TeamsRJ Chase: 1953 Formula One Season By Jeremy McMullen
The racing community is and has always been something of a small tight-knit community where many know each other's name. However, during the 1952 and 1953 seasons of the World Championship there would be so many privateers and small teams that would come and go that it would be tough to keep track of them all. Therefore, the FIA's decision to conduct the World Championship according to Formula 2 regulations would certainly increase the field, perhaps not the competition, but it would also certainly create moments that would be akin to a family gathering where there would still be a couple of second and third cousins in the back in which hardly anybody actually knows their name. In the case of the World Championship in 1952 and 1953, Alan Brown would be at the heart of a couple of these small footnotes in Formula One history.
In 1952, a small racing team would make its first appearance in the World Championship. The date was the 18th of May and the race was the Swiss Grand Prix held on the Bremgarten circuit situated near the city of Berne.
Among Scuderia Ferrari, Equipe Gordini and HW Motors two Cooper-Bristol T20s would line up on the grid under the team name of 'Ecurie Richmond'. Leading into the race, one of the cars would line up 15th on the grid while the other would be 17th. Of course, starting position was never more important than finishing position. This would be proven when one of the team's cars crossed the line 5th after the 62 lap race. The second car would finish an incredible 8th. This small team had gone on to earn one of the best results for such an unknown team.
The Ecurie Richmond team would follow up its impressive performance at the Swiss Grand Prix with another strong performance in the rain-soaked Belgian Grand Prix held on the 22nd of June on the ultra-fast Spa-Francorchamps circuit. The two cars would line up an incredible 9th and 12th overall. They would keep the surprises coming when, after 36 laps, one of the team's cars would finish 6th and the other would finish 9th.
Of course Ecurie Richmond was rather well known, in the right circles. The team was quite strong in Formula 3. This was partly due to the drivers the team had at its disposal. One of those drivers would be Alan Brown. It was Brown that would manage to grab 5th place, and 2 points toward the World Championship during the Swiss Grand Prix, and, it was Brown that would narrowly miss out on more points at Spa.
During the 1952 season, Brown and the Ecurie Richmond team would face a very talented, and very young, driver. At Goodwood early on in the season, a young Mike Hawthorn would blow away Brown and Eric Brandon to take the victory in the 4th Lavant Cup.
Throughout the season, the drivers for the Ecurie Richmond team would be absolutely puzzled as to the pace of one particular team. Many times Brown and his teammates would be incapable of matching the pace set by this other team in the very same car. As Brown would say, 'On the rare occasions we saw it back at Cooper's we'd crawl all over it, open the
filler cap, sniff the tank and look in the carbs, but the tanks were always cleaned-out
and they'd taken the jets out of the carburettors... It was only later we found they really
had been using nitromethane...'
The team in which Brown was referencing with his frustrations was Bob Chase's RJ Chase racing team. The following year, Brown would race for the very team in which he had been perplexed and frustrated by.
Alan Brown's main career until late in 1952 had been as a sales representative for Dennis Bros. located in the Midlands of England. At the end of the season, he would leave Ecurie Richmond and Dennis Bros to become manager in the Car Division and Motor Racing Department. This partnership would produce a new team named 'Equipe Anglaise'. Brown would end up competing in most of his races under this name. In fact, he would head to Argentina at the end of January to take part in the first non-championship race of the season. However, Brown wouldn't just take part in races under the Equipe Anglaise team name, nor would it just be Brown that would behind the wheel.
Headed into the 1953 season Bob Chase would purchase a Cooper-Bristol T23 and would immediately ship it with Brown to take part in a non-championship race in Argentina in very early February under Equipe Anglaise.
The season would have very few positives for Equipe Anglaise by the time the middle of July rolled around. This was not good as one of the most important races on the team's calendar was approaching. Nonetheless, on the 18th of July, Alan Brown and the Cooper-Bristol T23 would go through final preparations for the British Grand Prix held at the Silverstone circuit located near Milton Keynes.
