The Grand Prix of the French Automobile Club, the world’s most prestigious race at the time, was held on the 16th of July 1922. Such a select audience hadn’t been seen even at the famous GP of 1914. Le Figaro praised everyone present for the race in a whole column describing their rich backgrounds. We’ll have to make do by mentioning Mr. Maginot, France’s Minister of War and the creator of the famous line of fortifications that bear his name, which would unfortunatly for France, prove utterly useless in the face of the German blitzkrieg, Le Trocqueur – the Minister of Public Affairs, Count De Vogue, president of the French Automobile Club and M. Alapetite – high commissioner of the Government of Alsace and Loraine, all of them getting mixed with the rest of this colorful array of VIPs that stood in the official grand stand which was dominated by many veterans of the Great War that had just finished four years prior.
To further underline the importance of the event, commander Pietro Fabre, the president of the Italian Automobile Club came accompanied by Gianni Agnelli, the almighty president of the Fiat business empire. Other resounding names of the automobile industry that gathered that day near Strasbourg were P. Panhard, Roland Ballot, Rene de Knyff, John Pugh (General Manager of Ridge-Withworth), the latter enjoying the company of the great swordsman Lucien Gaudin. I’ve decided to do this detailed overview because, as always when discussing Bordino’s races, there isn’t much to say about the race itself. The chosen venue was located, as previously stated, near Strasbourg and was made up entirely out of public roads measuring 13,38km (8.55mi). The race was scheduled for 60 laps making up a grand total of 802,88km that the drivers had to endure in order to reach the checkered flag.
Aligned on the starting grid were 18 cars from 6 manufacturers in the 2 by 2 format. The starting positions were left to chance, a draw deciding where each would start, this procedure being in place until 1933.
Not only the first mass start, but also the first rolling start in Europe. The cars were piloted by a motorcyclist and were not supposed to pass him until they reached the start line, but by the time they arrived the first couple of rows were already ahead of the bike. How many other cars had jumped the start was lost in the dust!
At 8.15 AM local time the start of the race was signaled with Felice Nazzaro in his Fiat 804 as the polesitter of the day grab bing the lead. Nazzaro quickly began controlling the motor race followed by long time Bugatti man, Ernest Friderich in a Bugatti Type 30. The first time round and the leader is still Nazzaro. Pietro Bordino who, after starting from 9th, made up time and ended lap 1 in 5th. But Bordino wasn’t planning to remain there for long, his immense pace being reminiscent, in the minds of the French journalists, to that of their greatest driver, Georges Boillot. The second lap: Bordino takes the lead, the three leading Fiats being in a class of their own at the sharp end of the field with the one in 3rd being driven by Biaggio Nazzaro, the nephew of Felice. In these circumstances the battle for victory came down to a duel between Nazzaro and his former riding mechanic, Bordino.
The science of reading a race, Nazzaro’s strong suit matched with his experience was put against the immeasurable natural speed, of Bordino, in short, two supernaturally-skilled drivers fighting for the win. Lap 5: The Bordino is 1st, with a total time of 32min 53sec, Nazzaro still holds on to second albeit 1min 10sec behind with the hugely talented Giulio Masetti being 3rd, 12 seconds further adrift. Five laps on and the flamboyant Bordino is out in front, Felice second and falling further behind, the gap being 2min 44sec, the third Fiat (Biaggio), being 3rd another minute behind his uncle with Seagrave’s Sunbeam showing up in 4th with a minute deficit to 3rd. Lap 15: the same old tire problem pushes Bordino to make his first stop, giving up the lead to team-mate Nazzaro who was well into his rhythm.
The fact that Bordino isn’t one to let the race come to him showed on lap 17 when the two Fiats were two-abreast thundering down the start/finish straight (a scene captured in F. Gordon Crosby’s famous painting). After some more wheel-to-wheel action Bordino finds himself in his most favorite of places: the one at the top of the pack. By lap 20 he managed to gain 1 minute and 6 seconds ahead of Nazzaro, young Biaggio still lingering in 3rd some 5 minutes back. The race kept going at the same pace with the only difference being that of Bordino’s gap which started to shrink. Was it that Felice Nazzaro was pushing harder than ever before? Not quite the case, as, in fact, the source of Bordino’s drop in pace was the engine which was now misfiring. In lap 29, exasperated, the leader pits and demands that all spark plugs are to be changed. This gives Nazzaro the leading position at half distance, 3 hours and 12 minutes since the start. After the stop, Bordino finds himself 2 minutes behind in 2nd.
