Hezemans Darts to victory
Silverstone, June 5th.
Two-litre sports-car racing at its very best came to Britain early in June when the Aston Martin Owners' Club ran their major meeting of the year, the Martini Trophy, around the European 2-litre Sports-Car Championship. The two-part Martini race itself was the third round of the series, which was instigated last year, and the first ever to be held in Britain. Being in a very similar vein to Formula Two it provided exciting and fast racing and, as so often the case in F2, it was one of the very experienced drivers who came out the winner at the end of 80 laps. That man was the Dutch Autodelta driver Toine Hezemans, co-opted to the Dobbie Automobile Racing Team as No. 2 driver to John Miles, as regular man Graham Birrell had broken his wrist. Hezemans in the DART Chevron B19 did not have it all his own way for in the second leg he was well and truly beaten by March F1 driver Ronnie Peterson, who had taken over Jo Bonnier's Ecurie Bonnier Lola T212 at the very last moment. Third was British amateur driver John Lepp, who drove a heady race in the Central Garages (Mirfield) Chevron B19.
The entry for this important race was largely comprised of Lola T212s and Chevron B19s with a few virtually one-off specials and older Chevrons completing the 33-car field. Opposition was expected from two works Abarths for Tino Brambilla and Arturo Merzario, but due to strikes in Italy the cars failed to arrive, which was rather disappointing.
Fastest in practice was Vic Elford driving one of Bonnier's two Filipinetti Lolas with a time of 1 min. 25.6 sec., a full second under the record set by Chris Craft during the exciting sports-car race at the International Trophy meeting. Fractionally slower was John Miles in his DART Chevron at 1 min. 25.8 sec., while a similar time was recorded by John Hine in the Chevron B19 entered by Red Rose Racing. At 1 min. 26.0-sec. was Craft in the works Chevron. On row two was Hezemans in the second DART Chevron, John Burton's similar car entered by the Worcestershire Racing Association and Gerard Larrousse in a Chevron B19 entered by Jo Siffert. Elford and Larrousse both drive the Martini Porsche 917s and so does Dr. Helmut Marko, who put his Karl von Wendt-entered Lola at the head on row three, although John Lepp recorded a similar time. The fastest non-Lola T212 or Chevron B19 was Alan Rollinson driving a Daren with a Lotus LV240 engine, which was 15th fastest at 1 min. 30.0 sec.
The Group 5 categories were comprised mainly of Chevron B16s with a few older B8s sprinkled in, and Northerner Brian Robinson, Scotsman Andy Fletcher and Londoner Adrian Wilkins were all evenly matched in their B16s.
Very much the dark horse was Ronnie Peterson, who originally had been entered in a third Filipinetti Lola T212 but, for a combination of reasons, found himself without a run. However, Jo Bonnier in the second Filipinetti car, having recorded a third-row grid position, decided to non-start on race morning due to a domestic problem and handed the drive over to his fellow-Swede. As Peterson had not practised he was obliged to start on the back of the grid with a penalty of 10 seconds.
The early laps of the first heat were just like a Formula Three race with no less than 10 cars all hurtling round in a tight bunch. At the head it was Elford followed by Mile, Hine, Burton, Larrousse, Craft, Hezemans, Marko, Ed Swart in the Cannon Cameras Chevron B19, and Lepp. It was all tremendously stirring stuff for these 250-b.h.p. two-seater racing cars make an impressive sight and the high speeds of Silverstone add further to the spectacle.
Obviously these top 10 were not going to run nose-to-tail for the full distance and there would be some casualties. Things really started to happen at quarter-distance when the Gropa (a modified Chevron) of George Whitehead pulled into the pits and shed its starter motor on the way, leaving it right on the racing line at Woodcote. Leader Elford clobbered it a mighty blow as he came round, and it then bounced into John Miles's car. While the pack were all braking to avoid this wayward piece of Lucas equipment John Burton, the amateur driver from Worcestershire, took the chance of snatching the lead with Hine following. Hine, however, spun at the next corner. So it was the orange Chevron B19 of Burton in the lead followed by Elford, Miles, Hezemans, Larrousse and the rest of the pack.
Burton had gained quite an advantage but unfortunately his luck was not to last for on lap 17 he had the misfortune to hit a hare which chanced its luck against the racing cars. At the end of that lap he came in with the radiator punctured. This was, in fact, changed but by then he was many laps behind.
Craft was now in front in the works Chevron with the canny Hezemans in pursuit with Elford third, although his car was now handling badly following the contact with the wayward starter. Marko lay fourth, although his engine was ailing due to a cracked cylinder head, while Larrousse in fifth spot was in similar trouble. Miles was also out of the running following his starter motor bump and the bodywork and radiator was being patched up, which took some five laps. Ronnie Peterson had been driving hard to catch up but a spin had dropped him back down the field again, from which he soon started to recover.
