In the first few years after World War II, Yves Giraud-Cabantous was a force to be reckoned with, and in both grand prix and sports car racing. By 1950, he had scored two victories in sports car races and two in grand prix racing as well. He also scored 3rd or better, in both grand prix and sports car racing, some ten times, and that was just between the years 1946-1950!
In 1950, Yves Giraud-Cabantous was able to score three points toward the first official world championship. He had been able to score a 4th place finish at the first Formula One race ever, the British Grand Prix. He obviously had the talent to take advantage of any opportunity presented him. And he would do the same in 1951.
At the time of the start of the 1951 grand prix season the Saint Gaudens native was forty-six years old. However, despite getting up there in age, he still ran a busy racing schedule in 1951.
The year started for Giraud-Cabantous at the Grand Prix de Pau. Taking place toward the end of March, the Grand Prix de Pau was not going to be a car-breaker due to excessive heat, but it still. Yves Giraud-Cabantous arrived for the race with his own Talbot-Lago T26C (see Talbot-Lago T26C article). The previous year, he had driven for the factory Talbot-Lago team. But in 1951, he would end up driving as a privateer entrant.
The race at Pau was, a not so short, 110 laps in length of the 1.76 mile street course. Things weren't exactly looking up for the Frenchman after qualifying. Yves qualified his T26C 11th out of a total of 15 starters. The race, however, played into just about anyone's hands that year as it was almost a race of chance. Out of the 15 starters, only six would remain running at the end of the race. Mechanical failures were abundant during the race. Many of the top drivers and teams were not immune to trouble, which meant those who qualified poorly had a shot at a good result; if they were not hit by mechanical woes as well. Giraud-Cabantous was one of those spared from mechanical problems and actually had good pace during the race. Yves came up through the field, helped by the failures of others, and finished the race 4th behind Villoresi, Rosier and Farina.
A month later, Giraud-Cabantous was in Italy for the Grand Prix of San Remo. The road course in Ospedaletti was 2 miles in length and was scheduled for 90 laps that year. Yves' entire race weekend was one of promise forfeited. First, second and fourth on the grid were taken by Scuderia Ferraris. Giraud-Cabantous was able to claim one of the top-ten spots on the grid by qualifying 9th. During the race at Pau, Yves had been able to escape the attrition to have a top-five finish. In Italy, that same favor would not be present. Only seven cars, out of 17, would finish this race, and Giraud-Cabantous was not one of them. Seventy-one laps into the ninety Yves was hit by problems with his car and was forced to retire from the race. The same result would not, however, strike Yves' other car he entered for the race, driven by Frenchman Guy Mairesse. Looking at the situation after qualifying, it would have not been difficult to write Mairesse off for a good finish during the race. However, Guy took his poor qualifying performance and turned it into an incredible finale. Using attrition and talent, Guy was able to maneuver his Talbot through the field to finish the race 6th, 6 laps down. Ferrari took the top-two spots on the podium with Ascari winning and Serafini finishing second.
Sometimes, after experiencing a mechanical failure with the same chassis it takes some time to identify the problem; or any others potentially waiting to happen, and to remedy it to be successful at any up-coming races. Sometimes it means the best course of action is to miss a race or two to make sure the car is ready to go. Of course hindsight is twenty-twenty. But over the course of the next three races, Giraud-Cabantous would suffer did not finishes (DNFs) due to some kind of mechanical problems.
A week after his retirement in Ospedaletti, Yves was in Bordeaux for the Grand Prix of Bordeaux. The race was to be 123 laps of the 1.5 mile street course. Yves qualified 8th for the race. However, he was unable to even see the start of the race as his Talbot suffered from gearbox problems and prevented him from even taking part in the race. This failure ended up really setting Giraud-Cabantous back and he would not take part in a race for a month.
Toward the end of May, Yves was able to travel to Boulogne for the Grand Prix of Paris. The French contingent of teams and cars was prevalent for the race on French soil. The only two cars to take place manufactured outside of France were two Maserati 4CLT/48s driven by Giuseppe Farina and Emanuel de Graffenried. However, the Maserati driven by Farina would end up spoiling the French party.
Giraud-Cabantous ended up qualifying 10th for the 125 lap event on the 1.55 mile street course. Given the race distance, it would have seemed almost as if he hadn't even started the race. Only 16 laps into the event, Yves' T26C developed valve problems and forced the Frenchman to retire from the race.
Giraud-Cabantous' third straight DNF came a week later during the first round of the Formula One season. Twenty-one drivers qualified for the Swiss Grand Prix at Bremgarten. All of the top teams and drivers were present and this made it difficult to earn a good starting position. Problems for Yves started right away and plagued him throughout. During qualifying, the best the Frenchman could do was a 15th starting spot on the grid. Then, 14 laps into the scheduled 42 of the 4.5 mile road circuit, Giraud-Cabantous' T26C developed ignition problems and forced him to retire from the race. This meant he was unable to score any points in the first race of the Formula One season; something he had been able to do the year prior.
