TeamsBob Gerard: 1954 Formula One Season By Jeremy McMullen
Garage owner known as Mr. Bob, Bob Gerard had become well known for his impeccable car preparation during the years following the end of the Second World War. Driving ERAs, Gerard would often earn results far better than what the cars seemed capable. And in 1954, Gerard would use that same meticulous attention to detail and his dogged driving approach to earn more results far beyond what many considered possible.
After successfully campaigning ERAs right up through the very early 1950s, Gerard would be missing from the upper levels of grand prix racing during the 1952 season. However, he would fill his time racing in Formula 3 at the wheel of a Cooper ‘500'. He felt this move would be important as it most directly related to his garage business.
Gerard would take part in a number of races on the European continent while driving an ERA. However, he would remain on English shores when the World Championship switched to Formula 2 regulations. The reason for this was rather simple: finances. Starting money was lessening and it required him to take part in a number of races throughout the continent. But because he owned his own business, he didn't have the time. Therefore, he would remain in England and would take part in a number Formula 3 races over the next few years.
Having gained a lot of experience with Cooper through his racing in Formula 3, Gerard would return to the top tiers of grand prix racing in 1953 when he purchased a Cooper-Bristol T23. But despite being away from the top tiers for a little more than a year, his racing experience and driving style would help him to have immediate success.
Behind the wheel, Gerard was a ferocious driver, and yet, very much a gentleman racer. His dogged determination would wear down his competition. And his attention to detail would ensure that he could get the most out of his cars while making them last at the same time. He would need this heading into the following season.
Gerard would be a little late to the party. He had purchased his Cooper-Bristol T23 for what would be the final season of the Formula 2 cars in the World Championship. The 1954 season would see the return of Formula One to the World Championship. The major difference heading into the 1954 season would be the maximum size of the engine. The Formula 2 cars would have a maximum size of 2.0-liters. The new Formula One regulations would allow a maximum size of 2.5-liters. That meant Gerard would be heading into the upcoming season with an underpowered car. The reality was the Bristol engine was already underpowered compared to other Formula 2 cars like the Ferrari 500 and the Maserati A6SSG. Therefore, Gerard would have an incredible fight on his hands if he didn't upgrade to a Formula One machine.
Being a business owner with limited resources Gerard couldn't just upgrade. He wasn't part of a major manufacturing team and didn't have the funds to just go and by a new car and the necessary equipment. Therefore, Gerard would face the upcoming season with what he already had. That meant he would have to rely upon his skills as a preparer of race cars and his stubborn driving style to make up the difference. By the end of the season many would wonder what he could have done if he actually had a car that could perform to the level of the competition.
Gerard's season wouldn't be an early one. Not surprisingly, Gerard would not make the trip across the Atlantic to South America to take part in the first round of the Formula One World Championship in 1954. In fact, he wouldn't be seen at a Formula One race, championship or non, until the month of May. Gerard, however, wouldn't be idle as he would still take part in a number of Formula 3 races in the meantime.
Gerard's first race would not be a small event by any means. The month of May meant the annual BRDC International Trophy race. And Gerard would use this race as the kickoff to his Formula One season. The race would take place on the 15th of May at Silverstone.
Gerard had been racing long before Silverstone even came into existence. Starting his racing career in the 1930s, Silverstone wouldn't come into existence until the dark days of the Second World War when it would be known as RAF Silverstone and would be used as an Royal Air Force bomber training base. Gerard would be able to watch the former airbase go through its transition to become the home of British motor racing in the late 1940s.
Situated in the flat countryside near the village of Silverstone, the airbase, with its three runways, would lie dormant for a couple of years before it would serve as host to the British Grand Prix in 1948. The following year, a new race would be launched and held at the circuit, the BRDC International Trophy race. The first International Trophy race would be held in 1949 and would be the first to use the now well known 2.88 mile layout utilizing the perimeter road.
The International Trophy race was one of the bigger races in England not just because of the race distance, but also, because of the level of competition. And the 1954 running of the event would be no different. Scuderia Ferrari, Officine Alfieri Maserati and Equipe Gordini would all be present for the race along with a large number of privateers like Gerard.
Consisting of 15 lap heats and a 35 lap final, the entire field of entries would be split up into heats, at least at the start. Gerard would be listed in the second heat, and therefore, would have the opportunity to watch the action of the first heat.
First of all, in practice, Ferrari's Jose Froilan Gonzalez would be fastest with a lap time of 1:48. This would earn Gonzalez the pole with a margin of three seconds over Jean Behra in the Gordini T16. Stirling Moss would be in the first heat and he would start the race 3rd after posting a time just hundredths of a second slower than Behra. Alan Brown would round-out the front row driving a Vanwall.
At the time of the first heat race the heavens had opened and the circuit was absolutely soaking wet. This would play into the hands of some and would destroy the hopes of others. Gonzalez would look right at home in the wet conditions. He would be at the wheel of his Ferrari 553 and would continually pull out a larger and larger advantage over the rest of the field.
Behra would lose out at the start of the race and would actually lose his position. He would continue to slip down the running order until he eventually finished the first heat in 5th place.
Moss would stay put pretty much but he would get shown up by Prince Bira who would make a fantastic start and would only continue to climb up the running order. While Gonzalez continued to stretch out his advantage over the field, Bira and Moss would be in an impressive duel for 2nd. This was impressive considering Bira had started the race in 8th.
