The 1937 French Drivers Championship
How Raymond Sommer became the first Champion de France in History
- Rémi Paolozzi
- March 7, 2007
- The pre-war French Drivers Championships, by Rémi Paolozzi
- Robert Benoist, 'Williams' & Jean-Pierre Wimille - A different danger, three champions at war, by Richard Armstrong
- Delage - A World Champion manufacturer, by Leif Snellman/Josh Lintz
- Delahaye - René Dreyfus and the upset at Pau, by Leif Snellman
- Raymond Sommer - The heart of a lion, by Felix Muelas/Michael Müller
- Talbot Monoplaces - The pre-war Talbot single-seaters, by Leif Snellman
- Talbot-Lago - A case of what-could-have-been, by Mattijs Diepraam
- Jean-Pierre Wimille - The uncrowned king of the forties, by Mattijs Diepraam
Jean-Pierre Wimille, Raymond Sommer, Gianfranco Comotti
Bugatti T59S, Talbot T150C, Talbot T150C
3 Heures de Marseille (June 6, 1937)
At the end of December 1936, a journalist from L’Intransigeant, a daily newspaper in which French writers such as Malraux and Saint-Exupéry wrote some of their greatest works, suggested the creation of a French Drivers Championship.
Said journalist was a man called Georges Fraichard. He was one of the great French journalists, specialized in motor racing. A specialist of Le Mans, he wrote several books about this race, such as La ronde impitoyable and Le Mans story. Later, he even became the official speaker of the 24 Heures. He also worked for various French car magazines such as Moteurs and Auto-Journal. And last but not least, Fraichard was among the men at the origin of the Coupe Gordini, the French series that helped discover new drivers in the sixties.
In fact, many countries like the US, Germany, Italy, United Kingdom, Switzerland and even Hungary had been organizing their own national drivers championship since many years. But France, one of the countries where motor racing was born, had no championship at all. It was a pity as some France's drivers were top-class: Wimille, Dreyfus and Sommer were among the best of their time. Moreover, in 1936, the Automobile Club de France created a kind of national formula, based on sports cars, to compensate for the lack of competitiveness of French Grand Prix cars in the Formule Internationale. Big French manufacturers like Talbot, Delahaye and Bugatti designed cars to enter in these French races organized under the sports car rule.
So, Mr Pérouse, President of the ACF sporting commission, gave Mr Fraichard an answer through the media: he was in favour of such a national championship, even giving out some details about his ideas:
1. Only French drivers would be allowed to take part in the championship
2. Each race should be weighed by a factor according its importance
3. In order to encourage drivers to take part in the races that made up the championship, each entrant of a race would get either one or two points
4. The point system could be as follows:
- 1st: 10 points
- 2nd: 8 points
- 3rd: 6 points
- 4th: 4 points
- 5th: 2 points
These points would then be multiplied by the factor of the race (see 2.)
5. To decide between ex-aequo drivers, their results in the main races would be taken into account
6. The name of the car should appear next to its driver.
That last proposal was probably meant to promote the French constructors which were in crisis, as explained above. Talbot for instance went into liquidation in September 1936.
At the beginning of January, about one month after Mr Pérouse’s proposal, the FNCAF (Fédération Nationale des Clubs Automobiles de France) officially created the French drivers championship.
The rules weren't published just yet but it was decided to grant FRF 10,000 (about €5,000) to the champion. FRF 5,000 would be given by the FNCAF itself and FRF 5,000 by the organizers of the French races. The list of these races was not yet known when the first important French event of the calendar took place at Pau.
Before we go to Pau it is perhaps interesting to introduce you to the main French teams. The favourites were undoubtedly Bugatti, Talbot, and the Ecurie Bleue. The latter was in fact Lucy Schell's team which was the semi-works Delahaye team, as it was decided by Charles Weiffenbach in December 1936. Consequently, the link between the French manufacturer and the Ecurie Bleue was the same as the link between the Scuderia Ferrari and Alfa Romeo.
The Ecurie Bleue drivers were René Dreyfus, René Carrière and Laury Schell. Dreyfus was 32 and began racing in 1925. He had just left the Talbot (sports) and Ferrari (single-seaters) teams to join Schell’s team. René Carrière, was from the south of France, like Dreyfus. He was initially a rally driver and switched to sports cars in 1936 by joining Schell's team. Last but not least, Laury Schell was Lucy's husband and, like his wife, a driver who had had some success in rally. The cars were the old and reliable Delahaye 135CS but a brand new V12 car was about to enter racing.
Since 1935, Talbot was managed by the Italian Tony Lago. The team had some financial difficulties, as I mentioned above. Fortunately, the company could go on working. The car was the T150C whose first victory was in a minor event in 1936. It suffered some reliability problems but the winter was profitable for the team, as it enabled them to improve some features of the car. The drivers were Albert Divo, Gianfranco Comotti, Raymond Sommer and René Le Bègue.
Divo was 42 and considered the team leader, at least at the beginning of the season. The best of his racing career was behind him (he won two Targa Florio events in 1928 and 1929) but his experience was of great value. Comotti was 31 and began racing in 1928. He was a former Scuderia Ferrari driver but decided to leave Italy and return to France, being opposed to fascism as he was. Tony Lago chose Comotti over Trossi or Taruffi. Sommer was also 31 and began his racing career in 1931. He won Le Mans in 1932 and 1933. He was one of the best drivers of his era and in 1937, he was a semi-works driver for Talbot. This was also the case for 23-year-old Le Bègue who began racing in 1935 and came over from Lucy Schell's team.
Wimille (29 at the time) was the sole Bugatti regular. He had won some major races during the previous year (ACF GP, Marne GP) and was considered by Charles Faroux as the best driver in the world, besides Tazio Nuvolari. Robert Benoist, the virtual 1927 world champion, was also driving for the Bugatti team, at least occasionally.
Round 1: Grand Prix de Pau (Sports) – February 21, 1937
Circuit: Pau, (80 laps x 2,76km = 220.8km)
Organizer: Automobile Club Basco-Béarnais
It was winter. Even the fact that the circuit was in the South-Western part of France, not far from the Pyrénées mountains, did not prevent the weather from being harsh and cold. It had rained on Sunday morning so when the flag dropped the track of this street race was still wet. Wimille (Bugatti) was on pole with Dreyfus (Delahaye) and Bira (Delahaye) on the first row.
As soon as the start was given, Wimille flew away. Nobody could catch him as he was fastest by 3 or 4 seconds over his pursuers. He was the best. Behind him, Dreyfus and Bira fought for second place but Sommer (Talbot) succeeded in overtaking both drivers while Bira retired on lap 6. Two laps before, Brunet (Delahaye) had been the first driver to retire.
On lap 8, Divo (Talbot) overtook Dreyfus. At this moment, Wimille was ahead of Sommer, Divo and Dreyfus. Nevertheless, Divo did not increase his gap with Dreyfus who took the third place back on lap 14. Six laps later he was 7’’ ahead of Divo and 11’’ behind Sommer. Wimille was about 1’30’’ ahead of Sommer. Incredible! Behind this quartet, Raph was ahead of Perrot, Carrière, Chaboud, Maillard-Brune, Schell, Paul and de Saugé. All these drivers were at the wheel of Delahayes, except de Saugé who was driving a Bugatti.
On lap 20, everybody, except Sommer, was one lap behind the leader who set fastest lap (1’55’’) on lap 17. Ten laps later, Sommer was lapped too. On lap 32, Divo got very close to Dreyfus and overtook him. The fight between both drivers continued as Dreyfus retook third place on lap 40.
But problems began for Talbot. Their cars were the fastest but also the heaviest, and their brakes were not as efficient as they should have been. It meant that drivers had to brake much sooner than during the beginning of the race, and they began to lose ground. Divo was well ahead of his pursuers so it was not a problem for him but the braking problems posed more difficulties for Sommer. On lap 60 he was 22’’ ahead of Dreyfus whereas on lap 77 the gap was down to only 8’’. He was losing more or less 1 second a lap. However, he made a last-ditch effort and took fastest lap (1’54’’) on the very last lap.
Divo was fourth, about one lap behind Sommer and Dreyfus. He was 46’’ ahead of “Raph” who was followed by Carrière at 12’’. Perrot, who was initially between “Raph” and Carrière, retired with gearbox trouble seven laps before the finish.
|1.||J.P. Wimille||Bugatti T59S||2h41’15’’ (avg. 82,435 kph)|
|2.||R. Sommer||Talbot T150C||- 1 lap|
|3.||R. Dreyfus||Delahaye 135CS||- 1 lap|
|4.||A. Divo||Talbot T150C||- 2 laps|
|5.||« Raph »||Delahaye 135CS||- 2 laps|
|6.||R. Carrière||Delahaye 135CS||- 2 laps|
|7.||E. Chaboud||Delahaye 135CS||- 4 laps|
|8.||P. Maillard-Brune||Delahaye 135CS||- 5 laps|
|9.||L. Schell (USA)||Delahaye 135CS||- 5 laps|
|10.||J. Paul||Delahaye 135CS||- 8 laps|
|11.||R.de Saugé d’Estrez||Bugatti T57S||- 11 laps|
Did not finish:
|A. Perrot||Delahaye 135CS||lap 73|
|R. Brunet||Delahaye 135CS||lap 6|
|B. Bira (T)||Bugatti T57S||lap 4|
R.Sommer (Talbot T150C), 1’54’’ (avg. 87,461 kph)
Two days after the race, some details were given to the media about the championship:
- The drivers have to be French and members of the ACF
- The European Grandes Epreuves of the international calendar would be weighed by a factor of 2
- The other races would be weighed by a factor of 1
- The point system was decided as follows:
- 1st: 10 points
- 2nd: 8 points
- 3rd: 6 points
- 4th: 4 points
- 5th: 2 points
- Other entrants: 0,5 point
- The Champion de France would earn FRF 10,000 and receive the ACF gold medal.