At three-quarters distance it was still Craft, hut with Hezemans really piling on the pressure, and the works Chevron driver lost it at Stowe on lap 30 and side-swiped another car and by the time he had collected it all he had dropped to fourth behind Hezemans, Elford and Marko. Lepp was running fifth some way behind now with Swart and Peterson the next two up.
From then on the Autodelta driver had it all his own way, although Elford's car expired five laps from the end, a legacy of the starter motor incident, and Craft, who was suffering from a brake problem, hit a back-marker with only a lap to go and was out of the race.
So surviving from that original 10-car tow to win was Hezemans from Marko, Lepp and Peterson, who had passed Swart near the end. John Bridges in his Red Rose Chevron B19 was sixth followed by Guy Edwards' Philips Autoradio Lola, which had spun on the first corner and lost a lot of time, and the Chevron B16s of Fletcher, Robinson, Wilkins and Ken Walker. First non-Chevron or Lola on the road was Peter Hanson in the one-off Taydec as gearbox trouble had lost Rollinson a lot of laps.
Heat two was not quite as exciting for, though Miles's car was repaired, Marko's engine was cooked and he non-started, while mechanics, including Chevron designer/managing director Derek Bennett, slaved furiously to repair Craft's car. They just made it with about a minute to spare only to have some petty officious idiot stop Craft coming out of the marshalling area to join the grid at the back. Peterson was also late out and had to start from the back of the grid. But he was undoubtedly the man of heat two, although to win overall he would have to finish some 30 seconds ahead of Hezemans. In fact, the Dutch driver led the first three laps, was passed by the flying Peterson, but then re-took the lead. The battle continued for several laps, but on lap 12 Peterson was back ahead and from then on Hezemans was happy just to hold second place secure in the knowledge it would bring him victory overall.
By half-distance Peterson was beginning to pull away from Hezemans. Up into third place had moved John Miles in the other DART car, while Edwards in the Philips Lola was going well in fourth spot but chased hard by Terry Croker's private Lola, which had missed the first half of the event as his transporter had broken down on the way to the circuit. Lepp was a handy sixth ahead of Bridges, Bamford and Hanson in the Taydec.
So the race ran out with Peterson coming home to a fine 10-second victory, while Miles slipped ahead of team-mate Hezemans in the closing stages, although the Dutchman knew he still had overall victory very much in his pocket. Croker finished fourth ahead of Edwards and the rest headed by Lepp were lapped. Bridges took seventh ahead of former F3 man Hanson, Bamford, Rollinson and the dicing Chevron B16s led once again by Fletcher.
So overall it was Hezemans with a 17-second advantage over Peterson. A lap behind Lepp notched up a good third place ahead of Edwards. Bridges was classified fifth in front of Hanson, the Chevron B16s of Fletcher and Wilkins with Miles' excellent second heat taking him to ninth place. Completing the top 10 was Peter Gaydon, who plugged on with the underpowered Martin BM7 which, unlike all the aforementioned cars, had a smaller 1,600-c.c. FVA Cosworth engine rather than the 1,800-c.c. FVC engine.
Altogether it was a most entertaining race which warmed up a very cold afternoon, although the only pity was that Ronnie Peterson did not have a little more prior warning about his drive, for previously his only experience in the little Lola this year had been in the Argentine back in January.
The rest of the programme brought together the Formula Three brigade with a round of the championship for the Motor Sport Trophy, a qualifying round of the British Touring Car Championship, and the very first round of the JCB Excavators' Championship for Historic racing and sports cars.
The Formula Three event, which provided Gold Leaf driver Dave Walker with his fourth consecutive win, is reported elsewhere as is the JCB race. There is a lot of controversy at present about saloon car racing and it certainly lacks the fun and excitement of six or seven years ago now that racing technology has enabled the machines to corner on rails. The race was dominated by Chevrolet Camaros, which took the first three places. Frank Gardner, who for two seasons did great things behind the wheel of a Boss Mustang, recently did a deal to drive a Camaro for the firm of SCA Freight and in this, his second race in the car, put fellow Australian Brian Muir firmly in his place with a good win.
Muir, who drives a Camaro sponsored by Wiggins Teape, the paper people, has been having it his own way until this meeting. Just snatching third place was another Camaro, driven by Martin Thomas, which was displaying the advertising of Ovaltine. He just beat the 1,300-1,600-c.c. class winner John Fitzpatrick in the Broadspeed Escort BDA. All the rest were lapped and Dave Matthews gave Broadspeed a second class win in the 1,000-1,300-c.c. class with his Escort GT, while John Turner's Imp won the baby class after Bill McGovern holed an oil radiator on his similar car.—A. R. M.