Le Mans test weekend

Le Mans, April 10/11th.

In order to give entrants a chance to prepare new cars for the 24-hour race at Le Mans, the circuit of the Sarthe was made available, for two days, and a fair proportion of the entry took advantage of the opportunity. SEFAC Ferrari had two new prototype cars, one with 77 x 71 mm., 3,967-c.c. engine and the other with 77 x 58.8 mm., 3,286-c.c. engine, both being the new four overhead camshaft units, with two plugs per cylinder and six double-choke Weber carburetters. The 330P/2 or 4-litre engine gives 410 b.h.p. at 8,200 r.p.m. and the 275P/2 or 3.3-litre engine gives 350 b.h.p. at 8,500 r.p.m. The two cars were to all intents and purposes identical, with tubular space-frame chassis, wishbone and coil-spring i.f.s. and rear independent suspension by lower wishbone, top transverse strut and double radius rods each side, also with coil springs. The 60-degree V12-cylinder engine and 5-speed gearbox were mounted in the rear and both cars had open cockpits, although the high regulation windscreen and cockpit sidescreens, coupled with the "wing" across the tail (see illustration on centre-spread), very nearly made them coupés. The new R7 wide-tread I5-in. Dunlops tyres were being used, mounted on cast-alloy wheels made in the Ferrari foundry to Dunlop patents.

The Ferrari team seemed very organised, with drivers Surtees, Bandini, Parkes, Guichet, Scarfiotti and Vaccarella all in attendance and sharing both cars. In direct contrast, and opposition, were a miscellaneous collection of Ford GT prototypes, split into two groups, one entered by Ford Advanced Vehicles of Slough and run by John Wyer, and the other entered by Shelby American and run by Carroll Shelby. The Slough-based team had two white coupés and the new open version, and the American team had two blue coupés, looking a little secondhand. They were all using the Cobra-type iron-block Ford V8 engines of 4.7-litres, and had as drivers Bondurant, McLaren, Miles, Trintignant, Attwood and Whitmore.

Other high-speed competitors were the 5-litre V8-cylinder Maserati with front-mounted engine, entered by Maserati France, this car having been modified to an unusual front disc-brake layout, whereby the discs were mounted inboard of the suspension uprights. Automobili Bizzarini had a prototype Iso Grifo, with V8 Chevrolet engine, and the Scuderia Filipinetti had their very fast ex-works 1964 Prototype Ferrari, a 330P with the engine bored out to 81 mm., which with the 71-mm. stroke gave 4,390 c.c. and developed 380 b.h.p. at 7,300 r.p.m. This modified power unit, designated 365P, was the old type of single overhead camshaft per bank layout, but proved to be very nearly as fast as the new works cars. They also had a 275LM coupé, as did the Belgian Ecurie Francorchamps, Willy Mairesse driving the latter.

At the other end of the speed scale were a team of Alpine-Renault coupés, the latest prototype versions, with twin-cam Gordini-Renault engine, going incredibly fast. In the middle speed range were two works Porsches, a 914 coupé with 2-litre flat-8-cylinder engine, as raced last year, and a 914 coupé with 2-litre flat-6 cylinder engine, this latter car making a brief appearance at the end of last season. The 6-cylinder engine was using two magnificent downdraught Weber carburetters specially made for the engine, each carburetter having three chokes spaced to match-up with the three inlet ports of each bank of air-cooled cylinders. Whereas the flat-eight engine uses a horizontal cooling fan, the 6-cylinder 911 engine uses a compact vertical fan at the front of the engine.

The Alfa Romeo factory, represented by Auto-Delta, had a very fierce-looking orange-coloured fibre-glass coupé on the lines of the production GTZ, but lower, smaller and lighter, and using some new cast alloy wheels. An Elva-B.M.W. prototype coupé made a brief appearance, there were two works Triumph Spitfire coupés and finally the Rover-B.R.M. gas-turbine car, now competing directly against the piston-engined cars. This was the very sleek coupé that should have run last year, and the Rover turbine now has two heat-exchanger units which pre-heat the ingoing air and improve the fuel consumption. These heat exchangers consists of ceramic discs rotated at 18 r.p.m. by mechanical means from the turbine, and they are encased in housings, one on each side of the engine, taking heat from the exhaust passages and transferring it to the ingoing air.

