TeamsRob Walker Racing Team: 1953 Formula One Season By Jeremy McMullen
The heir of the Johnnie Walker Whisky empire, Rob Walker would use the fortune gained from the widely distributed Scotch whisky label to become the most widely successful privateer in grand prix racing history. And as with the satisfying taste of the famous blended whisky, the debut season would also be quite satisfying and would certainly lay the foundation for the famous Rob Walker Racing Team.
In 1805 John Walker is born to Alexander and Elizabeth Gemmell at the Todriggs Farm near Kilmarnock in Scotland. In 1857, John Walker passes away, at which time his burgeoning whisky line is taken over by his son Alexander. By the turn of the 20th century, the label is known worldwide and is being run by Alexander's sons.
Then, in August of 1917, Robert Ramsay Campbell Walker was born. Born into the family business, Walker was a toddler of means. Inheriting a fortune by the time he was three, Walker was certainly free to explore what passions he may have had. And after witnessing a race on the beach in Boulogne, France he was forever hooked on motor racing. By the time he was in his late teens, Walker himself was racing motorcycles and cars around the family estate.
While at Cambridge University, Walker had already come to own a Brooklands racer, as well as, a Lagonda sportscar. Walker also pursued other passion, which included flying. He flew with the University Air Squadron and would even fly with the Royal Navy when the Second World War broke out in 1939.
Before the war, Walker would enjoy a brief racing career. He would purchase a Delahaye and would take part in races at Brooklands and would even come in 8th place at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1939 along with Ian Connell.
During World War II, he would spend the early years stationed in Liverpool. However, he would end up posted to North Africa. He would survive a torpedo attack, but soon would be grounded from flying.
After the war, Walker would go back to racing. He would take part in a number of minor events using the old Delahaye. Soon, however, Walker would realize he was in a better position to enter his own car and have another talented driver take over the driving duties. This would begin Walker's relationship with Tony Rolt and Eric Thompson.
By the 1950s decade, Rob Walker Racing was routinely taking part in Formula One races around the British Isles. During the first couple of years of the decade, the team would go on to earn a number of top ten results in Formula One races. However, the team would not take part in any World Championship event throughout the series' first three years of existence.
One year remained for the World Championship conducting races according to Formula 2 regulations. In 1954, the new Formula One regulations would come online and would cause the gate to the premier series to narrow. Therefore, in 1953, Rob Walker would finally seize upon the opportunity and begin the privateer's legend.
Although the World Championship would begin early on in 1953, the Rob Walker Racing Team would not take part in the first round. Although Walker certainly had the money, a single-car entry all the way across the Atlantic Ocean in Argentina certainly had its risks. Becoming a true 'World' Championship, the necessity of travelling as part of a large factory effort was all but obvious.
Instead of taking part in the first round of the World Championship, Rob Walker Racing would wait until early April before it would take part in its first grand prix of the 1953 season, and even then it would be a non-championship race.
On the 6th of April, the Rob Walker Racing Team would be busy unloading and preparing its blue and white livered Connaught A-Type chassis for the 5th Lavant Cup race held at the 2.39 mile Goodwood Circuit.
Situated on the Goodwood Estate, RAF Westhampnett had been commissioned as an auxiliary airfield for RAF Tangmere. However, during the desperate days of the Battle of Britain, the base would come to host a squadron of Spitfire and Hurricane fighters. Though the airfield itself utilized turf runways, it would be surrounded by a perimeter road measuring more than two miles in length. And even during the war, this perimeter road would become host to some impromptu races held by pilots on their days off. This would make the site an obvious site for a motor racing venue when it would come to be decommissioned some years after the war.
After hosting some of the best fighters Britain had to offer during World War II, the now motor racing circuit would host some of the best in sportscar and grand prix racing. One of the more popular events was the Easter races. This was a day filled with all kinds of different categories of racing cars competing in short events. One of those events was the 7 lap Lavant Cup race.
Tony Rolt would be at the wheel of the Rob Walker Racing Connaught A-Type and would prepare to take on the likes of Stirling Moss, Roy Salvadori and even Emmanuel de Graffenried.
Practice would see Roy Salvadori set the pace and take the pole his fastest lap of one minute, thirty-five and four-tenths seconds would end up just two-tenths of a second faster than Emmanuel de Graffenried. The rest of the four-wide front row would consist of Bobbie Baird starting 3rd and Rolt starting 4th. This was a great start to the season for the team. Rolt just had to complete the good start by earning a great result as well.
Right from the very start of the race it was clear de Graffenried would certainly be one of those to beat. He obvious had a greater pace than Salvadori despite the fact Salvadori had nipped him for the pole.
At only 7 laps in length, the racing would be tight. Any mistake would also have severe consequences. Rolt would look great right from the start and would move his way up the order as Baird slipped down. Emmanuel de Graffenried would manage to slip by Salvadori to take the lead and would also quickly begin to pull away. This meant Rolt had Salvadori out ahead as a target to aim for. However, Rolt had to be careful himself as Kenneth McAlpine would be rather close in another Connaught.
Although Salvadori would turn the fastest lap of the race, de Graffenried would be dominant throughout and would go on to take the victory completing the race distance in eleven minutes and thirty seconds at an average speed of over 87 mph. Emmanuel de Graffenried would enjoy nearly a thirteen second advantage over Salvadori by the time he crossed the line in 2nd place. Salvadori had proven to be too strong for Rolt to reel in over the course of the 7 laps. Rolt's focus, in turn, would switch to maintaining his position over McAlpine. Rolt would prove too strong for McAlpine. Though he would cross the line nearly seven seconds behind Salvadori in 3rd place, Rolt would hold off McAlpine by a little more than three seconds.
The first race of the season had proven to be a strong showing by the team from beginning to end. Not only had Rolt managed to start from the front row, but he would also manage to go on and finish on the podium. This would be just the beginning of what would be a very strong season.
Nearly two weeks after the race at Goodwood, the Rob Walker Racing Team would make their way a good deal east of Goodwood, and even London, and would arrive at what had also been another decommissioned airbase. Named after the very small village just to the north, Snetterton would play host to the 2nd Aston Martin Owners Club Formula 2 Race held on the 18th of April.
Situated in Norfolk, RAF Snetterton-Heath would become a very important airbase during the Second World War. Initially assigned to the British, the base would come to house the 386th Medium and 96th Heavy Bombardment Groups. From this base, B-17 Flying Fortresses would take part in the dangerous Schweinfurt Raids and would be in charge of battering gun emplacements, railway bridges and coastal defenses in support of the invasion of Normandy.
Like so many decommissioned airbases, Snetterton-Heath's 2.70 miles of perimeter road would form the basis of a motor racing circuit. Snetterton Motor Racing Circuit had been purchased just the year before (1952), and 1953 would see its first year of use for grand prix racing.
The field would be rather small. Just ten cars would arrive. Rob Walker Racing would have Eric Thompson behind the wheel for the short 10 lap race. Though one of the favorites coming into the race, Thomspon would certainly have his work cut out for him with Ken Wharton, Bob Gerard and Peter Whitehead in the field.
Some relief would come Thompson's way even before the race really began when one of the cars would even start the race and Ken Wharton's Cooper-Bristol T23 broke pretty much right on the starting grid.
Even without Wharton in the equation, Thompson would still have to fight hard for a good result. In addition to Gerard and Whitehead, Bobbie Baird was also in the field with his Ferrari 500. The circuit certainly seemed to suit the powerful Ferrari as Baird would go on to set the fastest lap of the race. However, Baird would not be consistent and would still find himself fighting for position inside the top five.
Thompson had been looking good right from the start and was in the lead with Gerard and Whitehead giving chase. Baird and Rodney Nuckey were busy fighting it out for 4th place in the field.
Lap after lap, Thompson ran consistently fast laps and maintained an edge over Gerard. The two of them would eventually pull away from Whitehead in 3rd place and it would genuinely become a battle between two for the lead and the win.
The group would cover the 27 miles in under twenty minutes. Rounding Coram Curve for the final time, Thompson continued to hold onto the lead but Gerard was close behind in 2nd place and ready to pounce if Eric made any last minute slip-ups. Powering down the short straight toward the finish line, Thompson knew he had everything under control and would not make a mistake in the last moments. In just nineteen minutes and eleven seconds, Thompson would earn Rob Walker Racing its first victory on the season beating Bob Gerard by just under two seconds. Peter Whitehead would end up running pretty much alone on the circuit and would cross the line in 3rd place nearly thirteen seconds behind.
What a way to start the season! After a 3rd place in the first race, Thompson powers his way to victory. Though a small privateer team, Rob Walker Racing was quickly proving to be one of the strongest competitors. This would only be further affirmed at the team's next race.
In what was quickly becoming a tour of former World War II airbases, Rob Walker Racing would find themselves at another former airbase on the 9th of May. This one had quickly grown a reputation as Britain's home for motor racing. Not only did the 2.88 mile Silverstone Circuit host the British round of the World Championship, but it also hosted another very popular race. And it would be this race, the BRDC International Trophy race, in which the Rob Walker Racing Team had come to Silverstone to compete in.
In 1953 it would be the 5th edition of the race. The first edition of the event was meant to take place utilizing a good portion of the runways, as well as, the perimeter road. However, organizers for the Royal Automobile Club would decide to abandon the runways and just use the perimeter road. The circuit layout would end up being adopted for both the International Trophy race and the British Grand Prix.
