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Old 19 Oct 2010, 17:59 (Ref:2777168)   #1
Marcus Mussa
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24 heures de Francorchamps

By popular demand (see Spa 6 hours thread on the other side), here are some of my memories about the 24 heures de Francorchamps - the official title of the event re-started in 1964. I shall commence with that year... and end with 1973, which was the last time I watched the race.
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Old 19 Oct 2010, 18:26 (Ref:2777179)   #2
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1964

From 1962 to 1965 I lived in Liege where my father was the Italian Consul General. There was a huge Italian population in the Liege area – most of them immigrant workers employed in the coal mines and steel mills. I was at boarding school in the UK so I only came home for the school holidays. As a result I was never able to watch the Belgian GP or the Motorcycle GP as they were held during school terms.


First lap at Spa-Francorchamps (1963/64) – Lancia Flavia 1500 – the paddock has changed a bit since!

At the time there were only about 3 or 4 meetings a year at Francorchamps as the roads were public – there was no motorway to divert traffic. The 24 hour race became the big annual event for Belgian drivers, I suppose it was one of the only chances they had to race there – it was a bit like the Mille Miglia had been in Italy – everybody had to do it, and of course with a big field and two or three drivers per car, a lot of people got their chance. But sometimes with tragic consequences.

In the programme for the 1963 Belgian Grand Prix, the announcement was made that the RACB would hold a 24 hour race for Touring cars in July 1964. The 1964 Belgian GP itself would be held in June and would be the third Grand Prix after those of Monaco and Holland. The public was also reminded about the G.P. de Spa, which was the sports car event to be held in May, as well as the Tour de France which would be visiting the “National” circuit in September 1963.

Thus in July 1964 (I was 15 at the time) I was finally able to watch a race at Francorchamps.

My father, through his contacts, was able to get passes and grandstand tickets and we were allowed to park just behind the club house on the inside of La Source, about where the F1 pit complex is now. My father and I decided we were going to watch the whole race and sleep in the car. In fact once our car was inside the circuit that was it, we had no choice, as it was impossible to take the car out, the only exit being at La Source and involved driving across the track (just like Mallory Park!).

Before the race we met all the Italian teams –Alfa Romeo was there (the works team plus the private Jolly Club) also Lancia (with Flavia Zagato Sports run by Fiorio, the father of Cesare). Alfa Romeo and Jolly Club ran Giulia TI Super’s. The Lancia team was called HF Squadra Corsa (in Italian “Acca Effe” - High Fidelity – and the team badge included a row of little red elephants – why this was I don’t know, but I am sure lots of you do..). The Lancia drivers included the Frescobaldi brothers, Piero and Ferdinando, members of an aristocratic family from Tuscany. There were also Lancia Flaminia’s (the Pininfarina coupe, not the Zagato version), one of which was driven by an Italian lady driver (from Rome I think), Ada Pace.

We watched the start of the race from the grandstand, and I took a few pictures also from inside La Source – not very good unfortunately as I think the camera must have sprung open at some stage so the negatives were spoilt. Sir John Whitmore was the early leader in a Lotus Cortina – another Cortina was driven by the up and coming, and still very young, Belgian driver, Jacky Ickx. They all dropped out however after a few hours and the race became a battle between BMW (1800 Tii) and Mercedes (300 I think). The top Mercedes driver was the great Eugene Bohringer.

We slept, as planned, in the car and were woken early in the morning by the loudspeaker asking my father to go to race control (in the Club House just next to us). When he came back he brought the sad news that one of the Frescobaldi brothers, Piero, had been killed during the night. Race Control needed to contact the Italian Consul and had called home in Liege where my mother replied that the Italian Consul was already at the track sleeping in the back of a Lancia Flavia parked under their windows. My father spent the rest of the race busy organising things. In the official race programme which he kept and which I now have there are his notes – including the draft of the telegram he needed to send to the Foreign Office in Rome to arrange for the repatriation of the driver’s corpse. He also had to arrange for the eldest brother to travel urgently to Belgium. This brother was the current Count Frescobaldi and happened to be a former boy friend of Princess Paola of Liege, who was of Italian origin. This apparently made getting the visa a delicate matter!

