31st International Tourist Trophy
In a blaze of late April sunshine the 1966 International T.T., 31st in the series since it began in 1905, was held for the second time at Oulton Park. It must be said at the outset that, although drivers and mechanics worked really hard, it was a comparatively dreary race which caused the car-park exeunt to begin long before the race ended. Indeed, as the event progressed more attentions seemed to be centred on the abundance of feminine fashions than on the track activities, suggesting that perhaps the T.T. is on the way to becoming the Ascot of motor racing.
Entries were rather disappointing, but this was hardly surprising as the Syracuse Grand Prix was taking place the following day. In addition, starting money, as such, was not being paid, a system of extra-award payment being substituted. A sum of money varying from £250 for the leader to £25 for 20th man would be payable according to the positions at 35, 70, 105 and 140 laps, the total equalling well over £7,000. It was therefore possible, by being in the lead at these four stages of the race, for a driver to earn £1,000 in addition to actual prize money; in fact this is what did happen. Official practice took place the day before but there were several untimed sessions on Thursday and it was during one of these that Dick Protheroe crashed his Ferrari 330 and was killed. After practice the list of 25 entries and four reserves was reduced to 21.
The grid was supplemented by a strange car, vaguely resembling a Lola 70, waiting about 30 yards behind the back row with a bearded gentleman at the wheel. The mysterious objects which adorned the front and rear of this car were cine cameras, and the driver Sir John Whitmore. Warner Brothers were using the race as an opportunity for location shots for their film, Day of the Champion, and when the flag dropped off went the camera car in pursuit of the field, actually passing a back marker before pulling off at the end of the first lap. The film features a character called Mike Pierce, played by American Steve McQueen but understudied in the race by Hugh Dibley whose Lola 70 carried Pierce's name, not his own. Whilst ground filming was going on, hovering overhead was a helicopter flown, so it seems, by the same pilot who does the job for Television at the Monaco Grand Prix. The "chopper" repeatedly dropped to below tree-top height and literally chased the field around the circuit, filming as it went and causing more excitement among the crowd than the race itself. We wonder whether this last fact points indirectly at a waning interest in long-distance races for "big bangers." Certainly this year's crowd of 25,000 fell far short of last year's 37,000.
The T.T., the only race in the day's programme, was divided into two parts, each of 70 laps, the winner being he who covered the distance, 393.27 miles, in the shortest time. This was a departure from last year's format when the event was based on time rather than distance, the winner being the driver who completed most laps in two two-hour periods.
From the start, Jack Brabham, in the Ecurie Vitesse Brabham Repco, was first into Old Hall, but was passed later in the first lap by John Coundley's McLaren Elva. By the end of the third lap, two pit stops had already been made, setting the pattern for most of the race. In fact, there was hardly a minute when there was not at least one car having attention in the pits. By this time, too, Dennis Hulme, in Sidney Taylor's Lola 70, had taken the lead, and he soon set about establishing himself in that position. Mike Parkes had retired the Maranello Concessionnaires Ferrari Dino with transmission trouble and Mike Garton spent 5 minutes in the pits having the gear selector sorted on his Lotus 23. Pit stops were so frequent that it would be quite impossible to list them in the space available. Prophet was having overheating troubles in his McLaren and made several stops, finally staying in to have his head gasket replaced. De Klerk's Porsche Carrera Six, easily the noisiest car in the race, seemed to be having trouble in the gear-change department, several throttle blips being apparent on each change-down for Old Hall. It also came in several times for windscreen cleaning.
Shortly after 1 p.m., after clinching £250 for the lead at 35 laps, Hulme came in for oil replenishment, and the amount put in suggested that the 5.9-litre Chevvy engine has quite a thirst for lubricant. This two minute stop put Hugh ("Pierce") Dibley in the lead, but only for four laps, after which Hulme got ahead again, reducing the lap record to 1 min. 37.4 sec. (102.05 m.p.h.) in the process.
By the time the 70-lap mark, end of the first half, had been reached, Hulme had a clear lead, although the positions behind were constantly changed by stop after stop. Brabham had gone in in order to repair an oil leak and had only completed 44 laps, leaving Dibley in second position and Brian Redman third in the Red Rose Motors Lola 70 Chevrolet. During the interval, as was expected, the cars, parked echelon-wise in the pits, were subjected to attention varying from complete strip-down to simply fuel and oil replenishment. Brabham's oil leak was finally repaired, but the trouble was to cause his retirement in the second half. His engine was flown over from Australia a week before the race. Hulme's rear tyres had worn holes in the fibreglass shell with little or no effect on the tyres (Firestone Indy) but the rear offside one was changed as a precautionary measure. Dibley's Lola 70 was re-padded and replugged and a new transistor box fitted to Mac Daghorn's B.R.M. V8-powered Felday 4 which did not run in the first half, having stopped on the circuit with ignition problems and failing to make the start. Peter Gethin's B.M.W.-powered Crossle was simply topped up with fuel and a broken radius rod replaced on Coundley's McLaren. The brake pads of Redman's Lola 70 were replaced and the rear tyres changed. Keith St. John, whose McLaren had its exhaust system break up during the first half, had his seat padding renewed (it was a hot day) and Piper's Ferrari received clutch attention. The Ferrari 275 LM of Alan Rees, who only discovered that he had been entered a matter of days before, had gearbox attention but had to start the second half with no third gear. The box had chosen the very moment of arrival at the pits after the first half to seize up. Peter Sadler's Lotus 30 was re-padded and work was completed on the cylinder head of Prophet's McLaren. The grid for the second half was based on placings in the first, and it was interesting to see three Lolas on the front row, two of them Chevrolet-powered (Hulme's and Redman's) and one (Dibley's) powered by Ford. The pattern which the first half had followed changed very little, except that pit stops became more frequent. Hulme stayed out in front, a one-minute pit stop for oil not affecting his position. Piper stopped near the Water Tower with a broken throttle cable but came into the pits to have it changed. Redman had a transmission mishap and retired. Peter Gethin, sharing the driving of the Crossle B.M.W. with Derek Bennett, came in with a leak from the oil cooler causing inefficient braking and the combined oil/water radiator was changed. Dibley retired his Lola (much to the disgust of Warner Bros., we imagine) with oil everywhere except where it should be, and Rees' gearbox trouble became worse, only 4th being available. HuIrne made a second stop for oil in his 52nd lap, and Sadler brought the Lotus in with a slipping. clutch, only to go out again circulating very gently to qualify for his "place" money.
A hard, tough, demanding race for every member of every team, but after the 1966 T.T. there are lots of people who are going to ask, "Is it worth it ?"-G.P.