Unlike the British Grand Prix, the International trophy race was conducted according to heats and a final instead of simply a certain set of laps. The entire field would be broken up into two heats. The finishing times from each competitor in each heat would then determine the starting grid for the final. Each heat lasted 15 laps while the final would be 35.
Back behind the blue and white Connaught would be Tony Rolt. Rolt would end up being listed in the first heat along with Emmanuel de Graffenried , Stirling Moss, Bob Gerard and others.
In practice, it would be de Graffenried using his new Maserati A6SSG to good advantage taking the pole with a time of one minute and fifty-one seconds. This time would end up being nearly three seconds faster than Bob Gerard who would start in 2nd place in his Cooper-Bristol T23. Starting 3rd on the front row would be Tony Rolt. He would be mere tenths of a second slower than Gerard but would grab his second front row starting position on the year. Rounding-out the front row would be Kenneth McAlpine in another Connaught.
Stirling Moss and Prince Bira would make great starts and would be fighting up at the front of the field. The best start, an illegal one, would go to Bob Gerard who would jump the start but would carry on.
Rolt would be right there with Bira, Moss, de Graffenried and Gerard. Quickly, a battle between de Graffenried and Moss would develop. Rolt would be busy chasing down Bira while Gerard would be doing everything he could to cling on in 5th.
Both Moss and de Graffenried would set matching fastest lap times and would continue to do battle almost the entire 15 laps. Despite doing battle amongst themselves, Moss and de Graffenried would gradually pull away from Bira who was busy trying to pull away from Rolt. Rolt had little pressure on him. He and Bira were able to pull away from Gerard who would end up being penalized anyway. There would be another gap between Gerard and the rest of the field.
The average speed at the front of the field would be quite something. Averaging more than 90 mph, de Graffenried continued to hold off Moss and even began to stretch out something of a lead as the end of the heat neared. The gap between these two and 3rd and 4th place would also grow to be quite substantial.
In twenty-eight minutes and fifty-nine seconds, de Graffenried would cross the line to take the victory in the first heat. Five seconds behind came Moss in 2nd place. This had been a truly impressive performance by Moss considering he had started the race from 11th on the grid. Emmanuel De Graffenried's pace over the last couple of laps had actually slowed as he had stretched out a margin over Moss. Prince Bira would be trailing a long way behind in 3rd place but would enjoy a comfortable margin of his own over Rolt. Bira would finish nearly eighteen seconds behind in 3rd place but would enjoy a six second advantage over Rolt in 4th.
The second heat would include Mike Hawthorn as the lone entry for Scuderia Ferrari. Ferrari would be confident in Hawthorn's abilities to handle the field by himself. However, it would be Ken Wharton that would take the pole for the second heat edging out Hawthorn by mere tenths. The rest of the front row for the second heat would consist of Louis Chiron in 3rd place and Maurice Trintignant in 4th.
The closeness of qualifying between Wharton and Hawthorn would end up turning into a titanic battle during the second heat. Louis Chiron would be dropped from the front of the field almost immediately because of the sheer pace of the two heading up the field. Roy Salvadori would come up from the second row of the grid to take over Chiron's 3rd place and the chase of Wharton and Hawthorn. Maurice Trintignant would also be right there with his Gordini T16.
Each and every lap of the second heat would see Hawthorn and Wharton locked in a tremendous duel. The two would be never more than a car length or two apart and the show would be incredible. Despite starting from the pole, Wharton would lose the head of the field to Hawthorn and would be forced to fight with everything he had in an effort to retake the lead. The furious battle between the two would gradually increase the pace, as well as, drop the finishing times of the two.
Averaging two miles per hour faster than the first heat, Hawthorn would go on to take the victory in the second heat over Wharton by a mere second. The finishing times of the two would end up being over thirty-five seconds faster than de Graffenried's in the first heat as well. After Wharton crossed the line in 2nd, nearly fifty seconds would pass before Roy Salvadori would cross the line in 3rd.
It was time to set the starting grid for the 35 lap final. Finishing times from each heat determined the order for each competitor. Therefore, Hawthorn would start from the pole with Wharton alongside in 2nd. It would then be de Graffenried lining up in 3rd position with Moss completing the front row in 4th. Rolt's finishing time of Twenty-nine minutes and twenty-seven seconds would only be good enough to start from 8th place on the grid, which was the first position on the third row. This would be the first time all season Rolt had not started on the front row for a grand prix. He would turn things around in the race, however.
Emmanuel de Graffenried would try with all his might to get a good start in order to throttle Hawthorn and the rest of the field. Unfortunately, he would jump the start and would come under review from the stewards. The race went on, however. Emmanuel would be quick. Perhaps he thought if he completed the distance in record time he could take the win before the stewards made up their mind as to what to do. Aided by a fastest lap time of one minute and fifty-one seconds, de Graffenried kept the pressure on Hawthorn.
Moss had made an incredible jump from 11th in the first heat to finish 2nd. Many thought he could put together a similar performance and would be challenging for the lead in the final. While immediately he looked good, over time, he would begin to slip down the order with a car that just wasn't quite performing as it could have been.
Wharton would be another that would seemingly give his all in the heat race and would have nothing left in the final. He too would slip down the order and would be fighting with Bob Gerard trying to avenge for his 60 second penalty assessed at the end of the first heat.
Salvadori and Rolt would make great starts and would be up near the front of the field almost from the very beginning. They would each be helped out when Trintignant retired after 8 laps due to a wheel coming off of his car. They would further be helped when de Graffenried withdrew his car near halfway when he learned he was to be penalized for his false start. This would leave Salvadori doing everything he could to try and track down Hawthorn and Rolt trailing a good distance behind Salvadori.
Hawthorn had earlier matched de Graffenried's fastest lap time. But with de Graffenried's withdrawal, and a comfortable margin over everybody else, Hawthorn would settle in and would just cruise. Interestingly, he would be chased by the man that had driven for Hawthorn's father the year before when Mike suffered an injury. Although Salvadori was showing to be quite strong in his own right, he just could not reel in Hawthorn.
Hawthorn was in control from almost the very beginning. He would go on to take an easy win completing the distance in one hour, six minutes and thirty-six seconds. Twelve seconds later, Salvadori would come across the line to take a solid 2nd place. One of the most impressive performances would be put together by Rolt.
Rolt would start the final from 8th place on the starting grid. But he would not start there. After making a great start, Rolt would only continue to put together an impressive performance behind the wheel of the Connaught. Though he followed Prince Bira through to the end of the first heat, he would leave him behind in the final. Rolt would end up coming through to a very fine 3rd place finish about forty-five seconds behind Hawthorn.
Once again, Rob Walker Racing was truly impressive. After three races, the team had the opportunity to celebrate three podium finishes. Rolt's performance in the final was truly spectacular considering the length of the race and the talent in which he beat. Certainly the team hoped to continue the form as it headed across the Irish Sea.
Just one week separated Rob Walker Racing from its fantastic 3rd place performance in the International Trophy race and its next event. Therefore, the team would pack up the car and the equipment and would head to the west coast where it would catch a ship across the Irish Sea to Northern Ireland and Ulster. The team's ultimate destination would be the road circuit utilizing the country roads near the village of Dundrod. The race was the 7th Ulster Trophy race.
Resting in Townland in County Antrim, the small village of Dundrod boasts of less than 100 people. However, the rolling hills overlooking Belfast would become known all throughout Europe for the circuit bearing its name. Measuring 7.41 miles in length, the Dundrod Circuit has always been a road circuit in the truest, purest form. Filled with rolling terrain and fast, twisting bends the Dundrod required as much courage as power and handling in order to be fast around its scenic countryside wonderland.
The Ulster Trophy race would follow a similar format to that of the International Trophy race at Silverstone. The race would consist of two heats and a final. For the race in Northern Ireland, the Rob Walker Racing Team would turn to one of the most patriotic British drivers there was at the time. Stirling Moss would jump in behind the wheel of the Connaught and would prepare to do battle in the first heat against drivers such as Duncan Hamilton, Jimmy Somervail and Jock Lawrence.
Stirling Moss would give a hint of the special relationship he would later have with Rob Walker Racing as he would go on to take the pole for the first heat race. He wouldn't just take the pole by tenths. Instead, Moss would set a time of four minutes and fifty-nine seconds around the 7.41 miles. This time would end up being eighteen seconds faster than John Lyons in his Connaught A-Type. Duncan Hamilton would complete the front row by setting a time twenty seconds slower than Moss and two seconds slower than Lyons.
Each heat would last 10 laps, or, 74 miles. Right from the start, Moss would look to be quite fast. With Duncan Hamilton and Jimmy Somervail in tow, Moss would be flying around the circuit and over Deer's Leap.
Two cars wouldn't even make it off the starting grid before problems would force them out of the race. Dick Odlum would immediate run into mechanical trouble while Archie Bryde would run afoul of carburetor problems.
Moss would be fast during the early going. He would go on to set the fastest lap of the heat with a time that was some three seconds faster than his own qualifying effort. Unfortunately, this would have a negative impact on his race as gearbox-related issues would force him to slow his pace as the heat race wore on. This would allow Duncan Hamilton to come up and take over the lead of the race. It would also cause Moss to have to defend his position against an oncoming Jimmy Somervail.
Hamilton would take the gift and would go on to take the victory in the heat completing the distance in fifty-two minutes and thirty-two seconds. Moss would fight hard throughout the last part of the race but would fortunately hold on to finish 2nd but nine seconds behind Hamilton. Somervail would come to finish the heat in 3rd place some six seconds behind Moss.
