Outlook for 1952 and the favorites before the start of the season
After Benelli withdrew from Grand Prix racing, Moto-Guzzi was alone in the 250cc class from a purely Italian perspective and the title was therefore unlikely to be taken away from them. For the first time after 3 years of banishment, three German factories, DKW, Horex and NSU, were now allowed to take part in the world championship along with all pilots from their country. But no one seriously expected that you would be in danger, also because their budgets were too small to take part in all 6 – 8 rounds. With the exception of the 500cc category, not all classes were generally advertised at most Grand Prix in the first years from 1949 onwards. For the 350cc class, Norton was expected to dominate with world champion Duke like last year. He was also favored for the 500cc race, but Gilera and MV Agusta, who relied on Leslie Graham, also had to be taken into account. MV’s entry into the eight-liter class also promised to revive this category a little. The experts in the sidecar saw no one in a position to challenge title holder Oliver. Below is our summary of all the final results from the 1951 World Cup.
Black start to the season in Switzerland – the Grand Prix of Switzerland
Today only a good hour’s drive from the German border near Basel, the drivers and teams had a much longer journey back then, which was even more important for the participants from other countries. Except for the category up to 125cc, all other classes took part in Bremgarten near Bern. Unfortunately, the race weekend was overshadowed by two fatal accidents. One was the sidecar driver Ercule Frigerio with start number 16, who was in the lead shortly before the finish, when he crashed into a tree. With the Eymatt curve, exactly at the place where (on July 1, 1948) his famous compatriots Omobonno Tenni and Achille Varzi (1923 Italian 350cc motorcycle champion) died in racing car training. Frigerio’s co-driver Ezio Ricotti survived, but lost his leg in the accident. At the same place on the same day in the 500cc Grand Prix, the 25-year-old Englishman Dave Bennet died on his Norton when he fought for P2 with his compatriot Bill Doran (AJS) and crashed. In some motorsport articles with their race report, the two fatal accidents were not even worth a line to the reporter at the time.
Only few German participants – with a brilliant result up to 250 cm³
On the extremely dangerous Bremgarten track, racing with a top speed of well over 200 km/h in the premier class bordered on Russian roulette. With a lack of international experience at the start of the season and the majority of material clearly inferior, it was left to private rider Gotthilf Gehring on his Moto-Guzzi to score the historic first World Championship points for Germany, two places ahead of Horex factory rider Hermann Gablenz. However, they were already two laps behind winner Fergus Anderson (England, factory Moto-Guzzi). However, Siegfried “Sissi” Wunsch was in fourth place on his DKW factory machine when his engine unfortunately died on lap 10, apparently due to poor fuel quality. Teammate Ewald Kluge had already suffered a similar defect on the third lap. In the category up to 350cc, Kurt Knopf (AJS) and Roland Schnell (Horex) only finished 12th and 16th, 2 laps behind Norton ace Geoff Duke. Werner Mazanec with P17 on AJS should not be forgotten at this point.
The premier class and sidecar at the Swiss GP
BMW had decided not to take part in the Grand Prix near Bern and instead took part in the ISDT (International Six Days of Trial). For this reason, it was little surprise that only Horex private driver Schön appeared in the classification with at least 10th place. While Friedel at least saw the finish, he was even lucky in misfortune when, lying in P8, he had to give way to two opponents despite valve damage in the cylinder head and at least saw the checkered flag. He was luckier than his two compatriots Siegfried Wunsch (DKW), who had to retire on lap 11 after a strong run in the 350cc race, and Hans Baltisberger (AJS), who had to retire on lap 11. Among the teams, it was Franz Möhr who crossed the finish line with passenger Günter Müller in a private BMW ahead of Fritz and Marie Mühlemann (Triumph) in 8th place. Hermann Böhm and Karl Fuchs in P11 and Franz Vaasen with passenger Walter Viesler (all Norton) in 14th place rounded off the pointless German record in the sidecars before the second round on the Isle of Man awaited the World Championship pilots.
World Championship round 2 with the Tourist Trophy in good weather conditions
On May 25, 1952, one of the dress rehearsals for the German Grand Prix on the Solitude took place at the old Nürburgring in Germany. None of the factory teams and none of the top drivers made the expensive trip to the Isle of Man at the time. Only a few Italians disrupted the British phalanx and those from sister countries such as Australia and New Zealand. The Englishman Cecil Sandford caused a small sensation in the smallest class up to 125cc, who was able to beat the reigning world champion Carlo Ubbiali and his FB-Mondial team-mates with a private MV Agusta provided by Leslie Graham. This time the British clearly dominated and in the 350cc class, Geoff Duke won despite a cramp in his right foot for almost two hours. After his victory, the local hero, with his usual English humor, simply said: “It was a pretty uneventful race.”
