There are some motor races that remain enthralling from start to finish, others that, while not particularly memorable, at least sustain interest for most of the distance, and yet others that are simply boring. The Coppa Florio, run over 1,003km. of the Lake Pergusa circuit near Enna in Sicily on May 18th, was one of the latter sort. The circuit is dull, the entry was poor in the extreme, with only 16 starters including just five 3-litre prototypes, and to make matters worse the weather was stiflingly hot.
Unworthy of its status as a round in the World Championship for Makes, the event was more of a five-hour demonstration run for the two semi-works Alfa Romeo 33TT12s than a proper race. The two Alfas, entered as usual by Willi Kauhsen but with a lot of unofficial factory support behind the scenes, totally dominated practice, the car of Arturo Merzario and Jochen Mass taking pole with its sister car, driven by Derek Bell and Henri Pescarolo, beside it on the grid. In the race the Italian cars were never headed, switching places as their refuelling stops overlapped but always well clear of the opposition. Apart from a minor problem with overheating, their winning run was incident-free until Mass came into the pits to complain of a loose wheel after four hours. The Bell/Pescarolo car then lost a couple of minutes when the alternator belt broke, however, so that at the finish Merzario and Mass were a full lap ahead of their teammates.
The turbocharged 2.1-litre Porsche 908/4 of Reinhold Joest and Mario Casoni came third no less than 70 miles behind, having lost 25 minutes in the pits around half-way while its turbocharger was rebuilt. The conventionally aspirated 3-litre Porsche 908/3 of Barth and Kraus would have taken the place had not a half-shaft sheared during the final hour. The only other big Gp. 5, the turbocharged Porsche 908/4 of Herbert Mueller and Leo Kinnunen, had pulled into the pits at the end of the warm up lap and lost 24 laps with booster trouble before it even started.
The 2-litre prototype class proved a complete disaster. The Alpine Renault A441 of Lella Lombardi and Marie-Claude Beaumont failed to make the grid after its rear suspension had collapsed no fewer than three times during practice, while the KVG Chevron B31 of Ian Grob and John Hine finished but was not classified after a couple of suspension smashing spins in the chicanes. The class therefore went to the badly misfiring Chevron-FVC B31 driven by Giancarlo Gagliardi and “Bramen”.
Enna 1,000 Kms.
Both the entry and the subsequent race over 1,000 km. of the incomparable Nurbrugring a fortnight later, were, in contrast, excellent, easily the best we have seen this year in the World Championship for Makes. For the first time this season we saw three Alfa Romeos, Jody Scheckter joining Mass, Jacques Laffite returning to partner Merzario, and Bell and Pescarolo staying together in the other car. Opposing them, again for the first time, were both of Georg Loos’ DFV-powered Gulf GR7s. with John Watson and Tom Pryce in one car, and Howden Ganley, making his return to international racing after his accident at the Ring last August, in the other with Tim Schenken. Gerard Larrousse and Jean-Pierre Jabouille were back with their turbocharged Alpine, and all the usual Porsches were present too.
Jabouille set fastest practice lap with a new version of the Alpine, its turbo system modified to reduce throttle lag, and his partner Larrousse took the car into an immediate lead at the start. Pescarolo chased him hard for half a lap before crashing his Alfa on a damp patch of road, but on the long Tiergarten Straight Mass slipstreamed past to lead at the end of the first lap. For a couple more tours Mass extended his advantage, but then Larrousse retaliated and retook the lead at North Curve as they entered lap six. Watson, Merzario and Schenken were meanwhile disputing third, fourth and fifth positions, reshuffling frequently, whilst Joest’s Porsche was an early casualty with engine failure.
The Mass/Scheckter car kept hard on the Alpine’s heels until a locking brake delayed it during the second round of petrol stops. This left the French car way ahead, but around half-distance a cooling pipe to the turbo unit fractured, and as the Alpine lost power it slipped backwards into the clutches of Lafitte, whose Alfa was now second. When both these cars “pitted” together after 26 of the 44 laps Schenken’s Mirage caught right up, capturing the lead next time round. Watson went off the road in the second Mirage, while the Alpine fell out of contention with a long stop to replace the splintered tube. When Schenken came in to hand over to Ganley, the Mass/Schekter Alfa moved to the fore once again, but it was fast running out of brakes and on lap 36 Ganley rushed back into the lead. Replacing the pads on that Alfa took an agonising 15 minutes, costing them all chance of a win, so that the race was now a straight fight between Ganley/Schenken and Merzario/Laffite. For five more laps the Mirage stayed ahead by approximately 20 sec., but the Alfa Romeo had already made its last fuel stop, and when Ganley pitted for the last time three laps from home Laffite inevitably went past to win, his eventual margin being 39.9 sec. Mueller and Kinnunen came an undramatic third in their turbo Porsche, while Larrousse and Jabouille salvaged fourth.
The 2-litre class fell to Englishmen John Lepp and Dave Morgan in the works March-Hart 75S, a tremendous performance after losing many minutes with a serious petrol leak. However, their success came only after both of the English-built, German-entered, BMW-engined TOJs of Paul Keller and Jorg Obermoser had broken driveshafts, Martin Raymond’s brand new Chevron B31 had retired with a bad oil leak from the engine, and Ian Grob’s similar car had snapped its throttle linkage out on the circuit when leading its class by miles. –J.C.T.
Nurburgring 1,000 Kms.