Anchored by the fastest lap of the heat, Gonzalez would complete the race distance in thirty-one minutes and forty-nine seconds to take the victory. The battle would be for 2nd place between Prince Bira and Moss. Bira's performance would be remarkable and as he rounded Woodcote for the final time he would have a two-second advantage on Moss as they crossed the line.
Gerard's season was about to get underway. He would find himself in a good starting position. Maurice Trintignant would be driving for Scuderia Ferrari and would earn the pole for the second heat. Starting alongside Trintignant would be a former winner of the race, Reg Parnell. Andre Simon would place his Gordini T16 on the front row in 3rd place. And the final place on the front row would go to Gerard in his Cooper-Bristol T23. This was a remarkable achievement especially considering his best time in practice would be just three seconds slower than Trintignant driving a 2.5-liter Ferrari 625.
Although Gerard would have an incredible starting position it would all be lost during the actual heat race. Right from the start Gerard would lose out and would begin to slip down the running order while Trintignant led the way at the front of the field with Parnell doing his best just to keep Trintignant within sight.
Simon and Gerard would lose out during the heat race. Instead, Roy Salvadori would come up through the field from 12th on the starting grid. Soon, he would be running in the top five and would be chasing Robert Manzon, who had started the race 8th.
It was an incredible performance Trintignant was putting together at the head of the field in drying conditions. It was also impressive to see Manzon and Salvadori so far up the running order after starting so poorly. But that meant Gerard would be fighting with everything he had just to remain inside the top ten, and it would be an absolute fight.
Trintignant's pace over the course of the 15 lap heat race would be vastly quicker than his Ferrari teammate in the first heat. Against such a pace, Gerard's 2.0-liter Cooper-Bristol would struggle. Other issues would cause Gerard to go more than a lap down before the end of heat, but he would still be running inside the top ten, but just barely.
Cruising around with an average speed of a little more than 87 mph, Trintignant would take the win and would complete the distance a minute and forty seconds faster than Gonzalez. Reg Parnell would also be quite fast in 2nd place but would still finish six seconds back. Robert Manzon would be running pretty much by himself when he crossed the line in 3rd. Gerard would slip all the way from 4th on the starting grid to being two laps behind at the finish. Still, Gerard would finish in 10th.
Finishing times would be very important as they would determine the starting grid positions for the 35 lap final. However, there would be a shake-up. Gonzalez's car would apparently seize right after the conclusion of his heat race. But instead of giving him Umberto Maglioli's car, Trintignant would lose his car to the Argentinean. It would be a real slap in the face when Trintignant wouldn't get to start in his own car, but because the finishing times were particular to the car and not the driver, Trintignant would suffer further when his pole position would be taken away by the team and given to Gonzalez. Trintignant, despite being nearly two minutes faster, would be demoted to a 6th place starting position. Still, that would be better than Gerard as he would start the final from the seventh, and final, row of the grid, 22nd overall.
In the drier conditions in the final, Gonzalez would fly. He would lead right from the very beginning and would immediately begin to pull away from Parnell and Manzon. Both Parnell and Manzon would be dropped from the chase by the 5th lap when Manzon retired with transmission failure and Parnell was out because of a failed propeller shaft. Known for his steady and consistent driving style, Gerard's focus and determination would see him continually climb the running order, almost from the very beginning. Starting from the last row of the grid he really could only move forward as long as he kept running. Famous for his ability to get the most reliability and speed from his cars, Gerard continued to climb.
Gonzalez continued to lead. His advantage would continue to grow with each and every lap. His closest competition would be Jean Behra. Behra would start the final from the 11th position on the grid and would already be a little ways back after the first couple of laps despite finding his way to the top five and better.
The track continued to dry and the speeds continued to increase. Soon, Gonzalez was averaging well over 90 mph and was enjoying more than twenty second advantage over 2nd and the rest of the field. And despite the dry conditions and the lack in power, Gerard would continue to fight hard all throughout the final. In spite of the increased distance, he would manage to only go a lap down and would be one of the better performing Formula 2 cars in the field.
Anchored by a fastest lap of 1:50, Gonzalez would perform better than everybody else in the field. He would cruise to the victory and would enjoy thirty-seconds of an advantage over Behra at the finish. The final position on the podium would go to Andre Simon. Simon would be a lap down by the end.
Gerard's drive would be a nearly masterful performance. Despite starting 22nd and on the last row of the grid, he would fight hard each and every lap to go down just one lap to Gonzalez. He had gone down two in just 15 laps in the second heat. His drive would be so steady, consistent and fast that he would end up finishing the race in 8th place; a truly incredible result after starting 22nd!
Gerard used every bit of his extensive racing experience to pull off an incredible result in his first race of the season. The wily veteran didn't push his car too hard during the second heat and it showed. This gave him a poor starting position, but his meticulous planning and preparation would allow him to push his car hard during the final. The smooth and steady driving style would enable Gerard to extract the maximum while never harming the car. It was a great race and great experience for the remainder of the season. It would also provide a bit of an idea as to what he would be able to do over the course of '54.
