1962 French Grand Prix race report: Gurney gives Porsche its P1
Dan Gurney comes home 1st for Porsche, giving himself and the German marque their debut win
Every five years the Grand Prix de l’ACF leaves the Reims circuit and is held at Rouen-Les-Essarts, having done so in 1952, 1957 and now in 1962. The Rouen circuit does not have the amenities nor the grandness and atmosphere of Reims, but the circuit itself is one of the best in Europe from the point of view of driving and spectating.
All the British teams that had been at Reims the previous week were present and, in addition, the works Porsche team turned up, at last satisfied with their 8-cylinder cars. The Scuderia Ferrari were absent, the industrial strike in Italy still preventing the Ferrari mechanics from preparing the cars.
The works Porsches had undergone many detail modifications in the course of some serious development work at the Nürburgring, and among these were radius rods from the front top wishbones back to the chassis frame, completely redesigned gear-change mechanism, the provision of “catch tanks” for the engine breathers and on Bonnier’s car the top rear wishbones had been filled in with fibreglass to provide more stiffness; both cars had been re-worked about the body lines around the cockpit, and the seating position had been lowered and made more reclining, necessitating quickly removable steering wheels.
Anti-roll bars had been fitted to the rear suspension mounted internally and operated from extensions to the wishbones as with the front suspension. The horizontally opposed 8-cylinder engines were still using Weber carburetters and had wire gauze covers over the fibreglass horizontal cooling fan.
BRM had replaced the damaged Colotti gearbox on Ginther’s car with one of their own 5-speed gearboxes, as Graham Hill has been using all along, and the two cars were as used the previous weekend. Engineer Rudd had been back to Bourne with a V8 engine in the boot of his Hillman Minx and Team Lotus had also been busy, a brand new Type 25 “monocoque” being completed in time for first practice so that Taylor took over the prototype “monocoque”, the works Type 24 being kept as a spare, all three cars having Coventry-Climax V8 engines and the works 24 with BRM V8 engine was handed over to Joseph Siffert the young Swiss driver.
More Lotus building had gone on with UDT-Laystall and their second transporter came out with a brand-new Type 24 with V8 Climax engine and 5-speed Colotti gearbox, identical to the car Ireland has been driving all season. The second UDT car, with BRM V8 engine, was straightened out after its starting line nonsense at Reims and was all ready to race. The Bowmaker-sponsored Lola team had hoped to get a new car completed for Surtees but time beat them so the Reims cars were used again.
Coopers brought out their Monaco winning car for McLaren so that Maggs went back onto the Reims winning car both being unchanged, but using 13-in, front wheels. Private owners are lucky to have one new car for a season, let alone any spares ones, so they just have to go on racing and being careful.
The circuit was closed at 7am, and for the first 1.5 hours the Juniors practised, and at 8:30am the Grand Prix cars took over, until 10:15am. The Lotus pit was full of cars, the two Type 25 models, the Climax 24 and the BRM 24 and Clark was naturally sorting them out. He tried the old Type 24 and then changed to the brand new one, both running without tail fairings and when Team Lotus were sure they were not going to need the BRM-engined car they gave it to Siffert. The young Swiss was naturally overjoyed, but only got in half a lap when the hydraulic control between the pedal and the clutch packed up and he was stranded out on the circuit. While the UDT mechanics were finishing off Ireland’s brand new Lotus he went out in the old one, and when he went off in the new one he came back after a while complaining that it wouldn’t turn right! The steering rack had broken and locked solid at one point.
There was no real bogey time for practice laps, for the last Grand Prix held on the circuit was in 1957, five years ago, when Luigi Musso set the lap record at 2min 22.4sec with a V8 Lancia/Ferrari, but times have changed and 2min 15sec did not seem an unreasonable ultimate target, though below 2min 20sec would do for a start. While most people began to look around the circuit at 2min 28sec, Surtees and Clark were soon well under 2min 20sec, the old Lotus 25 recording 2min 16.7sec to which the Lola replied with 2min 16.3sec.
