Teams1951 Formula One Season By Jeremy McMullen
There are many mysteries in life; many things that pass by that catch one's attention for a moment and then are gone. All that is known about that 'thing' is what was seen or experienced in that one moment. The rest becomes conjecture and theory. Eugene Chaboud was one of those mysteries in motor racing. He had a few moments where he shone brightly. Then, he retired and was gone. It was only later that he comes to mind and causes people to wonder more about him.
Eugene's racing career spans the later stages of the golden age of grand prix racing and the early days of the organized series known as Formula One. Chaboud didn't limit his skills to grand prix racing, thankfully. For it is his foray into endurance sports car racing for which he is most remembered in history.
Eugene started racing with his friend Jean Tremoulet in 1936. The duo started out by racing Delahayes. Then, in 1938, Chaboud would establish his greatest mark in racing history. Tremoulet and himself entered a Delahaye 135CS in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. This was the 15th great endurance test and took place on June 17th and 18th of that year. Eugene and Jean were one of fifty-two entrants for the race.
As the race got underway on June 17th, the weather was pleasant and the skies sunny. Forty-two cars roared away as the clock began to tick. Three cars didn't make it ten laps into the race before troubles hit. As the race wore on Raymond Sommer posted the fastest lap of the race. He traversed the 8.37 mile course of public roads in five minutes and thirteen seconds.
As the race began to bleed into the 18th of June the weather began to change a bit. Soon, a light drizzle rained down upon the majority of the track. As dawn approached, a good majority of the field had already fallen out of the race. Two entries dropped out after having completed 159 laps. A gap of 60 laps passed before the next car retired from the race. That next car to retire was Raymond Sommer and Clemente Biondetti's Alfa Romeo 8C 2900B. With that, the car that turned the fastest lap was out of the race.
After completing almost 1,977 miles in 235 laps, Eugene Chaboud and Jean Tremoulet took the overall victory in their Delahaye 135CS. The pairing's winning margin was two laps over fellow Frenchmen Gaston Serraud and Yves Giraud-Cabantous also driving a Delahaye 135CS. Another French pairing, Jean Prenant and Andre Morel finished on the podium in 3rd. Out of the forty-two cars that were to start the race, only fifteen were still running at the end.
The victory at Le Mans caused Chaboud's career to go from absolute obscurity to great promise in a blink of an eye. Practically nothing existed that made mention of Eugene Chaboud, but then there was the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1938 and Eugene's name is mentioned as its victor. Whispers about him being as good as Jean-Pierre Wimille and Raymond Sommer began to be heard. Throughout the end of the thirties nothing much of Eugene's career was of note, and he began to slip out of the conscious mind. After the war was over, Chaboud would pass by the consciousness of the racing world once again and cause many to wonder as they once had.
At one of the first grand prix races after the war, Eugene Chaboud entered the race with a Delahaye 135S and raced amongst the company many people thought he belonged.
The race was the Coupe des Prisonniers and it took place in Boulogne, France on the 9th of September in 1945. This was less than six months after the surrender of Germany and the end of the European theater of the war. The race was 43 laps on a 1.75 mile street course. The total race distance was 75.5 miles. Due to logistical issues and the fact it took place rather soon after the war, pretty much all of the field was comprised of French drivers. Travel was still difficult and many lacked the money to go racing that early. Jean-Pierre Wimille ended up scoring the victory in a Bugatti T59. Raymond Sommer followed Wimille in a Talbot T26. Chaboud, driving his Delahaye 135S, would end up following in 3rd, some three laps down. This was the only race Chaboud entered in 1945, and was one of only a couple to actually have taken place that year.
Despite the fact the war had been over for only a year, or less, 1946 was still a busy year of racing for Eugene. All-in-all, Chaboud competed in twelve races during 1946. The year started out with a 3rd at Les Rues de Nice in April. His third race of the season saw him earn another 3rd place finish, this time at the Circuit du Forez and the Grand Prix du Forez.
After a couple of grand prix races, Eugene competed in the Grand Prix Automobile de Belgique Sports Car race. The race was held on a 2.29 mile road course near Brussels, Belgium. One of Eugene's last sports car races was the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1938, in which he won. Chaboud entered his Delahaye 135CS and fell right back into the same groove in which he won Le Mans. The race distance was 33 laps and Chaboud was able to hold off Pierre Levegh and Raymond Sommer to take the victory. Eugene had an average speed of over 67 miles per hour and had completed the race distance in a little more than an hour.
Though he wouldn't score any other victories throughout the rest of 1946, he would still have some good results, including another couple of good results in grand prix races the later half of the season. Toward the end of August, Chaboud was able to finish the 1st Circuit des Trois Villes, in Marc-en-Baroeul, France, in 3rd place. Raymond Sommer won the race followed by Pierre Levegh.
