Some Real Motor Racing
Monza, Italy, April 25th.
Held on the National holiday to celebrate the 1945 liberation of Italy, the 1,000-kilometre race for sports cars and sports-prototypes was run over 100 laps of the combined road and track course at Monza, with chicanes before each banking to reduce the maximum speeds on the concrete oval; even so, the fast cars were coming off the banking at around 150 m.p.h. and reaching 170 m.p.h. by the time they passed the grandstands on the outer of the two lanes on the wide pits/grandstand straight. A total of 80 entries was received and of these only 52 were to be allowed to start, the qualification being done by allowing a fixed number in each group or class, rather than the fastest 52 out of the whole entry, so that classes with a big entry saw some competition during practice. A number of cars did not turn up and others damaged themselves in practice, so that there were not too many problems over the selection. Lacking good B.R.M. V12 engines the two Gulf-Mirage cars of the J.W. Automotive team were withdrawn, leaving the 3-litre prototype category a straight fight between Porsche and Ferrari, with Alpine-Renault and Matra trying to keep up. The Autodelta Alfa Romeo team did not enter so there was only the 2½-litre car, from last year, of the Belgian V.D.S. team in the over-2-litre Category, and they also had their 2-litre Tipo 33 in the smaller class, along with an Italian-owned Tipo 33. The Porsche factory had disposed of their 907 works cars, the 2.2-litre eight-cylinders, to various private teams, three of them running in the big class, and two had been reduced to 2-litres, and Italian private owners were running them against the Alfa Romeos and two Ferrari Dino V6 cars. The 5-litre capacity Group 4 Sports class contained a mixture of Lola T70-Chevrolet V8 coupés and Ford GT40s, and the 2-litre class was dominated by Porsche 910 and 906 cars in private hands, with two hopeful Alfa Romeo 33 models running to Group 4 homologation. Open Fiat Abarths filled the 1,000-c.c. sports category and in the GT Class Porsche 911 models dominated. GT cars down to 1,000-1,300 c.c. were permitted and these were all Italian-driven Lancia Fulvia Zagato coupés, which were really too slow to be mixed in with 3-litre prototype cars like Ferraris and Porsches.
The drivers came from everywhere for this truly International motor race, from Italy, Switzerland, France, Spain, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Sweden, Great Britain, Austria, America, Australia and New Zealand, and the advertising support for private owners had been drawn from everything from the bananas of Chiquita United Fruits to the diggers of J.C.B. Excavators. There were two long practice sessions in the afternoons of Wednesday and Thursday, during which some people found they were too slow, others damaged their machinery, and Ferraris found that the prototypes were throwing rear-tyre treads on the bankings. The two Ferrari 312P cars were driven by Amon/Andretti and Rodriguez/Schetty and between them at the end of practice was the Porsche 908 of Siffert/Redman. There were four works Porsches, all 3-litre eight-cylinder long-tailed coupés, with suspension controlled flaps sticking out of the rear, and the other pairs of drivers were Mitter/Schutz, Elford/Attwood, and Herrmann/Ahrens. The team also had a spare car for training and Stommelen as spare driver, and after practice he was nominated for an ex-works 907 with owner Siegfried Lang, the other ex-works 907s being driven by Soler-Roig/Baturone, Koch/Dechent, while the two 2-litre versions were driven by Nicodemi/Facetti, and Manfredini/V. Brambilla.
