Pau, France (April 20th)
One of the more pleasant venues for Formula Two racing is the round-the-houses circuit of Pau in South-Western France and this year’s event was once again the first of four French races in a series entitled Les Trophees de France. The French Clubs prefer to select comparatively small fields of high quality, with as many Grand Prix drivers as possible; this policy enables them to choose more than six graded men per race, although by so doing they disqualify themselves from including their races in the European Championship and thereby discourage B.M.W. and Ferrari from taking part. Not surprisingly, French cars and drivers get priority when it comes to allocating entries, so the lesser lights find themselves left out unless they have some other claim to fame, like motorcyclist Bill Ivy, who had been so impressive at Thruxton’s Easter Monday meeting.
Indeed, Ivy’s practice time was bettered only by the three regular works and semi-works Matras (Pescarolo still being in hospital following a sports car accident at Le Mans during private training), the two Winkelmann Lotuses and Courage’s Brabham. The small 14-car field which assembled was entirely Cosworth FVA-powered.
To the disappointment of the French crowd, it was the Austrian Rindt in a conspicuously green British Lotus who assumed the lead and immediately began to pull away from the field at the rate of over 1 sec. per lap. His team-mate Hill’s Cosworth engine coughed at an awkward moment with only five laps gone, and the World Champion spun, falling well back, although he quickly recovered and started a determined bid to get back among the leaders.
The new Lotus with Rindt at the wheel was repeating its impressive Thruxton form, with Stewart and Beltoise doing their best in pursuit with the two-year-old Matras on the oily circuit. Courage followed Beltoise and by half-distance (35 laps) he was the only driver unlapped by Rindt, with Servoz-Gavin a lap behind in fifth and Cevert, driving the leading works Tecno, sixth. Hill finally retired when a rubber belt which drives the fuel injection broke, and Ivy had spun off.
Relief came for an unhappy Stewart on lap 46 when he joined Hill as a retirement—in his case it was a universal joint which broke, leaving Beltoise and Courage to continue with the vain chase behind Rindt. Then, as Beltoise approached the pits with only five laps to go, a mounting broke at the bottom of one of the struts which retains the Matra’s front wing and the whole wing itself was ripped away, taking half the car’s rear wing with it, and the car’s handling became almost unmanageable. This presented Courage with an opportunity to close, but there was not enough time for the Englishman to get by into second place and he had to be satisfied with third.—M. G. D.
Nurburgring, Germany (April 27th)
The second Formula Two race to be held in Germany in three weeks, and the third round in the 1969 European Championship, was to be decided around the Nurburgring. But this year, instead of staging the meeting on the shorter Sudschleife, the organising A.D.A.C. Club decided to commit the race to the long Nordschleife as used for the Grand Prix and 1,000 Kilometres sports-car event.
The Winkelmann team was immediately in trouble, for there is little doubt that when Lotus Components designed the new 59B model there was no warning that the car would have to undergo the rigours of ten laps over the bumps, leaps and other car-breaking features of this very testing track. Nevertheless, Rindt and Hill both put up good practice times, the former actually breaking Gurney’s 1967 outright lap record during an untimed practice session. The Formula Two cars were the first single-seaters to be seen here with the current huge wings, which keep the cars rather more firmly on the track than before. But there was not much confidence in the Lotus camp, in spite of suspensions being jacked as high as they would go.
The two Matra teams were much more hopeful, having already had experience with earlier models here in 1966 and 1967, when Formula Two cars were admitted to the Grand Prix proper.
Stewart was led off the line by Hill, but completed the first lap ahead of both Rindt and Hill. The Scot seemed to be far more in command than he has done in his previous two Formula Two races of the year and extended his advantage in devastating style as the lap record took a tumble on three consecutive laps. By the time Stewart had completed the fifth of the ten laps the lap record stood at a remarkable 8 min. 5.3 sec., which compares with the old record of 8 min. 15.1 sec., held by Gurney.
The two Lotuses were soon in their pit with suspension breakages, and Stewart’s nearest pursuer was to be Beltoise’s Matra, although the Frenchman shortly had to give way to Siffert’s B.M.W. in the course of an inspired drive by the Swiss, who only two days earlier had won the Monza 1,000 kilometres sports-car race.
Siffert’s team-mate, Hahne, securely in fourth place, led all the non-graded men, although it seemed possible that Bell—having his first satisfactory European race of the year in the Ferrari Dino—might catch him after disposing of Servoz-Gavin’s Matra. It was not to be and Hahne again took maximum points to retain his lead in the non-graded Championship.
To judge by the number of spectators, the experiment of running the event on the long circuit was a success, although a disappointingly heavy proportion of the entries failed to appear. One thing is clear, however—if the Grand Prix is blessed with fine weather this year, we shall be seeing a sub-eight-minute lap.—M. G. D.
Madrid, Spain (May 11th)
Stewart spoiled his chances of taking the 1968 World Championship when he crashed during practice for the Formula Two event held at Jarama last year, damaging his wrist. This year he is concentrating all his efforts on Formula One, with the occasional Formula Two race to keep his eye in, and this race was to provide his third win in as many weeks.
Although the Jarama circuit is proving to be less than a wild success with Spanish spectators, there was a good-class entry for the fourth round of the European Championship, with full Matra representation (apart from the still-injured Pescarolo), three cars from Ferrari and two B.M.W.s, although Hahne was the only driver sent by the Bavarian firm. He chose the familiar Lola-based car because the cockpit design of the new Dornier-built cars was too excruciatingly uncomfortable for him to drive for more than a few laps. Winkelmann had Miles and Rollinson in the two Lotus 49Bs.
Right from the start the race turned into an exciting three-cornered battle between the only graded drivers present. It was Stewart who led to start with, Beltoise and Courage following closely and easily pulling away from a multi-car battle behind over non-graded placings, involving Galli (whose wing collapsed), Servoz-Gavin (who spun twice) and Hahne, who spent a long time getting past Westbury.
Courage overtook Beltoise for a while before third gear began to slip out of engagement on Courage’s car at three-quarter distance, while Beltoise, who is reckoned to be a Jarama expert, thrust ahead of Stewart before the Frenchman’s clutch began to slip.
Nevertheless, Beltoise was only a couple of seconds behind after 60 hot and close-fought laps. Servoz-Gavin, after a fine recovery from his off-course excursions, got through into fourth place, to bring himself closer in the non-graded championship behind Hahne, whom he beat on this occasion. The Winkelmann team had a miserable time, with John Miles (making his Formula Two debut) failing to reach the grid after his fuel pressure failed on the warming-up lap and Rollinson retiring after five laps with a broken engine. The Ferraris, although they all finished, were again disappointing, for Brambilla left his bid for Hahne’s fifth place far too late in the race and had to be satisfied with sixth place overall.—M. G. D.