Formerly a World War II Royal Air Force bomber base, RAF Silverstone would actually come to host its first race while it lay dormant after the end of the war. Local racers would make their way onto the abandoned airfield and would hold an impromptu race in September of 1947. One year later, the Royal Automobile Club would purchase the deed to the property and would host the British Grand Prix for the first time that year. Originally designed to use the runways, it wouldn't be until the BRDC International Trophy race in 1949, the year after it first hosted the British Grand Prix, that the circuit would solely use the 2.88 mile perimeter road.
Coming into the race, the British crowds were abuzz with excitement. Unfortunately it would not be for Alan Brown who would enter the race under Bob Chase's name 'RJ Chase'. Although this would be RJ Chase's first foray into the World Championship, the big news would be about someone with whom Brown and Chase were quite familiar. Just two weeks prior, Mike Hawthorn took his Ferrari and out-dueled the great Juan Manuel Fangio in one of the greatest races of all time. This meant the British fans would flock to the circuit looking and hoping for more of the same.
Alberto Ascari would be keen to come away from the race with the same result as what he had earned the previous year when he absolutely dominated. He took the win as he lapped the entire field. One year later, and a victory in the race for Ascari, and a second World Championship would be more than within Ascari's grasp.
Things would look good for Ascari after practice. He would go on to set the fastest time with a lap of one minute and forty-eight seconds and would grab the pole for the 90 lap race. Starting on the front row with Ascari would be Jose Froilan Gonzalez in 2nd place in a Maserati. The British fans would be delighted with the fact that Mike Hawthorn would also start the race from the front row starting from 3rd place after setting a fastest lap just a second slower than his Ferrari teammate. Juan Manuel Fangio would make it two Maseratis to start on the front row when he would line up 4th.
Even before the 1952 season it was known the Bristol powerplant, based upon the aged BMW 328 from before World War II, was underpowered, bulky and heavy. Being readily available with numerous spare parts available, the Bristol engine would be about the only economical choice British manufacturers had out there. Therefore, by the time the British delegate began setting their fastest laps it was already clear there would likely be a performance gap. It would show in practice when Tony Rolt would take his Les Francis-powered Connaught and would be six seconds slower around the 2.88 mile circuit than Ascari.
Most of the British entries, including Brown would be fitting hard to beat the two minute mark while Ascari was easily under one minute and fifty seconds. Brown would be fighting hard just to try to beat the two minute mark. Unfortunately, he would prove unable to beat the mark. His best lap would end up being two minutes and four seconds. This time would be sixteen seconds slower than Ascari and would place Brown all the way down on the sixth row of the grid in the 21st starting position.
Typical English weather would greet the day of the British Grand Prix. The weather would start out overcast and would be under severe threat of rain as the afternoon wore on. This would force the hand of just about every competitor in the field. It would be important to make the best start possible and gain any advantage possible before the rains came and really threw a wrench in things.
This is what Fangio would try and do at the start of the race. The field would roar away with British expectations running high. Racing to the first corner, Fangio had the position after making a great start. However, he would go in a little too hot and would run wide. This loss of momentum would allow Ascari to slip through and back into the lead of the race. Fangio would slot in behind and would do his best to give chase.
Behind Ascari and Fangio, the rest of the field just tried to make it through the first couple of laps without incident. This would prove to be impossible to do for a couple of entrants. Kenneth McAlpine and Tony Crook would both have their races come to an end before even completing a single lap. A split hose would end McAlpine's day while a fuel issue would sideline Crook.
Brown would find himself in the midst of the pack trying to settle into a pace while also trying to balance moving forward in the order with reliability. While the field remained rather tightly packed throughout the majority of the field, up front Ascari continued his impressive pace and was drawing slowly away from Fangio and the rest of the field.
Ascari's pace would be quite fast throughout the early going of the race. He would be busy doing his best to destroy the rest of the field so to ensure his victory and ever-increasing chances at earning a second World Championship.
As the race wore on, and Ascari's pace began to take its toll, attrition began to be on the rise. By the time the first-third of the race had come to be completed, eight of the twenty-eight cars were out of the race. Over the next third of the race, another five would fall out of contention.