The 52 nominated starters were lined up in pairs the length of the starting straight, with Siffert and Andretti in the first two cars, then Herrmann and Rodriguez. Then Elford and, alongside, Servoz-Gavin with the open Matra V12 as tested at Le Mans recently, his co-driver being Guichet. The fourth pair were Bonnier in his own yellow Lola-Chevrolet V8 and Schutz, followed by Gardner and Widdows in Lola coupés, the former in Sid Taylor’s car, the latter in Norinder’s car. Two of the Alpine-Renault V8 coupés followed, Depailler with a 1968 model and de Cortanze with the latest car with radiators across the extremity of the tail, ventilated disc brakes and the latest alloy wheels. The third Alpine-Renault V8 was a non-starter due to an engine failure in the second practice, although it had qualified. Behind the two French cars should have been Soler-Roig, but his 907 had injector-pump trouble as it came out of the paddock and was a non-starter, so Piper in his green Lola-Chevrolet V8 was alone. Then came craft in the orange Lola of Tech-Speed, this being a last-minute substitute entry, and Pilette with the V.D.S. Alfa Romeo 33 with 2½-litre engine. The German driver Kelleners in a GT40 was next, on his own due to the third Alpine-Renault V8 being withdrawn, and then two ex-works Porsche 907 coupes with Koch and Stommelen. The rest of the 52 followed, with the exception of a French-owned GT40 which had wrecked its engine in practice, the final pair being an Alfa Romeo Duetto and a Fiat 124 Spider, which were really too slow to be racing at the same time as the first two dozen cars. With three non-starters, the line-up was reduced to 49, the gaps not being filled by non-qualifiers, the list of which included a number of British Club drivers who were either too slow or ill-prepared for such a fast and furious long-distance race, though they were not alone for some of the Europeans had even less hope of qualifying.
It was 11.15 a.m. before all was ready and the long line of multi-coloured cars was a fine sight as they moved up from the dummy-grid, the shrill scream of the 12-cylinder engines in the Ferraris and the Matra contrasting strongly with the harsh bark of the flat-eight Porsches, the deep bellowing of the Chevrolet V8 engines in the Lolas and the smooth rasping of the Alpine-Renault V8 engines. Motor racing would be a dull affair with sight only and no sounds, and as the flag fell the two Ferraris screamed away into the lead, followed by a veritable sea of Porsches. Using the double-loop 10-kilometre circuit, the cars pass the pits and grandstands twice per lap, the first time on the pits side, accelerating hard from the Curva Parabolica and then braking heavily for the chicane before the first banking. On their second appearance they come into view on full song as they finish the South Banking and scream down the straight on the Grandstand side, reaching 170 to 180 m.p.h. before disappearing into the forest around the Curva Grande. By the end of the first lap Siffert had got his Porsche 908 between the two Ferraris, followed by Elford, Schutz, Servoz-Gavin and Herrmann, after which there was already a very long gap before de Cortanze arrived leading the rest of the runners. It was clear that among the Porsche drivers only Siffert was going to prove any opposition to the two Ferraris, but at least Porsche had three strong cars to back up the Swiss driver and give moral support, even if they could not give practical support. There now started one of the best sessions of real motor racing that I have seen for some time, between Siffert and the two Ferrari drivers, Andretti and Rodriguez. These three pulled a few seconds clear of the other factory cars and drove-superbly, cutting and thrusting, slip-streaming and dodging, and when they started to lap the slower cars the traffic-driving was almost too much to watch, their skill and judgement illustrating exactly what it is that makes good racing drivers. As they came off the banking nose-to-tail, with Siffert leading from Andretti and Rodriguez, two slow cars were running side-by-side about half-a-mile ahead of them. They were a Lancia Fulvia Sport and a Fiat 124 Spider, and the three leading cars were catching up with a speed differential of at least 80 m.p.h. Without a moment’s hesitation Siffert led the two Ferraris between the two slow cars, the trio carving through like an arrow. Fortunately the slow drivers were not looking in their mirrors and kept station side-by-side, but the precision and judgement of the driving of Siffert, Andretti and Rodriguez was a lesson for all. This manoeuvre was typical of the battle that raged between the Porsche and the two Ferraris, and the lead was changing continuously, Siffert taking the lead on one occasion by outbraking the two Ferraris going into the north chicane passing them on the inside. The way the Porsche shuddered and shook with the wheels not quite locking showed that the Swiss driver was really standing on the brakes. The three were so evenly matched that none of them could hesitate for a second, and if the leader dived into a closing gap when lapping slower cars, the others just had to follow, even though it caused the slow drivers to move smartly out of the way. On one lap Craft and Gardner were nose-to-tail braking for the chicane after the pits, when Rodriguez led the way past them under braking, closely followed by Siffert, and in all truth there was not room for a third car, but Andretti did not intend to be left behind and nipped in just as the two Lolas were about to swing into the corner; to see drivers of the forcefulness of Craft and Gardner literally step sideways in surprise gave some indication of the furious pace of the leading trio.
