Surprise victory for Gulf-Mirage
Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium, May 6th
One of the encouraging things about life is that it is never completely bad, and motor racing reflects this more every day, therefore it gave enormous pleasure to witness the running of the 1,000-kilometre sports car race on the super-fast Spa-Francorchamps circuit in the Belgian Ardennes south of Liège. The circuit was in fine condition and exactly as it should be, un-tampered with by the well-meaning members of the GPDA, and those who have a mental block about the Spa-Francorchamps circuit. The atmosphere of the whole meeting was one of pleasure and contentment, with no Association officials and their little black brief-cases, no complaints, no grumbles, no boycotts, no petitions or anything unpleasant; in fact, a typical long-distance classic sports car race, on Europe’s fastest and finest road circuit, round which you and I can drive before and after the event, wondering at the skill and judgement of those who can lap at around 160 m.p.h.
The irony of the whole business of Spa is that the handful of factory cars that were going to battle for victory in this 1,000-kilometre race were out-and-out Formula One Grand Prix cars with all-enveloping bodywork, and among the drivers were Ickx, Merzario, Pace, Pescarolo, Amon, Hill, Hailwood, Ganley and de Adamich who are all practising Formula One Grand Prix drivers and must surely come under the overall blanket when the GPDA use the word “unanimous” which they do very frequently.
However, enough of the bleatings of a small minority, the weather was set fair, the Circuit National of Francorchamps was ready and the teams from Ferrari, Matra-Simca, Gulf-Mirage and Alfa Romeo were raring to go. From Maranello had come two 312P cars with the high-speed bodywork and well-tweaked-up 3-litre flat-12-cylinder engines, as used in the Grand Prix Ferraris, and the one painted red and yellow was for Ickx and Redman (0888), and the one painted red and green was for Carlos Pace and Merzario (0896).
The two Matra-Simca MS670 cars from the French firm were as raced previously, with Pescarolo and Larrousse in the one with the ZF gearbox and Chris Amon and Graham Hill in the one with the lighter Hewland gearbox, the first car being blue and green, and the second blue and white. The two British drivers were temporarily replacing Cevert and Beltoise who were away at a French Formula Two race.
The Gulf-Mirage team had two of their Cosworth V8-powered cars, M602 for Hailwood and Schuppan and M605 for Bell and Ganley, although they nominated their drivers also as reserves so that if need be they could end up with Bell and Hailwood sharing either car.
At long last the “secret” new Alfa Romeo made a public appearanee, this being the 3-litre flat-12-cylinder, with the gearbox between the engine and the differential unit, instead of behind as most constructors have it, The body-work on this new Autodelta Alfa Romeo had some new thinking in aerodynamics, with a large hump full-width behind the cockpit. The 12-cylinder engine looks to be larger than the Ferrari and Tecno of similar flat-12 configuration, and the layout of the car is fairly conventional with the engine bolted to the monocoque centre-section as with Formula One cars. This lone entry from Autodelta was being driven by Stommelen and de Adamich.
There was a large entry of private teams with Lolas, Chevrons, etc., in the 2-litre sports category and numerous Porsche Carreras in the GT class, as well as a lone and lonely Ferrari Daytona. The Porsche factory entered two Carreras in the Martini Racing colours, and as one had a full-width spoiler across the tail it was put in the Group 5 Sports-Prototype class, and was driven by Muller and van Lennep. The other car was in the hands of Follmer and Joest and both had the full 3-litre engines, and the modified rear suspension mounting which caused so much anguish at Monza but was ignored in Belgium. To add interest were two very fast BMW Alpina CSL coupés, with 6-cylinder 3.2-litre engines, though one of them had trouble in the touring car race on the Saturday and had to have a 3-litre engine put in for the 1,000-kilometre race.
When Siffert went round the Spa circuit in a 5-litre Porsche 917 in 1971 in 3 min. 14.6 sec. at an average speed of 260.842 k.p.h. (162.079 m.p.h.) we thought it was the ultimate in high speed driving on a true road circuit. When Ickx did 3 min. 14.0 sec. on Thursday and 3 min 12.7 sec. on Friday in the 312P Ferrari 3-litre and Pescarolo did 3 min. 13.8 sec. on Friday with the 3-litre Matra, one’s sense of proportion got a little put out, for the Ferrari time represented 263.414 k.p.h. (163.7 m.p.h.). The Brazilian driver Carlos Pace was revelling in the high speed corners on his first visit to Spa-Francorchamps and was third fastest with 3 min. 15.4 sec., while Hailwood and Bell got the Gulf-Mirage cars round in 3 min. 16.2 sec. and 3 min 17.6 sec., respectively, all the Gulf drivers spontaneously saying “This is a real racing circuit”. Watching the fast drivers on the Stavelot bend one could not help thinking “They are racing drivers at work, as distinct from drivers who drive racing cars for work.”
