JW-Gulf Porsche Team fights to the finish
Osterreichring, Zeltweg, June 27th.
The magnificent circuit carved out of the hills in the Zeltweg valley seems to improve on every visit and compared with the artificial circuits that are springing up in Europe the Osterreichring is becoming more and more a natural circuit and one that appeals to real racing drivers. Since last year the upper floor of the pits has been rebuilt and is now a vast promenade for the public and the circuit has been handed over to a company to be run professionally, but it still retains one of the nicest organisational atmospheres of any European circuit.
Not being blessed with unlimited money the organisers were restricted in their entry for the 1,000-kilometre race, the last round in Europe for the 3-litre Prototype and 5-litre Sports Car Championships, and in spite of Porsche having won the championship a very good entry of cream was received. It was the margarine in the middle that was missing, and there was a certain amount of umbrage among small British groups who wanted to enter but were only offered £100 starting money, so they stayed away. If truth be known most of them were not worth much more, for they would not have supplied any opposition to the cream of the entry and would merely have made up the numbers on the grid and formed “travelling chicanes” until they broke down.
The JW Gulf team entered two of their 917 Porsche coupés and the Porsche factory produced one car which was entered under the Martini Team colours, but which was, in fact, a full works entry with at least five factory engines and a full complement of factory mechanics in charge. Enzo Ferrari sent his lone 312P flat-12-cylinder car in the hope of achieving a victory for his efforts all this season and Alfa Romeo turned out in full force, they like and fully approve of the Osterreichring and its race. With only a small number of private owners to get in the way, the seven factory-backed cars could prepare for a clear battle for the whole 1,000 kilometres, and, after all, only one car can actually win a motor race, though to listen to some people you would think Joe Bloggs in his Chevola was winning at times.
There was an almost unnoticeable reshuffle in the JW Gulf Team, for Jack Oliver opted out of his contract so that he could go and join the Can-Am set, and his place was taken by Attwood, driving number two to Rodriguez. The second car was in the capable hands of Siffert and Bell, both of whom look upon the Osterreichring as the right sort of circuit. The team also had a training car, driven mostly by Atwood and Bell, and this was fitted with a set of Girling double-disc brakes, similar in principle to those tried on the Tyrrell Formula One cars, but having bigger discs and a new type of caliper.
The real reason for the lone Porsche factory car was also one of brakes, for this 917 coupé, painted rather hurriedly in Martini colours to make everything look normal, was fitted with an electronic anti-lock braking system. Although the Porsche engineers were a bit cagey about the whole thing and offered to say more if the car was successful on race day (which it wasn’t), it appeared to be a similar system to that developed by Teldix of Heidelberg in conjunction with Daimler-Benz, which was announced last year and called the ABS or anti-block-system. Drivers for this factory car were Marko and Larrousse and, while they were prepared to experiment with the new brake system, neither of them looked particularly enthusiastic about it during practice.
The little Ferrari, and it is little when seen alongside a 917 Porsche, was being driven by Ickx and Regazzoni and it looked even smaller with some new lower-profile front tyres fitted. The Rodriguez/Attwood Porsche was trying some wider rims on the front wheels, which necessitated attaching flairs to the front-wheel arches, so as the Ferrari seemed to get smaller the Porsche seemed to get larger!
Alfa Romeo had a team of three of their normal Tipo 33-3 protoypes and the aluminium-tube chassis 33TT-3 as a training car. In addition there was an early model 33-3 owned by an Austrian dealer and he was keeping close to the Autodelta pits for moral and material support. During practice the Alfa Romeo team of Stommelen, Galli, Pescarolo, de Adamich, Hezemans and Vaccarella were all getting on so well that moves were afoot to actually use the 33TT-3 in the race in spite of it breaking its engine on the first practice day and Pescarolo blowing up the engine in his team car.
Audodelta seem to have an inexhaustible supply of their 3-litre V8 engines. The progress was set back a bit during Saturday afternoon practice when Nanni Galli nearly eliminated the whole team, when from the three normal team cars, and the lightweight practice car all circulating healthily they were reduced to only one team car. Galli was really in the swing of the Osterreichring, belting round in the lightweight car with great enthusiasm, until he overdid it and dented the right-hand side on a barrier. Undaunted he got into his normal team car and had not been going long before he collected Vaccarella, who was going much slower. Galli’s car was stranded out on the circuit with a bent rear end and the Vaccarella/Hezemans car limped into the pits with its left front suspension all bent and twisted, so suddenly there was only the car of Pescarolo/de Adamich in a healthy state. All this made engineer Chiti puff a bit and look down his nose, but Galli is such a pleasant fellow and a courageous little driver that he was soon forgiven.
