weekend of March, meaning that the really enthusiastic can combine it with the Grand Prix the following weekend. Phillip Island is an easy twohour cruise south of Melbourne and, in the five or six times I’ve been, I’ve experienced everything from heat so intense it causes ice creams to disappear before your eyes, to polar blasts right off Bass Strait. This year didn’t present quite those extremes, but the coastal Victoria location means you pack for multiple eventualities. Thursday and Friday were primarily cold and/or wet, Sunday was warm and Saturday had something for everyone — but this shouldn’t deter you if this ‘circuit of circuits’ is on your personal bucket list. I hadn’t been since 2009, but it didn’t take long to be reminded what a magnificent facility this is, with what must be the most picturesque setting in Australasia.
The fields are generally huge, and while some classes are just like those at home — Muscle Cars and Formula Ford on the surface at least looking much like ours — there is a range of machinery that, frankly, takes your breath away. It’s not every day you happen upon an ERA, Maserati and Ferrari sports racers from the ’50s, a Lago-talbot Grand Prix car, or that you see a Canam car in a livery you recognize, but had never previously combined with one of Mclaren’s finest. I give you an M8F in the familiar colours of Team VDS.
Staying with sports cars, the last time I saw Group C Porsches going for it was ‘in period’ at Le Mans in the early
1980s when they ruled the 24-hour event. Hopefully the owners of the 962s pictured here — note one short tail, one long tail — can be persuaded to bring them to Hampton Downs for the 2016 Festival. the race. Sure there were some positives (unless you picked Alonso to be world champion), but I couldn’t help but be amused by the first three cars — Mercedes, Mercedes, Ferrari — names from the past, and just like that result in the Mille Miglia 60 years ago this month.