As the second heat prepared to get things underway, the Rob Walker Racing team would have the task of trying to figure out what could be done with the Connaught before the final.
As with the International Trophy race, Mike Hawthorn would be the sole Scuderia Ferrari entry in the field. He would have Ken Wharton listed with him in the second heat along with Emmanuel de Graffenried, Peter Whitehead and others.
Unlike the International Trophy race, Hawthorn would not let Wharton get the better of him in practice. Hawthorn would go on to set the fastest lap of practice with an incredible time of four minutes and fifty-one seconds. This would be eight seconds faster than Moss' time in the first heat and would also be eight seconds faster than Wharton who would start the race from 2nd place on the front row. Emmanuel de Graffenried would be ten seconds slower but would still start on the front row in 3rd.
The field would roar away to start the 10 lap second heat. Right away, trouble would come and visit some of the key players in the race. Emmanuel de Graffenried would be out after just one lap because of a rear axle failure. Two HWM-Altas, driven by Lance Macklin and Peter Collins, would end up retiring after just two laps. Macklin would withdraw his car after problems with the HWM and Collins would retire as a result of a misfire issue.
It mattered little as Hawthorn dominated the proceedings right from the word 'go'. Over the course of the 10 lap heat race, Hawthorn would go on to set a fastest lap time that would be just three seconds slower than his qualifying pace. Yet, it would be two seconds faster than Moss' fastest lap time set in the first heat.
Wharton wouldn't be able to hang on to Hawthorn as he had during the International Trophy race. Instead, Wharton would have a battle with Bobbie Baird. As with he and Hawthorn, not more than a couple of car lengths would separate Wharton and Baird during the second heat.
As Hawthorn continued to reign supreme, another couple of main players would fall to the wayside. Prince Bira would have an axle casing problem that would force him out of the race. Jacques Swaters would also retire from the race in his Ferrari 500 as a result of a magneto failure.
Hawthorn would suffer no such problems. He would also force the rest of the field to either strain every bit out of themselves and their cars, or, be left far behind. Averaging nearly 4 mph more per lap throughout the 10 lap heat race, Hawthorn would go on to take the victory earning a finishing time that was over two minutes faster than Hamilton's effort in the first heat. Finishing the distance in fifty minutes and twenty-four seconds, Hawthorn would enjoy a margin of seven seconds over Wharton in 2nd. Wharton would just manage to hold on to 2nd place as he would beat Baird to the stripe by just one second.
Finishing times would mean little for the Ulster Trophy race, however. Another practice session would serve to set the grid for the final. Not much, however, would change. Hawthorn would go on to set the pace and take the pole. Bobbie Baird would surprise many by taking 2nd place and making it two Ferrari 500s in the first-two positions on the grid. Ken Wharton would complete the front row in 3rd place. Stirling Moss would put together an impressive performance in the practice session and would end up just missing out on the front row. Instead, Moss would line up on the second row in 4th place.
The nearly perfect season was unlikely to carry on throughout the whole of the season. And at the Ulster Trophy race, Rob Walker Racing would experience their first bump in the road. In what would be Moss' first race with the team on the season, there would be a disappointing result. As the cars lined up on the grid leading up to the start of the 14 lap final, Moss place on the grid would remain empty as the gearbox-related problems would cause the team not to start the car in the final.
It was very likely that Hawthorn would run away with the race given his pace in the second heat. And as the field roared away it became quite obvious those beliefs were well founded. Hawthorn would be out front and would continue to stretch out a lead with every passing mile. Behind him, the field would immediately be packed into bunches but would begin to string out.
Hawthorn would power his way around Rushyhill, stretching out his lead even more. As the field snaked its way around and across the line to start another lap, a couple of entries would find their race come to an end after just one lap. Joe Kelly would lose his engine and would be clearly out of the running. Gerry Dunham would also have his engine let go bringing his race to an end as well. After these two retirements, the attrition would settle down and would only force one other car out over the course of the race.
Hawthorn ran consistently fast laps around the 7.41 mile circuit. Each and every mile would see him stretch out a bigger and bigger margin over the rest of the field. Helped along by a fastest lap time of five minutes flat, Hawthorn would enjoy at least a minute advantage over the entire field. Some he would put a lap down before the end.
Hawthorn's pace, along with the nature of the circuit, would cause the field to stretch out so that there would be many seconds, even minutes, between competitors all around the circuit. In the last couple of laps of the race, the only real fight anywhere in the field would be found all the way down in the battle for 9th place between Jock Lawrence and Geoff Richardson. Only a second separated the two over the course of the final few laps of the race.
Hawthorn would under no such pressure throughout the entire 14 lap final. Because he ran consistently fast laps, Hawthorn was able to back off the pace, and yet, still stretch out a large advantage. Coming to the finish, Hawthorn had been averaging nearly 2 mph slower in the final than in the second heat, but was still enjoying a large lead. Crossing the line to take the victory, Hawthorn would have to wait a minute and fourteen seconds before he would see Wharton come across to take 2nd. Thirty-three seconds would pass before Bobbie Baird would come across the line to finish in 3rd.
Although the race had not come about the same as the previous races, the Ulster Trophy race was still a solid effort by the team. The team certainly was not off the pace. And if the team could get back to the reliability enjoyed throughout the first few races of the season it would be obvious the team would continue to be strong at each and every race.
The next opportunity for Rob Walker Racing to get back on track would come one week after the disappointing Ulster Trophy race. The team would head back across the Irish Sea to England. From the coast, the team would head on to the south of London. And on the 25th of May, the team would be making final preparations in order to take part in the 3rd Coronation Trophy race held at Crystal Palace.
Situated in the borough of Bromley, Crystal Palace Park offers some incredible views of London. One of the highest points in London, Crystal Palace Park derived its name from the cast-iron and glass building that had occupied the site over 80 years.
The park would serve as host to a number of sporting events and teams throughout its history. London County Cricket Club games would be played at the park. The Crystal Palace Football Club would also call the park home until having to move during the First World War. Also known for its many Victorian structures, Crystal Palace Park would be an important pleasure ground for sporting and cultural and would come to host motor racing in the early 1950s.
Using 1.34 miles of park roads, the Crystal Palace Park Circuit would be the site of the Coronation Trophy race that would also consist of two heat races and a final. Unlike the International Trophy and the Ulster Trophy races, the Coronation Trophy race would not have different distances for the heat and final races. Each heat would be 10 laps as would be the final.
Rob Walker Racing would repair the Connaught A-Type and would put Tony Rolt back behind the wheel of the car while Stirling Moss entered his own Cooper-Alta Special. The two men, along with Ken Wharton, Lance Macklin and others, would be listed in the first heat.
During practice, Archie Bryde would surprise just about everyone to take the pole. The surprises kept coming when Bill Aston took 2nd place on the starting grid. Stirling Moss would join the two men on the front row in 3rd place. And Rolt would again find his way to the front row as he started 4th.
Given the length of the circuit and the race distance, the racing would be tight and fast. It was expected each heat would take only about twelve minutes to complete. Therefore, any mistake would be devastating. On top of it all, neither driver could expect to get too comfortable as the racing would be expected to be quite tight.
As the field roared away, just how close the racing was going to be would become quite clear. Rolt would make a great start and would find his way to the front of the field. But he would have company. Wharton would make a great start from 5th place and would get around Bryde and Aston to be right behind Rolt challenging for the lead. Lance Macklin would also make a great start from 6th place and would edge out Moss for 3rd place. Both Bryde and Aston would be forced out and thrown back down the running order.
Rolt would show just how fast he could be as he would go on to turn the fastest lap of the race with a lap time of one minute and eight seconds. He would need to keep turning fastest lap times as he would have Wharton all over him. The battle between himself and Wharton would surprisingly end up causing the two to pull away from the rest of the field by a fair distance. Macklin would also begin to edge out a larger and larger advantage over Moss as the race wore on.
Two laps from the end, Bryde would be forced out of the race with mechanical ailments. While Bryde would be the only retirement from the heat, the battle between Rolt and Wharton raged unabated. Trading blow for blow, the race for the win would go down to the very end. Coming through the New Link right-hand kink, Rolt continued to hold onto the lead but Wharton's nose was even with Rolt's fuel tank. Rolt would keep his foot on it and would bring Rob Walker Racing back from its disappointing result at Dundrod to earn the heat victory. Rolt would cross the line just six-tenths of a second ahead of Wharton. Eighteen seconds would pass Macklin would come across the line to take 3rd.
The second heat would have more surprises as Jack Fairman would take the pole over Graham Whitehead, Peter Collins and Peter Whitehead.
The second heat would be different from the first heat in that there would be much more attrition that would strike the field than what had in the first heat. Two cars would break right there on the grid. Two more, including Bobbie Baird, would retire before 4 laps would be completed. In all, half of the field of ten starters would retire from the race.
Although Fairman took the pole, he would be overwhelmed during the second heat race. Fairman would be muscled out and thrown all the way back to 4th place in the running order. Peter Whitehead would make the best start and would be fast at the head of the field. As Peter Whitehead began to pull away from the rest of the field, a great duel emerged between Peter Collins and Graham Whitehead for 2nd.
While Peter Whitehead would edge out a bigger and bigger lead, the gap between Peter Collins and Graham Whitehead would remain just tenths each and every lap. Collins would hold onto the position but less than a car length would often be the difference between him keeping it or losing it.
