Seasoned readers of Motor Sport will remember that the circuit at Montjuich Park close to the centre of Barcelona was first used for racing as long ago as 1933. But as a result of the Civil War it was not until 1966 that the enthusiastic Real Automovil de Cataluna decided to revive motor racing at this testing 3.8-kilometre circuit.
Formula Two races were held that year and in 1967, while in 1968 an additional 6-hour sports-car race was added to the programme. But the ambition of the club was very much to run the Spanish GP, and with the unpopularity of the Jarama track at Madrid, the Barcelona people lost no time in staking their claim for 1969.
The next Spanish GP was on the Pedrables road circuit in Barcelona in 1951, and the same venue was used again in 1954. The title was not revived until 1967 for a non-championship race at Jarama, but last year a points-counting race at that circuit opened the European Section of the Championship.
The road then runs straight past a huge palace, and then starts to climb again through a fast sweeping left-hander. A similar right-hander is immediately followed by another longer left-hand swerve which goes on all the way to the top of the hill before a right kink takes the cars back on to the start and finish straight.
Although the pits are not permanent, they are quite the best which could be erected from scaffolding, and behind them, in the spacious paddock, a new building for the Press was partly constructed: it included such luxuries as a swimming pool. Drivers, entrants, the Trade and the Press were unanimous in their approval of this new addition to the ranks of World Championship circuits. The only bugbears seem to be that the Spanish customs officers still make it very difficult to bring a racing car into the country and the police are rather stupid in their marshalling of the pits.
Gold Leaf-Team Lotus arrived with the two regular 49Bs for Hill and Rindt in much the same trim as before, although a third car which was used by Rindt in the Tasman Series was held in reserve. Much activity centred on extending the Lotus’ aerofoils and this continued throughout practice.
Ron Tauranac and the Motor Racing Developments team had made some worthwhile detail modifications to their two 1968 Brabham BT26s, in preparation for the pounding they were expecting at this circuit and later in the month at Monaco. The Hewland FG gearbox had been replaced by the heftier DG and the combined water and oil radiator had been replaced by a full-width water radiator. The cooling of the oil was now looked after by a gearbox-mounted oil radiator with a fibreglass duct around it. The front suspension on Ickx’s car had been brought to the same specification as that used by Brabham at Silverstone.
“Rindt ran over a stray dog after about three laps and the incident damaged the suspension of the Lotus”
Hill was also under the 1min 30.0sec mark, as was a far from happy Stewart. Ickx’s practice only lasted half a lap, for a fuel pressure relief valve jammed. Rindt ran over a stray dog after about three laps and the incident damaged the suspension of the Lotus. Courage’s car was a late starter and failed to arrive from England until Friday, while the BRMs were plagued with gear selection problems which were eventually sorted out.
But all the action came on Saturday when every single car improved on previous times. Amon was soon down in the low 1min 27sec mark, for the Ferrari had been fitted overnight with a new engine said to be 5bhp more powerful. Once Amon had come in, Rindt went out and was soon into the 1min 26sec bracket, while team-mate Hill was close behind.
No sooner had the Lotuses come in than the Ferrari was out again and this time Amon was on ten-tenths to record 1min 26.2sec. Well satisfied, the Ferrari team pushed the car back into the paddock. Lotus had not finished yet and whilst they were tacking extra hits on Hill’s wing Rindt went out and lowered his time to a staggering 1min 25.7sec. No one was going to better that!
Nevertheless Stewart ended up with fourth fastest time. Brabham worked away and lowered his time to 1min 27.8sec. Siffert, Ickx and Hulme finished up with row 3 positions. The two BRMs formed the next row, although Surtees lost considerable time changing gear ratios during the final session. Several teams had fitted additional side tanks to their cars, because in some cases the capacity was marginal.
The race had interesting prospects, for on the front row were two drivers who have yet to win a World Championship race lined up against a twice World Champion.
“Oliver rushed off with the car spreading oil round the track”
The cars were lined up on the dummy-grid before the warming-up lap when a mechanic suddenly discovered a pool of oil under Oliver’s car. An oil pipe from the scavenge pump had split, but Oliver did not know, and a policeman restrained the mechanic from telling Oliver for a reason best known only to himself, and Oliver rushed off with the car spreading oil round the track. He came straight into the pits hoping a repair could be effected.
Meanwhile there was a panic around Stewart’s car: the newly-fitted engine was not running evenly, so a new transistorised ignition box was fitted, the plugs were changed and the mixture richened up. There was a second warming-up lap and eventually, half an hour late, the cars were beckoned to roll forward to the main grid and they were off with Rindt taking the lead.
Only 12 went, for Oliver’s car was still in the pit road, while Courage’s starter motor had seized and he could not start his engine. There was a running battle between police and mechanics before he was allowed to be push-started.
Surtees pulled into the pits to have an adjustment made to the fuel metering unit, as the engine was not running properly, and returned a few laps later. This time the transistor ignition unit was changed, and when the car re-entered the race after losing about four laps it ran the rest of the distance sounding much healthier. Courage, who was picking up a few places at the end of the field, retired with a broken valve spring on his Cosworth engine, and then on lap 20 we had the dramatic exit of the leading Lotus.
“At the same spot as Hill, the Rindt Lotus had exactly the same accident, suddenly flying out of control”
At almost the same spot where Hill had lost control, the Rindt Lotus had exactly the same accident, suddenly flying out of control. This time, however, his rear aerofoil had been seen to collapse. Rindt’s car—which was travelling at 140mph—smashed into the Armco barrier, then ricocheted off the wreckage of Hill’s car and finally overturned, trapping the luckless driver inside. Somehow he survived this staggering accident and was removed to hospital with nasty cuts and abrasions to his face.
So the order was now Amon with a large lead over Stewart, followed by Brabham and Ickx (who were travelling in close convoy), with McLaren fifth. The last-named had been travelling in convoy with team-mate Hulme, but then Hulme had a pit stop to investigate the handling of his car and dropped behind all but Surtees.
“All of a sudden the engine note changed, there was a great puff of smoke and he cruised the Ferrari to a stop at the side of the road”
So Stewart became the race’s third leader, though with a less than 100% engine he was using 1,000rpm below the permitted maximum. Ickx was now in second place well ahead of McLaren, Beltoise, Hulme, Rodriguez and Surtees. But these positions were not to last for long. As he passed the pits, Ickx’s fibreglass wing section flew apart; he did a lap with only odd bits attached to the struts, then came in to the pits. Another fibreglass wing was fitted but he then lost time having to be push-started. Still, he rejoined the race, losing only one place.
“So Stewart became the race’s third leader, though with a less than 100% engine”
The remaining laps were completed without drama, with Stewart finishing to take nine World Championship points in addition to the nine he scored at Kyalami. Second was McLaren, the only other to go the distance without stopping. Beltoise, Hulme and Surtees completed the finishers and Ickx was not classified by the organisers.
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