In the Porsche pits the JW Gulf team changed the tails on their cars from the 1971 pattern with vertical fins to the earlier type with no fins and an adjustable spoiler in the central valley behind the engine, and there was general approval by the drivers. Every time the works Porsche 917 stopped at the pits a group of engineers and electronics experts clucked around the car, and when the training xar of the JW Automotive team arrived nobody seemed very interested in its double-disc brakes except a lonely Girling man. Apart from the odd 911 Porsche GT car not moving out of the way quick enough when a 917 came up behind, and the usual tyre and fuel consumption checks by the works cars, practice was leisurely and without difficulties and the organisers ruled out a number of very slow Porsches and a rather optimistic Austrian in a Lotus Europa, all being too slow to qualify for the grid.
The start was arranged in rows of three-two-three and there should have been 25 cars on the grid, but only 23 made it on Sunday afternoon at 1 p.m. The front row was a nice line up of Rodriguez (917 Porsche-JW-Gulf), Ickx (312P Ferrari) and Marko (917 Porsche-Martini) and behind them were Siffert (917 Porsche-JW-Gulf), and Muller (Ferrari 512S). In the third row was the complete Alfa Romeo team, in the order Stommelen, de Adamich and Hezemans, all in the normal Tipo 33-3 cars; and then came Juncadella in his yellow and green Ferrari 512S and the private Alfa Romeo 33-3 of Reisch.
In row four should have been Gregory with the 512M Ferrari of the Muller team, but its engine had broken as practice finished the day before and nothing could be done about it, so there was a blank space on the grid alongside Pasotti (Ferrari 512S) and Edwards with the Minilite Lola T211 he was sharing with Enever, this being the only British car in the race. The rest of the field was made up by 11 private Porsches ranging from 910 and 906 to 911S and 914/6, and as with so many races things would be pretty thin without Porsche production cars.
The start was an undramatic straight-off-the-grid affair, all 23 cars getting away together, except that Siffert made a nonsense of his start and nearly ruined the clutch on the 917. The skies were grey and dull and there was a slight drizzle of rain falling as Rodriguez set the pace in the number one Gulf-Porsche, but as this was not a short Grand Prix-type sprint event, but a serious 170-lap affair the pattern of the opening phase was merely a portent of what might happen. Fully wound up for practice with all the special aids for one-off laps, Rodriguez had recorded 1 min. 39.49 sec. with the 917 Porsche and Ickx had done 1 min. 40.10 sec. with the 3-litre Ferrari, times which were significant but not conclusive as far as the race was concerned. Without question the little Ferrari was going to cover more laps on its regulation fuel load of 120 litres than the 5-litre Porsche, so that Rodriguez was going to have to build up sufficient lead to allow for at least one extra pit stop, and possibly two, for the Ferrari team were not letting on just how economical their car was. In addition, there was the slightly unknown factor of tyre wear, to say nothing of emergencies such as punctures or accidents, and behind these two main protagonists were the trio of Alfa Romeos who were not as fast, but had a good reputation over the season for consistency and reliability.
Rodriguez began to pull out a lead of nearly two seconds a lap, which sounded a lot but in fact was not overmuch, hearing in mind all the ponderables, and Ickx was just about keeping the blue and orange Porsche in sight. Nobody else could stay with these two drivers, Siffert having become involved in a battle with Muller and Marko, with the three Alfa Romeos following. Pasotti was just about hanging on to the pace of the works cars, running in ninth place, followed by Reisch in the private Alfa Romeo and Juncadella in his Ferrari. Like a minnow following the shoal came the Minilite Lola, humming round contentedly, which it did for 32 laps when the engine broke, and Schickentanz was leading the GT Porsches.
At 10 laps Rodriguez had 14 seconds lead and at 20 laps it was 19 seconds, his pace being slowed slightly due to lapping the tail-enders and some of the middle-field runners as well. The nice little dice between Muller, Marko and Siffert, running mostly in that order, ended when Muller began to feel an odd vibration and a lap later his left front suspension collapsed under braking, which made the Ferrari turn sharp left. Unfortunately he was passing a 911 Porsche at the time, that was minding its own business and keeping out of the way, and the wayward Ferrari savaged the Porsche, eliminating them both from the race.
As the leading Porsche ended its first 20 laps the private Alfa Romeo expired with a broken engine, and a little earlier Juncadella had crashed his immaculate Ferrari due to being put off his stroke when Stommelen lapped him. By lap 28 Rodriguez had 25 seconds’ lead and the Wyer pit was beginning to prepare for the first refuelling stop, the filling time having been slowed down a bit by a regulation which limited gravity feed towers to the height of the roof of the pits. One lap later the Porsche’s lead had dropped to 23 seconds and next time round it was heading for the pits instead of going by at full speed. The fuel injection pressure had fallen dramatically and while the JW mechanics searched for the trouble just about everybody went by, and then again and again. The reason for the low pressure was traced to a flat battery, but what caused the flatness was another matter.