After the strong result at the International Trophy race Gerard would return to his work and Formula 3. However, two months would pass before Gerard would be seen at another major grand prix prepared and ready to drive. Interestingly, the next major grand prix he would take part in two months later would be his biggest race of the season and would take place right where his first grand prix of the season had taken place—Silverstone. This wouldn't be just some Formula One non-championship race sponsored by some local racing club. His next race would be the British Grand Prix itself. And this race, set to take part on the 17th of July wouldn't just be some non-championship event. It was the fifth round of the Formula One World Championship and it would be the best opportunity Gerard would have to compete against the very best teams and individuals.
Because of decisions to conduct the World Championship according to Formula 2 regulations there would be a number of Germans that would take part in the World Championship the previous couple of seasons merely because it would likely be their only opportunity to take part in a World Championship event. And as the World Championship returned to Formula One regulations for the 1954 season it would be the British Grand Prix that would be filled with a number of privateer entries all looking for their moment in the spotlight.
Gerard would certainly have to be considered one of those since he really only took part in the British Grand Prix throughout his few attempts in the World Championship. However, Gerard was so well respected and experienced as a driver that he really wasn't one of those just looking for the fame. But he certainly wouldn't shy away from any opportunity to score a strong position.
Gerard would have a tough time heading into the 1954 running of the British Grand Prix. Not only would Scuderia Ferrari, Officine Alfieri Maserati and Equipe Gordini be present for the race, but also, the W196 Silver Arrows of Mercedes-Benz.
At the French Grand Prix, where the W196 would make its debut, the Silver Arrows machines would absolutely dominate the field leaving everyone a lap behind by the finish. Heading to the British Grand Prix, many expected more of the same. And against such powerhouses with a 2.0-liter Formula 2 engine, Gerard would have little to no chance of earning a top result.
Gerard, however, had something going in his favor. Nearly half of the thirty-one car field would be comprised of older Formula 2 chassis. And amongst the Formula 2 runners, Gerard was routinely one of the fastest. Therefore, if any of the Formula One cars had trouble, Gerard would be one of those that likely would be able to capitalize.
Gerard would need a lot of help after practice as Juan Manuel Fangio would take his W196 and would earn the pole for the 90 lap race. Not only would he break the lap record but he would be the first to average over 100 mph around the 2.88 mile circuit. Riding his victory in the International Trophy race, Gonzalez would be second-fastest in practice. Just a matter of hundredths of a second would separate Gonzalez from his Ferrari teammate Mike Hawthorn in 3rd. The final spot on the front row would go to Stirling Moss driving a Maserati. His best time around the circuit would be two seconds slower than Fangio.
As usual, Gerard would be one of the fastest amongst the Formula 2 runners in practice. As it would turn out, he would be second-fastest amongst the Formula 2 cars. His time of 1:55 would earn him a spot on the outside of the fifth row in 18th position.
Tens of thousands would be present for the fifth round of the Formula One World Championship. With two Brits starting on the front row hopes would be running high. But the Silver Arrows of Fangio seemed to be travelling at an altitude too high to be touched. As the cars were rolled out onto the grid in preparation for the start of the British Grand Prix the skies would be overcast but the circuit would be dry. There would be, however, a severe threat of rain. This would affect strategies greatly.
The engines would roar to life and would strain as they are held back ready to launch their cars into the start of the 9th British Grand Prix. And as the flag dropped to start the race, Gonzalez would leap forward into the lead of the race. Fangio would have a terrible getaway from the grid, and, in fact, would be a number of positions back by the time he actually got rolling. Moss would follow Gonzalez into the first turn. Moss, in turn, had Hawthorn all over his backside through the first turn at Copse.
Gerard wouldn't have as clear a shot ahead as those around the front row. Down on the fifth row of the grid, Gerard would find himself in a small pack of tightly grouped cars all jockeying for position heading into the first turn. Amazingly, Gerard would make it through the first turn just fine and would try to settle in for the long day of racing.
Over the course of the day, the strong, reliable driving style of Gerard's would come in handy. Gonzalez would be flying at the front of the field. He would be followed by Hawthorn, who would manage to get around Moss, and then Fangio would be in 4th. All of the top five would be pushing real hard to get the maximum they could get before the rains came. Many others would have the same approach but their races would come to a premature end.
Robert Manzon, Alberto Ascari and Luigi Villoresi would be amongst those that would fall out of the running prior to halfway. Then, with the track soaking wet from a passing rain shower, Gonzalez would continue to lead, opening up his lead over the rest of the field while Gerard continued to make his way forward with his steady, determined driving.
Gerard would get the help he needed. Fangio would take over 2nd place but would almost immediately give it right back to Hawthorn as he kept hitting oil barrels with the corners of his car because he couldn't see the apex of the corners. On top of the damage, gearbox issues would cause him to slip down the order. Before it would be all over, the victor from Reims would be over a lap behind. Stirling Moss, Jean Behra and Roy Salvadori would be others driving Formula One cars that would retire from the race because of problems. This only promoted Gerard who was driving a very strong race despite being a number of laps behind Gonzalez.
Though he would share the fastest lap time with six others, Gonzalez would be in a realm unto himself on that day. No matter the conditions, he just continued to increase his lead over the rest of the field. This was bad news for Gerard who was trying with everything he had but was still being careful to make it the entire 263 miles.
