Reflections in the Sand

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For some time to come any reflections from the sand dunes of the Zandvoort circuit will be unhappy ones, bringing back the memory of the untimely death of Piers Courage when he crashed on lap 23, the whole car going up in flames. For those people who see such an accident from afar it is unpleasant enough, but it is far worse for other competitors, especially if you do not know who it was who crashed, and see no sign of a driver near the wreckage each time you pass. If you are engaged in a fierce battle with someone else and are racing on the limit you have little time to think more than “that was a nasty crash, wonder who it was”, but if you are only at eight-tenths you have time to think of other things and look around, perhaps to recognise parts of the crashed car lying about, or notice a pit crew and signal board missing from its usual place. Although you cannot be sure you can get a shrewd idea of who was involved, but what the outcome was you cannot know until your race is finished. As the finishers in the Dutch GP drew into the pits and learned the sad truth a greyness descended over the paddock, and the organisers wisely cancelled any lap of honour and all the prize-giving festivities in the evening. By quite early the following morning the Grand Prix circus had crept quietly away, leaving the North Sea mist still hanging over everything. A friend and contemporary of Piers Courage summed it all up when he said that it hardly seemed possible that never again would Courage come bouncing round a corner in the paddock, full of excitement and enthusiasm for some new thing or some new experience. He was essentially a happy young man who enjoyed his life.

Just why he crashed where he did we shall probably never know, but it could have been caused by a puncture, for previous to the race both Brabham and Rodriguez suffered punctures on the same part of the circuit, which caused them to have lurid accidents, fortunately without personal injury. It was thought that these tyre deflations were caused by sharp objects lying on the track, and Brabham’s Goodyear tyre had the marks of what looked like a crown-cork bottle top in it. However, it could have been a sea-shell imprint, and today’s smooth-tread wide tyres are very thin so that a sharp-edge shell could easily cut the tyre. All three accidents happened on the very fast right-hand bends, taken at close on 150 m.p.h., but taken easily and confidently by any experienced Grand Prix driver, so there is little question of driver error in the case of the fatal accident.

From the technical side the victory of the Lotus 72, in its modified C-type form, was undisputable and Rindt had no trouble at all in dominating the race. With an equal or inferior car to everyone else Rindt can scratch away with the best there is, being one of the fastest Grand Prix drivers today, though not the neatest or the most crafty, and when conditions are right for him he can out-drive everyone except Stewart. At Zandvoort with the Lotus 72C really getting into its stride, he freely admitted that he did not have to strain himself to beat everyone, the car was handling that much better than its rivals. To watch Rindt in practice was most interesting for he was cornering smoothly and neatly, with no trace of opposite-lock power slides, and had as much as two feet of road to spare. It was also noticeable that he got the power on just that much earlier out of corners than other competitors, and yet the overall picture did not give an impression of fantastic speed. Returning to the pits I met a radiant Colin Chapman, looking at his stop-watch and grinning like the proverbial Cheshire Cat, for Rindt had just clocked one of the fastest laps to date running on new tyres and with full petrol tanks. He had come in confident that with a light petrol load and race-ready tyres, he could take off another second, whereas usually in the realms of Grand Prix limit motoring to take off a tenth of a second is impressive. In the race he made his fastest lap on lap 2, in 1 min. 19.91 sec. and thereafter had little need to try desperately hard, though Ickx made a faster lap on lap 22, in 1 min. 19.23 sec., which stands as the new circuit record. No-one else got below 1 min. 20 sec. during the race, or even looked like doing so. The Lotus 72 uses a standard Cosworth V8 engine the same as the March, Brabham, McLaren, De Tomaso and Bellasi, so the obvious question is why was it so superior. When it was shown to the Press at the Lotus factory various important features were stressed„ some of which it retains, while others have been discarded. Notably, all the brakes are mounted “inboard” on the chassis/power unit structure, which immediately reduces the unsprung weight, and this in turn means that the hub carriers and suspension members can be lighter, not having to support the brake discs and calipers, nor having to absorb braking torque stresses, so that the gain in unsprung weight is better than the brakes alone. One of the basic concepts of road-holding and suspension science is the ratio of the sprung weight to the unsprung weight, hence the continual search for lighter wheels, lighter tyres and lighter hubs. This business of having all four brakes mounted “inboard” is nothing new, for in recent years Lancia adopted the idea on their V6-cylinder sports cars of 1953/54 and Mercedes-Benz used it on the W196 Grand Prix cars and the 300SLR sports cars, and why it has taken until 1970 for someone to follow their successful lead is a mystery, though the 4-w-d Indianapolis cars naturally used the idea. Another important feature of the Lotus 72 is the mounting of two water radiators, one on each side of the cockpit, in place of the conventional single radiator mounted in the nose of the car. Again, this is nothing new, for today most Group 6 Sports-Prototypes use this system, but it allows the Lotus to use a sharp wedge-shaped nose, which not only gives the driver improved visibility but keeps him cooler, for with the conventional layout he is surrounded by hot water pipes and sits in a hot blast from the radiator cooling air outlet. More important is the fact that the side radiator layout brings two large lumps of weight into the middle of the wheelbase and this encourages a low polar-moment of inertia, which most racing-car designers deem desirable, and have done so for many years. The opposite layout is a high polar-moment, where the main weight masses are at each end, and the car tends to swing like a dumb-bell. One of the strongest supporters of low polar-moment was Vittorio Jano, and his D50 Lancia Grand Prix car of 1954 was designed around this principle. It also used its V8-cylinder engine as a stressed member of the chassis, just like any modern Grand Prix car, the only difference being that the Lancia had its engine in the front. It bolted to the front bulkhead of the cockpit structure and the front suspension was fixed to the front of the engine. Finally, the Lotus 72 breaks new ground today with the use of torsion bar springs, in place of the standardised coil-springs, and goes one step further than previous users of torsion bars, like Porsche and Mercedes-Benz, by using the Vauxhall system of a torsion bar within a torsion tube, so that all suspension and mounting forces can be directed to a single point for each unit, instead applying a twist to the chassis. This bar and tube arrangement was used on the 1938 Vauxhall Ten (not Vanwall Ten, as our printers thought recently), so one wonders what is new about the Lotus 72. Chapman will freely tell you that new ideas are rare, they have merely applied a lot of known principles into one homogeneous design, rather than modifying an existing design to take a single change of principle.

