Buenos Aires, January 9th.
A respite of almost six months in the sports car championship programme gave all the leading teams some time to prepare for the 1972 season, which began in South America early in January. The latest rules have of course outlawed the 5-litre Porsches and Ferraris, and in theory at least bring the 3-litre prototypes closer together in performance by introducing minimum weight limits for the first time, 575 kilogrammes for the 2-litre machines and 650 kilogrammes for the 3-litres. Can-Am type points scoring allows more factories to record success, and the CSI has cleverly sought a compromise to demands for shorter races by insisting that endurance events are limited to six hours or 1,000 kilometres—except in the case of “classics” like Le Mans and Sebring….
A year ago the city of Buenos Aires ran a World Championship status event for the first time since 1960, the event organised jointly by the Automovil Club Argentina and the government-backed YPF fuel company, which puts up all the money. Last year’s race was sadly marred by the death of Ignazio Giunti, giving the Ferrari 312P its race debut, and in the past 12 months there has been a good deal of reconstruction at the multi-circuit complex on the outskirts of this vast capital. The track has been widened in places, with chicanes slowing the cars before the end of the long back straight and again before the pits. Signalling lights replace marshals’ points, and the pits themselves have been extended and modernised. Fire precautions are much better now, and a great deal of money has been spent by the city council on making its circuit worthy of its status. As a result, the safety aspect should make the professional drivers happier for if their cars should go out of control, the chances are good that they will spin harmlessly across large expanses of grass instead of hitting Armco rail which surrounds most European tracks.
The Argentine organisers, led by Juan Manuel Fangio as a chief advisor and negotiator, went to a good deal of trouble to make their European guests welcome for both the sports car race and the Formula One Grand Prix held a fortnight later. Teams of three Ferraris, five Alfa Romeos, two new Lolas, a Porsche 908/3 and the all-Argentine Berta LR completed the 3-litre class, and their fortunes pushed even the politics off the front pages of the Buenos Aires daily papers.
The Ferrari team has not been wasting time since last July, when the final Championship race of the season was held. A 1972 specification 312P appeared at the Kyalami 9-Hours in November, finishing second to the narrower 1971 model (now honourably retired) and two unraced machines completed the line-up. The 312P has the same monocoque chassis as before, modified through the ’71 season in small ways such as moving all the fuel to the left side of the car, and altering the suspension.
Internal dimensions of the cockpit have been increased by nearly 6 in., in accordance with the regulations, to make the prototypes look more like the two-seat sports cars they are supposed to be. The bodies are some 2 in. lower, due to 13 in. wheels being fitted (rim widths are 10 in. at the front, 16 in. at the rear, though 11 in. and 17 in. rims may be fitted later in the season).
As before, the engines are the flat-12, five-bearing GP units with small modifications to the induction system to prolong race life; they develop 440 b.h.p. at 10,600 r.p.m. and, if occasion demands, 460 b.h.p. at 10,800 r.p.m. In this trim, the cars appear to meet the minimum weight requirement, the lightest of the three being scrutineered at 655 kilogrammes with a little fuel remaining in the tank. Two of the cars had old gearboxes, and that of Regazzoni/Redman had a new box which facilitates the changing of ratios between practice sessions.
The driver line-up has of course been augmented since last year when only one car appeared regularly. Peterson, who drove a Ferrari at Le Mans in 1970 and co-drove the winning Alfa Romeo at Watkins Glen last July, has signed a full contract and his co-driver was Schenken, who was a reserve in the Matra team at Le Mans in 1970 and finished fourth in the Kyalami race in 1968. They had a brand new car which was untested.
Ickx and Andretti teamed up in the same car they drove in Kyalami, and the third car which had only been used for testing at Daytona was handled by Regazzoni/Redman. Later in the season, when Andretti is unable to drive in some European events (including the BOAC 1,000 Kms.) Arturo Merzario will take his place so at least Ferrari will have one Italian driver on strength!
Ing. Carlo Chiti, head of the Autodelta team, had designed some new Alfa Romeos with tubular chassis for the 1972 season and these made their race debut at Buenos Aires. On several occasions last year an aluminium “Tubolare” was tested and practised (though it never started a race) and this was used as a prototype for this year’s cars which have steel-tube framework. The steel tubes are clearly heavier—Chiti felt that he had weight to spare with the latest regulations—stiffer, and safer. An interesting modification was the fitting of Chiti’s safety fuel tank which contains extinguishant in an integral container and delays, or completely eliminates, the risk of fire in an accident. The lightest Alfa Romeo scrutineered weighed 709 kilogrammes, which may not be accurate as fuel could remain in the tank, but indicated that the cars are definitely overweight. The petrol tanks each weigh 25 kilogrammes, which is the penalty of protecting the drivers.
