A Ferrari Grand Slam
Osterreichring, Zeltweg, June 25th
Rumours before the event suggested that this year’s 1,000-kilometre sports car race on the mountainous Osterreichring might prove to be the most interesting event of 1972. Having won every race in which they have taken part this year, the Ferrari team were out in force with four entries, and Alfa Romeo were confident that their new 12-cylinder engine would be ready to race in the 33TT3 chassis; the Gulf-Mirage team were hoping to have the first of their V12 Weslake-Ford engines running in time for the event, and having won Le Mans Matra were talking about entering. Although Ferrari have won all the races it is not without a certain amount of trouble and strife within their own ranks and it has been fortunate for them that previous opposition has not been strong. At Le Mans the V12 Matras appeared to be as superior to the Alfa Romeos as Ferrari have proved in other races, so that on paper Matra and Ferrari looked fairly equal. The Gulf-Mirage with Cosworth V8 power has been improving rapidly, so the V12 Weslake engine should have made it really competitive, and while they go the Lola T280s of the Ecurie Bonnier team are as fast as anyone. All the speculation before the Austrian race came to nought, for Matra did not enter, being content to sit on their Le Mans laurels and say “we will win Le Mans again in 1973, even if Ferrari does take part”, instead of having a go at Ferrari in the 1,000-kilometre “sprint” race, while Alfa Romeo withdrew completely after their Le Mans debacle with the V8-engined cars, and the mythical 12-cylinder Alfa Romeo engine remained a secret. At the time of the race the Gulf Research people had only just taken delivery of their first V12 engine and were setting it up on their own test-bed, so they entered a Cosworth V8 powered car, and the Ecurie Bonnier entered a single Lola T280, so the whole scene was back to earlier 1,000-kilometre events, with Ferrari almost guaranteed a victory providing too many things did not go wrong. Being Ferrari things did go wrong, but the team survived, even if they staggered now and then.
Four of the 312P sports cars were entered, including a brand new one, number 0896, the ninth they have built since the first prototype in 1971 and this was accompanied by two cars from the Spa team and the Targo Florio car. The day before practice began Regazzoni fell over in the paddock and broke his left wrist so there was some last minute shuffling in the team. Redman took Regazzoni’s place as co-driver to lckx and they had car number 0888, the engine of which was fitted with straight inlet pipes as used on the Grand Prix engine, rather than the normal curved sports-car inlet arrangement, and it was running to 11,000 r.p.m. as against the 10,600 or 10,700 r.p.m. of the other cars. Peterson and Schenken remained in the second car, number 0894, while the Targa Florio winners Merzario and Munari had the car they used in Sicily, number 0884. Since last season the Ferrari team manager has had his eye on Carlos Pace, and when the Brazilian missed the small Formula One meeting at Vallelunga because “he was otherwise engaged” it was no secret that he was being “tested” for the Ferrari team and he was entered for the Austrian race in the latest car, 0896. With Regazzoni out of action and Alfa Romeo withdrawn, it was no surprise to find the Austrian hero Marko in the Ferrari team, and he was paired with Pace. Another orphan from the Alfa Romeo team was Elford, and he joined the Ecurie Bonnier as partner to Larrousse in the Lola T280. Having recovered from the shock of the death of Joakim Bonnier, his racing team decided to continue with their programme as originally planned. A serious challenge to the Ferrari morale was the single entry from Gulf Research Racing, this being a brand new car, the second in the M6 series, with Cosworth V8 power and Hewland gearbox. It was identical to the first car, raced previously, the only visible identification mark being an air scoop behind the passenger seat feeding cold air down on to the mechanical fuel pump.
The original car was being used as a training car, principally for Tony Adamowicz to get acclimatised in preparation for possibly joining the team for the Watkins Glen 6-hour race. The new Gulf-Mirage was driven by Bell and van Lennep and during practice while the Ferrari team seemed to be falling over themselves Bell recorded fastest lap and put the blue and orange car on pole position with a lap in 1 min, 40.60 sec., an average of approximately 211 k.p.h. This was done during a short period of dry weather early on Saturday afternoon, Friday practice having been in the wet, and Saturday practice ending up in the wet. The Ferrari team of four cars and eight drivers seemed to be so busy trying to sort themselves out that they did not notice that the Larrousse/Elford Lola T280 was second fastest in the dry, and fortunately the grid line was 3 x 2 x 3, so that Ickx was able to have the fastest of the Ferraris on the front row with the two Cosworth V8-powered cars. There was only one other 3-litre car running, and that was an old Porsche 908/2 nicely turned out in red, white and blue of Hollywood Cigarettes and driven by the Brazilians Bueno and Catapani.