To start with the Lotus 72 looked a failure, for in the middle of fast bends it suddenly gave a twitch and became all unbalanced. Some people attributed this to the rear suspension geometry, but Chapman said the chassis was not rigid enough. At the Belgian GP the second of the Lotus 72 cars arrived at the end of practice in a much-modified form, having had the monocoque centre-section fitted with extra bulkheads in the side pontoons and strengthening sheets riveted into the rear of the cockpit, giving the whole structure much more torsional stiffness. It was this modified car that Rindt drove at Zandvoort. Originally the front suspension was mounted with its wishbone axes pointing downwards to the front, this geometry giving what is called “anti-dive”, which means that when the brakes are applied the front of the car does not sink down, altering the suspension and wheel geometry. A similar idea was incorporated at the rear to produce what is known as “anti-squat”, for when the power is put on with today’s Grand Prix rear-end layout, the back has a natural tendency to sag or squat, altering the stance of the car, which in turn alters the balance of the car. When the Lotus 72 number R2 was rebuilt these special suspension features front and rear were removed and the front “dives” and the rear “squats” just like any other Grand Prix cars, with no apparent adverse effects. Whether the sweeping victory by the Lotus 72 at Zandvoort was a flash in the pan, or truly a step forward in racing-car design we shall have to wait and see, but after the practice a lot of the Grand Prix design boffins were sniffing around the Lotus garage, though whether they were armed with rulers and calipers is open to doubt.

A notable feature of the starting grid at Zandvoort was the fact that Brabham was not really in the picture, nor were a number of other runners using Goodyear tyres. At one point in practice Brabham’s mechanics were seen to be scraping great dollops of sticky rubber off the Goodyear tyres. Apparently the Goodyear technicians made a miscalculation for the Dutch race and used the wrong rubber compound and the tyres were picking up all the rubber left by the other cars that were on Dunlop or Firestone, which were wearing normally. The result was that the cars mounted on Goodyear tyres would start off all right and then get progressively worse as they picked up this coating of rubber, which gave them a jelly-like feel. Remembering how Brabham had been pace-setting at races like South Africa, Brands Hatch and Monaco, there was obviously something wrong at Zandvoort for the first Goodyear-shod car on the grid was the Matra of Beltoise in the fourth row, all the cars ahead of him being on Dunlop or Firestone tyres. With a vast stock of tyres in the paddock, of varying widths, diameters, tread patterns, profiles and so on, it was too late to correct the fault when it showed up in practice. Goodyear’s racing manager openly admits to an inexcusable mistake, saying in all honesty, “everyone has to make a mistake sometime, we just made a big one”. It is a refreshing outlook compared with some trade and industry representatives who say in similar circumstances, “Trouble? We were not having any trouble.”