Five days later, on February 27, the first official championship ranking was published as below in L’Auto:
After one race (Pau):
|1.||J.P. Wimille||Bugatti||10 pts|
|2.||R. Sommer||Talbot||8 pts|
|3.||R. Dreyfus||Delahaye||6 pts|
|4.||A. Divo||Talbot||4 pts|
|5.||« Raph »||Delahaye||2 pts|
|6.||A. Perrot||Delahaye||0.5 pt|
|R. Carrière||Delahaye||0.5 pt|
|R. Brunet||Delahaye||0.5 pt|
|P. Maillard-Brune||Delahaye||0.5 pt|
|J. Paul||Delahaye||0.5 pt|
|E. Chaboud||Delahaye||0.5 pt|
It was specified that Laury Schell could not be taken into account because he was not a French citizen. Moreover, it is surprising to notice that Raymond de Saugé (11th in Pau) is the only French driver who did not appear in the standings. Did the journalist forget him? Maybe Raymond de Saugé was not a member of the ACF? Maybe each driver who wanted to be classified in the championship had to be registered specifically for this competition? I have no answer, but the performances of Raymond de Saugé d’Estrez did not play a significant role in the competition.
Then, on March 10th, the official calendar of the French championship was given:
- February 21: GP de Pau, factor 1
- May 16: GP de Tunisie, factor 1
- June 6: 3 Heures de Marseille, factor 1
- June 19-20: 24 Heures du Mans, factor 1
- June 27: GP de Picardie, factor 1
- July 4: GP de l’ACF, factor 2
- July 11: GP de Belgique, factor 2
- July 18: GP de la Marne, factor 1
- July 25: GP d’Allemagne, factor 2
- August 1: GP du Comminges, factor 1
- August 8: GP de Monaco, factor 2
- August 22: GP de Suisse, factor 2
- September 4-5: Tourist Trophy, factor 2
- September 12: GP d’Italie, factor 2
But some three weeks later Maurice Henry wrote an article in L’Auto, stating that the championship should be “100% French”. He disagreed with the fact that there were some foreign races counting towards the championship, citing the example of the Italian and German championships of which the races were only national ones. Moreover, the foreign races were weighed with a factor 2 whereas the GP de la Marne at Reims was only weighed with a factor 1. Clearly, Maurice Henry wanted to give priority to the French races and promote these.
Another point was that this championship was, according to him, made for Jean-Pierre Wimille, the only French driver to enter the Grandes Epreuves. In fact, this was wrong as neither the French driver nor his Bugatti team had planned to take part in these foreign Grands Prix.
Round 2: Grand Prix de Tunisie (Sports) – May 16th, 1937
Circuit: Carthage (3 heats of 8 laps x 12,6km = 3 heats of 100,8km = 302,4km)
Organizer: Automobile Club de Tunisie
This second race of the French championship took place under the sun of North Africa. Tunisia was, like a big part of Africa, a French colony. The race was divided in three heats of 8 laps. There were 45 minutes between each heat and no refuelling. As we will see, this had a big impact on the final result of the race. The winner was determined by the aggregate results of the three heats.
The main French drivers were there, except Robert Brunet who was preparing for Le Mans, and Philippe Maillard-Brune who did not find any team to lend him a car. Among the entrants there was Lami, a local driver at the wheel of his Lancia Astura, Franco Cortese at the wheel of an Alfa Romeo and “Raph” at the wheel of a Talbot T150C entered by André Embiricos. Talbot came to Tunisia with improved brakes, as this was the main weakness of the T150C in Pau.
During qualifying, Sommer (Talbot) was the fastest (4’55’’2, avg 153,554kph), followed by Dreyfus (Delahaye) in 4’57’’8, Carrière (Delahaye, 5’06’’8), Wimille (Bugatti, 5’07’’6) and Schell (Delahaye, 5’10’’0).
Tunisia: Sommer’s Talbot in the foreground
On Sunday, the start of the first heat was given at 1:30pm. It was a Le Mans-type start. “Raph” and Dreyfus made a really bad start but the latter succeeded in being fourth at the end of the first lap, behind Sommer, Wimille (Bugatti) and Paul (Delahaye). One lap later, Dreyfus overtook Paul whereas Wimille overtook Sommer and flew away. He even set fastest lap of the day in 4’50’’.
Carrière and Paul made a pit stop while Wimille was increasing the gap to Sommer: at the end of the seventh lap he was 27’’ ahead of the ‘wild boar’ and one lap later he was 35’’ ahead. But at the finish line he was welcomed by a black flag. Wimille did not understand and decided to do one more lap. In the meantime, the officials realized the mistake and took the chequered flag to put an end to the first heat.
So finally, the result of the first heat was: 1st Wimille; 2nd Sommer; 3rd Dreyfus; 4th Paul; 5th Chaboud; 6th “Raph”. And don’t forget the ninth lap of Wimille!
The start of the second heat was given at 3:00pm. Jannin could not take part in this race because of his tyres which were in a really bad state.
Anyway, Wimille flew away immediately and easily won the heat, just ahead of Sommer. Dreyfus, who made a bad start, was third followed by Carrière, Schell and Paul.
Chaboud retired while “Raph”, who finished the heat, decided to retire and did not take part in the third and last heat because of an undergeared car and a chronic misfire. The result of the second heat was as follows: 1st Wimille; 2nd Sommer; 3rd Dreyfus; 4th Carrière; 5th Schell; 6th Paul.
In the third heat, Wimille flew away once more while Dreyfus, at last, made a good start. So Wimille was leading ahead of Sommer and Dreyfus. But on the second lap Dreyfus overtook Sommer who then took the second place back one lap later. Dreyfus retook Sommer one more time but on the seventh lap he had to slow down because of a puncture. Consequently, Sommer, Carrière, Paul, Schell and Perrot got ahead of him.
In the meantime, Wimille began his very last lap to apparently win the Tunisian GP with ease. He was one minute ahead of Sommer. But about 4km before the finish line he stopped his Bugatti, having run out of fuel. The consequences of the supplementary lap of the first heat were really frustrating for the French ace. Maybe he could have won this GP if he had only tried to follow in Sommer’s wake. His victory was certain, given the superiority of his car, and if he had driven more slowly, his car would have consumed less fuel. But Wimille was a champion and wanted to win every heat. He also surely underestimated the consumption of his Bugatti! If only the officials had shown the right flag at the right moment at the end of the first heat… It meant that Sommer won the heat ahead of Carrière.
So, Sommer won the race. He was, like Wimille, a champion and a gentleman. He did not appreciate this lucky victory and came to shake Wimille’s hand during the lap of honour. Only a great champion and a great man could act like that.
|1.||R. Sommer||Talbot T150C||1h52’16’’4|
|2.||R. Dreyfus||Delahaye 135CS|
|3.||L. Schell (USA)||Delahaye 135CS|
|4.||R. Carrière||Delahaye 135CS|
|5.||J. Paul||Delahaye 135CS|
|6.||F. de Brémond/
|7.||F. Cortese (I)||Alfa Romeo 6C 2300 Pescara|
|8.||C. Lami||Lancia Astura|
Did not finish:
|J.P. Wimille||Bugatti T59S||Heat 3|
|‘’Raph’’||Talbot T150C||Heat 2|
|E. Chaboud||Delahaye 135CS||Heat 2|
|Jannin||Delahaye 20CV Spéciale||Heat 1|
|G. Léoz-Abad (E)||Bugatti T57S|
J.P.Wimille (Bugatti), 4’50’’ (avg. 156,414 kph)
Championship (after 2 races):
|« Raph »||Delahaye/Talbot||2||0.5||2.5|
Because of this retirement, Wimille was only third whereas he could have been the leader of the championship with 20 points, followed by Sommer (16 points) and Dreyfus (12 points).
Schell was in 4th position in the standings published by L’Auto. It was only a mistake and Schell, an American citizen whose heart was French, never appeared again in the standings. Another mistake were the 2 points granted to Raph, instead of 2,5, in this same L’Auto classification, as if the driver had not taken part in the race in Tunisia.
Round 3: 3 Heures de Marseille (Sports) – June 6th, 1937
Circuit: Miramas, (3 one-hour heats, on a 5km track)
Organizer: Automobile Club Marseille-Provence
The French drivers were back to France for the third race of the championship at Miramas near Marseille.