I went back to the grandstand to follow the rest of the race. This was quite exciting as it was basically a battle between a BMW and the two works Mercedes Benz. The three cars were very close but Bohringer had some mechanical problem and had to pit unexpectedly, letting Aaltonen and Hahne in the BMW past. Something then happened to this car and finally the other Mercedes won. At the time it was rather confusing to follow.


Change of leader a few hours from the end – the leading Mercedes (perhaps Bohringer looking on by the rear door) is in the pits as the BMW rushes by

After the race we left the track and my father drove me to the hotel just up the road, where the Lancia team had been staying. While he had more paperwork to do he asked me to go up to Frescobaldi’s room and wait there with the other Frescobaldi brother, Ferdinando, until he came to fetch me.

This was as you can imagine rather a difficult moment for a 15 year old boy – it was one thing to read about a driver being killed (it seemed to happen rather often) but it was another thing to be thrust right into the drama. I did not know what to say to Frescobaldi, and anyway my Italian was not very good, but Frescobaldi was perfectly charming and it seemed more that he was trying to find a way to console me rather than the other way around. He asked me who had won the race, and of course I tried to explain and I think I got it wrong and said it was the BMW when in fact it was the Mercedes – anyway I felt very embarrassed and quite relieved to get away!

Piero Frescobaldi’s accident was never really explained, and various theories abounded, such as a wild deer running across the track in front of him. In a way it was rather similar to Alberto Ascari’s accident at Monza in 1955. The two brothers were going extremely well, in fact I can see from my father’s notes in the programme that at 6.30 pm they had been lying 7th overall, just behind the eventual winner and ahead of the eventual third place car (a 2600 cc Alfa Coupe). I don’t think that any of the drivers wore belts at the time (the rules state that cars had to be equipped with seat belt attachment points, but that belts were not mandatory). If you left the road your fate was in the hands of the gods...


Works Lancia Flaminia sits sadly in the paddock – possibly withdrawn in respect – this one was driven by Pascal Ickx and Georges Harris
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Old 19 Oct 2010, 20:45 (Ref:2777230)   #3
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Absolutely mega, awesome stuff Marcus. (I have just sat back after realising I was on the edge of my seat as I read) It is very good of you to take the time to do this. But I imagine you are also doing it for posterity, and rightly so.
I am looking forward to the next installment.
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Old 19 Oct 2010, 21:34 (Ref:2777248)   #4
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superb, thank you.
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Old 19 Oct 2010, 22:03 (Ref:2777256)   #5
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1973 - the last race on Earth

I went back in 1965 and took lots of photos this time, but where did I put them? One of the best places to watch was at the top of the Raidillon, nowadays dug out and made into a run off area. There were fewer works teams than in 1964, apparently due to a clash with the Coupe des Alpes. 1965 was when I met Enrico Pinto, one of the fastest Alfa Romeo/Autodelta drivers, who was rather fun and chubby in the Alberto Ascari style.

By 1966 I had left Belgium and gone to live in Canada. I was still at school in England, in my final term, so as soon as the holidays started I went back to Spa, this time with Page & Moy, by bus.

These photos were taken in 1966


Before the start


The start


Enrico Pinto


Jacky Ickx


Jolly Club GTA

The only thing I remember about the race in 1966 was watching Jacky Ickx in the pits below me being weighed – he won his weight in coffee – a prize for leading the race at one stage. And sleeping in the bus all the way back to London.

By 1973 I was married and lived in Paris. We drove up for that race. I had a movie camera and shot the film you can see on YouTube.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HVAJWQ776GY


Using the public roads one could drive round most of the circuit and watch from different places. The night scenes in that film were taken from Malmedy a few seconds before the terrible accident that killed Joisten and Dubos - Joisten half spun on the marbles (he went wide to avoid slower cars on line). He held the slide but came to a halt sideways on across the track at the corner exit. Unfortunately he must have stalled. As you can imagine this big BMW took up most of the track – a bit of light at the front and rear and blackness in between The marshals down at ground level before Malmedy had not even seen him lose control, but from up on the hill we could see everything and were powerless. Then, it seemed like ages but was probably 5 to 10 seconds later, two G1 Alfas came barrelling along in close convoy (Ballot Lena leading Dubos) - Ballot saw the BMW at the last split second and swerved around it but poor Dubos had nowhere to go and slammed into the BMW. The shock was terrific, like a bomb going off. What was even worse was that later on we learned that (Massimo) Larini had picked up debris at the scene of the accident and punctured. His car flew off the road a bit further along the track and the poor driver was killed. I think after that accident they put in a chicane at Malmedy. I actually wrote a letter (I think to L’Equipe) saying that they should have a marshal observation post up on the hill and use flashing lights to signal incidents.