Yves severely needed a good result after four-straight DNFs. In the early part of June, Yves journeyed to Northern Ireland and Dundrod to take part in the 5th Ulster Trophy Race. This 200 mile event was comprised of 27 laps of the 7.4 mile road course around Dundrod. From the very start, things looked up. Giraud-Cabantous was able to set the 6th fastest time in qualifying. This put him in a good position for a good result since he would not have to rely so much on the failures of others for a top-five or higher result. The first four qualifiers set off in packs of two and finished the race as they started it. Emanuel de Graffenried, who qualified 5th suffered from an oil leak and retired from the race. This meant Yves moved up to 5th. Yves would stay right there. After a rather uninspiring race, Yves finished 5th, one lap down to race winner Giuseppe Farina.
Two weeks after Dundrod, Yves travelled back to mainland Europe and Belgium for the Belgian Grand Prix, held at Spa-Francorchamps and the old 8.77 mile road circuit. This, officially, was the second round of the Formula One World Championship and an opportunity for Giraud-Cabantous to add to his tally of championship points.
The Belgian Grand Prix was to be a rather long one; 315 miles in total. There were 13 starters for the race and Yves qualified 8th. Juan Manuel Fangio had the pole and his Alfa Romeo SpA teammate Farina was alongside in 2nd on the grid. Like the number of entrants for the race, the attrition rate during the event was also rather low. Only four cars would fail to finish the race, but two of them were drivers for Ferrari and Alfa Romeo. Even Fangio ran into troubles, and in fact, would be the last car running at the end of the race. The difficulties faced by some of the top teams and drivers aided Giraud-Cabantous. He was able to improve upon his 8th place starting spot and, though two laps down to race winner Farina, he would end up finishing the race 5th. The long, sweeping straights of the old Spa track lent to an average speed for the race well in excess of 110 mph.
As a result of his 5th place finish in the Belgian Grand Prix, Giraud-Cabantous was able to secure two points toward the driver's championship. Perhaps Yves was one of the most obscure racing drivers ever in history to continue to earn championship points. These two points scored, when combined with the previous year, meant Yves had earned a total of five championship points in his Formula One career.
The 1st of July was the date for what was known as the European Grand Prix in 1951, but was, for all intents and purposes, the French Grand Prix held in Reims, France. Of course, it would have been almost like committing a crime had a French driver not shown up for what was his home grand prix. Sure enough, Giraud-Cabantous did not go against national pride and was present for the race.
The temporary road circuit at Reims was 4.85 miles of the French countryside. The Reims-Gueux 'triangle' layout in 1951 was, obviously, characterized by three long straightaways interrupted by tight hairpin turns. This layout meant the average speed for the race would be rather high, just as it was at Spa. This layout, then, would end up benefiting the high-horsepower Ferraris and Alfa Romeos.
During qualifying, however, Giraud-Cabantous did rather well to hold his own against the more powerful Italian machines. The highest placed Talbot-Lago on the grid belonged to Louis Chiron, but Yves was able to qualify a descent 11th. The gap between Giraud-Cabantous and the pole time was 20 seconds. The Alfa Romeos of Fangio and Farina took 1st and 2nd, while the Ferrari, driven by Alberto Ascari qualified 3rd.
Fangio and Ascari absolutely dominated the race. In fact, they were the only two on the same lap. Everyone else had been lapped by the end of the 77 laps by at least 3 laps. The pace of the Alfas and the Ferrari were such that Louis Chiron, who was running 6th, was lapped a further two more times. So while Farina finished in the final points paying position 4 laps down, Chiron, who finished 6th, was a further 6 laps down. Yves was also 6 laps down finishing the race in 7th. The dominant pace of the Alfas and Ferraris were such that Farina could have retired one lap before the end of the race and still would have taken 5th.
Giraud-Cabantous' next race was the 5th round of the Formula One World Championship. Yves skipped the trip to Silverstone for the British Grand Prix and waited for the season to come back to the mainland and Nurburg for the German Grand Prix. Taking time off wasn't such a bad idea since the race that year took place on the long Nordschleife circuit that was a little over 14 miles in length.
Yves set the second fastest qualifying time for a Talbot-Lago, which was only good enough to start the race from 11th on the grid. His time was almost a full minute slower than that set by Ascari in his 4.5 liter V12 Ferrari.