In the Porsche camp Gurney was in fine form and showing that the car had improved vastly by getting down to 2min 17.0sec in a very short time, but Bonnier was complaining of this and that and could not improve on 2min 21sec so he was left to stand and watch while Gurney’s car was looked after. Clark went out in the new works Lotus 25 but while sliding a corner he went to put on opposite lock and the steering rack jammed solid and he took to the grass and earth border, luckily with no damage and got back to the pits to complain.
The BRM team were not shining in their usual manner, Graham Hill being quite sure that the engines gave less power at every circuit, or the hills got steeper. The attention that the Porsche team were giving to Gurney’s car was obviously paying dividends for he got round in 2min 16.5sec which gave him second ftd but right at the end of practice Graham Hill got himself sorted out and went round in 2min 15.9sec. As practice finished and the sun began to get warm, Gurney and Bonnier changed cars, the Swede leading the way, and they lapped around 2min 23sec in close company, Gurney agreeing that his own car had better carburation away from the sharp corners.
On Friday morning the Juniors again flooded the circuit from the early hours and at 8:50am Grand Prix practice began. To start with there was a complete absence of Team Lotus, though Siffert was out in the repaired BRM-engined car, and only one Cooper-Climax V8 was running, this being McLaren, who had suffered numerous troubles yesterday which accounted for his poor lap times; however, he now soon got into the swing of things and was below 2min 19sec with no trouble at all.
Salvadori got no distance at all before his Lola blew up its Climax V8 and Gurney had a slight bumping incident when a front brake locked on. Bonnier’s car was running better and the Swede was getting the hang of things, and Porsche were trying 7.00 X 15in rear tyres. At 9:15am Clark arrived with a lone Team Lotus car, this being the new “monocoque” and he was back on 15in front wheels, having tried 13in the day before.
Brabham had been going very quickly in his bright green Lotus-Climax V8, and had got down to 2min 16.1sec but then he got a bit off course and came in with the radiator opening full of buttercups and daisies and a fair amount of earth. The BRM boys were still not happy, Graham Hill having trouble with his gear-change mechanism and Ginther’s car breaking its throttle cable, necessitating a lot of dismantling to fit a new one.
With very little fuss McLaren had got down to 2min 15.4sec but Hill now improved this to 2min 15.0sec once his gear-change had been sorted out; however, Lotus were also in trouble with gear selection and Clark was having adjustments made. When fixed he really flew and did 2min 14.8sec which put him in front once and for all.
Both UDT cars had been going well, there being little to choose between the combinations of Ireland and Climax and Gregory and BRM, though the bell housing between the BRM engine and the Colotti gearbox cracked once again, even though it had been fitted with stiffening struts since Reims. Maggs was unable to do any practice and Trevor Taylor did one lap in Clark’s car as practice ended.
The tiresome film company who have been playing Grand Prix racing all this season, play-acting in front of the pits while teams have been trying to do some serious work, then tried to do some “fake” racing shots with a camera on the back of Cooper’s 4-cylinder car, but it blew-up half-way round the lap. It had obviously been withdrawn at the right moment at Reims the week before!
Bearing in mind that this was the French Grand Prix for which practice had been taking place, the oldest Grand Prix in the calendar, there had not been over-much time available and as it all finished at 10:15am on Friday and the race was due to start at 3:15pm on Sunday there was a lot of time for pre-race preparation; perhaps too much time, if that is possible.
Sunday morning was full of fun, with two Formula Junior Heats and a bicycle race, during which time a very large crowd estimated at 80,000 tried to get to the circuit on an inadequate road system and apalling Gendarmerie control, compared with Reims or Le Mans. The sun was very hot for once and everyone seemed to be surprisingly even tempered, in spite of conditions not being perfect for such a vast crowd. Towards 3pm the cars were allowed a few laps reconnaissance, a wise precaution in view of the Junior racing that had already taken place and one by one they were assembled on the grid. The two BRMs waited by the grid after doing their reconnaissance laps, quietly confident, while others went to the pits for a plug change or a top-up with fuel.
