Continental Notes, February 1968
Now that we have had the first Grand Prix race of the year the alarms and excursions of who hopes to drive what car are over and 1968 season lies pretty clear ahead of us. Clark’s win in the South African race with the Lotus 49 means that he has chalked up four Grand Prix wins in a row, the U.S.A. and Mexican races, the Spanish and now the South African, so it is not surprising that he is remaining faithful to Team Lotus and Colin Chapman. While other drivers have flitted from one team to another Clark has stayed with Team Lotus through all their ups and downs since 1960 and it would be hard to imagine a more balanced pair than designer Chapman and driver Clark, and I make no bones about enjoying to the full every victory they achieve. Close behind Clark in South Africa was Graham Hill in the second Lotus 49 of the factory team and it could well be that we are entering a phase of domination in Grand Prix racing like Ascari/Villoresi with Maserati in 1948 or Fangio/Moss with Mercedes-Benz in 1955. Perhaps in 10 years’ time we shall look back on the Clark/Hill with Lotus 49 era of 1968.
Challenging this duo in Africa was Stewart with a prototype Matra-Cosworth V8, until the engine went bang, representing the French firm by way of Matra-International run by Ken Tyrrell. The Matra factory team car will be driven by Beltoise and will be powered by Matra’s own V12-cylinder engine. With Hulme leaving the Brabham team his place has been taken by Rindt, with Brabham himself driving as well as ever and Repco are still backing the Australian. Hulme has joined forces with fellow New Zealander McLaren to drive new McLaren cars powered by Cosworth V8 engines. Ferrari has started the new season with a flourish, running a team of three Grand Prix cars and at the moment he is not supporting Group 6 Sports-Prototype racing. In spite of some enthusiastic reports claiming 420 b.h.p. for the 48-valve Ferrari engine, Maranello only claims 409 b.h.p., which is a good increase over the 1967 figure. His Grand Prix team is headed by Chris Amon for yet another season and he has as team-mates Andrea de Adamich, the bespectacled and studious-looking young Italian, and the brave young Belgian driver Jackie Ickx. The Belgian boy was all set to partner Stewart in the Tyrrell team, but loss of financial backing caused Tyrrell to restrict his activities to one Grand Prix car so lckx was snapped up by Ferrari. The 1967 “apprentice-driver” of Maranello was Jonathan Williams who had a very poor season with very little racing, so he left Ferrari and has gone to Abarth who are aiming to take part in Formula One racing. Parkes is back in circulation at long last, after his Belgian G.P. crash, but will no doubt be far too busy catching up on his engineering work at Maranello to take much part in racing. The Cooper team were left high and dry for drivers when Rindt left, for shortly afterwards Rodriguez left also, and joined B.R.M. In South Africa the Cooper cars were driven by Scarfiotti and a newcomer to Grand Prix racing, Brian Redman, whose possibilities were mentioned last month in the article on Mirage Racing. Copper have severed connections with Maserati and new cars are being built using the V12 B.R.M. engine like that used by McLaren last year. Although Rodriguez will appear to lead the B.R.M. team I have a feeling that Spence will be figuring very large in the Bourne activities for he remains as number two and has certain praiseworthy characteristics that make him very useful to a factory team. While not being a Jim Clark on driving ability he has a sound and dogged approach to race driving, is pleasantly uncomplicated, is prepared to try anything and seems completely un-flappable, which is a characteristic appreciated by team managers and mechanics. Lighter, smaller and better H16-cylinder cars will be used as well as the new V12-cylinder cars, depending on circuits and circumstances.
Surtees continues with Honda but they still have a major engine problem for the roller-bearing V12 engine is too big and heavy for its power output, which is under 400 b.h.p. and they do not seem to by making any progress towards 450 b.h.p., which an engine of that tyre ought to develop. Gurney is progressing with his Eagle-Weslake V12, using all the team’s resources for himself at present, though various drivers are under observation for taking a second Eagle. In order to allow Weslake Engineering to have more elbow room for development the Eagle team have moved to a new factory a few miles away and are doing their own engine assembly so that Weslakes have a clear run on developing the power unit further. They tend to tell the impressionable that they have 440 b.h.p. from the V12, but 415 b.h.p. in the chassis is more likely and comparable to the opposition. As they are also developing a 500 c.c. twin-cylinder engine for motorcycle racing the extra elbow room will be well used.
