Team Gulf do it again
Spa, Belgium, May 26th.
Falling between the gruelling 1,000 Kms. race at the Nurburgring and the projected Le Mans 24 Hours, the annual Grand Prix de Spa meeting was not expected to be too well supported. However, in this season of meagre factory support, only the “works” Autodelta Alfa team stayed away. J. W. Automotive did not repeat their German mistake of splitting the well-balanced team of Ickx and Redman, and they had their normal GT40, while the team put Hawkins and Hobbs together again in a brand new standard (heavy-weight) chassised GT40 fitted with a 5-litre engine.
Porsche brought along four cars and six drivers, and after finding the long-tailed 908 3-litre coupé wandering badly under braking although much quicker between the corners, Elford/Neerpasch and Herrmann/Stommelen were paired in the remaining two short-tailed 908s, with Mitter/Schlesser taking the 2.2-litre 907. Following Irwin’s bad crash at Nurburg, Alan Mann Racing brought along just one of their 3-litre Cosworth V8-powered Ford prototypes for Gardner, and paired him with Spa expert Hubert Hahne for the race. Alpine, having had their latest A220 Gordini V8-engined car wrecked by Grandsire in Germany, appeared with last year’s original A211 3-litre car for Grandsire again (still with a bandaged hand) and Mauro Bianchi, while Matra produced a lengthened version of their type 630 coupé using their new 3-litre V12 engine. This was to be driven by Pescarolo and a young French club driver, Mieusset. Last of the “big” Group 6 prototypes was the Marcos Mantis, being shaken down for Le Mans and powered by a 3-litre type 740 Repco V8 engine. It looked very much a styling exercise, and seemed frail and rather spidery in construction and nobody really seemed too keen on driving it. Eventually Eddie Nelson, whose private GT40 had broken its engine at Nurburg, drove the first and only stint, while constructor Jem Marsh nominated himself as number two.
Many British club-racing prototypes made up the field, together with the quick 2-litre Porsche 910s of Koch/Lins and Spoerry/Steinemann, while a number of Porsche Carrera 6s contested the under 2-litre Group 4 category and a horde of GT40s were running in the over 2-litre Group 4 division. In fact, all the sports and prototype cars were grouped together in plain up-to and over 2-litre classes officially, but the teams themselves knew who they were aiming for, and the club drivers in particular raced against entries in their own unofficial Groups 4 and 6 classes, not taking too much notice of the organising club’s divisions.
In practice the Porsche drivers found the long-tailed car much in need of development, though from its straight line speed promising well for Le Mans. Hawkins and Hobbs found their new GT40 apparently bump-steering on Spa’s frost and patch-spoiled surface and also found the new 5-litre engine down on power. This was therefore replaced by a 4.7-litre unit for the race. Pescarolo returned slightly white-faced from his first run in the Matra V12 prototype, which was suffering a similar lack of stability to the experimental Porsche 908. This car was using the V12 engine used for most of the team’s Formula One testing, and this was changed for a new unit before the race.
But through all this the Alan Mann Ford prototype was being driven more and more quickly by Gardner, and after trailing the Ickx/Redman GT40 and Neerpasch’s Porsche after the first session on Thursday with a time of 3 min. 49.2 sec. to 3 min. 40.7 sec. and 3 min. 44.7 sec. respectively, he lapped much more quickly on Friday and Saturday to finish up with pole position in a time of 3 min. 36.3 sec., 234.674 k.p.h., and 4 sec. clear of Ickx’s blue and orange car which managed 3 min. 40.3 sec. The Belgians Mairesse/”Beurlys” were next up with 3 min. 43.7 sec. in their yellow Ecurie Francorchamps GT40, while the Porsche 908s of Elford/Neerpasch and Herrmann/Stommelen occupied the second row with times of 3 min. 44.7 sec. and 3 min. 45.7 sec. respectively. So even on practice times the field was well spread out, the Ford prototype proved itself the fastest car present by a huge margin and the club drivers taking part found the circuit rather daunting but were enjoying another taste of “real racing” following their Nurburgring experiences.
