Arnoux ahead on points in the Martini Renault
After six rounds in what is undoubtedly the toughest European Formula Two Championship of the last five years, the French are once again emerging as the front runners and, having scored maximum points in three races, Rene Arnoux has edged ahead in the points. The former Formule Renault and Super Renault Champion of France, having his second season in one of Tico Martini’s French-built chassis, has won two races outright—Silverstone and Pau —and had scooped nine more points by finishing second to a graded driver at Hockenheim. However, Eddie Cheever, having finished runner-up to the same graded driver at the Nurburgring race, has also taken maximum points that had helped him into second place in the standings. Arnoux’s Renault V6-engined Martini is on 30 points and Cheever, in a Ralt chassis fitted with a works BMW engine, has 19 points. Backing up Arnoux in third place in the points is Frenchman Didier Pironi and he earned 16 points after some fine showings.
However, just as interesting as the fight for the European Drivers’ Championship has been the running battle between the various chassis and engine manufacturers. The works March development chassis, under the direct supervision of Robin Herd this year, has won three of the first six races while the Elf-backed Martini has won only two. But, March had put Jochen Mass in their 772P chassis for the two German races and the McLaren Formula One driver was not eligible for points in the championship. Therefore, both Arnoux and Cheever had benefited. The other race, the BARC Thruxton meeting was won by the John Clarke-designed Boxer chassis built by Brian Lewis and driven by Britain’s Brian Henton.
On the engine front the battle is even hotter. Three manufacturers are disputing the honours in this, the second year in which all-out 2-litre racing engines have been permitted into the Championship, and the competition was still wide open. After the sixth race the production-based factory BMW engines from Munich had scored three outright wins while the Renault-Gordini V6 had won twice; and Britain’s Brian Hart had notched up his very first Formula Two win with his 420R engine at Thruxton.
The 2002-derived BMW engine, which was rather overshadowed in the Championship by the Renault onslaught last year, also edged slightly ahead in other areas. In practice, BMW-engined cars have been fastest overall on four occasions, while the Renault claimed pole position only once—in Michel Leclere’s Kauhsen chassis at Silverstone. Hart’s engine powered a pole position car for the first time when Patrick Tambay’s Chevron took fastest practice time at Pau. The BMW engine also took fastest lap in four of the six races while Renault and Hart scored one fastest lap apiece. So, although the French look like dominating the Championship yet again, it is by no means certain that they will win. They are looking anxiously for their fifth straight European title but, the way the opposition is already shaping up they are going to be pressed hard all the way. Arnoux and Pironi may have approached mid-season in a strong position but the opposition are gathering strength and Cheever, Riccardo Patrese and Bruno Giacomelli all look poised to cause an upset.
Our early season review, published in the May issue of Motor Sport, covered the first three races of the year at Silverstone and Thruxton in Britain, and Hockenheim in Germany. The three rounds in May saw the teams dashing from races at the Nurburgring in Germany, to the Vallelunga Autodrome near Rome and then to the classic round-the-houses road race at Pau in southern France.
The Nurburgring race at the start of the month only fell to the works March driven by Mass after the German shook off a stiff challenge from both Patrese and Cheever. In practice it was Patrese in the Trivellato Chevron-BMW that snatched pole position in spite of crashing midway through the second session. The Italian was 1.4 sec. faster than a surprised Mass and proceeded to lead the local hero round the daunting North Circuit for over a lap. But then the young challenger made his second mistake and slid off, leaving Mass to take his second Formula Two victory in a fortnight. Eddie Cheever started right back on the seventh row after a troubled practice but stormed through the field and was lying second as they completed the second lap. The 19-year-old American then kept his RaIt-BMW within a few seconds of Mass’ car for the remaining laps, content to take full championship points. Clay Regazzoni was Cheever’s team-mate for the race, driving another of Ron Dennis’ RaIts, and the Swiss held third place until the halfway point when the gearbox broke. In practice Regazzoni had been fifth fastest behind Patrese, Mass, Giacomelli in a Euroraoing March-Hart, and Pironi’s Martini. After Regazzoni retired from the 9-lap race it was left for the Finn Keijo Rosberg to sweep through into third place in his Chevron-Hart, Pironi was fourth and then came Arnoux and Giacomelli. Fastest lap fell to Mass in 7 mm. 20.3 sec., although that was rather overshadowed by Patrese’s superb 7 min. 15.3 sec, in practice!