A new battery was put on and Rodriguez rejoined the race down in seventh place, behind all the Alfa Romeos, and three laps behind the fleeing Ferrari 312P. At 34 laps Marko stopped for fuel and two laps later Siffert did the same, so that on lap 37 when status quo was restored the Ferrari had 45 seconds lead over Marko’s Porsche, who in turn was 11 seconds ahead of Siffert’s Porsche, with the three Alfa Romeos in the order de Adamich, Hezemans and Stommelen on the same lap, but only just.
It was obvious that neither Marko nor Siffert could challenge lckx and Rodriguez was too far back to consider as a challenge, so all the Ferrari team had to do was to keep their little prototype 3-litre buzzing round consistently. At least, that is how the situation looked to the casual eye, but obviously not to Wyer and Yorke, who were still planning to win the race. After 44 laps Ickx came in, the petrol tanks were filled and Regazzoni took over, and while he was settling down to the pace, and with a full fuel load, Marko began closing on him. Just before the Ferrari pit stop Siffert had come in with a flat left-front tyre, the stop dropping him behind the three Alfa Romeos, but the restart was more than the Porsche clutch could stand, in its weakened state, and two laps later he was back in the pits and out of the race.
All three Alfa Romeos refuelled, de Adamich staying in the number one car, Galli taking over the number two car and Vaccadella taking over the number three car, these stops being sufficient to put them a lap behind the leader. At 50 laps Marko overtook Regazzoni, but it was not not too serious for the Porsche could only do 34 laps on a tankful against the Ferrari’s 44 laps, so all the Swiss had to do was to keep the Porsche in sight, which he did without any bother, and as the fuel load lightened he closed up on Marko and retook the lead on lap 61. On lap 68 Marko made his second fuel stop and Larrousse took over, and during this time a little rain fell, but not enough to cause any panics. By now the Ferrari had a minute and a half lead, or almost a lap, and it all seemed to be over, except that the JW team had not given up and neither had Rodriguez, and it began to become obvious that the race was not yet half-way through.
When the Golf-Porsche came in on lap 68 it was refuelled and Rodriguez carried on driving, now within striking distance of the third of the Alfa Romeos, and in sixth place. With the slight drizzle of rain stopped Regazzoni sped on and increased his lead over Marko to 1 min. 40 sec., which meant that he was right behind the Martini Porsche on the road, and on lap 83 he swept by to be a full lap ahead. This 917 Porsche was presenting no trouble, it was the blue and orange one that the Ferrari pit was keeping an anxious eye on for they had expected Attwood to take over at the second pit stop. As half-distance came up the three Alfa Romeos refuelled once again and Pescarolo took over the number one car to do the second half of the race, while Stommelen and Hezemans returned to their cars, doing quarter-race stints at a time, and these stops allowed Rodriguez to get ahead of all the Autodelta cars, putting the Porsche in third place, a lap behind the Martini car and now only two laps behind the Ferrari.
What had been a relaxed and sure situation in the Ferrari pit was fast turning into a panic, for it was pretty obvious that Wyer and Yorke were going to play the rules right up to the limit, and there was no question but that Rodriguez would be playing right along with them. The written word said that no driver could remain in a car for more than 3 1/2 hours, and if he did drive for this length of time he must stop before completing another lap and then rest for one hour. However, if a driver stopped before 3 1/2 hours then only a ten-minute rest period was demanded, and the Ferrari team knew that this was exactly what the Gulf team were going to do with Rodriguez, his speed and stamina being of the old-fashioned unlimited kind, in the style of Fangio and Moss.
By the time Regazzoni stopped at the end of lap 88 there had been a change of plans in the Ferrari pit that he did not know about. The plan when he started out was that Ickx had done the first quarter, Regazzoni was to do the second and third stints and Ickx would take over for the final one, ready for any last-minute battle. The JW plan had put the Ferrari team in a flap and they decided that Ickx would do the third stint to try and make up as much lead as possible while Rodriguez was resting, so it came as a surprise to Regazzoni when he was told to get out of the car while it was being refuelled and having all four tyres changed. While all this was happening Larrousse and Rodriguez went by, which put them temporarily on the same lap as the leader, but nearly a whole lap in arrears for Rodriguez and 20 seconds for Larrousse.
