Racing to The Race

Chimay, Ferrari, Roger Laurent, klemcollHere is the Belgian driver Roger Laurent and a mechanic from Jaques Swaters’ Ecurie Francorchamps standing next to a brand new Ferrari 500F2 (as much as any Ferrari racing car of the early 1950s was ever brand new) similar to the car that Alberto Ascari would use to win the 1952 and 1953 World Championships. It is painted in the Belgian national racing yellow color and had just arrived from Modena. Laurent, a former motorcycle racer and a close friend of Swaters had recently taken up racing cars.

The race was the Grand Prix des Frontières held in and around the Belgian village of Chimay on June 1, 1952. The Chimay circuit was a combination of country roads and street affair on public roads with a lap length of 6.5 miles. Laurent would start from the front row next to fellow Belgian Johnny Claes who would be driving a Simca Gordini T15.

But the real story was how this Ferrari got to Chimay. For that let us listen to Jacques Swaters tell the story of how it came to be.

“In ’52 we put our money all together, toute ensemble, and we bought a Ferrari: a 500 four cylinder monoposto. That was my first Ferrari experience, my first trip to Modena. A beginning of a long stay with Ferrari.

“We had entered the Ferrari at the Grand Prix des Frontières at Chimay in Belgium, on 1 June ’52. I left for Italy with our truck to take delivery for our all new single-seater, painted in the yellow Belgian national color. When I arrived at Modena the car was not yet ready and it wasn’t done the next day or the day after that. Finally, it was not until the Friday just before our meeting at Chimay that I was able to accept the car and test it on the Autodromo di Modena. It was obviously too late to load it on the truck and get to Chimay in time.

“At this period in my life, nothing could stop me! I decided to take the car back on the road from Modena to Chimay, to the great confusion of the Ferrari mechanics who truly believed me to be the craziest of all the crazies. So I left without papers, without plates, without lights, without insurance — and in the rain. Imagine a racing car on the roads of the old Via Emilia, crossing Milan and running through the little villages of Lombardy (just like in the Mille Miglia). At the border I was saluted by the Italian customs officers among passionate cries of “Forza Ferrari” — the name was already magic! That night I climbed over the Col du Mont Cenis, the road lit by the lights of my Citroën 11 which preceded me, driven by my wife. As for the Franco-Belgian customs, they were only given time to hear the deafening sound of the exhaust. I arrived at Chimay late Saturday night just in time for Roger Laurent to make the race, and begin the long career of Ferrari 500, chassis number 208!”

Unfortunately, Laurent and Claes tangled together on lap one and both ended up in a ditch, without injury except to their pride and temperments!

Photo from the JJF Archive ©The Klemantaski Collection – http://www.klemcoll.com

To see more photos from our archive go to: http://www.klemcoll.com/TheGallery.aspx

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