Reflections in the Transvaal
It hardly seems possible that it was five years ago that I last visited South Africa, for the Grand Prix at the Kyalami Circuit, but it was indeed in 1970, so it was rather interesting to view the five-year span in Grand Prix racing, especially as regards who and what has changed. There were 23 starters in the 1970 race of whom a mere five were in the 1975 race, these being Ickx, Andretti, Charlton, Stommelen and Graham Hill. Five more from the 1970 entry are still racing if given the chance, but are not in Formula One, and these are Amon, Beltoise, Pescarolo, Oliver and Miles. Surprisingly, eight of the 1970 entry have retired from racing, headed by Stewart, the others being Brabham, Hulme, Surtees, Servoz-Gavin, de Klerk, Love and Eaton and five of these were at the 1975 race, Stewart was there by courtesy of Goodyear, and helped on the radio commentary, doing an excellent job by all accounts, Hulme was there in his new position of non-driving President of the GPDA, Surtees was there with his one-car racing team, and de Klerk and Love were spectating, as were many other retired South African racing drivers. Sadly, five of the 1970 list of drivers are no longer with us, all losing their lives in crashes, but we who are left will not forget Rindt, Courage, McLaren, Rodriguez and Siffert.
While drivers come and drivers go, racing cars seem to stay and from the marques in that race of five years ago, only Matra and de Tomaso are no longer in Formula One, though rumour has it that the former may be returning. The 1970 field was made up from various Cosworth V8-powered "specials", BRM, Ferrari and Matra 12-cylinder cars, so that the mechanical scene has hardly changed. The screaming V12 Matra engines are no longer there and their places are taken by yet more Cosworth V8-powered specials. This year there were 25 Cosworth-powered cars ranged between two Ferraris and one BRM, and new names among the constructors were Shadow, Hesketh, Lola, Williams, Surtees, Parnelli, Penske and Fittipaldi. Some of the teams have undergone name-changes, such as the Tyrrell Racing Organisation now being ELF-Team Tyrrell, Gold Leaf Team Lotus now being John Player Team Lotus, and the Owen Racing Organisation, that was fathering BRM in 1970, now being Stanley-BRM.
That 1970 race was quite a significant one in the overall scene for the Tyrrell/Stewart combination had parted company with the French Matra team and were setting off alone using one of the new March 701 cars and while Stewart was blinding the world by saying he thought "the March has great potential", Ken Tyrrell was busy with Derek Gardner scheming up the Tyrrell car, which burst upon the scene the following August. The winter of 1969/70 had not been very inspiring and when the newly-formed March Engineering arrived on the scene with a great fanfare of trumpets accompanied by some pretty impressive claims, everyone fell over themselves with excitement. The March 701 was the ultimate in "kit-cars" built around a Cosworth V8 engine and a Hewland gearbox and it looked as though the "old-order" of the nineteen-sixties was finished, the neo-philiacs had arrived to change everything and set the nineteen-seventies into motion. Admittedly two March 701s were on the front row of the grid in the 1970 South African GP, and Stewart won the Spanish GP a bit later, while he also won the Race of Champions and Amon won the International Trophy at Silverstone, but that was it, March won nothing more in Formula One, though they have been successful in other forms of racing. One of the reasons for my going to the South African GP in 1970 was to see this new wonder-firm in action and to witness the beginning of the downfall of the "old-order" as represented by BRM, Ferrari and sound artisans like jack Brabham and Bruce McLaren. On that score my trip was wasted, but on other counts it was not, and I intended to return to South Africa fairly soon, but somehow it has taken five years, not due to lack of interest, but due to a too-full programme of interests and activities. In 1970 South African Airways took 22 hours to get to Johannesburg in a Boeing 707. This year a Boeing 747 "Jumbo" took me there non-stop in 13 hours, such is progress, and I hope that in 5 years time a "Concorde" will make it in 4 hours, and eventually an Inter-Continental rocket will do the trip in a few minutes!
For those who keep racing, the Kyalami circuit has not changed in five years, but for those who stop racing suddenly the amenities have changed considerably, with wire catch-fences replacing Armco barriers and large run-off areas being provided by bull-dozing earth banks away. Five years ago a driver was in the elite bracket if he recorded a lap time below 1 minute 20 seconds, the pole position by Stewart being 1 minute 19.3 seconds; this year a lap in 1 minute 20 seconds would not have qualified to start the race, and the elite were below 1 minute 17 seconds. Although three seconds does not sound much in 5 years, at an average speed of close on 120 m.p.h. three seconds is quite a long way.