By this point in the race, Ascari had laid waste to most of the field. All but Fangio had been lapped at least once by this point in time and British hope had waned when Hawthorn spun out in the worsening conditions. Though he would save the car and continue in the race, the spin would cost a lot of time and positions lost. British hopes for a reproduction of Hawthorn's magnificent French Grand Prix performance would go out the window with the spin and with Ascari's utter dominance.
Brown was looking good given all of the attrition, even despite being many laps down to Ascari. Were there to be a few more retirements in the race, Brown would find himself solidly challenging for a top ten, or better, result. Unfortunately, he would never get to find out just where he could have finished as he would end up being one of those he needed to retire to help his position. After 61 laps, Brown's fan belt would fail on his Cooper-Bristol T23 and would bring to an end his and RJ Chase's British Grand Prix.
While there were still some 20 laps left in the race when Tony Rolt retired from the race and left only eleven cars still in the race. The actual race would prove to have been over when Fangio went into Copse too hot and allowed Ascari to slip through into the lead of the race.
Despite the rain, Ascari would average greater than 90 mph and would take exactly two hours and fifty minutes to complete all 90 laps and take the victory. He had led all 90 laps and would end up with exactly a minute advantage over Fangio in 2nd place. Though Fangio would be embarrassed, he wouldn't be as bad off as Giuseppe Farina in 3rd place. Despite driving the same Ferrari 500 chassis, Farina would cross the line just twelve seconds behind Ascari in reality. However, 'officially', Farina would be twelve seconds and two laps behind Ascari. Ascari absolutely blew away the field to claim his fourth victory of the season.
While technically the same people involved with the Equipe Anglaise team, the British Grand Prix would be RJ Chase's first foray into the World Championship. And while it looked good for while, it would ultimately end in disappointment. In many ways it would be reflective of the reliability issues British manufacturers suffered with during the early years of the World Championship. Though it would be the one and only round of the championship in which the RJ Chase team name would be entered for the 1953 season, it would not be the first and last grand prix race in which the team name would be on the entry list.
One week after such disappointment in the biggest race in Britain, the RJ Chase team would make its way across the English Channel to France. They would continue on to the eastern part of the country. The team would arrive in the resort town of Aix-les-Bains for what was the 5th Circuit du Lac on the 26th of July.
The RJ Chase team would arrive in Aix-les-Bains, a small resort town in the Rhone-Alpes region of France. Originally deriving its name from the Latin word for 'waters' called Aquae, the hot sulfur springs would make the town a popular stop during the Roman Empire.
In the 1950s, Aix-les-Bains would become a popular destination to watch some grand prix racing. Situated in the heart of the town along the shores of Lac du Bourget, the 1.49 mile circuit would twist and wind its way through the streets and would make for a slow circuit with a number of tight corners and sharp hairpins.
The tight nature of the circuit would make it a perfect setting for the more nimble grand prix cars. This would lead to HWM-Alta and Equipe Gordini making the trip to be part of the race. The circuit would also be a good fit for cars like the Cooper-Bristol in which RJ Chase would utilize. Though the Bristol engine in the car was rather bulky and heavy, the car itself had as little excess weight as possible. This made the car quite nimble and would make up for the lacking horsepower.
Scuderia Ferrari would not enter a car in the race. Maserati would just enter one of its factory cars and it would be driven by Onofre Marimon. RJ Chase would come to the race with its single Cooper-Bristol but Alan Brown would not be behind the wheel of the car. Instead, it would be an American, John Fitch, that would earn the ride for the race.
The race was of a different format than the World Championship races, and those used in races in England. While heats were not unusual, aggregate scoring was rather rare in England. This meant the entire field would take part in both heat races, which in the case of the Circuit du Lac, were 50 laps each in length. Each competitor that completed both heats would have their finishing times tallied and the aggregate results of the two heats would determine the final results.
