1932 – Short circuit

“For the tenth running of the 24 Hours the ACO provided true aural relief for resident of the Pontlieue corners by creating the Rue du Circuit for the 1932 24 Hours. The shortcut amputated over a mile and a half, reducing a lap to 8.383 miles. The fresh pavement created a long virage as the road passed under the Champion bridge just after the pit straight. It rejoined the original circuit at Tertre Rouge. The new corners required more agility than the original Pontlieue blast and throttle smash.

The new configuration added Le Mans’ signature esses and created a superb new viewing areas for spectators as well as strategic spots for photographers. The new circuit endured until 1968 when sweeping changes between White House and the pits were underwritten by Ford.

The bulk of the entries, and the unique character of the event, still came from England, but none expected anything but a red car could win the tenth edition of the Grand Prix d’Endurance.

The ALFA factory sent two cars and Tim Birkin and Lord Howe were back with the 1931-winning 8C2300 for a shot at the outright victory and the Biennial Cup. Behind them were three more ALFAs of varying disposition and displacement. The light and maneuverable ALFAs had banished the British and German behemoths with art and science and agility:. The 8C2300s were true sports cars, the first Grand Touring cars that would suit the modern definition. But the old order was powerfully represented by a lone Speed Six Bentley and a pair of huge and powerful supercharged white Mercedes SSKs; still serious Le Mans players, especially when Tertre Rouge was at one’s back and only the road to Tours lay ahead.

The start of the 10th 24 Hours of Le Mans was frantic and wildly entertaining. The number-one Mercedes was first away, but the Italian drivers were soaked in testosterone and adrenaline behaving as though they were involved in a sprint race. To a man they ignored Engineer Jano’s 5,100 rev limit. The first victim of automotive hubris was Trevoux on the number-five 4 ½ liter Blower Bentley who did little right on his first approach to White House. The tipsy green car spun, rolled and then stuffed itself hard in the ditch were it sat resisting all attempts to extract it.

At the end of the first lap Cortese’s works ALFA and its stable mate were followed by Birkin and Howe’s private 8C, the screaming Mercedes SSK, Attillo Marinoni’s 8C, Dreyfus’ 8C, the Type 43 Bugatti and a composed Raymond Sommer on the private ALFA he shared with young mechanic Luigi Chinetti.

The works ALFA drivers were having entirely too much fun and left the privateers behind with an intemperate display of machismo. The first to be punished was Attilio Marinoni who managed to win the all-Lombardy intramural competition and put the #14 ALFA in front on the third lap. Two laps later he was sweating and straining to get his car back on the road in the esses after Arnage having gotten the rhythm wrong on the second set of corners. It took ALFA’s chief test driver over an hour to free his car which was basically unharmed.

Marinoni’s ALFA teammates were providing Tim Birkin with some really fine entertainment. The BRDC’s lone player in the top three took up station behind the ALFAs of Minoia and Cortese to watch the Italian have at each other. They had just lapped Brisson’s Stutz on the run to White House when Minoia found himself going too fast. The populous site of the Bentley’s accident now featured a clot of officials, marshals, spectators, farmers and children who were trying to determine, by democratic means, the best method for removing a Bentley from a French country road.

Nando Minoia’s ALFA spun twice and crashed with only superficial injuries. Brisson’s lapped Stutz arrived during the ALFA’s first spin cycle. Hard braking was the full extent of precautions taken before the American roadster hit something hard. Later Brisson commented that he had the distinct impression of flying gently through the air. The number-five Stutz finished upside down in the ditch opposite the Bentley which was then struck by Marinoni’s oversteering ALFA.

It took over two dozen strong men to heave the huge Stutz out of the swale. It was driven away in spite of the impact. The Bentley was dragged into a farmer’s field and left belly up in the evening sun. The race was barely four hours old but the ALFAs had established a firm hand: the number-eleven Corteze/Guidotti 8C led Lord Howe’s private British ALFA with Tim Birkin at the wheel. Sommer was third in the privateer ALFA he had yet to share with Luigi Chinetti.

Sommer’s number-eight car inherited the lead around midnight after a string of mechanical nuisances struck the works ALFAs and Lord Howe’s leading number-nine. Birkin’s plug change unmasked a symptom of deeper problems for the British ALFA. At 4:00 a.m. it was stopped for good by a blown cylinder head gasket.

When the sun came up Franco Cortese had the works ALFA in the lead followed by Raymond Sommer who had driven 10 of the 14 hours and was be forced to carry on solo to the end. Young Chinetti was ill or exhausted from relentless pre-race preparation to which he had applied himself with extraordinary vigor . The privately entered Bugatti of Count Czaikowski was a surprising third, but eight laps behind.

The early grand prix pace left the leading ALFA in a shabby state for the daylight run to 4:00 p.m. The well equipped number-eleven works ALFA began to suffer from front fender droop, flap and wiggle. This cosmetically amusing problem was cured with a seemingly endless supply of wire that was carried aboard.

Yet more wire was un-spooled to secure the headlights which sagged alarmingly as the morning ground on. From the seemingly inexhaustible ALFA took & bits kit more wire and straps of various strength and length were produced by both drivers when the battery case came adrift.

The Czaykowski Bugatti T55 had no problems and ground away steadily at the ALFA’s lead until the 180th lap when a broken piston sent a quiet sigh through the partisan and filled-to-capacity tribunes opposite the pits.

The exhausted Sommer, assaulted by poisonous fumes from a ruptured exhaust collector, continued his solitary chase of the leading factory ALFA. At 4:00 p.m. Sommer had ground out a two lap lead from the surviving works ALFA. His solitary pace was enough to win, but not fast enough to beat the record set by Howe and Birkin the previous year.

The Lord Essendon “Bug” Lewis/Rose-Richards 3-liter Talbot was third, but 38 laps off the winning pace. Another ALFA was fourth, driven by Le Mans’ female pioneer Mademoiselle Odette Siko (who had failed to finish in her 1931 debut) and her male co-driver Louis Charaval. Englebert tires won their first Le Mans after being ignominiously discarded by the disgusted driver of the Mercedes challenger a year earlier.

Aston-Martin won the Biennial cup and the 1500 cc class again with a superb fifth overall, and the French had a Bugatti to cheer in sixth overall. Again there were just nine finishers, but the horror over the spectator death in 1931 was already forgotten by the fans who loved their new vantage point in the on the Rue du Circuit and the new spectator village that grew there until the bulldozers came in the winter of 2005..

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