Team Gulf win another race
Monza, Italy, April 25th.
The Automobile Club of Milan received an impressive entry of 75 cars for the 1,000-kilometre race over 100 laps of the combined Monza road circuit and banked track, with speeds on the concrete bankings being kept down by chicanes at the start of each banking which brought the cars down to first gear. After the ravages of two afternoons of practice, strict qualifying speeds and numerous non-arrivals, there were only 35 cars lined up at the start. Among the entries that failed to appear at all were the Howmet TX turbine car, various privately-owned Porsche 910 models and Porsche 906 models, the three Autodelta Alfa Romeo 33 cars, a row of Chevrons, various one-off English entries, three Lola-Chevrolets, and some private Italian entries. The Porsche factory team were out in force with Stommelen/Neerpasch in a long-tailed 907 with 8-cylinder 2.2-litre engine, Siffert/Herrmann and Scarfiotti/Mitter in two long-tailed 908 cars with 8-cylinder 3-litre engines, and Killy/Guichet with a 911T in the Gran Turismo class. The Gulf Petrol-sponsored J.W. Automotive team had two GT40 Fords, with Gurney-Weslake heads for Ickx/Redman and Hawkins/Hobbs and the Alpine Renault team were an interesting challenge with two 3-litre V8 Gordini-engined cars, Depailler/de Cortanze with the 1967 prototype car and Mauro Bianchi/Grandsire with the brand new car which appeared briefly at the Le Mans test weekend. The rest of the runners were private teams, with Pon/van Leaner, in a new Porsche 910 replacing the one wrecked at Brands Hatch when a steering arm broke, Bradley’s similar car with Elford as co-driver, Koch/Line, Wicky/Hanrioud and Nicodemi/Facetti also in 910 Porsches. The Swiss Hart Ski team were put out of the race when Spoerry crashed their newly-acquired 907 Porsche during the first practice. The Belgian V.D.S. team who have previously raced Alfa Romeo’s GTZ coupés were running two Alfa Romeo 33 Group 6 prototypes of the latest pattern, with rear-mounted radiators, and Autodelta assistance, and besides the two blue and orange Team Gulf GT40 Fords there were Salmon/Piper with the pale green Strathaven car, Mairesse/”Beurlys” with a brand new yellow one, Nelson and Epstein with the former’s dark green car, and Drury/Sanger and Raeburn/Schenken with similar cars.
Even on paper the race was clearly going to be between the works Porsche team and the two Gulf-sponsored Fords, with the V8 Alpine Renaults an unknown quantity and the better prepared and faster driven private Fords and private Porsches following on, ready to move up should the leaders have trouble. Practice was held in the afternoons of Tuesday and Wednesday, the race being on Thursday, April 25th, an Italian public holiday, and, apart from the new 3-litre Porsches having transmission troubles, everything ran to form. Bianchi had a lurid moment on one of the bankings at over 130 m.p.h. when the 1968 Alpine, which had been grounding over the bumps, rubbed through one of its pannier fuel tanks, which let a stream of petrol on to the rear tyres and caused the car to spin, and by sheer chance the only damage was to the glass-fibre tail. The Gulf Fords and the 3-litre Porsches were fastest, with the Fords of Piper/Salmon and Mairesse/”Beurlys” next, followed by the 2.2-litre Porsche and the two Alpine Renault V8 cars. The Elford/Bradley car was the fastest of the 910 Porsches, and the Glemser/Kelleners Porsche 911T the fastest of its GT category.
With no factory Ferraris taking part, nor any factory-supported Ferraris, and only two privately entered prototype Alfa Romeos it was a very poor crowd that lined the circuit when the 35 cars lined up in pairs ready for an 11 a.m. start. Conditions were dry and sunny, but heavy rain in the night had scrubbed the track of practice oil and rubber, so that the dry surface was going to cause heavier tyre wear. The field was lined up a few hundred yards before the start line to give a sort of rolling start, which went off in a very ragged fashion, leaving Nelson’s Ford GT40 with a dead engine, a weak fuel pump causing his Tecalemit injection to run weak, and not due to flooding the engine as it appeared. He finally got going long after everyone was out of sight. It only needed a lap for the order to settle down, with Siffert (Porsche 908) leading Ickx (Ford GT40), Scarfiotti (Porsche 908) and Hawkins (Ford GT40), followed at a little distance by Piper (Ford GT40) and Stommelen (Porsche 907), then Mairesse (Ford GT40), Elford (Porsche 910), Koch (Porsche 910), Pon (Porsche 910), Vestey (Ferrari LM), Gosselin (Alfa Romeo 33), Depailler (Alpine Renault V8) and Drury (Ford GT40). The new Alpine Renault V8 was soon in the pits as there had been no time in practice to set the springs and suspension properly for the circuit, and it was grounding still and handling badly. With over five hours of racing ahead the Alpine people set about using the time to do some development work on the car, and by the end of the day were well satisfied with the improvements they had made, even though they had not figured in the race.
