1971 Buenos Aires 1000kms

In the first of a new irregular series, we look back at a tragic start to a classic year of sports car racing
By Doug Nye

Franco Lini was the leading Italian racing photo-journalist of his day. He was roving correspondent for the influential weekly Auto Italiana, and for one season – in 1967 – Mr Ferrari had actually appointed him the Maranello team’s Direttore Sportivo running the 330P4s and plumber’s-cart Formula 1 V12s. He was back in the trenches as a pressman when he attended the Buenos Aires 1000Kms race on January 10, 1971. This was the first World Championship race to have been held in Argentina since Bruce McLaren had won the 1960 Grand Prix there for Cooper. The Buenos Aires Autodrome had been revamped, with its alternative 3.79-mile circuit being used.

Ferrari works driver Ignazio Giunti led briefly from the rolling start in his nimble new 3-litre flat-12 312P prototype, but Pedro Rodriguez’s Gulf-Porsche 917 blasted ahead before the end of lap one. By lap 30 Vic Elford’s newly-liveried Martini-Porsche 917 had taken command but its fuel pump faltered. The big 5-litre Porsches and Ferrari 512s made their first fuel stops, leaving Giunti leading in the dazzlingly quick new flat-12.

Jean-Pierre Beltoise’s lone Matra MS660 then ran out of fuel. He coasted to a halt just before the fast, blind left-hand curve entering the pit straight. He set about pushing his stricken car across the road camber towards the pits, forgetting this would disqualify him. Many cars rocketed past until, on lap 37, Giunti’s now leading Ferrari hurtled into the curve behind Michael Parkes’s just-refuelled Filipinetti 512M. Parkes dodged left to avoid Beltoise heaving at the right of the Matra. Giunti, apparently thinking Parkes was giving him room, ducked right, unsighted, to find the Matra in his path. Desperately he then swerved left, but still struck the Matra’s left-rear corner with his Ferrari’s right front. The Matra was drop-kicked into touch on the right-side verge, Beltoise having leapt back unhurt. The Ferrari, however, spun wildly to a halt between pits and packed grandstands, its right-front – and poor Giunti – crushed, its right-side fuel cell burst and erupting into a furious fire.

Little Art Merzario – Giunti’s co-driver, waiting in the pits – sprinted across to assist the marshals. But by the time they could pull the 29-year-old Roman clear, it was too late.

Red flags waved; cars stopped, some drivers climbed out. As the fire subsided and the smoke cleared, one car crept past. Others followed. With the wrecked Ferrari dragged clear, racing resumed. Lap scoring and timing collapsed. It was clear the big 917s were dominant, the 3-litre works Alfa Romeo T33s strong. The Filipinetti Ferrari 512M showed strongly, despite having been hastily beaten straight after a heavy practice crash, before two unscheduled pitstops. Four hours post-race it was still thought the Gulf-Porsches had finished first and third, Alfas second and fourth. But eventually the Gulf pairings of Jo Siffert/Derek Bell and Pedro Rodriguez/Jack Oliver were confirmed first and second, one lap ahead of the Stommelen/Galli and de Adamich/Pescarolo T33/3s. This day at the races had become a tragic curtain-raiser for the final 5-litre versus 3-litre World Championship season…