|Part I||By Charles Jarrott|
CHAMPIGNY looked as it always looked on the morn¬ing of the start of a big race, with thousands of cyclists, touring cars, and people occupying the village and roads adjacent to the start; and away up the hill stretched the long line of racing cars, much longer than had been seen in any previous race.
Once more I was lined up with my car, ready to start off on the long journey to Vienna, and once more, with the happy experiences of the Circuit du Nord race in mind, George Du Cros was accompanying me. We had for this race obtained our "70" Panhard—a replica of the speed monster we had seen De Knyff use in the Circuit du Nord—and very much impressed we were with its capabilities. Three days before the race, I had taken the car out on the road for the first time. I remember, after our first real burst of speed, we had to pull up for a shower of rain, and when we got down to take shelter under a tree, we compared our sensations of the fearful speed which the car appeared to be capable of attaining. As a matter of fact, when it came to the race itself, we would have given much to have had an engine double the size. But our first experience, on a lonely country road, without the excitement and fever of the race itself, gave us something to think about during the few days before the start.
A word about the race itself may be of interest. The Paris-Berlin race had been so successful, both from the spectacular and sporting point of view, that a race with Vienna as its destination seemed to ensure a similar success. The trouble with the French Government had been smoothed over. The Circuit du Nord had proved that racing could be carried out, if regulated properly, without danger to spectators, and the prohibition was removed when it was put forward by the champions of the industry that such an event would be beneficial and stimulating to manufacturers.
The race was somewhat involved, as it meant going through Switzerland, Germany, and Austria, and on no account would the Swiss Government permit of any racing in that country, although the authorities in Germany and Austria did everything in their power in order to make it a success. It was arranged that the race should occupy four days, and be run over four stages. The first, from Paris to Belfort, 408 kilometres; the second, from Belfort to Bregenz (this portion being neutralized) ; the third, from Bregenz to Salzburg, 369 kilometres; and the fourth, from Salzburg to Vienna, 343 kilometres; the total racing distance being 1120 kilometres.
Owing to the difficulty of obtaining a permit from the French Government for a special race for the Gordon-Bennett Cup, it was decided to run this race over the same route and at the same time as the race to Vienna, the competitors in the Gordon-Bennett race being also competitors in the longer race. The rules of the Gordon-Bennett race allowed the distance to be much shorter than from Paris to Vienna, and the finish of this event, therefore, was fixed at Innsbruck, which would be reached on the third day, giving a total distance of 609.92 kilometres. The Gordon-Bennett competitors who continued beyond that place would do so as competitors in the Paris-Vienna race only.
As holder of the Cup, France had selected her team to defend it—Girardot, the previous winner (C.G.V.), De Knyff (Panhard), and Fournier (Mors). England, being the only country to challenge, was represented by two cars—Edge (Napier) and Austin (Wolseley). The Gordon-Bennett competitors were given the post of honor at the head of the long line of starters, and were dispatched on their journey first. I, of course, driving a Panhard car, was not competing in the Gordon-Bennett race, but only in the race to Vienna.
Everything ready, spare tyres strapped on to the back, tools in their proper places, petrol tanks filled, we were in outward appearance prepared to go through in great style. I had, however, noticed on the previous day with some misgiving that my car seemed somewhat lighter than the other 70 h.p. Panhards which were taking part in the race, and I ascertained that owing to lack of time it had been impossible to strengthen the frame of my machine, which had at the last moment been considered advisable in connection with the other cars; and this, as it turned out, proved to be my undoing.
At 3.30 Girardot (the winner of the previous year) was sent off on his long journey on his C.G.V. car. He was followed by Fournier at 3.32 on a Mors. Then came Edge and De Knyff, and the rest of us were dispatched at intervals of two minutes. Having been over portion of the route prior to the race, I had decided that under no circumstances would I be bustled over the first eighty kilometers to Provins. The road was bad, and with hundreds of miles in front of us it did not seem advisable to run the risk of breaking up our beloved.
“Seventy” right at the commencement. It was very difficult to adhere to this decision when cars began to catch us, but I held on my way serenely, never attempting to use my fourth speed until, after leaving Provins, the character of the road changed and a smooth surface presented itself. Then in went the fourth speed and we really began to race. Pinson, who had previously passed us, was quickly caught and left behind, and we were in full flight after the leaders. Fournier we had already passed, and from his gesticulations it was obvious that he was in serious difficulty; hence one member of the French team was to all intents and purposes finished.
We soon came upon Girardot, also in difficulty, and this meant that only Edge and De Knyff were really racing for the Gordon-Bennett cup. After that we came upon Edge, who had started a considerable time in front of us, getting along very well. A wave of the hand, and he was soon swallowed up in our dust, and only three cars remained in front of us—De Knyff, who was leading, and Maurice and Henry Farman. We eventually ran into a control at the same time as Maurice, and racing neck and neck we caught Henry. Then a terrific race took place between the three cars, and to this day I am not clear which of us did the fastest time to Belfort, although the actual order of finishing was officially given as De Knyff, H. Farman, Jarrott, M. Farman.
In the last control just before Belfort, both the Farmans dashed off instead of waiting for the proper signal to go, but I was very quickly after them, and Belfort saw us arriving within a minute of each other and within seven minutes of De Knyff, who had covered the total distance of 253 miles in 7 hrs. 11 mins. Allowing for neutralizations, our actual traveling time was 4 hrs. 6 mins., being equal to fifty-six miles an hour.
Edge arrived some time afterwards, but with the exception of De Knyff, the other Gordon-Bennett competitors were out of it, both Girardot and Fournier having given up. I remember on that evening having a conversation with De Knyff in regard to his retaining the Gordon-Bennett cup for France, and even then, on the day when he had finished first and seemed to be going better than anybody, he expressed a doubt as to whether he would be able to hold his position, as during the run that day his differential had developed in view of the rough roads which had to be traversed before Innsbruck (which was the finishing-point of the race for the Cup) would be reached, the terrible journey over the Arlberg, which would try the strength and construction of every car in the most severe manner, had to be negotiated. If anything happened to De Knyff before Innsbruck, and Edge could only keep going, the Cup was a certainty for England. However, it was useless surmising as to what might happen.
Belfort is an interesting town, owing to its being on the frontier and the extraordinary precautions which have been taken to make it into a fighting town—every wall and house is loopholed, although, as Du Cros pointed out, a battery of modern guns some miles away would play havoc with the town in spite of its preparedness for hand-to-hand fighting. But it was particularly interesting to us by reason of its lack of hotel accommodation, and it seemed at first that my usual experience of being landed in a town without a place to lay my head would be repeated. Finally, we found rooms some distance out of the town, and capturing our bags from the hotel to which they had been sent, we shouldered them and made ourselves comfortable in the house of a hospitable peasant.
One of the most extraordinary things in connection with racing is the apparent length of the days. Starting off at daybreak, it always seemed that by ten o'clock one had been traveling throughout the whole day, and having lost all count of time, midday seemed like four o'clock in the afternoon. As a rule, unless a great amount of trouble was experienced, it was always possible to finish by twelve or one o'clock, and thus the whole afternoon could be given up to watching the late arrivals and interchange of experiences with the various drivers. That afternoon, in Belfort, I discovered Edge wandering about unable to find accommodation of any description, and it was only when we had tried every available place in the town and eventually discovered a small loft over a provision dealer's, in which a large number of hams were in process of curing, that Edge found a resting-place for the night.