When racing went Caracas
Maserati was on the verge of a world title – and total financial meltdown. A dramatic race in Venezuela cost it the former and guaranteed the latter
If you thought the recent Japanese Grand Prix was incident-packed and chaotic, November 3 this year will mark the half-century since a really incident-packed and chaotic endurance race decided the Sports Car World Championship for Ferrari.
It was the Venezuelan 1000Km race run on the Proceres road circuit in Caracas, and as the World Championship had developed through the preceding season the title would be won there by either Ferrari or their home-town Modenese deadly rivals, Maserati.
That entire 1957 season had seen the front-engined sports-racing car reach a technical high tide. Regulations provided no maximum capacity limit and sports-racing engines had been growing for several seasons. For 1957 Ferrari fielded four-cam V12s of up to 4.1 litres, while Maserati had developed its 3-litre 300S series of good-handling greyhounds before producing its very own Rottweiler – the 4.5-litre 450S V8 ‘Big Bazooka’. The FIA would react to all these cubic inches and (by contemporary standards) unbridled horsepower by slapping a 3-litre blanket limit on the next World Championship series, in 1958.
This would, in fact, be an historic precursor of the situation – 10 years later – when another technology spiral led to 1967 endurance racing being fought out between 7-litre Fords and Chaparral-Chevrolets and 4-litre four-cam Ferrari P4s. In a repeat performance of 1957-58, the FIA again reacted by resorting to a 3-litre ceiling for sports-prototype cars, adding a 5-litre limit for ‘production-based sports cars’. On the often proven basis that poachers are brighter than gamekeepers, the regulation-makers that time succeeded in spawning the flat-12 Porsche 917s and V12 Ferrari 512s.
But back to Caracas, November 1957. Seventeen cars faced the starter: three Maserati 450S V8s driven by Moss, Behra and Gregory, backed by a works 300S, confronting four works Ferraris, comprising a pair of 335S V12s driven by Collins/Phil Hill and Hawthorn/Musso, and the 3-litre 250TRs of von Trips/Seidel and Trintignant/Gendebien… all the usual suspects.
Peter Collins recalled his own poor start like this: “…as usual, everyone beat the flag to it… switched on engines, pulled starters – and damn all happened. Amidst the grinding and whirring I think Masten Gregory was the first to get his engine to fire. I was about third away, Stirling and Behra being among the last. Leading for the first half of lap two, Masten looked over his shoulder to see where Mike Hawthorn was. Mike was breathing down his neck. He looked over the other shoulder to see where I was – and I was breathing down Mike’s neck. Masten forgot to put on his brakes, hit the kerb, and turned over… his life was undoubtedly saved by the crash bar which he had insisted that Maserati fitted the night before the race… that thing saved his neck…”
Subsequently, Collins explained: “Moss… in the lead… was tearing down the straight at a good 160mph when an AC pulled across the road in front of him… The Maserati chopped the AC completely in two. Stirling wasn’t hurt, though the Maserati was wrecked.
“Behra was refuelling when suddenly the car caught fire (but it was quickly put out). Stirling hopped in… and off he went. Next thing we saw was Stirling going past the pits doing the most extraordinary dance act on the seat – in which the fire was still going strong! Stirling retired with a painfully burnt bottom. Once the seat fire was extinguished, Harry Schell jumped in.”
Later: “Harry Schell was catching our two Ferraris very fast… just passing Bonnier in the other works car [a 300S] doing about 250kph on a right-hand bend, Bonnier’s inside rear tyre burst and he skidded into Harry’s car… Bonnier’s hit a concrete lamp-post about 40 feet high. As he hit the post he jumped out – and that great big column of concrete fell right across his driving seat (and) pushed the steering wheel down about two feet, into the seat. Schell’s car hit a wall and once again exploded into flames. Harry fell out just as the car bounced off the wall to finish up about 18 inches from where he lay. He got up and walked away.
