—a poor race
Monza, Italy, April 25th.
After the BOAC 1000 at Brands Hatch (reported in last Month’s Motor Sport) the sports car scene moved to Monza, the very fast Italian road circuit being in direct contrast to the wiggly British circuit. The event was the annual 1,000-kilometre race and as usual was held on April 25th, which is a public holiday in Italy to celebrate the 1945 Liberation. Right from the start the event proved to be an organisers’ nightmare, for after starting off well with three cars entered by Ferrari, for Ickx/Regazzoni, Peterson/Schenken and Redman/Merzario, all three being the 1972 model 312P, that was where it virtually ended for Alfa Romeo did not enter at all, preferring to go to Sicily to practise for the Tarp Florio, and the Gulf Research Racing Mirage was not entered, nor any Matras, the French team having only one goal in mind, that being Le Mans. The only possible opposition to the Ferrari ream were the two Lola T280s with Cosworth V8 engines of the Bonnier team, with Larousse and Wisell supported by Bonnier and de Fierlant. The rest of the entry was made up by private owners with a mixed bag of machinery, some of it 3-litres„ like the ex-works Porsche 908/3 of Jöst/Schueler, and the 908/2 models of Ronomelli!”Noris” and Stuppacher/Marko, but the last two cars blew up in practice to add to the organisers’ agony. The rest of the sports cars were 2-litres by Abarth, Chevron, Lola and Porsche and in order to boost up the field the race was open to Group 4 GT cars, providing they qualified at 123% of the three fastest practice laps. This group attracted a horde of 2.4-litre Porsche 911S models and three De Tomas° Panteras with 5.7-litre Ford V8 engines, and further gloom was added to the event when none of the Porsches could qualify, not even the Kremer car driven by British saloon car ace Fitzpatrick. The three Panteras did qualify however, so that a field of 23 cars was drawn up for Tuesday’s race, the start being arranged in pairs, with Peterson (Ferrari 312P) and Ickx (Ferrari 312P) on the front row, followed by Redman (Ferrari 312P) and Wisell (Lola T280) but on past performances the Bonnier Lolas were not going to present much of a challenge to the Ferrari team, so everyone was prepared for a Ferrari procession and demonstration, but it was not to be.
From dawn on race day the rain started to pour down, and it was still pouring down at 11 a.m. when the race should have started. The whole field was allowed some warm-up laps to get the feel of the track which was quite badly flooded in places, and Peterson who was due to be on pole position promptly went off the track at the Parabolic Curve and smashed the nose cowling of the Ferrari and got stuck in the wet sand. An Abarth-Fiat also crashed in this warm-up session, so the break-down lorries had to set off to retrieve these two cars. A new nose cowling put the Ferrari back on the grid but the Abarth was withdrawn, so along with the two 908/2 Porsches that had blown-up this reduced the field to 20, and at 11.30 a.m. the rain was still pouring down so the decision was made to start the race.
What should have been an easy Ferrari procession with routine stops to refuel and change drivers turned into a Ferrari rout and a complete shambles that was only salved by luck rather than judgement. Mostly it was the torrential rain that caused the trouble as sheets of water were forming on the track and not remaining consistent so that they would be in one place on one lap and somewhere else on the next lap. The three Ferraris started off well with Ickx and Peterson more or less side-by-side and Redman a little way back, but then the British driver had a spin at the Parabolica and crumpled the tail of his Ferrari slightly and lost a lot of ground, Wisell’s Lola retired almost before it had got going and Larrousse held third place for a while and later moved up to second place as Ickx ran into electrical trouble and was forced to stop at the pits, but then the Lola driver went off the road and retired at the pits with bent suspension and mud in all sorts of undesirable places.
All this left Peterson alone in the lead and after 32 laps he stopped for petrol and was soon on his way again. Regazzoni took over from Ickx but the engine of their Ferrari never sounded right and Redman was not keeping pace with the charging Swede, So that Jöst got his 908/3 Porsche into second place.
The race was to be run over 174 laps and even before quarter-distance the whole thing had become a shambles for on the fast back leg of the circuit, on the left-hand Vialone curve, Redman spun on the sheet water and crumpled his Ferrari against the guard-rail and almost at the same time Peterson did the same thing. While Redman was forced to abandon there and then, Peterson limped back to the pits and the whole of the left rear suspension was replaced before Schenken could take over the car. This long stop meant that Jöst took over the lead with the 908/3 Porsche, followed by the two De Tomaso Panteras of Muller and Casoni/”Pooky” and for a glorious moment, while Jöst was in the pits to refuel and to hand over to his co-driver Schueler, who was having his first go at this sort of racing, the Pantera of Muller actually led the race, much to the joy of Alessandro De Tomaso who was standing in the rain explaining just how standard his cars were. Had Commendatore Ferrari been there he would have had an apoplexy, with one car crashed into the guard-rail, another in pieces at the pits and the third out on the track but running very fitfully on ten or eleven cylinders, but seldom on twelve. The De Tomaso joy did not last king for Muller was pushed off line by a slower car and he wrote off the whole or the right side of his Pantera against the iron barriers and luckily for him the car had a left-hand driving position so he was unhurt. He limped the car back to the pits on two broken wheels minus their tyres, but the suspension was damaged so that was that, and the small vociferous Swiss could be heard yelling about the driver of the slow car even from within the confines of his Bellstar crash helmet.
Slowly but surely the number one Ferrari was beginning to make up for the time lost at the pits, for running badly as it was, both Ickx and Regazzoni could easily out drive Jöst and his partner, so that by half-distance the Ferrari pit could breath again, as they had a car back in the lead, but the Peterson/Schenken car was still a long way back and behind the two remaining Panteras, who were third and fourth. None of the 2-litre cars had proved to be any opposition at all, and few of them ran properly on four cylinders, let alone lasted the distance, so that the old 907 Porsche of Wicky, driven by Mattli/Bayard was finding itself in the money.
Still the rain poured down and those spectators who had turned up actually stayed on to the bitter end, probably out of curiosity than anything else, for with only seven cars left running in the second half, a mere 87 laps still to go, anything could happen. The second fastest Pantera began to wilt with more and more smoke coming from the engine department and it finally ground to a halt, De Tomaso explaining it by saying “the water and the oil have become mixed up”. Although it was pushed away to the dead-car park it had done enough laps to be classified seventh and last. The third Pantera was showing signs of becoming tired and it was passed by the Peterson/Schenken Ferrari, as was anticipated, and also by the old 907 Porsche. The lckx/Regazzoni Ferrari kept going to the end, the drivers having their fingers crossed all the time and the Jöst/Schueler Porsche gained a well-deserved second place for it did not miss a beat all day and was a fine example of a private-owner team, with a little help and knowledge from the factory, profiting from the troubles of a powerful works team.
If there has been a worse Monza 1,000-kilometre race then I must have missed it, but there have been some very good ones in recent years so we must not complain, for things cannot be good all the time. If the organisers had sat down and wept after it was all over no one would have blamed them. — D. S. J.