Continental notes, February 1972

Ferrari test track
While Modena and the surrounding districts still remain very much the heart of Italian motor racing, the scene is continually changing. There was a happy time when you could see a customer’s Grand Prix Ferrari being driven from the service depot in town to the Autodromo on the edge of the town for a test-drive, or one of the works team cars coming in from Maranello for a blind round the Autodromo. Sports and GT racing Ferraris in the Modena traffic were a common sight and the factory test driver Sighinolfi was particularly quick along the back roads leading out of town towards Maranello. As the traffic density increased these lovely sights and sounds disappeared and the racing cars were taken to the Autodromo in a transporter, and it was usually worthwhile doubling back if you saw the transporter on its way through town.

If there was any other activity at the Autodromo the Ferrari team would make their base on the far side of the circuit near the side of a huge brick building so that prying eyes could not overlook them. Any Ferrari on test would draw a crowd of enthusiasts, and cars and lorries would pull off the main road alongside the Autodromo wall. By standing on the roof of a lorry you can look over the high wall and often I arrived in Modena on a week-day to see a long line of parked cars and lorries with the roofs of the cabs crowded with spectators looking over the wall. You could almost tell what was on test by the volume of the parking, a Ferrari drawing the maximum. One or two lorries usually meant a Formula Three Tecno or a motorcycle was on test, a handful meant a GT Maserati or a Formula Two was going round, a full-house would guarantee a Grand Prix car or Ferrari prototype sports car.

The latest happening means that this fascinating sidelight on Modena will be no more for Ferrari has built his own private test-track, almost opposite the Maranello factory, so that there will be no more Ferraris on test at the Modena Autodromo. This new test-track is built on a large flat piece of ground on the opposite side of the road to the main factory and a little towards Modena, and it is a sort of squashed figure of eight in shape with a tunnel at the crossing point and it takes the name of Pista di Fiorano. It is 3 km. in length with 14 varied corners, from hairpins to flat-out curves, and the present cars should be able to attain 160 m.p.h. maximum on the main straight. It has been built with the assistance of Shell, Firestone, Marelli and Heuer, and means that all Ferrari testing can now be carried out in secret. A pity, all the fun seems to be going out of the World!

On the other side of Modena one could often see a Maserati GT Ghibli or Indy out on test on the local roads, and occasionally the mid-engined Bora coupé and as likely as not the driver would be Guerrino Bertocchi, who has been test driving Maseratis since the beginning of the firm. Now that sight has gone for Bertocchi has left the Maserati firm, following a certain amount of discontent ever since Citroën bought the Maserati firm for the purposes of the V6 Maserati engine in the SM Citroën. It was never Bertocchi’s idea of a GT car. Modena gets duller every year.

The Grand Prix Drivers’ Association started life as the Union des Pilotes Proffessionelle Internationale, which looked as though it was going to embrace all classes of racing driver. When it was reconstituted as the GPDA it was essentially for those who drove in Grand Prix races, with a few non-Grand Prix drivers being invited to join. This was alright to begin with but as the GPDA began to wield its power and have things altered or banned they were doing things that affected all International drivers and this was not always popular. Over recent years the Association has been mismanaged and badly handled as far as Press relations were concerned, so that the GPDA became a grossly abused body, often misunderstood and unwittingly creating an unfortunate image. One complaint that was often heard was that things were being altered to please a dozen drivers when maybe a hundred or more, to say nothing of a hundred motorcyclists, were being affected. The mismanagement and discontent within their own ranks caused Ickx and Pescarolo to resign and many other drivers to voice complete disinterest in the way the Association was being run and the poor image it was being given by the outside world.

At long last the leading members have done something worthwhile; they have taken on a full-time secretary (and PRO one hopes) and dispensed with their previous part-time secretary, and the new man for the job is none other than Nick Syrett, who has run the BRSCC for many years. Syrett takes over the running of the GPDA from an office in Switzerland on April 1st and one can look forward to an improved connection with the outside world if nothing else. Coupled with this appointment is the announcement that the Association is to be opened to International Drivers from all other forms of motor racing besides Grand Prix racing. Hope springs eternal.

At a recent CSI meeting it was decided to limit the amount of fuel carried by a Grand Prix car and to make a pit-stop obligatory. On the face of it this seems simple enough and is due to come into effect in 1973, but between then and now there are an awful lot of details to be worked out, especially as regards fuel tank filler caps, refuelling systems in the pits, and so on. It would be wise of the Grand Prix teams to have some talks with the Long Distance Race teams, such as JW Automotive (or Gulf Racing Research as it is to be called in future) or the Autodelta team. Ferrari is laughing over this one as he already knows all about refuelling cars in the pits against the stop-watch.

Like the decision to fit rear lamps on Grand Prix cars, I feel this new rule was made rather hastily and there will no doubt be a lot of rethinking in the coming months. The basic motive behind the idea was safety, the feeling being that a Grand Prix car with 45 gallons of petrol on board is more dangerous than one with 25 gallons on board; a false premise to start with as poor Siffert’s accident underlined. A lot of people write about the modern Grand Prix car being a travelling bath of petrol with the driver surrounded by petrol tanks as if it is something new. Racing cars have always been thirsty beasts and have had to carry a disproportionate amount of petrol or alcohol. The pre-war Mercedes-Benz had a huge tank behind the driver and another saddle-shaped tank above the driver’s legs, the two being coupled by large-diameter flexible pipes; the 159 Alfa Romeo had a tail tank and supplementary tanks inside the cockpit, alongside the driver’s knees, while Vanwall and Maserati often fitted extra tanks in the cockpit. I once passengered in a Maserati with an 18-gallon-additional petrol tank on the left of my seat and I used it as an arm-rest. People in racing cars have always been surrounded by petrol, it is an occupational hazard, and the best line of thought to date is the special tank designed by Autodelta which, in effect, has its own fire prevention chemical inside the tank itself. It is not the complete answer, but it is definitely “thinking in the right direction”, which makes a refreshing change in these days of high hysteria.

The other line of thought I like is the one that is trying to design the cockpit as a single unit which will contain the driver in an accident while the kinetic energy of the car is absorbed in ripping off and demolishing all the component parts of the complete car, leaving the cockpit as the last remaining part; this is assuming you are going to have an accident. The best line of research is to prevent an accident starting, either by basic design or driving more carefully.—D. S. J.