8èmes Grand Prix d'Endurance les 24 Heures du Mans 1930
Circuit Permanenthe de la Sarthe
Date: June 21st and 22nd, 1930
Conditions: Hot and sunny, rain on Sunday afternoon
Track Length: 16,340 metres
Distance: 2930.663 km
Fastest Lap: Sir Henry Birkin, Bentley, 6'48" = 144.362 km/h
Average Speed: 122.111
An End To The Dominance Of The "Bentley Boys"?
Many times in the history of the Grand Prix des 24 Heures du Mans has the battle reached the intensity it achieved in 1930, the last year when the mighty Bentley team sallied forth. Bentleys had been in the winning streak almost since the race was inaugurated, but for 1930 they were meeting a formidable rival in the white, giant SSK Mercedes-Benz driven by Rudolf Caracciola and Werner. For some years previous to 1930 the huge green Bentleys had been unbeatable on the Sarthe circuit, and things had come to a point where no foreign maker even dared to stand their cars against the four-cylinder supercharged monsters driven by Tim Birkin, Dr. Benjafleld, Sammy Davis, Woolf Barnato and so many others of that happy-go-lucky band known as the "Bentley boys". But in 1930 Rudi Caracciola threw down the gauntlet by entering his vast white Mercedes SSK, also supercharged, and of 7.1 litres capacity against the Bentley's 4.5 litres.
The Bentley team knew that "Caratsch" would be a formidable rival, so they secretly instructed "Tim" (Sir Henry) Birkin to go out in front and break the big Mercedes up or blow himself up in the attempt. Thus an atmosphere of tense expectancy hung over the Sarthe circuit that afternoon in June, 1930, as a pitiless sun beat down on the tarmac and the seconds ticked by waiting for the flag to fall. Rudi Caracciola was into his Mercedes almost at the same time as Kidston, Davis and Clement flung themselves into their Speed Six Bentleys. "Tim" Birkin, pacesetter for Bentley's, got away behind two Stutz cars and his offside wheels viciously churned the gutter as he tried to get past.
At last the leaders were due round on their first lap. It was not necessary to see which car was coming first, one could hear the shrill, wailing shriek of the Mercedes' supercharger long before the car itself hove into sight. This was the cornerstone of Bir-kin's strategy. On that model Mercedes the supercharger was not in constant engagement; the driver could employ it at will by merely pressing the throttle pedal right down to the floor, as the last few inches of pedal travel engaged a clutch which coupled up the blower. However, the important point was that it was strictly forbidden by the factory to use the supercharger except for brief periods, as the big-ends were unable to stand the strain of continued usage.
The battle that raged from the very start was epic, two antediluvian monsters tearing at each other's throat in a primeval swamp. On his second lap Caracciola averaged 87 m.p.h. and Birkin replied with 87.13 m.p.h. - a new record for the circuit! A lap later Birkin shot right past Caracciola down the pit straight at 130 m.p.h., straining the vast Bentley to its utmost. On this lap Birkin did 89.66 m.p.h., but next time round there was drama - his offside rear tyre was in ribbons, pieces of rubber flailing round and smashing against the wings while, not knowing this, Birkin roared on!
With set faces the men of the Bentley pit prepared a replacement wheel and anxiously awaited. The minutes, which had seemed to fly past like seconds, now dragged like hours. Suddenly from over the hill came the weird whine of the Mercedes and seconds later the white car erupted into view again and was past; behind it Birkin's Bentley limped by into its pit. When Caracciola saw Birkin stop he let up a bit, sparing his engine, but "Tim" was off like the wind again and a few laps later had almost caught up with the German when he heard a report likt a shell burst and his offside rear went again, smashing the fender as it went. In spite of this Birkin, enraged, actually managed to pass the Mercedes, but a few miles further on the tyre gave way completely and the enormous Bentley skidded right round in a cloud of dust!
And so it carried on. The Bentley time after time crept up on the Mercedes, but time after time one of the tyres failed to stand up to its job. Gradually the tyre trouble became so intense that Birkin and Chassagne dropped back on general classification and Davis' No. 3 took second place behind the Mercedes, but shortly afterwards Clive Dunfee slid the No. 3 car into the sand and couldn't get it out again. And now, through the gathering dusk, another Bentley was beginning to taunt the Mercedes - Barnato's. At 8.26 p.m. Barnato thundered past 50 yards ahead of the Mercedes and the battle was on again in magnificent style. The Mercedes driver at this stage was Werner, and a lap after he came by, leading again, but the tell-tale shriek revealed the fact that the Germans were using more and more supercharger to keep their car going. At sundown che incredible battle continued, both cars only a few yards apart, but the Mercedes supercharger wail was continuous now . . .
As night fell, Barnato and Glen Kidston still led, but the gallant Mercedes was only 21 seconds behind, while at one time there was tremendous commotion in the Bentley pit when three cars came in at once for new tyres and more fuel. Just about midnight the Mercedes finally folded up. What happened to the car is not clearly known; the official reason for retirement was "dynamo failure", but it is thought that something much more serious must have happened to the engine. Certainly, Hugh Eaton, of the Talbot team, says he saw the Mercedes travelling slowly to its pit with the headlights blazing full on, so he was considerably surprised when the Mercedes pit later on said the car had quit because the battery was completely run down! There was considerable discussion and much angry gesticulation in German for some hours, but the fine white car had shot its bolt, and after this there was no further obstacle to Barnato and Kidston's winning the race at over 70 m.p.h.
It only lasted eight out of twenty-four hours - but that fabulous, fantastic struggle between roaring 300 b.h.p. giants tearing through the hot stillness of a French summer afternoon will forever go down as one of the finest spectacles ever witnessed since motor racing began.
Index of Performance
B. Lewis / H.S. Eaton
6th Biennial Cup
W. Barnato / G. Kidston
5001 - 8000 cc
W. Barnato / G. Kidston
2001 - 3000 cc
B. Lewis / H.S. Eaton
1501 - 2000 cc
Lord Howe / L.C. Callingham
1101 - 1500 cc
K.S. Peacock / S.H. Newsome
751 - 1100 cc
J.A. Gregoire / F. Vallon
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