Before leaving that 1970 visit I wrote that it was nice to see John Surtees happy and smiling once again, for he was now his own boss and could not get involved with petty intrigues within big firms. He was driving a McLaren that he had bought and was heading towards being a constructor of his own cars. He certainly did build his own cars and withdrew from driving to run his own team, but as for not getting involved with petty intrigues within big firms, I was sadly wide of the mark.
On the first day of practice this year I was sitting in the sun watching the cars come down the flat-out right-hand sweep of the Barbeque Bend, knocking on 150 m.p.h. before they levelled out and flicked from the left-hand side of the road to the right-hand side, to take the rising left-hand bend of the Jukskei Sweep. The braver ones were doing all this in 5th gear with the throttle pedal hard down against the stop, while the not-so-brave were not accelerating downhill on full noise and were easing the throttle during the change from left to right. The difference between the brave and the not-so-brave was a whole second in time, which was quite surprising, but more surprising was the fact that Peterson was as fast as any through this section but nearly a second down on the general run of things for the whole lap. I never did get to the bottom of this, but can only assume the Lotus 72 was losing out on maximum speed on the long straight or on traction out of the hairpin before the long straight. Also it is possible that Peterson had his aerodynamic aids to down-thrust adjusted to give him an advantage in the fast corners at the expense of increased drag in a straight-line. In their time the CSI have made many stupid decisions which have retarded progress and I have always thought that banning movable aerofoils was one of their better efforts at making a snap decision without any logical thought. At the time we were heading rapidly towards the fully automatic movable aerofoil that adjusted the down-force to the car's requirements, so that in a straight line the aerofoil would be "feathered" and as the cornering force requirements increased the aerofoil would move to "fully coarse". While ruminating on this I was suddenly aware of Graham Hill going past me backwards, his Lola (by courtesy of Embassy cigarettes) being in the middle of a 180-degree spin which ended by knocking down the catch-nets, thumping the Armco barrier with its left-rear wheel and bouncing back into the road amidst a flurry of dust, poles, wire-netting and bits of fibreglass and tubing. As Hill climbed out I thought "this has happened before" and recalled sitting on a quiet part of the Nurburgring in 1958 watching practice, when the same driver arrived backwards and slid into the springy box-hedge at my feet. On that occasion he was in a Lotus 16 and had over-cooked it at fairly low speed, so there was not much damage and we lifted the Lotus back onto the road and set him off again. This time he had done his party-piece at about 130-140 m.p.h. and there was no question of continuing, for the impact had wrenched the gearbox off the back of the engine and pushed the engine into the cock-pit rear-bulkhead, apart from tearing off the nose cowling, rear aerofoil and all the bits and bobs that stick out of a monocoque. In view of the fact that the left-rear corner had taken the impact, and that tyre was still inflated, it was significant that the right-rear tyre was completely flat. The skid marks on the road clearly indicated a flat tyre and as the incident had started at the point of change-over from the downhill right-hand bend to the uphill left-hand bend there was little doubt that the tyre had deflated coming down the hill while all the loading was on the left-hand tyres. Everything was stable until the car changed direction from right to left and the weight was transferred to the soft tyre, and then it all happened. As there was no spare car in Hill's team, that was the end of his South African GP and he spent the remaining days of his visit watching Stommelen drive his other team car. As he said later, he became very aware of the mental strain that people like Tyrrell and Chapman suffer, watching their cars.
