A Spectacle of Speed
SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS, BELGIUM, May 17th
THE 1,000-KILOMETRE race on the superb Belgian circuit in the Ardennes, near Spa, was the sixth round in the Sports Car Championship of 1970. After the Monza race and the Targa Florio the Ferrari team were putting everything they had into their effort, feeling that they had got the Porsche teams of JW Automotive and Porsche Salzburg, on the run. These two Group 5 Sports-car giants were obviously going to set a speed standard on the Spa circuit that 3-litre Prototypes were never’ going to match, and Matra and Alfa Romeo made no attempt to take part. There were three works Ferraris, all 512S coupes, driven by Ickx/ Surtees, Schetty/Merzario, and Giunti/Vaccarella, with a brand new 512S painted yellow for the Ecurie Franciirchamps of Jacques Swaters, making their return to racing with Derek Bell and de Fierlant driving. German opposition came from six Porsche 917 cars, two blue and orange ones from Gulf, driven by Siffert/Redman and Rodriguez/Kinnunen both with 5-litre engines, two from Porsche Salzburg for Elford/Ahrens and Herrmann/Attwood, the former pair with a 5-litre engine in the white car and the latter pair in the blue car, with 4 1/2-litre engine. There were two private 917s in the hands of Neuhaus/Kellencrs for the Gesipa Racing Team from Germany and the yellow one of the Finnish AAW team for Lainelvan Lennep, so that the big guns proportioned out four for Italy,six for Germany. For the rest there was a collection Of private owners, two Porsche 908s from the Martini Racing Team for Larrousse/Lins and Dechent/Marko, the 2-litre 907 Porsche of Blatzheim/Kraus, the Lola T70 of Bonnier/Wissel, and the similar car from Team VDS for Pilette/Gosselin and the Swiss-owned one of Pillon/Morand, a 2.7-litre Climax-engined Brabham BT8 driven by Grant/Marshall, an Astra-Cosworth FVC driven by Edwards/Enever, and five British Chevrons, all with 2-litre BMW engines, two from the Worcestershire Racing Association, driven by Tangye/Ridgeway and Bamford/Creasey and the others by Humble/Humble, Clydesdale/Markey and Goodwin/Taggart. A particularly interesting Chevron was entered by the Belgian team of Vernaeve/Deprez and this was a new B16 car powered by a Mazda twin-rotor Wankel engine, running in the up-to-2-litre class. Vernaeve originated the idea and Mazda supplied Japanese technidans with the engine. In the GT class there were seven Porsche 951 coupés and an Alpine-Renault driven by Continental Club drivers.
With no works 3-litre cars to contest the issue the whole tempo was set by the Group 5 sports cars and during practice it became very clear that it was a good thing the 3-litre Prototypes kept away. The first practice, on Friday afternoon, saw Ickx pulverise the existing-lap record, lapping at over 150 m.p.h. in the 512S Ferrari, and Surtees had to sit back and watch the young Belgian set the pace. The Grand Prix lap record was set up in 1968 by Suttees with the V12 Honda in 3 min. 30.6 sec., and by the end of Friday afternoon Ickx had recorded 3 min. 24.4 sec. The Porsche teams were in a bit of a twitch, for the JW Automotive team were having trouble with their tyres creeping sideways on the rims and letting the air out. Siffert had two go down and Redman one, so Rodriguez was told to take it easy, which he did at 3 min. 27 sec.! Ferraris were using narrower rims and their Firestones were staying put. 13oth the Gulf Porsches were using 5-litre engines and the team had the Daytona-winning car, with 4 1/2-litre engine, as a training car. The bigger engines with their vastly superior middlerange power and torque were really coming into their own on the superfast circuit, while the Austrian Porsche team were not so happy. Their car for Elford/Ahrens did the first practice with a 4 1/2-litre engine installed, but it would not handle properly, and their other car was not really being driven fast enough.
On Saturday afternoon the JW Gulf Porsches had got over their tyre problems by metal spraying the wheel rim shoulders, and Rodriguez really began to show the paces of the 5-litre engine, lapping in the 3 min. 24 sec. bracket. Surtees did most of the driving of the leading Ferrari to begin with and the injection unit had been changed overnight and the engine would not run right. Even when it eventually got going properly he was not in the same class as Rodriguez and the 5-litre Porsche. Siffert was having trouble with the fuel system on his 5-litre and lost a lot of practice time, so that Redman got hardly any prattice. A more aerodynamic tail was put on the Rodriguez car, with the valley behind the engine filled in and a very low angle spoiler, and he went out and did 3 min. 21.2 sec., and then a demoralising 3 min. 19.8 sec. By this time Ickx was in the leading Ferrari and trying all he knew, and his best was 3 min. 24.4 sec., which gave hims third fastest for Siffert had at last got going properly and got down to 3 min. 23.9 sec., and all these times were making the two-year-old lap record look very sick. Even the private 917 Porsche of Kelleners/Neuhaus got below the record, with 3 min. 29.7 sec. The pace of these 5-litre sports cars was really shattering. The Elford/Ahrens Porsche 917 had been fitted with a 5-litre engine during the morning, but it still would nor handle and a broken chassis frame was suspected, most of practice being spent putting 80 lb/sq. in. of air pressure into the frame and looking for leaks. Everyone seemed convinced the break was at the rear of the car, and it subsequently turned out to be at the front, and it was repaired before the race.