Two-thirds into the race, Giraud-Cabantous and Johnny Claes were the tale end of the cars still running. Eleven of the twenty-three drivers were out of the race by the 13th lap. This meant the Belgian and Yves were all alone at the tail end. In the course of battling amongst themselves they became entangled in an accident that retired them from the race, three laps down to Ascari who ended up winning the race by over thirty seconds over Fangio.
Two weeks later, Yves was in Italy to take part in a race on a temporary road course that was even longer than the Nordschliefe. At almost 16 miles in length, the Pescara circuit offered a drive through many different scenes of the Italian country. From running along the coast, to extending inland into rolling countryside, the Pescara Grand Prix was a special race.
By this time, the costs of grand prix racing were escalating and Alfa Romeo limited its races to mostly Formula One events. However, the race was not void of top-flight teams. Most notably, the main contention would come from the presence of four Ferraris brought to the race. For the grand prix, Giraud-Cabantous brought two cars. One was driven by himself. The other was driven by fellow Frenchman Guy Mairesse. Mairesse had driven for Yves a couple of times earlier on in the season to mixed results. He had scored a good finish at San Remo, but then, a mediocre finish at the Swiss Grand Prix.
Mairesse would not start the race from an impressive place on the grid. He would end up qualifying 12th for the race. Qualifying would fare better for Giraud-Cabantous. He would guide his Talbot through the 16 mile circuit to qualify 8th for the race.
Despite the circuit length, the race itself was rather short in total miles; just under 200. The race would only be 12 laps long but that was enough to put the cars' endurance to the test. Only eight cars would still be running at the end of the race and neither Yves nor Guy would be one of them. Two laps into the race, Mairesse's Talbot developed spark plug problems and forced him to retire from the race. Then, six laps into the race, Giraud-Cabantous was forced to retire from the race due to ignition problems.
After Pescara, Giraud-Cabantous stuck around Italy to take part in the Bari Grand Prix in the early part of September. The course in Bari was 3.44 miles in length and the scheduled distance that year was 65 laps. Yves qualified in practically the dead-middle of the field in 10th. Sticking around Italy after the failure in Pescara would pay off as he would end up putting in a wonderful performance to finish the race 5th. Rosier and Giraud-Cabantous were the only non-Alfa or Ferrari to break into the top-five at the end of the race. Of course, the performance was a little overshadowed by the fact he finished 5 laps down to Fangio.
The Bari Grand Prix was a good warm-up for the next round of the FIA World Championship, the Italian Grand Prix, which took place two weeks later.
The field at Monza was full of big-time teams. Alfa Romeo SpA and Ferrari each brought four cars. Equipe Gordini brought three. Ecurie Rosier brought two cars; the same as British Racing Motors. Then, there were a number of private entrants, including Yves. He qualified right in the middle of the field once again. He would start the race from 14th. But the race would prove to be much more successful than qualifying.
The high average speed at the Monza track meant the attrition rate was going to be high as usual. This was certainly one fact that didn't fail, unlike a number of race cars. Giraud-Cabantous was able to avoid the problems and benefited from the others whom couldn't. Yves would end up being the second-to-last car still running at the end of the race and some 8 laps down, but the Frenchman would finish a respectable 8th, three places shy of a points paying finish.
Giraud-Cabantous' last race of '51 was the last round of the Formula One season. In 1951, the Spanish Grand Prix was the last round of the championship. It was held outside Barcelona at Pedralbes on a 3.9 mile road course. The race weekend took place under oppressive hot and dry conditions. And these conditions would come into play in a big way for both, those battling for the championship and for Giraud-Cabantous' Talbot-Lago.
The first 8 spots in qualifying ended up being occupied by either a Ferrari or Alfa Romeo. Alberto Ascari, who was battling with Fangio for the title, took the pole, and Fangio started the race from 2nd. Out of the 20 starters for the 70 lap race, Yves started 14th.
The heat really came into play during the race. Tires were failing due to the excessive heat build up, and this effectively resolved who would end up winning the drivers championship. But, the heat also resolved Giraud-Cabantous' '51 campaign. Seven laps into the race, the excessive heat began to take its toll on his T26C, and on the 7th lap, he was forced to retire due to overheating problems. Yves wound up the 1951 season having scored two points in the Formula One World Championship. His two points meant he officially finished the sophomore Formula One season 18th in the points. Actually, he finished much higher when the results from the Indianapolis 500 are taken out of the picture. Without Indianapolis, Yves would have finished 13th.
There are many drivers that took part in the early years of grand prix racing and of Formula One that scored many victories in non-championship races and were celebrated for their talent and their lives. Yves Giraud-Cabantous lived in relative obscurity, and yet, he had been able to score more points than many others, despite their more famous lives off-track. Yves kept his private life private and made his mark on grand prix racing on the race track.