For the first time since 1972, the European Formula Two teams returned to South America for a Temporada series in early November. Only two races were staged in Argentina after long-drawn-out negotiations, but the success of the venture, and a crowd of 50,000 spread over the races at Mendoza and Buenos Aires, has encouraged the organisers to plan a more ambitious Championship next season. Already there is talk of additional races in Brazil, Venezuela, and perhaps Columbia, and there is the prospect of the southern hemisphere Temporada again becoming an annual fixture in the International Calendar. In spite of last-minute fears of cancellation, this year’s races went ahead and were a welcome addition to the short, 12-round, European Championship which was so utterly dominated by the works March-BMW team. Many of the opposition teams saw the Temporada races as an opportunity to even the score with March and BMW, and a good, representative entry travelled to Argentina for the two 50-lap races.
The enthusiastic local organisers invited all the leading European teams to take part and were reputed to have spent over £400,000. This expenditure included the charter of two 707 freight aircraft, one for the tyres and spares and the other for the 23 cars; and also the expense of transporting out the 120 personnel involved in the Formula Two circus.
Originally it was planned to have three local drivers competing in hired cars but they withdrew at the last minute leaving only the South Americans who have run in Europe all season. From Argentina there was Ricardo Zunino in a works March-BMW, Ariel Bakst in another March and Miguel Angel Guerra in a Chevron-Ferrari, while Brazil was represented by the Marches of Ingo Hoffmann and Alex Ribiero. All the other drivers were in their regular cars except that Clay Regazzoni had been invited to race one of the three Chevron-Ferraris entered, Jean-Pierre Jarier drove Pierre Maublanc’s March and Italian Formula Three driver Teo Fabi was enlisted to run Bruno Giacomelli’s works March at the first round because the European Champion was racing in Japan that weekend. With the locals opting out at the last minute, the series was left with 21 starters which comprised a dozen Marches and the remainder were Chevrons, this being a fair reflection of the state of the Formula this season. Apart from the three Ferrari-engined cars, which were being raced for the last time before Maranello give up this project altogether, the field ran either German BMW engines or Brian Hart 420R engines. There was little variety which was again a reminder of the pattern all year.
The opening race on November 5 was staged at Mendoza, a modern circuit set in the foot-hills of the Andes and in the western region of the vast country. Mendoza is the fourth biggest city in Argentina and is in the heart of the rich wine growing region. The racing cars and equipment were taken the 600 miles across the country by road on a fleet of ageing trucks and arrived in the area slap bang in the middle of a political dispute between Argentina and neighbouring Chile. The teams found themselves right in the firing line, so were grateful when the uneasy situation was resolved and the racing got under way.
The teams were involved in their own political squabbling which revolved round tyres. The Goodyear agents in England had brought out a supply of tyres for all the cars after protracted negotiations between the teams and other tyre manufacturers to find a cheaper alternative had fallen through. The Goodyear people claimed the late decision to use their tyres, rather than American M&H rubber, had left them little time to produce the numbers necessary. Teams were therefore restricted to just two sets for each car, and there were accusations that the works Marches got a special deal with more tyres, different compounds and constructions. These claims were denied by the team and International Race Tire Service, the Goodyear supplying company owned by Bernie Ecclestone.
The shortage of tyres was further aggravated by the nature of the Mendoza track and the soaring temperatures. Arguments raged all weekend and marred the race too after seven cars were forced to stop and change tyres.
The 3.82 km. circuit, set in the dusty plains on the outskirts of the city, is laid out in a novel figure-of-eight configuration with a very fast flyover section. Lap times got down to a record 1 min 11.18 sec with the cars lapping at over 190 k.p.h. The long and slightly banked corners, the abrasive nature of the track surface and the heavy loading on tyres, combined to make the race a nightmare for the tyre men.
In practice the works Marches of Marc Surer and newcomer Fabi were easily fastest and in the gruelling race the two white cars quickly pulled clear of the pack. Surer had been fastest qualifier at 1 min 10.30 sec and he romped home to an easy win. Fabi, a 23-year-old graduate from Formula Three who will drive for the factory March team in the European Championship next year, drove a sensible race to secure second place and give the factory team their seventh one-two result of the season. However, the opposition were left in tatters, almost literally, as their tyres blistered badly in the 38 deg. C temperatures.
Only the Italian Alberto Colombo could match the works by surviving the full distance, although after disputing the lead at the start with Surer by banging wheels with him in the dive down the hill after the start, the privateer’s March eventually had to give way to Fabi. After only a handful of laps he fell back to third. Colombo had been fourth fastest in practice.
Jarier’s March cruised carefully through to fourth place, a lap down at the finish, with the Frenchman taking care to conserve his tyres. Behind him Englishman Geoff Lees also drove a steady race in his Chevron-Hart, and was rewarded with a fine fifth.
Britain’s Brian Henton, in a Hart-engined March 782, was third fastest after practice which was shortened to just 90 minutes because of the tyre shortage but in the race he was one of the seven drivers who had to pit for new rubber. The soaring temperatures took a heavy toll. The third works March of Zunino was two laps down in seventh place and was followed by the first Ferrari-engined Chevron which was driven by the flamboyant Beppe Gabbiani.
