While the British-based Grand Prix teams wait anxiously to see if this is the year when the Italian and French 12-cylinder engines finally trounce the incredibly successful eight-cylinder Ford Cosworth engines in Formula One races, a similar situation is unfolding in the European Formula Two Championship. When the championship was started in 1967 the FIA regulations called for 1.6-litre production-based engines. By 1972 the capacity had been raised to 2-litre but the governing body insisted on retaining only production-based engines, i.e., the engine block and cylinder head had to come from a Group Two homologated power unit. However, last year the FIA took heed of constant appeals from engine builders who were getting increasingly frustrated in trying to find reliability from these highly stressed “production engines” and it was decided to allow a free formula for 1976. That meant that Formula Two had technically “come of age” and joined Grand Prix racing in allowing the use of pure racing engines. Six-cylinder engines have always been admissible in the production-based formula, it’s just that no one has ever bothered to run one, but now that has all changed, and the prospects for the forthcoming season centre largely on whether the in-line four-cylinder engines, or the various six-cylinder engines will dominate what promises to be a much improved series. There is also the question of whether the new racing engines, and there are three of them, will outpace the improved production engines. In the long term the reliability and superior technical specification of the sixes must win through, but 1976 should see a close tussle as the sixes versus the fours, and racing engines challenge production-based units. For the last three seasons the European championship has been won by BMW engines, the Munich-built works engines of development engineer Paul Rosche powering Jean-Pierre Jarier’s March to victory in 1973 and Patrick Depailler’s March to a convincing win in 1974. Joseph Schnitzer’s development BMW engine, prepared at his large workshop in Freiburg, near the Austrian border, was used by Jacques Laflite to Clinch victory in 1975. These BMW 2002-derived four-cylinder engines have since been even further developed and by the time the racing gets under way at Hockenheim in Germany early next month they should be producing 300 b.h.p., according to Herr Rosche. The factory March team will again rely on BMW engines.
At one stage it looked as though March were going to end their liaison with BMW and switch to the new Renault-Gordini V6. However, after building up a prototype car and carrying out extensive testing, the Bicester team made the surprise announcement that they intended to carry on with their German four-cylinder for a fourth season.
The Renault engines seem to be closely linked with the handsome support in France from the state-owned Elf oil company. Once March had bowed out of any deal with Renault it was only a matter of time before the inevitable news that Elf and Renault would be linking to run cars for four French drivers.
The V6 engine has already been well sorted in the Alpine sports cars during the last couple of seasons. If reports of 320 b.h.p. and the threat of a new alloy block prove true, then this could well be a difficult combination to beat. Elf will be supporting two of Tico Martini’s updated Mk. 16 models for Patrick Tambay, plus Formula Renault Europe champion Rene Arnoux. There will also be a pair of spaceframe Elf 2J models for Jean-Pierre Jabouille and Michel Leclere. However, the Renault racing engines are unlikely to be sold to any privateers.
The other six-cylinder engines are both from Italy. Ron Dennis will again be running March Grand Prix driver Vittorio Brambilla in a private entry. This team will be reverting to the Ferrari Dino V6 engine, which was being used in Formula Two in the late sixties as a sleeved-down 1.6-litre engine. Now the engine is being offered as the “Lancia Stratos V6”, which has been sleeved down from 2.4 to 2.0 litres. It top is reported to be giving somewhere in the vicinity of 320 b.h.p. Abarth in Turin were also preparing a six-cylinder racing engine. This was an in-line unit and was expected to be popular with the many Italian teams in Formula Two. Fiat’s axe fell, and the project looked like being shelved, until John Read (of Holbay Racing Engines at Martlesham near Ipswich) stepped in, buying out the design rights and prototype engines. A production run of 25 engines is to be built and the Holbay-Abarth engine looks an ambitious undertaking. Tom Wheatcroft is considering the engine for his own Mike Pilbeam-designed car that he will be running for Grovewood Award winner Brian Henton.
One of the drawbacks of racing engines though looks like being the cost, and rumours that the Holbay engine will sell for nearly £9,000 sent a shiver through the prospective F2 runners!
The other British-built racing engine is the in-line four-cylinder engine being built by former Formula Two racer Brian Hart at his factory at Harlow in Essex. This is another engine that has already raced in 2-litre sports cars. Hart is quietly optimistic about his chances with this refinement of the Hart-Ford BDA, which achieved the best results in the face of the BMW onslaught during recent years.
There are other engines too. John Dunn at Swindon Racing Engines will be carrying on with development of the Ford Cosworth BDA (as the BDX) and other British engine builders are also expected to prepare these units, while in France Fred Stalder’s ROC team will persevere with the previously troublesome Chrysler-Simca four-cylinder engine.
The change to the regulations has brought much-needed technical interest to the European championship which looks set to have its best season for some time. The championship will comprise 13 rounds and there will be an additional three non-championship races. The only British round will be the traditional Bank Holiday meeting at Thruxton on April 19th. The BARC have received sponsorship from DJM Records for this race, which thankfully will not be held in two parts, as was the 1975 affair.—M.T.