The battle was so exciting to watch that the rest of the field almost became forgotten, apart from the fact that most of them were unwittingly providing mobile-chicanes. Schutz led Elford in sister cars to Siffert’s, holding fourth and fifth places, these two appearing to hover like hawks behind the unmerciful battle ahead of them, and already some way back Servos-Gavin was just leading Herrmann in the last of the works Porsches. The Ford GT40 of the German IGFA Racing Team, driven by Kelleners/Jöst was not only leading the rest of the runners, but also the Group 4 category, though it was half a lap down on the leader, and it was closely followed by the Belgian 2½-litre Alfa Romeo and the two Alpine-Renaults, the two 907 Porsches, and the Lolas of Piper and Craft. The usual tales of woe were going on in the pits, all of it making good material for dull race reports or keeping drivers’ names in the public eye, but none of it being any good for winning races. Three of the Lolas had been in, Bonnier’s in a cloud of smoke only half a lap after the start, Gardner’s to have the tail looked at after someone had run into him on the opening lap, and Widdows to have the nose-piece patched up after being involved with an Alpine and Gardner.
After 100 kilometres the leading battle still raged and the 50,000 strong crowd seemed uncertain when to cheer and when to groan, for it was still anybody’s race, and when Schutz went by slowly with his Porsche stuck in a low gear the crowd cheered lustily, more from tenseness than anything else. The sick Porsche got back to the pits, and was worked on and Mitter set off in it, and by this time the leaders were about to lap Piper, the green Lola so nearly being clouted as they force their way by. By 140 kilometres the leading trio had lapped all the slower cars right up to the leaders of the second part of the entry, who were still the Alpine-Renault V8 of Depailler and the Ford GT40 of Kelleners, but in the next half lap Andretti went into the pits with a ruined tyre, the tread having flown off. Two new wheels and tyres were fitted at the rear and he rejoined the race in sixth place, still on the same lap as the leader, who was now Rodriguez, with Siffert still right behind the Ferrari. Elford, Servos-Gavin and Herrmann were now a bit spread out, but then the Matra slowed with fuel starvation and it stopped at the pits.
The homeric battle for the lead was now over and Siffert settled for keeping right behind Rodriguez and awaiting the outcome, for refuelling stops were in view. The race average was over 211 k.p.h. (about 131 m.p.h.) and was still climbing, but the leading group of works cars were now spread out in the order behind Rodriguez and Siffert of Elford, Herrmann and Andretti, with the Matra out of the running. At 200 kilometres, or 20 laps, the race average had risen to over 212 k.p.h. and the Matra was just ahead of Piper and Kelleners, who were battling for the lead of the Group 4 category, Depailler stopping for fuel and to hand over to Jabouille. On the half lap after quarter-distance (25 laps) Siffert made his first routine pit stop for fuel and handed over to Redman, and Elford stopped to hand over to Attwood. Just one lap later Rodriguez stopped for fuel and Schetty set off in the Ferrari, and Andretti had passed Herrmann. The Ferrari pit stop was quick so that the car did not lose the lead, and Schetty began lapping faster than Redman, so a gap opened out between the Ferrari and the Porsche. The race had been running for 1¼ hours so there were pit stops all round and co-drivers took over, and for the first time it was possible to relax a little and take stock of what was happening elsewhere. Andretti’s car had been refuelled during his unscheduled pit stop for tyres so he was still gaining ground as other cars made their routine stops, and shortly before the 300-kilometre mark he passed Attwood, who had taken over from Elford, and on paper the race situation was back to square one, with the Siffert/Redman Porsche between the two Ferraris, though in fact it was nothing like square one in fact, for the three cars were well spread out and Schetty was drawing away from Redman while Andretti was closing on the British driver.
