Continental Notes, June 1968

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With the tyre manufacturers designing and making wider tread tyres from one race to the next, all in the interests of greater traction and greater cornering power, other problems follow which are not the concern of Dunlop, Firestone or Goodyear engineers. These are purely mechanical problems connected with racing material and equipment. The Alan Mann team settled on the design of the Ford Prototype and then designed a transporter to carry the cars; by the time the coachbuilders had built the body and the loading ramps, Goodyear had designed and made wider back tyres, new wheels had been cast, and when the transporter was delivered the Ford Prototype did not run up the loading ramps as smoothly as intended, the rear tyres being wider than the ramps! B.R.M. suffer a similar trouble, their transporter now being some years old, and a racing car fitted with the widest rear tyres will not fit in the van; so they have to carry some “slave” wheels for transport purposes. Bodywork on cars like the GT40 Ford is continually being altered to cover newer and wider tyres, and so it goes on. The latest problem arose in the Targa Florio on the 907 Porsches, which are built down to very fine limits, for the space in the nose for the spare wheel would not take the widest Dunlop, as used on the rear wheels, and apart from regulations a spare wheel is essential in the Targa Florio. The problem was solved by using an American inflatable-ring tyre on the spare wheel. When uninflated it takes up hardly any more room than the wheel itself, lying loosely in the well of the rim. If needed to be used it can be blown up by means a portable air-bottle and it then becomes a full-size tyre, the only disadvantage being that it blows up with a rounded ribbed section, rather like a motor-cycle tyre, and not the desirable square-shouldered modern racing tyre.

In the Targa Florio Elford had occasion to use this inflatable spare during the race, a small air-bottle being carried along with the jack and whee lbrace. It got him back to the pits, standing up to 160 m.p.h. along the sea-level straight, but he had to be careful on corners, especially those where the temporary tyre was taking all the cornering loads. At the recent F.I.A. meeting in Greece it was decided to combine the requirements of Group 6 and Group 7 cars, that is Sports-Prototypes and Two-Seater Racers, or Can-Am cars as Group 7 have become known. Group 6 Prototypes, as from 1969, will no longer need to carry a spare wheel, but whether anyone will be courageous enough to start the Targa Florio without a spare wheel will remain to be seen.

Other rule alterations are that there will no longer be any need for luggage accommodation, nor will deep windscreens he needed, so that open cars in long-distance racing might well become popular again, but engine limits remain at 3-litres, though the minimum weight has been reduced, allowing Group 6 Prototypes to become more and more like two-seater Grand Prix cars. Who knows, one day we may return to long-distance Grand Prix racing. Another change in rules affects Group 4 Production Sports Cars, which at present have to appear to have been made in a series of 50 cars in order to qualify. As from 1969 the requirement is to be reduced to only 25, but let us hope that the F.I.A. play fair and make sure that 25 have actually been built, and sold, otherwise the dividing line between Group 4 and Group 6 will be so small as to be futile. It is strange how Porsche seldom miss out when it comes to homologation, unlike English manufacturers. Already Porsche have built nearly 20 of their very fast 2-litre 910 model, and sold most of them, so it must be all set to become the first homologated 1969 Group 4 sports car, ready to race at Daytona next year.

* * *

The progress shown this year by the Alfa Romeo Tipo 33 team run by Autodelta on behalf of the Milan firm has been most encouraging, and they are hard at work on a new car to take the 3-litre version of their V8-cylinder engine. The first signs that Alfa Romeo were becoming more ambitious than just racing in the 2-litre category was when they provided Alec Mildren with two 2½-litre V8 engines for use in the Tasman races last winter. Mildren has been the Australian importer for Alfa Romeo for many years and a friend of his of long standing in the Australian motor trade was Frank Gardner. The Alfa Romeo engine was installed in a Brabham chassis and Gardner raced it quite successfully. In England the Cooper Group of companies have trade connections with Alfa Romeo, and they have been supplied with a 2½-litre V8 Alfa Romeo engine and gearbox to install in a new Cooper chassis for Grand Prix racing. Meanwhile, Autodelta ran a 2½-litre V8 engine in one of the Tipo 33 cars in the Targa Florio and it performed quite well, while they hope their new 3-litre sports car will be ready for Le Mans. All this activity into larger capacities and different fields is most interesting, but as yet there is no sign of Alfa Romeo returning to Grand Prix racing on a big scale to try and recapture the glories of the Scuderia Ferrari days of the early nineteen-thirties or the Tipo 158 days of the immediate post-war days.

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It was not so long ago that anyone in Britain who wanted to go motor racing had to buy a foreign car, preferably with foreign mechanics, and the use of French or Italian words in the team’s name all added to the glamour and excitement. We had the Ecurie “this” and the Scuderia “that”, disguising Bert Bloggs’ garage in Balham, but it was all harmless fun and showed an appreciation of superior forces in International motor racing. If you could dress your mechanic in blue overalls, a white cap and dark glasses you were immediately one-up, providing no-one heard his Cockney accent. Gradually the racing superiority pendulum swung and Great Britain became the acknowledged leaders of Grand Prix racing and Colin Chapman thought up the simple title of Team Lotus; a more English-like name would be hard to find. Today, among the amateur racing drivers in Europe, it is fashionable to use the title Racing Team “this” and Racing Team “that”, even though the members may not speak a word of English. From Lugano we have the Piccionia Racing Team, with Italian drivers, there is the Racing Team Holland, with Dutch drivers, the Valvoline Racing Team from Austria, the Caltex Racing Team from Germany, and so on, all paying tribute to the leading country in racing thinking, if not in racing activity. The Ecuries and the Scuderias are fast disappearing, and one wonders which way the pendulum will swing next. Somehow I cannot see the name Racing Team Ferrari ever appearing on the entry lists! When our big manufacturers raced it was under their own name, such as The Sunbeam Motor Company, or Jaguar Cars Ltd., but these days such is the way of big business that racing activity is kept as a separate part of such complex organisations as Owen, Lotus and Brabham. However, we do have the Cooper Car Company and the Ford Motor Company.

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Last month saw the first anniversary of the French Government-backed petrol firm ELF, whose blue and red service stations have covered France, and spread into Belgium and Italy. ELF are backing the racing of Matra-Sports and Matra-International and already have a long list of F.3 and F.2 successes to the credit of their petrol and oil. With Matra forging ahead the ELF concern are making full use of the publicity value of motor racing and Beltoise, Pescarolo and Matra are featured strongly, with the ELF service stations offering you the self-same petrol and oil. Many patriotic French motorists must have switched from Esso or B.P. to ELF petrol, feeling that in doing so they are helping the Matra team to regain French glory in motor racing. In the S. African Grand Prix and the Spanish Grand Prix a blue Matra led the field (we will overlook the British engine and gearbox in our enthusiasm for France!). ELF is a comparatively new name in the motoring world, but around Europe it is becoming very well known.—D. S. J.