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The French Grand Prix of 1934

Part 3

Not until barely sixty seconds remained were the engines started up, mechanics using crank-handles, because the rules of the race permitted no other method of rousing the engines. Exhaust notes roared out, rising swiftly to a blast of tremendous sound which echoed across the great track and reached the crowd lining the circuit routier, beyond the narrow exit towards which the machines faced. Mechanics ran from the cars as a starter poised his flag and, during the moments before the flag dropped, Chiron's Alfa-Romeo began to roll forward as if its driver was impatient and eager to get away. Suddenly the flag fell and, at that, Chiron's scarlet machine hurled itself away from the line in one magnificent burst of acceleration.

1934 French Grand PrixThe car shot past Caracciola's Mercedes before the German driver had moved a yard, then raced by Stuck, snatching the lead almost before the folds of the flag had brushed the concrete. By that time every car was moving, each driver trying to gain ground as the machines converged on the narrow opening ahead. Chiron dived into it, Caracciola bringing his white Mercedes to his tail while Varzi followed, with Dreyfus and Stuck. The rest came behind, and the low walls which bordered the exit from the track caught the sound that the machines made, merging it to a vibrant, echoing scream which faded only as the cars dashed on to the road ahead. Spectators, leaning over the palisades, drew back as the massed machines rushed level, then shielded their faces from the grit and dust which then, kicked behind.

As they cleared the track, Fagioli - who had been last in the line-up - drew his Mercedes to the road-edge, passing the two Maseratis, challenging von Brauchitsch and gaining on the group, which pursued Chiron. The leader was ten yards ahead when he placed his machine for the first long bend, then sent the red Alfa-Romeo through it into the straight that led down to the curves at Couard. Caracciola held him through the turns, while Stuck passed Dreyfus and came up to challenge Varzi for third place. These four went through the hairpin at Bruyères with no distance between them, and only a few yards behind came the rest, struggling together and remaining close in the short straight down to Les Biscornes.

Chiron was still in front when he entered the long straightaway to Fôret corner. Caracciola was with him, his Mercedes howling furiously; Varzi and Stuck were still fighting behind. Von Brauchitsch, Trossi, Dreyfus and Nuvolari were in a bunch a few yards further back, then came the others, with only Momberger's Auto-Union slowing a little and falling away.

The cars went down the switchback road in streaks of colour that flashed in the hot sunshine: scarlet, silver-white, scarlet again, dead-white, then red and then two flashes of French blue formed by the-Bugattis. These colours represented the nations - Italy, Germany and France. They raced level with the spectators behind the fencing instantly to be gone in a haze of dust, which rapidly blotted them out. All that was left was the falling of grit and small stones which had been kicked high in the air by spinning lyres - that, and the wild roar of exhausts, lessened with increasing distance.

Along that straight, Fagioli gained ground, and at Fôret comer he passed Dreyfus. Beyond the Virage du Gendarme, he overtook Trossi, then passed von Brauchitsch, to challenge Varzi and Stuck by the time that they were near the final comers before the cars ran back to the autodrome.

1934 French Grand Prix

The crowd in the grandstand heard them approach, and craned to watch the point where the road entered the track on the north side. From between red posts set on yellow-painted walls there came a flash of scarlet. It was Chiron's car, and he was still leading; from a standing start he had covered the course at 85.3 m.p.h. Hardly was he clear of the walls when the drilling scream of a Mercedes sounded and Caracciola shot into sight, flying after the Alfa-Romeo on to the high banking. Two seconds passed, then Fagioli appeared with his Mercedes, to be followed instantly by Stuck's Auto-Union, which came from the opening like a torpedo fired from a deck gun.

Chiron had his Italian machine high on the sloping concrete banking by that time, and the car was curving round towards the flat stretch in front of the grandstand. Close behind were the three German cars, then Varzi's Alfa-Romeo, with von Brauchitsch and Count Trossi. The placing of these machines showed how stern was the challenge to the supremacy of the Scuderia Ferrari. Chiron certainly held the lead, but there were three German cars very close to him; all were well ahead of the blue Bugatti driven by Dreyfus, who led the remainder of the field - Nuvolari, Zehender, Etancelin, Benoist and Momberger - whose Auto-Union was visibly slowing.

Chiron dived for the narrow exit to the road, and the rest dropped off the banking behind him. All were faster down the outward straight - much faster. Stuck opened out, making an attempt to overtake Fagioli who, in the same moment, began to challenge Caracciola. He caught the German champion at Les Biscornes, and went in front of him during the rush to Fôret turn, travelling with Stuck hard on his tail, also passing Caracciola. In the dash back towards the autodrome, Fagioli and Stuck began to fight for second place; running wheel to wheel for a mille, then the Auto-Union slipped ahead.

When Chiron brought his Alfa-Romeo on to the concrete again, Stuck was no more than half a second behind him; he had picked up two places and had lapped at 89.47 m.p.h. They roared round, with Fagioli third and Caracciola now fourth. As the field appeared, Nuvolari slowed and drew to the side of the track, stopping at his pit. He changed plugs while the rest roared away from him, and when he started in pursuit he had been delayed nearly two minutes.

It was on this third lap that Stuck launched an attack designed to establish the supremacy of his Auto-Union. Chiron held him off until they reached the short straight down to Les Biscornes, and here Stuck passed, taking the lead and drawing away. At Fôret corner, the Auto-Union was two seconds ahead, and at the end of the return straight he had doubled this lead. By the time his white machine raced aslant along the banking of the autodrome he was five seconds in front; he had covered the lap at 90 m.p.h., the highest speed ever set up during a race over the Montlhèry circuit.

When Chiron appeared at the tail of the German machine the crowd in the grandstand roared, urging the Frenchman to greater speed. They wanted a Bugatti to win, but these cars were falling far behind. Chiron was driving an Italian machine, but he remained the most popular of French racing men, so they gave him encouragement, waving him after Stuck. Fagioli and Caracciola were together, one hundred yards behind the Alfa-Romeo, with Varzi and Trossi two seconds further back. They disappeared along the circuit routier, while the rest came round the banking, and now it seemed that Etancelin was finding trouble; his exhaust was giving off excessive smoke, but he continued.