Among the second drivers who took over at routine pit stops were Hawkins (Piper Lola), Liddell (Craft Lola), Guichet (Servos-Gavin Matra), Jöst (Kelleners Ford GT40), Jabouille (Depailler Alpine-Renault V8), de Adamich (Gardner Lola), Lang (Stommelen Porsche), Slotemaker (Pitette Alfa Romeo), Vestey (Sadler Ford GT40), “Nicor” (Dini Alfa Romeo 33), Facetti (Nicodemi Porsche 907) and Alberti (Pinto Alfa Romeo 33). The Matra was now running very erratically with fuel-feed trouble and the overheating eventually caused a cylinder-head gasket to break, which put the car out, while the Schutz/Miner Porsche 908 was still in trouble with its gearbox and the hit-and-miss selection of gears and subsequent over-revving finally caused the engine to break. The green Lola driven by Hawkins had a front-wheel bearing seize up which caused him hectic moments going through the Lesmo corners until the seized race turned in the cast alloy housing, and Hawkins limped back to the pits to retire. The Craft/Liddell Lola was rumbling in its transmission and was withdrawn before it broke, and the Widdows/Norinder Lola had also withdrawn before noises aft of the engine became expensive.
At 360 kilometres the race order was Schetty/Rodriguez (Ferrari), Siffert/Redman (Porsche), Andretti (Ferrari), Elford/Attwood (Porsche) and Herrmann/Ahrens (Porsche), with the Matra running badly, but still ahead of the rest of the field that was being led in turn, depending on pit stops, by the German GT40 and the lone works Alpine-Renault, while the Sid Taylor Lola was now up on the same lap and the Belgian 2½-litre Alfa Romeo was struggling to stay with them but was plagued by an ignition distributor that kept slipping and retarding itself. Halfway through lap 37 Schetty brought the leading Ferrari into the pits with a tyre deflated and had it changed, but then the engine would not start and after Engineer Parkes and mechanics had push-started it and the driver switched off and restarted on the starter motor, as per the rules, the car rejoined the race, but this had lost it the lead and nearly a whole lap. However, Andretti had closed right up on Redman by now, and though the Porsche led for a lap, the Ferrari took the lead next time round, but it was a false situation for Andretti was due to stop and hand over to Amon, which he did on lap 39, so that Redman was now firmly back in the lead, followed by Attwood, with the two Ferraris now well back, and Ahrens a lap behind the leading Porsche but in fifth place overall. Amon did the half lap from the pits to the timing line to complete the Ferrari’s 39th lap and halfway round the road circuit on the 40th lap there was a big bang and the 12-cylinder engine broke in a spectacular fashion and the New Zealander returned to the pits on foot. As this was happening the Attwood/Elford Porsche had a long pit stop to have a cooling-fan driving belt replaced after the original one had broken, and all this left only the Redman/Siffert Porsche and the Rodriguez/Schetty Ferrari on the same lap, but nearly a whole lap apart. The fantastic pace of the opening phase of the race was now all over and some serious endurance racing was beginning, with Porsche holding the upper hand even though their ranks were badly diminished.
