In praise of the SP250
Sir, As the owner of an SP250 who has just completed 12,000 miles in one year of ownership,…
Ferrari foremost again
Daytona, Florida, February 6th.
For a number of years a rather unnecessarily long 24-hour event, this year following the recent FIA ruling, the organisers of the Daytona event decided to shorten their race to a more compact six hours and consequently it did at least prove exciting in parts. This event remained as the second round of the World Manufacturers’ Sports Car Championship and was also the second race to be held under the new 3-litre limit.
Little had changed since the opening round of the series in the Argentine as the JW Mirage was still not complete and Lola had not built any further T280s. Nevertheless the Speedway likes to have a big field and the inefficient Florida branch of the SCCA had received a huge entry of over fifty cars, many of which were hardly fit for local club races. Quite a few of these were entered for a Midnight GT race and hopefully some would be eliminated before morning. Unfortunately the reverse happened for, while some fell by the wayside, other dubious Corvettes and the like found their way into the main race without ever previously practising for it.
Basically there were only eight cars that could be considered to have any chance at all—three Ferraris, three Alfas and two Lolas. Following the Buenos Aires victory the Ferraris were undoubtedly very much the favourites. The three cars which took part in that race had been shipped back to Maranello and three new ones flown to Daytona. All three were brand new and unraced each with a spare engine. The plan is to alternate the cars each race while a seventh has been built for practice purposes. While the Daytona machines were being raced, the Buenos Aires trio were being stripped down and prepared for the next race. It is a superb operation and one that will take a great deal of beating in the coming year. The driver combinations were as before Ickx/Andretti (chassis 088), Regazzoni/Redman (090) and Peterson/Schenken (092). The six race cars have all been built to the same specification but again one car, that of Regazzoni/Redman, was using the new easy change gearbox.
The Autodelta team had limped away from Buenos Aires licking their wounds and then suffered another set-back during testing at Daytona when de Adamich crashed one of the new TT33s into the wall following a puncture. Thus out of the four entries the Vacarella/Hezemans car was scratched and the Autodelta team brought along the three remaining TT33s plus one of last year’s monocoque cars as a spare, just in case. With its 15 in. rear wheels, outboard mounted gear cluster and less neat body, this older car looks much less purposeful than the latest tubular frame cars. The three cars, chassis 004, 003, and 002 respectively, were entered for Galli/de Adamich, Elford/Marko and Stommelen/Revson. The American had been brought into the team since Argentina but had considerable long distance experience following a spell with the Essex Wire’s Ford GT40s. Due to his contractual commitments his car was running on Goodyear tyres while the other two were on Firestone.
The only other team with a chance of victory was Ecurie Bonnier with the all-British Cosworth DFV powered Lola T280s which had shown so much promise at Buenos Aires. Whereas the two Italian teams had both been to Daytona for sorting sessions, the Lola team arrived without any previous experience which made their task all the more difficult. The two T280s were in essentially the same trim as at the first race apart from the addition of some quick release fuel filler systems and some drilled ventilated discs to try. The driver pairings were again Bonnier/Wisell and Larrousse/Craft and then the Argentinian Nestor Garcia Veiga turned up, having done some deal or other with Bonnier, and was added to the strength of the second car which didn’t prove too popular with its two drivers. However, after the Argentinian lapped quicker than either of them in practice they had to concede he might he an asset to the team. Lola development engineer Bob Marston was on hand to give Ecurie Bonnier a hand but it was obvious that they have quite a way to go before they learn everything that Ferrari knows about long distance racing.
The three remaining 3-litre cars were hardly in the same race. The North American Racing Team had brought along a 1969 model V12 312P which they had re-chassised themselves and it looked fairly workmanlike but was still being completed on arrival. The Spaniards Jorge de Bagration/Juan Fernandez had their Porsche 908/3 while Tony Dean brought along his old blue 908 which saw Can-Am service last summer and had rested fallow in its transporter ever since. The other Group 6 cars were all of 2-litres but did not include the two British Red Rose teem Chevron B19s which had gone so well in the Argentine. However, there were two similar cars from the Marathon Racing Team run by Fred Opert and these were driven by Mexicans Freddy van Beuren/Rodolfo Junco and by Nick Craw/Bill Barber. There were two Lola T212s, an immaculate orange example for the McCaig Brothers from Canada and another for Florida drivers Hugh Kleinpeter/Tom Waugh. One of the Osella Abarths had remained on from Argentina and was to be driven by Merzario/Soler-Roig. The rest of the field was completed by Chevrolet Camaros, Chevrolet Corvettes, Porsche 911s and 914s, a couple of slow Ferrari GTBs and there was even a Broadspeed Escort in there somewhere.
