A Hard-Fought Race
MONZA, ITALY, April 25th
THE ITALIAN long-distance classic race is held on Liberation Day, April 25th, and this year it was on a Saturday, with practice on the two previous days. This year the 5.75-kilometre road circuit was used, as for the Italian Grand Prix, for time and weather have caused the concrete-banked track to deteriorate and the AC of Milano cannot afford a resurfacing programme yet awhile, so all the fun of the chicanes, before each banking and the pounding round the banking itself were gone from this year’s race and it was a straightforward high-speed dice round the Grand Prix circuit, at comparable speeds. Minimum practice speeds were specified, in order to weed out some of the slower cars, and 40 were destined to start, in three groups: GT, Sport and Sport-Prototypes, which are Groups 4, 5 and 6, but in fact only 38 cars were ready by 10.30 a.m. on Saturday morning. Practice soon showed that the 3-litre Group 6 Prototype cars were hopelessly outclassed by the 5-litre Group 5 “Production” sports cars, all of which made a mockery of FIA rules and regulations, and Siffert’s fastest practice lap of 1 min. 25.21 sec. with the leading Gulf-Porsche 917 fitted with the latest: 5-litre flat-12-cylinder engine, was only one hundredth of a second off the Grand Prix lap record. This with a car that is ostensibly on sale to the sporting public. The fastest 3-litre car in practice was the Alfa Romeo 33-3 works car of de Adamich/Courage, in 1 min. 27.88 sec.
Being on home ground Ferrari put everything he had got into the battle, fielding three 512S models, one “spyder” and two coups, the open car driven by Giunti/Vaccarella, and the closed ones by Amon/Merzario and Schetty/Surtees, the last-named making a welcome return to Maranello. There were two customers with coups 512S Ferraris, the Scuderia Filipinetti with drivers Mike Parkes/Muller and the Italian Scuderia Picchio Rosso with drivers Manfredini/Moretti. Porsche were out in even greater force, with four factory supported 917 coupes, two for JW Automotive Engineering’s Gulf team and two for Porsche Konstruction Salzburg. Each team had a new 5-litre engine which they tried out in practice, the JW team in the Siffert/Redman car and the Salzburg team in the Elford/Ahrens car, the little German driver being back in action again after his recent “testing” accident. Both teams found that he extra torque of the 5-litre engine, over the normal 4 ½-litre in the Porsche 917, gave them better acceleration out of the corners and allowed them to take the Parabolic Curve in third gear, instead of second gear. The extra horsepower at the top end did not make much noticeable difference to top speed. During practice both engines suffered obscure oil leaks and while the Salzburg one was repaired the JW one had to be abandoned and a 4 ½-litre engine installed: In strong support were the second cars of each team, both 4 ½-litres, with Rodriguez/Kinnunen in the JW car and Herrmann/Attwood in the Salzburg car, the latter still in its blue and white colours as raced in America under Audi sponsorship. In addition there were three privately-owned Porsche 917 cars, driven by Piper/Adamowicz, Laine/van Lennep and Neuhaus/Kelleners. The five big Ferraris and seven big Porsches made a stirring sight as they came out on to the two-by-two grid, the Ferraris greeted with patriotic shrieks of delight from the huge crowds and the Porsches greeted with whistles and cat-calls, all in good sporting spirit of serious rivalry.
The Group 6 Prototype 3-litre cars were completely overshadowed by the incredible display of muscle-power from Stuttgart and Maranello and one felt rather sorry for the puny little Matras and Alfa Romeos, Their race was to be equally serious, for Matra had two 650 Spyders in the hands of Beltoise/Brabham and Pescarolo/Servoz-Gavin and Alfa Romeo had four cars to oppose the French team, all being the latest Tipo 33-3 and -driven by “Nanni Galli”/Stommelen, Gregory/Hezemans, Facetti/Zeccoli and de Adamich/ Courage. In the same class were two privately-owned Porsche 908 cars, which last year were main factory contenders and are now little more than International Amateurs’ mounts.