A fierce scrap went on among the leaders with the two pale blue Fords giving the works Porsches a very rough time and dominating things, with Ickx leading for most of the laps. All round the circuit they were chopping and changing places with the two Gulf drivers indulging in some team tactics to make things difficult for Siffert. All this was at an average speed of just over 200 k.p.h. (nearly 125 m.p.h.) with some close running at 170-180 m.p.h. on the straights, which made for an exciting spectacle, and left the rest of the competitors way behind. After only five laps the Pilette/Biscaldi Alfa Romeo 33 was out with a melted piston and just before fifteen laps the sister car of Gosselin/Trosch ground an oil pipe off on one of the bankings and lost all its oil. Elford was just behind at the time and collected most of it on his windscreen and had to stop and wipe it clear before he could see the way back to the pits to have it cleaned properly, and this lost him the class lead to Koch. On lap 19 Siffert came into the pits very fast with smoke and a horrid smell pouring out of the tail of the 3-litre Porsche, leaving Scarfiotti to battle against the two Fords, but, though he was keeping ahead of Hawkins, he could not keep up with Ickx. The long tail of Siffert’s car was lifted to reveal a horrible mess. The large diameter wire-wound flexible tube that carried cooling air from the tail scoop to the left-hand rear brake had become detached and had caught up in the open half-shaft, which had wound everything up into a tangled mess, taking with it some of the external oil pipes of the pressure lubrication system to the gearbox. There was gear oil, wire, glass-fibre and oil pipes everywhere and the mechanics set to work to dismantle the drive shaft and unravel the mess. At 26 laps, just after quarter distance, the second 3-litre Porsche came into the pits with the engine running badly, and after two attempts at fiddling with the throttle linkage it was found that one of the fuel injection pipe unions was loose. This left the two Gulf Fords in complete command, though the Hawkins car was not as healthy as it had been at the start, the edge going off the engine so that he could not keep up with Ickx. While Porsche were sorting out the Scarfiotti/Mitter car, and mopping up the Siffert/Hermann car, the leading Ford made an ominous “plop” as it went past the pits, and next time round Ickx pulled in. The second exhaust pipe on the left of the V8 engine had broken right through on the sharp bend after the port and mechanics set to work to wire it together and make a temporary repair with asbestos sheet and clips.
Suddenly the whole race had come apart at the seams and now Hawkins was way ahead on his own, followed by Piper (Ford GT40) and Stommelen (Porsche 907). After 33 laps Hawkins made a quick stop for fuel and Hobbs took over, Stommelen came in for fuel and new rear Dunlops and Neerpasch took over and Salmon took over the green Ford GT40 from Piper, this stop letting the 2.2-litre Porsche move up into second place, but over two minutes behind the leader. In spite of the stops the race average was climbing slightly and was now over 202 k.p.h. Salmon had barely got going with his GT40 when all the oil pressure disappeared and he came to rest out on the circuit to the sound of damaged engine bearings, and this let the Alpine Renault V8 of Depailler/de Cortanze into third place, but a long way behind the leader. The second Gulf Ford had rejoined the race with its bodged-up exhaust pipe, with Redman driving, but the car was down into seventh place, and the two 3-litre Porsches got back into the race, but were even further back. Miner took over from Scarfiotti, but had not gone far before the clutch cable broke and he was back in again, and Herrmann took over the oily mess from Siffert, but was back again after only a lap as a union on the gearbox oil tank was split and had not been noticed. Another long stop to remove the oil tank and change the union was undertaken.
