A very wet but interesting race
Spa, Belgium, May 1st.
Taking place as it did, only a week after the Monza 1,000-kilometre race for Prototypes. Sports cars and GT cars, the Belgian event on the magnificent Spa-Francorchamps circuit stretched many of the teams to the limit as regards time and mechanics’ work. In spite of this the entry was pretty good and certainly as interesting as Monza, if not as large.
The Ferrari factory sent only one works P4 coupé, similar to the Monza cars and to be driven by Parkes/Scarfiotti, while they assisted the Belgian Equipe National Belge with their P3/4 model and Maranello Concessionaires’ similar car, these two having 4-litre engines with 4 o.h.c. like the 1966 works cars and ZF gearboxes, 1967 suspension details and 1967 coupé bodywork. They were driven, respectively, by Mairesse/”Beurlys” and Attwood/L. Bianchi, the former car painted yellow and the latter red and blue. The Chaparral team made the journey up from Italy to do battle once more, this time with car 2F001, whereas they had used 2F002 at Monza. Apart from fairings around the struts of the adjustable “wing,” the Spa car was identical in specification to the Monza car, with all-aluminium 7-litre V8 Chevrolet engine, automatic transmission and coupé body with “gull wing” doors, and Spence and Phil Hill were driving again. The Gulf Oil Company’s Ford Mirage team, under the control of David York, were present with a brand-new car with a 5.7-litre Holman & Moody Ford V8 engine which was only completed on the morning of first practice and was to be driven by Ickx/Rees. The 5-litre car that this pair had driven at Monza, until an ignition failure put them out, was being driven by Piper/Thompson, their car being given a rest after the Monza race. Of particular interest were two Mark III Lola T70 coupés, both with Chevrolet V8 engines, in the hands of the new owners, Epstein and de Udy; Hawkins was partnering the former and de Klerk the latter, both cars looking like the works Le Mans car of Surtees, with Aston Martin engine. This car was entered but did not arrive as it was not yet truly race-worthy. Both these private cars were brand new and making their first appearance and the first European appearance of the T70 Lola in Group 6 form. To complete this big-car class of likely winners was the P40 Ford of Sutcliffe, fitted with a roof to its once open cockpit, with Redman as co-driver.
In the 2-litre Group 6 category Porsche entered two 910 coupés, another pair from those run at Monza, to be driven by Hermann/Siffert and Koch/Mitter, the rest of the class being a fairly miscellaneous collection. There were two works Alpine-Renaults, (one with 1,500 c.c. Gordini engine for M. Bianchi/Grandsire and a 1,300 c.c. version for Vinatier/Le Guellec. The Swiss pair Spoerry/Steinemann had their ex-works Porsche Carrera 6 doing its second 1,000-kilometre race within a week, Fitzpatrick lind Eccles had the latter’s Fiat Abarth 1600 coupé, there were two Belgian-driven Alfa Romeo TZ2 coupés and two brand-new English Group 6 cars. One was a Lotus 47 belonging to Chris Barber, to be driven by Hine/Derisley and the other a Ginetta mid-engined coupé with Lotus twin-cam engine driven by owner Harvey and Fox, but neither car had run before arriving in Belgium and suffered from the fact. The Group 4 sports category had a very small entry and even smaller turn-out, there being only three GT40 Fords, the Ford France car of Schlesser/Ligier, the green car of Nelson, with Widdows as co-driver, and the third one driven by Salmon/Oliver. The first two cars had both come up from Monza, doing their second 1,000-kilometre race in succession. In the small sports class Pike/Colin Davis were driving de Udy’s Carrera 6 Porsche, Pon/van Lennap had an orange Carrera 6 from the Racing Team Holland stable, Huber/Peter had a similar car and Schutz/ Neerpasch had the former’s Carrera 6. Also in the class was the 1,150 c.c. Diva-Ford of Alexander/Famayle. There were only two big GT cars, the Ferrari GTB of Vestey/Gasper and a rough-looking cx-works Sunbeam Tiger of Tuerlinckx/Roets. while in the small class there was one 911 S Porsche, two Matra Djet coupés, an Alpine-Renault and the M.G.-”B” of Enever/Poole direct from its reliability run at Monza.
