CONTINENTAL NOTES, June 1970

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AS WILL be remembered, last year the Belgian Grand Prix was cancelled because certain members of the Grand Prix Drivers’ Association thought this was wrong, and that was wrong, with the Spa circuit, and after discussions with the organisers, they, the organisers, said “To hell with it, there won’t be a Belgian GP”, and all the grumblers were safe but out of work that weekend. The Belgian organisers made the drivers the scapegoats, making them take the blame, and then it came out that certain people were looking for an excuse to get the Grand Prix away from Spa to a new circuit near Bruxelles. Later in the season the circuit owners carried out most of the safety requirements demanded by the Drivers’ Association, and in August the drivers said they were prepared to race at Spa in 1970, which put the Bruxelles people on a bit of a spot, for they were planning to get the Grand Prix to their circuit, if not in 1970, in 1971, except that there was a lot of opposition to the idea from the Belgian sporting public. Back in April the GPDA changed their tune and said they would race at Spa as long as it did not rain, as if the organisers had control over the weather. Then they put a really ludicrous idea to the organisers, that if it rained in the morning the start should be delayed until the rain went away, and if it did not then the race should be called off. To which the organisers asked “and what about the 120,000 spectators who may have paid to see the race ?”

After more discussions between the organisers and the GPDA representatives, and do not forget that the drivers are not unanimous on this objection to Spa in the rain, an agreement was reached. The Belgian Grand Prix will be organised and the actual starting time will he flexible, depending on weather conditions. If heavy rain starts while the race is on then the race will be stopped. If conditions are doubtful before the appointed starting time, or the roads are wet, Graham Hill will do a tour of the circuit and make the decision about starting and the drivers will accept his decision. The whole question is still a bit vague as to such details as what constitutes “heavy rain” and at what point the race will stop, and will there be prize money if it has only run two laps, and will it count for Championship points if it has not run long enough for FIA rules, and so on. If it does rain during the race I hope the organisers will wait until Ickx, Suttees, Siffert or Rodriguez have taken the lead before they stop the race. Why those drivers ? Because I know they are all prepared to race at Spa under any conditions and drive accordingly, and I hope one of them (l don’t mind which one) wins this year’s Belgian Grand Prix. Andwhat about the new RACB circuit near Bruxelles ? Oddly enough there hasn’t been a word mentioned.

So it seems that the Belgian GP is more or less assured, which is good because had it been cancelled this year it would have been the second year running and by RA rules it would have been scrubbed from the list of Grande Epreuves. To get back on the list they would have had to hold a non-Championship Grand Prix for one year and then received FIA approval for re-instatement. The way the FIA ignore and alter rules to suit somebody’s (financial) whim these days the foregoing would probably not apply. That is the Belgian question, now the Dutch are in trouble. The Dutch Grand Prix at Zandvoort on June 21st is in jeopardy as the organisers have lost a lot of money over the last two years and at the moment cannot guarantee to raise the money required to run this year’s event. Wouldn’t it be nice if the Drivers and Constructors were to say “We like your circuit and we like your organisation so much that we do not want to miss a Dutch Grand Prix, so we will come for half the normal amount of money and help you recoup your losses” ? I always was a dreamer ! What most people are more interested in is the fact that the organisers of the American Grand Prix have guaranteed even more money than last year.

It is not difficult to see why a lot of race organisers give up, like Morocco, Portugal and Switzerland, they are attacked on all sides. Some years ago the Swiss ran a Grand Prix weekend, for motorcycles on Saturday and cars on Sunday, but opposition from both sides eventually caused a rift and the FIA and FIM agreed that the two worlds should not hold Grand Prix events on the same weekend on the same circuit. It was all a matter of “nasty motorcycles dropping oil on the car circuit” and “nasty racing cars depositing too much rubber during practice”. Now a new problem has arisen. The racing-car world has demanded so much protection around the circuits, with guard-rails and the removal of straw bales, that things are now very dodgy for motorcyclists. At the recent Eifel races a British motorcyclist crashed into a guard-rail and the steel fence severed one of his legs and he died that evening. (A very personal shock as he was an old friend of mine.) World Champion Motoreyclist Giacomo Agostini has said loud and clear that the protective measures at Nurburgring are essentially to stop wayward cars, and many of them are lethal to a motorcyclist who crashes. If Rob Fitton had hit straw bales, the bales would have burst and he would probably have got away with a broken leg. The unforgiving guard-rails almost cut him in half. It is a very difficult problem for organisers, especially at the Nurburgring, for everyone wants to race there, whether on two, three or four wheels.

It is quitea time in the history of motor racing since so many decisions were made and then altered, or so many age-old accepted ideas were discarded. We are certainly passing through an age of changes, and whether they are good or had is a matter of personal opinion. At Le Mans the traditional run-across-the-road start has now been abandoned, in the cause of that splendid new word the French have discovered, “security”. The Le Mans organisers were going to replace the traditional start with a sort of circus-act, with the second-driver doing the running and turning on the master-switch. The regulations even specified that the said master-switch should be located on the left side of the car, just ahead of the rear wheel. A friend with a vintage D8 Delage touring car was highly amused by the specification, for his car has an original master-switch for the battery in exactly that place. The Automobile Club de l’Ouest have now decided to drop the circus-act and instead all the drivers will be seated at their controls, fingers on the starting buttons, and at the start signal they will press their buttons and (we hope) roar off into the race. In order that everyone shall see the start signal at the same time it will be given by a long series of lights, the length of the pits, for the cars will be lined up in the traditional way at 45 degrees to the direction of the race. Presumably the little ceremony of the boy-scouts reverently carrying the starting flag to the head of the line, and a dignitary such as Henry Ford or Dr. Porsche actually waving the flag, will be abandoned, and the starter will sit at an electronic panel and push the “Go” button. We certainly do live in times of change.

One thing that does not change is the attitude of some drivers and the excuses they make for not winning. After the Monza 1,000 kilometres there was some muttering that Amon and Surtees had been given tired old Ferraris, while Giunti and Vaccarella had the super-Ferrari. The Italian magazine Auto-Sprint got all the official lap times and they make interesting reading. Elford set a new lap record in 1 min. 23.8 sec. with the 5-litre Porsche 917 and Rodriguez was next fastest, with the 4 ½-litre Porsche in 1 min. 25.2 sec. Of the three Ferraris, Surtees was fastest in 1 min. 25.8 sec., followed by Giunti with 1 min. 25.9 sec., while Vaccarella in the Giunti car did 1 min. 26,4 sec. In his own car Amon did a fastest lap of 1 min. 26.1 sec. and in the reputedly super-fast car that he took over he did 1 min. 26.0 sec. Merzario’s best lap in the Amon car was 1 min. 26.3 sec. and Schetty’s best in the Suttees car was 1 min. 26.5 sec. Which all goes to show something or other.—D. S. J.