While these incredibly high speeds were being demonstrated by mere 3-litre engines, the price had to be paid and Ganley had a Cosworth V8 blow-up in one of the Mirage cars and Larrousse had a connecting rod come out of his Matra engine while it was singing round at 11,500 r.p.m and the resultant fire burnt all the wiring and piping, giving the Matra team a lot of all-night work. The Alfa Romeo team were much worse off for after Stommelen had got down to 3 min. 18.1 sec, finding the new car was down on speed on the fast straights, but handling quite well, de Adamich had a tread come off a rear tyre as he was leaving the Stavelot bend and it spun the car into the guard rail, smashing the back on one side of the road and the front on the other, he being quite unharmed from his second lurid accident within a week. While Matra were able to install a new engine and repair their car, as were Gulf-Mirage, the new Alfa Romeo was seen no more, and with Saturday devoted to saloon car races with no practice for sports cars, there was plently of time for preparation for Sunday’s race, due to start at 2 p.m.and run for 71 laps.
For those who wanted it there was a short practice session for test purposes on Sunday morning, which allowed Mirage and Matra to try out their rebuilt cars, as well as the other ones, and Ferrari tried their two cars as well. In view of the hurried rebuild Matra switched their driver teams, putting Amon and Hill in the rebuilt car, with ZF gearbox, and Pescarolo and Larrousse in the car with Hewland gearbox, but in case of unforeseen trouble they nominated Pescarolo and Amon for both cars.
A straight-forward standing start was effected, the 27 cars in rows of two, with Pescarolo and Ickx on the front row, Pace and Hailwood next, then Bell and Amon, followed by Hine with the best of the 2-litres in Bob Howling’s Chevron. Alongside him should have been Martin Raymond in Humble’s Chevron but the clutch gave up before the start so he lined up at the back of the grid, ready to coast straight into the pits to let his mechanics start work. Almost as the flag was up Hailwood’s Mirage was being push-started and the Matra mechanics were fussing around Amon’s Matra, and as the field got away they all dived over the pit rails to safety.
Ickx led briefly, but the Matra was faster, and Pescarolo was on remarkably good form, shining on the superfast corners with the very stable Matra. He simply pulled away from the Ferrari of Ickx with no trouble at all, but Hailwood, Pace, Amon and Bell were evenly spaced out behind the leading Ferrari, but unable even to see where the leading Matra had gone. Even at the end of the opening lap, which Pescarolo covered in 3 min. 20.5 sec., the 2-litre brigade were in a race of their own, being led by the Chevron of Hine with the similar car of Smith and Welpton in second place. The Dutchman van Lennep in the works 3-litre Porsche Carrera was sandwiched between the two BMW coupés, with Hans Stuck Jnr. in the leading car with 3.2-litre engine and Lauda not quite keeping up in the 3-litre-engined car. Follmer was leading the GT cars and his only possible rival retired at the pits at the end of the opening lap with valve rocker trouble; this was John Fitzpatrick with Kremer’s Porsche Carrera.
On the fourth lap Hailwood had his left front tyre burst at over 180 m.p.h. on the Masta straight and kept everything under control down to a touring speed at which he could creep round to the pits, the flailing rubber thumping and banging the bodywork about. The race itself seemed to be all over, as no-one could do anything about the flying Pescarolo, so attention turned to the battle going on between Stuck (BMW and van Lennep (Porsche), as they passed and repassed, it being obvious that the 3.2-litre BMW-Alpina had a lot of horsepower, being a larger and heavier car than the Porsche. For 10 laps it was a question of waiting patiently, and then pit stops for petrol began, which always stirs up a long-distance race. Pace was the first to come in, after 11 laps, and immediately the excitements and dramas began, for as he went to rejoin the race his Ferrari engine failed to start. By the time another battery had been fitted and he got away, he was nearly a lap behind everyone else.
