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The Complete History of Grand Prix Motor Racing by Adriano Cimarosti
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F. Gordon Crosby - Nazzaro wins the French GP at 42


After the Fighting
Daimler-Benz factory complex at Unterturkheim, 1945After 6 years of war most of Europe lay in ruins including much of its automobile industry. Having been converted to munitions or military-vehicle production they were ready targets to heavy aerial bombing. Germany was still banned from racing when in September of 1945 the first race meeting were held. World War Two ended in Europe in May 1945 and by September the first postwar meeting was taking place. France staged three races on a circuit in the Bois de Boulogne in Paris. Entries were accepted for cars which had survived the war. The first race was the Robert Benoist Trophy, a memorial to the prewar Bugatti driver who had been shot by the Gestapo. The race was won by Amedee Gordini in a 1500cc car based on Simca and Fiat parts. The second raced, entitled the Liberation Trophy, was won by Henri Louveau in a 2 litre Maserati. The final race of the meeting was the Coupe des Prisonniers, in which Jean-Pierre Wimille took a 4.7 litre Bugatti T59 to victory. Wimille had served in the French Resistance during the was and at one point just managed to escape capture by the Gestapo by jumping from a window and hiding in a nearby stream. After the war a more mature Wimille re-started his career as soon as possible.

San Remo

That opportunity came at the Coupe des Prisonniers which saw a late entrant in the form of Jean-Pierre Wimille and the unique 4.7-litre Bugatti sprint car. Arriving too late for practice he was forced to start from the rear of the grid. Unfortunately for the others it wasn't far enough back as he soon charged through the field to take the victory, racing had returned to Europe. His driving, once hot headed and prone to accident was now recognized as second to none. He became a hero to countless up and coming drivers including no less than Fangio himself.

Another pre-war ace Rene Dreyfus settled in New York City, where he opened a French restaurant, "Le Gourmet." Upon the United States entering the war, in 1942 Dreyfus had enlisted in the American army and served in Europe as an interrogator in the Italian Campaign. After the war, in 1945 he became an American citizen and brought his brother Maurice back to New York, where they opened another French restaurant, "Le Chanteclair." This soon became the semi-official New York meeting spot for the world's automobile racing community, the rivalries of the past having been overcome by the spirit of fraternity. There were few modern racing cars available to compete. An official authorization was necessary to manufacture cars in France after the end of the war. The government planning gave priority of the use of rationed raw materials to the manufacture of small production cars in large series. It was only in June 1946 that Tony Lago obtained permission to build 125 touring cars. Talbot-Lago, the French company, started working on a 4.5 litre single-seater. In all of Europe there were several pre-war Maseratis and Alfas available including a couple of 158s that were hidden in a cheese factory during the war.

There were only four races of Grand Prix caliber held during 1946. The top drivers included Giuseppe 'Nino' Farina, Jean-Pierre Wimille, Louis Chiron, Achille Varzi and Tazio Nuvolari. The Fédération Internationale d'Automobiles (FIA) was formed to organize the sport at an international level. A formula was set for 1947 that allowed 1.5-litre supercharged or 4.5-litre unsupercharged cars. Alfa Romeo with their supercharged Type 158s would still win every major race that it entered. In England the British Motor Racing Research Trust was created as a means of providing Britain with a way of breaking the stranglehold of the Italians. The man responsible for this was Raymond Mays who was driven with the idea of making Britain a major force in motor racing. Mays canvassed the British auto industry for financial and technical support. Among early responders were steelmaker Rubery Owen, Lucas Electric, Standard Motor Co., and Rolls-Royce. A war-weary nation caught the spirit, providing both money and expertise. Ultimately some 350 firms would participate. An end of a era was marked when legendary car maker Ettore Bugatti contacted a lung infection and died in a Paris military hospital on August 21, 1947.

GP d'Italia, Valentines Park, Turin - 1947In 1948 Ferrari fielded their own car, after parting with Alfa before the war Enzo Ferrari promised that Scuderia Ferrari would not compete against their former patrons for four years. 1948 also saw the death of the venerable Achille Varzi while practicing for the Swiss Grand Prix during practice runs for the 1948 Swiss Grand Prix while a light rain fell on the Bremgarten track. His car skidded on the wet surface, flipping over and crushing him to death.. In 1949 Alfa Romeo was forced to withdraw from racing due to financial woes. Without the Alfa the field was left open to Maserati, Ferrari and Talbot to enjoy some success.

Monza had fallen into some disrepair during World War II, being used for a storage area for government vehicles, and even animals from the nearby zoo. A parade by Allied forces in 1945 tore up the main straight of the track. So when racing resumed in Italy in 1947, the Italian Grand Prix was held at Milan. In 1948, the Milan Auto Club decided to restore the Monza track, and even though work was completed quickly, the Italian Grand Prix was run at the Valentino Park circuit, which was won by Jean-Pierre Wimille. The Italian Grand Prix would finally return to it's home in Monza in 1949 and, except for one race, has remained there ever since. The Nurburgring was severely damaged by tanks of the 11th Armored during the last months of the war but early after war's end, reconstruction work had begun and in early 1947 an Eifel Cup Race was run. The fee to enter at the time was five Reichs Marks, including a consumption ticket for wine, sausage and bread which were still rationed. The first race was for motorcycles, and was run on the Südschleife on August 17, 1947, in front of 80,000 spectators. The Sport Hotel reopened in April 1949, and a month later the Nordschleife hosted the first automobile race held there since 1939. The German Grand Prix returned to the Ring in 1950.

Death of a Giant

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The post-war era saw the gradual return of most of the famous races in Europe including the Targa Florio, Le Mans and the Mille Miglia. The first Mille Miglia held after the war was in 1947. The entrants were overwhelmingly Italian and definitely represented a mixed bag were it not for the presence of Nuvolari, then 55. Leading the race at the half way point his open Cisitalia sports car developed electrical problems when it started to rain heavily. After lengthy repairs he rejoined the race and worked his way back to the front but had to settle for second place Already suffering from ill health he entered the grueling race again the following year. Driving a new sports car from Ferrari he soon found himself where he belonged, in the lead. Though Nuvolari was very sick, coughing and spitting blood he was still able to open an incredible 29-minute lead over his own teammate!  Driving in the only manner that he knew, flat out on the edge, he left parts of his car all along the Italian countryside. Whether it was the manner in which his car was built or his driving style, the Ferrari slowly came apart. Soon the driver's seat came loose and was shortly replaced with a sack of oranges and still he drove on. Knowing that he was dying and that this might be his last chance for a victory he would not, could not quit.

When he reached Maranello his appearance shocked Enzo Ferrari, who begged him to quit even at the cost of denying Ferrari his first victory. Some thought that he was on a suicide mission to die at the wheel of a race car rather than in a hospital. Finally the brakes on his car failed while still leading the race. He had driven the Ferrari as fast as he could, as long as he could and had it not failed nothing on this earth could have taken this last great victory from his grasp. His race over he stopped his car by the side of the road, exhausted he was lifted from his car by a local priest and put to bed. This turned out to be his last major race and five years later he was to die in bed. This man of small physical stature had the heart of a giant. Those who competed with him on the tracks of Europe knew that they would not see his likes again. The Italian nation and the world of motorsports mourned the death of the greatest driver the world would ever see. 

 
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