New faces appeared in the Alfa Romeo cockpits too. Elford and Marko were contracted from the disbanded Martini Porsche team and shared a car, de Adamich/Galli shared a second “Tubolare”, and Stommelen/Hezemans completed the multi-national line-up with another new Tubolare. A fourth car entered by Autodelta was one of last year’s T33 models—also fitted with safety fuel tanks—for Vaccarella/Pairetti, the latter the only Argentine to get a full works drive, and Zeccoli was listed as a reserve. Another of last year’s monocoque cars, with the usual foam-filled petrol tanks, was driven by Alberti—who has bought the car—and Facetti.
Development of the Alfa Romeo flat-12 engine has been delayed, the official reason being labour difficulties and the failure of bought-out components to be delivered, so for the time being the Autodelta entries continue to rely on the familiar V8 which has been modified in small respects to produce a claimed 445 b.h.p. at 10,500 r.p.m.
Bonnier’s Swiss team entered two new and unraced Lola T280 models. These have much in common with last year’s T212 2-litre model and the 1972 2-litre, the T290, with a similar monocoque and suspension details. The radiators are side-mounted however, and the bodywork is low, slippery and smooth compared with other 3-litre rivals, having been developed in the Specialised Mouldings wind tunnel at Huntingdon.
To power these cars, Bonnier had negotiated with Cosworth Engineering to have two new 12-series DFV V8 engines, these having new crankcases and a claimed 445 b.h.p. at 10,800 r.p.m. Listed drivers were Wisell/Bonnier (the latter practised but did not race) and Larrousse/Craft, the Frenchman another refugee from Martini-Porsche. Bonnier intends to contest each round of the World Championship for Makes, which is the title of the series now, except for Spa and possibly Le Mans.
Argentinian hopes were pinned on Oreste Berta’s new car, the LR, which has a V8 engine very similar in design to the DFV. The car has an alloy plated space-frame chassis, and appears to be small and very light. Unhappily government finance fell short of Berta’s expectations and the programme, which should have included European appearances, seems to have been curtailed. Luis di Palma, one of the contracted drivers, sustained burns to his hand a month before the race when one of the two cars was burned out, so just one car practised and di Palma failed his medical examination.
Making up the numbers was an aluminium spaceframe Porsche 908/3 for Spaniards Juan Fernandez/Jorge de Bagration, who hoped for a reliable run since their 360-b.h.p. car had been heavily ballasted to make the minimum weight.
Only prototypes of Group 5 appeared in the 24-car starting list, the remainder being 2-litre models. Osella/Abarth entered three spaceframe Abarths, which looked far from new and had massive-looking gearboxes from the uncompetitive 3-litre prototype attached to the Fiat-based twin-cam engines. The Chevron Racing Team entered two B19-FVC models (actually those belonging to John Bridges’ Red Rose team), Bonnier entered three Lola T212-FVC cars for his customers, another Lola T212 was entered for Wilson Fittipaldi/Renato Catapani, and Pace/Monguzzi gave the new Italian AMS-Cosworth FVC monocoque car its debut although it was first seen at the Monza racing exhibition at the time of the Italian GP.
Those who went from Europe to Argentina had two Christmas Days this year, for the holy day was celebrated there on January 6th when an unofficial practice session was held. At least an estimated 50,000 people poured into the grounds of the circuit, and until late afternoon the most activity they saw was workmen and tractors trying to make the track ready for the cars. Finally the Ferraris and Alfa Romeos began to make their tentative circuits of the 6.0-km. track, dust clouds rising into the hot atmosphere as speeds rose.
Huge cheers greeted the Berta which did three warm-up laps with di Palma driving then expired with a damaged engine at the back of the circuit. Practice had to be halted quite a while until hundreds of well-wishers had been removed from the roadway, and the same thing happened next day when the engine again gave trouble when Garcia Veiga was driving.
At the end of a rather meaningless exploratory period some unofficial times were issued showing Regazzoni to be the quickest Ferrari driver, followed by Schenken, Stommelen, Elford and Andretti.