“Clark had finished his reconnaissance laps in fine form”
The two BRMs were not using anti-roll bars on the rear, Clark had the new “monocoque” and Taylor the original one, Siffert the Lotus-BRM bought from Team Lotus, Gregory a welded bell-housing suitably plastered with gusset plates and “Araldite”, Ireland the new UDT car, Salvadori the Lola team spare engine and McLaren and Maggs the two Cooper-Climax V8 cars, both on 13in front wheels.
Clark had finished his reconnaissance laps in fine form, the plugs were changed and the engine refused to fire on all 8 cylinders. In a panic everything was checked, plugs removed, jets removed, fuel pipes looked at and by the time muddled plug leads were discovered everyone else was on the grid. Full marks to Jimmy Clark for keeping out of the way during the panic and staying calm.
At the command engines were started, all that is except Ginther’s for he pressed the starter button and it was dead. Helplessly in the middle of the field of roaring cars he raised his arms to indicate to drivers behind to take avoiding action and by sign language Taylor, Maggs and others planned their movements with each other to avoid the BRM.
Mechanics who had been swept off the grid and behind straw bales by militant Gendarmerie now realised that these self same Gendarmes were still standing on the grid and in front of the straw bales and were going to get run over by Trintignant and the others at the back of the grid. They tried to get them to climb over the bales but then the race Director realised what was happening and waved them to the other side of the road, so a line of Gendarmes ran between the cars that were waiting far too long with engines running.
“Nose-to-tail Graham Hill, Surtees, Clark, McLaren, Brabham, Gurney and Gregory all stormed past the pits on the opening lap”
Clark, Hill and McLaren on the front row could see little of this drama and were anxiously peering into their mirrors, so it was not surprising that all three made poor starts when the flag finally fell. Lotus, BRM and Cooper all hung for a moment with wildly spinning rear wheels, and as all three backed off and got grip simultaneously they shot forward in a haze of rubber smoke and disappeared down the hill; through the fast swerves to the Nouveau Monde hairpin.
The whole field were still pretty well bunched at this point and Ireland got all crossed-up and on the grass and there were some near-misses. Round the hairpin at the far end of the circuit the field was sorted out, but Ireland spun completely and in dodging him Bonnier had to run over a kerb and this damaged his gear-change mechanism. Nose-to-tail Graham Hill, Surtees, Clark, McLaren, Brabham, Gurney and Gregory all stormed past the pits on the opening lap, and the rest followed, Ireland a long way back and swerving alarmingly due to a punctured rear tyre which he discovered when he got to the bottom of the hill.
After the field had gone from the starting line Ginther pushed his BRM to the pits, it being downhill luckily, and there mechanics found a broken electrical lead which had come detached during the laps of reconnaissance. With a mechanic holding it on the starter motor terminal Ginther got the engine running easily and set off finishing the opening lap behind Ireland. On lap two, Graham Hill set a new record in 2min 21.3sec, but Surtees was right on his tail, the Lola going splendidly and on lap three they crossed the line side-by-side.
The rest did not change order and were getting left behind, Clark not at all happy with the handling of his new Lotus. By lap four the race seemed to have sorted itself out, with Graham Hill (BRM) and Surtees (Lola) in very close company for the lead and then Clark (Lotus), McLaren (Cooper), Brabham (Lotus) and Gurney (Porsche) in line ahead, followed by Gregory (Lotus) who had dropped back quite a way. Then came Bonnier (Porsche) leading Maggs (Cooper) and Trintignant (Lotus), another gap and Lewis (Cooper), Salvadori (Lola), de Beaufort (Porsche) and Siffert (Lotus-BRM V8) all close enough to be racing, and Taylor tagging along behind, Ginther having already been lapped by the leading pair. On the next lap Siffert retired with clutch trouble in his new acquisition and everybody else went flogging on.
By no stretch of imagination could this 48th French Grand Prix be called an exciting race, but it was early yet and anything could happen, as in fact it did. By lap 10 Graham Hill had a slender lead of 1sec over Surtees, who was obviously sitting and watching, and he was 8.5sec ahead of Clark, but McLaren was missing, so Gurney was in fourth place, and as Brabham was missing as well there was a long gap before Gregory arrived. Among the tail enders both Salvadori and Taylor had woken up to the fact they were in works cars and gassed all the private owners, but had not yet caught Trintignant, who was eighth behind Maggs.
