A clean sweep for Gulf-Porsches
Monza, Italy, April 25th
Long before the day of the race for the 1,000 kilometres of Monza the event was fraught with problems and these continued right up to the Saturday evening when practice finished, but everything turned out all right and the race was a success. During the time that entries were being made Ferrari suggested that chicanes should be put in the two main straights of the Monza road circuit in order to slow the 5-litre Porsche 917 cars. He intended to enter his 3-litre Group 6 Prototype and felt that the fast Monza circuit gave the Porsches an unfair advantage. When Alfa Romeo heard this suggestion they gave it their full support, as their 3-litre Prototypes will not keep pace with the 3-litre Ferrari, let alone the 5-litre Porsches.
However, when Porsche heard about this idea they said, on behalf of JW Gulf and the Martini team, that they would not enter the race if chicanes were built, so the organisers had a problem on their hands. They had ideas for modifying the back straight which involved cutting down a great number of trees but the owners of the Monza Park in which the Autodromo is situated said this could not be done, so there was a bit of a deadlock. Eventually everything was sorted out, the circuit left unchanged and everybody entered, including Ferrari after Regazzoni had unofficially lapped the 312 Prototype at the same speed as Elford’s 1970 lap record set up with a 5-litre Porsche. This was in 1 min. 24.8 sec., whereas the GP lap record is still at 1 min. 25.2 sec. set up by Beltoise in 1969 with a Matra-Cosworth V8 and equalled last year by Regazzoni with a 312B Ferrari. However, the Grand Prix clan could take heart from Ickx having got a Ferrari round in practice last year in 1 min. 24.14 sec.
The entry list having been settled satisfactorily the next problem arose on the first day of practice when the rains came, and they got steadily worse. A grey gloom settled over the Autodromo and on the damp and soggy track no-one could approach 1 min. 30 sec. while some of the also-rans were more than a minute slower. In spite of the conditions Elford made the fastest lap, in a Martini Team Porsche 917 at over 137 m.p.h. average, which was pretty impressive motoring in the wet.
One second behind him was Ickx with the lone flat-12 cylinder Ferrari Prototype, with Regazzoni only eight-tenths of a second slower in the same car. The second Martini Team Porsche 917 broke its engine and was towed in during an interval in the four-hour practice session. Alfa Romeo entered four cars, but only three arrived to be driven by de Adamich/Pescarolo, Galli/Stommelen and Hezemans/Vaccarella, the last named joining the team for the first time at Monza. Zeccoli should have driven the fourth car so he was loaned to Herbert Muller’s Swiss Ferrari team, joining Moretti in a rebuilt 512M,, while Muller and Herzog had the team’s second 512M Ferrari. Also from Switzerland came the Scudera Filipinetti Ferrari team with Parkes and Bonnier in a 512S-bodied car with the latest mechanical components and Manfredini/Gagliardi in a 512M.
The JW Gulf team had two of their works-supported 917 Porsches for Rodriguez/Oliver and Siffert/Bell, with a third car as a spare, while the rest of the 40 or so cars that turned up for practice was made up of entries from all over Europe of semi-professionals with new cars to rank amateurs with home-made specials. One of these was a one-off special powered by a Fiat-Dino engine in the rear and during Saturday’s wet practice Galli hit it up the back with his 33-3 Alfa Romeo and wrecked the front end and damaged one of his hands. This caused Alfa Romeo a lot of work to “rebuild” the car and left them a driver short for the race.
Many of the entry did not even get out of the paddock, while others failed scrutineering, or did not have the right paperwork, and some blew up as soon as they started practising. In spite of the consistent rain the more serious teams got on with their race preparation, but the organisers were not happy about the prospects of running the race under such appalling conditions and practice was ended an hour early on Saturday afternoon as visibility was so bad. While all the teams were prepared to get on with the race, no matter what the conditions were, the organisers could see a financial disaster ahead of them if the rain continued and no spectators turned up, while they were equally disturbed by the sight of the fast cars lapping at over 130 m.p.h. in clouds of spray. There were serious discussions about abandoning the whole event when everyone packed up on Saturday evening, but luckily the weather man was kind and overnight the clouds went away and Sunday morning was perfect.
