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The Grand Prix Saboteurs by Joe Saward

Release date: 01st February, 2007
Publisher: Morienval Press

List Price: £12.99
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The Grand Prix Saboteurs
By Joe Saward
Morienval Press price: £12.99

Reaction to news that a forthcoming sports book based around motor racing was to be published would usually range from the wildly enthusiastic to apathetic indifference.

Whereas devoted racing fans greedily devour anything associated with the subject, especially when it's as well written as this book is, others, who consider the sport to be increasingly anaemic, would probably finish reading here. But that would be a mistake, for they would miss out on what is probably the best sports book published so far this year.

Grand Prix Saboteurs is the true and meticulously researched story of how two leading grand prix drivers, whose respective careers peaked during the late 1920s and 1930s, came to work for the British secret service in wartime France.

Joe Saward's story opens against the glossy backdrop of twenties Paris and Monte Carlo, cities whose glamour and hedonism contrasted sharply with a Europe still recovering from the Great War and about to be hit by prolonged economic depression. It was a time when an Englishman, Willy Grover and a Frenchman, Robert Benoist, vied for motor racing hegemony.

Motor racing was then considered the most dazzling of sports, one to which the rich and famous readily gravitated and Willy Grover, who raced under the pseudonym 'W Williams', was at its epicentre. In 1929, he won the first Monaco grand prix, dashing around the Principality's tight, narrow roads that hug the Mediterranean one minute and feature incredulous hairpin bends the next. It was a time when crowds marvelled at cars that could travel at up to 150mph and appreciated the bravery of dashing young men who raced without seatbelts or safety helmets.

Grover, who had been raised in France, lived in a fabulous villa at Beaulieu, a stone's throw from Monaco, while his great friend and rival Benoist, lead driver for the Delage team, was a French national hero.

Their racing careers over, both men were reunited during World War II after Grover joined the army as a private. However, it soon became apparent that his fluent French would be useful for Britain's Special Operations Executive, then establishing a resistance network in France and he was duly recruited.

Grover was subsequently parachuted into France where he contacted a willing accomplice in Benoist. The former racing ace's cover involved him working as a driver for the Bugatti car manufacturer where he was given carte blanche to drive across France in a fabulously conspicuous sports car, seemingly looking after the firm's clients. Many other former racing stars willingly supported the pair in the Resistance movement, although when the Nazis suspected Grover was not quite what he claimed, he was recalled home.

It would have been easy for Grover to think that he had done his bit, but as the D-Day landings approached, he insisted on returning to France to continue his operational sabotage. His most effective operation centred on Nantes where he successfully blacked out the entire city on several occasions. But neither he, nor his great pal Benoist, could outwit the Germans indefinitely and both men were eventually captured, tortured and sent to separate concentration camps where each died.

The extent of Joe Saward's legwork is staggering - 18 years of research has gone into this book and it shows. It is a compelling tale that will appeal not just to racing enthusiasts but to sports fans in general who will appreciate that even after being lauded as sporting megastars, some sportsmen and women remain capable of contributing so much more.

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