When Ickx was away he had no trouble in getting away from the Martini car, opening up the gap to 30 seconds, 40 seconds and 50 seconds with ease, but it was not the white Porsche they were worried about, it was the blue and orange one. At 99 laps Rodriguez stopped and in 32 seconds the tank was filled and Attwood took over, while the little Mexican sat on the pit counter with his hands crossed in front of him. Ten minutes later he walked over to John Wyer and said “I am ready now” and Attwood was signalled to come in, which he did on lap 111, when the left-side tyres were changed. Rodriguez got in and the race was on once again. The meagre 12 laps that Attwood did were all too few for the Ferrari to build up much of a lead, even with Ickx driving, but a fuel stop for Larrousse as well as the Gulf car had allowed the little red car to get two and three laps ahead of them, but it didn’t represent much in time.
The Gulf-Porsche stop had allowed the Pescarolo/de Adamich Alfa Romeo to move up into third place, but it was only temporary for Rodriguez soon overhauled it and when Pescarolo coasted in with a blown-up engine nobody really noticed tor all eyes were on the thundering Porsche and the fleeing Ferrari. At 120 laps the Porsche came up behind the Ferrari and swept by, reducing the deficit to two laps, and disappeared into the distance, for Rodriguez was reeling off laps at under 1 min. 40 sec. with a ridiculous ease. The Martini car was the meat in a rapidly closing sandwich and on lap 122 Larrousse was very overdue. A rear tyre had burst on a long fast corner not long after the pits and the car had spun into the guard rail, damaging the rear end. He limped back to the pits on the alloy rim and though the Porsche mechanics tried to patch things up it was no use, a lot of the chassis tubes at the rear were broken and one more lap was enough to tell Larrousse that the car was undriveable and it was pushed away.
This let Rodriguez into second place, which was no longer insignificant, and the Ferrari signal board told Ickx “1 lap + 91 sec.”. At 132 laps the Ferrari made its last stop for fuel and the left-side tyres to be changed, taking 55 seconds, and Regazzoni took over again, the stop, including slowing down and speeding up again reducing the lead to a lap and a handful of seconds, which was no longer funny for the Ferrari team, who desperately wanted to win this last 3-litre versus 5-litre battle. At 135 laps the Porsche was into the pits for petrol and oil, and was away in 15 seconds, after one of those stops for which the JW mechanics have become justly famous, and which is always worth watching from close quarters.
With pit work like that and a cool and calm management looking after things it is not surprising that Rodriguez works so hard and so willingly for the JW Gulf team. He was fairly pounding through the remnants of traffic that was going round and had put his headlight on to warn the slow cars of his approach, and fearful that the battery might give up again his pit signalled him in to put them off, at the same time telling him he was now only 127 seconds behind the Ferrari. The Maranello team were frantically telling Regazzoni he was only 127 seconds ahead, and at 145 laps Rodriguez had the Ferrari in sight. On the next lap the two cars went past the pits side by side, with the Porsche getting on to the same lap as the Ferrari as they went up the hill, and drawing away as it did so, the 600 b.h.p. of the Porsche really telling up the hills. Lap 147 saw the gap at 99 seconds, the approximate lap speed at which Rodriguez was travelling.
It did not need much in the way of mathematics to see that the remaining 23 laps were just about enough for Rodriguez to reduce the gap to zero, and it only needed a slight baulking of the Ferrari by a slower car, or a slight error by Regazzoni to make a Porsche victory probable rather than possible. The incredible Rodriguez had got his lap time down to 1 min. 39.35 sec., a new circuit record, and with the fuel load going down there was probably better to come, especially as the gap closed to a visual one.
On lap 148 all the tension disappeared for the Ferrari failed to appear. Going into the uphill right-hand bend on the far corner of the circuit Regazzoni had suddenly had the Ferrari go wildly out of control and it smashed itself against the guard rails, in all probability due to something breaking in the suspension, but the car was too badly wrecked to ascertain this. The Swiss was quite unhurt, but the race was over and Rodriguez was furious next time round when he saw the wreckage, for he was really enjoying this fighting finish that was by no means a certainty as to the outcome. His pit gave him the EZE sign, and he slowed down to lap at 1 min. 50 sec. and bring the blue and orange Porsche home to its final Manufacturers’ Championship victory in Europe, the last remaining race being in America. It was an impressive fighting finish by the JW Gulf team with a car that will go down in history as one of the greatest racing cars of all time, driven for 158 laps of the challenging Osterreichring by the quiet and gentle, but oh so rugged Mr. Pedro Rodriguez, fully supported by the whole staff of JW Automotive Ltd., in a truly impressive manner that should illustrate to everyone just what proper motor racing is all about.—D. S. J.