REFLECTIONS ON THE SOUTH AFRICAN GRAND PRIX
A GRAND PRIX has been held in South Africa since 1934, but in those days it was rather a local affair run on handicap; however, it always attracted a few European drivers as it was held at the end of the year in Europe’s mid-winter, which is Africa’s mid-summer. It was not until 1962 that the race achieved World Championship status, the race being run on the traditional East London circuit, which is quite a long way down the east coast of South Africa. By this time the new Kyalami circuit had been built in the north, between Johannesburg and Pretoria, and in 1967 the Grand Prix was moved to this circuit for a number of reasons. The city of East London was finding a World Championship event a financial strain, there was no hope of attracting bigger crowds of spectators because of the location, and the circuit was showing signs of becoming out-dated for modern Grand Prix racing. As Kyalami was in a much more densely populated area and near a growing industrial centre the move was obvious, and in addition the newly-constructed circuit offered better facilities. By the middle of 1966 the Kyalami circuit had been brought up to FIA standards as regards width and run-off areas and the 2.55-mile artificial road-circuit had its first Grand Prix at the beginning of 1967 on January 2nd. As the traditional mid-winter date did not fit in with the overall Championship calendar, the organisers moved their date to March so that the South African GP could take its rightful place as the real start of a Grand Prix season rather than an unsatisfactory tail-end Charlie. All is still not completely well with the event, as travel and transport costs keep rising and the financial outlay needed to put the event on keeps staying ahead of the income and a crowd of 100,000 is “capacity” for the circuit. The South African Motor Racing Club are determined to keep their event in the World Championship series, not only because of their enthusiasm for motor racing, but because South Africa is an expanding nation in world trade and they rightly feel that the Grand Prix is a mark of status in world affairs and a fine advertisement for the country as a whole.
The circuit lies on a long shallow hillside, with some undulations and takes its name from the district of Kyalami, which is fast becoming a smart residential area, so that already the club are suffering from “moaning jimmies” like we have living around Brands Hatch, Castle Combe, Thruxton and other circuits. Some of the corners have been named after local landmarks, like Crowthorne Corner after the small village just over the hill, Jukskei Sweep after the local Jukskei river, Sunset Bend because in late afternoon you get a good view of the setting sun as you round it, and Leeukop Bend after the Leeukop prison which is just up the road. First impressions of the circuit are not very exciting for the hillside lacks much in the way of landscaping, trees and bushes being few and far between, so you get the effect of a motorcycle grass-track round an enormous field. It is appealing to spectators as from most points you can see almost two-thirds of the circuit. Drivers like it for a number of reasons, among them the really fast run downhill from Leeukop, through the flat-out kink, up the rise past the pits, and the plunge downhill under the Dunlop Bridge, where speeds as high as 176 m.p.h. have been recorded by a timing mechanism. Really heavy braking is called for and a change down to 3rd or 2nd gear for Crowthorne and then it is full-throttle acceleration down the plunging right-hand sweep of Barbecue Bend, where Brabham and Surtees were really enjoying themselves, and uphill through the 140-mph. Jukskei Sweep which few drivers can take without “rolling the top off”. The rest of the circuit is a bit “MickeyMouse” and does not show much difference amongst the “aces”. Probably the most impressive feature of the circuit is the way the surface is completely impervious to the shattering heat, especially when you recall some European circuits that just fold up under the action of a comparatively modest sun, and racing tyres. The South Africans clearly have little to learn about road-making and tarmac laying.
There were many outstanding features to the race, such as the uneasy feeling on the part of most people that Brabham was going to be a menace. He enjoys the Kyalami circuit and was very fast last year and while most people were testing and experimenting for some weeks before official practice began, there was no sign of the Brabham team or Brabham himself. Last year the Goodyear tyre people spent a lot of time at Kyalami in the winter and collected quantities of facts and figures, but afterwards they decided that they were only applicable to South African conditions of height and heat, and had little use on the other Grand Prix circuits. For this reason they did not do any experimenting at Kyalami this winter, and Brabharn went quietly off to California to work with Goodyear, while Dunlop and Firestone concentrated on South Africa. If nothing else, this disappearing trick by Brabham created a moral advantage, for no-one knew what he was up to. He brought his brand-new car to the circuit the afternoon before official practice began and did a few quiet bedding-down laps and from the moment serious practice began he was well up with the pace-setters.