Gonzalez would be indomitable as he powered his way to victory a minute and ten seconds clear of Mike Hawthorn in 2nd place. Onofre Marimon would be a lap down by the end of the race but would still manage to earn the final spot on the podium.
After starting the race 18th, Gerard would put together another of his remarkable and steady driving performances to earn yet another top ten result. In spite of being five laps behind by the end of the race, Gerard would still manage to achieve a 10th place finish. And sure enough, amongst the Formula 2 competitors, he would be the highest placed finisher.
Gerard's incredible reputation for preparing race cars was showing itself once again as he was taking underpowered cars and was managing to turn them into strong performers. And he had managed to do this at a higher-speed circuit. Looking at his driving performances at the two events held at Silverstone it seemed abundantly clear he could challenge the Formula One cars for top results at some of the slower circuits coming later on in the year.
Only a matter of a couple of weeks, instead of months, would pass between races for Gerard following the British Grand Prix. On the 7th of August, Gerard would be in Cheshire near Wales. He would be up there to take part in the 1st International Gold Cup race and it would be held at the 2.76 mile Oulton Park Circuit.
Consisting of an area of about 905 square miles, most of Cheshire's square mileage is devoted to agriculture and is principally known for its Cheshire cheese. During the reign of King Richard II, the county would provide the king with very loyal support and would actually have a standing guard of some 500 men. These were called the 'Cheshire Guard'.
Located in the civil parish of Little Budworth not too far away from Chester exists the Oulton Park Circuit. During the days of World War II, the grounds of what was previously Oulton Estate would be used as a staging camp for guards of another kind. The United States Army would use the vast grounds as a staging camp prior to the Normandy Invasion in the early part of June in 1944.
The race organizers had expected a rather field and it would certainly be that. However, there were even more that had intended to come but failed to appear. This would be a blessing for Gerard as there would be more than a half a dozen major drivers that had intended to come to the race with their Formula One machines. And while the field would have a few Formula One machines entered in the race, the vast majority of the field would consist of Formula 2 chassis. This boded well for Gerard who was well known as one of the fastest of the Formula 2 entries.
In practice, Gerard would show just how doggedly persistent and consistent he could be, even at the wheel of a Formula 2 car. Gerard knew how to get the maximum out of his cars without taking them beyond the breaking point. He himself had an incredible focus and stamina that allowed him to stay right on the edge for great periods of time. So while it would seem the Formula 2 car, with its vast underpowered engine, would be the prey, Gerard knew how to make it into a hunter. And in practice, Gerard would be on the limit each and every lap and would end up beating everyone for the pole. His time of 1:59.4 would be virtually identical to Jean Behra in a Formula One Gordini T16. However, Gerard would be mere hundredths of a second faster and would take the pole after an incredible effort.
Besides Gerard on pole and Behra in 2nd place, there was one final starting spot on the front row. That too would go to a Formula One car. Reg Parnell, driving a Ferrari 625, would end up being merely two-tenths of a second slower than Gerard and would occupy the 3rd, and final, spot on the front row.
Turning in the fastest lap in practice was certainly something Bob could be proud of, but he had a 36 lap, 99 mile, race just ahead of him. And it would take everything he had, plus a little more, to keep the more powerful machines behind him throughout the race.
And as the tire smoke rose and the engines roared in anger, it was clear Gerard was holding back a Juggernaut he really had very little hope of containing. However, he could still give it everything he had, and with a little help, could expect to earn a very strong result nonetheless.
As the field roared away, it wasn't Behra or Parnell that Gerard necessarily had to worry about. No, the greatest threat would end up coming from dead-last on the starting grid. Stirling Moss would start the race in 21st position, dead-last. However, he would make a great start and would soon be up inside the top ten, then the top five. The doors would open up for Moss after just 2 laps when Behra retired with magneto troubles. Moss was in a class unto himself. Aided by setting the fastest lap of the race, Moss would quickly find himself in the lead of the race and would be leaving the rest of the field behind.
Parnell would manage to get by Gerard, but Gerard would give Parnell everything he could handle. Each and every lap of the race Gerard would maintain close proximity to Parnell and never ceased his relentless pressure. It became very evident very quickly: it wasn't Gerard that would have to drive the perfect race, it was Parnell.
In spite of being underpowered, Gerard would perform as though he were actually driving a Formula One car. While others, like Roy Salvadori, crashed or retired from the race, Gerard just kept rolling on giving Parnell absolute fits.
Moss would appear as if he were driving an illegal car with an abundance of horsepower. He would be untouchable on this day and he would scream to victory completing the race forty seconds ahead of Parnell. But while the advantage over Parnell might not have seemed all that formidable, the fact Parnell would only hold Gerard off for 2nd place by three and a half seconds shows just how fast Moss was travelling in the race, and, just how doggedly Gerard was giving pursuit.
In just his third race of the grand prix season Gerard would be standing on the podium alongside his Formula 2 Cooper-Bristol. His performance would be impressive. While he did not earn the victory, he still managed to stay in touch with the Formula One cars. In fact, he very much challenged the Formula One cars, with the exception of Moss in his Maserati, but of course, even the other Formula One cars in the field didn't really challenge Moss either. What was nearly as impressive was Gerard's advantage over Don Beauman in 4th place in another Formula 2 car. Gerard would come across the line with twenty-eight seconds in hand over Beauman.