Talbot came with new improvements, reducing the weight of the T150C from 1,060kg to 985kg (-7%). The power of the engine was also increased. Consequently, the Talbots were considered, logically, as the favourites for the 3 hours of Marseille.
As in Tunisia, there were three heats of one hour each. It was decided to put in two chicanes for the first heat, only one chicane for the second heat and no chicane at all on the third heat. Presumably, the Talbots, which were the fastest cars, could dominate the last heat as the track of Miramas was a very fast (and boring!).
For Wimille the only chance to win was to be ahead of the Talbots by a huge margin at the end of the first heat and to try to follow the path on the last two heats. The Talbots were the fastest and, moreover, the Bugatti had a small fuel tank (100 l.) versus 200 liters for the cars of Sommer, Comotti, Divo and Morel. It meant that the car from Molsheim was lightest but it also meant that a pit stop for refuelling was necessary during the race. Not easy for Wimille. Above all when he realized that Sommer was dominating the practice sessions, whatever the number of chicanes!
So, on sunday, at 2:00pm, 25 cars were on the grid. De Brémond/Perrot (Delahaye) and an old Bugatti did not take part in the race because of their accident during the practice sessions. Each driver was in his car, the engines were switched off. They were waiting for the flag before starting the engine. While Divo (Talbot) made a bad start and lost about one minute, Sommer took the lead over Wimille, Comotti (Talbot) and Morel (Talbot). On lap 3, Wimille took the lead and distanced Sommer by 1’’ a lap. Comotti and Morel were far from the leaders. Morel was slower and overtaken by Dreyfus who retired soon after. Divo was fighting to gain places.
At mid-race, Wimille was still leading. Sommer was second, Comotti was third at 45’’ and Morel was back in fourth position but one lap behind Wimille. At the end of the heat, Wimille won by 25’’ over Sommer and by 1’25’’ over Comotti. There was no refuelling between the two heats, which was a problem for Bugatti. It was not the case of Talbot. So the 25’’ over Sommer were not enough. Wimille surely knew he had lost the 3 Hours of Marseille.
HEAT 1 (with 2 chicanes):
|1.||J.P. Wimille||Bugatti T59S||1h00’52’’|
|2.||R. Sommer||Talbot T150C||+25’’|
|3.||G. Comotti (I)||Talbot T150C||+1’25’’|
|4.||R. Carrière||Delahaye 135CS||- 1 lap|
|5.||A. Divo||Talbot T150C||- 1 lap|
|6.||L. Schell (USA)||Delahaye 135CS||- 1 lap|
|7.||J. Paul||Delahaye 135CS||- 1 lap|
|8.||D. Porthault||Delahaye 135CS||- 3 laps|
|9.||A. Morel||Talbot T150C||- 3 laps|
|10.||Mrs G. Rouault||Delahaye 135CS||- 4 laps|
|11.||L. Villeneuve||Delahaye 135CS|
|12.||P. Levegh||Bugatti T57 TT|
|13.||M. Contet||Riley TT Sprite Pourtout|
|14.||F. Cortese (I)||Alfa Romeo 6C 2300 Pescara|
|15.||S. Banti (I)||Alfa Romeo 6C 2300 Pescara|
|17.||P. Merlin||Delahaye 135CS|
|19.||M. Collier (GB)||Aston Martin Ulster|
Did not finish:
|R. Dreyfus||Delahaye 135CS|
|G. de Rham (I)||Alfa Romeo 6C 2300 Pescara|
|G. Leoz||Bugatti T57S|
Laury Schell, who was sixth, decided to gave his car to Dreyfus for the second heat.
It is possible that Wimille thought it was his day when Sommer stalled at the start of the second heat. Sommer lost about thirty seconds and finally began the race on the very last position. Wimille fought with Comotti but the latter took the lead and made the best lap of the heat (165.731kph). In the meantime Sommer overtook each driver, Wimille and Comotti included, and won the heat. He was the new leader of the race, after two heats. Wimille was now second while Comotti was third and very close to him.
HEAT 2 (with 1 chicane):
|1.||R. Sommer||Talbot T150C||1h01’39’’|
|2.||G. Comotti (I)||Talbot T150C||+ 6’’|
|3.||J.P. Wimille||Bugatti T59S||+ 1’19’’|
|4.||A. Divo||Talbot T150C||+ 1’26’’|
|5.||R. Carrière||Delahaye 135CS||- 1 lap|
|6.||R. Dreyfus*||Delahaye 135CS||- 1 lap|
|7.||A. Morel||Talbot T150C||- 1 lap|
|8.||J. Paul||Delahaye 135CS||- 2 laps|
|9.||P. Levegh||Bugatti T57 TT|
|10.||Mrs G. Rouault||Delahaye 135CS|
|M. Contet||Riley TT Sprite Pourtout|
|P. Merlin||Delahaye 135CS|
|F. Cortese (I)||Alfa Romeo 6C 2300 Pescara|
TEMPORARY CLASSIFICATION (after two heats):
|1.||R. Sommer||Talbot T150C||2h02’56’’|
|2.||J.P. Wimille||Bugatti T59S||+ 54’’|
|3.||G. Comotti (I)||Talbot T150C||+ 1’06’’|
|4.||A. Divo||Talbot T150C||- 1 lap|
|5.||R. Carrière||Delahaye 135CS||- 2 laps|
|6.||L. Schell/R. Dreyfus||Delahaye 135CS||- 2 laps|
|7.||J. Paul||Delahaye 135CS||- 3 laps|
|8.||A. Morel||Talbot T150C||- 4 laps|
There were 16 cars at the start of the last heat. Nine cars had retired from the beginning of the meeting. It was obvious that this heat, with no chicane, was the fastest and could not escape from Talbot.
As early as the first lap Sommer was the leader, followed by Comotti and Wimille. Three laps later, Comotti was still second, 12’’ ahead of Wimille. It meant that he was now the virtual second of the 3 hours of Marseille. The three drivers were followed by Divo who became a good third when Wimille retired at mid-race. This second retirement in a row was a real problem for the Bugatti driver as his main competitor in the championship, Raymond Sommer, would certainly win the race and increase the gap in the championship. A few laps later, Dreyfus also retired because of a broken petrol pipe. For the Talbot team, it was much better: Morel overtook Carrière and became fourth. Four Talbots were in the lead.
Morel suffered a puncture and went to the pits. He lost only one place but succeeded in overtaking Carrière one more time. The standings did not change and Sommer won the heat as well as the 3 hours of Marseille.
|1.||R. Sommer||Talbot T150C||1h00’04’’|
|2.||G. Comotti (I)||Talbot T150C||+ 20’’|
|3.||A. Divo||Talbot T150C||+ ??|
|4.||A. Morel||Talbot T150C||- 1 lap|
|5.||R. Carrière||Delahaye 135CS||- 1 lap|
|6.||J. Paul||Delahaye 135CS||- 1 lap|
|7.||Mrs G. Rouault||Delahaye 135CS||- 1 lap|
|8.||P. Levegh||Bugatti T57 TT||- 7 laps|
|9.||Villamarina (I)||Alfa Romeo 6C 2300 Pescara|
|10.||L. Villeneuve||Delahaye 135CS|
|11.||D. Porthault||Delahaye 135CS|
|12.||M. Collier (GB)||Aston Martin Ulster|
|J.P. Wimille||Bugatti T59S|
|R. Dreyfus||Delahaye 135CS|
|1.||R. Sommer||Talbot T150C||3h03’00’’|
|2.||G. Comotti (I)||Talbot T150C||+ 1’26’’|
|3.||A. Divo||Talbot T150C||- 1 lap|
|4.||R. Carrière||Delahaye 135CS||- 3 laps|
|5.||A. Morel||Talbot T150C||- 5 laps|
|6.||J. Paul||Delahaye 135CS||- 6 laps|
|7.||Mrs G. Rouault||Delahaye 135CS|
|8.||P. Levegh||Bugatti T57 TT|
|9.||D. Porthault||Delahaye 135CS|
|10.||L. Villeneuve||Delahaye 135CS|
Gianfranco Comotti (Talbot T150C), 1’48’’6 (avg. 165,731kph)
Championship (after 3 races):
|7.||« Raph »||Delahaye/Talbot||2||0.5||-||2.5|
One more time Wimille lost a good opportunity to score points and surely missed 6 points. He lost 15 points in two races and was distanced in the championship. On the other hand, the race at Miramas was really positive for Sommer who distanced himself from both Dreyfus and Wimille, his two main competitors. But it was only the beginning of the championship.
It is strange to notice that L’Auto, when it published the standings of the championship after three races, indicated 10.5 points for Divo. Nevertheless Divo was not in Tunisia. So I decided to consider it as a mistake, even if this 0.5 mysterious point appeared all along L’Auto’s record of the championship.
Round 4: 24 Heures du Mans (Sports) – June 19th & 20th, 1937
Circuit: Le Mans (24 hours on a 13,492km track)
Organizer: Automobile Club de l’Ouest
Two weeks after Miramas it was now time to take part in one of the most famous races in France and in the world: the 24 Heures du Mans. In fact, this race was considered to be less prestigious than the Grand Prix de l’ACF which was to take place in Montlhéry, two weeks after Le Mans. So, some teams prefered to not enter Le Mans in order to prepare for the ACF GP. That was the case of Talbot who decided, late May, to cancel its Le Mans participation. Initially the official team wanted to enter two cars for Comotti/Divo and Morel/Chinetti. Sommer was not entered by Tony Lago’s team because he was entered in an Alfa Romeo, co-driven by Guidotti.