During most motor races there comes an interesting moment when the leader catches up the tail-ender and laps him, and as the race progresses he laps most of the other competitors. If there is a battle going on for fourth place, for example, he has to get past it and he cannot really expect any of those drivers in the battle to ease up or move over and let him through. If the leader is engaged in a battle himself, with second and third place cars, then the situation can get very interesting, and you will often see the driver in second position take advantage of the situation or the leader do the same and shake-off his opponents. At Monza this situation often arrives three-fold, with the leading group lapping the second group and they in turn lapping a third and slower group, and that is when you see some really skilled traffic-driving on the part of the Grand Prix drivers. As a spectator of the overall scene you can see these situations approaching when the drivers involved are as yet unaware of them, and it is easy to calculate that a real free-for-all must begin in a few laps time and with any luck on a particularly difficult part of the circuit. The drivers themselves are all aware that it is going to happen and look for signs, such as pit signals being got ready for the leader, indicating that he is not far behind, or dots appearing in the mirrors at the end of a straight that were not there the previous lap. Then you wonder how many cars are in the leading bunch, knowing that you are racing with four others. A look at the leader’s signal board as you go by the pits will give you clues, for it might read “P1 + 45”, meaning he has 45 sec. lead over the second car, in which case he will probably whisk by with no trouble. If it reads a list of names such as “STEW, RINDT, AMON, BRAB, ICKX” you can guess that there is quite a battle going on and can verify it as you pass the pits, noticing that all those drivers’ mechanics are standing ready with a signal board, awaiting the approach of the leading bunch. (A friend of mine who used to do a lot of racing never bothered with pit signals, for he maintained that if he was leading there was nothing he wanted to know, because he only ever went flat out, and if he was not leading he could always read other people’s signal boards and gain all the information he wanted.) When the moment of lapping arrives everyone involved has to be right on their toes to make the most of every opportunity, or at worst make sure they do not lose any ground. At Zandvoort an interesting phase arose when Rindt, Ickx and Stewart came up to lap Miles, Surtees, Beltoise and Brabham, and as they approached Rindt was safely in the lead but Ickx was not so safe in second place for Stewart had been closing on him since the start. After these three had lapped those four it was very noticeable that Rindt had more lead than when he started manoeuvring and Stewart had lost all the ground that he had made up. Now this was not because Stewart cannot go through traffic, far from it, and was not due to any lack of driving skill, but was due to the fact that the foursome did nothing to assist his passage, whereas Rindt had slipped by without trouble They did not deliberately baulk Stewart, but it was obvious that they just got on with their own battle and took no notice of the blue flags being waved suggesting that they should move over and let Stewart by. It was all perfectly reasonable for Stewart was merely endeavouring to hold on to third place, while they were engaged in a wheel-to-wheel battle. Looking down on all this from the top of the grandstand one could not help getting the feeling that Stewart was not too popular with some of his fellow drivers. At the end of the race it was even more noticeable from above that the only people to greet Stewart and commiserate with him for being beaten were his “boss” Ken Tyrrell and one Dunlop technician. Had he won the race you could not have seen him for “friends” and well-wishers gathered around. Motor racing has some very fickle people in it, or is Stewart’s popularity only when he wins?

The entry for the Dutch GP was remarkable for the fact that there were three Swiss drivers on the list, Siffert, Regazzoni and Moser, remarkable when you realise that the only motor racing allowed in Switzerland is the occasional hill-climb. Siffert and Moser are what are known as Swiss-Swiss, from the north where the language is Schweizer-deutsch, and Regazzoni is from the deep south in that very pleasant valley of the Ticino river that runs down from the Alps into Italy. The province of Ticino is almost 100% Italian and is one of those national anomalies where a piece of land should geographically belong to the neighbouring country, but because of some political arrangement sometime it hangs on to the parent country. Regazzoni, whose first name is Gianclaudio and whose nickname is Clay, is a typical Ticinese, with an Italian name, Italian temperament, Italian features and, it would seem, Italian driving ability, but in spite of it all he is of Swiss nationality.—D. S. J.