With the first practice on Saturday a lot of drivers were absent, racing at Silverstone, these including Spence, Parkes, Hawkins, Piper and Oliver, but their co-drivers made the most of the time. The Chaparral was particularly suited to the fast Francorchamps circuit and Phil Hill put in some impressively fast motoring. On the high-speed corners the added adhesion on the rear wheels provided by judicious use of the foot pedal controlling the “wing” enabled him to corner at a very high limit, while “trimming” the spoiler for straight-line running got the car up to its maximum down the Masta straight. Previous fastest-ever on the circuit was 3 min. 38 sec. by Surtees in a Grand Prix Ferrari in practice last year, and without much fuss Hill got down to 3 min. 35.6 Sec. or 235.435 k.p.h. (approx. 146 m.p.h.) average for the lap, which is high speed motoring by anyone’s standards. Next fastest was Ickx in the 5.7-litre Ford Mirage with 3 min. 39.5 sec. and these two cars were the only ones to break 3 min. 40 sec. The speed of the Francorchamps circuit can be appreciated by the average speed of the little Ginetta coupé which was being driven slowly round while the new owner broke it in and found his way round the circuit. Having “cruised” round in 5 min. 13.4 sec. just to see if everything was working properly he had averaged just on 100 m.p.h. for the lap! The brand-new Lotus 47 set off to “cruise” round and a rear brake disc broke and scattered itself on the road!
On Sunday the Silverstone drivers arrived and the weather was warm and dry, but the Chaparral did not improve on its previous time, though Ickx took half a second off his best time with the brand-new Mirage, but the 4.7-litre Mirage was 10 seconds slower, behind the works Ferrari, the E.N.B. Ferrari and the Hawkins/Epstein Lola-Chevrolet which was going very well and giving no problems. Rees could not approach the times set up by young Ickx, and was even slower than the second Mirage which posed the team manager a tricky problem. The question of a difference of 15 or 20 seconds a lap between a pair of drivers was also worrying the Belgian Ferrari team and the Lola-Chevrolet, for owner Epstein did not have the experience of Hawkins. The other new Mark III Lola coupé was out of the race as de Udy had accelerated too sharply coming out of la Source hairpin and crashed, damaging the steering as well as knocking the beautiful glass-fibre bodywork about. The Dutch team’s orange Porsche, driven by G. van Lennap, was going very fast down the Burnenville slopes when the tail section of the body blew open and the next moment the car was all over the road and crashed heavily, the Dutch driver being hurt, but not as badly as might have been expected. Pike was following close behind in de Udy’s Porsche and ran into the wayward tail section, but fortunately without serious consequences. The Lotus 47 never did get sorted out and Hine and Derisley gave up the unequal struggle with continual brake problems and withdrew, while the Ginetta coupé was little better off, suffering from clutch slip and over-heating, but it was made ready for the race. The Vestey/Gasper Ferrari GTB was withdrawn when it was found that the chassis was badly cracked, due to the Monza race no doubt, and when race day dawned wet and miserable Udo Schutz decided to take his Carrera 6 home as he could not see any hope of enjoying his day’s racing.
Steady and continuous rain fell all Monday morning and the grey skies showed no sign of breaking and everyone settled in for a wet race, with much attention being given to windscreen wipers, tyres, and water-proofing and Jim Hall instructed his Chaparral drivers to “take it easy” and not use the adjustable spoiler as they had had no experience of racing “on the wing” on wet roads. Since last year a lot of the circuit had been resurfaced and built up with a three-inch ledge at the sides in order to prevent flooding and it was working out very well, even though it meant that drivers had to keep their wheels on the road at all times, and not use the edges of the road for fear of dropping over the ledge.
