Sunny start for March
Silverstone, England, February 6th.
TRUE to its promises, March Engineering’s first public appearance at Silverstone saw two Formula One cars lapping the Grand Prix circuit with a large variety of drivers at the wheel. It was lucky for all involved that the sun shone brightly: just imagine what a flop the day could have been if it had rained.
What was more significant was the announcement that Anthony (Andy) Granatelli’s giant STP Corporation was indeed sponsoring the project. The announcement of the firm’s
March’s four directors all have a creditable record in racing thus far, three of them as drivers. They are aiming for the top rewards in Grand Prix racing, as Chief Designer Robin Herd is well aware. As he says, “Here we are, blithely setting off in the hope of winning our first Grand Prix. Only Mercedes-Benz, with their tremendous facilities have won a Grand Prix at the first attempt since the war”. Clearly March must succeed where others have failed. The possibility of not being successful is a prospect which is not discussed at Bicester, probably because everyone is so busy. At present they simply don’t have time to sit back and reflect upon it.
A company is only as good as the people behind it. In the case of March, the four men responsible are steeped in racing and have valuable talents in other directions. The first letters of their surnames provided the firm with its name, although the fact that the Formula One cars will race for the first time during the third month of the year has obviously not been lost on the Press.
Max Mosley has already found for March the funds which it needs to establish itself both as a commercial and racing entity. So far the names of the sponsors have not been revealed, which has caused wild speculation over the source of the obviously very considerable funds required to launch such an ambitious project. Mosley will say only that the money has come from a source outside racing. Aged 30 this year, he is a barrister, but also has an Oxford degree at honours level to physics in addition to a silver-tongued oratory. Mosley was a highly successful competitor in the Clubman’s Formula before he took up Formula Two racing in 1968. Last year he only raced briefly before retiring to concentrate on forming March.
Formula Two is also the field which provided March with 32-year old Alan Rees. As Racing Manager of Winkelmann Racing (and until last year the team’s second driver) Rees was (before his move to March) the man responsible for providing Jochen Rindt with a competitive F2 car. The high standard of Winkelmann preparation is almost legendary; Rindt has consistently won more F2 races than anybody else, so it is not surprising that two of the Winkelmann mechanics joined Rees in the move to Bicester. In addition to his racing experience, Rees also has a degree in Economics from the University of Wales: this year he will be responsible for managing the two works Formula One cars to be driven by Amon and Siffert.
The eldest of the four at 37 is Graham Coaker, formerly Production Controller of components at Hawker Siddeley and later with a Motor Division of the Company. There is a sharp division between the responsibilities of the individual directors at March, Coaker being responsible for the tube-frame production cars. These are currently being made in Formula Ford, Formula Three, Formula B and Formula Two guise. Orders have come in from all over the world and the first delivery took place at the end of January.
It is on the fourth March Director that the limelight has yet to fall, for he is the designer, former McLaren and Cosworth employee Robin Herd. While Mosley gathers in the cash, Rees makes arrangements for transporting the racing team across two Continents and Coaker supervises the production of the customers’ cars, Herd must sit and bite his nails.
His first March, the Formula Three car which Ronnie Peterson drove to third place (despite a puncture) at CadwelI Park last September, was manifestly as good as any other F3 machine. But until the Formula One and Can-Am cars (the latter, for Amon and Andretti, are now being built) have actually raced, it will be impossible to say whether or not March’s aspirations are overly ambitious.
Still only 32 years old, Herd has a convincing competition “pedigree”. It was fellow March Director Alan Rees who introduced him to racing in circumstances which will be familiar to many schoolboys. “It all goes back to Alan and I reading MOTOR SPORT in the Headmaster’s Divinity lesson at Monmouth School and Alan telling me he was going to be a racing driver when he grew up.” As history records, Rees achieved his ambition, regardless of certain strongly-expressed doubts on the part of Herd.
Despite his neglect of Divinity, Herd moved on to Oxford, where he was a contemporary and friend of Mosley’s. Graduating with a double first in Physics (a feat about which he is disarmingly modest), he joined the Royal Aeronautical Establishment at Farnborough in 1961, being promoted to Senior Scientific Officer at the unusually young age of 24.