Among the private owners R. R. C. Walker and Durlacher are retaining the services of Siffert and getting him a Lotus 49 to replace the rather tired Cooper-Maserati, and Bonnier talks of a McLaren-B.R.M. V12 to replace his Cooper-Maserati, while Ligier will probably give up the unequal struggle in Grand Prix racing and concentrate on Formula Two. The Scuderia Filipinetti hope to get a Formula One car of some sort for Herbert Muller to drive and as already mentioned Abarth is making noises about a Grand Prix car for Williams, but what Carlo Abarth says and what he does are often very different.
The Grand Prix starting grids will not lack entries this season with two cars each from Lotus, McLaren, B.R.M., Brabham, three from Ferrari, and one each from Eagle, Honda and Matra, and each of these three having a possible second car as the season progresses, with three or four private owners making up the field. With eight very different makes taking part, with a variety of V8-, V12- and H16-cylinder engines involved, newcomers like Matra and McLaren are not going to have an easy time in Grand Prix racing. Elsewhere in this issue Matra Racing is reviewed, and while the new MS11 with the V12 engine is not expected to do great things in its first season, it will stand close scrutiny for Matra have powerful resources. From April 1967 to January 1968 they designed their engine from scratch, had one running on the test-bed, another being installed in the new chassis and a third being assembled, while the programme has provision for six more engines by the start of the European season.
Ford (England) have started a research project on a 4-w-d Grand Prix car with Cosworth Engineering doing the work and Robin Hird has joined them for this project, he having been chief designer with McLaren Racing previously. As Ford have a 3-litre Group 6 Sports-Prototype project under way with Alan Mann Racing doing the work it seems likely that either Ford intend to take over Lotus racing activities’ completely, or Lotus are taking over Ford! Never one to miss an opportunity Colin Chapman has negotiated with the cigarette manufacturer John Player & Sons to finance Team Lotus, replacing the income lost by the withdrawal of Esso petrol. What we have known as Team Lotus for many years is now called the “Gold Leaf Lotus Team” and the cars are to be painted red, white and gold like packets of twenty, though how the F.I.A. International colour scheme is to be got round remains to be seen, and if Clark or Hill are seen smoking any other brand of cigarette one can imagine questions being asked in high places.
On the Sports-Prototype front there is no lack of activity, even though Ferrari says he will not be taking part. It is clear that he is giving the early long-distance races a miss, showing no interest in the Daytona 24-hour race in February or the Sebring 12-hour race in March, but has ignored these races before now. If he ignores the Monza 1,000-kilometre race in April and the Targa Florio in May then that will be another matter altogether. Porsche, on the other hand, are forging ahead with 2.2-litre versions in the air-cooled horizontally opposed 8-cylinder engine in the space-frame and fibreglass cars as raced last year. Already they have been doing extensive testing at Daytona and are clearly out for overall victories rather than class victories, and have lined up Scarfiotti, Siffert, Neerpasch, Elford, Stommelen and Miner to drive for them. The braver rumour-mongers say that a 3-litre Porsche racing engine is on the way, which should put them well in the running for outright victory in the classics, and not before time.
There are some quite serious turbine-powered projects being aimed at Le Mans since the impressive showing by the STP-Paxton turbocar at Indianapolis, and the Japanese Nissan firm have been sniffing around Le Mans, with a 2-litre 6-cylinder Porsche-like coupé in the background. When someone withdraws from racing, like Ford (U.S.A.), or something is changed like a capacity limit it is amazing how many people throw their hands up and proclaim the virtual end of motor racing. Last year saw the completion of the 72nd year of motor racing, apart from brief pauses while world wars took precedence, so it is unlikely that changing fortunes or economic difficulties will put a stop to motor racing. It may change in detail character but motor racing as we know it will keep going, and 1968 looks like being as busy as ever.—D. S. J.