The Austrian 1000 Kilometres

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The Le Mans winners have another victory

Osterreichring, Zeltweg, June 24th.

The 1,000-kilometre race at the Osterreichring never seems to get a very good deal, for it comes just after Le Mans, when a lot of people feel that they have had enough of long distance racing for a time. All the other 1,000-kilometre races seem to have been building up to the 24-Hour event, so that the Austrian race is a bit of an anti-climax. In spite of this handicap it is an enjoyable event and witnesses some very high-speed motoring, with lap speeds of nearly 135 m.p.h. and a race average of nearly 130 m.p.h. This year the entry was limited to Group 5 sports cars only, with a 3-litre class and a 2-litre class, there being no race for GT cars or for Group 2 saloons, and with very few of the 2-litre cars turning up it left the circuit clear for one of the best confrontations between the firms of Matra, Ferrari and Alfa Romeo, and the Gulf Research Mirage team.

Matra were fresh from their Le Mans victory and had two cars using Hewland gearboxes coupled to the V12 engines, with Beltoise/Cevert in one and Pescarolo/ Larrousse in the other. Ferrari also had two cars, one with the normal arrangement of oil cooler on top of the engine, and with a separate air intake for each bank of cylinders, this car painted red and yellow for Ickx/Redman, and the other with the air-cooler on the right side of the engine with a side air duct to it. This second car had the single air scoop above the crash bar, feeding to a flat collector box on top of the engine. Painted red and green it was driven by Merzario/Pace.

Also from Italy was a single Autodelta flat-12-cylinder Alfa Romeo, now with separate air intakes to the two banks of cylinders, one on each side of the body and the big hump behind the cockpit had been abandoned. The drivers for this lone entry were Stommelen and Regazzoni, while the Autodelta mechanics were helping the Scuderia Brescia Corse with their blue and white 3-litre V8 Alfa Romeo 33TT3, driven by Facetti/”Parn”.

There were two Cosworth V8-powered Mirage cars from the Gulf Research team, both open M6 models, using Hewland transmissions again after their brief excursion into the realms of ZF gearboxes for Le Mans. Drivers for this pair of cars were Bell/Ganley and Hailwood/Watson. To complete the Prototype 3-litre class was a 910/911S Porsche Special of Greger/Hild and two special 911 Porsche Carreras from the Zuffenhausen factory; one, driven by MüIler/van Lennep, had vertical fins grafted onto the tail and sticking a long way out the back, with an extended engine cover between them. These fins were of a fibreglass covered resin-foam and were in effect extensions of the rear wheel arches and this car also had modified rear suspension with transverse tubular struts running from the lowest point of each wheel-hub carrier inwards to a pivot point below the differential housing. The second works car, driven by Schürti/Koinigg and sponsored by the Martini Racing team, was the one seen previously with the full-width rear spoiler, while both cars had enormously wide rear tyres and flared wheel arches to accommodate them, and both had 3-litre flat-six engines.

The 2-litre class was very sparse, a number of cars suffering from the after effects of the Clermont-Ferrand race the week before, and contained merely three Chevrons, a Lola and a pair of one-off cars, none of them being very competitive, so that the 3-litre works cars could look forward to a good clean race on a clear track.

The Osterreichring being available for week-day testing as well as official practice, both Matra and Mirage were out before the first official practice session, which was due to be held on Friday afternoon. However, the weather decided to be unhelpful and for most of Thursday and Friday the rain poured down, and on Saturday the rain became intermittent with a remarkably powerful sun appearing briefly and drying the track almost instantly. Matra, Ferrari and Mirage practised under all conditions, as did the works Porsche pair of cars and Alfa Romeo would have liked to, but the 12-cylinder car did one lap on Friday and blew up. It seems it uses a strangely vintage arrangement of running the same oil through the engine and the gearbox/axle unit, and a main feed pipe broke and the bearings suffered. On Saturday it was repaired and did the same thing again!

With the changing weather scene the fortunes of the three healthy teams were interesting, for while it was wet the Mirage cars were the fastest and while it was dry the Matras were fastest, the poor old Ferrari team coming off second-best no matter what the conditions. Porsche were doing wondrous things with fibre-glass for both their cars had spins and minor collisions with the guard-rails, Müller damaging the long-tailed car and Schürti the other one.

With Austria having been soaked by three days of rain there was not much public enthusiasm for the race, even though Sunday was dry, and a very poor crowd attended. First thing on Sunday morning there was a test-session and the 12-cylinder Alfa Romeo had to complete 8 laps in order to qualify to start on the back of the grid, for during the two days of official practice it had only managed 2 laps, and 10 laps was the minimum required. This it managed and Stommelen lined it up behind the other 17 cars, with Beltoise at the head of the grid in the car which Cevert had driven round in 1 min. 37.64 sec., well under the existing lap record held by Hulme with the F1 McLaren in 1 min. 38.32 sec. Pescarolo was alongside on the front row and Ickx (Ferrari) and Hailwood (Mirage) were behind, followed by Pace (Ferrari) and Bell (Mirage).