“That left not a single factory Maserati [while] all four works-entered Ferraris ran without a fault, apart from my lost exhaust pipes when I ran over sandbags thrown into the road by Masten’s crash. I think that in one day Maserati had all the bad luck we’ve had all year… Ferrari lost four Grand Prix cars at Monaco last May. [Thankfully] driver casualties were not serious. I have seen a lot of accidents, including Le Mans, but never such a succession as I saw at Caracas.”
The Ferrari fleet finished imperiously, 1-2-3-4, Collins/Phil Hill winning from Hawthorn/Musso, von Trips/Seidel and Trintignant/Gendebien. Within weeks, their Caracas losses compounding far deeper debts, Maserati went into administration and its works team closed.
Remembering John Gardiner
John Gardiner of Crosthwaite & Gardiner restoration (and replication) company fame was not only a gifted engineer, he was also a much admired friend to so many. He succumbed to prostate cancer on September 1, aged only 64, and the congregation at his humanist funeral in Tunbridge Wells was absolutely packed by an historic car world Who’s Who.
His business partner for over 40 years, Dick Crosthwaite, delivered a masterly and often rib-cracking eulogy. He recalled, for example, how John’s craftsmanship was not entirely infallible – hosing down both himself and a freshly chatted-up female acquaintance inside a Mini he’d just modified, when an untightened oil pipe union popped apart at peak revs on the way home from the pub where they’d just met.
Dick also recalled John’s grey parrot, Albert, which would be cared for in the C&G workshop when John was away. These became linguistic cramming sessions for Albert, whose clandestine training became something of an obsession amongst John’s enthusiastic staff. The result was that Albert developed a really good grasp not only of the English language, but also of when to use it. John was quite shaken upon his return one winter’s day when, as he was saying hello to Albert, someone else left the workshop door open – whereupon Albert squawked, “Kee-rist! It’s f****** freezing in ’ere!”
Good lads, and a very fine man.
Peter Arundell: King of FJunior
Recently I heard that – after years living in Florida – former Team Lotus star driver Peter Arundell has returned to his native Essex, living with Rikki – his German wife of well over 40 years – but sadly in poor health and in straitened circumstances.
Back in the early 1960s popular Pete was the ‘King of Formula Junior’, driving the Ron Harris-Team Lotus works cars. He showed formidable promise and his 1962 Junior season saw him win 18 times in 25 starts.
In October that year the German magazine Das Auto Motor und Sport published a story by Richard von Frankenberg headed ‘The Biggest Disgrace in International Motor Sport’ crediting the British success in Formula Junior to the use of 1490cc Cosworth-Ford engines – in an 1100cc class. He challenged Colin Chapman to produce two 1100cc Lotus 22s at Monza for Peter and team-mate Alan Rees to match the lap times they had set in June’s Lottery GP. Colin had sufficient confidence in Pete to respond sportingly (rather than sue for libel) and a £1000 wager was agreed. It was settled on Sunday, December 2.
Arundell’s target was 113.47mph over 30 laps and a fastest lap at least matching his June 1min 50.8sec, 115.99mph. The day was sunny but bitterly cold, and ice at Lesmo forced Pete to alter his line. Even so, he completed the 30 laps 51.2sec inside his target, an average of 115.16mph. His fastest lap was 1min 50.4sec, 0.4sec better than target – but having completed the distance he did three further uninhibited laps, getting down to a shattering 1min 49.8sec 117.14mph. Supervised by Auto Italiana, his car’s engine was then stripped. It was entirely legal: 1092.348cc Weighing revealed the 22 to scale 403kg, again entirely legal.
For 1964 Pete became Jimmy Clark’s regular team-mate in Formula 1, and his premier-class scorecard read: retired (but fastest lap), second and three third places in early-season non-Championship races, then thirds in each of his first two Grand Prix races – Monaco and the Dutch – and fourth in the French. This Hamiltonesque half-season then culminated in an awful Formula 2 crash at Reims, which effectively destroyed poor Pete’s career… and changed his life. Colin rated him highly enough to keep his Team Lotus place open for him upon recovery in 1966, but the old spark had gone.
Without perhaps realising it, Peter Arundell is not forgotten today, and his many contemporary fans – I am sure – will all, to a man, wish him well.