The practice sessions, apart from Thursday’s, had all been hot and sunny, but Sunday morning saw the steady, totally saturating downpour so characteristic of the Ardennes, setting in over the Spa-Francorchamps circuit. A saloon car race immediately preceded the 1,000 Kms. race during which 14 cars left the road, damaging themselves and their drivers in varying degrees, while Ickx managed to pick his way through it all and win handsomely in a Ford Mustang. After much argument the organisers allowed the long-distance cars an exploratory lap, but it was noticeable how, with the G.P.D.A. absent, there were no hysterical protests about the state of the circuit and suggestions for postponing the event. The drivers just got on with the job in hand and raced.
From the start Ickx, fresh from his saloon car victory, got the power through to the road first, and led away through Eau Rouge and up the hill, leaving the rest of the field to struggle through his spray. Down to Malmedy and along the Masta Straight to Stavelot Ickx drew away from Gardner in the Ford, Elford and Mitter, but this was the Alan Mann car’s first race in the rain, and all the cool air ducting was now funnelling water in everywhere, the Cosworth V8 began to misfire and at the end of that opening lap Ickx plumed by the pits with almost a 40 sec. lead over Elford, then Herrmann and no Gardner. Eventually the red and gold Ford appeared in tenth place at La Source and trundled slowly into its pit where the mechanics set about drying the electrics off. But the rain was still teeming down; it was obvious that the Ford would drown itself again and so Gardner became an ignominious retirement and Hahne did not get a drive. The Matra had stopped with the same trouble at the end of that first lap, and while the mechanics dried out the ignition system, the Alpine team a little farther down the hill were fitting a new wiper to the A211 which had been brought in by Bianchi driving blind. The Marcos had also stopped with wiper trouble and after that first lap all the interesting new Group 6 cars were stationary in the pits, while the J.W. GT40s and the Porsches rushed on through the murk, their electrical systems liberally coated with jelly to keep the water out.
Ickx was drawing away from Elford, Mitter and Herrmann, but just on the way past the Clubhouse and back to La Source at the completion of the third lap Elford’s engine died, the throttle linkage having parted. Luckily, tick-over was sufficient to get the 908 to the hairpin, and from there he rolled downhill into his pit, where the linkage was repaired, and he rejoined, having dropped from second place to twentieth. While he was stationary in his pit, Hawkins made a quick stop with the fifth place GT40, which had lost its complete wiper arm and blade assembly. Another one was handy and was slid back on to the splines and the rather unmanageable GT40 rumbled back into the race.
The Matra mechanics had dried out their car’s electrics and Pescarolo climbed back into the cockpit, but when he flipped the starter switch nothing happened. The starter motor was completely useless and so the tail of the car was jacked up and the saturated mechanics crawled underneath and started to fit a new motor.
By the completion of lap 4 Ickx had a 1 min. 29 sec. lead over Miner in the 2.2-litre Porsche 907, Herrmann was third in his 903 and the German amateur, Karl von Wendt, was going very well in fourth place overall with his Group 4 Carrera Six and was leading the 2-litre section by miles.
The Alpine was under way again after a long stop while the burned-out wiper motor was replaced, and while a spate of wiper troubles struck the club part of the field Nelson made a string of stops with the Marcos-Repco, including one to have a hole cut in the cockpit floor to let the water out. He lost first gear and spun at La Source, bending the nose slightly, before retiring at about half distance. The race had been a development test under race conditions for the car, and the team took it back to Bradford-on-Avon with a long, long job list of “things to be done”.
The private Belgian Team V.D.S. Alfa Romeo T33s were being continually drowned and spluttering their way round between stops for drying-up operations, but otherwise never missed a beat.
By 12 laps Ickx had lapped the entire field but for Mitter and Herrmann, and Elford was tearing back up through the field after his early delay, moving from 20th on lap 3 to 12th on lap 5, eighth on lap 8 and sixth on lap 13.
