A sad start to 1971
Buenos Aires, January 10th.
For the first time in 11 years a World Championship race was held at Buenos Aires, Argentina, on January 10th. The circuit, where Bruce McLaren won the Argentine Grand Prix in 1960, features a combination of circuit layouts, open grandstand seating for 80,000 people the whole length of the pits straight, and modern facilities. Last year two sports-car races were held as a preliminary, and last month the first round of the World Championship for Manufacturers was held.
Organising the event was the YPF Club, which is an offshoot of the Government-controlled YPF fuel company. This in itself led to problems with Shell and (particularly) Gulf-serviced teams, notably Ferrari and John Wyer’s Porsches, but every car which took part was plastered with the Club’s decals. Expense was no object so far as the organisation was concerned; generous start money, plenty of free air tickets, local expenses and transport were all taken care of, and hospitality even extended to free snacks and soft drinks in the paddock and pit areas. Some drivers were heard to remark that this made a nice change from some European venues where their presence is seemingly tolerated rather than welcomed.
Much interest centred on the new Ferrari 312P, which was making its race debut, entered by SEFAC Ferrari for Ignazio Giunti/Arturo Merzario. The tubular reinforced monocoque car has had a hurried development programme at the Paul Ricard circuit in France, the factory’s local Modena circuit and at Kyalami. The prototype had run 2,000 kms. prior to the race but, said Peter Schetty (the new team manager), still needed some more detail work to be carried out. It is 30-40 kilogrammes lighter than the rival Matra and Alfa Romeo prototypes, scaling 600 kg. ready to race, and is powered by the flat-12 Formula One engine which gives 450 b.h.p. when prepared for long-distance racing.
Autodelta sent three prototype Alfa Romeos to Argentina, the nominated drivers being Andrea de Adamich/Henri Pescarolo, Rolf Stommelen/”Nanni” Galli, and Emerson Fittipaldi/Toine Hezemans. The cars have been changed very little since the end of last season, but now have 13-in. diameter front wheels and lower nose sections which seemed to improve high-speed performance. One of the cars was wrecked by Fittipaldi during unofficial trials as a result of a puncture, so the Brazilian negotiated to drive Alex Soler-Roig’s Porsche 917 instead and the Dutchman, Hezemans, did not take part in the race.
Matra sent just one car, the latest 660 model with its stressed V12 Formula One engine, to be driven by Jean-Pierre Beltoise/Jean-Pierre Jabouille. No changes had been made to the car since its winning run in the Paris 1,000 kms. last October. Also listed in the prototype class was the Argentine-constructed Berta space-frame car, powered by a Ford-Cosworth DFV, but the engine gave trouble during the first practice session so the entry was withdrawn.
The Group 5 entry comprised Porsches and Ferraris. John Wyer sent two cars to the Southern Hemisphere for his new driver line-up, Jo Siffert with Derek Bell and Pedro Rodriguez with Jack Oliver. Altered but little since the Austrian 1,000 kms. last autumn, the cars were using Porsche-constructed berillium brake discs and 5-speed gearboxes instead of 4-speeds. Strongest opposition came from Hans-Dieter Dechent’s Martini International team, also with two cars, for Vic Elford/Gerard Larrousse and Helmut Marko/Gijs van Lennep. The cars were just as raced by the Porsche Salzburg team last year, except for having 4-speed gearboxes instead of 5-speeds! These cars had 590-b.h.p., 4.9-litre engines, and the lower-powered, completely private, 4.5-litre 917 models were driven by Dominique Martin/Pablo Brea, Reinhold Jost/Angel Monguzzi, and Fittipaldi/Carlos Reutemann, the co-driver in each case being Argentinians driving 917s for the first time.
Scuderia Filipinetti sent two cars, the latest Ferrari 512M for Mike Parkes/Jo Bonnier, and the 1971 version of the Lola-FVC—designated the T212, having revised suspension—for Ronnie Peterson/Jorge Cupeiro. The 512M is the latest, perhaps the last, 5-litre car built by Ferrari to the current rules and has all the latest modifications, including new nose and tail sections, and a V12 giving at least 600 b.h.p. This car was badly damaged by Peterson, also during unofficial trials and also as a result of a punctured tyre, but within 48 hours it had been extensively rebuilt in time for the end of practice and seemed to be reasonably competitive.