Hobbs had no need to press very hard to maintain a good lead and the average speed began to drop to 193 k.p.h. before the 50-lap mark, which was half-distance. The Pon/van Lennep Porsche 910 had been running badly during practice and was still not happy, the engine cutting out when the throttles were snapped open, though, it would build up to peak r.p.m. with care on the accelerator. The trouble was finally located in the fuel-injection unit; the pivot of the enrichening lever having sheared, so that the unit was on full “weak” all the time. Bradley had taken over his Porsche 910 from Elford, but going into one of the chicanes the left rear hub nut came off, letting the wheel move outwards and the driving pins disengage, so that the car stopped with no drive to the wheel, luckily before the wheel came right off. After suspecting gearbox or drive shaft trouble, marshals pointed out the loose wheel, found the wayward nut and Bradley was able to get back to the pits and have another wheel fitted and the nut locked-up properly. The factory 907 Porsche made a routine stop for fuel and a driver change, but also needed a battery change as the alternator regulator system had failed and the battery was being cooked by the high amps. At half-way the Hawkins/Hobbs Ford still led comfortably from the Stommelen/Neerpasch 2.2-litre Porsche, with the Alpine Renault V8 still third, though it lost this place briefly due to a routine pit stop for fuel, the Koch/Line Porsche 910 moving up into third place. Following came the Porsche 910 of Nicodemi/Facetti, the 910 of Wicky/Hanrioud and the Ford of Ickx/Redman. The leading Ford was being signalled in for petrol and for Hawkins to take over again on lap 66, the driver being given 10 laps warning, then five laps and a lap-by-lap count down, but three laps before it was due the engine cut out momentarily due to lack of petrol, and Hobbs came smartly into the pits, which caused the Gulf petrol team to jump around a bit. While the refuelling was going on their second car came in unexpectedly. Redman had spun on the loose surface at Lesmo and clouted the tail, and the temporary exhaust pipe repair had given up. The team got Hawkins back into the race, still with a comfortable lead, and then tried to repair the second car, but the hinge mounting for the tail section was broken and together with the broken exhaust pipe it was decided to withdraw the car. The second-place Porsche made a stop for a change of front wheels, petrol and oil, and yet another battery, and Stommelen took over, but he was in again after four laps to have a new voltage regulator fitted, which cured the battery boiling. The Porsche pits were a complete shambles instead of the usual smooth, efficient operation we have known in the past, and it was noticeable that von Hanstein was no longer in charge of things, changes in the Zuffenhausen hierarchy delegating pit control to new people. The Mitten/Scarfiotti car was back in with its clutch-toggle mechanism hanging off, entailing more work for the tired and weary mechanics, and there was an air of desolation at the Porsche end of the pits, as apart from their troubles the 2.2-litre car could not match the Gulf GT40 for speed, and the works 91IT, driven by Killy/Guichet, was being beaten by the private 911T of Glemser/Kelleners. In the J.W. Automotive pits all was more or less under control, except that the car they expected to fail was leading and their number one car was retired. The Alpine team were delighted with the way the original V8 car was running, and they were making worthwhile adjustments to the new car and Bianchi was getting in some satisfyingly fast laps.
The leading Ford had one more stop to make for a quick 15 gallons of petrol to get it through to the finish, and while preparing for this stop the car went by the pits and the engine misfired as it was running out of petrol sooner than expected, the consumption being heavier than practice calculations had indicated. All was well and Hawkins stopped on lap 88 with over four and a half minutes lead, petrol was squirted in from the pressure hose and he was off again with a comfortable lead of two and a half minutes after the slowing down, the stop and the return to full speed again. The yellow GT40 of Mairesse/”Beurlys” had climbed up to fourth place overall, but with seven laps to go it limped into the pits with the left rear wheel pointing outwards, the suspension linkage having broken. By staying in the pit it was classified as a finisher, though it dropped three positions as the last laps were completed by the leader. As the leading Ford scored another victory for the Gulf petrol-sponsored J.W. Automotive team, the Porsche team were still in trouble, for Siffert arrived at the pits with a front wheel nut loose and the wheel nearly falling off, and Mitten completed his last lap on a flat offside front tyre.
The Elford/Bradley Porsche 910 finished ninth, its wheel trouble losing it a certain fourth place, the Nelson/Epstein Ford GT40 gave up with a tired fuel pump, Drury crashed his GT40, but not seriously, and the standard Group 3 M.G.B. of Enever/Baker ran like a train, stopping only for petrol and a change of nearside tyres. The Vestey/Ridgeway Ferrari LM was quite well placed towards three-quarter distance when the left rear wheel came off due to the mounting flange breaking and the car skated into the sand at the Parabolic Curve. —D. S. J.