Nurburgring, Germany, May 19th.
The German club took full advantage of the 22.8 kilometre length of the Nurburgring to accept 113 entries for the 1,000 kilometre race, ranging from factory teams, through professional teams and amateur teams, to virtual beginners at the business of long distance motor racing. What the entry lacked in quality it certainly made up for in quantity, though non-arrivals, crashes, non-qualifiers and mechanical disasters reduced this unwieldy number to a miscellaneous 76 starters, whose practice lap times varied from 8 min. 32.8 sec. to 10 min. 51.7 sec., the slower one’s presence on the track not making it easy for the first dozen cars. The quality of the leading drivers was not sufficiently high to cause them to rush off to their trade union and try to get things stopped or put right, so the numerous works and professional drivers had to accept the challenge that the speed differential presented. The weather did not help either, being variable during practice and the race, from warm sunshine to hail storms, and the casualty list of men and machines after Friday and Saturday practice was quite considerable. Most serious was Irwin who crashed very badly at the Flugplatz in one of the Alan Mann 3-litre Cosworth powered Prototype coupés, wrecking the car and receiving very severe head injuries. The 1968 Alpine-Renault V8 was badly wrecked when Grandsire crashed, Classick put himself in hospital when he crashed the works Chevron-B.M.W., Hedges crashed a Lotus 47, and an Elan and a Porsche 911 were reduced to scrap. It was not until nearly the end of practice, after midday on Saturday, that a bright spell in the weather allowed most people a chance to get in a fast lap and up to this point Ickx had been fastest with a Ford GT40, with 8 min. 37.4 sec., but Stommelen was able to put in a lap well below the Surtees record with a Ferrari which stood at 8 min. 37.0 sec. The works 2.2-litre Porsche got round in 8 min. 32.8 sec., which put it at the head of the line-up on Sunday morning for the 10 a.m. Le Mans start.
The overall competition lay between four works Porsches, one 2½-litre Autodelta Alfa Romeo, they having withdrawn their second 2½-litre car, one Ford (England) 3-litre Prototype, one works Alpine-Renault 3-litre V8, and two Ford GT40 coupés from the Gulf sponsored J.W. Automotive team. The 2-litre class was a battle between Alfa Romeo factory cars and private-owner Porsches, and as usual many of them had a good chance of featuring well in the overall picture. There was a 1,000-1,600 c.c. Prototype class that was incredibly well supported by British club drivers and all manner of special cars, mostly Ford powered, and the 2,000-5,000 c.c. Group 4 sports car class was like a British national meeting, most of the club-racer Ford GT40 owners being in it, as well as the J.W. Automotive team. The 2-litre Group 4 class was another British club race, with a few foreign entries thrown in, and GT classes were dominated by Porsche 911 and Alfa Romeo Giulia entries. Unfortunately the majority of the British club racer cars were either inexperienced at serious racing, unsuitable, slowly driven or outclassed, but they certainly made an impressive Le Mans start for the enormous crowd to witness.
The works Porsche team were not quite so disorganised as they have been in recent races, but though they finished first and second it was not without a certain amount of trouble. The winning car of Siffert/Elford was a new 908 short-tail car, with 3-litre 8-cylinder engine, and had been bothered by fuel injection trouble in practice so that it was in twenty-seventh place on the grid. Siffert did one of the best Le Mans starts ever seen, charged his way through the traffic and was in fourth place at the end of the opening lap, taking the lead on the next lap and holding it for the rest of the forty-four laps, apart from when the car stopped for refuelling. Elford did another superb drive, partnering Siffert and the two of them dominated the race. The second 3-litre Porsche, driven by Mitter/Scarfiotti started off well by leading the opening lap and then holding second place. However, when the brakes were applied the car darted sideways and after a series of pit stops to change brakes, hubs, suspension units, springs, shock-absorbers and just about everything else at the front of the car, it showed no improvement so was finally withdrawn and a broken chassis was suspected. The two 2.2-litre 907 short-tail cars, driven by Herrman/Stommelen and Neerpasch/Buzzeta ran in what used to be considered typical Porsche fashion and backed up very ably the 3-litre car that won. They showed very good fuel consumption and were able to get through the race with fewer pit stops than the 3-litre, so frequently held the first two places. The Neerpasch/Buzzetta car was not driven quite so fast as its sister and lost third place towards three-quarters of the race distance. Alfa Romeo seem to be improving all the time and their lone 2½-litre V8 Tipo 33, driven by Schutz, challenged the 2.2-litre Porsches strongly until the alternator driving belt broke and the battery ran down. After a long pit stop to change the battery and fit a new belt, Lucien Bianchi shared the driving with Schutz and the car ran strongly to finish seventh. The 2-litre Alfa Romeos went extremely well, the two young Italians “Nanni” Galli and Giunti, who are so well matched, dominated the 2-litre class throughout the race, and the second Autodelta car driven by Vaccarella/Schultze would have backed them up strongly had it not been delayed by the tail section of the body coming adrift and having to be patched up and wired together. Their main opposition in the 2-litre class came from privately owned 910 Porsches, the cars of Spoerry/Steinemann, Koch/Lins and Neuhaus/Kelleners putting up a great fight until the first one had a rear wheel bearing seize, which necessitated changing the whole upright and put them right out of the running, the second one had the steering wheel break and the stop to fit a new one dropped them a long way back and then they had to retire when the engine cooked itself. The third 910 ran strongly to finish eighth overall.