Peter Whitehead's biggest competitor was his own concentration. He would set the fastest lap of the heat and would charge his way on to victory in the second heat. It would be twelve seconds before the battle for 2nd place would be resolved. Coming through the New Link kink, Collins enjoyed only half a car's length lead over Graham Whitehead but it would be enough to hold on and take 2nd place. As with Rolt and Wharton, just six-tenths of a second would separate Collins in 2nd place and Graham in 3rd.
As with the International Trophy race held at Silverstone, the starting grid for the final would be determined by finishing times from each of the competitors in their respective heat races. Therefore, the epic battle between Rolt and Wharton would lead to Rolt starting on the pole for the final with Wharton starting alongside in 2nd. Yet again, Rolt would start from the front row. However, this would be Rolt's first pole of the season. The rest of the front row would include Peter Whitehead starting in 3rd with Lance Macklin rounding-out the front row starting in 4th.
Combining the fastest of the two heats would promise to create some very close racing all throughout the field during the 10 lap final. Seeing that it was the final, each competitor could let it all hang out. The drivers would ask as much as they could from their cars.
Rolt would get away from the line great and would hold onto the front of the field. However, as with the first heat, Ken Wharton would be all over Rolt. Behind these two, Macklin and Peter Whitehead would be locked in a battle of their own.
Rolt would go on to set the fastest lap of the heat setting the very same time as he had during the first heat. He would need to as Wharton remained locked to the back of his Connaught throughout. As close as the battle between Rolt and Wharton had been throughout the early going, the battle between Macklin and Whitehead would be even closer, and for the entire 10 laps.
Despite starting on the front row together, Peter Whitehead would gain the upper-hand at the start. However, mere tenths would separate him from a very determined Macklin. The two would be very evenly matched and this would turn into a great battle each and every turn of each and every lap.
As the race entered the final couple of laps, Rolt had managed to grapple a lead of a couple of seconds over Wharton, but he could by no means relax. Mere tenths remained the gap between Peter Whitehead and Lance Macklin.
The pressure mounted by Wharton over the course of the first half of the race would force Rolt to increase, and maintain, his pace. Averaging nearly a mile and hour faster in the final, Rolt was on pace to beat his own time in the first heat. Sure enough, as Rolt came across the line to take the victory he would complete the distance some five seconds faster than what he had in the first heat. As he came across to take the victory, Wharton would follow along some two seconds behind in 2nd place. The only battle left in the field would be for 3rd place. All throughout the final, the best battle in the field would be between Peter Whitehead and Lance Macklin. Even coming to the finish line, the decision had not been decided. Just six-tenths of a second, or about half a car length, would separate Peter Whitehead from Lance Macklin's attack. Unfortunately, it would not be enough for Macklin and he would have to settle for 4th.
After two other impressive starts, Rolt had managed to improve and ascended to the top stop of the podium. Perhaps more importantly, the Rob Walker Racing Team had overcome the disappointment suffered by Moss at the Ulster Trophy race. Not only had the team come back to earn a good result after the disappointment. The team achieved the ultimate turn-around earning the victory. The incredible season continued.
Less than a week would transpire before Rob Walker Racing would take part in its next race. Leaving London, the team would head back east to Snetterton. They were on their way to take part in the 1st Snetterton Coronation Trophy race on the 30th of May.
The team had just overcome its first setback of the season with a tremendous victory at the Coronation Trophy race held at Crystal Palace Park. Now, the team looked to keep things going with another victory in a coronation race.
The team would arrive with its single car. The blue and white livered Connaught would be prepared, once again, for Tony Rolt. However, Rolt would experience his first race where he would not sit on the front row of the starting grid at any time. Instead, it would be Alan Brown that would be fastest in practice and would take the pole. Starting beside Brown's Cooper-Bristol would be Roy Salvadori in a Frazer-Nash. Third on the starting grid would go to Bobbie Baird. The rest of the front row would include Bill Black starting 4th in another Frazer-Nash and Rodney Nuckey starting 5th in a Cooper-Bristol.
The 1st Snetterton Coronation Trophy race would be just one of many short races held on the former airbase. Therefore, the race would be short, just 10 laps, or, 27 miles.
At the start, Rolt would get the jump and would make his way to the front of the field with Brown close behind giving chase. Rolt would force his way by Baird and Nuckey. Bill Black would end up making a poor start and would fade as the race got underway. This would allow Ian Stewart to come forward and take Black's position as the race continued on.
Nearly halfway through the race, Rolt continued to hold onto the lead. He would turn the fastest lap of the race with a lap of one minute and fifty-one seconds. Rolt's pace, however, would enable him to increase his lead over Alan Brown. Behind the Brown, the race for third place with the tight between Bobby Baird and Rodney Nuckey. Throughout the 10 laps, Baird and Nuckey would be separated by no more than a couple of seconds.
A couple of entrants, Ben Wyatt and Torrie Large, would run foul of trouble and would end up out of the race. Roy Salvadori would also run afoul of problems and would be forced to retire. Jimmy Stewart would drop out with just two laps remaining due to front axle failure.
However, Rolt continued to lead and widened his margin. After just eighteen minutes and fifty-five seconds, Rolt would come across the line to earn his second-straight victory and would enjoy a margin of ten seconds over Brown, who would finish in 2nd place. Over the last couple of laps, the battle for 3rd place would settle down slightly. Baird would hold onto the position and would have a couple of seconds in hand over Nuckey as they crossed the line.
It had been an incredible week for Rob Walker Racing. In an effort to put the failure at Dundrod behind them, the team had managed to go on to score two-straight victories and had done so in rather dominant fashion. This was a truly wonderful sign for the team as the long and busy summer months prepared to heat up.
After a busy month of May, it would be nearly a month before the Rob Walker Racing Team would take part in another grand prix race. However, it wasn't as though there was no racing going on throughout Europe. Besides the Grand Prix of the Netherlands and the Belgian Grand Prix there was also the 24 Hours of Le Mans. In the 24 hour race, Rolt continued his impressive season winning the French endurance classic with Duncan Hamilton in a C-Type Jaguar.
As to Rob Walker Racing, throughout April and May, the only time the team left the English shores would be when the team travelled to Northern Ireland and Dundrod to take part in the Ulster Trophy race. That effort ended in disappointment as mechanical woes would force the team's very early retirement. But in late June, the team would leave the English shores once again. This time, the team would be headed to the European mainland. It hoped this trip would not be in vain. The team would be on its way with Stirling Moss to Rouen and the Rouen-les-Essarts Circuit in order to take part in the 3rd Grand Prix de Rouen-les-Essarts on the 28th of June.
The team was eager to give Stirling Moss an opportunity at a greater result than what he ended up with at Dundrod. Moss would make his own stipulations to the conditions. The team's Connaught A-Type chassis would be left at home. Instead, the team would arrive and unload Moss' Cooper-Alta T24 Special.
The site of the French round of the World Championship in 1952, Rouen-les-Essarts was one of the favorite circuits as it featured more modern pits and other amenities not readily available out in the countryside near Reims. Situated in the Foret de Rouvray along the floodplain of the Seine River, the heavy-wooded forests would be nearly decimated during the 15th and 16th centuries and again during the 17th century. However, by the early 1950s, the heavily-wooded forests and the valley surrounding the Seine would make for one popular grand prix circuit.
The circuit would start out with a gradual descent into the valley and to the Nouveau Monde hairpin. From the hairpin the circuit would gradually climb in altitude and then would steeply climb while rounding the sharp left-hander at Sanson and Beauval.
The deck was already somewhat stacked against Moss even before the car would be unloaded. This would be because of the fact the race would feature a mixture of both Formula One and Formula 2 cars in the 60 lap race. Out of sixteen cars that would arrive at the circuit for the race, only seven would be Formula 2 cars. The rest would be a mixture of old and new Formula One cars.
Scuderia Ferrari would be present at the race with two of their new 625 chassis. The French Equipe Gordini team would bring a couple of their Formula One-based Gordini T16 chassis on top of a single Formula 2 version. Besides the new Formula One cars there would also be a Ferrari 375 entered by Louis Rosier and a gaggle of Talbot-Lago T26Cs.
In practice, the new Ferraris would set the pace and would continue Ferrari's dominance. Giuseppe Farina would end up on the pole after recording a time of two minutes and twelve seconds. Just a little more than a second slower, Mike Hawthorn would start in 2nd place. The Frenchman, Maurice Trintignant, would manage to put a French team, car and driver on the front row in 3rd place with a time just two-tenths of a second slower than Hawthorn.
Fighting against the might of the Formula One cars, Moss would find the going tough. While Rolt had gotten used to starting on the front row of just about every race in which he had taken part, Moss would have to peer into the distance to be able to see the front row at Rouen. His best time in practice would end up being just thirteen seconds slower but it would only be good enough to start 12th on the grid, or, in the middle of the fifth row.
One car wouldn't make it to the starting grid. The rest would peel away in a cloud of tire smoke and roaring engines. The Ferraris of Farina and Hawthorn would lead the way. Maurice Trintignant would be giving chase in his Gordini. Behind them, the rest of the field would weave its way through the twisty and winding circuit settling in for a long 190 mile journey.
Elie Bayol would break on the first lap of the race. Yves Giraud-Cabantous would last only four laps before transmission issues would force his early retirement. Things would quiet down until the 19th lap of the race when Jean Behra was forced to retire from the race because of steering failure.
Moss would make a good start and would fast right from the beginning. Unfortunately, he would be battling Formula One cars with greater horsepower. Though he would give it everything he had, he would have to use attrition to help him move forward in the running order. With a difference in pace of about twelve seconds per lap, by the time Behra retired from the race, Moss was already being threatened with being two laps down and would just have to endure the punishment throughout the entire 60 laps.