At 1 p.m. the field of 29 cars was lined up in rows of three-two-three, with Spence (Chaparral) Ickx (Mirage) and Parkes (Ferrari) on the front row, with Mairesse (Ferrari) and Hawkins (Lola) behind them. From the start Ickx shot into the lead with Mairesse right behind him and the two Belgians showed that they were complete masters of their National Circuit of Francorchamps. The Ferrari of Maranello Concessionaires of England, driven by Attwood, stalled just before flag-fall and would not restart, and being in the middle of the grid Attwood wisely left his door open so that those behind could see he was in trouble. When 28 cars had gone he coasted down to the bottom of the Eau Rouge hill and finally got the engine to start and joined the race 2 min. 48 sec. behind the leaders, or more than half a lap down. The race was over 71 laps so all was not lost and Attwood went off determined to make up the lost time. Having a clear but wet road in front of him Ickx set out to build up as much lead as possible, but Mairesse was determined not to let his young compatriot out of his sight and the blue Mirage and the yellow Ferrari soon left everyone behind. Parkes was holding third place, ahead of Spence and Hawkins, while Siffert in the works Porsche 910 was driving brilliantly and staying with the bigger and faster cars. By the end of the second lap Attwood had caught the tail end of the field and was soon going by the slower cars, but he was losing ground to the two Belgian-driven cars out in front, who were lapping at close on 200 k.p.h. (124 m.p.h.) in spite of the pouring rain and the fact that they had already caught up with the slower cars and were lapping them. The surprisingly large crowd, in view of the weather, were enjoying watching their two national heroes, one new and one old, out-driving eveyone else in the bad conditions and though Ickx was leading all the time he could not get away from the tenacious Mairesse. After the dry practice performance of the Chaparral it now seemed disappointing, but Spence was obeying instructions and not driving into the unknown, so that after five laps Hawkins got by in the Lola-Chevrolet and began to press hard on the tail of Parkes in the works Ferrari, the Lola obviously handling extremely well in the wet, confirmation of what Surtees had demonstrated at the Le Mans test week-end. At seven laps Piper was missing with the 4.7-litre Mirage, having slid off the road in a big way just before Malmedy, coming to rest unhurt but well out in the fields and out of the race. At 10 laps the race had settled into a deadlock between the two Belgians a long way ahead of Parkes who seemed to have the dark green Lola of Hawkins behind and on both sides all at the same time, then came Spence in the Chaparral closely followed by Siffert in the 2-litre Porsche. After a long gap came Sutcliffe, all on his own, and the rest, led by Mitter (Porsche 910), had all been lapped. The Ginetta had expired on the fourth lap and the Pike/Davis Porsche went out with water in the ignition, and the Swiss Porsche was having the same trouble. Mauro Bianchi in the 1,500 c.c. Alpine had been going very quickly, ahead of Salmon and Nelson in their GT40 Fords, but it then started a long series of pit-stops with chronic misfiring.
While all was going well with the two leading cars the team managers were far less happy, for both knew that the respective co-drivers could not hope to keep up the pace, and refuelling stops and driver changes were becoming imminent. For David York it must have been a happy reminder of his Vanwall days to see one of his cars out in the lead, but the problem was, for how long. By 20 laps the rain had eased off and in the slightly improved conditions Mairesse made up some ground on the leading Mirage, the race average being 197 k.p.h. The Chaparral was the first to stop for fuel, after 17 laps, and when Phil Hill got in to rejoin the race the engine tired but refused to run. The trouble lay in the battery system and for 9 min. 20 sec. Jim Hall and the mechanics struggled to get the big Chevrolet engine going. It would give a great bellow from its exhausts and then die. When it did get going it was right out of the running, two laps behind, a great disappointment after the fine showing in practice, but a relief to the opposition needless to say. The Lola refuelled and Epstein took over, the leading Porsche did the same and Herrmann went away, Parkes came in with the P4 Ferrari and Scarfiotti took over with full tanks, and still the two Belgian driven cars were going round, obviously much more economical than their rivals. It was 26 laps before the Mirage pulled in for fuel (Gulf petrol, of course) and David York now showed his hand by sending Ickx off again. Next lap Mairesse stopped to refuel the yellow Ferrari and team manager Swaters sent “Beurlys” off in the car. While the Mirage had been at the pits the yellow Ferrari had gone by into the lead and it was still leading when it left after its own pit-stop, but not for long. While “Beurlys” was getting accustomed to the wet conditions Ickx was able to continue at the same pace and he soon took the lead again and just ran right away from his rival. Everyone else had been lapped by the two leading cars and the pit-stops and driver changes had altered the whole picture, the 910 Porsche being third, the works Ferrari fourth, Sutcliffe fifth, the Attwood/Bianchi Ferrari a splendid sixth after its trouble at the start, the Lola of Epstein seventh, the second 910 Porsche eighth, and the Chaparral ninth.
Two hours had now gone by and regulations restricted drivers to a maximum duration without relief of three hours, so the leading Mirage team was going to have to face the moment of replacing the fast Ickx by the slow Rees, knowing that at the same time the E.N.B. would be putting Mairesse back in the yellow Ferrari. The hope was that Ickx would have built up enough lead to counteract the next move and as the third hour of the race approached, the situation became tense. Just before half distance the thirsty Chaparral was in for fuel and this time it restarted properly and Spence went off again, and at 35 laps Ickx was nearly a whole lap ahead of the Belgian Ferrari. At 38 laps the Mirage lapped the yellow car, but the end of the third hour was fast approaching and the Ferrari was first to stop this time, petrol being poured in and Mairesse was in the car and away, just as the Mirage team signalled Ickx to come in. The crafty York now played his master card, for instead of Rees being helmeted and ready to take over, it was Dick Thompson, the second driver for the 4.7-litre Mirage. Piper having crashed the second car early in the race it meant that Thompson had not yet driven, so rules permitted him to act as reserve driver for the leading car and while he was not as fast as Ickx, he was much faster than Rees, so this move was going to cut the handicap by 50%, and he only had to drive for one hour and then Ickx could get back in the car to complete the race. This whole scheme was a fine example of knowing the rule-book and making the most of your team. However, it all proved to be unnecessary for on his very first lap after taking over, Mairesse slid off the wet road and crashed the Ferrari, fortunately without injury and this left the Mirage completely unchallenged. Having had to watch all his earlier efforts dwindle away it was not surprising that Mairesse restarted in a nervous state of mind and made a mistake.
