Sidekick phenomena

Formula Two was its finest when established Grand Prix stars like Jochen Rindt happily stepped down to put their reputations on the line against the young hotshots. Paul Fearnley drives three cars from that era and discovers what it took to be competitive in the little terrors

It was noisy, sure, but that keynote scream had gone. Formula Two had grown up, been dragged along by the Formula One ‘return to power’ of 1966. This Snetterton 100-miler was the first, and it would be 1600s, not 1-litres, from now on.

Not much else F2 had changed for 1967: Jochen Rindt was still the man to beat, a Brabham was still the privateer car to have, and Cosworth had come up trumps again. Keith Duckworth’s modded-105E and SCA units had dominated the scene since 1960, and his pent-roofed, narrow-valve angle FVA would continue that theme for five more years. Rindt’s Brabham BT23-FVA prevailed that day in March. The Austrian couldn’t buy a win in F 1 at the time, yet he was the Gold Standard of its lesser sibling. In F2, he could win from the front, charge from the back or emerge from a jostling pack. He could keep it neat and tidy, or grandstand and showboat, without it altering the result: he won 12 of his 19 F2 starts (heats and finals) in 1967.The difference between Ron Tauranac’s agile F2 and Rindt’s lumbering Fl Cooper-Maserati can be imagined, but lots of capable men got in one of Ron’s creations there were 18 at Snetterton. No, it was Rindt that made the difference. If he was there, the other Brabhams rarely got a look in. Which is why Kurt Ahrens caught the eye in ’68 (see panel, page 82).

There were several more BT23s now in little altered C spec out and about that second season, and Ahrens’ Caltex-backed version (chassis 8) was often best of the non-Rindt bunch. The Hanover driver was 27, and set for his first full F2 season, when he slid into his spanking BT. There was no need to wriggle, Tauranac had worked some kind of Tardis magic. The Aussie knew exactly what his customers wanted: easy-to-repair performance. Get in and go. And that’s exactly what I plan to do…

FVAs are as rare as hen’s teeth, and so chassis 8, today features, its later BDA cousin. Drawn up by Mike Hall, an unsung Cosworth hero, Belt Drive Series A is regarded as a road-going Four Valve Series A. There are several similarities: 40-degree valve angle, etc. But there are more differences: Cosworth’s first belt-driven cams, block (based on a taller, 1600 item), bore and stroke (less oversquare) and, on a sporting level, it was aimed squarely at rallying. But its peak revs and max power surprised even its creators. BDA would race, too.

This particular version has softer cams, and 48 Webers instead of Lucas mechanical injection, to make it more malleable: it ticks over at 2500rpm, pulls hard from below 5000 and peaks at 9200. Such ‘broadband access’ comes with a 15bhp price tag (215bhp), but I’ll settle for that. For this is a superb car in which to acquaint yourself with F2. Mallory is damp and three-year-old Dunlop M-sections are hardly oozing grip, but the wrist-flick Hewland and pin-sharp rack make for a blissful experience. My moment is shattered when something big and heavy rockets around the outside at the never ending Gerards. Stung, I up my pace. Which leads to a hamfooted lock-up at Shaws, heavier braking demanding a subtle alteration in my heel-and-toe ‘technique’. The laps unwind, though, and smooth out. I never quite suss the right line at Gerards – is there one? – and I know in my heart that I should be up a gear everywhere, except perhaps at Shaws, where bottom, not second, might be the trick to finding that last punchy tenth. But none of this stops a warm glow tingling from my fingers to my toes.

The feelgood factor continues to build as I sidle over to the ex-Emerson Fittipaldi Lotus 69…

Perhaps the biggest F2 thrill was watching the established heroes go wheel to wheel with the up-and-corners. Graded versus non-graded (i.e. no Fl points to your name in the previous year, basically). People ask what Jim Clark was doing racing in the piffling Hockenheim F2 encounter that claimed him. Trying his damnedest to win it…

After this tragic loss, though, Colin Chapman was, understandably, hardly enamoured with the lesser formulae. And even when Rindt (along with Winkelmann Racing) swapped F2 allegiances to Lotus for 1969, it was left to Dave Baldwin and the offshoot Lotus Components to design and build his 59. The car was nothing trick – spaceframe, doublewishbone front, top link-lower wishbone rear, outboard brakes – but Rindt won four F2 races with it (and Emerson Fittipaldi dominated F3). By the season’s end, however, Matra’s superbly crafted MS7 was the car to beat, and so when the regs of 1970 called for bag tanks, Baldwin took the opportunity to design a bathtub monocoque: the 69 – the last ‘volume’ Lotus racing car.

Rindt, who was now running his own F2 team with help from a mate called Bernie, gave the 69 a winning start at Thruxton, then scored wins at Pau, Nürburgring and Zolder. He won his heat in May’s London Trophy at Crystal Palace, too. But while leading its final, a battery lead came adrift. He wouldn’t win in F2 again until the end of August, when he charged from the back of the grid at Salzburgring following an earlier DNF and a swift engine change between heats.