Heed had maintained his friendship with Rees, however, and one day in 1965 he received a phone call from his former school friend. “He said that Bruce McLaren who was just starting his own firm was looking for an engineer: the qualifications he required were vaguely my own. I quickly found myself Chief Designer for McLaren Racing, but I often wonder if he’d ever do the same with someone so completely inexperienced in motor racing. Certainly if Bruce hadn’t given me the chance of becoming involved in motor racing there would have been no March Engineering.”
Herd’s first Grand Prix car was the unsuccessful Mallite M2, saddled in 1966 with the unreliable overweight 3-litre version of the Indianapolis quad-cam V8. Like so many others, the tide was turning against teams which tried to produce cars with their own chassis and engine design. For Herd the writing was on the wall when Cosworth’s brand new V8 engine won its first race at Zandvoort in 1967. McLaren himself was awaiting delivery of a BRM V12 engine for his one-off M5 (another Herd design). It arrived too late to race in Europe, although the car led for a while in the Canadian GP. For the 1968 season both Matra and McLaren were permitted to buy the Cosworth unit and Herd came up with the M7 Formula One chassis. It won its first two races and was to give McLaren and Hulme three Grandes Epreuves later in the year.
Herd had also drawn up a Can-Am car, the M6, which was to make Hulme and McLaren the only serious contenders for the rich Canadian-American series both in 1968 and 1969.
With two race-winning designs for McLaren safely off the drawing-board, Herd received an irresistible offer from Cosworth in 1967. “If Keith (Duckworth) offers you that sort of chance, as a young engineer you can’t say no. I think I learned more in the two years I spent at Northampton than I had in the preceding twenty.”
Herd’s assignment at Cosworth was the four-wheel-drive Grand Prix project described in January’s MOTOR SPORT. It was clearly a great set-back to Herd that the Cosworth car failed to come up to expectations. “We put our faith into something that we felt was going to work: it didn’t initially work anything like as well as we had hoped it would.” In this respect the Cosworth suffered just like the similar cars produced by Lotus, McLaren and Matra, and basically for the same reasons.
“Unfortunately, in a way they were reasons which should have been foreseen, although one can mitigate this to some extent by pointing out that a certain aspect of the problem came about because human knowledge has simply not extended that far. The basic problem arose through having to transmit approaching 200 horsepower through wheels which were also steering: this was aggravated by the fact that the two steered wheels were joined together by a transmission mechanism.
“All sorts of interesting phenomena occurred. I think Bruce McLaren had a splendid phrase for it when he commented on his experience driving his own 4-w-d car round Goodwood, ‘It was like trying to sign your autograph with someone nudging your elbow.’
“The Cosworth car was always kept as a four-wheel-drive car, that is a significant proportion of the power transmitted through the front wheels. One can minimise the problems we encountered by reducing the amount of power transmitted through the front wheels, as Lotus and Matra did, reducing the ratio to 20:80. But the advantages of transmitting 320 b.h.p. instead of 400 through the back wheels seems to me to be marginal and rather defeat the object of the exercise.”
It is worth mentioning that the Cosworth was significantly faster in a straight line during testing at Silverstone than any other Formula One car ever seen there. Herd says it is “sheer cowardice” which led him to design a relatively conventional 2-w-d chassis for March.
Herd saw the disappointment of the Cosworth as the end of his assignment at Northampton, for although Duckworth asked him to stay on to work on engine design, he felt his real forte was with chassis. “March really dates back to the day when Keith decided that there would not be another Cosworth car after the 4-w-d. Having worked for McLaren and Cosworth, who are at the peak of chassis and engine development, working for anyone else would have been a bit of a letdown.
“The only solution was to go out and create one’s own folly. The question remained then of what folly to perpetrate: we had several false starts involving one or two famous people before the March set-up arrived. Graham Coaker, who is basically a production engineer, was obviously well fitted with his experience as an F3 driver over many years to run the production side. And of course Max Mosley.