Eugene's next race, the Grand Prix del Valentino in Torino, Italy, saw him achieve his best result in a grand prix race during the season. On the 1st of September, he took part in the 60 lap grand prix around the 2.78 mile road course near Torino. The Alfa Romeo 158s appeared at the race for one of its first appearances since the war. The great Achille Varzi would go on to win the race, being chased by Jean-Pierre Wimille in another 158. Raymond Sommer finished 3rd. Though five laps down, Chaboud would end the race in 4th place.
As he had in 1946, Eugene started off 1947 by finishing his first race 3rd. In February of that year, he took part in the 25 lap race in Vallentuna, Sweden. This race was held on Vallentuna's frozen lake and was laid out in a course a little over 3.10 miles in length. In spite of the cold weather, he would go on to finish 3rd. Reg Parnell would win the event in an ERA, followed by George Abecassis, also in an ERA.
Although his season would start out in the cold, he would get pretty hot out on the track as the season wore on. At the end of April, Eugene was in Perpignan, France for the 2nd Grand Prix du Roussillon. Eugene arrived with his new Talbot-Lago T26 driving under his team name Ecurie France. He would also have two other teammates driving older Delahaye 135CSs. Chaboud started the 58 lap race 3rd. His Ecurie France teammates Yves Giraud-Cabantous would start 4th and Henri Trillaud 12th.
This would end up being a good day for Ecurie France as all three cars would finish the race. Two of them would end up on the podium. Giraud-Cabantous, though a lap down, ended up finishing the race in 3rd. Eugene was absolutely untouchable as he would lap the entire field finishing the race 1st.
Chaboud's next race would end up being almost a virtual repeat of the race in Perpignan. He would again start the race from 3rd on the grid. Luigi Villoresi and Raymond Sommer looked strong through the first few laps of the 69 lap race. However, both of them suffered from engine problems and were forced to retire from the race. Eugene had been able to hold station in 3rd and was then promoted with Villoresi's and Sommer's failures. Eugene would go on to win the race. Once again, he had been untouchable. By the end of the race, he had lapped the entire field. Soundly beaten, Enrico Plate finished 2nd, followed by Henri Louveau.
This made it two victories in a row for Chaboud and all before the end of May! However, just when Eugene began to establish himself, he would suffer a string of bad results. He would not place any higher than 16th over the next three races and suffered DNFs at two of them.
Chaboud recovered with a 4th place finish at Reims in July of '47. Over his next three races he was able to score top-ten finishes, but neither one of them were better than 6th. After those three races in the months of July and early August, Eugene warmed back up again.
During the string of not-so-inspiring performances, Eugene had gone back to racing under his own name. He tried his hand at being a team manager but was known to be very intense and not easy to work with. This strained relationships within the team, of which he was technical director. With the encouragement of his friend Charles Pozzi, Chaboud stepped down and focused on preparing and racing his own cars. Stepping down out of the management role obviously helped him as his season turned back around.
From August 10th on to the finish of his season, Eugene took part in five more races. Over the course of those five races, he would not finish any worse than 8th; and that was one time. He finished two races 3rd and two races 2nd. These results helped him to secure the French national champion title. He was helped in no small way by his friend Charles Pozzi who helped prepare his cars for him.
Charles Pozzi became an important asset to Eugene, especially since Pozzi was about the only person that understood and could stand Chaboud. Therefore, the two decided to start another team called Ecurie Lutetia.
In 1948, Chaboud was still driving his old Delahaye 135CS. The car was still quick, but Europe was beginning to settle down economically. This meant there was more money to go toward developing new cars. Maserati did this by introducing their 4CLT/48 at San Remo during that year. The older Delahaye chassis meant good results were going to be harder to come by. In fact, the best result Eugene could achieve during 1948 was a 3rd place finish at the 2nd Grand Prix of Paris and the Coupe des Petites Cylindrees, which was held at Reims, France.
The disappointing results kept coming for Eugene even into 1949. Despite driving either a Maserati 4CL or his Delahaye 135CS, there was nothing it seemed could be done to help the Frenchman reclaim some of the former glory. The best result Chaboud would be able to achieve in 1949 was a 6th place finish at the Grand Prix of France at Reims.
The difficulties, and the incredible competition mounted by such factory efforts as Alfa Romeo and Scuderia Ferrari discouraged Chaboud from racing in 1950. He would only take part in two races the entire length of the season and that was the fourth and fifth rounds of the Formula One championship (not counting Indianapolis), which were the Belgian Grand Prix, and the French Grand Prix.
Eugene entered the Belgian Grand Prix driving under his team name Ecurie Lutetia one more time. He qualified 11th for the race. His best time was over thirty-six seconds slower than the pole time set by Giuseppe Farina in his Alfa Romeo 158. Chaboud's first Formula One race lasted 22 laps. Then, on the 22nd lap, his Talbot-Lago suffered from problems with its oil pipe. Given how the race was going, Eugene retired from the race.
The former French champion seemed to have disappeared from peoples' consciousnesses by this time. However, he would pass by as a bright spot once more at the very next race, the French Grand Prix.