Saturday was not a very productive day for the weather was poor, but, even so, the works Ferraris showed their paces in the dry spells, Surtees getting well under all existing fastest laps with a time of 3 min. 43.1 sec. in the 330P/2, but the surprise of the day was a lap of 3 min. 43.8 sec. by the Swiss driver Spychiger in the Filipinetti 4.4-litre Ferrari. The Fords were not being unduly impressive, bearing in mind that it was this time last year that they made their first appearance, and they were not helped any by Trintignant blowing up one of the engines. Unfortunately the day was marred by an accident to the 5-litre Maserati coupé, when Casner crashed at the end of the Mulsanne straight and was killed. The Rover-B.R.M. appeared in the paddock on its lorry, but could not go out as the drivers, G. Hill and Stewart, were racing at Snetterton.

On the following day, however, weather conditions were very good and the 330/P2 Ferrari really stirred things up, no matter who was driving it, and it was doing 190 m.p.h. down the Mulsanne straight and lapping at 138 m.p.h. Surtees was doing most of his laps at under 3 min. 40 sec. and his best was 3 min. 35.1 sec., an incredible average speed of 225.288 k.p.h. (139.9 m.p.h.). The 3.3-litre car was lapping at 3 min. 44.4 sec., and as a demonstration of might the Ferrari team were excelling, making the Ford GT prototypes look a bit sick. The Ferraris were satisfied with the new R7 Dunlops but Fords were experimenting with Goodyear and Firestone tyres, and on top of this they seemed to still be in the dark as regards aerodynamics. One of the Slough cars was fitted with a longer and more profiled nose, screwed on over the existing nose, and the new one had one simple opening in the front rather than the standard complicated collection of slots and holes. Even so, it was not right, and Bondurant found it was wandering off course at high speed. Little aluminium spoilers were attached here and there, but the whole business seemed a bit haphazard, bearing in mind they were having these high-speed handling problems last June.

It is probable that Ferrari were pulling out all the stops to lap at nearly 140 m.p.h., and they would not expect to run for 24 hours like that, but the 4-litre was driven pretty well continuously for the whole of the practice period without showing any signs of fragility, so it is reasonable to suppose that it could lap at 130 m.p.h. for 24 hours. The outstanding performance by the Ferrari team rather overshadowed everyone else, but one of the Alpine-Renault prototypes with 1,150-c.c. twin-cam engine lapped in 4 min. 16.4 sec. driven by Grandsire, and 4 min. 16.9 sec. driven by Mauro Bianchi, a lap speed of nearly 118 m.p.h., and faster than the Rover-B.R.M. turbine car and the works 1,600-c.c. Alfa Romeo. It is interesting that these little Alpine coupés are built on the principle of long penetrating noses with a minimum of apertures, smooth contours and long tapering tails, presenting a high ratio of frontal area/length, in direct contrast to the superfast Le Mans cars such as Ferrari and Ford, whose cars are comparatively stumpy with Manx-like tails.

If this test weekend was any indication of what is to happen on June 19/20th then it would appear that Ferrari is as determined as ever to win the 24-hour race yet again, and that the opposition from Ford in the prototype category is not as advanced and organised as the successes at Daytona and Sebring would signify. It was significant that there were no GT Cobras or GT Ferraris taking part in the test weekend, and that all the fast and interesting cars were prototypes. – D. S. J.

Some of the faster lap times recorded at Le Mans

(April 10/11th)

1964 lap record: P. Hill (Ford GT prototype), 3 min. 49.4 sec. – 211.229 k.p.h.

J. Surtees (Ferrari 330/P2, #21), 3 min. 35.1 sec. – 225.288 k.p.h.

M. Parkes (Ferrari 330/P2, #21), 3 min. 36.8 sec.

L. Scarfiotti (Ferrari 330/P2, #21), 3 min. 37.6 sec.

N. Vacarella (Ferrari 330/P2, #21), 3 min. 38.0 sec.

T. Spychiger (Ferrari 365P - Scuderia Filipinetti), 3 min. 40.5 sec.

H. Muller (Ferrari - Scuderia Filipinetti), 3 min. 43.2 sec.

R. Attwood (Ford GT protoype coupé), 3 min. 40.9 sec.

B. Bondurant (Ford GT prototype coupé), 3 min. 42.9 sec.

J. Whitmore (Ford GT prototype coupé), 3 min. 44.9 sec.

G. Mitter (Porsche 916), 3 min. 59.4 sec.

H. Grandsire (Alpine-Renault 1,150 c.c.), 4 min. 16.4 sec.

R. Businello (Alfa Romeo 1,600 c.c.), 4 min. 19.3 sec.

R. Wrottesley (Elva-B.M.W.), 4 min. 22.2 sec.

G. Hill (Rover-B.R.M. turbine coupé), 4 min. 27.5 sec.

R. Slotemaker (Triumph Spitfire coupé), 4 min. 49.8 sec.