From the fall of the flag Pescarolo shot off into the lead, followed by his team-mate and after an initial flurry the Ferraris took up third and fourth places, in team order, followed by Hailwood and Bell, until the former had a spin and reversed their order. It took Stommelen only the opening lap to move up from last on the grid to seventh place, behind the leading runners, but there he stayed; not for many laps though, for the engine began to misfire and he stopped at the pits while a fuel pressure release valve was changed, but that did not seem to help so he returned to the pits and the ignition system was changed. Meanwhile Pace had been forced to the pits when his Ferrari threw the rubber off its left front tyre and damaged the bodywork. He was not happy about the brakes so these were bled while the body was being taped up. This put the car out of the running, leaving the other five to circulate and play a waiting game. Ickx was the first one to stop for fuel, after 32 laps, but it was four laps sooner than the Ferrari team had planned, and Redman was not ready, so Ickx had to go off for another stint.

Later in the race the same thing happened when Redman was driving for he came in two laps too soon and Ickx was not ready. If all goes well the driver receives a signal saying BOX (or pits) and he stops next time round, but if the car goes onto reserve petrol before this he comes straight in regardless of signals. This was what was happening, for the engine was running richer than calculated, so that it suddenly cut-off as the main supply line ran dry, whereupon the driver pushed over a small lever near the gear-lever, which operated a reserve tap which gave him just enough petrol to complete that lap. Because of this the Ferrari plans for their number one car went a bit haywire, though the car ran faultlessly, and it did not materially affect its race, though it had to make an extra stop two laps before the end of the 170 laps. Their second car was in far more trouble even though it ran through to the end of the race, for after Pace’s stop because of the shredded rubber he had to stop again because the front of the bodywork was breaking up, the temporary repairs not holding up due to the high speeds and high wind pressures. In practice Merzario had had a minor excursion off the road and crumpled the fibre-glass front end, so the car had started the race wearing its square frontal bodywork. Now that this had broken up the only remaining one was the spare one for the Ickx/ Redman car so this was fitted at the second pit stop and Pace went on his way. When he finally stopped for fuel and to hand over to Merzario the skinny Italian leapt in and shot off back into the race, only to find he could not see over the lip of the raised scuttle, it being at the height for Ickx/Redman, and Pace is of their build, so before Merzario could start racing he had to have a slice of the fibre-glass cowl cut off so that he could see where he was going; he was already sitting on a special seat-cushion which compensates for the difference between him and Pace.

While all this was happening to the Ferrari team the Matra team were not without their troubles, for though the Pescarolo/Larrousse car ran throughout like a high speed train the Beltoise/Cevert car was having fuel pump trouble and only just maintaining sufficient pressure for the Lucas injection system. Consequently the engine was not working as efficiently as it should have done and its petrol consumption was higher than calculated so that it was in for a refuel much earlier than the other Matra and this got the refuelling stops a bit disorganised.

It is more than likely that the wet weather practice confused both Matra and Ferrari as far as fuel consumption was concerned, but at least it threw in some more variables into the overall race picture. With the race being dry throughout the Mirage team had no hope of challenging the Matras, but they were close enough to the leading Ferrari to cause trouble. In the closing stages, with the Ferrari being due for an extra refuelling stop, there was every chance of the Bell/Ganley car catching it, so at the last refuelling stop the Gulf team left Bell in the car for an extra stint, he being appreciably faster than Ganley. However, before this interesting situation could develop the Mirage made a horrid noise and Bell stopped to see what had happened. An exhaust pipe had split, so that the car was able to carry on, but it was down on power, so this stopped all hope of it gaining third place. The other Mirage ran well enough but Watson could not match Hailwood’s speed, but by the end of the race they made up a lot of ground on their sick sister car.

The Alfa Romeo team had an awful day, for it took them over two hours to rebuild the ignition system and the fuel system and get the engine back on twelve cylinders, by which time they were too far back to even hope to qualify. Stommelen and Regazzoni drove it round on a sort of long-distance test-drive and it eventually went quite well, though at one point Regazzoni was looking for a reason to stop and have a rest and he noticed that the central rear-view mirror had fallen out of its housing, so a 15 minute stop was made while another one was fitted, and Stommelen took over. At least the car was still running at the end of the race, which was some consolation, while the old V8-engined car of Facetti/”Pam” kept running, though it needed a rebuild of the front suspension at one point in the race. On this high-speed circuit the Porsche Carreras were out-classed on speed, but they both ran round and round and were as healthy at the finish as they were at the start.

The remarkable feature of the race was that all the factory 3-litre prototypes were still running at the end and both Cosworth V8 engines lasted the distance in the Mirage cars.—D.S.J.

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