Less than a week later, he was dead. Formula Two would never be the same.

Fittipaldi did his best to carry the Lotus torch. He capped a steady season in Team Bardahl’s car with an Imola heat win, and was third in the over-all standings. By 1971, he was graded and destined for greater things, but he kept his F2 hand in and, barring a lucky Pau win for Reine Wisell, proved to be Lotus’s only real hope (see panel, page 83).

The 69’s numbers were dwindling as Britain’s most famous racing marque went through a sea change. Lotus Components had flourished under the charismatic leadership of Mike Warner, but Chapman, with a hint of the green eye, changed its name to Lotus Racing Ltd, and then closed it down not long afterwards. He moved his Fl team into its vacated premises – and bought a boat firm called Moonraker. Lotus, he’d decided, was high-tech and high-profile, and need no longer concern itself with such dirt-under-the-fingernails racing.

But Fittipaldi still wanted to go F2 even in 1972. And Moonraker needed some promotion… There was a problem, though. The formula had changed and no new Lotus had been designed for it. Re-enter the 69. There was another problem: the FVA couldn’t stretch to the 2-litre regs. Enter the BDA.

It was a strange season: just one Lotus in the field, and a wide variety of iron-block BDAs (the alloy unit was homologated in 1973). Some were bored out, some were completely gutted and had new liners brazed in. Cosworth’s official version of the latter was its 1927cc BDF, of which just four were built in ’72. Emmo’s Team Lotus 69 got one, along with reworked suspension and inboard rear discs…

And this is that car, chassis 14. And within it lies another BD ticking over without fuss, this time on injection. It seems so un-Lotus. Chapman can’t even have kicked its tyres such is the sturdiness that this 69 exudes. Its front and rear subframes, riveted and bonded to the tub, are positively meaty. Little wonder it went the distance in three seasons.

I wriggle in. The cockpit is tighter than the Brabham’s – and carpeted! Central tacho, water and oil gauges either side of it like the Brabham. But what’s this? The high sides of the monocoque demand that the gear lever juts over your right thigh almost parallel with the ground. But at the end of the linkage lies that same greasy-quick FT200 and, once on the move, that ‘angle of dangle’ is hardly noticed. Unlike the extra grip and grunt (approx 270bhp) now available to me.

On cut Avon slicks, the 69 fee_ls planted, although the occasional wet patch still demands caution. I’m sure Gerards is on in top, but even though I allow myself the luxury of a snicking downshift, nothing big and heavy comes around the outside this time. With the mixture left richer than would be the case in a race/better driver situation – done as a safety net against detonation should I let the revs drop too low the BDF pulls eagerly from 6000rpm and, exiting Gerards in fourth, whips round to 9000 in a blink. It’s more of the same in top.

Down Stebbe Straight, I notice a BT30 and Tecno in my mirrors. Cor! A dab on the brakes later four-pot fronts and the wings make a big difference and you ‘think’ the 69 through Lake Esses. Oh yes! And it’s more than happy in second at Shaws. Better still. And it hunkers down and digs in around Devil’s Elbow. Hey, I can do this…

I swagger over to the iddy-biddy Tecno and get a shock. Its uncompromising FVA is a banshee, the gears to its cams all thrash and slash. This is a very different kettle of fish.

And then I get (rightly) a long list of dos and don’ts, including a ‘do’ use first gear at the hairpin. That’s a worry, for I’m having trouble selecting it here in the pitlane. My sangfroid has already sung.

Tecnos were always a bit different. Fraternal co-creators Gianfranco and Luciano Pederzani started out building karts in 1962, and had won several world titles by the time their Bologna-based firm turned its attention to F3 in ’66. Just two years later, with pretty much the same car – a short, stumpy spaceframe with rudimentary bodywork – Tecno was in F2 with the charging Clay Regazzoni. Its first category victory came the following season, Francois Cevert heading a seven-car train across the line at Reims. The marque was on a definite roll, and its works pairing of Regazzoni and Cevert was expected to be a force in 1970.

It proved to be much better than expected.

‘Regga’ won Hockenheim’s Deutschland Trophy in early April but, following a poor run at Montjuich, the F2 Tecnos went missing. After a backlog of F3 cars had been cleared from the tiny factory, they returned at Crystal Palace in late May — and caused an upset. Regga diced with Stewart in heat and final, took second overall and maximum points. He was second at the non-championship Rouen, rocketed away with the prestigious Trophée de France at Paul Ricard, and then won at balls-out Enna after two epic ding-dongs with the BMWs of track expert Jo Siffert and Jacky Ickx. The latter pair was graded. Regga could have backed off and still collected maximum points. But that wasn’t his style.