Finland’s Keijo Rosberg, whose team manager Fred Opert stirred up more unrest by insisting on running American Goodyear tyres, also had problems and finished ninth. Tenth was Eddie Cheever’s March. It was a disappointing race for the Chevron brigade. In qualifying there were eight Marches in the top ten and the race saw the domination by Robin Herd’s current 782 design continue.
Englishman Stephen South was a lowly 12th, having stopped for tyres, and Derek Daly’s Chevron slumped to 15th for the same reason. Hoffmann’s March came in a second time to change “chunking” rear tyres and found his team had run out so his race ended in the pits! Countryman Alex Ribiero ran strongly and was lying third in the closing stages when the Hart engine in his March failed. Poor Regazzoni had the Ferrari V6 in his car give up during the race day warm-up, so he didn’t even take the start.
In sweltering heat, and with half the field struggling just to keep going, the race ended with Surer 28 sec ahead of Fabi. It was the Swiss driver’s first victory against his European rivals although earlier in the season he scored his first Formula Two win driving a March-BMW in Japan.
The other teams packed up and headed back to Buenos Aires for the second race, the following weekend, with a grim determination to topple the all-conquering factory March set-up. Surer’s win was the ninth of the year for the team, and their stranglehold on Formula Two was going to be hard to break with Giacomelli back in the camp.
As expected the two BMW Junior Team cars were again fastest in practice at Buenos Aires where the 3.34 km. No. 9 circuit configuration at this excellent venue was used. The tighter and much slower race track at the Argentinian capital proved well-suited to the wide-bodied March design. The 782 also features a wheelbase 7″ longer than the Chevron B42 which was still struggling to match the pace.
Continued bickering over tyres again overshadowed practice as the cars of Giacomelli and Surer dominated proceedings. Giacomelli reasserted his command by snatching pole by a slender 0.01 sec from Surer, while Zunino, with the aid of some softer tyres, lined up third fastest. A special deal for the local man was a concession the opposition didn’t mind because they appreciated a good showing by the Argentinian was important, but they were still convinced the other works drivers also had some tricks up their sleeve.
Matters came to a sensational head, however, during the race morning warm-up session when, to everyone’s utter amazement, the front row of the grid was wiped out! Within moments of each other Giacomelli and Surer lost control at the fastest fifth gear corner and slammed into the safety barriers. Giacomelli went off first, hitting the steel barrier head-on, and minutes later Surer skated in beside him sideways. Both cars were badly damaged, too badly damaged to race, yet the drivers escaped with nothing more than a bruising and a nasty shaking. As the wrecked cars were hauled back to the pits it was surmised the problem had been the rear tyres coming off the March-manufactured rims. In spite of the safety bead, the tyres had ridden over the raised band running round the rim when the tyre started to grow. March couldn’t explain why this should happen when the cars were running on full tanks for the first time and the tyre people couldn’t find an answer either after examining the tyres.
So, with Giacomelli and Surer sidelined, teammate Zunino was elevated to “pole”, to the sheer delight of the 40,000 screaming Argentinians packed into the Autodrome. However, at the start it was Jarier who slipped through from the second row to steal the limelight. At the end of the first lap he led from Henton — fourth fastest qualifier Cheever, who had made a brilliant start from the fifth row, and Hoffmann.
Sadly for Jarier his moment of glory lasted only until half-way round the second lap when the gear lever broke and the unhappy Frenchman glided to a stop. That left Cheever in the lead and the young American’s March-BMW stayed out front until lap 20 when he thought a front tyre had blistered so he pitted. It was not until after the race his mechanics discovered the trouble was a broken rear roll bar. Henton found himself elevated to the lead and, for the next nine laps, the Englishman dictated an easy pace. His race ended just after half-distance when the development Hart engine in his March began to make a “death rattle” and he headed for the pits. Moments later his team-mate Rad Dougall, who had been running a fine fourth, went out with gearbox trouble.
Hoffmann, who hadn’t passed a single car after the first lap suddenly found himself in the lead — and in trouble. The exhaust pipe from the works engine in his BMW Challenge Team March was rubbing against the filter and clouds of blue smoke were swirling from the car. It seemed likely the engine would seize any moment and, with Zunino and Regazzoni closing, the race built up to an exciting finish.
Into the dying moments Hoffmann’s rear brakes were covered in oil and for the last three laps the warning light was on. The threat ceased though when first Zunino spun, under braking for the hairpin, and then Regazzoni, in his desperation to get by the local man, went careering off at the esses.
Hoffmann was allowed to limp home to score his first Formula Two win and his first victory for over three years. His mechanics found less than a litre of oil left in the BMW oil tank! Zunino recovered to finish second and Regazzoni had to settle for third after his late mistake. The Swiss Formula One driver’s only consolation was fastest lap. Fourth was Ghinzani’s March and Cheever fought back to fifth after his pit stop.
Ribiero was sixth, followed by Daly’s Chevron, Guerra in the only surviving Chevron-Ferrari and Rosberg who was still running his America tyres. Lees had run strongly in sixth in the early stages before suffering a puncture and South, after a troubled weekend, went off into the catch-fencing on the 5th lap.
The brief South American encounter had done nothing to upstage the enviable reputation of March and the confirmation in Argentina that Daly will next year join the works team, running with Surer and Fabi, only underlines the continuing strength of the British team. — M T
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