At 500 kilometres, or half-distance, the leading Porsche had a routine stop for fuel and tyres and was off again long before the Ferrari came into view, though the gap was now reduced from around 2½ minutes, or nearly a lap, to just under a minute, but nevertheless a fairly safe and comfortable lead. Schetty was gaining slowly but surely on Redman, but not dangerously, and this came to a stop when another tyre failed and the Ferrari was forced to the pits. Once again the engine was reluctant to restart and when Rodriguez got going he was still in second place but a lap down on the leading Porsche, with the Ahrens Porsche not far behind. Driving hard, and perhaps a bit too hard, to try and catch up again Rodriguez had to spin the Ferrari to avoid a slower car and in doing so he struck the guard rails. This wrecked the right front corner of the bodywork and the left rear corner, and smashed the left rear wheel, so that he had to drive back to the pits on a flat tyre and the remains of the wheel, amid a great cloud of smoke. A new wheel was fitted and he was off in a rush, having no time to explain what had happened, and left his pit staff thinking another tyre had failed. The accident to the rear had not only split the fibreglass tail but had also broken the fixing on that corner and after a lap the bodywork was beginning to flap ominously. This trouble had put the Ferrari back into third place, behind the Attwood/Elford Porsche, but the Italian car soon closed up on the German car. However, before it could get to grips the complete tail section broke up while the car was doing about 170 m.p.h., just past the grandstands, and the explosion of fibre-glass tore the whole tail off the car and put it into a monumental spin. In one long 180-degree spin it hit the left-hand guard-rail travelling backwards, which shattered the right rear wheel and crushed the suspension, and the car then spun again for another 100 yards and ended up on the grass on the right-hand side of the circuit. Rodriguez stepped out unhurt, but bewildered and shaken, not quite sure what had happened.
The rate was now all over as far as the lead was concerned, for the Siffert/Redman Porsche was all on its own, with the Herrmann/Ahrens sister-car a lap behind, and the Attwood/Elford car further back in third place. Among the rest of the runners the issue was still open between Pilette/Slotemaker (Alfa Romeo 33), Koch/Dechent (Porsche 910) who had climbed steadily up the leader-board thanks to a regular and trouble-free run, Kelleners/Jöst (Ford GT40), Depailler/Jabouille (Alpine-Renault V8) and Gardner/de Adamich (Lola-Chevrolet V8), the German Ford team having eased up, thinking they were a lap ahead of the others. The works Porsche 1-2-3 domination was suddenly rudely interrupted around the 750-kilometre mark when Elford had a tyre fail as he rounded the full-throttle Vialone curve on the back leg of the road circuit and the Porsche spun and demolished itself along the guard-rails, Elford being shaken but unhurt. However, the private Porsche 907 of Koch/Dechent had now got the better of the rest of the runners and it took over third place overall, though seven laps, or 70 kilometres, behind the leader. A lap further back the Lola, the Alpine-Renault and the German Ford GT40 were all together still, though the Belgian Alfa Romeo had fallen back with recurring ignition trouble at 700 kilometres. For the next 100 kilometres the situation was pretty static, Siffert had taken over the leading Porsche, and Herrmann the second-place Porsche, and as far as the winner was concerned it was just a question of reeling off the kilometres to the finish.
As the winning car started the 100th lap Depailler in the Alpine-Renault and Kelleners in the Ford GT40 were locked in combat for fourth place, and Gardner was catching up fast, heading not only for fourth place overall but a win in the Group 4 Sports class. As the three cars left the Lesmo corners there was some misjudgement on the part of Depailler and Gardner and the right-hand headlamp of the Lola smashed into the left rear corner of the Alpine, with the result that the French car swooped off the road, up a grass bank and turned over, crashing heavily. Kelleners was in front of it all and got the chequered flag for fourth place, while a rather bewildered Gardner finished fifth, the Alpine being classified even though it was wrecked and the driver was on his way to hospital with minor injuries.
It had been a memorable 1,000-kilometre race, Porsche showing conclusively that they have now got a grip on themselves after the shambles of 1968, but Ferrari showed that a year’s absence from sports car racing has done him no harm and the red cars fight as well as ever they did. After running one car on Firestone tyres in the B.O.A.C. 500, Porsche opted to run all the works cars on Firestone for this race, but the numerous tyre failures that they and Ferrari suffered made them wonder if the decision was right.—D. S. J.