It is interesting that my eye-witness version is different to the one quoted on Frank de Jong’s excellent website, perhaps taken from press reports. It is difficult to blame the marshals; however it is probable that a yellow flag shown when Joisten slid to a halt would have saved two perhaps three lives. Even after the Dubos crash there were no flags immediately, I remember screaming at the marshals, as cars were still arriving at racing speed.

A lot of people commented on my film, but one commentary stands out in particular (by LhodaKblerz) :

I was at this race. It was a most surreal experience. We were camped on the inside of Les Combes. I will never forget the sight of Larini's car as it flew at the height of the trees. Also, at about the same time across the valley, the recovery from Dubois/Joisten was taking place. Blue lights everywhere and still the Capris and BMWs were screaming around as if it was the last race on earth. There is absolutely nothing like it on the planet now- …..
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Old 19 Oct 2010, 23:37 (Ref:2777286)   #6
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Hmm. That description of the Joisten/Dubos accident brought back some memories of an 'almost' incident I didn't quite have on the M1 some years ago.

Heading home from on a dark winter evening after the rush hour I joined the almost deserted motorway right behind the only other car on the road which insisted on running in lane three .. so I followed. Closely.

We crested the brow and started a downhill run a few hundred meters after I joined and I noticed a car on the hard shoulder facing the wrong way, headlights full on and hazard flashers going. Strange, I thought, I wonder what that is all about .... and at that moment I just caught a glimpse of some earth in the carriageway, half an exhaust system and then a dark coloured Capri in lane 2, facing the wrong way with no lights left.

No brake lights from the car in front so he or she had not seen it either - I was in the Dubos seat, no chance to do anything else being completely unsighted and even distracted by the attempts of the other car on the shoulder to warn on-coming traffic.

We, the car in front and I, carried on at hardly abated speed (well, what else was there to do?) and I remember muttering a few words to myself, along the lines of 'Gosh, that was close'. Perhaps not those exact words though.

Thanks Marcus. Another excellent, if somewhat sad, post that reminds us just how much things have changed in terms of racing car and racing safety in the last 40 years. Road cars too of course.
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Old 20 Oct 2010, 10:16 (Ref:2777454)   #7
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Chilling
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Old 20 Oct 2010, 12:07 (Ref:2777496)   #8
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Thank you very very much Marcus, for taking the time to post this!!!
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Old 24 Oct 2010, 10:15 (Ref:2779515)   #9
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Absolutely first class stuff, Marcus.
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Old 31 Oct 2010, 15:55 (Ref:2783003)   #10
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Superb. I've got a special interest in any pictures you may have of the 1982 event.
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Old 2 Nov 2010, 09:27 (Ref:2783951)   #11
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Originally Posted by BILTEL View Post
Superb. I've got a special interest in any pictures you may have of the 1982 event.
I have not been back for the 24 hour race since 1973. Have you tried contacting the photographer Daniel Delien? He might have been around in 1982.
All the best
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Old 2 Nov 2010, 21:18 (Ref:2784230)   #12
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What an incredible read! Thanks Marcus.
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Old 3 Nov 2010, 10:08 (Ref:2784361)   #13
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What a fascinating story and thanks for posting it. I remember the Frescobaldi driven Lancia at Brands Hatch (was it in the Motor 6 Hours?) in the 60's - I always liked supporting unusual cars!.....which is why I got a Fiat Abarth 850TC when all my mates got Mini Coopers! I wish I had it now - what would it be worth?
Have you any more stories, from that period, you can share with us Marcus?
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Old 3 Nov 2010, 16:08 (Ref:2784499)   #14
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I will have to search my brain, which means finding it first - other things I did in 1964 included a visit to the Ferrari factory and meeting God (aka Enzo). Perhaps I could tell you about that? Have some photos as well.
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Old 3 Nov 2010, 16:22 (Ref:2784509)   #15
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YES please!!!!
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