Le Mans was also the come back of Louis Chiron after his last race in July 1936. He was the co-driver of Luigi Chinetti at the wheel of a private Talbot T50C, with the approval of Mr Lago, who wanted to hire Chiron for the next races of the season.
Bugatti was of course there with two cars for Veyron/Labric and Wimille/Benoist. The latter did not not know that he was about to take part in his very last race. The car was a T57G. It was also called the “Tank”. Its body was futuristic for the thirties. It was a kind of premonition of the shape of the fifites. Its engine was a 3.26-litre and was more powerful than the Talbot and the Delahaye, with 175hp and a maximum speed of 210kph. On the other hand it weighed 1,250kg and was heavier than its competitors. This marvellous car was designed in 1936 and won its very first race, the Grand Prix de l’ACF, driven by Wimille and Sommer. There were only three T57G built. One of them won every race in which it started. It was the one which won the ACF ’36 and Marne ’36. This car was now at Le Mans, driven by Wimille and Benoist…
As usual there were many Delahayes: two entered by the Ecurie Bleue (Schell/Carrière and Dreyfus/Stoffel) and five others entered by the usual “Delahaye gentlemen drivers”.
Delage was also at Le Mans, even if it was not official, through the presence of Louis Gérard’s D6-70 Figoni coupé with Jacques de Valence as a co-driver. It was Gérard’s very first race.
Darl’mat, a Peugeot tuner, entered three beautiful D402s while Gordini, the small constructor from Boulevard Victor in Paris, entered no less than five cars. Yves Giraud-Cabantous entered his usual Chenard & Walcker for Contet/Roux and himself/Rigoulot whereas Ecurie Eudel entered two Riley TT Sprite, bodied by Pourtout, for Trévoux/Lapchin and Forestier/Caron.
There were also foreign entries, mainly from Germany (four Adlers and one BMW) and the United Kingdom (three Aston Martins, one HRG, one MG, four Singer Nine, three Austin Seven ‘Grasshopper’, two Frazer Nash and one Lagonda).
Given the length and the importance of the 24 Hours, the sporting commission of the ACF decided to grant the totality of the points to each driver. Consequently the two drivers of the winning car would get 10 points each, the drivers of the car that would arrive second would get 8 points each, etc…
At 4:00pm, when the start was given, Brunet (Delahaye) was the first to fly away, followed by Raph (Talbot). Nevertheless, Sommer (Alfa Romeo) was the leader at the end of the first lap while Wimille (Bugatti) was ninth. One lap later, the latter was the fastest and took the fourth position while his team-mate Veyron was third. Three laps later Wimille was the new leader and on lap 8 he was 18’’ ahead of Sommer. They were followed by Veyron, Carrière (Delahaye), Brunet, Paul (Delahaye), Dreyfus (Delahaye), Trémoulet (Delahaye), Raph, Chiron (Talbot), Bénazet (Delahaye), Hindmarsh (Lagonda), Léoz (Bugatti), Aldington (Frazer Nash), Gérard (Delage), Hertzberger (Aston Martin) and Trévoux (Riley).
Then, at 4:50pm, happened one of the most tragic accidents in Le Mans history. At Maison Blanche René Kippeurt lost control of his Bugatti Type 44 and was ejected from his car. His body was lying in the middle of the road. Then came seven cars who had to avoid both Kippeurt’s body and the wreck of the Bug’, which was situated 100 metres from the driver. Roth (BMW) was the first to brake. As a result he went off of the road and somersaulted. Then, Fairfield (Frazer Nash) wanted to avoid Roth’s car and crashed his car against Kippeurt’s car. Then it was the turn of Trémoulet to crash his Delahaye against Fairfield’s car. He was followed by Raph who did the same. The tragedy went on with Forestier’s Riley. The latter jumped out of his car and ran back to signal to other drivers who were coming that they had to slow down. The consequences of this multiple accident were horrific: Kippeurt was dead, Raph was seriously injured and Fairfield was severely injured and died two days later.
This accident had other consequences on the race itself. Sommer missed some gears by slowing down too rapidly. It was fatal to the engine of his Alfa. In the meantime the radiator of Chiron’s Talbot was holed by a piece of metal while he was passing through the wrecks at Maison Blanche. It was then decided to neutralize the race in order to clean the track where the accident happened.
At 6:00pm the “show” went on. Wimille was still in the lead, followed by Brunet, Carrière, Paul, Veyron and Dreyfus. At 7:00pm, Brunet stopped to hand over to Parguel who went out of the road a bit later and spent a lot of time trying to get his Delahaye out of the sand.
Dreyfus was another unfortunate driver. He handed over to Stoffel who broke the Delahaye’s door during the pit stop. The marshalls enforced the team to repair it. They lost about 40 minutes because of this technical problem. It meant a loss of about seven laps.
Bugatti’s tactic was to delay the pit stops to the maximum and try to refuel every three hours and a half instead of the usual three hours. Thus with less stops, the Bugatti could increase the gap to its pursuers. To be precise: it was mandatory to have a minimum of 24 laps (about 314 km) between each refuelling stop. Bugatti wanted to do so every 500 km.
At 7:30pm Dreyfus took the wheel to try to recover the lost ground while Brunet did the same with his Delahaye. Wimille was leading ahead of Carrière, Paul, Veyron, Léoz and Fane (Frazer Nash).
Thirty minutes later, Benoist, who was now at the wheel of the leading Bugatti, was ahead of Schell/Carrière and Labric/Veyron. Then a storm and a huge rain came over Le Mans but, fortunately, it did not last.
Then night set in at Le Mans. Dreyfus and Brunet were driving as if they were in a Grand Prix. They refused to be relayed by their co-drivers. It worked for Dreyfus who was fourth when he handed over to Stoffel at 4:30 am. Unfortunately for Brunet, who was tenth when he handed over to Plaguel, his co-driver broke the gearbox.
So, at 5:00 am, after 13 hours, the standings were as follows:
1. Wimille/Benoist (Bugatti)
2. Schell/Carrière (Delahaye), - 6 laps
3. Paul/Mongin (Delahaye), - 7 laps
4. Dreyfus/Stoffel (Delahaye), - 8 laps
5. Veyron/Labric (Bugatti)
6. Gérard/de Valence (Delage)
7. Hertzberger/Debille (Aston Martin)
8. Villeneuve/Vagniez (Delahaye)
There were 28 remaining cars, with seven French cars among the eight first teams: four Delahayes, two Bugattis and one Delage. But, soon after 5:00am, Veyron/Labric retired. One hour later it was Hertzberger/Debille’s turn and, at 8:00am it was up to Villeneuve/Lagniez to retire because of an engine fire during a pit stop. At this moment there were only twenty cars remaining out of forty-nine starters. The classification was now as follows:
1. Wimille/Benoist (Bugatti)
2. Schell/Carrière (Delahaye)
3. Paul/Mongin (Delahaye)
4. Dreyfus/Stoffel (Delahaye)
5. Gérard/de Valence (Delage)
The race was not over as there were eight hours from the end. Some disappointments were to come. At 10:00am, Schell/Carrière retired. Dreyfus/Stoffel was now second as they overtook Paul/Mongin. But their brakes were in a really bad state because of the high rhythm of Dreyfus during the night. Thus they had to slow down and let Paul/Mongin pass them.
At noon, the race could have another physionomy. Indeed, the leading Bugatti was eleven laps ahead of the two Delahayes. Suddenly, the Bugatti was not passing anymore. What was happening? In fact, Benoist had gone off the road. He succeeded in restarting the engine and was finally back on track. He had lost about four laps but it was the last incident among the leaders. So, after a 24-hour battle the team who dominated the race received the chequered flag and won. It was the last race of the Bugatti T57G. The beautiful race of Gérard/de Valence also deserves to be noticed. It was the very first race of Louis Gérard who, a few weeks before, did not even think about racing. A talented driver was revealed.