It was now early August and Gerard had only managed to take part in three major grand prix races. In all three of those races, including the British Grand Prix, Gerard had managed to finish inside the top ten in two and in 3rd at another. He had achieved this with an aged Formula 2 car. This was impressive. But now, Gerard's season would begin to kick into gear. One week after the non-championship International Gold Cup race at Oulton Park, Gerard would be back racing again. Both he and the car would begin to be pushed harder and harder. This strain would test not only the endurance of Gerard and the car, but it would also put much more pressure on Gerard when it came to preparing his race car. He wouldn't have the time to pay attention to every detail. The question would be whether or not his reliability would suffer.
On the 14th of August, Gerard would prepare for his next grand prix of the season. It was the non-championship RedeX Trophy race and it would be held at the Snetterton Motor Racing Circuit located in Norfolk. Being just a week after the International Gold Cup, it would be a great opportunity to see if Gerard's performance would suffer.
While the Snetterton Motor Racing Circuit would only come into existence during the early '50s, the track surface itself would already exist for years. Snetterton would begin life as RAF Snetterton-Heath. Opened in 1943, the airbase was to serve as a home for the RAF. However, when the United States entered World War II, the base would be allocated to the United States for use as a bomber base.
As the home to the 96th Heavy Bombardment Group, RAF Snetterton-Heath would launch missions to more than a half dozen European nations and would even play a big part in the Regensburg Shuttle missions to North Africa. By December of 1945, the base would be deactivated and totally closed by the end of 1948. So many lasting memories of war dotting the English countryside, the 2.70 miles of perimeter road would serve as the perfect venue to help change and make some new memories.
Snetterton would come to host a number of smaller non-championship races since its inception. One of those the former airbase came to host was the RedeX Trophy race. The race consisted of 40 laps of the 2.70 mile circuit and covered a total distance of a little more than 108 miles.
Fifteen cars would actually arrive for the 1954 edition of the race. There actually had been about a half a dozen others that intended on being part of the race as well but just would not arrive. Nonetheless, the fifteen car field would consist of some strong competition including Reg Parnell and his Ferrari 625.
While Parnell would be considered the runaway favorite being the only Formula One car in the field, Gerard would also have to be on the minds of many as another. But, there were still many other strong entries in the field including Don Beauman, Leslie Marr and others.
The actual results from practice and the resulting starting grid are something of a mystery. But it would not be at all unsafe to suggest that Parnell was up near the front of the starting grid having the extra power to take advantage of some of the circuit's straights. It was also quite likely Gerard was starting up towards the front of the field as well.
The race would see plenty of drama. It would start right away when Leslie Marr and Anthony Brooke crashed on the first lap of the race. Over the course of the early going more and more competitors would find themselves out of the running. In all, six entries would be out of the running before the race reached the halfway mark.
But by the halfway mark of the race it was clear who the main contenders were. Parnell would lead the way in his 625. He would help his cause by setting the fastest lap of the race with a lap time of 1:48.4 at an average speed of nearly 90 mph.
But while Parnell was running away with the lead of the race, Gerard would be putting together an impressive performance of his own. He would be in 2nd place losing ground to Parnell, but he would also be pulling away from the rest of the field.
In spite of Parnell's incredible pace, Gerard would remain competitive throughout and would be the only one that would manage to stay on the lead lap with Parnell. But while not being able to challenge Parnell would certainly have to be frustrating, his determination to remain on the lead lap would certainly be impressive. In fact, his ability to keep within a minute of Parnell on such a fast circuit would also serve to credit Gerard's ability.
Averaging a little more than 88 mph, Parnell could have coasted to victory in the 40 lap race. He would cross the line well ahead of the rest of the field. While it was an impressive performance, it was not all that unexpected given the fact he was driving a Formula One car.
Gerard's performance would be the most impressive performance of the race. He would end up forty-eight seconds behind in 2nd place and would remain the only other car on the lead lap with Parnell. Don Beauman would be a lap behind but he would finish in 3rd place.
Two-straight podium finishes for Gerard after two earlier top tens; it was proving to be a very good season for Gerard. What's more, he continued to look competitive against Formula One cars despite lacking the horsepower. And even with just a week to prepare, Gerard's second-straight podium would prove his abilities as a driver and preparer all the more. His ability to extract the most out of his car while making it last race after race would only make his performances all the more impressive than those by drivers in cars having the extra horsepower on hand.
On the 28th of August, two weeks after being over in Norfolk taking part in the RedeX Trophy race, Gerard would head back west. Heading in the direction of Bristol, he would stop at the Castle Combe Circuit in order to take part in the 3rd Joe Fry Memorial Trophy race.
Though extremely well known for his participation in hillclimbs, Joe Fry would take part in a number of early grand prix races and Gerard would know Fry rather well as a result. Situated not far from his home, Castle Combe would be the perfect site to hold a memorial race to the late Fry. Once owned by the Gorst family, what became known as the Castle Combe Circuit would actually be yet another abandoned RAF airfield. RAF Castle Combe would actually serve for a longer period of time in the RAF than even Silverstone or Snetterton. And as a motor racing circuit, Castle Combe would be quite fast given its size of 1.84 miles.