At the end of the runners, apart from Ginther who was still a long way back, McLaren and Brabham came slowly into the pits, the Lotus to remain there and the Cooper to go on. McLaren’s car had been jumping out of gear and while occupied with the problem he finally lost control and spun on the uphill left-hand bend called Virage Sanson, and ran over the kerb with an almighty thump. Nothing could be found wrong so he went on, but stopped again next lap as the car did not seem right. It was clear to his mechanics that a rear wishbone was bent, but little did they know that the chassis was broken, only finding out after the race. McLaren was game to go on as he thought he could get used to the odd handling, and wanted to race, so go on he did. On the other hand, Brabham had no choice, as the right rear spring had broken from its top mounting and the Lotus was dragging its bottom along the ground.
“On lap 12 the Grand Prix of France took on the air of a Formula Junior Race, with drivers gesticulating in all directions”
On lap 12 the Grand Prix of France took on the air of a Formula Junior Race, with drivers gesticulating in all directions. Hill went by as phlegmatic as usual, but Surtees was waving distress at his pit, Clark pointed at the front of his car and Gurney gave Porsche an OK signal. Hill might well have looked phlegmatic for he did lap 12 in 2min 19.9sec, a new record, but Surtees drew into his pit next time round, the Lola-Climax V8 once more having let him down.
It was not clearly on all 8 cylinders, but he went on again, fuel starvation being suspected. This put him back to eighth place, and as if to celebrate Graham Hill turned 2min 19.8sec, another new lap record. He was now 17sec ahead of an unhappy Clark (Lotus 25) and 35sec ahead of a hard working Gurney (Porsche 8-cyl), who was firmly in third position. Gregory’s Lotus-BRM suddenly died on him on the far side of the circuit and he abandoned it and walked back to the pits’ and McLaren was now last, even behind Ginther.
Apart from Salvodori stopping three times at the pits and finally retiring with low oil pressure, nothing much happened up to lap 20, but Bonnier in the 8-cylinder Porsche lapped de Beaufort in his 4-cylinder Porsche, which went to show that “cars make a driver” or something. After the time lost at the start Ginther was at last beginning to make an impression on the tail-enders, though he was losing ground all the time to his team-mate out in the lead. Surtees, although his engine had lost its crisp note, had caught and passed Trintignant, Maggs and Bonnier by lap 22, getting into fourth place, at which point Bonnier stopped at his pit to see if anything could be done about his gear-change and his engine was showing signs of suffering from over-revving due to missed gear-changes.
On this lap Clark was credited with a new record in 2min 18.4sec and on lap 23 Trintignant stopped at the Walker pit with trouble in the gear selectors of his Colotti gearbox. Meanwhile Taylor had stopped at the Mouveau Monde hairpin with a stuck throttle, had cured it and set off again, leaving his engine cover behind, arriving at the pits very much overdue to have a new throttle spring fitted.
At 27 laps, which was half-distance, the order of the first three was unchanged, Graham Hill out on his own, Clark second and Gurney third, with Surtees fourth almost a lap behind. Already a lap in arrears were Maggs and Lewis, and then came Ginther, de Beaufort, Bonnier (in at the pits again), McLaren, Trintignant and Taylor, the last two having had their troubles rectified.
Although the leader appeared to be having a dull time he was not lounging about for he was lapping at around 2min 18sec not far off Clark’s record lap. On lap 30 there was consternation, and everyone woke up, for Clark appeared first, with Hill quite a way behind him, for just after lapping Lewis in his Cooper, Hill had braked for a corner only to be struck up the tail by the Cooper which suddenly lost all its brakes.
The BRM lost its right-hand tail pipe and spun letting Clark by into the lead, but the BRM got going again before Gurney arrived, and a very embarrassed young Lewis had to walk back to the pits. On lap 31 Clark was 6sec ahead of Hill, but on lap 32 the BRM went round in 2min 16.9sec to set a new lap record and on lap 33 caught the Lotus. Clark had not been enjoying the lead for his car was steering badly, so having been caught so easily he realised there really was something wrong and pulled into his pit.