In practice leading up to the first heat race, Harry Schell would prove to be fastest. He would take his Gordini T16 chassis and would complete a best lap of the circuit of one minute and twenty seconds even. This would put him on the pole. Onofre Marimon would take his more-powerful Maserati A6SSG and would end up being just three-tenths of a second slower than Schell. Therefore, Marimon would line up on the front row in 2nd place. The Maserati of Marimon would end up being sandwiched by two Equipe Gordini team cars when Maurice Trintignant would line up in the 3rd position, the final spot on the front row.
John Fitch was much more well known for his sportscar career but he was certainly a talented racer and could perform well in just about any car he laid his hands on. Unfortunately, he would not be able to extract the absolute best out of the Cooper chassis with its Bristol engine. Fitch would end up in 10th place on the starting grid, which was the outside of the two-wide fourth row.
The race would see Schell running strong up at the front along with Trintignant, Marimon and others. Fitch's pace was not nearly as fast as the rest of the front runners and he began slipping backward almost immediately.
Five laps into the race, Emmanuel de Graffenried would have an oil pump fail that would bring his race to an end. At the same time, Schell was finding a whole different gear. He would go on to set the fastest lap of the heat with a time of one minute and twenty seconds.
In spite of the fastest lap time, Schell's race would take a turn for the worse. His pace would almost immediately drop off and he would slip down through the order rather quickly. This handed control of the race over to Onofre Marimon and the rest of the Equipe Gordini team members.
Less than halfway through the race, the order would get shaken up dramatically as Maurice Trintignant's Gordini would catch on fire and would force him out of the race. At the same time, 14 laps into the race, Marimon would crash his Maserati and would also be out of the race.
Jean Behra was now up at the front of the field. He had Elie Bayol there with him but a few seconds back. Louis Rosier would make up the top three. These three would leave everybody else in the distance, including John Fitch.
Fitch was thoroughly out of the running before the race would come to an end. He would find himself more than a couple of laps behind and fighting to catch up to Schell before the end.
Behra would go on to cruise to victory. Averaging a little more than 62 mph, Behra would beat Bayol for the victory by the margin of twenty-three seconds. Louis Rosier would be the last on the lead lap. He would be fifty-eight seconds down in 3rd position. Two laps would be the gap between Behra and the 4th place. In the case of Fitch, who would come across the line in 8th place, the gap would be nearly a minute plus four laps.
Finishing position, or time, would determine starting positions for the second heat. This placed Jean Behra on the pole with Elie Bayol in 2nd place and Louis Rosier completing the front row in 3rd place. Fitch's finishing position in the first heat would place him 8th on the starting grid, which would be the outside of the third row.
Emmanuel de Graffenried's race had lasted only 5 laps. While he was certainly out of the running, he would not call it quits. His Maserati would be repaired and he would start dead-last in the fourth, and final, row of the grid.
Behra would make a good start and would be right there at the front of the field. Elie Bayol would go with him and would look capable of keeping touch with Behra once again. Fitch was already out of touch before the race had started. He would break off the line trying to keep the margin a little close in the second heat.
Emmanuel de Graffenried had started the second heat with hopes that it would last longer than it had in the first heat. Not only would it not, it would not even last as long as the first. Ignition problems would quickly develop in the Maserati thereby reducing his power and would lead to his retirement after just 3 laps. Peter Collins had started the race in the 5th position but his race would also not make it half a dozen laps before retiring with clutch failure.
While de Graffenried and Collins were running into mechanical problems that caused them to slow and retire, Behra was just catching his stride. He would go on to set the fastest lap of the heat with a time of one minute and twenty seconds even, but not even that could save him.
After 20 laps, and with the lead, Behra would run into trouble. Handling was beginning to go on the car. Then, finally, the rear axle would fail altogether thereby ending an incredible race by the Frenchman. One laps later, his Equipe Gordini teammate, Harry Schell, would also retire with spark plug issues. After looking so strong leading up to the start of the two heat race, Equipe Gordini would find themselves without a car still running in the final heat.