“Max and I were at Oxford together: he has been bound up with Clubman’s, then in F2 racing, and one of the first things we realised was that to get into International racing you’ve got to have substantial sponsorship in order to pay for it. To do this properly you must regard the attainment of the sponsorship as professionally as you treat the design of a chassis or an engine. It’s a full-time job and has to be done by an able and competent person. We persuaded Max that he was the person to do this for us.”
Herd and his associates therefore set themselves a seven-point programme. These seven points are as familiar to the four March directors as are the functions of debit and credit to an accountant. Herd sets them out as follows, with of course reference to the way March has attained its objectives:
1. Adequate finance.
“The position we’re in now is that we’ve got adequate finance.” More than this he will not say!
“We have a superb team of mechanics with Pete Kerr, Ray Wardell and Bob Dance.” (Kerr was Rindt’s Winkelmann mechanic for four years, Wardell has looked after the Church Farm Racing Team’s F2 and F5000 cars for two years, and Dance recently joined from Lotus, where he was senior Formula One mechanic.)
“We have Alan (Rees) as Team Manager. His tremendous record with Winkelmann speaks for itself.”
“From the company’s point of view (rather than of its own team) we’ve got Stewart, Amon, Siffert, Andretti, Servoz-Gavin and Peterson in Formula One, which strikes me as an unequalled combination.”
“From this point of view we’ve got the best engine—the Cosworth V8.”
“We’ve got Firestone and Dunlop, and I’m perfectly happy that both will be competitive.”
Says Herd, “over this one there hangs a very big question mark.”
Herd is quick to point out the possible flaws in this thorough analysis. “If any one or more of the other factors (apart from the chassis) doesn’t come up to the expectations we have of it, or if anyone else exceeded the expectations we have of them, then we could be stymied. For instance, if Ferrari suddenly produced a wonder engine, if Goodyear brought out a fantastic tyre, if some incredible driver appeared from somewhere, or if the BRM V12 went like a rocket.”
At present these possibilities appear unlikely, “so obviously our main effort is to get the chassis fully competitive. That means getting it built on time, making sure it’s built properly and is both strong and reliable, allowing ourselves sufficient time to get it ready for racing.”
Ostensibly wary about his own work, Herd is in no doubt at all about the quality of the chassis workmanship, for in charge of the sheet metal shop is John Thompson, the man who built not only Herd’s Grand Prix and Can-Am chassis at McLaren, but also the Cosworth.
The lessons of the four-wheel-drive car have been well learned and not surprisingly it has been decided to tread a cautious path with the first Formula One March. “This being our first year, we could not afford to have a car which might be a complete fiasco. We had to build something which we knew, as far as humanly possible, would be reasonably successful and competitive.”
“This meant that the car had to be pretty conventional, hence its simple layout. We aimed for simplicity in order to ease the problems of manufacture so that the car could be built on time and maintained easily throughout the season. As such it would allow the right amount of development to take place upon it. These were our aims: whether or not we attain them remains to be seen.”
Herd’s objective of simplicity is readily discernible, for the suspension system is by simple wishbones rather then the more recently popular double-link and radius-arm layout. Springs and brakes are outboard front and rear. The engine is naturally used as a stressed member and the car is built around cast magnesium bulkheads, as was the Cosworth. The most radical departure from orthodoxy can be seen in the front wing arrangement. Herd has found that a nose wing which is not faired into the nose cowling generate an unacceptable amount of turbulence: adjustment of the pressure exerted by the March’s wings is by means of trailing tabs which can be raised or lowered rather like those on the trailing edge of an aeroplane wing.
It has been said that there is the possibility of a conflict between the interests of the works team (Amon/Siffert) and Ken Tyrrell’s (Stewart/Servoz-Gavin). Herd sees his duty as that of supplying both equipes with motor cars: he leaves the running of each team to their respective managers.
Both men will have cars on the grid at Kyalami, say the March men. Only that race and those which follow can end the speculation about March. It is an audacious project, but welcome to anyone who cares about racing.-M.G.D.