Other Ferrari 512S types were driven by Jose Juncadella/Carlos Pairetti, Sam Posey/Garcia Veiga/Luiz di Palma, and Hughes de Fierlant/Taf Gosselin. The entry list also included Ecurie Evergreen’s McLaren M8C-Ford DFV for Chris Craft/Trevor Taylor, and the team’s Lola T210 for Alain de Cadenet/Nasif Estefano.
The track was very dusty and slippery before the weekend, and a quantity of nails were found on the surface which caused two accidents. On Wednesday Oliver, driving the Gulf-Porsche for the first time, slid off the road and damaged the front of the car. A new windscreen and some suspension parts had to be flown from England and the car did not appear on Friday. Rodriguez, however, had a spell in Siffert’s car (the Swiss was delayed on a flight from Europe along with Bonnier, Beltoise, Jabouille, and John Wyer), setting the fastest time of the day at 1 min. 52.75 sec. (195.46 k.p.h.). Elford was one-fifth of a second slower and the best that Giunti could manage was 1 min. 54.0 sec.
Stommelen completed only four laps before sliding off the road and damaging the Alfa Romeo’s front suspension, which, having titanium parts, could not be welded. Repairs were carried out using parts from the third Alfa Romeo which had been crashed previously. Because the French drivers were still en route from Europe, the Matra was toured around by Henri Pescarolo who was “loaned” by Autodelta.
Practising was scheduled to run all day on Saturday, but the morning session was cancelled by the organisers for fear that more cars would be damaged. A four-hour period, following Friday’s session, left the teams enough time, however. John Wyer’s team was still in trouble: the Rodriguez/Oliver car was not repaired until half-way through the period, then was slowed by a blocked fuel filter, while the Siffert/Bell 917 first ran out of fuel on the track, then suffered the consequences of Siffert missing a gear. A new engine was installed, but there was no time to test the car before the race.
The Martini team had mixed fortunes. The Marko/van Lennep car had shown symptoms of a holed piston and completed only two laps on Saturday. A spare engine was not available and, though the car seemed a very doubtful starter, it did appear on the grid to complete just one lap of the race. The other 917’s outing was short and formal, Dechent being satisfied with the previous day’s practice time.
All the action came from the Ferrari team. Giunti, fractionally quicker than Merzario, lowered the prototype’s time to 1 min. 53.93 sec., then 1 min. 52.96 sec., and finally 1 min. 52.74 sec.
It seemed that the 312P might take pole position but, in the last half-hour of practice, Rodriguez retrieved the situation by a slender margin, recording 1 min. 52.70 sec. (195.547 k.p.h.).
By eight o’clock on Sunday morning, half an hour before the scheduled start, the huge grandstands were jammed with spectators. The rolling start, behind Fangio’s Mercedes 280SL, was eight minutes late. Then, as the flag fell, the Ferrari 312P accelerated from the front row to lead into the first corner. Rodriguez used his Porsche’s superior top speed on the long straights to go ahead, and at the end of the first lap the leading bunch comprised Rodriguez, Giunti, Siffert and Elford. Close behind were Parkes, Beltoise, then the two Alfa Romeos.
The Ferrari’s practice time was no fluke, for it took Siffert six laps to get past, by which time his windscreen was covered in oil and petrol blown out by the red car. Two laps later Siffert tried to clear his screen with the wiper and only succeeded in making matters worse, so a quick pit stop dropped him to 13th position.
Now Elford took up the chase, making up a four-second deficit on Rodriguez fairly easily. The Martini car appeared to have better handling and on lap 21, after several attempts, Elford went by Rodriguez and pulled away at nearly two seconds a lap. Giunti began to fall back a little and was 10 seconds in arrears at this stage.
Positions changed again on lap 30 when Elford had the first of several delays due to fuel starvation. His car halted for a full lap before the engine would restart, and when Elford got going again he was just ahead of Rodriguez on the road, as before, but a lap behind. The 5-litre cars began making pit stops between the 32- and 35-lap marks and Giunti moved the Ferrari into the lead, followed by Beltoise, Stommelen and de Adamich. Just before he completed his 37th lap Beltoise ran out of fuel at the hairpin, approximately 750 yards before the pits, so he jumped out and began pushing the blue car slightly uphill. In fact, a regulation prohibited pushing cars, but the Frenchman apparently had forgotten or disregarded this.