Starting the 174-lap race were Siffert (917), Amon (512S.), Elford (917), Giunti (512S), Rodriguez (917), Surtees (512S), Neuhaus (917), and Herrmann (917), so quite a battle was expected during the opening phase of the race. For the first half a dozen pairs the start was rather poorly given, for the remainder it was a shambles, but everyone got under way, and as the solid pack of big sports cars thundered away towards the Curva Grande it made Grand Prix racing seem a bit tame. There was little need to look to see who was leading out of the Parabolica for the vast concrete grandstand nearly shook with the noise of the crowd. It was Giunti leading with the open Ferrari, hotly pursued by Rodriguez, Siffert, Elford, Anion and Surtees and this bunch of fearsome 5-litre sports cars was more than enough. Herrmann was following the star runners, and right in his slipstream was Pescarolo with his Matra 650, leading all the 3-litre Prototypes and sonic of the 5-litres as well. After only three laps the leaders were lapping the Porsche 911 GT cars at the tail of the field and “travelling chicanes” were being spread all round the circuit to keep the top drivers right on their toes. After five laps Giunti’s glory was over, for Rodriguez took the lead and then Siffert moved up into second place, and the blue and orange Gulf-Porsches now looked as if they were going to dominate the race, but there was a lot of traffic about and the four leading cars indulged in some real cut-and-thrust minor racing in and out of the slower cars. By lap 8 there was a complete reshuffle and the order was Siffert, Giunti, Elford, Rodriguez, and on lap 10 Elford was up in second place. These four had left everyone else behind, even the two professionals Amon and Surtees, who were running in fifth and sixth places. Pescarolo was holding a valiant eighth place, ahead of the Parkes/ Muller Ferrari 512S, Which was just ahead of “Galli” in the first Alfa Romeo, who was followed by Brabham in the second Matra 650. On lap 11 as Siffert rounded the Lesmo corners he had to brake hard to dodge a slower car, and the blue and orange 917 spun and hit the kerb with the right rear wheel. This broke the bottom wishbone and the neighbouring chassis tubes, and while Elford, Giunti and Rodriguez roared on, poor Siffert had to limp slowly back to the pits, where the JW mechanics set to work replacing the wishbone and bolting in replacement chassis tubes. Elford now began to use the superior torque of the 5-litre Porsche to pull away from Giunti and Rodriguez, and in and out of the traffic he was lapping at just under 1 min. 30-sec. At 20 laps the 5-litre Porsche had some eight r seconds lead over Rodriguez in the 4 ½-litre, who was just ahead of Giunti. Already dropping back, Amon was leading Surtees, both running steadily and strongly, leaving Giunti to play the rabbit role. As Elford finished his 27th lap, Siffert rejoined the race with his repaired Porsche, 16 laps in arrears, and as Elford finished his 33rd lap he drew into the pits for his first refuelling, while Giunti also brought the leading Ferrari in. This let Rodriguez into the lead briefly, for he refuelled on lap 35, and as Amon came in on the same lap it actually left Surtees in the lead of the race, but only briefly, for he, too, came in for fuel. All the pit-stops were done without trouble and while Elford continued to drive the big Porsche, and Rodriguez continued to drive the Gulf-Porsche, Giunti handed over to Vaccarella, Amon to Merzario and Surtees to Schetty, and when things settled down the order was: Elford (917), Rodriguez (917), Vaccarella (512S), Schetty (512S), and Merzario (512S), with Herrmann still following and the Matra of Pescarolo, now driven by Servoz-Gavin, still leading the Prototypes. The 3-litres went 10 laps longer than the 5-litres before needing to refuel, and during this difference the Matra moved up into fourth place overall, but it was only temporary.
By 50 laps there was less than a second separating the two Porsches and it looked as though a deadlock had been reached, and they were not far off lapping the third of the works Ferraris. The pace was now fantastically fast, and on lap 62 Elford set up a new lap record in 1 min. 24.8 sec.-244.103 k.p.h., approximately 151 ½ m.p.h., nearly half a second faster than the Formula One lap record set up last September by Beltoise in that memorable Italian GP. This effort gave Elford a slight but positive lead over Rodriguez and on lap 65 he shot into the pits for his second refuelling stop and handed over to Ahrens. Before the 5-litre Porsche rejoined the race, Rodriguez and Vaccarella had gone by so Ahrens was in third place but he knew the others were due to stop. Then Schetty and Merzario stopped to refuel, and while they were in the pits Vaccarella was also called in and the Ferrari mechanics were worked overtime with all three cars in together. In something of a flap they refuelled all three cars and changed drivers and all got safely back into the race, behind the Elford/Ahrens Porsche, which was behind Rodriguez, who had yet to make his second stop. This he did at the end of lap 71, while Ahrens was leaving the Lesmo corners, and as the white 5-litre 917 appeared out of the Parabolica the Gulf-Porsche shot out of the pits and back into the race, still in first place, now with Kinnunen driving. While all this was happening the blue and white Salzburg Porsche 917 had refuelled and Attwood had taken over, but he did not get far for the engine had already broken its valve-gear and that was that, this mishap letting the Pescarolo Matra 650 into a solid sixth place ahead of the second French car, now driven by Beltoise. Well down the field but going strongly was the second Gulf-Porsche of Siffert/Redman, but they had a lot of lost ground to regain. After the Salzburg Porsche had stopped the Piper/Adamowicz Porsche 917 was in trouble with gear selection and eventually withdrew, but all five Ferraris were still running strongly. Although Kinnunen was going well in the leading Gulf-Porsche, it was not good enough, for Ahrens was making full use of the extra half a litre in the white Salzburg car and was hauling in the leading car, passing it on lap 82.