The all-French Matra team impressed everyone by the way they got on with the job and the reliability of the V12-cylinder engine surprised some, but not those who were at Le Mans last year. On the last practice afternoon Pescarolo covered 54 laps, more than half the race distance, and the engine never faltered once. In the race itself they were equally reliable, achieving a 100% finish. The two cars were more or less identical, though the Beltoise car had a white band round the nose, with a thin red stripe round it and the Pescarolo car had a green nose band with a white stripe round it. Each driver had his own signalling board at the pits, Beltoise a red board and Pescarolo a green board and at 50 laps during the race they were both shown the word ON and a lap later the word OFF. Now this seemed Odd as both drivers are French and yet they were shown English words; also I was curious as to what they had turned on and off. It transpired that the signal was to switch on a pump that emptied the contents of the catch tank back into the main oil system, and the duration of one lap was sufficient. When asked why they used English words the Matra chaps asked how I would express ON in French, without using a whole sentence of French words, and then added: “Anyway, we learnt our motor racing from Ken Tyrrell.” On another occasion when they were asked how much horsepower their 12-cylinder engine produced they suggested 460, as they considered the Cosworth gives 480, but there was an air of disbelief about the way they said it. Talking to someone who should know what goes on up at Northampton a test-bed figure of 440 b.h.p. was suggested for a good Cosworth, and after we had been realistic about test-bed exhaust systems, cooling systems, air flow, local conditions of height and temperature, we agreed that in most Grand Prix car installations the driver had 425 b.h.p. available at the flywheel, and when we took off 17% for the rarefied air at Kyalarni’s 6,000 feet above sea level, it all got very depressing so we discussed tyres instead.
One of the problems that the South African race produces is that of transport, for the cars are .either sent out by boat to Durban and then by rail to Johannesburg, or they are flown out by freighter aircraft direct to the city. In either case transport is needed to get the cars to the circuit and most teams borrow cars and trailers from local racing enthusiasts, like Paddy Driver, Doug Serrurier or Basil van Rooyen, and it was quite like old times to see well-known faces at the wheels of tow-cars. Brabham used a Renault 16 and trailer to tow his winning car about. The BRM team were the only ones who did not “live like the locals”. They had their three cars on a huge articulated double-decker car transporter that was really far too big for the paddock and caused some chaos, especially when it stopped across the exit from the De Tomaso bay and poor Courage, who was all ready to go out to practise, had to wait until the Bourne cars were unloaded before he could get out. Another transport problem was that of bringing spare parts out front England, and on every flight that arrived from I.ondon during the week before the race there was a passenger, well known in motor racing circles, carrying some very peculiar personal baggage that was very much over-weight. One chap had two fuel tanks, another had a complete set of wheels, someone else had a great crate of parts like drive-shafts and uprights, another was carrying a fibreglass nose cowling and even the head of the Dunlop racing department had a set of special racing tyres in his excess baggage. The South African Customs men were tolerant, but they must have been very relieved when the race was over and the circus had disappeared, and air-line passengers returned to normal. Preparation of the cars for transport offered some interesting variety, from vast wooden boxes and steel cages to plastic bags, and most seemed to have travelled safely, though some of the mechanics’ tool boxes suffered, much to their chagrin. As practice finished on Thursday a large wooden box was delivered to the Tyrrell pit, for the personal attention of Stewart, and it did not take much imagination to notice that it was the size and shape of a Cosworth engine. There was a certain amount of foot-shuffling and attempts to pretend that it was nothing important, but everyone Seemed to know that it was the first 1970 Cosworth engine, hot from Northampton, everyone else having been told that they would have to race on their 1969 engines as the 70 series would not be ready in time. It was installed in Stewart’s March on Friday morning, and recalled the days of Coventry-Climax, when everyone was using their V8 engine, and Clark always had the latest engine. If you build engines to win races you don’t give the first of the new series to a driver on the back of the starting grid, no matter how strong your principles or sentiments.
