Le Vingt-Quatre Heures du Mans

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Matra’s Le Mans hat-trick

The claim on the advertising posters that the Le Mans 24-Hour race is “la plus grande ourse du Monde” seemed rather extravagant when the final entry list was published, knowing that the Alfa Romeo team had withdrawn from the race and that the lead would probably be disputed by four Matra-Simcas and two Gulfs, with two turbocharged Porsche 911 Carreras and two Ligier-Maseratis following up, hoping for good placings as the faster prototypes retired. Yet it turned out to be an interesting race with moments of excitement, for by midnight only one matra, that of Henri Pescarolo and Gerard Larrouse, was running strongly; on Sunday morning that car spent an hour in the pits having its gearbox rebuilt, and the turbocharged Porsche driven by Herbert Muller and Gijs van lennep was only one lap behind when the Matra went on its way.

There are jubilant scenes at the finish, for the Matra-Simca team had won the race for the third consecutive time, and Henri Pesearolo achieved his personal hat-trick of victories. It had seemed a foregone conclusion that Matra would win, yet within four hours of the start the team was virtually halved as Jarier collided with another car in the pits lane, and Jabouille’t car was overheating badly. Jaricr and Beltoise were catching up quickly when their engine broke a few minutes before midnight, and almost simultaneously Jaussaud’s car came to the pits silently with another broken engine.

The Gulf team had anticipated transmission trouble and fitted ZF gearboxes instead of Hewland equipment, but it was the constant velocity jointed driveshafts which let the team down. The Schuppan/Wisell car retired On Saturday evening with a broken cv joint, and in the latter half of the race Bell and Hailwood were making long pit stops to have the cv joints on their car greased liberally.They finished fourth, unable to challenge even Jabouille’s overheating Matra.

The Martini/works team had a setback when Koinigg’s car blew up its turbocharged engine dramatically on the Mulsanne Straight during the night, but Muller/van Lennep had a virtually trouble-free run until they lost the use of fifth gear on Sunday morning.

The Grand Touring class, and fifth place overall, went to the Ferrari Daytona of Claude Grander and “Depnic” after the majority of the 14 Porsche Carreras sustained transmission failures of one sort or another, but interest was maintained all the way to the finish as the NART Ferrari Daytona of Dave Heinz/Alain Cudini passed the Cheneviere/ Zbinden Porsche Carrera into sixth place in the closing minutes.

Hopes of a good British finish ran high at the 13-hour mark when Alain de Cadenet’s amateur team lay in third place (the de Otdenet-Ford DFV being driven by Chris Craft and John Nicholson), ahead of the Gulf GR7, but a suspension failure dropped the de Cadenet back and another suspension breakage caused Nicholson to spin and bounce off the armco in front of the pits.—M.L.C.

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