As the heavy fuel load lightened I drove the Matra quicker and quicker, until I broke the lap record. I know I passed both Ronnie Peterson and Francois Cevert on the same lap. They were going for fourth and fifth, and at the end of the race I was only four seconds behind Emerson, and Jackie’s Tyrrell was just over 30 seconds further up the road. I think I made up a minute or so on Jackie. Mind you, he would have backed off once I had disappeared into the pits.
Funnily enough, the engine we used in that race was actually a spare sportscar engine. They were essentially the same, but the F1 engines used titanium con-rods which suffered a problem from thermal expansion differences with steel, and we’d blown up so many of the F1-specification engines we’d virtually run out
At Le Mans the previous weekend, Jean-Pierre Beltoise and I were driving together. He drove it in qualifying and said “it doesn’t feel as smooth as it should; why don’t we change the engine?” Ducarouge said “we’re so short we need sportscar engines for F1; let’s leave it in.” I said to Beltoise “if we’re not going to finish let’s get this over with early” and the thing threw a rod on the first lap… When he eventually got back to the pits I said “well, that was pretty bloody early…” The engine I used at Clermont was the engine that would have gone into the sportscar at Le Mans.
Blast off for Amon from the France ’72 grid
Manou Zurini / DPPI
The interesting thing was that the Matras suffered very badly from oil scavenging problems, so a lot of the horsepower on the bench never actually made it as far as the chassis. But the sportscars had three-ring pistons instead of two, and had less blow-by and less crankcase pressurisation than the F1 engines, so although it would appear to be down on power on the bench it probably gave more power in the chassis.
So I got pole position at Clermont and then set fastest lap using nothing more than a spare sportscar engine. Afterwards we went back to using the F1 engines – and broke some more!