Another interesting little Cosworth story concerned the March team when they rebuilt Andretti’s car. The original engine had suffered a bit so they managed to borrow another one from a friendly rival, trying not to notice the German writing on the sump. Everything was coupled up on the March, the engine started and warmed up and then Andretti took it round to the front of the pits. He gave the engine a few hearty blips and suddenly there was oil (and STP) everywhere. Looking underneath his mechanic saw oil pouring out of a strange union on the crankcase that he had not seen on a Cosworth engine before. It Subsequently transpired that this engine had at some time been fitted with an additional oil pressure take-off union, and both this and the normal one had had little plastic caps put over them. The chief mechanic, who knew Cosworth engines well, removed the cap from the normal oil pressure take-off union and coupled up the pipe, never suspecting that there was another union hidden away. When he warmed up the car in the paddock the red plastic cap stayed on, by sheer bad luck, but when Andretti blipped the engine lustily it blew the plastic cap off. There are times when you just can’t win.
On the morning after the race the prize-giving was held at a splendid garden-party luncheon at the home of Francis Tucker, the Clerk of the Course for the Grand Prix. Brabham’s win was very popular, but the most emotional moment was when Graham Hill was called on to receive the award for sixth place. As he walked slowly, and with great difficulty, to the rostrum the applause was moving, for he had demonstrated just what is so special about Grand Prix drivers, his guts and determination to get back into motor racing after his terrific crash at Watkins Glen put him on a level with drivers like Caracciola, Nuvolari and Moss, who all showed the world that Grand Prix drivers are special people, who by sheer concentrated willpower and doggedness can overcome the sort of handicap that would floor most people for ever. Even if Hill never wins another Grand Prix he will always be high on my list of memorable drivers and a man to whom I will always raise my hat. I could not help noticing, and appreciating, that one of the first people to congratulate Hill when he stopped at the pits after the race was his old “guvnor” Colin Chapman, who made a spontaneous move from his own team to be at the Walker pit as Hill stopped. At London Airport when one of the South African flights arrived, daily paper newshounds besieged Hill as he left the plane, busy photographing and interviewing, all of which was justified, except that they all overlooked the nut-brown man, with his wife and small son, who walked unobtrusively by. It was the winner of the South African Grand Prix, but I am sure he didn’t really mind.
When you recall the great days of the Scudera Ferrari it is sad to see them today, with only one car on the starting grid. I would have thought that the 1969 lessens with Amon would have sunk home, about the hopelessness of trying to combat the Cosworth-coalition with one car. To take two cars to South Africa and only one driver seems a peculiar way to tackle Grand Prix racing, and to leave one car idle when Rob Walker would no doubt have released Redman from his duties of emergency stand-by driver for Hill, or when van Rooyen, who is reckoned to be the fastest of the South Africans, was idle without a car to drive, seems a very funny way to carry on in view of the opposition. Ferrari is indeed a law unto himself.
South Africa has four competent drivers capable of taking part in a Grand Prix without disgracing themselves. These are Love (from Rhodesia, but S. Africa engulf him the way we do the Irish), de Klerk, Charlton and van Rooyen. The first two race for Team Gunston, an entirely professional set-up from Salisbury, Rhodesia, financed by Gunston Tobacco. The cars were beautifully prepared and both finished the race without fault, which is more than could be said of some works teams. Charlton drives for the Scudera Scribante and of the three South Africans taking part he was without question the smoothest and fastest. Just before the end of the race his left rear tyre threw off a great slice of tread and he shot into the pits for a wheel change, keeping the engine ticking over. Unfortunately the team lack good personnel and the well-meaning mechanics were turning the wheel-nut spanner the wrong way. By the time the mistake was discovered the Cosworth engine in the Lotus was on the boil and Charlton was forced to switch it off. Of course, it would not restart, and another battery was installed, but still the engine would not start and it was a heartbreaking scene to have to watch Charlton stationary at the pits as the race finished and a possible sixth place slipped from his grasp. The fourth South African top driver is Basil van Rooyen, who is recognised as being the fastest, but he was without a car, as last year a tyre burst on his ex-works McLaren while he was travelling down the Kyalami straight and the whole car was written off. A disaster from which he has not yet recovered materially, though he has recovered physically.
Just to convince the visitors that they really were in a far off land the weather man put on a display shortly after the race that was truly impressive. Before all the clearing up had begun a tropical storm arrived of the type that South Africans talk about but Europeans do not really believe. It came just as darkness was falling and lasted for about 1 1/2 hours; the lights of Johannesburg some 15 miles distant disappeared, the queues of cars leaving the circuit disappeared and then the building next door disappeared, as rain and hail came down such as Europe has never experienced. Then it was all gone, and the South Africans grinned and said : “See what we mean ?” Next morning there wasn’t a cloud in the sky and the heat of the sun was marvellous. A fascinating country.—D. S. J.