The two Ferraris ran nose-to-tail at the front of the field. Locked together like a short train, the two steam-rolled the field. Then, when Maurice Trintignant retired halfway through the race with rear axle failure, there wasn't any other competitor within shouting distance of the two Ferrari teammates. They would be left to battle it out amongst themselves.
Hawthorn would go on to set the fastest lap of the race with a time of two minutes and twelve seconds. The time would actually be faster than his own qualifying effort and just half a second slower than Farina's best effort from practice. However, it would not be enough to overcome Farina as he would just match Hawthorn's fast lap with consistently fast laps that kept the Brit at bay.
Coming into the last couple of laps, had the two decided to do so, they each could have gotten out and pushed their cars across the finish line and still beat the rest of the field. However, they would finish the race under power. Just a little more than a second would separate Farina from Hawthorn as the two crossed the line at the end of the 60 laps. Though Hawthorn would follow Farina across the line just a little more than a second behind, Philippe Etancelin would be a further minute and forty seconds, plus three laps, behind Farina and Hawthorn. But he would still finish the race in 3rd.
If Farina and Hawthorn managed to pull out a three lap advantage over the old Formula One cars, then Moss certainly had very little chance of keeping pace in a Formula 2 car. While the race would fare better than his Ulster Trophy race, it certainly wouldn't seem like it in the overall results. Though he would finish 4th amongst the Formula 2 machines, Moss would still finish the race 10th overall and some seven laps behind.
While the result certainly wouldn't be like that which the team had been experiencing throughout the early part of the season, the result would still be a good effort against the Formula One machines and a little bit of redemption for Moss after not being able to take part in the final at Dundrod. Nonetheless, the team certainly wanted to get back onto the podium.
There would be a gap of two weeks between races for the team. They would take their time packing up and heading to the northern French coast. The team would then head back across the English Channel and would head back to London and Crystal Palace Park. Their reason for heading back to Crystal Palace Park was because the 1st Crystal Palace Trophy race would take place on the 11th of July.
While Stirling Moss would remain in France to take part in the French Grand Prix, the team would reunite with Tony Rolt at Crystal Palace Park. The majority of the team's season had been filled with podium finishes and victories. However, after the team's low point at Dundrod, Rolt would get behind the wheel and would carry the team to two-straight victories. Now, the team was coming back from a desperate struggle against Formula One cars. While the experience had not been a low point it certainly wasn't near the point of elation most all of the others had been. Then, as the team arrived in London and Crystal Palace Park, Rolt would be back behind the wheel of the car and a favorite to end up on the podium.
The confidence would be running high after practice when Rolt managed to turn the fastest lap and took the pole for the 15 lap race. Roy Salvadori would start beside Rolt in 2nd place on the starting grid. Les Leston would end up starting from the front row as well in the 3rd place position.
The front row would break off the line maintaining position. Rolt would have the lead over Salvadori and Leston. In fact, the top eight would remain virtually unchanged from where either competitor had qualified.
Rolt would continue to hold onto the lead but he would need to try with everything he had to keep Salvadori behind him. Salvadori would make life tough for Rolt turning the fastest lap of the race.
Amazingly, the first-nine places remained unchanged. The running order in the race was an exact copy as the starting grid throughout first through ninth place. The only change to that order would come with Kenneth McAlpine's retirement.
In what could have been characterized as an exhibition race, the top five would finish just as they had started. Rolt would carry on to yet another victory for Rob Walker Racing. He would complete the distance in seventeen minutes and twenty-three seconds beating Roy Salvadori and Les Leston.
It had been turning out to be one incredible run for Tony Rolt and Rob Walker Racing. Besides his two 3rd place results early on in the season, the last three races in which he had driven for the team had resulted in victories, three-straight no less. This incredible run would take the team into perhaps its most important race of the season.
Two weeks after yet another victory for Rolt and Rob Walker Racing, the team and driver would be at Silverstone preparing for the sixth round of the World Championship. The British Grand Prix had come to be held at Silverstone the very first year in which the Royal Automobile Club had come to own the lease on the decommissioned airbase. Amazingly, to that point in the season, Silverstone had remained the one elusive circuit for Rolt. While he had experienced a good result at the circuit earlier on in the season, Rolt had gotten rather used to scoring victories at every other circuit. However, he would have an almost impossible chance of scoring that elusive victory at the British Grand Prix on the 18th of July.
As Rob Walker Racing unloaded their Connaught, they would have Scuderia Ferrari unloading their four Ferrari 500s. In addition to Ferrari, the factory Maserati team would be busy unloading four Maserati A6SSGs of their own. Besides Ferrari and Maserati, Rob Walker Racing would also have to deal with Equipe Gordini and a number of other small teams and privateer entries like themselves.
Rolt and Rob Walker Racing would also not have the extra motivation of a World Championship to help motivate and propel them forward. This, however, would be exactly the circumstances Scuderia Ferrari would find itself after an incredible French Grand Prix. Up until the French Grand Prix, Alberto Ascari had been dominant. And while he was still in front in the points by a large margin, Mike Hawthorn had earned the victory at Reims and was posing the greatest threat to the World Champion to retain his title. Therefore, the Ferrari team would be highly competitive and motivated since it had the top three spots in the championship race with Ascari, Hawthorn and Farina.
This truth would be apparent in practice as Alberto Ascari would take the pole with a lap time of one minute and forty-eight seconds. The factory Maserati team would not let Ferrari go without a fight. This would be clear when Jose Froilan Gonzalez set the second-fastest time in practice and would line up next to Ascari on the front row. Mike Hawthorn would start in 3rd with Juan Manuel Fangio completing the front row in yet another Maserati.
The top seven on the grid would be either occupied by Ferraris or Maseratis. However, Rolt would still fare quite well in practice. Amongst the privateers and small teams, Rolt would be the highest-placed qualifier on the starting grid. Rolt would put together an impressive time in practice. Though six seconds slower than Ascari, Rolt would still start the race from 10th on the grid and from the four-wide third row. In all, twenty-eight cars would start the 90 lap, 263 mile, race.
In usual English fashion, the cars would line up on the grid under overcast skies with the very real threat of rain. With rain on the way, the field would tear away pushing hard to gain whatever positions possible before the rain came and really began to mess with things. Fangio would get the best jump off the line and would be leading the field going into the Copse. However, he would push it a little too deep going in and would have to fight just to maintain control. This would hand the lead over to Ascari. Fangio would slot in behind Ascari with Giuseppe Farina, Mike Hawthorn and Jose Froilan Gonzalez trailing right behind.
It had been two years since Tony Rolt had last taken part in a World Championship race. Rolt would make a good start and would push hard along with everyone else. He would be fighting with most of the Equipe Gordini team cars throughout the early going as he settled in and waited for the coming rain.
In an effort to gain as much ground as possible before the rains came, Ascari would push hard right from the very beginning. Quickly he would begin to stretch out an advantage over Fangio and the rest of the front-runners. Ascari's pace was truly remarkable during the early stretch. It was becoming very apparent the only hope any other competitor had of taking the victory would come either through attrition or the rain, not by Ascari himself.
Besides the cars of Tony Crook and Kenneth McAlpine breaking at the very start, attrition would remain rather light through the first 10 laps of the race. However, as the rains began to fall, the troubles would really start to come.
Just before the rains began to fall, Ascari would turn the fastest lap of the race and would extend his lead even more over Fangio in 2nd place. As the rains began to fall, the field began to be decimated. Duncan Hamilton and Maurice Trintignant would retire from the race. Then it would be Ian Stewart and Jean Behra. Broken clutches would then force Lance Macklin and Emmanuel de Graffenried from the race. There would then be a break of about fifteen laps before any more attrition would come on the field.
Rolt continued to run strong just as he had throughout all of his other races with the Rob Walker Racing Team. In fact, he was looking quite strong and in a position to earn a very good result if he could keep it up.
Ascari continued to keep his pace up. Although it wasn't as fast as when it was dry, Ascari was still capable of turning strong laps and keeping Fangio a distance behind himself. The two of them would absolutely decimate the rest of the field.
The pace, the wet and other conditions would cause even some of the front-runners into making mistakes. Mike Hawthorn had been running well until he would spin off the circuit in the wet and oily conditions. The usually smooth Farina would find the conditions tough and would struggle mightily to keep pace. As the race passed the halfway mark, only Fangio would remain on the lead lap with Ascari.
Heading into the final third of the race, Ascari had led every single lap of the race and still enjoyed a sizeable margin over Fangio. Giuseppe Farina was running virtually alone in 2nd place after Hawthorn's spin that dropped him down in the order. Rolt continued to look good in the Connaught until…
With less than twenty laps remaining in the race, Rolt was running well. And with only twelve cars still running, was in line for a solid top ten result, which would have been great considering half of those left were either Ferraris or Maseratis. Unfortunately, for the second time in Rolt's limited World Championship experience, it would all come to an end before reaching the end. The half shaft would end up breaking on the Connaught spoiling what had truly been a splendid performance and bring about the end of a truly remarkable streak for Rolt and Rob Walker Racing.
Ascari and Ferrari's string of dominance would continue unfazed. In exactly two hours and fifty minutes, Ascari would come across the line to take his fourth victory of the season and place a stranglehold on the battle for the championship title. Exactly a minute would pass before Fangio would cross the line to take 2nd.