“Once more it all seemed to be over but on lap 42 Graham Hill stopped at the bottom hairpin”
This left Hill’s BRM 30sec ahead of Gurney’s Porsche, which was running as strongly as ever, while Surtees was third but a lap behind. In fourth place now was Maggs driving a very consistent race, and fifth was Ginther ahead of de Beaufort. Behind the Dutchman came all those who had had trouble; Bonnier with a sick engine, a cam follower having broken, McLaren with his broken chassis, Trintignant with his repaired gear-change, and Taylor who had stopped again to have the engine cover fitted from Clark’s car which had been withdrawn due to a faulty steering ball joint on the left top wishbone.
Once more it all seemed to be over but on lap 42 Graham Hill stopped at the bottom hairpin with his injection mixture control having gone over top dead centre and jammed due to a stop having broken off. This left Gurney well and truly in the lead with a car that sounded perfect and the driver looked fit and healthy as well. As Gurney went by at the end of lap 42 leading the race, Surtees pulled into his pit with gearbox bother, so that Maggs found himself in second place, a lap behind the leader. The Lola mechanics jammed the Colotti gearbox into third gear and Surtees pulled away to try to finish, still holding fourth place, behind Ginther, both of them two laps behind Gurney.
The Porsche pit implored the big American lad to take it easy every time he passed them, which he did, and while he was on lap 47 Graham Hill arrived slowly at the pits minus his engine cover, and the V8 running on a fast tick-over. Nothing could be done to improve this so he went off again, to collect his engine cover and avoid exclusion for regulations forbid running without a bonnet, and to try to do a lap or two more while Gurney completed the 54 laps.
As Ginther left the far hairpin on his 49 lap his throttle cable broke down at the pedal so he pulled off the outer casing and winding the inner Bowden cable round his fist continued to drive on a ” hand throttle,” passing the pits displaying a clenched right fist though nobody could imagine why! Surtees was going slower and slower on his one-gear Lola and as Gurney completed his 54 laps McLaren passed the Lola and took fourth place, though 3 laps behind the winner.
A very happy Gurney in a very healthy Porsche won the 48th French Grand Prix, followed by Maggs in the Cooper-Climax V8 after a smooth and unflurried drive, with Ginther in third place showing that it pays never to give up, no matter how black the start may be. McLaren went by in fourth place and while these four were on their slowing down lap a most appalling accident happened that sheer good fortune prevented being a major disaster. Surtees was flagged in fifth, followed on the road by Trintignant and Taylor.
The Lola tried to stop at its pit, was prevented from so doing by a cordon of Gendarmes, Trintignant swerved to the left to avoid it, and turned right into the path of Trevor Taylor who was arriving over the finishing line at 120mph or more. Taylor’s car struck the Rob Walker Lotus, both cars were demolished and by a miracle nobody was injured. The whole episode was so lamentable that I have enlarged upon it in detail in Continental Notes elsewhere in this issue, but of all the people who were involved in the incident Trevor Taylor stands out as entirely blameless, and his calm, quick thinking averted an accident of monumental proportions.
- It was a victory for Porsche by default of others, but if any driver deserved it it was big Dan Gurney. From the first appearance of the 8-cylinder Porsche he has done all he could to encourage the designers.
- Poor Taylor, having at last got through a Grand Prix without damaging a works Lotus, other peoples’ stupidity caused him to write-off the “monocoque” after crossing the finishing line.
- What has happened to BRM. After a flying start to the season they seem to be sinking into the mire, or is it that everyone else is getting into their stride as the season advances ?
- Phil Hill was a spectator and one of the first to congratulate Gurney after the race; Mairesse was also a spectator, but not yet fit enough to drive.
- Almost unnoticed Bonnier had expired out on the circuit his sick 8-cylinder Porsche suffering from fuel pump failure. After the race mechanics pressed the button on Gregory’s Lotus-BRM and it started up perfectly, having cooled off.
- Poor Ginther, two throttle cables in one meeting. Couldn’t somebody sell him some old fashioned quarter-inch rod, or better still an Exactor control cable.