A number of drivers reported missing the Matra narrowly, for Beltoise was not keeping to the side of the road and marshals were slow to put out the yellow flags. Completing his 38th lap, Giunti followed Parkes’ Ferrari out of the hairpin, pulled to one side as if to overtake and hit the Matra with enormous impact. The Ferrari spun up the road, burst into flames and tragically it was two minutes before the Italian driver was pulled from the wreckage, fatally injured. A red flag was hung out at the start-finish line, just where the Ferrari wreckage lay, but after a brief halt local driver Veiga went past it and soon the whole field was ignoring the mandatory signal.
The organisation of the race, up to this point praiseworthy, went completely to pieces. The race should have been stopped, then restarted later, but it was not. It was also argued that Beltoise should not have been allowed to push his car, but no marshals were near enough to stop his unusual action. Water hoses were produced promptly, but foam should have been available to deal with petrol fires. Official lap charting went completely haywire, and possibly Rodriguez was credited with an extra lap. Race bulletins, from this point on, were very misleading as the electronic lapscoring equipment wasn’t functioning properly, and the Autodelta team was certain that the Stommelen/Galli car was running in second place. When the official results put Rodriguez/Oliver second, Autodelta considered a protest but finally the YPF published a complete list of lap times, taken from the timekeepers, which confirmed the official results beyond all doubt. One hopes that the aftermath of this accident will not prevent the Argentinians from holding another Championship event next year.
After 50 laps Siffert had regained the lead and was nearly a full lap ahead of Parkes. In third place was Stommelen’s Alfa Romeo followed by Peterson’s Lola. Pescarolo had been delayed two laps after hitting a course marker and needing to have the nose section taped up. Rodriguez had been delayed by a puncture, completing one lap slowly with the rear tyre flapping, and Craft had also been slowed by the first of five punctures which his McLaren collected during the race. Soon Fittipaldi was out of the running, oil seeping from his Porsche’s engine into the clutch, and the Jost Porsche was disqualified for running out of fuel on the course.
During Parkes’ second spell at the wheel the Ferrari, potentially as fast as the Porsches, lost two laps while a vibration was investigated—it transpired that a weight had been shed from a rear wheel—but the delay was costly and it ensured that the 1,000-k.m. race was a straight contest between Wyer’s Porsches and the Autodelta Alfa Romeos. Elford’s Porsche was still intermittently stopping with fuel pressure trouble and it once halted for 20 minutes at the side of the road. Mechanics went to investigate the problem and, again, disqualification was imposed. A pity, because Elford had set the fastest lap of the race at 1 min. 51.08 sec. (198.399 k.p.h.) and this was disallowed.
The organisers’ lap-charting error, and it seems there was one, arose between laps 50 when Rodriguez was given in seventh place, two laps and one minute down) and 60, when he was given third place on the same lap, but 4 min. 44 sec. behind! Officially, the leading four places were unchanged for the remainder of the distance, the order between laps 80 and 140 being Siffert/Bell, Stommelen/Galli, Rodriguez/Oliver and de Adamich/Pescarolo.
Peterson went missing on lap 129 when his fleet little Lola collected a puncture in a rear tyre, veered off the main straight under braking and flew up into the air; it landed on its tail and slid to a halt, but the driver miraculously unhurt. A few minutes later the Filipinetti team had another setback when Bonnier touched another competitor then, coming into sight of the pits at speed, his Ferrari shed part of the nose section and went out of control. The Swiss-domiciled Swede managed to control a lurid 200-yard slide on the grass, narrowly missing a massive concrete wall protecting spectators, and went to his pit the next time round for a taping-up operation which took another two laps. The car continued at reduced speed and finished the race down in seventh position.
All was not well with the leading car, for Siffert and Bell were coping with a clutch which might have failed at any moment, and needed to make an unscheduled fuel stop, too. With 25 laps to run Siffert was urged to go faster to make sure of beating the Stommelen/Galli Alfa Romeo and, according to Wyer’s chart, increased his advantage to 105 seconds, virtually a full lap. Rodriguez’ car had not, apparently, closed on the Alfa Romeo because Oliver had driven with caution rather than speed, and was now believed to be in third place a lap and a few seconds behind the Alfa Romeo. When the official results were posted, Autodelta lodged a protest, which was disallowed.
This was the rather unsatisfactory conclusion to a race which was generally well organised and immensely popular with the Argentine public. John Wyer’s Gulf-Porsche achieved victory, there is no doubt about that, but it was not a trouble-free run for Siffert or Bell, his new English co-driver who impressed with his speed and consistency on the team during his first outing. Ferrari 512s filled the next three places ahead of the Ecurie Evergreen McLaren.—M. L. C.