Sports round-up

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The months of June and July are possibly the busiest time of the summer for the motor racing fraternity and this year has been no exception with a full programme of sports car racing, Formula Two and saloon car events to add to the already crowded Grand Prix schedule. The week prior to the French Grand Prix at Dijon-Prenois contained no fewer than three major international events: the World Championship for Makes having a race at the demanding and daunting Osterreichring and Formula Two making its annual visit to Rouen-les-Essarts in Normandy while the two-litre sports car fraternity celebrated their most recent event on this rather intermittent calendar by racing round the Charada circuit at Clermont-Ferrand.

Two-litre Sports Cars

France’s Gerard Larrousse, who scored his second consecutive Le Mans victory this year together with Henri Pescarolo, took a seat in the works Alpine-Renault 2-litre team for Clermont-Ferrand. These fast French 2-litre cars from Dieppe dominated the practice sessions with Jean-Pierre Jabouille securing pole position from Larrousse and Alain Serpaggi, the ambitious young Frenchman who has been promoted into the Elf Formula Two team this year alongside his compatriot Michael Leclerc. After the heat and humidity of the two practice days, race day looked highly depressing with a blanket of rain hanging over the Auvergne mountains. Jabouille, whose Alpine failed to complete the warming-up lap in last year’s event, fared little better when the flag fell as his engine turned sour just a few miles up the road on the opening lap. Thus, his initial advantage was gobbled up by Larrousse and the versatile Frenchman started to pull away. However, Derek Bell’s determined performance at the wheel of a 2-litre Abarth allied to a spin by the leading Alpine allowed the Englishman to assume first place, a position which he held until there were just ten of the race’s thirty-two laps left to run. The Abarth’s motor then failed, allowing Larrousse to go through and score his fourth International victory in as many weeks having triumphed in the Imola 1,000-kilometres with a Matra-Simea, the Targa Florio in a Lancia Stratus and Le Mans during the three weekends immediately preceding the Clermont race. Serpaggi staved off a stern challenge from the Brian Hart Ford-powered Chevron B26 of John Lepp by just over two seconds while the Chrysler-engined Lola T294 driven by Fred StaIder finished fourth.

World Championship for Makes

The following weekend Larrousse shared the winning Matra-Simca 670C with Pescarolo in the Austrian 1.000-kilometre event, bringing the French equipe nearer to its second straight victory in the World Championship for Makes in the face of a strong challenge from the Gulf Research Racing Mirage of Mike Hailwood /Derek Bell. Unfortunately the English car’s prospect of a fine, fighting finish with the Matra team came to an end with sheared wheel studs during a pit stop, the consequent delay dropping the British car back to fourth place at the end behind the Jean-Pierre Beltoisei Jean-Pierre Jarier Matra.

The fleet Alfa Romeo T33/12 team ended with just one car running, the Carlo Facetti/ Andrea de Adamich entry in second place, after Jacky Ickx briefly occupied the lead in the opening stages. But the Belgian dropped back with tyre trouble and the car was eventually retired with engine trouble after Arturo Merzario took over the wheel. Argentinian Carlos Reutemann was fortunate to escape uninjured when the third Alfa Romeo crashed heavily and burst into flames after another tyre failure. After the Austrian race, only the Watkins Glen round (reported elsewhere in this issue) separated Matra from their second title and, quite predictably, they continued through with their domination of this year’s disappointing sports car series. The Alfa Romeo flat-12s haven’t been seen frequently enough, for they have proved the only cars capable of running regularly with the Matras; the Ferrari Formula One programme has occupied so much time and energy at Maranello that their prototype programme virtually ground to a standstill and the British Gulf cars have usually only been capable of keeping up a degree of pressure on the Matras as opposed to out-speeding them.

Formula Two

In its third European season, the 2-litre Formula Two seems to be settling down to provide some first-class racing amongst the aspiring stars and it’s pleasing to note that its competitors are quite prepared to compete on one or two circuits from which their Formula One counterparts fight shy. Of course, when you’re an up-and-coming driver there is very little opportunity to argue over facilities and the Formula Two fraternity have been regular visitors to Rouen-les-Essarts circuit in Normandy ever since it last hosted the French Grand Prix, six years ago.

The construction of a new motorway has slightly reduced the track in length, but that is no real loss to its overall character for that has only cut out .a couple of long straights at the top end of the circuit. What does remain, and what is undoubtedly the essential ingredient of the track, is the series of spectacular sweeping curves past the pits down towards the Nouveau Monde hairpin. It’s often said that fast corners are dangerous and it’s sad to report that the ripples of Gerry Birrell’s fatal accident in 1973 have resulted in some more confused and muddled thinking in the way of safety facilities.