While this tactical drama had been taking place much had been happening elsewhere, the slightly improved conditions had allowed Spence to start using the Chaparral’s aerofoil and he very soon made the fastest lap, at 4 min. 03.5 sec. but hardly had he done this than he came coasting into the pits with the back end dripping in oil and the car was wheeled away with deranged transmission. Hawkins was back in the Lola-Chevrolet and making up time and the works Ferrari had spent a long time at the pits as top gear would not engage properly. The rain started again and Thompson was over a lap in the lead, with the Siffert/Herrmann Porsche second, the Attwood/Bianchi Ferrari third, the Sutcliffe/Redman Ford fourth, the Parkes/Scarfiotti Ferrari fifth, the Hawkins/Epstein Lola sixth, the rest being one or more laps even further behind. The Lola had had to make an unscheduled stop for oil as the pressure was fluctuating, showing signs of low sump level, but was running as well as ever. There was only one Group 4 Ford GT40 running, that of Salmon/Oliver, for the Ford France car had succumbed with a blown head gasket and the Nelson/Widdows car had stopped at Malmedy with a nasty clanking noise, which proved to be the result of a broken piston letting the rod come out through the crankcase side. Among the smaller cars the two TZ2 Alfa Romeos were running like clockwork and running very fast, the Trosch/Pilette car leading all the lesser machinery, the M.G.-“B” was as reliable but not as fast and the Porsche 911 S was faster than both of them but had a very slow co-driver and also had to have its fuel pump changed. It was altogether so erratic that both the Alfa Romeo and the M.G. were ahead of it, the Alfa being a lap ahead of the M.G. Much faster than any of these, while they were running, were the two Alpine-Renaults, but they did not run for long at a time, being plagued with minor mechanical troubles from plug fouling to windscreen wiper breakages. It was a good example of “Tortoise and Hare” and was important for the M.G. as it meant a class win for it.
Providing the Ford Mirage kept going it could not fail to win, and it certainly looked as though it would keep going and on lap 58 it stopped for its final refuel and Ickx took over to cruise round in full command, cruising being a relative term for he was still averaging over 193 k.p.h. (approx. 120 m.p.h.) and it was still raining. Two laps behind him there was a very different story, for Siffert (Porsche 910), Attwood (Ferrari), Parkes (Ferrari) and Hawkins (Lola) were all on the same lap. The English-owned Ferrari P3/4 had run a remarkable race after its bad start, and now with Attwood driving it was in third place and gaining on Siffert. Not for behind them Parkes and Hawkins were at it again, the Ferrari stop with gear-linkage trouble and the Lola stop for oil had evened things out and it was most impressive to see the green Lola coupé pressing hard on the tail of the works Ferrari until it found the opportunity to slip by. Hardly had it done this than it had to stop for fuel and oil, but Hawkins was soon charging along again. The Ferrari was also due in for a final fuel stop and the team manager put Scarfiotti in the car for the last few laps, thinking they were comfortably ahead of the Lola. He had underestimated Hawkins, especially in the pouring rain and the Ferrari lead disappeared visibly. Ahead of these two Attwood had got within sight of Siffert but neither the Porsche team nor the Swiss driver were sleeping and though the gap got down to 9 seconds it got no lower and then began to open up as Attwood realised he could not catch the German car. As the Mirage started its last lap the Porsche and the private Ferrari were one lap behind and the works Ferrari and the Lola were twin laps behind, but Hawkins could see the cloud of spray ahead of him that was Scarfiotti in the P4, and the Lola forged its way by in that final lap to finish a worthy fourth in its first race. It goes without saying that lckx was extremely popular, having driven a very fine race under awful conditions, and Thompson had backed him up well. The mechanics of J. W. Engineering, who built this latest Mirage in a frantic week of round-the-clock working, all felt that marvellous elation you can only get when such an effort results in victor. That it was such a sweeping victory made it all the sweeter. It was not a happy Ferrari team that went back to Maranello, for if they are not battling against Ford, it’s Chaparral, and now it was Ford Mirage and Lola-Chevrolet, but they will be fighting back. – D. S. J.