Just a couple of laps before the end, Ascari had powered his way by his teammate Farina to put him two laps down. This would be a truly incredible drive by Ascari as Farina would end up twelve seconds, and two laps, behind in 3rd.
After two years, Rolt's return to the World Championship would end up as bitter as his one, and only, experience. The string of victories had come to an end, though it was highly unlikely that it was going to continue against the likes of Ascari, Fangio, Farina and the others. Once again, the Rob Walker Racing Team would try and replicate what they had been able to achieve all season long: to win after an early retirement.
In an effort to replicate their performance of rebounding from a bitter failure by securing a victory, the team would remain in England and would travel back to Snetterton the week after the British Grand Prix. The team would be headed back to Snetterton to take part in the 2nd United States Air Force Trophy race, which was a 15 lap affair of the 2.70 mile circuit held on the 25th of July.
The field for the 15 lap race would include some of the normal entries for a race in England. Bob Gerard, Roy Salvadori, Kenneth McAlpine, Bobbie Baird and others would all be listed as entries for the race. Tragically, one of these men would not live to see the start.
There would be other races besides the Formula 2 event. One of those races was a sportscar race. Bobbie Baird would take part in the sportcar race and would pay dearly for doing so. During the race, Baird would roll with car and would be killed in the accident.
Under the dark cloud of Baird's death, the rest of the Formula 2 field would take to the circuit in preparation of the 15 lap Formula 2 race. Immediately, Rolt would fall back into his old form and would be right up there at the front of the field. Rolt would have Bob Gerard and Leslie Marr give chase.
A couple of cars would breakdown before completing the first lap of the race. Two more, including Jack Fairman and Horace Richards, would not make it past two laps. In all, there would be six cars that would not finish the race distance.
Rolt continued on without a problem, but he certainly wasn't running by himself out there on the circuit. Propelled forward by a fastest lap time of one minute and fifty-one seconds, Gerard was all over Rolt's backside.
As the laps began to roll by, Marr would begin to lose a little bit of ground but Gerard would stay right there with Rolt. However, Rolt had been in this position a number of times throughout the season and was not putting a wheel wrong at any moment of the race.
Though Gerard would turn the fastest lap of the race with an average speed nearly 2 mph faster than Rolt's average, Rolt's pace stayed consistently fast and would be enough to counter Gerard at almost every turn.
Coming into the last couple of laps, it was obvious Rolt matched Gerard blow for blow. And as he headed around Riches Corner for the last time, Rolt managed to stretch out a margin of a little more than two seconds and he would maintain the advantage throughout the whole of the final lap. Averaging 85.5 mph, Rolt would complete the race distance in twenty-eight minutes and twenty-one seconds and would take the victory over Gerard. Leslie Marr would then come across the line ten seconds later to claim 3rd.
Rolt had done it yet again! He and the team managed to come right back from the bitter disappointment of the Bristish Grand Prix to take yet another victory. The team's ability to muster its strength and claim victory after a failure was truly something remarkable to behold. While many times would only further deteriorate after a retirement, Rob Walker Racing seemed to only get stronger and more focused. This set the team up in a good position for its string races quickly coming up.
A little more than a week after claiming victory at Snetterton in the United States Air Force Trophy race, the team would find themselves at a new venue. After leaving Snetterton, the team would travel back west beyond London and on to the village of Thruxton in Hampshire. The team was on its way to Thruxton to take part in the 1st Bristol M.C. & L.C.C. Formula 2 race. It was a 20 lap race that would take place on the 3rd of August.
While the World Championship was across the English Channel at the Nurburgring for the German Grand Prix, Rob Walker Racing had come to yet another of Britain's abandoned World War II airbases.
Built in 1940, RAF Station Thruxton would come to be as a natural progression since the fields in the area were already being used as an emergency landing area for regular RAF aircraft out of Andover. Opened in 1942, RAF Thruxton would initially house the British Royal Air Force. The base would come to serve as a maintenance facility for the British. The base would service Lysanders, as well as, Hurricane and Mustang fighters. Then, in February of 1944, the base would be turned over to the United States' Ninth Air Force where it would serve as home for the 366th Fighter Group operating Republic P-47 Thunderbolts. The base would then be used during the D-Day invasions for troop-carrying and glider operations.
When the base was decommissioned in 1946 it would lie dormant for a few years. Then, in 1950, it would come to host motor racing. Besides being used for motor racing, the base would welcome activities it had supported during the war. Glider operations and general aviation traffic would soon return to the base, but for much more peaceful pursuits.
Utilizing two of the original runways, the circuit's 2.74 mile layout prepared to host 20 laps of the Bristol M.C. & L.C.C. Formula 2 race.
The field would be filled with some very talented British drivers. However, as Rob Walker Racing unloaded its Connaught, and Rolt got comfortable behind the wheel, it was obvious who the race favorite would be.
Rolt wouldn't disappoint. Chased by Horace Gould, Jack Walton, Peter Bolton and Bernie Ecclestone, Rolt would show the way. And he would look strong throughout the entirety of the race distance.
While Ecclestone would spin and retire from the race, no such lack of control existed behind the wheel of Rob Walker Racing's Connaught. Rolt was firmly in control as demonstrated by his setting the fastest lap of the race. Rolt would come around the sharp hairpin turn and would power his way across the line to complete a lap of the 2.74 mile circuit in two minutes flat. This kind of pace only added to his control of the proceedings.
In just forty-one minutes and fifteen seconds, Rolt would come around and across the finish line for the final time to take yet another victory. Horace Gould would finish in 2nd place while Jack Walton would look impressive finishing in 3rd.
Rolt's remarkable run continued. After the British Grand Prix broke up his streak of three-straight victories, Rolt decided to start a new streak. He was now up to two-straight. The team just seemed to get stronger with every single race. This really was a mark of an elite team. Their ability to overcome adversity was proving to be second to only Scuderia Ferrari. And if Rob Walker Racing had the same equipment, it would certainly have been interesting to watch.
With the exception of Silverstone, Tony Rolt and Rob Walker Racing had come to earn a victory at just about every other circuit in which the team attended a race. The team had just earned another victory at the Thruxton Circuit, a brand new venue for the team on the season. Only five days later, the team would try to replicate the feat.
Immediately after earning the victory at Thruxton, the team would pack and would relocate 200 miles north to the very small village of Little Budworth, situated in Cheshire. Just to the southwest of the small village one finds the grounds of Oulton Hall. Known as Oulton Park, it would be a site formerly used for D-Day staging camp and for famous exhibition bouts for boxer Joe Louis. Then, in the years after World War II, Oulton Park would become well known for the motor racing circuit that would be developed on the site.
The Rob Walker Racing Team had made its way to the circuit to take part in the 1st Mid-Cheshire M.C. Formula 2 race. Composed of a couple of circuit configurations, the race in which the team had come to take part in would take place on the shorter 1.65 mile circuit.
Though a new venue for the team and Rolt, the circuit was still rather basic in its layout and rather easy to get up to speed on. Being the shorter layout, the circuit was basically a large square with a few kinks and arcs that made the sides anything but straight.
While the design of the short circuit may have been straight-forward, Rolt would still get clipped for the pole. Les Leston would complete a lap of the circuit in one minute and nine seconds flat. This would end up being two-tenths of a second faster than Rolt and good enough to snatch the pole away from the surging Rolt. Peter Whitehead would join Leston and Rolt on the front row in the 3rd place starting position.
The field for the 33 lap race would be rather small. With just six cars lining up on the grid, Rolt was yet again a favorite to take the victory. However, he would have some strong competition around him. Not only had Leston proved capable of nipping Rolt, but Peter Whitehead was certainly very capable at the wheel of a race car and he would start right beside Rolt on the front row.
As the small field roared away, the laps would quickly roll by. Very early on, the race's future would become clearer as Leston would retire after just 6 laps because of a gear lever failure. This development would well and truly make the event a two horse race. However, very quickly, it would become clear that it was really a one horse race.
Rolt held onto the lead of the race and would increase his advantage with each and every lap. Turning out a fastest lap time of one minute and eight seconds would only further the gap. Instead of battling with Rolt, Whitehead would have to turn his attentions behind and make sure he kept enough space between himself and Edward Greenall running behind him on the circuit.
Rolt would absolutely demolish the competition. Before completing the 33 laps and taking the victory, Rolt would pull off one more demonstrative move that would further cement his dominance of the race. Averaging a little more than 77 mph over the course of the race, Rolt would manage to lap the entire field and provide himself with a very comfortable margin for the last portion of the race. Peter Whitehead would end up coming across the line in a very quiet 2nd place. Edward Greenall would complete the podium finish the race in 3rd.
Rolt's victory enabled him to match his streak of three in a row earned earlier on in the season. His and Rob Walker Racing's dominance was certainly something special in the British grand prix racing scene. The team, without building and producing their own car, was certainly becoming Britain's own version of Scuderia Ferrari. However, the team would have its work cut out for itself at its next race.
The team would have little time to celebrate its third-straight victory after scoring the win at Oulton Park. The team would need to pack up and head north toward Rob Walker's home of Scotland. Though the team would make its way back to its native surroundings, it would have to head toward the opposite coast. Instead of Kilmarnock, the team's destination would be the Borders region of Scotland. They were coming north to take part in the 2nd Newcastle Journal Trophy race held at Charterhall on the 15th of August.