After 1½ hours’ racing von Wendt made the first scheduled pit stop in his quickly-driven Carrera Six, handing over to Kaussen, and just as he rejoined, Pescarolo tried to start the Matra again; it still would not fire and the blue car was sadly retired. Ickx had lapped Herrmann in third place, and on lap 21 lapped Miner to give himself a clear lap lead for his pit stop. Hawkins was fourth in the wandering GT40, and Elford was up to fifth ahead of Mairesse’s yellow GT40, while Spoerry had got the better of Koch in a similar Porsche 910 after a great battle through the rain and was sixth, ahead of Kaussen.
Mike Salmon, in eighth place in the Strathaven GT40, rolled at Eau Rouge but escaped unhurt, and on lap 25 Ickx stopped the J.W. GT40 briefly for refuelling and to hand over to Redman, who restarted still in the lead. Elford had got by Hawkins into fourth place, and stopped and handed over to Neerpasch; Hobbs took over Hawkins’ car, Stommelen took over Herrmann’s and, last of the major contenders to stop, Mitter brought in the second-place 907 for Schlesser to take over.
Spoerry handed over to Steinemann and Koch to Lins, and on lap 30 Redman was maintaining Ickx’s pace in the slackening rain, leading from Schlesser, Stommelen, Neerpasch, Hobbs, Lins, “Beurlys” (in the Mairesse GT40) and Kaussen.
Schlesser settled down to drive very quickly in his 2.2-litre Porsche, going faster and faster on the wet road to set fastest lap, but the Gulf driver had the situation well in hand.
Redman moved up behind Hobbs on the road on lap 34 and the two blue and orange Gulf cars were closing on the ball of spray that was Neerpasch’s fourth place Porsche 908. Redman lapped both his team-mate and the Porsche, and on lap 36 Redman led over the hill to Burnenville, with Neerpasch trying hard to hold off Hobbs. But at the Malmedy junction the Porsche suddenly snapped sideways and went into a lurid spin, bouncing off banks and markers and injuring poor Neerpasch quite badly.
This moved Hobbs’ car into fourth place ahead of the Koch/Lins Porsche 910—soon to be passed by “Beurlys” in the GT40—while down the field the yellow Bamford M.G.-B GT driven by Brown/Enever was circulating steadily and impressively, although the Group 3 GT class battle had been resolved with the Kelleners/Glemser Porsche 911 leading from the similar Zanders/Werner car. “Beurlys” had a big accident at Blanchimont when his Ford spun into a ditch and hit a saloon car left there from the supporting race, breaking his arm.
Redman completed his stint, having maintained the pace of his fiery co-driver, and Ickx took over for the final stint on lap 46. Hobbs stopped his J.W. car for Hawkins with the oil pressure now falling, and it was all over bar the shouting as the rain stopped and the circuit began to dry slowly. But the leading 2-litre Group 4 car, the von Wendt/Kaussen Carrera Six, went out when the left front wheel bearing collapsed, moving the well-driven Bradley/Lambert fuel-injected car up into the place.
With seven laps to go Hawkins stopped briefly to complain of failing brakes, the pedal going to the floor, but the fluid level was checked, found to be correct, and John Wyer sent him back into the race to finish.
With the circuit still damp and steam rising from the dank trees in Eau Rouge valley as the sun started to come out, Ickx brought his car over the line to win his “home” 1,000 Kilometres race for the second time in two years. The Mitter/Schlesser Porsche 907 was second one lap behind, with the eclipsed 3-litre 908 of Herrmann/Stommelen another lap back. The Germans, Koch/Lins, were first home in the 2-litre Class with their well-prepared and well-driven Porsche 910, while Bradley/Lambert were first of the unofficial Group 4 class to finish with the former’s Carrera Six, von Wendt and Kaussen, who had led for so long, being classified 21st overall.
D. C. N.