Fitch continued to run in the race. While he was again off the pace, it wouldn't be as bad as the first heat. Nonetheless, he was still way out of contention. But with the retirements, he was on his way to earning a surprising result if he could keep it together.
Elie Bayol was managing to keep it all together. He was handed the lead with Behra's departure and would not look back. Even despite being chased by a Ferrari 500 in the hands of Louis Rosier, Bayol would increase his lead. Rosier knew there was little chance unless attrition came and visited Bayol. Therefore, Rosier would back off the pace slightly and would lose some ground to Bayol. Rosier knew he was safe as he had more than a lap in hand over the 3rd place runner at the time.
Bayol would fill in nicely for the departed Maserati and Equipe Gordinis. He would power his OSCA 20 to the second heat win finishing the 50 laps in one hour, ten minutes and forty-nine seconds. About a minute and a half would be the margin Bayol would have in hand over Rosier in 2nd place. Bayol would have more than a minute and a half in hand over 3rd place. Lance Macklin would bring his HWM-Alta across in 3rd place but would be two laps down to Bayol having just been passed for the second time only laps earlier.
Fitch would have liked to have only been two laps down. As it was, he would finish the heat three laps down but would finish in 4th place.
The actual final results would be determined by the aggregate scoring of the two heats for each respective entrant. This meant Elie Bayol would still take the overall win and Louis Rosier would come in 2nd place. Lance Macklin would end up finishing in 3rd place despite being four laps down. One of the big surprises would be Fitch. Although he finished the first heat in the 8th position, and some laps down, finishing would enable him to actually finish 4th overall. Not only would Fitch be about a minute and twenty minutes slower than Bayol, but seven laps would also have to be added to the minute and twenty seconds to get a full understanding of just how far back Fitch was behind.
While thoroughly dominated, Fitch would use his talent and experience to keep his head over the course of the two long heat races. By letting attrition work on his behalf Fitch would come away with a very positive result.
Plenty of season remained. However, the RJ Chase name would not take part in another race for another couple of months. Most of the races would see Equipe Anglaise entered in the ranks.
Finally, toward the end of September, RJ Chase would make one final appearance for 1953. The team would pack everything up and would head to southern England. Their destination would be West Sussex and a portion of the Goodwood Estate. The team would be on its way there in order to take part in the 6th Madgwick Cup race held at Goodwood on the 26th of September.
Formerly Royal Air Force Westhampnett, the Goodwood circuit actually had its beginnings during the dark days of World War II. The airfield would come into existence as an auxiliary airfield to RAF Tangmere. However, because of the desperation of the situation in England during the early years of the war, RAF Westhampnett would come to host squadrons of Spitfire and Hurricane fighters.
After serving throughout the war, RAF Westhampnett would be abandoned and without use. The Duke of Richmond, the holder of the Goodwood Estate and the lands upon which the airfield rested, happened to be an enthusiastic motor racing fan. Looking for a use for the airfield, discussions would include turning the base into a motor racing circuit. This would suit the Duke just fine and Goodwood Circuit would be born, hosting its first race in September of 1948.
Goodwood would come to host a number of races throughout a year. Besides the popular Easter races, the circuit would also host the Goodwood 9 Hour race and more brief events later on in early fall. The Madgwick Cup was one of those brief races held in early fall.
The RJ Chase team would appear at the race with yet another driver. Neither Brown nor Fitch would make the trip to the race. Instead, it would be Duncan Hamilton that would be given the reins for what would be the last race of the season for the team whether under the RJ Chase or Equipe Anglaise team names.
The race, though only 7 laps of the 2.39 mile circuit, would still boast of some very talented drivers in its lineup. Stirling Moss, Tony Rolt, Ken Wharton, Bob Gerard and Rodney Nuckey would all make up a portion of the field in which Hamilton would have to contend.
Another of those talented drivers in the field would be Roy Salvadori. Salvadori would show his prowess by setting the fastest lap in practice and earning the pole for the race. Stirling Moss would start 2nd with Tony Rolt alongside in 3rd place. The final position on the front row would be assumed by Bob Gerard in his Cooper-Bristol T23.