|1.||J.P.Wimille/R.Benoist||Bugatti T57G||243 laps
1st in the Index of Performance
1st in the 3 to 5-litre category
|2.||J.Paul/M.Mongin||Delahaye 135CS||- 7 laps|
|3.||R.Dreyfus/H.Stoffel||Delahaye 135CS||- 12 laps|
|4.||J.de Valence/L.Gérard||Delage D6-70||- 28 laps
1st in the 2 to 3-litre category
|Aston Martin Ulster||- 38 laps
1st in the 1.1 to 1.5-litre category
|Adler Trumpf||- 38 laps
1st in the 1.5 to 2-litre category
|7.||J.Pujol/M.Contet||Peugeot DS402 Darl'Mat||- 40 laps|
|8.||C.de Cortanze/M.Serre||Peugeot DS402 Darl'Mat||- 40 laps|
P. von Guilleaume(D)
|Adler Trumpf||- 41 laps|
|10.||D.Porthault/L.Rigal||PeugeotDS402 Darl'Mat||<- 46 laps/font>|
|Aston Martin Speed Model||- 50 laps
Winner of the 12th Coupe Biennale
|Simca–Fiat||- 72 laps
1st in the 0.75 to 1.1-litre category
|HRG Le Mans Model||- 80 laps|
|Ford Ten||- 82 laps|
|15.||D.Calaraseano/H.Lesbros||Adler Trumpf Junior||- 83 laps|
|16.||Miss D.Stanley-Turrier(GB)/Miss J.Riddell(GB)||MG Midget PB||- 89 laps|
|17.||J.Viale/Albert Alin||Simca Cinq - Fiat / F||- 98 laps
1st in the >0.75-litre category
|Delahaye 135CS||193 laps|
|Chenard & Walcker||151 laps|
|Delahaye 135CS||147 laps|
|Simca - Fiat Ballila||137 laps|
|Aston Martin Speed Model||136 laps|
|R.Labric/P.Veyron||Bugatti T57G||130 laps|
|Singer Nine||121 laps|
|A.Parguel/R.Brunet||Bugatti T57G||100 laps|
|R.de Saugé d’Estrez/
|Bugatti T57S||99 laps|
|J.Savoye/P.Pichard||Singer Nine||93 laps|
|G.H.Boughton(GB)/F.H.Lye(GB)||Singer Nine||91 laps|
|R.Labric/P.Veyron||Bugatti T57G||130 laps|
|Simca Cinq-Fiat||77 laps|
|Austin Seven 'Grasshopper'||74 laps|
|Singer Nine||72 laps|
|Austin Seven 'Grasshopper'||72 laps|
|J.Blot/H.Ferrand||Simca 508S Ballila||55 laps|
|Frazer Nash BMW 328||43 laps|
|Adler Trumpf||40 laps|
|J.Seylair/P.Bénazet||Delahaye 135CS||36 laps|
|G.Contet/C.Roux||Chenard & Walcker||32 laps|
|Austin Seven 'Grasshopper'||32 laps|
|Lagonda LG45||30 laps|
|Alfa Romeo 8C 2900A||11 laps|
|J.Trévoux/G.Lapchin||Riley TT Sprite||11 laps|
|A.Embiricos/"Raph"||Talbot T150C||9 laps|
|E.Chaboud/J.Trémoulet||Delahaye 135CS||9 laps|
|R.Kippeurt/R.Poulain||Bugatti T44||8 laps|
|Frazer Nash BMW 328||8 laps|
|F.Roth(D)/U.Richter(D)||BMW 328||8 laps|
|R.Forestier/R.Caron||Riley TT Sprite||8 laps|
|Talbot T50C||7 laps|
Jean-Pierre Wimille, Bugatti T57G, 5’13’’0 (155,179 kph)
Championship (after 4 races):
|7.||« Raph »||Delahaye/Talbot||2||0.5||-||0.5||3.0|
Strangely it seems that there was another mistake in the L’Auto classification of the championship. Indeed, Divo was granted with 10.5 points instead of 10, as if he had taken part at Le Mans, which was not true. In the case of Carrière, it was the contrary: he was granted with 8.5 points (instead of 9) as if he had not taken part at Le Mans.
On Wednesday June 23rd, René Kippeurt was buried in Sèvres, near Paris.
Round 5: Grand Prix de Picardie (Voiturettes) – June 27th, 1937
Circuit: Péronne (2 heats of 10 laps x 9.765 km = 97.65 km + 1 final of 15 laps x 9.765 km = 146.475km)
Organizer: Automobile Club de Picardie et de l’Aisne
The Grand Prix de Picardie, in Péronne (Somme), was the first single-seater race of the championship. It was also the only Voiturette race.
There were only three French drivers to take part in this minor event: Alphonse de Burnay, Mrs Anne-Cécile Itier (it was her second championship race after Le Mans) and, last but not least, René Dreyfus. It was a good opportunity for him to score points in a race where neither Sommer nor Divo and Wimille were among the starters. Moreover, he was in top form as he had won the Voiturette Gran Premio di Firenze two weeks before.
The race was divided in two 10-lap heats of seven starters. The first three drivers of each heat qualified for the 15-lap final, plus the four fastest.
The starters were Bira (Thailand, Delage), Du Puy (USA, Maserati), Dreyfus (France, Maserati), Mme Itier (France, Bugatti), Tongue (Great Britain, ERA), De Burnay (France, Amilcar) and Hanson (Great Britain, Maserati).
The start was given at 1:00pm. Dreyfus took the lead, followed by Bira, Hanson, Du Puy, Itier and de Burnay. Tongue retired as early as the first lap. On the second lap, Bira took the lead. Three laps later he was 37’’ ahead of Dreyfus. On lap 8, two laps before the finish line, Bira slowed down and went to the pits to retire. So, Dreyfus won and was qualified for the final as well as Hanson and Du Puy.
|1.||R. Dreyfus (F)||Maserati 6CM||41’34’’ (avg.140,944km/h)|
|2.||R. Hanson (GB)||Maserati 6CM||+ 4’02’’|
|3.||J. du Puy (USA)||Maserati 6CM||+ 6’07’’|
|4.||Mrs A-C. Itier (F)||Bugatti||+ 7’53’’|
|5.||A. De Burnay (F)||Amilcar||- 3 laps|
|B. Bira||ERA B|
|R. Tongue||ERA B|
The starters of the second heat were Mays (Great Britain, ERA), Wakefield (Great Britain, Maserati), De Graffenried (Switzerland, Maserati), Gollin (Germany, Maserati), Martin (Great Britain, ERA), Whitehead (Great Britain, ERA) and Herkuleyns (Netherlands, MG). Adrian Conan Doyle (Delage), son of the famous writer, was also on the entrant list but was a DNS.
The start was given at 2:15pm. This heat was dominated by Mays who did the fastest lap in 4’05’’, on lap 1. That is to say on a standing start lap! While Martin retired, after 5 laps, Mays was 1’48’’ ahead of De Graffenried, 2’09’’ of Wakefield and 2’55’’ of Gollin. Of course he won the heat and qualified for the final as well as De Graffenried and Wakefield. Gollin, Herkuleyns and Itier were also qualified, plus a fourth driver I could not identify. Was Whitehead the lucky one or de Burnay?
|1.||R. Mays (GB)||ERA C||41’30’’|
|2.||E. De Graffenried (CH)||Maserati||+ 3’42’’|
|3.||J. Wakefield (GB)||Maserati 6CM||+ 5’11’’|
|4.||F. Gollin (D)||Maserati||- 1 lap|
|5.||H. Herkuleyns (NL)||MG||- 2 laps|
|C. Martin (GB)||ERA|
The start of the final was given at 4:30pm. Mays was in the lead after one lap. He was followed by Dreyfus, Wakefield, Gollin, Hanson, De Graffenried, Du Puy, Itier and Herkuleyns. The positions of the first six drivers did not change during five laps. Then, Mays went faster with a best lap in 3’54’’ whereas Hanson overtook Gollin. De Graffenried overtook both of them to be fourth. In the meantime, Du Puy retired.
On lap 10, Mays was leading Dreyfus, Wakefield, De Graffenried, Hanson, Gollin, Itier and Herkuleyns. Then Gollin overtook Hanson while Mrs Itier had to retire. After 15 laps, Mays easily won the XIIIth Grand Prix de Picardie. After the final he told journalists that he did a “race without any problem”.
|1.||R. Mays (GB)||ERA C||59’47’’3/5 (avg. 146,981km/h)|
|2.||R. Dreyfus (F)||Maserati 6CM||+ 1’43’’|
|3.||J. Wakefield (GB)||Maserati 6CM||+ 4’05’’|
|4.||E. De Graffenried (CH)||Maserati||- 1 lap|
|5.||F. Gollin (D)||Maserati||- 1 lap|
|6.||R. Hanson (GB)||Maserati 6CM||- 1 lap|
|7.||H. Herkuleyns (NL)||MG||- 4 laps|
|Mrs A-C. Itier (F)||Bugatti|
|J. du Puy (USA)||Maserati|
R.Mays (ERA C), 3’54’’ (avg.150.2 kph)
Championship (after 5 races):
Round 6: Grand Prix de l’A.C.F. (Sports) – July 4th, 1937
Circuit: Montlhéry (40 laps x 12.609 km = 504.350 km)
Organizer: Automobile Club de France
The Grand Prix de l’Automobile Club de France was considered the most prestigious of the French season. This is why it was weighed with a factor of 2. If Sommer, Dreyfus or Wimille could win this race it would be a good opportunity for them to win the championship.
Ten days before saw the first appearance of the Delahaye 145 V12, designed by Jean François for the new rules of the International Formula for 1938. Its 4.5-litre magnesium engine had a power of 225-230hp at 5,200rpm. The Grand Prix de l’ACF was its very first race, even if ten days were not sufficient to develop this brand new car whose driver was, of course, Dreyfus.
Bugatti also entered a new car, the T57 S45. Two cars were built with a T59 frame and a 4.5-litre unsupercharged T50B engine. Like the Delahaye 145, both cars were undeveloped and had to come from Molsheim to Montlhéry by public road.