On Sunday morning heavy mist enveloped the hills above Spa and everywhere was very damp, but nonetheless all the 35 competitors prepared for the 1 p.m. start. Shortly before midday torrential rain swept across the circuit, but then the sun broke through the clouds and rapidly started to dry everything. whole entry went off on a reconnaissance lap and then lined up in pairs for a grid start, Ferraris and Porsches topping up with fuel after the warm-up lap, even though start-line marshals thought they should not. The circuit was drying quite rapidly and though there was a lot of cloud about the sun was doing its best to break through as all engines were started for the 71-lap race, all that is except the VDS Lola for someone had left the rubber bungs in the carburetter intakes. A mechanic whipped them out at the last moment and as the field roared away the Lola slowly coughed into life. The drivers who opened the attack for the two giants were Rodriguez, Siffert, Elford, Attwood, Laine and Kelleners for Porsche, and Ickx, Giunti, Schetty and Bell for Ferrari, and straight away Siffert and Rodriguez set the pace, leading lckx, Giunti. Laine, Kelleners, Attwood and Schetty. As the two blue and orange Gulf-Porsches circulated together it looked as though they might already have the race sewn up, but Ickx had other ideas and got the Ferrari in between them after Rodriguez had taken the lead. The rest were left behind as these three Grand Prix drivers demonstrated what motor-racing was all about.
It was a wonderful sight to see these three big powerful cars charging round the magnificent Spa-Francorchamps circuit, never more than a few feet apart, sometimes Rodriguez leading, sometimes Siffert leading and always with the red Ferrari right there with them. Both Porsches had their headlights blazing, clearing a path through the back-markers they were lapping and the flag-marshalling was very good so that the slower cars knew these three chargers were approaching. They certainly knew when they had gone by, and even drivers of quite fast cars were visibly impressed as the three leaders went by at close on 200 m.p.h. down the Masta straight. The old Grand Prix lap record went by the board even while the circuit was drying out and the pace got faster and faster, with little to choose between the 917 Porsches and the 512S Ferrari. By rights Elford should have been in there with them, but having done very little practice, and that with a car that did not handle properly, he was now having to settle himself in to the super high speed circuit. Ferrari had started the Schetty/Merzario car on rain tyres, and as it was now very dry the car was called in for a complete change of wheels and when Elford stopped for petrol on lap 13 he also had all four wheels changed, which lost him a lot of time.
After 14 laps, or barely 50 minutes of racing, and it really was racing, Siffert was called in from the leading position to refuel. The Gulf gravity-feed system did not work too well and it was a slow stop for the JW team, but Siffert was away again as hard as he could go. On lap 15 Rodriguez and Ickx came in for petrol together and the refuelling system for this Gulf car worked better and it was away before the Ferrari. which was being refuelled from old-fashioned churns because someone had misinterpreted the regulations and thought pressure or gravity refuelling was not allowed. The order was now Rodriguez, Icks and Siffert and no-one else was getting a look-in, even though there was plenty of hard driving going on. Hans Laine in the yellow Porsche 917 from Finland was going particularly well, as was Bell in the yellow Ferrari 512S, and Larrousse was leading the smaller cars, while Cheneviere was holding the lead among the 911 Porsche GT cars. John L’Amie was having a splendid race in his 910 Porsche, battling nose-to-tail with Blatzheim in his 2-litre 907 Porsche and the little Astra-Cosworth driven by Edwards was running well. Rodriguez was really getting wound up and passed the 250-k.p.h. average for a lap with 3 min. 21.5 sec.-251.912 k.p.h., but Ickx was hanging on and fighting hard. Rodriguez went even faster with a new lap record in 3 min. 20.9 sec. and then his left rear tyre started throwing bits of tread and he shot into the pits unexpectedly on lap 22, catching the normally calm JW team unawares. Ickx was now in the lead and Siffert went by into second place, the tyre stop costing Rodriguez 1 3/4 minutes. There was little to choose between Ickx and Siffert, for on lap 23 the gap between them was 20 seconds, and on lap 26 it was 19 seconds. Preparations were being made for the next refuelling stop, and for the number two drivers Surtees and Redman to take over. On lap 28 there was 13.8 seconds between them as they both got the “Come in next lap” signal, and as they ended lap 29 Ickx was into the Ferrari pit at the head of the new pit road, and then Siffert went by down the pit road, heading for the J.W. Gulf pit. The Ferrari pit work was faster and Surtees was away first, with Redman soon following, both of them away before Rodriguez appeared. However, the tough little Mexican was not settling for third place, and was using everything the 5-litre Porsche had got, and put in a new lap record that made everyone wilt. He went round the fabulous Spa circuit, with it steep climbs and descents, full-bore sweeps and bottom gear hairpin, in 3 min. 16.5 sec.-258.320 k.p.h. (approx. 160.3 m.p.h.) average speed. Grand Prix teams please take note.
