1974 Belgian at Nivelles by Gerard Larrousse
How did a driver in the middle of a successful season of sportscar racing with Matra end up making a one-off grand prix start?
I don’t really remember, but I think I wanted to say that I had done one grand prix in my life. Elf and Gruyere Switzerland, a cheese maker, bought a ride for me from a Swiss guy called Jörg Dubler, who was running the Team Bretscher Brabham owned by Martino Finotto.
Why that particular drive?
I can’t think why we went to that team, except that I had a lot of connections in Switzerland. It wasn’t expensive, though, something like FF80,000 [£6,800] as I remember.
Had you ever raced a single-seater beforehand?
I’d contested a handful of Formule France races back in 1968 when I switched over from rallying. I did four races and won one at Albi, but that was it.
Did you get to test the Brabham BT42 beforehand?
Not at all. The first time I saw it was when it turned up at Nivelles on the back of an open trailer pulled by a little truck. There were just two mechanics and I brought along a couple of guys from my own team, Equipe Switerzland Archambaud, which was running Alpine-Renault two-litre sportscars that year.
Was it a straightforward transition from a Matra MS670C sports-prototype?
The BT42 was really easy to drive, but I had to set it up on my own. Unfortunately, we didn’t get any help from the works Brabham team.
You qualified 28th and ran well early on in the race. Were you happy with your performance?
My big concern was to get some good tyres. We were on Goodyears and I kept asking my good friend Leo Mehl for the ‘right’ rubber. What we had for qualifying wasn’t the best, but just before the race he gave me another set. I remember making a good start and running ahead of two of the works Brabhams [Rildcy von Opel and Teddy Pilette]. It was going well for a while, but then I started having problems with the tyres. After two-thirds of the race they were finished and I had to retire. I’ve always suspected that Leo gave me qualifying tyres.
Why didn’t you change tyres and continue?
We didn’t have any more to switch to, and besides, we didn’t have the necessary equipment to change the wheels quickly.
What is your overriding memory of that weekend?I saw Clay Regazzoni the other week and he reminded me that I had held him up at one point I told him that! didn’t do it on purpose. That’s his memory, but mine is being near the back of the grid and staring at a wall of tyres. I was so low in the car and Fl tyres were so big in those days.
What happened when you tried to qualify the car for the French Grand Prix?
The car was a disaster at Dijon and then the engine blew, so it was impossible to qualify. I never had an intention to carry on in Fl, but that weekend at Nivelles is one of the best souvenirs of my career.