Watkins Glen 6-Hours

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Watkins Glen, July 13th: When a change of rules was announced for Group 5 sports cars, banning the 5-litre Porsches and Ferraris, the idea was to encourage a number of teams to run prototypes with 3-litre Grand Prix engines. Thus the racing would be more evenly matched and more interesting, so the CSI delegates believed, but in practice the theory has gone wildly wrong. In 1972, the first year of the “3-litre only” formula, Ferrari won ten races with supreme ease. Last year the contest between Ferrari and Matra proved interesting, but the French Matra-Simca team has now won the 1974 World Championship for Makes title with almost boring consistency. The race at Watkins Glen was contested by two Matras and one Alfa Romeo, with a supporting cast of Porsche Carreras and Chevrolet Trans-Am cars, and with almost inevitable ease the Matra of Jean-Pierre Beltoise and Jean-Pierre Jarier won the race.

It seems questionable whether some organisers will even wish to run endurance races next year, unless the CSI can offer some positive encouragement this autumn so that more manufacturers will spend more money on prototype cars. Ferrari has kept well clear of the Championship this year, understandably concentrating on Formula One, the Gulf programme has been curtailed by a more limited budget, private teams have been restricted by the high costs and low rewards, and the title has been contested strongly by Matra, and unsuccessfully by Alfa Romeo. Two Alfa Romeos were sent to America for what proved to be the decisive race, but Rolf Stommelen crashed one heavily during practice for the Can-Am race on the same programme. He was testing Goodyear tyres instead of the usual Firestone equipment, and his was one of several incidents to be blamed on tyre failure, leading to the whole batch of Goodyears being withdrawn from the meeting.

Gerard Larrousse put his Matra on pole position with a time of 1 min. 43.698 sec. (a tenth of a second faster than Francois Cevert’s pole position time last year in a Matra), and Jarier made the second fastest time in the other Matra, putting the Alfa Romeo shared by Mario Andretti and Arturo Merzario back on to the second row of the grid alongside the turbocharged Martini & Rossi Porsche 911 Carrera driven by Herbert Mueller/Gijs van Lennep.

The rolling starts at Watkins Glen are carefully controlled by the flag-man, Tex. Hopkins, and when Jarier and Pescarolo accelerated hard across the start line they didn’t get the green flag. Possibly puzzled by this, they and Merzario raced the first lap; ignored a yellow flag from the rostrum and raced the second lap, and by the end of the third lap had caught the other cars which had dutifully slowed down. European visitors thought it was all rather funny, but Hopkins spoke sharply to the prototype drivers and the restart was much more orderly.

Jarier and Pescarolo pulled away easily from Merzario, and it seemed to be an easy race for the Matra team until Pescarolo’s engine broke a valve spring and spent five laps in the pits. By that time Jarier was 36 sec, ahead of Merzario and the two cars had lapped the entire field and there were still another 5-1/2 hours of racing to come!

So long as the Alfa Romeo was in contention the race held interest, but during the first refuelling stops at the one-hour mark the Alfa Romeo lost a couple of minutes having the engine cover fixed properly, and when Andretti took over he was a full lap behind. Soon the quicker Matra lapped him for the second time, and the result became a foregone conclusion unless the Matra met with any mechanical problem.

The Matra team did have a second major setback, but it was on the already afflicted car of Pescarolo/Larrousse, which retired with a broken gearbox. Interest drained from the race after four hours when Andretti stopped on the circuit with a dead engine. Mechanics rushed to the spot from the pits and helped the driver to find a loose ignition earth wire, and 15 minutes later the car was running strongly again. However the brake system was now giving trouble in the heat of the day, forcing Merzario to make two more unscheduled stops, and the unhappy sequel was that the Alfa Romeo was disqualified from fifth place because Andretti received outside assistance away from the pits.

Thus the turbocharged Porsche was placed second after a consistent and reliable run, nine laps behind the winning Matra, and the Trans-Am Porsche 911 Carrera of Peter Gregg/Hurley Haywood finished third. With the Alfa Romeo’s disqualification and an appeal was lodged, the Matra team was certain of winning the World Championship for Makes. If the Alfa Romeo should be instated, only a mathematical miracle would enable the Autodelta team to overhaul the Matras.—MLC .