The rest of the field of 23 cars that lined up on Sunday lunch-time was made up of 2-litre sports car and GT cars, and of particular interest was the Chevron B21 of Dieter Quester, with a special 2-litre twin-cam, 16-plug, four-cylinder BMW engine in place of the ubiquitous Cosworth engine. Painted in the Munich colours of white and blue, this car has BMW factory blessing and has been making its mark in the 2-litre Sports Car Championship races. Quester was feeling unwell so consigned the car to Stommelen and Hezemans, both out of work due to the Alfa Romeo withdrawal. Another interesting entry was a special 911 Porsche, entered by Paul Strahle, but being in reality a factory car from Zuffenhausen. Outwardly it was changed from the homologated 911 Porsches by the addition of a spoiler built on to the engine hatch at the rear, and the use of wider wheel rims. Inwardly it was materially changed by the use of larger cylinder bores giving a capacity of 2.7-litres the use of Can-Am 917 type brake calipers and discs, and the use of an anti-lock braking system similar to that tried last year in this same race on a special works 917 Porsche entered under the Martini banner. All these modifications put the car into the Prototype category and it was driven by Steckkonig and rally-man Waldegaard.
The unsettled practice weather played havoc with qualifying times and five cars were ruled out by the regulations on Saturday evening, among them the second-string Red Rose Motors’ Chevron driven by Bridges and Juncadella, the number one car having been written off the previous weekend when Hine crashed at Silverstone and put himself in hospital. A feature of Austrian racing organisers is their sympathetic attitude, and as there was an untimed session of practice due on Sunday morning, they allowed the five unfortunates to be timed during this period of “Informationstraining” and qualify for the start, three of them succeeding, the Red Rose Chevron being one of them.
Sunday was a real Austrian day with blue skies and warm sunshine and the Osterreichring, although only two years old, seemed to exude tradition already. A normal clutch start from the grid was the order of the day and both Bell and Larrousse muffed their starts, which let the whole Ferrari team surge by and into the forefront. The race distance was 170 laps and it took no time at all for the four Ferraris to dominate the scene, in the order Ickx, Marko, Schenken and Merzario, while their respective co-drivers, Redman, Pace, Peterson and Munari sat around in the pits waiting to take their turn. The hoped for intervention to this parade of red cars by the Gulf-Mirage did not materialise as expected, although Bell did catch the lagging Merzario, though it was not the fault of the skinny Italian. Just before the start the fuel-injection unit had been changed on his car and even on the starting line mechanics were still fiddling with it, and the engine would not rev. as high as its team-mates. During practice Peterson and Schenken had been having an “oversteer”—”understeer” battle between themselves in the setting up of the anti-roll bars, springs, shock absorbers and aero-dynamic adjustments on their car, trying to arrive at a compromise. Peterson was all for the car sliding its tail out wildly on the fast corners, Schenken was all for keeping it in line. The compromise at which they arrived did not really satisfy either of them! lckx and Marko soon pulled away, the team leader also opening up a gap between himself and the “new boy”. Bell sat firmly in fourth place, spoiling the Ferrari quartet, while the challenge from Larrousse in the yellow Lola lasted only four laps before he stopped at the pits to have the accelerator unstuck. Although he got going again and drove incredibly hard the ignition unit on the Cosworth V8 expired before one-third distance and he stopped out on the circuit. A mechanic took him a new unit, which he fitted by the track-side, and he eventually got back to the pit, but too late to be worthwhile going on, so Elford never sat in the car on race day. The Gulf-Mirage was little better off, for when Bell began to close up on the lagging Schenken, after twenty-seven laps the Cosworth engine began to lose power and Bell made an early stop to have the ignition unit changed and the plugs looked at. From that moment on the engine never ran properly for very long and though both Bell and van Lennep struggled on, with frequent stops to look at plugs and one for changing tyres, they could never get back in the picture and finally gave up the unequal struggle.
All this left the Ferrari team in a 1-2-3-4 situation and at 40 laps Ickx stopped at the pits, the car was refuelled. Redman took over, and was off in 18 seconds. The Lancastrian had only just got his safety harness buckled on and joined the race, thinking the stop had been uncommonly quick. At 67 laps he discovered why. The petrol tank had not been properly filled and he had to switch on to reserve and stop on lap 68 instead of lap 80 or 82! The Ferrari mechanics dealt with this emergency admirably, and while Ickx took over the left-front tyre was changed and the tank filled properly this time. The other team members carried out their routine stops and driver changes, Schenken and Merzario stopping on lap 40 and Marko on lap 42, so for two happy laps the blond Austrian actually led his own race. Earlier Marko had been lapping the Porsche of Bueno and was held up on the entry to the Boschkurve, and on the next corner forced his way by rather impatiently, cutting across the hows of the red, white and blue car, which promptly spun off the track, the Brazilian claiming he was nudged. Marko felt nothing, but there were tell-tale white marks on the side of the Ferrari tail!