The rivals of the Bugatti were of course the Talbots whose drivers were Sommer, Comotti, Divo and Chiron who hoped to make a better race than at Le Mans. However, there was a small crisis inside the Talbot team. Sommer was not satisfied with his contract and decided to cancel it. Consequently, he financed a part of its participation to the race, which was also the case for Chiron, even if he could continue to profit from the logistics of Mr Lago’s team.
And, at last, it was also the return of Delage, with Henri Frétet as a driver. Louis Delage knew that any victory was impossible but he wanted to design a competitive GT. He was authorized by Delehaye to do so (Delahaye had bought Delage in 1935). The engine was a V12 based on a Delahaye 135 cylinder head whereas the body was a Vutotal (“Total View”) from Labourdette. See below:
The 16 cars were weighed during practice. The Delahaye 135CS were the lightest with 950kg, ahead of the Talbot T150C of Sommer and Comotti, built in 1936 with an aluminium engine, which weighed only 980kg. The Talbot T150Cs of Divo and Chiron weighed 1,050kg as they were built in 1937 with an iron engine. The new Delahaye 145 weighed 1,080kg, 100kg more than the 135CS.
On Thursday, during unofficial practice, Sommer was fastest in 5’34’’2 (134,697 kph). Then, during official practice of Friday and Saturday, Wimille was fastest in 5’33’’0 (135,917kph), only 0’’4 ahead of Sommer. For Frétet and the new Delage, it was a nightmare. In fact the car was too slow to qualify with a time of 6’20’’.
Despite Wimille’s fine performance during practice there was a crisis between Ettore Bugatti and the organizers, due to the disqualification of Benoist who made some unauthorized laps on the circuit. “Le Patron” decided to withdraw his team from the starters. Consequently, Wimille and Benoist could not take part in the race, leaving the former unable to score points for the championship. In fact many thought that Ettore Bugatti did not want to see his cars taking part in the race because of the lack of preparation, even if it seems that the T57 S45 was fast. Unfortunately it was the very last appearance of this car, which never raced. A pity.
Consequently, from the 16 initial entries only 11 would start the race: Boudot (Amilcar) and Heinemann (BMW 328) were also on the non-starting list, alongside the two Bugattis and the Delage V12. Nevertheless, this list could have been shorter: on Sunday morning some Talbots made unauthorized warm-up laps. The organizers wanted to disqualify them, but of course the Talbot team protested. Let’s imagine the Grand Prix de l’ACF, the so-called most prestigious race of the year, with only seven starters! Finally the Talbot team was allowed in and could take its places on the starting grid.
It was time to race. As soon as the start was given, Sommer took the lead ahead of Chiron, Comotti and Divo. Carrière was last whereas Chiron overtook Sommer before the end of the first lap and Léoz and Chaboud went to the pits to change spark plugs. On lap 2 both Sommer and Comotti overtook Chiron. Two laps later Dreyfus went to the pits to change spark plugs. He was back on track but he had to stop again on lap 7 and to retire one lap later. This is how the very first race (but not the last) of the Delahaye 145 ended.
Chiron was playing a waiting game while Sommer was leading, followed very closely by Comotti. Divo was fourth, followed by Carrière, Schell, Villeneuve, Porthault, Chaboud and Léoz.
Then Schell lost control of his car, which overturned. Fortunately the American driver remained uninjured. Two laps later, on lap 16, Villeneuve also retired because of fuel feed problems. In the meantime, Chaboud stopped to change spark plugs and hand over to Trémoulet.
At this moment, Sommer was leading Comotti and about 1’ ahead of Chiron, 2’ ahead of Divo and 5’ ahead of Carrière. On lap 19, Comotti stopped to refuel. During his pit stop, he was criticized by his team manager who disagreed the way he was fighting with Sommer, who was considered the team leader.
One lap later, Sommer stopped. But he was delayed because when he wanted to restart he realized that the quick lift was still on his car. However his pit stop was faster than Comotti’s (1’34’’ vs 2’47’’).
Then, Chiron decided to go even faster until his pit stop on lap 25, which lasted only 50’’, that is to say 44’’ faster than Sommer’s and 1’57’’ than Comotti’s. So this meant that when he got back into the race he was the new leader, but only 2’’5 ahead of Sommer! The latter tried to reduce the gap and was only 2’’0 behind Chiron on lap 28. One lap later Chiron counter-attacked with the fastest lap of the day in 5’29’’7.
The great Sommer had no choice but to increase his speed. Alas, one cylinder was suddenly damaged. He had to go to the pits to have it repaired, losing three places and any hope to win the race and increase his gap in the championship.
This is how Chiron won the Grand Prix de l’ACF and became the first driver in history to have won three French Grand Prix. This is also how the relationship between the members of the Talbot team got tenser. Sommer was unhappy because he accused Comotti of fighting with him and, consequently, forcing him to unnecessarily increase his rhythm. Comotti, too, was unhappy because he was sure that without the delay due to the dispute with his team manager he could have won the day.
|1.||L. Chiron||Talbot T150C||3h46’06’’1 (avg. 133.838 kph)|
|2.||G. Comotti (I)||Talbot T150C||+ 2’06’’4|
|3.||A. Divo||Talbot T150C||+ 3’42’’8|
|4.||R. Carrière||Delahaye 135CS||- 1 lap|
|5.||R. Sommer||Talbot T150C||- 2 laps|
|Delahaye 135CS||- 7 laps|
|R. de Saugé/
G. Léoz (E)
|Bugatti T57S||27 laps|
|D. Porthault||Delahaye 135CS||24 laps|
|L. Villeneuve||Delahaye 135CS||16 laps|
|L. Schell (USA)||Delahaye 135CS||14 laps|
|R. Dreyfus||Delahaye 135CS||8 laps|
Louis Chiron, Talbot T150C, 5’29’’7 (avg : 137.678 kph)
Championship (after 6 races):
|7.||« Raph »||Delahaye/Talbot||2||0.5||-||0.5||-||-||3.0|
Sommer and Dreyfus did not take the opportunity to increase their advantage in the championship. Wimille was the big loser as he did not score any point. Divo, with his second place, became a surprising third while Chiron made a stunning appearance in the classification. In his case it was strange because, if we read Alessandro Silva’s article about the 1947 French Championship, we see that Chiron could not take part in the French championship because his driving licence was from Monaco. It seems that this was not the case in 1937 because such a situation was never mentioned. As a last point we notice Carrière’s consistency, who was sixth and had scored points for the third time in six races.
One more time there were some “mysteries” in the L’Auto classification. The supplementary 0.5 point granted to Divo was still there and, in fact, stayed there all during the championship. Nevertheless I decided to not take it into account as there is no reason for it. Moreover the 0.5 paticipation point of Chiron and Raph at Le Mans was not granted. Surprisingly, Villeneuve had a total of 5.5 points! If we strictly follow the rules of the championship he only had 2.5 points.
Round 7: Grand Prix de Belgique (Formule Internationale) – July 11th, 1937
Circuit: Spa-Francorchamps (34 laps x 14,864 km = 505,38 km)
Organizer: Royal Automobile Club de Belgique
It was the first round of the AIACR European championship and the seventh round of the French championship. This first Grande Epreuve of the Championnat de France was weighed with a factor 2. There was only one French driver, Raymond Sommer, in a Scuderia Ferrari Alfa Romeo 12C-36. The other starters were at the wheel of the best cars of this era: three Mercedes-Benz (Lang, Kautz, Von Brauchitsch) and three Auto Union (Hasse, Stück, Müller). Trossi was at the wheel of the second Ferrari’s Alfa Romeo.
The starting grid was sorted by ballot. There were only eight starters because of the Vanderbilt Cup which took place in America, six days before. Sommer was on the first row with Stuck (Auto Union) and Von Brauchitsch (Mercedes-Benz).
Sommer was second after the first lap. But the German cars were better and he was rapidly overtaken. Trossi, his team-mate, retired after 5 laps. The French driver could not do anything but wait for the end of the race and profit from the retirements of some of his competitors. He was fifth when he received the chequered flag and was classified last, one lap behind Hasse, the winner. Three drivers retired (Von Brauchitsch, Müller and Trossi).
|1.||R. Hasse (D)||Auto Union C||3h01’22’’|
|5.||R. Sommer (F)||Alfa Romeo 12C-36||- 1 lap|
Round 8: Grand Prix de la Marne (Sports) – July 18th, 1937
Circuit: Reims-Gueux (63 laps x 7.826 km = 493.038 km)
Organizer: Automobile Club de Champagne
This race was really important because it was the last 1937 race in which Sommer, Dreyfus and Wimille, the three best French drivers, all took part. Of course, the Grand Prix du Comminges was to be held on August 1st but it was about to be cancelled, even if it was not official yet.
In Reims, Wimille was at the wheel of his T59S while the Ecurie Bleue entered no less than three Delahaye 145 V12. Unfortunately the example of Laury Schell was not ready yet and the American driver had no choice but to take the wheel of his old 135CS. Carrière's 145 had some trouble too and the driver could not take part in the practice sessions. Nevertheless, he was allowed to start the race from the last row of the grid.