Pescarolo came in on lap 12, letting Ickx by into a temporary lead and Bell, who was in third place due to Pace’s trouble also refuelled, both he and Pescarolo returning for another spell at the wheel. As Amon had not stopped, this let him into second place for two laps, and on lap 14 first lckx stopped and Redman took over the refuelled Ferrari, and Amon refuelled and continued, by which time Pescarolo passed him, but did not pass the Ferrari.
The two laps that Ickx had done on nearly empty tanks had gained sufficient lead over the Matra on full tanks, for the Ferrari to refuel and get away with 33 seconds advantage. Hailwood had got back to the pits, the damaged bodywork was patched up, new tyres of a different pattern fitted all round and Schuppan took over, all this having dropped the car to sixth place, a lap down on the leader, but still ahead of all the 2-litres and others. Before Pescarolo could do anything about the Ferrari, which was now handicapped by full tanks, the Matra threw a tyre tread and had to creep round for the rest of the lap to undergo a change at the pits, and this put the car right out of the running. This was at 17 laps and two laps later Amon had a tyre go on his Matra and the pit stop let Bell go by into second place.
By 20 laps the whole picture had changed completely, with the Ickx/Redman Ferrari way out on its own, having looked to have no hope of winning, followed by Bell in one of the Gulf-Mirage cars, that had started by barely being able to keep up with the pace, and Amon in third place with the lesser of the two Matras; then came Pace in the other Ferrari, and a lap behind came the Hailwood/Schuppan Mirage, followed by Pescarolo in the second Matra, but not for long as it had another tyre failure, this time a flat, and fell back even further as once more Pescarolo cruised round to the pits. Larrousse took the car over and almost at the same time Amon’s Matra threw a tyre tread and by the time he got back to the pits for more tyres and for Hill to take over, the car was a lap behind the leader.
From having looked as though they were going to dominate the race the Matra team were in a proper mess, lying 5th and 6th behind the second Mirage. The third place Ferrari made a routine stop for fuel at 24 laps and Merzario took over and at 28 laps the leading Ferrari refuelled, had its front tyres changed and Ickx took over, while a lap later Bell brought the Mirage in for fuel and Hailwood took over in place of Ganley. Merzario was not as fast as Pace and was lapped by the leader so that only the Ickx/ Redman Ferrari and the Bell/Hailwood Mirage were on the same lap.
For a time all seemed settled and decided, with lckx (Ferrari) leading Hailwood (Mirage) with no great pressure from the Gulf-sponsored car, while behind them came Merzario Ferrarri, Ganley, having taken over from Schuppan, and Hill (Matra) with Larrousse a long way back. The Porsche/BMW duel ended when it was time to refuel, but the GT class was enlivened by Fitzpatrick taking over the Porsche Carrera of Shickentanz and as Follmer had handed over to Joest, who was 9 sec. a lap slower, the works Porsche was in danger of losing its lead to the English driver. The 2-litre class had all fallen apart. Hine being delayed in the pits and the Smith/ Welpton car retiring, so that the smart Lola T292 of the Portuguese pair Gaspar/Pinhol was leading.
Just when everything seemed settled the Ickx Ferrari was overdue, people could be seen running towardsthe Virage Seaman, by the RAC de Spa clubhouse, and Merzario went by waving. “Pierino” lckx returned to the pits on foot, explaining that the oil pipe union joints to the gearbox oil cooler had cracked and let all the oil out and the gearbox had seized. Accepting his disappointment he stood in front of the Ferrari pits and waved to the crowd while they applauded his efforts. In the Gulf-Mirage pits they now “really did believe in Father Christmas”, for the Bell/Hailwood car was securely in the lead, providing Merzario stayed in the remaining Ferrari and Ickx did not take it over. All this meant that in spite of delays the second Mirage was in third place, and Matra took heart and when Hill refuelled they put Pescarolo in the car instead of Amon.
At 38 laps the Ferrari refuelled and had the rear tyres changed and everyone expected lckx to take over, but instead Pace returned to the car, presumably because the Ferrari team manager had calculated that they could not catch the Mirage now that it had the two fastest Gulf drivers in it. On lap 41 as Pescarolo went by his second Matra for the day had lost the edge off its exhaust scream, and by Matra standards soundest flat, so once again the pattern of the race seemed settled, but not for long, for on lap 47 Pace was overdue and arrived at the pits late, with an oil pipe hanging off the gearbox oil cooler. A union had broken away from the cooler, so in a panic another cooler was lashed up, some oil poured in the gearbox and Pace rejoined the race, but damage had been done and the Ferrari had no fourth or fifth gear, the Brazilian having to lift off at peak in third gear and stay that way for most of the lap. During the pit stop the tail of the Ferrari fell shut on the mechanics working on the oil cooler and one of them was knocked out “cold” with a nasty cut on his head, which did not help matters.