Practice was scheduled for Thursday with a.m, and p.m. sessions and on Friday with just a single two-hour morning period. On Saturday there was a Formula Vee race with just a one-hour untimed session for the main competitors. Most of the cars were getting the feel of the strange tri-oval circuit on Wednesday. Basically the Daytona road circuit utilises almost the full bowl but sweeps off it just after the pits into the infield loop which finally brings the car back on to the oval at a junction 200 yards further down than the exit point. From there the cars accelerate up the banking and the fast 3-litre cars hold their position near the top all the way round, the brave ones not lifting off at all, and reaching somewhere in the region of 185 m.p.h. This is probably slower than the big 5-litre cars of last year and Mark Donohue’s pole position time of 1 min. 42.42 sec. with the Sunoco Ferrari 512M was never approached throughout the meeting.
Thursday’s session was hardly under way when untypical Florida showers came and soon the track was soaking wet but Andretti had been quickly into his stride with a 1 min. 49.90 sec. with Larrousse not much slower in his Lola. The track remained wet in the afternoon so the Goodyear runners (the Lolas and the Revson/Stommelen Alfa Romeo) had to sit it out as the firm had no wet weather tyres available and the Ferraris looked most impressive sometimes circulating in formation. It was a black day for Autodelta as Galli had a repeat of team-mate de Adamich’s testing accident and hit the wall when a tyre punctured. At first it was thought the TT33 could be repaired but Ing Chiti and his men later decided the chassis was twisted and the older T33/3 had to be utilised.
With only two hours on Friday to qualify everyone moved swiftly into action for the 10 a.m. start and it was just as well for a freezing cold wind was blowing and everyone was muttering under their breath about Florida’s “come to the sun” advertisements. Andretti again showed that he was very much at home at Daytona and led the peck with a 1 min. 44.2 sec. although, unlike Grand Prix racing, there wasn’t a great scrabble to snatch pole position. lckx was a little slower in the same car which Regazzoni lapped in 1 min. 44.96 sec. Making it a Ferrari clean sweep was Peterson who was third fastest at 1 min. 46.04 sec. but he and Schenken were experiencing gearbox troubles and were only fractionally quicker than Wisell in the Lola. Fastest of the Alfa drivers was Revson who, despite a long hold-up with driveshaft trouble, recorded 1 min. 46.77 sec. The rest of the top ten qualifiers went to Alfa, Lola, Alfa, Abarth and the 8-litre Corvette, which only just broke the 2 min. barrier. The rest were ranged all the way down to 2 min. 26.5 sec. On the face of it Ferrari were going to have an easy run when race day came around. Before then all three Maranello cars were fitted with fresh engines, as were the two Lolas, both having their 12-series Cosworths replaced by two more brand new units. This proved to be a mistake, however, for when the Craft/Larrousse car was tried in Saturday’s non-qualifying session it stopped dead with ignition trouble and the Bonnier mechanics attempted to right the problem.
Fortunately, by Sunday, the sun had decided to shine and while the huge stands looked decidedly empty, the official attendance of 26,000 was larger than usual but obviously the majority of local race fans were saving their dollars for the forthcoming NASCAR Daytona 500 race. There was a good deal of ballyhoo before the start and then the field trundled off behind a pace car, all except Larrousse who could not get the Lola to start. Finally he moved off behind everyone only to have the engine die again and the car was wheeled back to the pits. The rest followed the pace car for a lap and a half and were then waved on but the race did not actually start until the three Ferraris swept across the start-finish line in perfect side-by-side formation with Wisell giving chase and then the three Alfas. You can forget the rest.
The first quarter of the race really had plenty of excitement. The Ferraris immediately started to pull away with Regazzoni and Andretti contesting the lead and Schenken being followed by Wisell. Revson led the Alfas while Elford and de Adamich were having a rather hectic private battle. But soon there was a chink in the Ferrari armour for, after only six laps, Schenken came rushing into the pits complaining of clutch slip. This was adjusted and he was off again after losing a lap and about the same time Larrousse got going in the Lola only to have it die completely out on the circuit before completing a lap. An ignition fault was suspected to be the cause.
Regazzoni had pulled away a slight lead and by lap twenty it was evident that Wisell was closing on second place man Andretti and was about to overtake. Then the Lola was baulked badly but soon made up the deficit, being noticeably faster around the banking, and on lap 24 the yellow car took second place down the back straight to a great roar from the crowd. Only two or three laps later and Wisell was putting the pressure on Regazzoni but all attention was suddenly focussed to the fastest of the Corvettes which had a tyre blow on the front straight and had thumped the wall beneath the main grandstand. The accident seemed to go on for ages and there was quite a lot of debris about. At the same time a very old Corvette burst into flames in the pits while being refuelled by a ridiculously inefficient method but was, fortunately, quickly extinguished and later the car carried on only to roll. Then, all of a sudden, Regazzoni had a tyre go flat as he came off the banking before the pits and executed a huge spin. In the process the rear bodywork flew off and hit the Lola smashing its front section and stunning Wisell. He was able to crawl into the pits, actually in the lead, until Andretti swept by while Regazzoni abandoned his sad looking machine and walked back to the pits to tell the story. The Ferrari was pulled infield by a crash tender as it was still half on the track and partially blocking the pit road.