Surtees was now in the lead by 26 seconds from Redman, thanks to the driving of Ickx, the Ferrari pit-work, and the not-so-swift JW refuelling system, but he just could not drive the 512S as fast as Ickx had been going and both Redman and Rodriguez were catching him rapidly. Redman was chopping off seconds every lap and on lap 35 he sailed by into the lead and on lap 37 Rodriguez was past the Ferrari and into second place and lckx had to watch all his hard driving being thrown to the winds. Having got into second place Rodriguez was due in for refuelling and for Kinnunen to take over, the Mexican having driven a remarkable 37 laps of the Spa circuit and being quite unruffled by it. This let the Ferrari back into second place, 13 seconds in arrears but losing ground all the time, and Kinnunen was now 67 seconds further back but holding his own well and losing very little to Surtees. The other two Ferraris were just not in the picture at all, though both were running perfectly, and the Elford/Ahrens Porsche 917 was regaining ground after its long tyre-changing pit-Stop. Laine and van Lennep were proving to be a well matched pair but their pit crew were a bit slow in refuelling. Bell’s efforts were being completely negated by de Fierlant, who had never driven such a fast car as the 512S Ferrari, and Attwood and Herrmann were going steadily and reliably. but not fast enough to join in with the leaders. Behind all these big sports cars Larrousse and Lins were keeping their 908 Porsche 3-litre ahead of all the smaller cars, while the L’Amie/Nelson Porsche 910 and the Blatzheim/Kraus Porsche 907 were still within sight of one another. The Astra was in trouble with broken engine bearers, and none of the Chevron-BMWs were being very impressive, though the Mazda-engined B16 Chevron was running reliably, if not very fast.
On lap 43 Surtees stopped for petrol and then continued to drive, which seemed to be a tactical error on the part of the Ferrari team, and this stop let Kinnunen by into second place. On the next lap Redman refuelled and this time his pit crew used the petrol hose from the Rodriguez pit, which was shorter and more direct, and the stop was well up to normal JW standards. Just after Redman rejoined the race, still in the lead, Kinnunen went by a lot slower than normally, and obviously in trouble. Sure enough he only got as far as Stavelot when Porsche number 25 came to rest with a damaged gearbox, and the Ickx/Surtees Ferrari went by into second place. While this was happening there was excitement in the pits for the Ecurie Francorchamps was refuelled and a lot of petrol was spilt. When Bell started the engine the whole lot went up in a sheet of flame, but foam extinguishers got everything under control pretty promptly and no damage was done, though it was a nasty moment. After the pit stops of Redman and Surtees the gap between the cars was 89 seconds, and from there on it was all over for the “Lancastrian Lad” forged ahead and there was nothing that the “old Pro” Could do about it. By so laps the gap was 110 seconds, and even though Surtees was not keeping up, his second place was secure, for Elford was a lap behind, as were the Giunti/Vaccarella Ferrari, the Attwood/Herrmann Porsche and the Laine/van Lennep Porsche. Everyone was due to make one more refuelling stop and a final change of drivers and all went well in both the Ferrari pit and the JW Gulf pit so that when Siffert settled back into his stride in the leading car he had nearly a lap lead over Ickx in the Ferrari, and as was shown earlier these two were very evenly matched, so it was a matter of stalemate. Ickx gained a few seconds and lost a few seconds, but the gap rested around 2 Min. 50 sec. and it was all over, Ferrari had shown that he very nearly had the measure of the Gulf-Porsche team, and the JW pit work cannot afford to be below par, as it was in this race or Ferrari will beat them. If Ferrari could produce a quartet of drivers to equal the Gulf-Porsche team, then these long-distance races would be even more wide, open. The 512S is strong, as four started and four finished, whereas Porsche lost two from their ranks, as the Gesipa Racing Team 917 was crashed by Neuhaus. That the 917 Porsche is an incredibly fast and powerful car was admirably demonstrated by Rodriguez and it is doubtful whether any of the 3-litre Grand Prix cars will beat his lap record, that is if the GPDA members disdain to race on the fastest and finest circuit in Europe (or the World ?). The Automobile Club of Spa deserve every credit for this fantastic race, as do all the players, and it must have been the ultimate in real Motor racing, with non-union Grand Prix drivers in first and second places. Everyone else who finished seemed to have enjoyed themselves, especially the private learns in the 910 Porsche and 907 Porsche that finished twelfth and thirteenth only 5.2 seconds apart, having been that close from the opening lap, as well as the Laine/van Lennep 917 Porsche and the Attwood/Herrmann 917 Porsche, that were only 2.5 seconds apart at the finish, though neither team realised they were on the same lap, the Porsche Salzburg team being nowhere near as well organised as the Porsche Gulf team.-D. S. J.