The starting grid positions for the race would be unknown but it is likely Gerard was up towards the front as the field would consist of just one Formula One car entered by Reg Parnell. The rest of the field would be only Formula 2 cars. Roy Salvadori had intended to come to the race with the Gilby Engineering Ltd. Maserati 250F but the team would not show at the event. So this very much was Gerard's opportunity to dice with Parnell once again, and perhaps, score a victory.
The race was just 15 laps covering a total of 28 miles. And while it would seem as though it was a perfect opportunity for Gerard he really would have no hope when his car's steering would fail early on in the race.
It had seemed as though it was going to be another tremendous duel between Gerard and Parnell. Then it just seemed as though Parnell would walk away with another victory. But even that would be wrong. After Bob retired with steering failure, Parnell would last just a couple of laps more before his Ferrari engine would blow up taking him out of the race.
This would be bitterly disappointing for Gerard who had been fighting with Formula One cars throughout his first few races. And just when the door opened, he wouldn't be there to take advantage.
Horace Gould would be the one to take advantage. Driving a Cooper-Bristol T23 also, Gould would take over the lead of the race and would go on to fight desperately to hold onto it. Bill Whitehouse and John Riseley-Prichard provided the greatest threat to Gould but his pace would be such that by the last couple of laps of the race he would have a more than comfortable advantage.
Bob had looked great at the start of the race. He would set the fastest lap that would end up remaining throughout the entirety of the event. But it wouldn't help him finish the race. Gould would average nearly 4 mph slower than Gerard's fastest lap but it would be more than enough for him to come across the line eleven seconds ahead of Whitehouse in 2nd place. Riseley-Prichard would come through six seconds behind in 3rd place.
A great opportunity would be lost. After four solid performances, Gerard would suffer his first failure of his grand prix season. This would be disappointing but it wouldn't be at all surprising given how hard he had had to push the car against Formula One machines in earlier races. The pace had taken its toll. Unfortunately, the toll would come to collect at the very moment when Gerard would have his greatest opportunity. And despite routinely being the fastest of the Formula 2 field, he was still without a victory.
The number of races, championship and non, were beginning to become less in number as fall approached. The races for Gerard would start to become as spread out as what they had been during the early part of the season. After the race at Castle Combe on the 28th of August, Gerard would go back to his garage business and would be busy making repairs to his Cooper-Bristol in preparation for the final couple of races of his season. It wouldn't be until the end of September before Gerard would take part in a major grand prix. Then, on the 25th of September, he would have two to take part in.
The first of the races to take place on the 25th of September would be the 7th Madgwick Cup Formula 2 race. Taking place at the 2.39 mile Goodwood Circuit, the race would be the best opportunity Gerard would have at victory. That would be clear given the field would be entirely comprised of Formula 2 cars.
During the mid 1930s, a hillclimbing course would be made located at the Goodwood House on the extensive Goodwood Estate near Chichester. But then, during the early days of World War II another portion of the estate would be made into an auxiliary airfield for RAF Tangmere. Then, after the conclusion of the war, the airfield would be decommissioned. By 1948, the 2.39 mile perimeter road would be hosting its first motor races.
And while the circuit would become famous for its nine hour sports car endurance race, it would also become well known for its racing days held in the spring and fall. The Madgwick Cup race would be just one of a number of racing events held on the 25th of September in 1954.
In all, sixteen cars would be entered in the short 7 lap race. However, just fifteen would end up qualifying. John Riseley-Prichard would end up in the 4th, and final, spot on the front row. Leslie Marr would end up in the 3rd position. The competitive Don Beauman was a protégé of Mike Hawthorn's and it would show as he would start the race 2nd. However, once again proving his pace amongst Formula 2 contenders, Gerard would take the pole for the race.
If Gerard could make a good start he certainly had the pace to make life difficult for the rest of the competitors. However, a poor start meant he would have to work very hard to try and get through to the lead. As a result, he ran the possibility of missing out on another chance at victory. Therefore, the start would be everything.
Just seventeen miles separated Gerard from his first victory of the season. And as the flag dropped to start the race, he would shoot away from the line and would be in the lead of the race—right where he wanted to be. With clear track ahead of him, Gerard would begin the race in earnest, pushing hard to break away from the rest of the field, thereby ensuring victory.
Leslie Marr and John Riseley-Prichard would be dropped from the front of the field right from the very beginning. And while Riseley-Prichard would battle in vain to stay within the top three, Marr would fall down the running order even further. Mike Keen would come from 5th place on the grid to take up the chase of Gerard and Beauman.
With Beauman in tow, Gerard would lead the way and would be pulling away from 3rd place Mike Keen. In spite of Beauman's best efforts, Gerard was in control of the proceedings, made clear by his fastest lap time that would see him circulate the track with an average speed of just over 88 mph.
In spite of Beauman's best efforts, Gerard would continually edge out more of an advantage. Bob was not going to be denied after missing out on his opportunity at Castle Combe a month earlier.
It would take just eleven minutes and thirty-six seconds for Gerard to come through to take the victory. A little more than three seconds later, Beauman would cross the line to finish 2nd. Mike Keen would stamp out a challenge by Riseley-Prichard to finish in 3rd place.