The race in Rome a fortnight later saw the works March entrusted to Giacomelli. The Italian having been rescued from the troubled AFMP Eurracing team has signed a two-year contract to drive for the works Giacomelli put the car firmly on pole position in the first practice session and then repeated Patrese’s trick—he crashed! The March mechanics worked all through Saturday night to rebuild the car and on Sunday it led the 60-lap race from flag to flag. Arnoux chased hard in the opening laps with Patrese also joining the hunt until the two pursuers ran over debris on the track. Arnoux split an oil radiator and retired and Patrese punctured a tyre. It was left for Pironi to catch and pass Cheever to take second while behind Cheever came the consistent Italians Alessandro Pesenti-Rossi and Alberto Colombo in their March-BMWs.
The most recent race, at Pau, ended in farce after a flash thunderstorm washed out the race. The French organisers were rather slow in putting out a red flag to stop the race and as a result the cars that were eventually placed second and third—Pironi’s Martini and Patrese’s Chevron—ended up in a pile of wreckage, along with three other cars at the tight Station hairpin. Drivers found their cars skating straight ahead out of control on slick tyres at the corner which follows the only fifth gear straight on the circuit.
Up until then it had been a superb race. Patrick Tambay was on pole position in the British Ardmore team’s Chervon-Hart only to stall at the start and be rammed from behind by several other cars including Cheever’s Ralt. Arnoux went straight into the lead from the outside of the front row and in the early stages was holding a slender advantage over Giacomelli in the March and Jacques Laffite in one of Fred Open’s Chevron-Harts. A coming together between Giacomelli and Laffite delayed both cars and left Patrese lying second ahead of Pironi.
Just before the rainstorm Pironi had caught and passed the Italian and was closing on his team-mate Arnoux. The sudden stop on lap 59 of the scheduled 73-lap event ended any chance of the fast-improving Pironi challenging the experienced Arnoux but it did ensure the first 1-2 finish for Two Martini’s cars. Fastest lap went to Pironi so there could soon be some intense rivalry within the ranks of the top team. – MT.
European Championship positions after six rounds:
1st: Rene Arnoux (Martini-Renault MK22) . . . 30 pts.
2nd: Eddie Cheever (Ralt-BMW RT1) . . . 19 pts.
3rd: Didier Pirom (Martini-Renault MK22) . . . 16 pts.
4th: Riccardo Patrese (Chevron-BMW B40) . . . 13 pts.
= 5th: Brian ficnton (Boxer-Hart PR276)
Alberto Colombo ?-.March-BMW 772) . . . 12 pts.
7th: Bruno Giacomelli (March-BMW 772P and March-Hart 772) . . . 11 pts.
= 8th: Keijo Kosberg (Chevron-Hart B40)
Alessandro Pesenti-Rossi (March-BMW 772) . . . 7 pts.
10th: Ray Matlock (Chevrun-Hart 1340) . . . 6 pts.
Jochen Mass driving the works March-BMW 772P won the Hockenheim and Nurburgring races but as a graded driver does not score points in the European Championship. Seventeen drivers had scored points after six rounds and there were eight events remaining to be run.
Remammg rounds in the 1977 European Driver’s Championship for Formula Two cars are: June 19, Mugello Autodrome (Italy); June 26, Rouen-les-Essarts (France); July 10, Nogaro (France); July 14, Enna Pergusa (Sicily); September 4, Zolder (Belgium); September 18, Salzburgring (Austria); October 2, Estoril Autudrome (Portugal); October 30, Donington (Great Britain). (Colour pictures appear overleaf.)