With the season winding down to its last couple of months, Rob Walker Racing would be at Charterhall Circuit preparing to take part in the 50 lap, 100 mile, Newcastle Journal Trophy race. It would be at this time of the season that most teams would start to really suffer from an entire season of racing. As with its reputation during the war, Charterhall then presented a real danger to most teams, and even Rob Walker Racing, which had been truly amazing throughout the season, still needed to take care.
About 17 miles west of Berwick-Upon-Tweed, the Charterhall Circuit was yet another former World War II airbase that had been turned into motor racing host. And though war is a truly horrific part of life on this earth, many of the former airbases would not have the reputation, and the notorious nickname, of Charterhall. Dubiously named 'Slaughter-Hall', Charterhall was one training base that had its share of tragedies. Night-fighting was already a very dangerous endeavor. Training for it was almost more dangerous than the actual missions. Being a night-fighter training base, Charterhall would have a lot of training accidents take place around its region during the war.
After the war, Charterhall would come to host high-performance machines of a different sort, but still just as dangerous. And on the 15th of August, it would welcome Tony Rolt, Rob Walker Racing and a number of other talented British drivers.
Thirteen cars and drivers would enter the 50 lap race. Rolt would be joined by another Rob Walker Racing Team's driver Stirling Moss and a host of others that would include Roy Salvadori, Ken Wharton, Bob Gerard and Jack Fairman.
Unlike the previous couple of races, the talent in which Rolt would have to combat would certainly be much tougher. Stirling Moss was certainly fast, but Ken Wharton and Roy Salvadori would end up being faster.
Wharton would have the lead of the race with Roy Salvadori and Ron Flockhart following along not too far behind. Moss' campaign would end up coming to an early end when fuel injection problems would sideline him for the rest of the race.
Rolt would find himself in a rather unusual position. Not only would he not be at the head of the field, he would also have to fight with everything he had just to stay on the lead lap. As the race carried on, Rolt would find himself mired down behind Bob Gerard and in front of Ian Stewart. While he was still running inside the top five, he could not make his way any further up in the running order. This was strange and unusual.
Ken Wharton had had some epic bouts with Mike Hawthorn at Silverstone during the International Trophy race and he would drive around Charterhall with the same resolve. As the race wore on, he would wear down his immediate competition to the point that he would enjoy a comfortable margin over the course of the remaining ten laps.
The top three in the running order would end up posting the same fastest lap time. And while Wharton managed to pull away with the lead of the race, Salvadori would still have Ron Flockhart clinging to his backside all throughout the race. All it would take would be a small mistake from Salvadori and Flockhart would be able to take advantage.
Rolt would look nothing like the dominant racer. Though he would fight with everything he had, he would not be able to hold onto the lead lap. Even his place in the top five would be under attack as well.
Wharton had been the one doing the attacking and he would ride that confidence all the way to victory. Wharton would end up coming across the line with a very comfortable margin of twenty-eight seconds over 2nd place. Salvadori would not have such comfort. It wouldn't be until the final few laps of the race that Salvadori could settle into a comfortable pace and maintain his gap. In spite of the pressure, Salvadori would not put a wheel wrong and would come across the line nearly five seconds ahead of Flockhart for 2nd.
Though Rolt outpaced Bob Gerard on a number of different occasions, he would not be able to reel him in on the 1.99 mile Charterhall Circuit. Rolt also wouldn't manage to hold on to the lead lap. In a rather stark contrast from recent performances, Rolt would come across the line a very quiet 5th place one lap behind Wharton.
After the season Rolt and Rob Walker Racing had managed to put together a 5th place result would seem as though a rather disappointing performance. However, there would be many other small privateer teams and individuals that would have been more than happy with such a result. Unfortunately for the team, Charterhall would prove to be only the second circuit in which the team had competed in which it had not managed to earn a victory. Therefore, the voyage to home grounds would prove positive, but not as positive as all concerned would have liked.
Rolt's record with Rob Walker Racing throughout 1953 was turning into something truly amazing. After a 3rd and 4th in his first couple of races, he would go on to score three-straight victories before his retirement in the British Grand Prix. After that failure, he would recover to go on and score three-straight victories yet again. Then he would score a 5th place north of the border at Charterhall. This was a truly remarkable record and there were still more racing to go. However, for the team's next race, Rolt would hand the reigns over to the team's other race winner on the season, Eric Thompson.
The team would also head south once again. The team would make their way back to one of the sites of their dominance. On the 12th of September, Snetterton would play host to the 1st RedeX Trophy race, which would be yet another short 10 lap race.
While there were fifteen cars on the entry list, only nine would make it to the event. Then, in practice, that number would be further reduced by one as Brian Naylor would crash his Alta F2-Bristol taking himself right out of the event.
As he had the last time he raced for the team at Snetterton, Thompson would be out front of the field leading the short processional. Thompson would have Peter Whitehead trying to chase him down in his Cooper-Alta T24. Peter Whitehead would be under attack himself by Les Leston in a Cooper-JAP.
Besides Naylor's accident in practice, there would be some attrition that would further reduce the running order even more. Keith Hall, Guy Jason-Henry and Edward Greenall would all exit the race before completing the 10 lap distance. Tony Crook would exit the race in perhaps the most dramatic, and humorous, manner of them all.
The clutch would totally break apart on Crook. In the aftermath of the clutch breaking apart, Crook would find that his brake pedal had also been destroyed. This meant Crook was unable to stop his Cooper-Alta. Flying off the circuit through a field, Crook would be struck in the head by one of the most unheard of, or unimaginable, objects. Crook would end up being knocked out by a flying cabbage.
Able to navigate all manner of vegetables, Thompson would truly be flying around the 2.70 mile circuit. He would go on to set the fastest lap of the race and would stretch out his narrow advantage even more.
Completing the race distance in exactly nineteen minutes, Thompson would take the victory with a margin of nearly four seconds over the 2nd place finisher. While it may have been clear Thompson would take the victory. The race for 2nd place was much more obscure. In spite of great pressure from Les Leston, Peter Whitehead would just manage to hold on to take 2nd place. He would beat out Leston for the position by just a mere four-tenths of a second, or about half a car length!
If the 5th place at Charterhall would be considered by the team as a bitter disappointment, then the team recovered, once again, in grand fashion. As they managed to do after every other setback, Rob Walker Racing would come through to ascend to the top step of the podium yet again. The only question remaining would be whether the team could replicate its winning streaks after such disappointments? One week later, the team would have its answer.
Rolt's two previous experiences at Crystal Palace Park had yielded two victories. In fact, he was undefeated at the 1.34 mile park circuit. On the 19th of September, Rolt would try and go for the hat-trick. The race in which Rolt would try and pull off the feat would be the 1st London Trophy race.
The London Trophy race would be a heat race unlike that which either Rolt or Rob Walker Racing had taken part in throughout the season in Formula 2. The race would consist of just two, 10 lap heats and no final. The final results would be derived from the aggregate results garnered by each competitor over the course of the two heat races.
In the previous races at Crystal Palace Park, Rolt had to take on Stirling Moss, another Rob Walker Racing hire. However, mechanical ailments would ruin the potential battle between the two friends and Rob Walker drivers. The London Trophy race seemed to be offering up the battle many wanted to see.
Stirling Moss would be fastest in practice before the first heat, and therefore, would start from the pole. Right there beside him, however, would be Rolt in the dark blue and white Connaught. Starting to the other side of Rolt would be another driver that was coming on strong in the later part of the season. Ron Flockhart had been looking rather impressive in the last few races in which he had taken part and he would start this race from the front row in 3rd place.
The presence of Flockhart made many predict a three-way battle for the front of the field. However, before the start of the first heat, the expected battle would lose an important player. Ron Flockhart would have issues with his Connaught and would not be ready in time to take the start. This left just ten cars ready to take to the course.
The crowd longing for a battle between Moss and Rolt would not be disappointed in the first heat. As the field roared away, Rolt would be all over the back of Moss. Corner after corner, and lap after lap, never more than a car length seemed to separate the two. Often times, it would be even less than a car length that would separate the two.
While Flockhart would not be able to take part and add to the intriguing fight at the front, Bob Gerard would fill in nicely. He would be right there at the beginning. As the race wore on, he would fade, but not too far. He would have to keep Rodney Nuckey, Horace Gould and Bernie Ecclestone at bay.
Before the end of the first heat, four cars would fall out of the running. No such troubles would befall Moss and Rolt at the front of the field. Nothing but pure, respectful and hard racing would threaten either of the two gentlemen.
The battle would not relent. The crowd would be truly entertained for nearly twelve minutes. Coming through the New Link kink for the final time, the two were nearly side-by-side. Crossing the line, it would be Moss that would gain the upper-hand. Moss would cross the line to take the victory by just four-tenths of a second over Rolt. The crowd had gotten what they wanted, and there was still another heat race to go. Bob Gerard would also look rather sharp though he would be a distance behind Moss and Rolt. Gerard would take 3rd place, coming across the line sixteen seconds behind Rolt.
The second heat race would see Ron Flockhart rejoin the fray. Finally, the crowd would get to see what it believed would be a three-horse race. Actually, what would end up happening would be more of the same from the first heat.
Moss would again leap into the lead and would have Rolt all over him. Instead of Gerard making up the chasing party, it would be Flockhart heading up the rest of the field behind Moss and Rolt.
The battle between Moss and Rolt would again be intense throughout the majority of the 10 lap second heat. With a difference of just four-tenths of a second between them, Rolt only needed to push his way into the lead and pull out half of a second and he would take the overall victory. But this would prove to be quite difficult as Moss would driven a truly stubborn and focused race in order to keep Rolt behind him.