At Reims, in the early part of July, Eugene arrived with his single Talbot-Lago T26C to potentially take part in the 64 lap race. He would end up not entering his car. This move would turn out to be another momentary flash of brilliance by the Frenchman.
Philippe 'Phi-Phi' Etancelin put his Talbot-Lago on the starting grid in 4th place. The first three starting spots on the grid were swept by Alfa Romeo 158s. Etancelin put in an amazing performance in practice to be the next highest starting car.
Philippe started the race and drove the first 26 laps of the race. He had Chaboud standing by in order to take over for him. Philippe then did come into the pits and turned the drive of his personal T26C over to Eugene. He then drove the remaining 33 laps and put together one last impressive display. Chaboud would end up holding on to finish the race 5th. The shared drive with Etancelin, and the 5th place finish, meant Eugene earned one point towards the 1950 Formula One world championship. After the race, Eugene practically retired. He was not seen at another event for the rest of the season. He wasn't even interested in any sports car races.
In 1951, not much more was heard of from Chaboud. He didn't take part in any non-championship or championship grand prix races throughout the early and middle part of the year. The only evidence of Chaboud still behind the wheel of a race car was that he entered the 24 Hours of Le Mans in June of that year. He co-drove a Talbot-Lago T26GS. He wasn't, however, able to return to the top step of the podium. In fact, his attempt at the 24 hour race ended rather early on. Eugene was only able to finish 33 laps before his car retired due to radiator problems.
At the age of 44, Eugene was beginning to slow down his racing career, especially in grand prix racing. This was in no small way influenced by the great expense it was to go grand prix racing, even in those days. Whether planned or not, Eugene would only take part in one more grand prix in his career. At the end of June Eugene entered his own Talbot-Lago T26C for the European Grand Prix, which took place on July 1st at Reims, France. As he had done the year before, Chaboud had hopes of being able to come and pull off an encore performance and be able to leave grand prix racing remembered instead of relatively forgotten.
Chaboud would have more than just the competitors to battle if he wanted to have a chance to ride off into the sunset with a good result. The elements would end up being almost as much of a challenge as the competition.
Twenty-three cars ended up qualifying for the race. The course layout for the grand prix was made up of public roads running between Reims and Gueux. It was, in essence, a triangle-shaped layout. It was 4.85 miles in length. Therefore, with its layout the way it was, combined with its length, the course was fast. It was basically three long straights interrupted by sharp hairpin turns. Because it was fast, the Alfa Romeo 159s and Ferrari 375s dominated. In fact, the first seven spots on the starting grid were either Alfa Romeos or Ferraris. Given the presence of the Alfas and Ferraris, Eugene starting position was rather good. He would start the race from 14th on the grid.
The incredibly hot and dry weather posed a great threat to everybody on the grid. Engine related problems would have been expected in such oppressive conditions. The cars roared away at the start of the race. Along with them, attrition too started its race. Everybody was driving as fast as they could to be first, but only fast enough as to avoid being swallowed up by attrition. Six cars were out of the running by the tenth lap of the race. One of them was the famous Ferrari driver Alberto Ascari. By the end of the race eight of the twelve who retired did so with engine related issues, but only one technically retired due to overheating problems.
It was at Reims the previous year that Eugene had been able to earn his one and only point toward the championship. Absent from the race in 1950 was the presence of a strong Scuderia Ferrari team. The following year, Eugene was driving the same race that had earned him that point. While many others had already retired, Chaboud continued on, hoping the race would come to him. Had Ferrari not been there, it would have worked for him. Juan Manuel Fangio would go on to win the race driving Luigi Fagioli's 159. Alberto Ascari finished 2nd, driving Jose Froilan Gonzalez's Ferrari 375. Luigi Villoresi finished 3rd in his 375. Eugene had been lapped eight times before the end, but ended up finishing the race 8th. If none of the Ferraris, that finished ahead of him, been present that day, he most likely would have finished 5th, thereby earning him another single point toward the championship. Either way, this was a good result for someone who had contested only this one Formula One race the entire year.
He was doing everything the same as the year before, but it didn't work for him two years in a row. Eugene's 8th place result was his only foray into grand prix racing in 1951 and it would be forever his last. The following year, Chaboud looked to try his hand once more at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. In the midst of the event he suffered a crash. At the age of 45, Eugene knew it was time to step away. He did just that and never returned to racing. He would end up living into his late seventies and would die in Montfermeil, France in 1983.
Looking through the pages of grand prix and sports car racing's early history Eugene's name pops up here and there as if to declare to all the world his talent and accomplishments in spite of the presence of more famous names and champions. Though the racing fraternity is small, there have still been a number of drivers and teams that have come and gone never having achieved anything near noteworthy. Although easy to lose in the background amidst such famous names as Varzi, Farina, Fangio, Ascari and others, Eugene Chaboud's career stands as one of those that should never be forgotten and that makes auto racing so dramatic.