At godforsaken Tulln-Langenlebarn, he set pole and a fastest lap to win the first heat, only for his engine to blow while leading the second. At Imola, he was runner-up in heat one to Emmo, but won the second, thus taking the overall victory and the title down to the wire at Hockenheim in October.

Despite its short wheelbase, the Tecno was a force on high-speed circuits. BMW’s M12 motor had broken the FVA stranglehold via an all-out manufacturer effort, and only the works Tecnos, their self-tuned FVAs allegedly spinning to 11,000, were still able to challenge them. And so it proved at the finale, Regga battling with Dieter Quester’s Bimmer. Again Clay could have throttled back. But again he went for it — and almost threw it away with a last-lap spin. Rightly, though, he was crowned champion. Tecno looked set fair… Incredibly, its F2 story had little more than a year left to run.

With backing from Elf, in place of Motul, Cevert was the pace-setter in 1971, his BDA-powered car (Tecno was the only team to go this route that year) winning at Hockenheim and Nürburgring. By the season’s end, however, a design that had hardly changed since ’68 was off the pace, while the team itself was looking threadbare. Yet it still decided to go Fl — with its own flat-12. Professional suicide.

The car here today is chassis 0810, last of the four 1970-type, split-radiator cars built (see panel, page 85). It makes the BT23 look positively Vanden Plas. It’s a sleeves-rolled-up sort of car, and a little weave and blip exiting the pits hints at its character: zip below 6000rpm, precious little below 7000.

An FT200 sits astern, but its linkage feels wider across the gate and a muffed attempt to select first in anger causes a stall. Oh. I’m on pure slicks, too, and can’t summon sufficient courage to push hard enough to make them work. Hey, I can’t do this! The commitment required to take these cars to the limit is being unceremoniously rammed home. Driving a Tecno is no sinecure: it’s kart-like, nervy, alive. Fine if you’re a Regga or a Cevert… Privateers who plumped for Tecnos got nowhere, slowly.

After three or four pathetic laps — third exiting Gerards ! — I pit to save further embarrassment. The F in ‘proper’ F2 stands for ferocious. It’s not for the faint of heart.

Brabham BT23C-8

Ahrens first raced this car at Hockenheim’s fateful Deutschland Trophy of 1968. He qualified third for the first heat and led it before a camshaft broke.

At Thruxton’s BARC 200, he qualified seventh for heat two and finished fifth a result he repeated in the final. He was second to Chris Irwin’s Lola in the Eifelrennen and then finished third in the Madrid GP at Jarama.

After retiring with ignition woes at Zolder, he returned to the UK in late May and qualified in the middle of the front row for heat two at Crystal Palace. He won it, too. Unfortunately, an early crash put him out of the final.

He was third in Hockenheim’s Rhein-Pokalrennen, was involved in a multiple shunt in the Monza Lottery, and finished fourth in both heats at Tulln-Langenlebarn. He stopped a sequence of retirements with a seventh at Albi and ended the year joint seventh in the championship.

The car was sold to Bernd Terbeck, who ran it for two years mainly with Montan Racing -with little success.

Lotus 69-71-14

Fittipaldi had three seasons of F2 in a 69. The first, 1970, was in chassis 1. This ran in Team Bardahl’s colours and he was consistent in it rather than outstanding. The next Iwo (partial) campaigns were in chassis 14 – believed to be an update of Graham Hill’s chassis 5 of 1970.

Emmo’s 1971 kicked off late, at Pau, where he retired. He was second at Nürburgring, then won at Jarama and Crystal Palace. After a two-month gap he returned at Imola and retired because of overheating. DNFs at Kinnekullering, Brands Hatch and Vallelunga followed, and he concluded the season by winning the Brazilian Torneio, courtesy of two victories and a second place.

Despite being the only Lotus F2 representative in 1972, he won at Hockenheim, Rouen and Osterreichring – his second, third and fourth appearances of the year. He had one more European F2 outing – retiring with a blown engine at Hockenheim – before tackling another Tomeio, which he won again, via a victory and a second place.

Tecno 70-0810

Clay Regazzoni’s successful 1970 title push was mainly in chassis 0804. He didn’t get his hands on it until July, when he introduced the split-rad nose, and reaffirmed his speed with a dominant win against a quality field, at Paul Ricard. Before that he had driven a year-old car, whereas François Cevert had raced 0806 from the off. As the championship race hotted up, Tecno built 0808, but Regga clinched the title at Hockenheim in 0806.

In 1971, Team Iris ran 0806 and 0808 = mainly for Arturo Merzario and Nanni Galli – and 0810 finally made an appearance in the hands of Helmut Gall. The Iris cars scored the odd good result, but Gall’s Autofunk-run machine had no such straws at which to grasp. It was crashed in practice at Hockenheim in April and thereafter propped up the grid at Thruxton, Nürburgring and Hockenheim. Galli failed to qualify it at Vallelunga in October and that was that.

A Tecno privateer’s life was generally a tough one.