Comparatively, Hamilton would struggle in practice and would start further down in the field. As the cars and drivers headed out to line up on the grid, the RJ Chase team would take its car to the fourth row of the grid and the 12th position. Hamilton would be on a three-wide fourth row that would include Horace Richards and Ottorino Volonterio.
Although the RJ Chase team seemed to have Ecurie Richmond's number in British events. However, Alan Brown and his fellow teammates at Ecurie Richmond would put together a truly impressive season internationally complete with 2 points earned toward the World Championship. One year later, things were much different. Brown was now with Bob Chase and the surprising results were not coming their way. The season would be best defined by the Madgwick Cup race with Duncan Hamilton at the wheel.
The race had sooner started when it all fell apart for Hamilton and the team. As the field roared away to start the short 7 lap, 17 mile, journey, the drive shaft in Hamilton's car would break bringing an end to the day even before it began. The most devastating part of the whole picture was the simple fact that the race was only 17 miles long but even that would be more than the Cooper could handle this day.
Had he remained in the race, it would have been unlikely that Hamilton could have battled with Salvadori at the front of the field. Roy would make a good start and would hold off Moss for the lead of the race. Moss would quickly become embroiled in a battle with Tony Rolt, his friend. This battle would enable Salvadori to stretch out an advantage of just a few car lengths during the first few minutes of the race. Ken Wharton would also make a good start from the second row of the grid and would leap past Bob Gerard.
Salvadori would do his best to put some daylight between himself and Moss and Rolt. He would turn the fastest lap of the race with a time of one minute and thirty-five seconds at an average speed greater than 90 mph. This would enable him to pull out even more of a margin over Moss and Rolt, who were still embroiled in a battle amongst themselves.
Coming down to the final lap of the race, only nine cars remained in the race. Rodney Nuckey, Jack Fairman and others would all join Duncan Hamilton out of the race before reaching the end.
Despite being a short race, the field, with a couple of notable exceptions, would be rather strung out by the end. The battle between Moss and Rolt had allowed Salvadori to open up something of a comfortable margin over the two. In just eleven minutes and fifteen seconds, and at an average speed of nearly 90 mph, Salvadori would complete the distance and take the win. He would enjoy a margin of a little more than a three seconds over the battle for 2nd.
Moss and Rolt had fought the entire race distance. Never more than a couple of car lengths would separate the two at any point in time. The fight would rage all the way through Woodcote and on to the start/finish line. At the line, Moss would clip Rolt by a margin of just four-tenths of a second for 2nd place. These two could comfortably battle it out the entire race distance as they would have twenty seconds in hand over Ken Wharton in 4th pace.
As with a majority of the races for the team, they would end on the other end of the desired result. Hamilton had achieved one of the greatest highlights of any racers career when he took the overall victory at Le Mans with Tony Rolt. Unfortunately, this would not be the way in which he wanted his season to wind down. The story behind the Le Mans victory had been the stuff of legend, between the drinking and getting hit in the face by a bird at more than 130 mph, Hamilton had one remarkable tale of Le Mans adventure, but this failure at Goodwood would again bring him down to the level of the rest of the racing mortals.
The upcoming 1954 threw things into a questionable state for Chase, Brown and the team. The World Championship would be returning to Formula One regulations for the 1954 season, and therefore, would make the Cooper-Bristol chassis non-conforming to the regulations. And after a season of being quite unsuccessful against the Ferraris and Maseratis, the team principals would have to stop and take a second look.
The RJ Chase team would end up disappearing from the ranks of World Championship teams after just its one season. Brown intended to enter the British Grand Prix but would not start the race. Later on, he would leave to go to Vanwall and begin testing their new cars for them.
While Brown would continue to be something of a fixture around grand prix racing for a number of more years, the RJ Chase team would disappear into the annuls of grand prix history. The team would be yet another that would disappear from the scene without anyone really even recognizing their presence, let alone knowing who they were.