There were five Talbot T150Cs: the usual quartet of Sommer, Divo, Comotti and Chiron plus young René Le Bègue, who had recovered from his accident in the Mille Miglia.
The first practice sessions were rainy. Comotti was fastest with 3’23’’6 ahead of Sommer (at 0’’2), Dreyfus (at 2’’1) and Wimille (at 8’’7).
But when the sun returned for the final sessions, Wimille was fastest with an average speed of 151.961 kph. The starting grid was as follows:
Wimille Dreyfus Sommer
(Bugatti) (Delahaye) (Talbot)
3'05''4 3'06''1 3'08''4
Le Bègue Divo Paul
(Talbot) (Talbot) (Delahaye)
3'16''1 3'17''2 3'19''9
Brunet Rouault Villeneuve
(Delahaye) (Delahaye) (Delahaye)
3'27''5 3'28''8 3'29''2
3'47''5 no time
As usual the fuel tank of the Bugatti was smaller than those of its competitors, so a fuel stop was planned for the car from Molsheim. This was not the case for the Delahayes and the Talbots. This made for a hard task for Wimille who took his pole position with an empty tank while Dreyfus drove with a full tank.
On Sunday, a very hot and sunny day, the start was given at 2:00pm. Wimille took the lead ahead of Dreyfus, Sommer, Comotti, Chiron, Divo, Le Bègue and Paul. Dreyfus was easily following Wimille while Sommer could hardly do the same. But on lap 3 Dreyfus had a spectacular accident due to a flat tyre. Fortunately, he was not injured. Mrs Rouault, who was just behind him, was so shocked that she went off the track to avoid him.
In the meantime, the other Delahaye 145 was doing a impressive race as, on lap 4, Carrière was fourth behind Wimille, Sommer and Comotti. On lap 9 he was on the wheels of the two Talbots and, one lap later he overtook both of them. On lap 15, Carrière was still second, 24’’ behind Wimille who was unable to increase the gap. Then, two laps later, Comotti retired because of gearbox trouble. It was the fourth retirement of the day as Brunet had also retired a few laps before.
On lap 21 Wimille (Bugatti) was still leading ahead of Carrière (Delahaye), Sommer (Talbot), Chiron (Talbot), Divo (Talbot), Le Bègue (Talbot) and Paul (Delahaye). Wimille’s advance proved to be insufficient because he had to make a fuel stop. At this moment René Carrière was well placed to win the race. But on lap 22 Carrière had to change a flat tyre. He returned in fourth position. Sommer was now second, 45’’ behind Wimille who was now able to dream about victory.
As in the first part of the race, Carrière was really impressive. Nine laps after his pit stop he was back in second, about one minute behind Wimille. But it was not to be Carrière’s day. Once again, one of his tyres went flat and this time he had no choice but to retire. The weakness of the Goodrich tyres under hot temperatures cost Delahaye an easy victory.
Wimille was now leading Sommer by 1’10’’ and on lap 32 he stopped to refuel and returned 31’’ ahead of the Talbot driver. But Sommer ran into trouble and had to slow down. A good opportunity for Chiron who overtook him on lap 42. Unfortunately the “Old Fox” retired a few laps later. So, on lap 45 Wimille was ahead of Sommer, Divo, Le Bègue and Dreyfus who had taken Laury Schell’s Delahaye 135CS in order to try andscore some points in the championship.
The classificaton changed again as Sommer was still slowing down. Divo overtook him on lap 54. It was Le Bègue's turn on lap 60, two laps before the chequered flag. A beautiful comeback for René Le Bègue who was now third.
Even a splash and dash for Wimille on lap 52 did not change the classification and the Bugatti driver won the race.
Wimille and his Bug’ T59S.
|1.||J.P. Wimille||Bugatti T59S||3h23’58’’5 (avg. 145.028 kph)|
|2.||A. Divo||Talbot T150C||+ 2’48’’8|
|3.||R.Le Bègue||Talbot T150C||-1 lap|
|4.||R. Sommer||Talbot T150C||- 1 lap|
|5.||L. Schell (USA)/
|Delahaye 135CS||- 4 laps|
|Delahaye 135CS||- 6 laps|
|Delahaye 135CS||- 9 laps|
|8.||L. Villeneuve||Delahaye 135CS||- 10 laps|
|G. Comotti (I)||Talbot T150C|
|Mrs G. Rouault||Delahaye 135S|
|L. Chiron||Talbot T150C|
|R. Dreyfus||Delahaye 145|
|R. Carrière||Delahaye 145|
|J. Paul||Delahaye 135CS|
|R. Brunet||Delahaye 135CS|
R.Carrière (Delahaye 145), 3’07’’4 (avg. 150.339 kph)
Championship (after 8 races):
Thanks to his victory Wimille was now second in the championship but for him it was over. Indeed, Wimille and Divo were not to be entered in any following round of the championship. Consequently they could not beat Sommer. In fact, the only rival to Sommer was Dreyfus. Despite the cancellation of the Grand Prix du Comminges, Dreyfus was about to enter the Tourist Trophy, at the beginning of September. This British race was weighed with a factor two. There was a maximum of 20 points to take. Moreover, it was now evident that the Delahaye 145 V12 was the fastest of the French cars. It was proved on August 31st when Dreyfus won the Million Francs race. However Sommer was the only French driver to enter the next three races of the championship which were Grandes Epreuves. It was an opportunity for him to score some points and, why not, to try and win the championship before the Tourist Trophy. If he wanted to do so he had to score 10 points in three Grands Prix. It was not easy because he was not at the wheel of a Mercedes or an Auto Union. It is true that Napoleon said that “Impossible n’est pas français” (Impossible is not French) but, in this case, well… it was!
Round 9: Grand Prix d’Allemagne (Formule Internationale) – July 25th, 1937
Circuit: Nürburgring (22 laps x 22.810 km = 501.82 km) Organizer: Allgemeiner Deutscher Automobil-Club
Raymond Sommer was at the wheel of an Alfa Romeo C. There were 26 starters and Sommer was 16th on the grid with a time of 11’30’’1 to compare with the pole position of Bernd Rosemeyer (Auto Union) in 9’46’’2. The Alfa Romeo was not a car able to win a Grande Epreuve in 1937. Sommer retired on lap 2, because of a broken rear axle. Consequently he only scored 1 point.
|1.||R. Caracciola (D)||Mercedes-Benz W125||3h46’00’’1 (avg. 133.226 kph)|
|R. Sommer (F)||Alfa Romeo C||Lap 2|
Round 10: Grand Prix de Monaco (Formule Internationale) – August 8th, 1937
Circuit: Monaco (100 laps x 3.180 km = 318.0 km)
Organizer: Automobile Club de Monaco
Once more Sommer was the only French driver of the Grande Epreuve of the day. He was at the wheel of an old and weak Alfa Romeo, and had qualified twelfth out of fifteen on the grid. The poleman was Caracciola (Mercedes-Benz) with 1’47’’5 while Sommer was about 10’’ slower. No chance to win, even in Monaco. He finished in seventh position, far from the leaders.
Sommer and his Alfa.
|1.||M. von Brautchitsch (D)||Mercedes-Benz W125||3h07’23’’9 (avg. 101.815 kph)|
|7.||R. Sommer (F)||Alfa Romeo 8C-35||- 5 laps|
Round 11: Grand Prix de Suisse (Formule Internationale) – August 22nd, 1937
Circuit: Bremgarten (50 laps x 7.280 km = 364.0 km)
Organizer: Automobile Club de Suisse
Once again Raymond Sommer was the only French driver at the start of this Formule Internationale Grand Prix. There was another driver with a French name, Henri Simonet, but it seems he was from Switzerland.
Sommer was driving a Ferrari Alfa Romeo, with Nino Farina as his team mate. Sommer set tenth fastest time during practice sessions with 2’44’’4 while Farina was sixth with 2’42’’8. There were 18 starters. Poleman was Rudolf Caracciola (Mercedes-Benz) with 2’32’’0.
Sommer had to go to the pits as early as the fourth lap because of gear trouble. He managed to restart and finally finished in eighth position, three laps behind the winner. The French driver was the first of the “non-German” cars. Farina, the other Ferrari driver, retired on lap 22.
|1.||R. Caracciola (D)||Mercedes-Benz W125||2h17’39’’3 (avg. 158.658 kph)|
|8.||R. Sommer (F)||Alfa Romeo 12C-36||- 3 laps|
The next race of the championship was now the Tourist Trophy. On August 12th, Talbot entered three cars for Sommer, Le Bègue and Comotti. Of course, the last race was the Italian Grand Prix on September 12th but no French drivers were entered for Monza. So the British race was the last fight, with a duel between Dreyfus and Sommer.
In fact it was quite simple for Dreyfus. He had to score 14 points in the TT to win the championship. He had no choice but to finish 1st or 2nd, but:
if Dreyfus was 2nd in the TT and Sommer was 5th, then Sommer was Champion,
if Dreyfus was 1st in the TT and Sommer was 4th, then Sommer was Champion.