This type of fast circuit racing was new to rally-man and Targa Florio winner Sandra Munari, so together with an engine that was down on power it was not surprising that he lost ground and was lapped by the leading team-car. This was not serious in itself, but the Chevron-BMW driven by Stommelen was going very fast, very reliably and very economically, covering 46 laps before Hezemans took over, so it was proving something of a threat to the lagging Ferrari. All the other 2-litre cars, and the GT cars were way behind and though the special works 911 Porsche was leading the two private Group 4 Porsches, it was not lapping as fast as the Weissenach computer had predicted because there is no computer digit for driver ability.
On paper the four Ferraris merely had to cruise round, do routine refuelling. stops and driver changes, and finish 1-2-3-4. But racing is never as simple as that, especially Ferrari’s racing. The Ickx/Redman car did just what we expected of it and the two drivers did a perfect job of work, leading right through to the finish, only relinquishing it during the first refuelling stop. Tyre wear, especially on the left-front wheel, was a bit of a headache, as the circuit has a lot of fast right hand curves and downhill ones, so the left tyre does a lot of work, and quite a bit of wheel changing was going on during refuelling stops. By 100 laps all seemed peaceful, with the Ickx/Redman car leading from that of Marko/Pace, while Peterson/Schenken were one lap behind and Merzario/Munari two laps behind, with the ever-ominous white Chevron-BMW 2-litre also two laps behind the leader.
At 103 laps it all started to happen when Peterson stopped for fuel, all four wheels to be changed and Schenken to take over. The stop went according to plan but then the clutch would not disengage, so the adjustment was screwed up and Schenken got away only to find the clutch slipped at peak revs. The pits were waiting expectantly for the Merzario/Munari car to arrive on schedule when Schenken reappeared with the right-front tyre flat! Mechanics, jacks, pneumatic wheel nut guns and spare wheel flew in all directions and Schenken was back in the race, while Merzario arrived in the midst of the panic. Munari got in and found the battery had gone flat so there was another scuffle round the back of car number 4 and the battery was changed. Marko came in with the second-place car, all the wheels were changed, the tank filled and Pace took over.
The dust from all this activity had just settled when Pace re-appeared pointing at the front of Ferrari number 3 and the wheels were changed. Then Schenken was back in again to try and have something done about the clutch slip. Both cars went back into the race, to return to the pits one lap later amidst more confusion. Pace’s problem had not been front tyres, but a punctured rear tyre, which he realised when he spun on the Boschkurve after the new front tyres had been fitted, and Schenken was still unhappy about the clutch slip. In an endeavour to make it grip all the adjustment was used up so that the pedal did not operate it sufficiently for a standing start and there was a tense moment as Schenken tried to restart in gear and failed, and had to get the engine running in neutral and graunch it into first gear without breaking the gearbox or stalling the engine. With these panics over the Ferrari timekeepers were able to tell the pit crew that the fourth car was only 56 seconds ahead of the sinister white Chevron-BMW, which was running like a clock. Stommelen was well wound up with the little 2-litre and it was clear that be was gaining on Munari so the rally driver was called in and Merzario took over again. Fortunately for the Ferrari team the Chevron-BMW stopped for fuel on the same lap, but it stayed in the pits for some two and a half minutes as the starter motor refused to work, so the Ferrari I-2-3-4 was back on the hoard again, albeit a bit shakily.
The leading Ferrari never missed a beat or had any untoward tyre problems and lckx and Redman cruised it round to a very sound victory, one lap ahead of the Marko/Pace car which lost time with its puncture. The delays with the clutch problems dropped the Peterson/Schenken car back four laps, and a further stop for a new battery on the Merzario/Munari car dropped it six laps behind, the ever-present Chevron-BMW 2-litre dogging it to the finish, only 37 seconds behind alter five hours of racing. With a sigh of relief team manager Schetty watched all four Ferraris finish, the first time this season they have achieved a 100% finishing, but he must have been thankful there was no serious opposition, for somehow the Ferrari sports car team manages to provide more than enough opposition of its own accord.
Of the other competitors, the Cosworth-powered Chevrons and Lolas were completely dominated by the 2-litre BMW power unit, but the Red Rose team with their Alan Smith prepared 1.8-litre FVC engine ran their usual smooth and efficient race and the two Lola T290s of the Bonnier team finished in good order. A privately owned De Tomato Pantera rumbled round to win the GT class, having been driven carefully and gently, and the Fitzpatrick/Kremer Porsche 911 qualified last after losing 12 laps in the opening stages due to delays with cracked fuel-injection pipes which proved difficult to diagnose. — D. S. J.