In view of the perfect conditions which no-one had been able to sample in practice there was an extra practice session for the 30 cars that had qualified for the race, the organisers ruling out any cars that were too slow. The two JW Automotive Gulf-sponsored Porsches were using four-speed gearboxes and long tails with large fins on each side and no spoilers, sacrificing a bit of down-thrust at the rear for improved drag and hoping that the fins would keep them sufficiently stable at high speed. This works-development tail was also fitted to the two Martini Team Cars, that of Marko/van Lennep having its right side fin patched with aluminium after it had been damaged by over-zealous spectators in the paddock. The yellow and green 917 of Jöst/Kauhsen also had this latest type of works tail.
The little flat-12-cylinder Ferrari had two small fins on its tail section to aid stability and the slot in the nose merely allowed air to flow through the nose section and out of the top opening, all the radiators being at the rear of the car, a water radiator on each side of the engine and oil coolers at the back. Alfa Romeo were using colour-coding on the noses of two of their cars, orange for the Hezemans/Vaccarella car and yellow for the de Adamich/Pescarolo one, while that of Stommelen was in its natural red colour. With Galli unable to drive their plan was that Hezemans would start in car number 16, Stommelen in number 19. Vaccarella would take over from Hezemans, while Stommelen drove the maximum, then Hezemans would take over number 19, Vaccarella would continue for the maximum possible time while Stommelen rested, and then the German would take over number 16 for the last part of the race. Meanwhile, de Adamich and Pescarolo shared the third Alfa Romeo more or less equally. During the extra practice session one of the private 908 Porsches expired and was wheeled away, leaving 29 cars to line up in two rows for the start.
The sunshine had brought out an enormous crowd of spectators, much to the organisers’ relief, and the start was given at 11.20 a.m. in a rather ragged fashion, with Parkes leaping into the lead with his Filipinetti Ferrari, hotly pursued by the Porsches and the works Ferrari, but they all left Muller on the start line as his Ferrari battery suddenly decided it could not start the engine and keep the fuel pressure going. While Parkes led the field down the back straight Muller got going and charged off after the other 28 cars. It only needed four laps for order to be established, with the two JW Gulf cars in first and second places (Rodriguez followed by Siffert), then a Martini Porsche (Elford) followed by the works Ferrari (Ickx).
From the word go the pace was extremely fast, the leaders soon lapping below 1 min. 25 sec., and on the eighth lap Siffert recorded 1 min. 24.1 sec., to which Rodriguez replied with 1 min. 24 sec. on lap 12, by which time Martin (Porsche 917) had been lapped, even though he was holding 14th position. It was on this lap that a cloud of black smoke arose from amid the trees between the Lesmo corners and the Ascari curve and the whole pattern of the race took on a different shape. Merzario in the yellow and red Ferrari 512M of Juncadella’s Spanish team had got ahead of Ickx in the works 312P Ferrari and was about to lap an amateur driver in an eight-cylinder Porsche when it moved into his path and the Ferrari hit it. The Porsche 907 came apart and caught fire and the Ferrari spun to a standstill while a Porsche 908 hit the wreckage and Ickx in the works Ferrari found himself heading for a wall of smoke and flame. He clobbered part of the wrecked Porsche which tore the Ferrari bodywork and wrenched the left rear wheel nearly through 90 degrees. Muller was one of the first to arrive amid the wreckage and had to wait for a path to be cleared through and Hezemans had his Alfa Romeo bodywork catch alight and had to stop and put the fire out.
When all the dust and smoke had settled four cars were out of the race, the works Ferrari of Ickx, the 5-litre Ferrari of Merzario, the 908 Porsche of Weigel and the completely demolished 907 Porsche of Meier, who was the only one injured, with minor burns and a leg injury. The Gulf-Porsches were in full command of the race, for Elford’s Porsche was not running properly and finally succumbed to engine trouble and there was no-one else capable of keeping up with Siffert or Rodriguez. The Gulf-Porsches’ domination suddenly received a setback when Siffert got some of the mess from the fire on his windscreen and had to stop briefly at the pits to have it cleared off, and then it got a puncture, probably from bits of the wreckage from the crash, and had to make a second unscheduled stop for a wheel change.
All this dropped it back to ninth position and with the 5-litre cars having to stop for refuelling sooner than the 3-litres, the Alfa Romeo team who were running steadily and reliably moved up the score-board. After the first refuelling Rodriguez continued in the leading 917 Porsche, with Stommelen in second place but nearly a minute behind. Parkes had gone out with a broken engine in his 512 Ferrari before his co-driver Bonnier had had a chance to sit in the car, and the second Filipinetti car was also in trouble. Muller’s Swiss-based team were going well, Moretti having climbed up to third place as others fell out, and Herbert himself was still going strongly to make up for time lost at the start.