While all this had been going on the second Mirage had taken second place so that the two blue and orange Gulf cars were now in full command, with no problems. Pescarolo’s flat-sounding Matra did not last long for losing the edge off an engine like the Matra can only mean impending disaster, and sure enough it blew up in a big way. At 49 laps Amon took over the remaining Matra from Larrousse and gradually caught up and passed the stricken Ferrari. During refuelling stops the two Mirage cars changed positions, but by the end of the race they were back in order again and eventually finished close together but a lap apart, bringing great joy to the Gulf Research Team who recently have been having a rough time. Not only was it their first victory this season, it was the first victory for a Cosworth V8 engine in long-distance racing and the first victory by a British sports car in a long while, and the winning car was driven by two very English drivers, a rare thing these days.
The prototype 3-litre Porsche Carrera RSR finished ahead of all the 2-litre cars and the GT version won its class, but only after Fitzpatrick had his second Carrera engine of the day break on him. The two BMW saloons put up a remarkable performance, finishing seventh and eighth—D.S.J.
1,000 Km. of Spa – Grps 2, 3, 4 and 5 – Francorchamps – 71 laps – 1,001 km. – Dry & Overcast
1st: D. Bell/M. Hailwood (Gulf Mirage M605 Cosworth V8) – Grp 5 – 4 hr. 05 min. 43.5 sec. – 244.443 k.p.h.
2nd: M. Hailwood/V. Schuppan/H. Ganley (Gulf Mirage M602 Cosworth V8) – Grp 5 – 2 laps behind
3rd: H. Pescarolo/G. Larrousse/C. Amon (Matra-Simca MS670 V12) – Grp 5 – 3 laps behind
4th: C. Pace/A. Merzario (Ferrari 312P flat-12) – 4 laps behind
5th: H. Müller/G. van Lennep (Porsche Carrera RSR 3-litre flat-6) – Grp 5 – 8 laps behind
*6th: C. Santos/C. Mendoza (Lola T292-Ford 1.9-litre) – Grp 5 – 9 laps behind
*7th: H. Stuck/N. Lauda/B. Muir (BMW Alpina CSL 3.2-litre) – Grp 2 – 9 laps behind
8th: N. Lauda/B. Muir/H. Stuck (BMW Alpina CSL 3.0-litre) – Grp 2 – 10 laps behind
9th: C. Dubos/Mlle. C. Beckers (Chevron B21-Ford 1.8-litre) – Grp 5 – 10 laps behind
*10th; G. Follmer/R. Joest (Porsche Carrera RSR 3-litre flat-6) – Grp 4 – 11 laps behind
* Class winner
Also classified: C. Haldi/B. Cheneviere (Porsche Carrera RSR), 14 laps behind; T. Pilette/R. Bond (Ferrari Daytona), 14 laps behind; A. Birchenough/P. Kaye (Lola T290), 15 laps behind; C. Schickentanz/J. Fitzpatrick (Porsche Carrera RSR), 16 laps behind; J. Hine/R. Howlings (Chevron B23), 16 laps behind; C. Gaspar/J. Pinhol (Lola T292), 19 laps behind.
Fastest lap:H. Pescarolo (Matra-Simca MS670) in 3 min. 13.4 sec. – 262.461 k.p.h. – 163.09 m.p.h. – Outright record
Retired:J. Ickx/B. Redman (Ferrari 312P); C. Amon/G. Hill (Matra-Simca MS670); M. Raymond/P. Humble (Chevron B23); R. Heavens/J. Leguellec (Chevron B23); P. Smith/D. Welpton (Chevron B23); I. Harrower/J. Bell (Chevron B23); T. Twaites/W. de Selincourt (Chevron B21); A. Goodwin/M. McDonough (Dulon); J. Fitzpatrick/P. Keller (Porsche Carrera RSR); J. Barrios/J. Uriarte (Chevron B21); Christmann/Kanyz (Ford Capri).
27 starters – 16 finishers