From this moment on Bordino unleashed a cavalcade of fast lap times on par with history’s best showings. The man from Turin stops the clock at 5 minutes and 48 seconds on lap 21 and 5’47’’ the next time by. “Bordino is amazing at tackling the tight turns’” notes an excited W.F. Bradley of Autocar. “His impetuous style made everyone fear for his own safety.” Nazzaro is surpassed once more and on lap 34 they both come in to take in fuel and new tires. Once more, just as in 1907, the clever maestro comes up with an innovation involving a large jack taking the shape of a spring that helps him change the rear tires much quicker while the gas is being poured in using the same technique that was in use 15 years prior. This means that the 40-year old Nazzaro is the one to leave the pits first but his lead is short lived because by lap 35 the “Italian Champion Bordino” is back in the premier spot following a mesmerizing lap in which he built a 42 second gap between himself and the rest of the field. Following the same pattern, by the end of lap 40 the Fiat Bordino is again very much in front, 2min and 8sec being the gap to Nazzaro. Giulio Foresti at the wheel of a 2LS Ballot was third with a 19-minute deficit.
On lap 44 the pack counted only 6 surviving cars, a third of the amount that started the event, two of which were on the leading lap. At this point the situation smelled heavily of déjà-vu for those also present at the GP in 1914. Bordino has to make yet another stop for a new set of spark plugs and some fuel and thus loses the lead once more in favor of Nazzaro. “But the damon impersonated by Bordino, dominating as he has been up until now, estimated he cannot linger too much behind, hoping that Nazzaro will also need another stop for spark plugs and fuel’” noted the Le Matin correspondent. “Thus he stomps on the gas en route to a new circuit record: 5:43, which gave an average of 140.13 km/h (87.5mph).”
Further back, Biaggio Nazzaro, who had just changed the fuel tank pushes hard and all of a sudden the car leaves the track, the rear axle having broken. The ensuing crash claims the life of both the driver and his on-board mechanic. Being the leader yet again, Bordino keeps going in his gushing style only to be hampered first by a seemingly tired motor which is followed by the car starting to handle altogether very poorly.
There were only 6 laps left to run when Nazzaro takes the lead from Bordino and his ailing car. In lap 58 the rear axle lets go on the car #11 Fiat of Bordino as well, and only the supreme skill of the man behind the wheel saving him and his mechanic from disaster. Managing to control the vehicle, Bordino grinds to a halt at the side of the road and leaves his car walking slowly towards the grandstand. In the tragic circumstances of Biaggio’s death Pietro can think no longer of revenge, choosing instead to take part in the gloomy celebration dedicated to the winner, Felice Nazzaro, the old maestro’s last triumph.
1922 French Grand Prix Results
6h 17m 17.000s
Pierre de Vizcaya
7h 15m 9.800s
7h 48m 4.200s
“Where is my nephew? I’ve seen the car at Enzheim!”
“Ah, you see, you know… It’s happened … “ – said a mechanic, but he stopped.
But another mechanic continued: “He crashed at Enzheim… and then … ” – But he could no longer speak.
He rubbed his dirty fingers on the eyes to keep from crying.
Nazzaro understood. And then he said: “My God! But then he died!”
“Yes!” the mechanic confirmed.
The Strasbourg’s winner leaned on a box corner without asking anything. Everyone fell silent. Later, after seen the nephew’s body at the Strasbourg Hospital, he wanted to know every detail of the crash. Pietro was there with all the Fiat clan and all the racers of that GP.
At one point Nazzaro said: “Today nobody won! Only Death won!”
Pietro, for his part, was very sad. He had lost a race that he could have won. But if he had won, that victory would be of no effect. So, it was better that way. And he resigned, like every racer when one of them passes away forever.
And everybody thinks: “One day, this may happen to me”