By 60 laps nine cars had dropped out, Rodriguez was still leading from Stommelen, with the Moretti/Zeccoli Ferrari third and the second Gulf car fourth, with Bell now at the wheel; then came de Adamich, Muller’s Ferrari now driven by his partner Herzog, and Vaccarella now in the third Alfa Romeo, with Hezemans in the pits waiting to take over the leading Alfa Romeo when Stommelen had done enough. The leading Porsche had more than a lap advantage over the second car when it stopped for its second refuelling and for Oliver to take over, so that all he had to do was to keep it all nicely on the boil. Refuelling stops were proving to be very quick amongst the professional teams for JW and Alfa Romeo had vast towers behind the pits with fuel reservoirs on top which let the petrol gush down a four-inch pipe in a matter of seconds for a tankful. Stommelen’s Alfa Romeo was refuelled in a 20-second stop, and Rodriguez was away after only 27 seconds with the 917 Porsche, it taking longer to clean the windscreen than it did to fill the petrol tank!
Stommelen’s second stop was accompanied by a moment of panic when the engine restarted but then got all “rich” and would not open up. Eventually it cleared and he was back in the race, but this delay made it easier for the Siffert/Bell Porsche to regain second place, which it was obviously going to do before long, having recovered fully from its two earlier pit stops. After less than an hour’s rest Rodriguez got back into the leading Porsche and cruised round continually at record speeds, the overall average rising all the time since the slight delay caused by the accident on lap 12.
There were no problems with the two Gulf Porsches and they continued to run two laps apart, but just before the end of the 174 laps the gearbox on the leading car developed trouble and Rodriguez was forced to slow to a lap time of 1 min. 30 sec., having no third gear available. He had been about to lap his team-mate and as the race drew to a close Siffert slowed down and waited for Rodriguez, the two blue and orange Porsches crossing the line in formation, with Rodriguez just slightly in front on the road, but a full three laps ahead in fact. The Alfa Romeo team’s “musical chairs” with their drivers worked out admirably and once again regularity and reliability paid off, for they finished third, fourth and fifth. The Muller team were very unlucky in losing a strong third place when the Moretti/Zeccoli car suffered clutch operation failure, necessitating changing the hydraulic line, and the Muller/Herzog pair finished sixth after a trouble-free run apart from the delayed start and the time lost at the multiple accident.
Exactly half the field were still running at the finish, but some of the backmarkers were desperately slow and only proved reliable because the drivers were not stressing the mechanism too much. The Martini Team had a disastrous day, neither car ever being in contention and the Marko/van Lennep car dying out on the circuit with nothing more than a broken throttle cable, Marko walking back to the pits. The Scuderia Ferrari’s little flat-12-cylindered car, that must surely sweep the board in 1972 when 5-litre cars are banned, was once more involved in an accident and damaged quite extensively, the team’s pit equipment always including a complete new nose piece and tail section, but this time they were of no avail. Although the JW Gulf-Porsches swept the board, with two cars starting and finishing first and second, the Alfa Romeo team were equally satisfied with the running of their three 3-litre cars.
The amount of driving the number one drivers did in each car and the amount the number two drivers did varied considerably from team to team and the sharing of the first eight cars makes interesting reading, the details being supplied by the timekeepers to the Press department of the AC of Milan.
1. Rodriguez (start). Oliver lap 68. Rodriguez lap 103 to the finish.
2. Siffert (start), BeIl lap 56, Siffert lap 120 to the finish.
3. De Adamich (start), Pescarolo lap 74 to the finish.
4. Hezemans (start), Vaccarella lap 43, Stommelen lap 133 to the finish.
5. Stommelen (start), Hezemans lap 91 to the finish.
6. Muller (start), Herzog lap 143 to the finish.
7. Kauhsen (start), Jöst lap 31. Kauhsen lap 61, Jöst lap 105 to the finish.
8. Moretti (start), Zeccoli lap 35, Moretti lap 67, Zeccoli lap 100, Moretti lap 132 to the finish.
Co-drivers Larrousse, van Lennep, Juncadella, Bonnier, Gagliardi, Regazzoni, Spoerry, “Riccardone”, “Gap”, “Christie” all failed to get a drive, their cars retiring early in the race.—D. S. J.