The Gulf petrol team should have won the event overall, apart from dominating the Group 4 category, but they made a tactical error on their driver pairings. Normally Ickx and Redman share one of the GT40 Fords, but as Redman had never driven on the full Nurburgring it was decided to put him with Hobbs in the second car and put Hawkins with Ickx. The poor practice conditions did not allow any conclusions to be drawn from lap times, so that Hawkins’ previous Nurburgring knowledge seemed the best bet to pair with Ickx. Throughout the race the two cars ran faultlessly and Ickx was a severe threat to the 3-litre Porsche, but Hawkins could not keep up the pace and the car fell back from its challenging position during his spell of driving. Try as he could, Ickx could not regain all of the lost ground. He kept the second place Porsche team of Herrmann/Stommelen on their toes and the Porsche pit alert all the time, but could not get higher than third place overall. The second Gulf Ford GT40 ran equally well but was hampered by a very poor start by Hobbs which got him hemmed in and baulked by all manner of slow cars during the opening lap. Redman proved very competent at learning the Nurburgring circuit and was lapping within a few seconds of the times ot lckx. If J.W. Automotive had been courageous and left their splendid partnership of Ickx and Redman together they would certainly have been second and might well have won outright.
After the demolition of the 1965 Alpine V8 in practice, the French team were a bit depressed, and though the 1967 car ran like clockwork, it was not competitive, and Larrousse and Depailler never figured strongly in the overall picture. Of the Alan Mann Ford team of 3-litre Coswortb V8 powered cars, the less said the better, and Ford must be thankful that they are treating this season as an experimental year. They are still having problems finding suitable drivers, for it is a car with immense potential and it is pointless giving it to anyone who cannot do it justice, added to which there are continual petrol and tyre contract problems. They settled on Rodriguez/Irwin for one car and Attwood/Gardner for the second one, but after the practice crash they were reduced to the second one only. Attwood started the race, but on the opening lap the retaining clip on the right front brake caliper disappeared and the brake pads fell out! After a very slow lap Attwood got back to the pits and the trouble was rectified. On the second lap the driver’s door came open and twisted itself out of shape and there was a puncture in the right rear tyre. On the third lap he finally got going, but a lap and a half behind the leaders, and though the car ran well for a few laps it finally stopped out on the circuit when the engine died, and that was that.
Of the enormous British club-driver entry some got the results they deserved, others suffered misfortunes„ some were no better than could be expected, some went fast and off into the bushes, some went slow and kept on the road and some went steadily and reliably. The usually reliable Nomad-Ford 1600 of Konig/Lanfranchi suffered an engine blow-up; the immaculate Ginetta G12 of Richard Groves, driven by Moore/Davidson was going splendidly and leading its class for a long time until a petrol leak delayed it and dropped it to third place; the equally well-prepared Chevron-B.M.W. of Tech-Speed driven by Rollinson/Nunn was not fast enough to challenge the better Porsche Carrera Sixes, but nevertheless ran extremely well to finish third in its class. The second car of the team had gone very fast in practice, driven by Chris Craft, up with the Porsches, but in the race Meek put it into a ditch; Bradley’s Porsche Carrera Six led the class for a long time, while Lambert was driving, but then oil from the rear main bearing got on the clutch and slip set in and though they kept going they fell back to fourth place in the class. The Salmon Ford GT40 had crankshaft hearing trouble in practice and a temporary repair was made which lasted the whole race, he and David Piper driving it considerately into third place in their Class. Robin Widdows drove Norinder’s Lola T70-Chevrolet, turning in a very impressive practice time of 9 min. 05.7 sec. without any previous experience of the car or the circuit, but in the race the engine blew up very early on.
While it had not been an exciting 1,000 kilometre race, it had been interesting and there was much to be learnt from it. The Porsche team were greatly improved and back to their former standards, while Alfa Romeo continue to make progress and now seem to have achieved complete reliability, five V8-engined cars starting and five finishing. The Gulf team continue to impress on all sides, but Ford (England) are learning the hard way. The A.D.A.C. once again provided a veritable army of British drivers the opportunity to start learning about serious motor racing, and many went home sadder but wiser, while others went home well satisfied, but they must have all returned somewhat dissatisfied with what passes for a racing circuit in Britain.
D. S. J.