Despite Flockhart turning the fastest lap of the heat, it would be Moss and Rolt that would be the fastest fliers around the track. Rolt would give Moss everything he had. This would force the overall pace upwards and would drop the lap times consistently downward. The pace between the second and first heat would be a difference of over a mile an hour. And though Flockhart would turn the fastest lap of the race, he would not be able to consistently turn the same lap times as the leaders, and therefore, would drop a good distance behind.
Rolt would give it everything he had. However, coming through the final lap of the race, it was apparent Moss would be able to match him blow for blow. Therefore, Rolt would ease up just slightly and would follow Moss home. The pace in second heat would be such that Moss would come across the line to take the victory with a finishing time that would be twelve seconds faster than the first heat. Nearly two and a half seconds would separate Moss from Rolt in 2nd place. With a disadvantage of four-tenths of a second coming into the last heat, Rolt didn't mind backing off a little for he knew his bid for victory would fall a little short. Rolt knew he was not rushed any as Flockhart would come across the line over twenty-six seconds behind Rolt in 3rd place.
The chance at starting another winning streak had departed with Moss. Nonetheless, Rolt's performance still gave himself, and the team, another incredible result on the season. With just a couple of races remaining on the calendar it was obvious Rob Walker Racing was going to enjoy one of the best seasons ever for a privateer. But could they pull off a couple more victories before it was over?
One week after coming up short at Crystal Palace Park, Rob Walker Racing would arrive at the very place where the incredible season had begun. On the 26th of September, the team would be making final preparations to its Connaught A-Type for Tony Rolt so that he could take part in the 6th Madgwick Cup race at Goodwood.
The 1953 season had started out with Rolt claiming a 3rd place result in the Lavant Cup race at Goodwood. Now in September, Rolt would again be back at Goodwood, but looking to earn an even better result than what he had back in April.
As with the race back in April, Rolt would have some tough competition in which to battle. He would have to face Stirling Moss again along with Roy Salvadori, Ken Wharton, Bob Gerard, Rodney Nuckey, Duncan Hamilton and others. It would not be such an easy task.
A good starting position usually is very important when it comes to good results. This was much of the reason for Rolt's success throughout the year for he was rarely off of the front row of any grid. The Madgwick Cup race would be no exception. Although Roy Salvadori would start the 7 lap race from the pole, and Stirling Moss would be 2nd, Rolt would still start from the front row. He would start 3rd in between Moss and Bob Gerard in 4th.
A good start would be very important for such a short race. Rolt would break with Moss and Salvadori and would line up in 3rd just as he lined up on the grid. Salvadori would hold onto the lead. Behind Salvadori would be Moss. With Moss directly in front of him, Rolt would engage his friend in yet another friendly, but fierce, battle.
Duncan Hamilton's race would come to an end almost right there on the starting grid. A couple of laps later, Horace Gould's race would also come to an end. Some of the other favorites would also find themselves out of the race. Jack Fairman and Rodney Nuckey would find neither of their cars would be capable of completing the short race distance.
Though chased by two fast drivers, Salvadori would prove too fast. He would go on to set the fastest lap of the race and would even begin to pull out an advantage over Moss and Rolt who were again locked in a battle amongst themselves.
Free of any threats from behind, Salvadori would begin to pull away at the front of the field. Meanwhile, behind Salvadori, the crowd would be treated to a rerun of the London Trophy race. Lap after lap, Moss held onto 2nd place by nothing more than half a car length. After a majority of a season being the favorite at each and every race, Rolt had come to find some incredibly tough competition here at the end of his season.
While Salvadori would by no means disappear into the distance, he would stretch out enough of a lead that he really was free from Moss and Rolt beating him to the line on the last lap of the race. Streaking around to complete the race in just eleven minutes and fifteen seconds, Salvadori would take the victory ahead of Moss and Rolt.
Though the crowd would witness Salvadori's win, a lot of attention was centered on the fight raging just a few seconds behind him. Coming around Woodcote and toward the line, it seemed to be anybody's race for 2nd. Though Moss held onto the position, it was precariously teetering. Rolt was given the Connaught everything he had trying to out-drag Moss to the line. And at the line, it would be close. As with the first heat race at the London Trophy event, Moss would go on to hang on by just half a car length, or, four-tenths of a second.
Although his 3rd position was not an improvement on his previous race at Goodwood, it would be yet another podium finish for Rolt in what had truly been a remarkable season. And though Moss had proven to have his number over the previous couple of races, the battles between the two would end up being some of the best racing of the season. At the next race, part of that entertaining equation would be seriously threatened and would cause the other to put things into perspective.
There were only two Formula 2 grand prix left on the season in all of Europe. One of those would take place on the 2nd of October. After months of racing, Rob Walker Racing would come to take part in yet another race at a new venue. For the first time on the season, the team would make an appearance at the 1.83 mile Castle Combe Circuit situated in Wiltshire about 20 miles from Bristol.
Owned by the Gorst family, the Castle Combe estate would have a portion of its land taken to create an airfield used by the Royal Air Force during World War II. When the airfield became decommissioned in 1948, the airfield would lie dormant for a couple of years before it would emerge in 1950 as the Castle Combe Circuit.
With the exception of a couple of corners, the Castle Combe circuit was fast featuring sweeping straights and fast kinks. And although just one lap measured short of 2 miles, lap times registered as if the circuit was much shorter.
Ten cars would line up to take part in the 20 lap contest in memory of the late Joe Fry. As the race would get underway, Moss would be afraid that he would have his own memorial race. Driving a Cooper-JAP T12 for the Cooper Car Company racing team, Moss would end up losing control of his car and it would roll over top of him with halfway trapped underneath it. Proving that humanity came before racing, Rolt would come to stop his Rob Walker Racing Connaught to help his friend. The two had been teammates in different cars for Jaguar when the team went on to score a one-two finish at the 24 Hours of Le Mans earlier on in the season. In addition to that highlight, Moss had also driven for Rob Walker Racing a couple of times during the season. Therefore, Rolt's gesture of compassion would be merely an extension of himself and the team. Thankfully, because of the help of Rolt's quick actions, Moss would escape with just a fractured shoulder instead of his own memorial race.
While two of the favorite were out of the race, the race would go on. Attrition would end up having the biggest effect as to who would come out on top. Kenneth McAlpine would suffer a crash. Roy Salvadori would last just five laps before he too retired from the race. Les Leston would have a chain break after just nine laps taking him out of the running.
All of the trouble meant there would be only four cars still in the race with 10 laps remaining. And although Ken Wharton would be one of them, Bob Gerard would prove to be the most willing to take to the front and control the pace.
Gerard would wield his Cooper-Bristol T23 masterfully around the Castle Combe Circuit. Turning a fastest lap of one minute and sixteen seconds at an average speed of more than 86 mph, Gerard would extend his lead over the rest of the field. Horace Gould would hold on to 2nd place over Ken Wharton, and would even increase his advantage as the race wore on as well.
After all of the chaos in the first few laps of the race, it seemed all but Gerard were stunned. This would allow Bob to disappear into the distance. He would go on to complete the 20 laps in under twenty-six minutes and would take the victory. Nearly twenty-five seconds would pass before Gould would come across the line to finish in 2nd. Another twenty-three seconds would go by before Wharton would complete the podium finishing in 3rd place.
Over the course of the season, Rolt and Rob Walker Racing had come to witness the death of Bobbie Baird and the knock-out punch delivered by a cabbage to Tony Crook because of an absolute explosion of the clutch. Rolt had already achieved an incredible filled with victories and podium results. One more race victory would not be worth losing a good friend. And as far as Stirling Moss would probably be concerned, Rolt and Rob Walker Racing could not have finished their season on a more human note.
The stats surrounding the 1953 season would be truly astounding for Rob Walker Racing. Over the course of the season, the team would take part in seventeen Formula 2 races. Of the seventeen races, the team would fail to finish just three, and one of those three would be Rolt's voluntary retirement while helping extract Moss from his car. Stirling Moss would finish in 10th at the Grand Prix de Rouen-les-Essarts. In other rounds, the team would earn a 5th, a 4th and two 3rd place finishes. The team would come in 2nd once at Crystal Palace Park. Then, on top of it all, the team would go on to celebrate eight victories over the course of the season. Two of those victories would be at the hand of Eric Thompson. The rest, six of them, would be with Tony Rolt at the wheel.
Rolt's stats alone would be more impressive than most other teams and individuals. Besides the six victories, Rolt would go on to score a 5th, a 4th, two 3rd place finishes and a 2nd, all while only suffering two retirements. And of course Rolt capped-off his incredible season early on with an overall victory in the 24 Hours of Le Mans with Jaguar.
Unfortunately for Rolt, one of those retirements would come at the British Grand Prix. His string of misfortune in World Championship events would surprisingly continue. For after being away for two years, Rolt would return to garner yet another early retirement.
To say that Rob Walker Racing would remain a visible fixture in the World Championship, despite the changes that were on the way starting in 1954, would be something of an understatement. The trio of Rob Walker Racing, the Connaught A-Type and Tony Rolt would be back in 1954. In addition, the team would add the rising star of Peter Collins for some of the bigger races. However, as the season wore on, it would become clear the team needed a more competitive car and would not be seen or heard from much throughout the later part of the year.
Although Rob Walker Racing had been around for a number of years, it would certainly be the 1953 season that would set the stage for what could be considered the most successful privateer team in Formula One history.