Thus Andretti was in the lead followed by the three Alfas and the two Porsche 908s while the swift Abarth, which would have been next up, had also tangled with the wreckage of the Corvette and had to make a long stop to have the bodywork patched up. After a conference in the Ferrari pit Regazzoni was sent to limp his car back along the pit road. This he did and it was decided to repair the car and try to get it back in the race which is what happened. Wisell also got going again but soon made another stop when the oil pressure zeroed but this was apparently due to a faulty gauge. By this time Alfa had protested about the Regazzoni Ferrari but the protest was lost by the organisers for some time and finally rejected.
With all this action, and just about an hour elapsed, Andretti came into the pits for a routine stop and, as he did so, Revson took over the lead but only briefly. He was in the pits a lap later along with Elford so Ickx had swept the Ferrari back into the lead. Andretti was explaining that the Ferrari was not on full song and later investigations proved it to be on only eleven of its twelve cylinders for one of the plug leads was completely dead. So Ferrari had little hope for this entry but the Schenken/Peterson car was moving up after its early trouble and by lap 40 was back in the first five. While Ickx nursed the leading Ferrari along Stommelen was doing a good job in the second place Alfa and progressively closed the gap from 30 to 20 seconds and, when the Ferrari made its second routine stop, the Alfa took the lead once more. When Stommelen came in for his stop on lap 70 it was the Schenken/Peterson car which headed the leader board for the first time. By now both Chevrons had fallen by the wayside as had the Chinetti/Eaton Ferrari 312, which only lasted a very few laps before holing its fuel tank.
The next change came when Peterson suddenly slowed with a puncture opposite the pits and had to limp around another full lap before it could be changed. At this point the Revson/Stommelen car could have taken an advantage but the American brought the car into the pits with alternator belt trouble. From then on the fastest Alfa never ran well making further stops with a flat tyre, and then a bad vibration. The other Alfas were in trouble too with Elford/Marko also being delayed by a puncture and the de Adamich/Galli car losing a lot of time having the front suspension stripped and rebuilt to replace a damaged wheel bearing. Bonnier had stood down to let Larrousse take over from Wisell and the Frenchman carried on the good work bringing it up to about sixth place before Bonnier himself took over. By this time, however, the car was mis-firing badly and it stopped for good in the infield section a few laps later.
A routine pit stop for Ickx/Andretti on lap 101 put the Schenken/Peterson car back into the lead and it was actually a lead they were to hold almost to the end if Ferrari’s lap charting and time-keeping is to be believed. They use experienced men with a very advanced Heuer system which personally we would favour against the amateur SCCA people. However, on the official charts, the Ickx/Andretti car was back in front by lap 120. A few laps later Revson stopped on the circuit for his Alfa had blown up in a comprehensive way and so ended a brave drive by him and his German team-mate and one that had kept the race alive until half distance. Now it was just for the Ferraris to romp home although none of them were as healthy as they should be with Peterson/Schenken now experiencing some gearbox trouble. The 140-lap bulletin showed the official order Ickx/Regazzoni, Peterson/Schenken, then (two laps down) Elford/Marko. In fourth place a further ten laps in arrears was the amazing Porsche 908 of Tony Dean/Bob Brown, then the Regazzoni/Redman Ferrari which was now back in the hunt as was the de Adamich/Galli Alfa. The two little Lolas came next, then the Abarth. The Spanish Porsche had called it a day, having lost most of its gears, while a Chevrolet Camaro had vaulted the Armco barrier on the infield section and landed on top of a camping vehicle. This could easily been a major motor racing disaster but miraculously all the spectators had run clear and no one was hurt at all.
Ferrari team manager Peter Schetty was still in a dilemma for he had to decide whether to protest the time-keeping error which, he suspected, had his two cars the wrong way round. The problem was solved for him just 15 minutes before the end when Schenken rushed in to make an unscheduled stop with a front tyre punctured and while this was changed Ickx/Andretti went back into the lead on the Ferrari lap chart. During the final hour the Dean Porsche had retired with a dropped valve.
The final run-in saw Ickx bringing the car to victory with an official 194 laps to the car’s credit with Schenken/Peterson two laps behind. A further two laps down was the Elford/Marko Alfa. Next up was the recovered Regazzoni/Redman Ferrari which in the closing stages had a frightening spin in front of the pits and again threw its rear bodywork off. Taking fifth place was the older Alfa of de Adamich/Galli, the former having driven most of the way. After that came the also-rans with the Kleinpeter/Waugh Lola T212 taking sixth spot and giving the marque some championship points which might come in useful later on. Seventh spot was the well driven and prepared Porsche 911 of Peter Gregg/Hurley Haywood and you can more or less forget the rest. The Abarth actually lay sixth with a lap to go and foolishly stopped at the pits to have an ailing fuel pump revived. It wouldn’t restart so was pushed, for which it was completely disqualified. So ended a race which looked interesting for a while but later became a Ferrari domination despite the far-from-healthy Maranello machines. One-of these days Ferrari, Alfa and Lola are going to fight it out to the finish—perhaps the BOAC?—A. R. M.
Sir, As the owner of an SP250 who has just completed 12,000 miles in one year of ownership,…
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