This accident, which caused practice to be stopped while the wreckage was cleared up and new poles put up to support the catchnets, was the beginning of a whole series of accidents, some through driver error, like Scheckter wrecking the new Tyrreill beyond immediate repair, and Merzario knocking the front off his Williams car, and Brambilla putting a big dent in the side of the brand new March 751, while others were sheer misfortune like Lauda being close behind Emerson Fittipaldi when the McLaren engine blew up and deposited a pool of oil on which the new Ferrari slid off the road and into the barriers. Of all the incidents and accidents that happened no-one was hurt and only Hill's Lola and Scheckter's new Tyrrell were beyond repair, but fortunately the South African had 007/2 standing by as a spare. The continual delays while wreckage was cleared off the track and catch-fences were re-erected meant that practice got badly behind schedule, so that by the time it was due to finish on Thursday afternoon the total practice time was some 40 minutes short of that laid down in the regulations. Friday was due to be a free day for race-preparation, the Grand Prix being held on Saturday, and the national supporting races were due to have their practice sessions on the Friday. While the team managers were getting in a huddle with the organisers to arrange a further practice session on Friday the mechanics were getting together and deciding that they had more than enough work to do, without more practice and the chance of more wrecked cars, so just as it was being announced that there would be an extra practice session on Friday the chief mechanic of McLaren, speaking for most of his mates along the pits, said loudly "No more practice, we've had enough", and there was no more practice; it was as simple as that. In normal South African weather conditions Friday would have been blazing hot with the drivers basking in the sun by the various swimming pools, while the mechanics sweated away on race preparation and the repair of damaged cars, but this time Friday was cloudy and overcast and while most of the drivers stayed indoors the mechanics got on with their work in reasonable conditions. Five years ago there was no provision for work at the track and the teams were scattered all over the district in garages; now the pits are fully operational workshops that can be safely locked up at night.
There were times during practice when I began to wonder why anyone gets involved with the organisation of motor races, safety-barriers were being knocked down as fast as they were put up, breakdown trucks were going out to collect the wreckage, oil was being spilt all over the circuit, the Press were screaming for information and practice times, the teams were agitating to get on with their battles for grid positions, the public were inevitably trying to get where they shouldn't be and overall hung the knowledge that the financial success of the whole venture depended on something like 80-100,000 paying customers turning up on race day. Fortunately the South African press and radio were doing a great job on pre-race build-up and were using Jody Scheckter to the full to incite the public to be at Kyalami to see him race. It certainly worked, for on race day there was a capacity crowd estimated to be not far short of 100,000. The whole thing turned out to be a fairy-tale event, with the local hero driving the race of his young life to win outright, with no ifs or buts. The moment the race finished the joyous crowds flooded on to the track and the parade lap was chaotic and had to be abandoned half-way round, much to the annoyance of the thousands at the far end of the circuit who were waiting to cheer their hero. As there were two saloon car races waiting to be run, to finish off the day, the organisers suffered another headache trying to clear the milling throng and restore some semblance of order. Watching the crowds surging about all over the track one was conscious that they were very happy crowds and the cheering must have been heard in Johannesburg. It was happy chaos for quite a time, which must have been a great relief to the organisers, for if Scheckter had failed to start or done something silly, like crashing again, there was a feeling that the crowds would have broken up the entire circuit in sheer frustration. Instead they all went home very happy and satisfied, and there is nothing better than a satisfied customer. Not all the 100,000 were South Africans rooting for Scheckter, there were little partisan groups supporting the opposition, and on the top straight was a solid block of Reutemann supporters, most probably Argentinians living in South Africa. As the swarthy Argentinian began to gain on Scheckter I began to realise that deep down I am a Reutemann fan, and I began to urge him on. As he got closer to the Tyrrell I got more and more excited until I realised that I was all alone in my excitement on the inside of the Leeukop Hairpin and was surrounded by huge stony-faced South Africans. I was quite convinced that Reutemann was going to flash by into the lead within a few laps, and when he did I felt I would have to leap in the air and cheer, even if it meant being thumped into the ground by a large South African. Then I noticed the sea of waving programmes and handkerchiefs coming from a grandstand on the outside of the top straight every time Reutemann passed, so it was with some relief that I moved along to stand opposite this happy bunch, ready to support their cheering when Reutemann took the lead. Alas, it did not happen, for it is one thing to get your rival in your sights, but another to get past him, especially when he was driving as brilliantly as Scheckter was and making no mistakes. Sadly I moved on to another part of the circuit hoping that when the leaders caught up some of the slower cars, to lap them, there might be a chance of an Argentinian victory, but to no avail, for Scheckter was far better through the traffic than Reutemann. While the Tyrrell slipped by unheeded the Brabham was held up first by Tom Pryce in the Shadow and then really badly by Donohue in the Penske, and so badly did the American get in the way that I found myself shaking my fist at the car from the USA, and I have no doubt that the group on the top straight were whistling and shouting at the Penske car as well. If you are locked in combat with someone when the leaders lap you there is some justification for not moving over or easing off, but neither Pryce nor Donohue were actually racing against anyone. Had Jody Scheckter's brother Ian done a little surreptitious blocking of the Brabham when he was lapped, it would have been excusable, but they both went by him without any trouble, and the young South African driver Guy Tunmer, in his first big race, kept well out of the way. Donohue's baulking went on for nearly two laps, and after that Reutemann seemed to settle for second place.