Firestone slick tyres were run by the Ferrari and Alfa Romeo teams, whose drivers were all bothered by the lack of grip on the dusty road. The Alfa Romeo squad was in most trouble, though, finding that the chassis were so stiff that handling was unpredictable. Most complained that the “Tubolares” switched suddenly from understeer into violent oversteer, and there was quite a lot of harmless spinning going on. Springs were progressively softened until, on Friday, Stommelen found that things were no better and reverted to hard springs, immediately setting a very fast time. The rest of the drivers followed his thinking without wasting any more time, concluding that they just had to get used to the cars the way they were made.
Practice began late on Friday, scrutineering having been delayed 90 minutes because the scales weren’t to be found so the cars weights could not be checked. At 7 p.m. when the session was originally scheduled to finish, the track became cooler and all the important places for the 2-2 rolling start were settled in the next hour. So far the quickest drivers were doing their best to break the 2-min. mark, but as the shadows began to lengthen and the track cooled to below 80° Farenheit, Ickx, Peterson and Stommelen recorded sub 2-min. times; by eight o’clock, when it was all over, Peterson was the fastest man at 1 min. 58.59 sec. and Stommelen, again the fastest Autodelta driver as he was last year, had recorded 1 min. 58.90 sec. Ickx and Regazzoni were next fastest on 1 min. 58.98 sec. and 1 min. 59.15 sec. respectively, and in fact all six Ferrari drivers were within one second of each other indicating that this is going to be a formidable team.
Wisell also circulated fast, recording 1 min. 59.18 sec. which seemed remarkable for such a new car, and the Ferrari drivers were saying that the Broadley-designed car was making up 50 yards on them in the twisty section of the track. De Adamich was the only other to break two minutes (1 min. 59.60 sec.), while Elford/Marko wasted the best part of the day waiting for their engine to be changed and finally circulating slower than Quester and Merzario in their Abarths.
Saturday’s times did not make a direct comparison, Firestone having just taken delivery of a new batch of tyres released from customs. These were a new harder compound type supposed to last through the whole race (they didn’t) but up to two seconds per lap slower. Two of the Ferraris, those with older gearboxes, had been fitted with a wrong ratio overnight, and they missed all but an hour of practice. The difficult Alfa Romeos became even more hard to tame on the less grippy compounds, so few drivers managed to improve their grid positions for the race.
The Lolas, running on Goodyear’s latest G31 compound for practice and the race, were rather better placed. WiseII did not improve his time, which was fifth fastest, but in the second car Larrousse speeded up to 2 min. 02.66 sec. which was seventh fastest.
On Sunday the race, over 168 laps, was due to begin at 09.30 allowing plenty of time for the event to finish before the hottest part of the afternoon. Ambient temperature was already approaching 80° F. when around 70,000 spectators had crammed into the autodrome, and 23 cars (the Berta was withdrawn) circulated behind the pace car. Wisell’s Lola was left behind, the DFV proving difficult to start, and the Swede had to complete a full circuit instead of a shortened lap because a marshal pulled a barrier across the road. He took his start about 20 sec. after the last Lola had gone by, but quickly worked his way through the field.
Peterson’s Ferrari made a cracking start to lead the race with Stommelen hard behind, and at the tricky hairpin before the pits the German driver slipped past to lead the opening lap. Ickx and Regazzoni were keeping Ferrari well to the fore, and Larrousse was in their wake followed by de Adamich and Merzario in the Abarth 2000.
Stommelen’s lead was short-lived, for at the same hairpin on the next lap his throttle jammed open momentarily and his Alfa Romeo spun, restarting in the direction of the nearby pits. Seven laps were lost fitting a new throttle cable, and while he was there Elford lost seventh place pulling into the pits to have a large screwdriver removed from under the pedals!
This gave the Ferraris a healthy 1-2-3 placing, Ickx now leading Peterson and Regazzoni, with Larrousse keeping well up in the Lola T280. WiseII had climbed to fifth place after nine laps, and after 19 went ahead of his French team-mate. By now lckx, who opted to run on the soft-compound tyres, had used his advantage to lead Regazzoni by 8 sec.; Peterson was in the Swiss driver’s slipstream and Wisell was 18 sec. further back, but closing at the rate of a second per lap. By now Vaccarella had stopped to have his clutch adjusted and de Adamich was the best-placed Alfa Romeo driver, rather poorly placed sixth ahead of Merzario.
Everyone else had been lapped when the first pit stops took place. Peterson stopping for fuel on lap 34, lckx and Regazzoni on the next two laps. The Lola appeared to have better consumption, taking the lead and keeping in front until lap 38; Wisell remained in the car, but all the works drivers changed over.