Given a month to repair and prepare, Gerard would be formidable in the short race. Knowing he had less than 10 laps of racing, he knew he could concentrate and stand on his car long enough to earn his first victory of the season. Heading into his second race of the day, he would hope he could replicate the same performance.
Providence would have to be on his side to replicate the results though. The Goodwood Trophy race would be 21 laps in length, but more importantly, it would allow Formula One cars to take part in the event right alongside Formula 2 cars.
In spite of the presence of the Formula One machines, Gerard would continue to prove his ability to go fast in his Cooper-Bristol T23. In practice, he would go on to set a lap time of 1:37.8. And while this would be over five and a half seconds slower than Stirling Moss on pole, it would still be good enough to give Gerard the 3rd place starting spot. Once again, he would start a Formula One race from the front row. What was more, his best lap time would be over a half a second faster than Reg Parnell in 4th. Peter Collins would start the race in 2nd place for Vanwall.
Instead of seventeen miles, Gerard would now have 50 miles and nearly a half a dozen Formula One cars seemingly blocking his way to victory. Bob would have to be a little more careful in this race. Being 21 laps in length, he would not be able to beat the car the whole way, he would have to rely upon his steady and persistent skills to outlast the rest of the field.
And as the first few laps flew by, Gerard's persistence was beginning to reward him. Finally, after a number of races following Parnell, he would surely finish ahead of him in the results as Parnell would exit the race after just 3 laps due to engine failure.
Unfortunately, attrition would be rather light in the race. Nonetheless, Gerard would still manage to get more out of his car than many expected possible. Roy Salvadori would make a good start and would benefit from Parnell's misfortunes. Salvadori would turn his attention toward Gerard and would fight with him for the 3rd spot. This would be a tall order for Gerard in his Cooper-Bristol. However, despite the power differences, Gerard would make like difficult for Salvadori. Roy would gain the position but would not be able to shake loose from the Formula 2 machine. Gerard's consistent lap times would keep him right there with the Maserati.
Nobody would be able to stay with the Maserati of Stirling Moss. He would lead the race right from the very beginning and would be consistently fast himself. He would even earn fastest lap of the race with a time less than a second off from his qualifying effort. This average pace of over 91 mph would cause him to leave Peter Collins trailing behind by quite a long way. All he needed to do was keep the car working and on the circuit and the victory would be his.
Heading into the final couple of laps, the best battle on the circuit would be between 3rd, 4th and 5th. In all, less than eight seconds would separate the three drivers. And while Gerard would keep the heat on Salvadori, he too would have to be careful because of Don Beauman pressing hard in 5th place.
Twenty seconds clear of Collins, Moss would coast across the line to take the victory. Collins would come through all by himself. Nearly a minute would pass before the next group came through to the finish. And in spite of everything Gerard tried, Salvadori would end up finishing in 3rd place four seconds up on Gerard in 4th. Don Beauman would end up just three and a half seconds behind Gerard in 5th place.
Bob had put together yet another impressive performance against Formula One machinery. His consistent pace would make it very hard to distinguish whether he was driving a Formula One car or not. Once again, his smooth and consistent driving style would make up for what he was lacking in horsepower.
Bob Gerard's season was drawing to a close. Just one more race remained on his grand prix calendar. In many ways, this final race of his season would be pseudo-World Championship race. Therefore, he would again face some very serious competition with many of the entries being Formula One cars. However, were he to pull off a good result, he would cap off a truly remarkable season.
Just one week would separate the two final grand prix of Gerard's '54 season. Upon leaving Goodwood, he would again travel to the north and west of England. He would travel all the way to Liverpool, and the Aintree Racecourse, for his final race of the season—the 1st Daily Telegraph Trophy race.
Only one race remained for Gerard on the season and it would take place at the site of another famous race, just of a slightly different kind. The Aintree Racecourse would be immediately recognized not for motor racing but for the Grand National steeplechase.
Located in the Borough of Sefton in Merseyside, Aintree literally means 'one tree' and it draws its name from a legend that says there was an 'Ain tree' on Bull Bridge Lane. And even into the 20th century the tree believed to be at the center of the legend still lived. But while the name of the village would come to draw its name from a solitary tree, it would become famous for the 4.5 mile Grand National steeplechase.
Developed by Raymond Mays and a couple of others, a 3.0 mile grand prix circuit would be designed within and without the Grand National course. The design would even allow the use of the main grandstands. The circuit would be built in 1954 and would welcome the big Formula One cars for the first time with the Daily Telegraph Trophy race on the 2nd of October.
The field would consist of nineteen cars but there had been even more that intended to come and take part in the race. Very much a prelude to Aintree hosting the British Grand Prix in 1955, the race would see a number of Formula One cars in the field. The factory Maserati team would enter a couple of cars under its name. The principle entry by the team would be Stirling Moss in a 250F. But then there would be Equipe Gordini and their Gordini T16 chassis. They would come to the race with two cars driven by Jean Behra and Andre Pilette. Mike Hawthorn would also be included in the field. He would be driving the Vanwall 01 for Vandervell Products Ltd. In all, nine of the nineteen cars would be Formula One chassis.
This all meant Gerard would have a difficult task ahead of him heading into his final race of the season. But if there was one that could deal with the threat it would be him. However, after practice, it certainly seemed as though Gerard would need a lot of help to finish his season on a high note.