Birrell’s accident in practice for the Rouen race resulted in the drivers demanding the installation of a chicane just beyond the first right-hand swerve after the pits. This proved to consist of a couple of polystyrene bales which everyone was supposed to treat with the same respect as a brick wall. Of course, there were those who didn’t and the result was an infinitely variable chicane and showers of polystyrene everywhere. The foolish thing about the whole plot was that, by the time the cars were down at Virage des Six Freres—the scene of the Birrell accident—they were back up to top speed again. The authorities this year decided that a permanent chicane should be built at Virage des Six Freres, so the earth bank has been scraped away and a scrappy little “traffic island” has been built for the cars to circumnavigate. It may well have slowed down the competing cars to a crawl at that corner but the fact remains that Hans-Joachim Stuck managed to take the first two corners flat out in his March-BMW so perhaps the organisers will have to think about installing chicanes at every corner. It’s sad that this obsession about the danger of straights and fast corners has arrived at Rouen, for it has traditionally provided a testing ground for the aspiring driver and team managers know it.

Despite a race thrown into chaos by changing weather conditions, varying from dry, but overcast, to sheeting rain, there was an element of sanity about the results with Stuck winning comfortably from British driver David Purley in a Chevron-BMW B27. The race was marred by an ill-judged difference of opinion between the organisers and James Hunt during the first rain shower, one of those incidents that reflects very badly on both parties. Hunt, as senior GPDA member competing in the race, took it upon himself to try and have the event stopped, pulling his Chevron-BMW into the pits before having a huge argument with the officials who, not surprisingly, were very annoyed. Apparently the CSI has agreed that the senior GPDA driver at any international meeting is authorised to take such a step; a highly dangerous precedent one would have thought. Certainly the Rouen organisers were very angry with Hunt’s behaviour and since then have announced that they will not be paying him his starting money for the race.

Two weeks later the new Mugello circuit in Northern Italy was host to a round of the European Championship, this facility having been constructed to replace the now defunct 44-mile road circuit which used to stage an international sports car fixture. Patrick DepaiIler moved into the European Championship lead with a well-judged victory in his March-BMW, displacing team-mate Stuck from the top of the points table as the German was committed to a saloon race at Nurburging. It was a two-part race, with Depailler winning, the first to achieve an aggregate victory from Jean-Pierre Paoli’s BP-sponsored March-BMW which won the second heat. Tom Pryce took a good third overall in his Schnitzer-engined Chevron-BMW. British driver Brian Henton, who has carried out a lot of testing for the March team over the past few months, stood in for the absent Stuck and finished a promising sixth in his first Formula Two race ever.

European Touring Car Championship

However, Stuck enjoyed a less satisfying time in the Nurburging round of the European Touring Car Championship held on the same day. His 3.5-litre BMW CSL, which he shared with Ronnie Peterson, pulled out a commanding lead after inheriting first place as Jochen Mass’ Capri slowed with fuel-pressure problems after only an hour and a half. The similar BMW driven by Jacky Ickx and Derek Bell broke its transmission while the Niki Lauda/Toine Hezemans Capri was forced to make a lengthy pit stop to change the differential. This left the victory laurels to the works-assisted Zakspeed team and their 2-litre Escort BDA driven by Hans Heyer and Klaus Ludwig with Lauda in second place at the wheel of the sole surviving Ford Capri. The privately entered BMW CSL of Mueller/Ogrodowczyk actually worked its way into the lead on the last lap, only to be eliminated in a collision with Jochen Mass, the works Ford pilot having taken over the second Zakspeed Escort in an effort to help the Heyer/Ludwig car!

Avon Motor Tour of Britain

While the European Touring Car Championship was being fought out amidst the Eifel mountains, racing and rally drivers were competing together in the second Avon Motor Tour of Britain round the circuits and special stages of England and Wales. This unique event, catering solely for Group One saloon cars, is organised by the BRSCC and has graduated from an interesting “pilot” event which was great fun in 1973 to a much more professional and serious affair this year.

The event used the Birmingham Post House Hotel as is start and finish as well as event headquarters and proved a qualified success, the factory-prepared Ford Escort RS2000s driven by Roger Clark/Jim Porter and Gerry Marshall/Paul White taking first and second places after 1,000 miles of motoring which included circuit races at Cadwell Park, Mallory Park, Snetterton (at night), Oulton Park and Castle Combe in addition to special stages at Scofton, Norwich, Knebworth, Ingistre, Long Marston, Donington Park, Epynt and Loton Park.

Tony Lanfranchi’s 3-litre BMW CSi, the car which he uses to contest Group 1 saloon events, led for some of the way before being demoted to third place by the two Escorts. Fourth and fifth were two of British Leyland’s Triumph Dolomite Sprints driven by John Handley/John Clegg and Tony Dron/ Henry Liddon ahead of the Adrian Boyd/ John Davenport 3-litre Capri.

Unfortunately for the organisers, a slight anomaly arose in the system of results scoring, initial progress reports stating that the Chrysler Dealer Team Avenger of Bernard Unett/Geraint Phillips was actually in the lead. Although some teams disputed this, it later appeared that the organisers’ regulations didn’t in fact say what they meant them to say, but any potential disruption of the event was avoided by common sense and sportsmanship on the part of the Chrysler organisation. With a slight tidying up of one or two organisational loose ends, the Tour of Britain could become an important and significant contest between the two fraternities in years to come.— A.H.