British dominance in all categories – but only on results paper
Without a misunderstanding with his scoreboard, at least the lightweight victory (up to 250 cc) must go to the Italian Bruno Ruffo. However, this bad luck cost the lead, already three-time world champion (1949 and 1951 up to 250cc, and 1950 up to 125cc) his first TT triumph in the final lap. It was only with a lot of luck that Reginald Armstrong won the Senior TT (up to 500cc) after his chain broke while passing the checkered flag. As in Bern, unsurprisingly, a fatal accident overshadowed the weekend at the TT. Norton private driver Frank W. Fry crashed during training on the dangerous Snaefell Course at Westwood Corner and died of his serious injuries two days later. The Englishman was the 38th tragic victim of the Tourist Trophy, with far too many more to come. Last year there were four pilots, John Simister, John Pat O’Driscoll, John Thomas Wenman and Chris Horn, who lost their lives on the TT.
The Dutch TT in Assen with round 3 of the World Championship
With the exception of the English dominance by Norton’s figurehead Geoff Duke in the 350cc class and an outstanding ride by repeat offender Sandford on MV Agusta, the Italians were once again heavily involved this time. In the premier class, Umberto Masetti even managed to inflict a serious defeat on series winner Geoff Duke. Only 1.2 seconds separated the two fighting cocks at the finish and the 250cc race was supposed to be even closer. Enrico Loprenzetti beat his compatriot and Moto-Guzzi factory teammate Bruno Ruffo by a tiny 0.6 seconds. With the two Englishmen Fergus Anderson and Arthur Wheeler, two more Guzzi pilots followed in the next races and only their English colleague Bill Webster on Velocette prevented a 6-fold victory for Moto-Guzzi.
Competitive races in the neighboring country caused many absences
As was the case at the TT, no German rider was able to enter the classification lists in the Netherlands before the fourth round of the World Championships in neighboring Belgium. However, on the same weekend, about 180 miles away, the Eilenriede race, which was very popular at the time, took place in the city park of Hanover, where, as in the previous year, the entire country’s elite came together. In addition, no factory team from Germany had traveled to the Ardennes; instead, they were all concentrating on the German championship for the time being. Everything looked as if everyone (possibly with the exception of BMW) would only get in at the premiere for the first home GP in Stuttgart.
Belgian Grand Prix in Spa-Francorchamps
In addition to the sidecar category, only the two largest classes up to 350 and 500cc were held on the picturesque but extremely dangerous route in the Ardennes. Fortunately, for the second time after Assen, there were no fatal accidents here either. However, some pilots died on other courses, including the 22-year-old German Horst-Wilhelm Herrmann on his 500cc Norton when he fell over the so-called ski jump on June 14, 1952 during training for the field mountain race. Only a month later, the Schottenring claimed a fatality when, on July 11th, the well-known Dutchman Leonardus “Lous” van Rijswijk, also riding a 500cc Norton, fell during training in the Winkler Curve and crashed into a bridge. Just two weeks before, he had finished eleventh in the 350cc class and took 13th place in the half-liter category as the best Dutchman here too.
Belgian Grand Prix in Spa-Francorchamps
In Spa, Geoff Duke won the 350s on his Norton for the third time in a row, while in the premier class he placed ahead of his brand colleague Ray Amm, but again narrowly lost out to Umberto Masetti. Englishman Tommy Wood returned to GP racing after serving his reduced license suspension at the FIM Spring Congress. After the Italian Grand Prix the previous year he was told by the C.S.I. (International Sports Commission) received a one-year ban for following a boxing rule because he slowed too obviously to allow his teammate Lorenzetti to get past him. However, this ban was lifted early shortly before the event in Spa and Tommy at least made it into the top ten after his forced break in the 350cc race.
After the first half of the season – before the first German GP
While in the quarter-liter class there was a tie in the intermediate rankings between Fergus Anderson and Enrico Lorenzetti (both Moto Guzzi) with 20 points each, in the 350 series the defense of the title for Norton’s ace Geoff Duke was already secured with three laps to go. In the category up to 125cc, after only 2 of 6 races, despite two victories by World Championship leader Cecil Sandford (MV Agusta), it was still completely open after two second places by the reigning world champion Franco Ubbiali (FB-Mondial). For Gilera it looked like a changing of the guard in the premier class after two wins from Umberto Masetti. Leslie Graham on MV Agusta and Jack Brett (AJS), like defending champion Duke, were already well behind. While the race in Albi (France) on July 13, 1952 was no longer part of the world championship, everyone was excited about the first motorcycle Grand Prix of Germany that was part of the world championship at the Solitude near Stuttgart. So far, the German drivers and factories have not been able to shine, but this could definitely change.
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