Stirling Moss would take the pole with a lap of 2:03.6. Jean Behra would end up second-fastest around the 3.0 mile circuit. His best lap time would be about a second and a half slower than Moss' best effort. Mike Hawthorn would occupy the 3rd spot on the front row. The final position on the four-wide front row would go to Harry Schell driving a Maserati 250F. Just under five seconds would separate the entire front row.
Nearly ten seconds would be the difference between Moss' pole-winning time and Gerard's best effort in his Cooper-Bristol. His best lap time of 2:13.4 would end up being just mere hundredths of a second slower than Louis Rosier in his Maserati 250F, but still, he would start the race from the third row of the grid in the 11th position overall.
Just 17 laps remained in Gerard's season. Just 51 miles remained. And against such competition, Gerard would have to drive on the absolute limit each and every lap if he had any desire to finish the race with the best result possible.
The large crowd watched in great expectation as the engines began to come up to song awaiting the start of the race. And as the cars leapt forward at the start of the race, it would be Moss leading the way into the first turn known as Waterway.
Moss would be fast right out of the gate but he would have Hawthorn doing his best to keep in touch. Gerard would be out-qualified by a couple of Formula 2 entries. But during the race, he would be embroiled with a tough battle with them. Meanwhile, the Formula One cars continued to stretch out their advantage at the front of the field.
This would be one of the few times in which Gerard would not be able to keep in close contact with the Formula One cars. The battle with Don Beauman and John Riseley-Prichard would certainly distract his focus and this would cause Gerard to trail by a much larger gap than some would have thought.
The distance Gerard trailed behind the Formula One machines could be quite understandable when considering the pace Moss was laying down at the front of the field. Chased by Hawthorn, Moss would just continue to increase his pace. He and Hawthorn would set the fastest lap of the race, but Moss' consistently fast pace would allow him to pull away from Hawthorn with each and every moment. This would put great strain on the rest of the field. In fact, as the race wore on, Moss would leave the rest of the field behind a bit while Hawthorn would become caught up in a tight battle between himself, Harry Schell and Sergio Mantovani. Just three and a half seconds would be the difference between the three cars heading into the final couple of laps.
Attrition during the race would be light. Only six cars would retire from the race. The vast majority of the Formula One cars remained in the race. This made life difficult for Gerard. Each and every lap of the race would be a battle. But as the race neared the last couple of laps, it was clear this race would be one of Gerard's best, provided the car made it all the way to the finish.
Moss was too formidable. Averaging just under over a mile and hour slower than his fastest lap, Moss' consistently fast pace would leave the rest of the field behind. Rounding Tatts Corner for the final time, powering his way down the straight toward the finish line, Moss would complete the race distance in thirty-five minutes and forty-nine seconds to take the victory.
The battle between 2nd, 3rd and 4th would rage all the way to the finish line. It would be an incredible battle between Hawthorn and Schell for 2nd. Coming around the final right-hander it would be Hawthorn leading the way but Schell would be just a couple of car lengths behind. Sergio Mantovani would follow a little distance behind. Coming to the line, Hawthorn would take 2nd by a mere second over Schell.
It had been an incredible race for Gerard. Starting a little ways down in 11th, he would have a tough fight with some of the Formula 2 competitors that qualified ahead of him on the grid. Gerard would battle his way up through the running order. Though he would be a couple of laps down by the end of the race, Gerard would end up battling his way all through the field and would end up being the highest-placed of the Formula 2 cars. Despite not being able to challenge the Formula One cars in the race, Gerard's performance in the race would be the best way he could have finished his season. He would finish the race two laps but would come through in a very strong 8th place.
It had been another great year for Gerard and offered further proof of his abilities as a driver and a preparer of race cars. All throughout the season he would manage to take an underpowered car and would get it to perform at an unexpected level. But the fact he would manage to do it each and every race would be much more incredible than the results he would earn.
The results, however, would also tell the story. In spite of driving an underpowered Formula 2 car, Gerard would manage to finish in all but one of the races he contested. On top of that, in those he would finish he would never end up outside of the top ten. He would also earn three podium finishes with one of them being a victory. What's more, his 10th place result in the British Grand Prix would make him the highest-placed Formula 2 runner.
The season had been a truly remarkable one even considering the fact he didn't have the bigger engine allowed under the Formula One regulations. And while his performances were quite remarkable considering the effort and consistency he showed, nothing but questions would remain at the end of the season. After his performances throughout the season it had to be asked, 'What if he had had a Formula One car to use?'
This widely respected competitor had once again proven to be one of the most potent privateer challengers in any field. The fact he was able to achieve such results with the car he had only further demonstrated the reputation he had amongst his peers.
But Gerard was a garage man first and foremost. And this would keep him from driving full-time with the more competitive factory teams. This fact would also keep him out of the 1955 Formula One World Championship altogether. He would continue to take part in non-championship races. And even with his ever-aging Formula 2 Cooper-Bristol, he would still manage to earn podium places and other strong results. Therefore, while he would not take part in the 1955 Formula One World Championship, he could not be kept out forever. And he would be back in the World Championship in 1956.
Upon his return, nothing much would change. He would still take part with an underpowered chassis and would still manage to get it to perform beyond its apparent capabilities. As a result, Gerard's reputation would only grow stronger.