Earlier there had been another example of baulking of an entirely different nature. Regazzoni had made a better start than his Ferrari team-mate Lauda, and when the opening-phase dust had settled the two Ferraris were running nose-to-tail. The Ferrari pit was getting very agitated because it was obvious that Regazzoni was not gaining on the leaders and they wanted Lauda to go by and challenge for the lead. Regazzoni's attitude was that Lauda was quite welcome to go by if he could find the room, but the Swiss was not going to ease up and deliberately lose a place. It was very clear that Lauda did not trust his team-mate and seemed frightened of getting too close, much to the annoyance of the pit crew, so the two Ferraris stayed that way until near the end of the race when Regazzoni's engine died on him. The Brabham pair of Pace and Reutemann demonstrated an entirely different team attitude, for after a few laps when Pace was in second place and realised he was making no impression on the flying Scheckter, he moved to one side and waved his team-mate Reutemann by into second place, so that he could have a go at the Tyrrell.
One of the big question marks throughout the meeting was the comparatively poor showing of Jarier and the new UOP-Shadow. It was only poor relative to what had happened in Argentina and Brazil, in South Africa it was more or less what was expected relative to last year, but all the people who had come back from South America starry-eyed and believing Jean-Pierre Jarier to be the new hero and the Shadow DN5 to be the new wonder-car, were a bit perplexed. Nobody could really explain this return to normality, some said that the threat of Peterson joining the team had stirred Jarier beyond the normal limits, some suggested that all the other teams had been involved with problems, while one unkind comment suggested the UOP Lead Free petrol being used by the Shadow team had contained nitro-methane, and it was this that made people's eyes water, not the police tear-gas bombs! Strange things seem to happen in South America; remember the way Regazzoni went in a BRM a year or two ago, he never repeated the performance in Europe. Mention of BRM brings tears to some people's eyes, especially When they see the weirdly coloured contrivance racing today painted red, white and blue, with half-hearted Union Jacks on the side plates of the rear aerofoil. All this and the supercilious-looking lion's head on the front of the car are supposed to proclaim proudly to the world that it is an all-British racing car and team. I regret that I missed the point of all this, for to me an all-British racing car is painted a good solid British green, with perhaps, a small discreet Union Jack on the side. Even when it was spelt out to me in words of one syllable, that Red, White and Blue were the colours of the British flag I still had a blank look on my face as I looked at the BRM. At least the driver was a nice straightforward lad from Britain, and he did a neat and tidy job in the race, his first attempt at Formula One, finishing two laps behind the leader without any dramas.
Naturally South African enthusiasts were overjoyed at the victory by one of their countrymen but it caught them unawares for they did not have a record of the South African National Anthem at the circuit, and though every year there has been a special prize for the first South African to finish in the Grand Prix, they never really expected to give it to the winner of the race. One of the earliest motor races I watched was won by a South African, when Pat Fairfield won the opening race at the Crystal Palace circuit in 1937, driving a works ERA. After he was killed in a multiple crash at Le Mans, driving a 328 BMW, the BRDC commissioned "B.Bira" to sculpt a memorial in the form of a drinking fountain, the Siamese Prince being as adept with sculpturing tools as he was with a steering wheel. This memorial was erected near the starting line on the Donington Park circuit and when the Midlands track did not re-open after the 1939-45 break in racing, it was moved to Silverstone, where it remains today, at the entrance to the paddock. I hope that when the Donington Park circuit re-opens the BRDC will allow the Pat Fairfield Memorial to be returned to its proper place. Jody Scheckter may be the first South African to win Grand Prix races, but he is not the first to win International motor races, and he is continuing a long history of racing enthusiasm in his country, and doing a fine job of work for all those racing enthusiasts who live so far away from the centre of things.
Many South Africans have remarkably long memories of the racing scene in their land and when Stirling Moss first raced out there a lot of them travelled a long way just to see a "true master" at work. He was at Kyalami for the 1975 race and on the Saturday morning he did a couple of laps in an old Cooper-Climax that John Love used to race, much to the joy of a great many people.—D.S.J.