But on August 18th the organizers of the Tourist Trophy refused to allow the Delahaye 145 V12 to enter the race. The reason was simple. These cars were real prototypes with no production models. This was not the case for the Talbot T150C which was considered as racing Talbot SS.
At first, Dreyfus and Schell decided to enter a 135CS in order to help Dreyfus to win the championship. Unfortunately, as early as 31st August, the media wrote that it was doubtful whether we would see Dreyfus in the Tourist Trophy. The Ecurie Bleue’s 135CS were not ready yet. So on September 2nd L’Auto headlined: “Raymond Sommer a gagné désormais le championnat des conducteurs” (“Now, Raymond Sommer has won the drivers’ championship”). Indeed, Dreyfus and Schell had decided against entering the Tourist Trophy. Sommer was the first Champion de France in History. But in spite of this he had to do a job and take part in the twelfth round of the championship.
Round 12: Tourist Trophy (Sports) – September 4th, 1937
Circuit: Donington (100 laps x 5.030 km = 503.0 km)
Organizer: Royal Automobile Club
There were 21 entries for the Tourist Trophy. Among them there were six French drivers, four French cars (three Talbots and one Delahaye entered by the British distributor) plus two Fiats tuned by Amedeo Gordini, the now French driver.
Bira entered his own Delahaye but the camshaft broke during practice. Then the Thai Prince replaced Henne at the wheel of one of the four BMW 328s, the German driver being unfit to drive.
Sommer’s Talbot had also suffered trouble due to a broken piston. The car was repaired and the new French champion was ready to start the race.
The Tourist Trophy was a handicap race, a British speciality. It was noon when the race started. The Singers and the Fiats were the first to go. They had a handicap of 13 laps and 2’19’’. 12’’ later it was the turn of the BMWs who had a handicap of 1 lap and 2’07’’. Then, 1’15’’ later, it was the turn of the Rileys, the HRG and the Austin. The Rileys and the HRG had a handicap of 2 laps and 52’’ whereas as the Austin had 14 laps more. The Morgan started 47’’ later with a handicap of 5 laps and 5’’. The French cars, which were the logical favourites, were the last to start, 5’’ after Laird’s Morgan. They had no time allowance. It meant for example that the Talbots they had to run 100 laps with an advance of 13 laps and 2’19’’ on the Singers and the Fiats, 1 lap and 2’07’’ on the BMWs, etc…to win the race.
After one lap the leader was Fane followed by Aldington and Bira. Three BMWs were leading. Among the big cars, Sommer was ahead of Le Bègue, Comotti, Paul and Brackenbury (Lagonda).
After four laps, the situation was clearer. Fane was still the leader but he was followed by Sommer, Comotti, Le Bègue, Bira and Paul. Gordini and Maillard-Brune had some trouble whereas it was known that the BMWs had to stop to refuel, which was not the case for the Talbots.
However, on lap 13, Sommer retired. The repaired piston was the cause of his retirement. Three laps later, Comotti was leading the Tourist Trophy, ahead of Fane, Le Bègue and Bira. A few laps later, Le Bègue overtook Fane while Comotti was in the pits because of overheating. 23-year-old René Le Bègue was leading the race.
On lap 25, Le Bègue was 2’’ ahead of Fane and 22’’ ahead of Comotti. Bira was fourth, ahead of Aldington and Paul. But Aldington had to go to the pits, losing the fifth position.
Comotti was in a class of his own and really wanted to win the race. He knew it was possible. He accelerated and on lap 47, three laps before mid-race, he set fastest lap of the day in 2’47’’. Two laps later Le Bègue tried to resist and did his fastest lap in 2’49’’. 2’’ slower than the Italian driver.
On lap 50 Le Bègue was now 7’’ ahead of Comotti while Fane had to retire one lap later, while he was third. Five laps later, Comotti was only 2’’ behind Le Bègue. Then, on lap 57, Comotti overtook Le Bègue in a magnificent way, on the outside. Comotti was undoubtedly the man of the day. Bira was now third, 3’ behind the leader. Paul was fourth, followed by Barnes (Singer), Dobson (Riley), Aldington (BMW) and Black (Singer).
The Talbot team asked Comotti and Le Bègue to slow down and keep position, as they wanted to preserve this great performance. In the meantime Paul had brake trouble and had to stop to try and resolve the problem, refuel and hand over to Mongin. Dobson and Aldington also made pit stops. Consequently, the positions were as follows:
1° Comotti (Talbot); 2° Le Bègue (Talbot); 3° Bira (BMW); 4° Barnes (Singer); 5° Paul/Mongin (Delahaye); 6° Black (Singer); 7° Gordini (Simca); 8° Dobson (Riley); 9° Brackenbury/Martin (Lagonda); 10° Aldington (BMW); 11° Gerard (Riley); 12° Laird (Morgan); 13° Dobson (Riley); 14° Wisdom (Singer).
Talbot was right to ask Comotti and Le Bègue to slow down. In fact, the French driver ran dry and his reserve did not work properly. He had to stop but succeeded to restart to go to the pits in order to refuel. He lost about 4 minutes, and consequently Bira was now about 1’ behind the French. No other mistake was allowed to René Le Bègue.
In the meantime the Lagonda and the Morgan retired: both cars lost a wheel! And the race was not over as Gordini’s Simca stopped on the last lap because of the engine giving the ghost. The driver had no other choice but to push the car to finish the race. He made it but lost three places.
However, the Talbot won the race and Bira, who finished third, was unable to recover second place.
|1.||G. Comotti (I)||Talbot T150C||4h35’27’’ (avg. 110,567 kph)|
|2.||R. Le Bègue (F)||Talbot T150C||+ 4’13’’|
|3.||B. Bira (T)||BMW 328||+ 5’34’’|
|4.||J.D. Barnes (GB)||Singer Nine||+ 6’51’’|
|5.||J. Paul (F)/M. Mongin (F)||Delahaye 135CS||+ 11’29’’|
|6.||N. Black (GB)||Singer Nine||+ 14’03’’|
|7.||A. Dobson (GB)||Riley TT Sprite||+ 18’31’’|
|8.||H.J.Aldington (GB)||BMW 328||+ 19’15’’|
|9.||B. Gerard (GB)/
A. Daunt Bateman (GB)
|Riley TT Sprite||+ 22’55’’|
|10.||A. Gordini (F)||Simca Six Fiat||+ 27’43’’|
|C. Brackenbury (GB)/
C. Martin (GB)
|Lagonda LG45 Rapide|
|R. Sommer (F)||Talbot T150C|
|A.F.P. Fane (GB)||BMW 328|
|H. Dobbs (GB)||BMW 328|
|P. Maclure (GB)||Riley TT Sprite|
|J.F. Gee (GB)||Riley TT Sprite|
|A. Scott (GB)/
J. Horsfall (GB)
|HRG 1 1/5|
|H. Laird (GB)||Morgan 4/4|
|T. Wisdom (GB)||Singer Nine|
|P. Maillard-Brune (F)||Fiat 508S Ballila|
|C. Dodson (GB)||Austin Seven|
G.Comotti (I), (Talbot T150C), 2’47’’ (avg. 115,332 kph)
Championship (after 11 races):
|14.||« Raph »||Delahaye/Talbot||2||0.5||-||0.5||-||-||-||-||-||-||-||-||-||3.0|
It is now time to analyse some results:
1. The Formule Internationale Grand Prix did not influence the final results of the championship. In fact, Sommer, who was the only driver to take part in these races, scored 7 points with his Alfa Grand Prix. It meant that, without these 7 points he would have scored a total of 37.5 points.
2- If we take into account the sportscar races, Sommer was still the best with 37.5 points, ahead of Wimille (31), Divo (30), Dreyfus & Le Bègue (22) and Chiron (21).
3- If we look at the races where Sommer, Wimille and Dreyfus were on the starting grid together, we see that Sommer was the best with 32.5 points, ahead of Wimille (31) and Dreyfus (22).
4- Wimille had three victories versus two for Sommer and one for Chiron. Nevertheless, Sommer was six times among the first five classified and Dreyfus was on the podium four times.
5- Talbot won four times (Tunisia, Marseille, ACF and Tourist Trophy) with three drivers (Sommer, Chiron, Comotti). Bugatti won three times (Pau, Le Mans, Marne) with one driver: Wimille.
Now, let us imagine that Gianfranco Comotti, the Italian driver, was French. He took part in every major race of the championship, driving a French car. Let’s imagine the same situation for Laury Schell who was an American citizen and a Frenchman by heart. Schell would have scored 9 points, like Marcel Mongin. These 9 points were mainly due to his third place in Tunisia. He then would have been tenth in the final classification of the championship.
And what about Comotti? Well, he would have been CHAMPION DE FRANCE! In fact he would have scored 44.5 points, like Sommer did. Comotti won in Donington and was second in Marseille and in the ACF Grand Prix. But thanks to his victory in the Tourist Trophy, one of the most important races, he could have received the crown. And he would have been the driver who would have scored the most points in the sportscar races.
The first French Drivers Championship was over. The organizers agreed that it was a success, but some changes had to be made for next season in order to improve the concept. This is what we are going to see in the story of the 1938 French Drivers Championship.