Merzario and Quester were well placed in their Abarths, but one lap after handing over to Dini, Merzario’s fifth-placed car retired with broken transmission. The Quester/Soler-Roig car was slowing with a serious misfire (which afflicted the third Abarth entry all through the race) and soon disappeared when an electrical fault stopped the engine a long way from the pits. Larrousse dropped back during his pit stop, having the rear suspension checked for a fault which proved imaginary and now Wisell was the only driver to be worrying the Ferraris though his Lola dropped back after a more leisurely pit-stop, Bonnier’s crew refuelling with NASCAR churns while Ferrari and Alfa Romeo used gravity tanks in the pits.
Shortly after relieving de Adamich, Galli stopped to have his clutch adjusted: the Alfa Romeo team seemed to miss Dott. Businello, who last year took much of the administrative burden off Chiti who designs the cars, engines, and directs the team. Certainly team-work wasn’t one of Autodelta’s strong points at Buenos Aires, and they paid the price in full. Now, with 50 laps completed, the best-placed Alfa Romeo was the privately owned (but Autodelta crewed) T33 of Facetti/Alberti, running nearly two laps behind in fifth place. Ferrari’s supremacy was dented when Andretti stopped to have an electrical fault checked. The master switch by the battery was playing up, and had to be changed when he stopped a second time dropping the car to 14th place seven laps behind the leaders.
At one-third distance Schenken was leading Redman and WiseII, 67 sec. covering these three with Craft now a lap behind, 70 sec. ahead of Facetti. Elford/Marko were two laps down, their Alfa Romeo neither handling well nor running cleanly. Chiti’s hopes were further dashed when Galli coasted to the pits with water pouring out of one exhaust pipe, a cylinder liner having cracked, so all he had left in contention was a last-year car and a sick 1972 car.
Schenken and Redman continued to command the race but Wisell was circulating faster, establishing a record for the revised circuit at 1 min. 58.39 sec. (181.481 k.p.h.). When the Ferraris’ second pit stops were due Wisell was only 4 sec. behind Redman. Schenken handed over to Peterson who retained his lead, but only by a few seconds and on lap 76 Wisell overtook Peterson on acceleration from the hairpin bend, which gave the crowd great joy demonstrated by throwing hats and programmes into the air!
Wisell extended his lead to 5 sec. until he stopped at the pits on lap 80 for fuel, and then Larrousse took over instead of Bonnier. Unfortunately when the wheels were changed on the Lola T280 a front hub, expanded by heat, jammed and five long minutes were wasted putting a new front wheel on. No one can give the Ferraris that sort of an advantage, and Larrousse was almost two laps behind when he rejoined.
Craft had another sort of problem in the second Lola, after stopping to have a punctured tyre replaced. When he left the pits he failed to see or stop at the red warning light, and was immediately black-flagged. When he returned to the pit Bonnier remonstrated with officials and Craft was told he had been disqualified. The car was wheeled to the paddock, then another official said it had only been a warning so Craft rejoined the race from the Paddock but ten laps further back.
By a strange coincidence Regazzoni also stopped because of a puncture, losing a lap to Peterson without forfeiting second place. Regazzoni didn’t notice the red light either, but unlike Craft he ignored the black flag for several laps and was not penalised. As if to compensate for this set-back, Larrousse seemed to be in difficulties soon after the 100-lap point, his, lap times increasing to 2 min. 07 sec. The Lola’s clutch was dragging and after a few laps the Hewland transmission broke, so the fine debut was ended and the Ferrari team could relax a little.
With 50 laps remaining Peterson/Schenken were well established in the lead, one lap ahead of Regazzoni/Redman and the two cars were slowing a little on instructions from the pits. Alberti/Facetti were five laps down in third place, now with de Adamich helping with the driving almost a minute ahead of Elford/Marko whose Alfa Romeo “tubolare” was now misfiring badly.
The jinxed Ickx/Andretti Ferrari made a routine fuel stop, and when Andretti pressed the starter button nothing happened. The starter motor bracket had broken, severing the cable, and another 10 laps were lost while it was mended thus putting the car far out of contention.
The three Ferraris closed up for a formation finish, Andretti’s putting out some oily-looking exhaust smoke by now and Peterson’s misfiring at the top end of the rev-range but still it was a fine demonstration of superiority against poorly organised opposition. However it looks as if the Ferrari team will have to watch the Lolas in the future and Autodelta also if the Italian team can return to the efficiency of 1971.
M. L. C.