At half-distance, or 87 laps, Ahrens led by five seconds from Kinnunen, and though the Stuttgart factory give strong support to Porsche Salzburg and the Gulf-Porsches there was no question of the teams collaborating in the race, they were as strong rivals to each other as was the Ferrari team, and each was running its own race, the Salzburg team using works personnel in the pits and the Gulf team using John Wyer’s personnel. On lap 92 Kinnunen appeared on his own, the white 5-litre Porsche was missing, and Giunti in the open Ferrari was not far behind. As Ahrens was going into the Curva Grande his left rear tyre burst, which tore away the bodywork and as he slowed and tried to drive back to the pits the ruined tyre damaged the rear suspension and split the oil tank, so he was forced to abandon the car by the track side. Giunti was gaining fast on Kinnunen and as the distance grew shorter excitement in the stands grew louder. At 100 laps the Ferrari was only two seconds behind and this was reduced to one second after two more laps; next time round the Ferrari was in the slipstream of the Gulf-Porsche and it seemed he must take the lead, but he was due in for fuel and on the next lap the Porsche 917 was alone as the Ferrari headed for the pits to refuel. This let Kinnunen breathe freely again for a bit, but he could not relax for he was due in soon. While the Ferrari pits were refuelling Giunti’s car, the other two Ferraris were signalled in and once more pandemonium reigned as the mechanics refuelled all three cars at the same time. After 107 laps the Gulf-Porsche refuelled and Rodriguez took over again, the pit work being stupendously quick so that the blue and orange car was accelerating out of the pit lane before the Ferrari appeared out of the Curva Parabolica, and next time round there was the length of the straight between them. While the Gulf car was safe, it could not relax, for the length of the straight was not much of a lead with nearly a Grand Prix distance still to run. Slowly but surely Rodriguez built up his lead to more than 15 seconds, but even that could be easily lost in a pit-stop by one mechanic faltering in his work. At 137 laps the Gulf-Porsche was 20 seconds ahead, and the Ferrari was in for another refuel and now the Ferrari team made a tactical move. Realising that Rodriguez was going to drive through to the end of the race with only one more fuel stop, and that neither Giunti nor Vaccarella could catch him, they put Amon into the car as he had just handed over his car to Merzario. As the New Zealander started the engine of the open car there was a flash of flame from underneath and everyone scattered. Firemen doused the fire instantly with foam and the car was wiped clean and once more Amon started and a well-meaning fireman let fly with another squirt of foam all over the windscreen, even though there was no more fire and by the time the car was wiped again and rejoined the race the Gulf-Porsche was over a lap ahead. The Ferrari pit was using a pressure refuelling system with a quick-action bayonet fitting but no cut-off valve, and fuel had overflowed from the far-side filler that was acting as a breather, and a flash from the starter motor electrical circuit had ignited the spilt fuel. The prompt action of the firemen saved a catastrophe, even though they also delayed the car’s re-entry into the race.
Rodriguez had one more stop to make, which he did on lap 143 and the JW team’s pit work was masterly, gaining seconds over the best that Ferrari could do, so that as the blue and orange car rejoined the race Amon was just approaching the pits to be on the same lap, but the whole lap behind. It was now all over, providing Rodriguez kept the Ferrari in sight and in fact it was the other way round for Amon was right on his tail and spent the rest of the race either alongside the Porsche or in its slipstream, but Rodriguez is not easily worried and the two cars circulated together right to the end of the race, Amon actually crossed the line a few inches ahead, so that he was on the same lap as the winner, but 1 min. 25.9 sec. behind, which was virtually the time in which they were lapping. With the Grand Prix lap record standing at 1 min. 25.2 sec. it can be appreciated that these two “Production” Group 5 sports cars were really motoring for the whole 1,000 kilometres.
The battle for the lead had been so tense that the rest of the field was almost overlooked and the best 3-litre Group 6 cars were back in fifth and sixth places, for the other two works 5-litre Ferraris never relinquished third and fourth places, even though they changed places at times. Right from the start the two Matras had dominated the Alfa Romeo team, with Pescarolo/Servoz-Gavin continuously in the lead, with the cars of Gregory/Hezemans, de Adamich/Courage and “Galli”/Stommelen chasing them in vain. Shortly before the end, on lap 149, Courage arrived at the pits having lost the complete tail of his Alfa Romeo after spinning in the Curva Grande and another one was produced and wired on in place, but the stop dropped the car right out of the running. At lap 169 Pescarolo had to make a quick stop for a small quantity of fuel as his Matra engine was losing petrol from a leaking tank, and this lost him the lead in the class to the Beltoise/Brabham Matra, which shows how closely matched the two French cars were. They finished fifth and sixth overall and first and second in the 3-litre Prototype Group 6 class, running as well and sounding as crisp as they had at the start.
Overall it was a had day for the Italians, for a lone 4½-litre Porsche had beaten the whole Ferrari team, the two Matras had beaten the Alfa Romeo team, and in the 2-litre class a private 907 Porsche had vanquished private Alfa Romeo 33 and Abarth 2-litre cars, and Porsche 911S coupes had won the GT category. However, the Italian cars had fought hard, especially the Ferraris, and they had a 100% finish, which is more than Porsche could claim for they lost both of the Salzburg cars. It had been a hard race and a good race.—D. S. J.