The B.R.S.C.C. do it again
Brands Hatch, England, April 7th
Last year, when the B.R.S.C.C. and the British Overseas Airways Corporation combined to put on our first decent long-distance race for many years, and it proved to be a great success, they started planning the 1968 event but even the most ardent supporter could not really believe that a second six-hour event for Group 6 Prototypes and Group 4 sports cars would be a similar success. Without question it was.
Not only was an excellent entry received, totalling 36 cars with five reserves, but there were only six non-arrivals, three of them being reserves anyway, and an extra entry arrived to take the place of one withdrawal after practice. The entry was divided into Group 4 and Group 6 in two engine capacity classes, 1,300-2000 c.c. and 2,001-5,000 C.C. for Group 4, and 1,300-2,000 c.c. and 2,001-3,000 c.c. for Group 6, in accordance with the new F.I.A. ruling. The small sports car class took in the two reserves so that there were five Porsche Carrera Six cars, known briefly as Porsche 906, driven by Bradley/Liddell, Ashmore/Edmunds, Hone/Harris, Delmar-Morgan/Walton and Cabral/Duval, the last-named pair driving de Udy’s car. Against them were three Lotus 47s, now called Lotus Europa in spite of having twin-cam Lotus-Ford engines, whereas Europa originally referred to the production car with Renault engine; these were driven by Taylor/Budge, Jackson/Oliver G. and Miles/Oliver J., the last two being in the factory-sponsored car. The big sports car class contained three Lola 70 Mk. III coupés, all with 5-litre Chevrolet V8 engines, Charlton/Fisher driving Syd Taylor’s white car, Bonnier/Axelsson in the yellow one they raced in America and Epstein/Nelson in a dark green one. Opposing them were five Ford GT40 coupés, Salmon/Piper in a brand new one, its 4.7-litre Ford engine fitted with Gurney-Weslake cylinder heads, Ickx/Redman in the Gulf-sponsored J. W. Automotive light blue car, with similar cylinder heads, Hawkins/Hobbs in the former’s red 1967 car with wider wheels and tyres and bulging bodywork to give clearance, but with a 1967 engine with Ford cylinder heads, Prophet/Bond in the former’s car and Drury/Holland in the former’s bronze-coloured car, with Gurney-Weslake heads and fuel injection replacing the more normal Weber carburettors. Challenging all these V8 cars were two V12 LM Ferraris, Rodriguez/Pierpoint in Piper’s green car, and Vestey/Pike in the former’s dark blue car.
The small Prototype class contained a mixed entry, headed by three Autodelta Alfa Romeo Type 33 coupés, with left-hand steering and rear-mounted radiators, the smooth-running 2-litre V8 engines sounding nice but lacking power. Drivers were Attwood/Vaccarella, Galli/Baghetti and Bianchi/Schutz, the last-named driver needing to have the cockpit roof panel removed in order to clear his crash-hat, just as last year when he was in the Porsche factory team. There were three Porsche 910 coupés, with 2-litre 6-cylinder engines, the Swiss drivers Steinemann/Spoerry in a white one, the Dutch drivers G. van Lennep/Pon in an orange one and two more Swiss drivers Foitek/Lins in a second white one, all three being looked after by the Porsche factory team. Dean/Beckwith had the former’s Dino Ferrari, with 4-cam engine, inlet ports between the camshafts and fuel injection, Sutton/Hedges had a Lotus 47 with 4-cylinder Climax engine, Konig/Lanfranchi had the Lotus twin-cam-powered Nomad and there were two of the pretty Chevron coupés, entered by the manufacturer, Martland/Classick and Bridges/Lepp being the drivers.
In the 3-litre Prototype class greatest interest lay in the first public appearance of the Alan Mann Ford coupés in the red and gold colours of that team, but backed by Ford (England). The first car, with ZF gearbox, which has done all the testing, should have been driven by Brabham/Spence, but at the last moment Brabham’s petrol company contracts tied him down so he sent Rindt as a substitute. The second car, with Hewland gearbox and 1½ in. longer wheelbase to accommodate it, should have been driven by Hill/Clark but their tyre contract with Firestone took them Formula Two racing as the Fords run on Goodyear tyres’, so McLaren/Hulme substituted. The Porsche factory entered three right-hand-drive 907 short-tailed models, all with flat-8-cylinder engines on fuel injection and of 2.2-litres capacity. Rindt was down to drive for the team but the previous week he had made a lot of noise about Porsche cars not being strong enough for Grand Prix drivers of his calibre so his place was taken by Scarfiotti partnering Mitter, the other cars being driven by Elford/Neerpasch and Siffert/Herrmann. Of particular interest and completing this class was the Howmet TX turbine-powered coupé driven by Thompson/Dibley.
Practice was from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Friday and Saturday prior to race day and when this interesting collection filled the pits it was hardly noticeable that there were no factory Ferrari entries in the Championship race, the third in the 1968 series, following the Daytona 24 hours, and the Sebring 12 hours. Although called the B.O.A.C. 500, as last year, it was a time race of six hours’ duration, not a distance race, and the B.R.S.C.C. asked the R.A.C./F.I.A. to call it the Six Hours of Brands Hatch but when the International Calendar was published it was still called the 500 miles of Brands Hatch! Porsche had a spare 907 as a training car, which was just as well, for on the Saturday afternoon Neerpasch crashed it. Autodelta had a spare Type 33 and on the first day all four cars were suffering from faulty clutch lining bonding, but new ones were fitted for the second practice. The Alan Mann team arrived late on the first day, the engine of the first car being reluctant to start and the brand new car being only just finished and yet to have its gold central stripes on the red body. The sleek aerodynamic bodies were already altered with “spoilers” across the tails to keep the rear wheels on the ground, in spite of a lot of Ford publicity blurb before the first car even ran, on how the Ford patented vortex-generating tail was going to hold the rear of the car down. As rearward visibility in the interior mirror was zero, a mirror was mounted on top of the smooth roof, being viewed through a Perspex panel in the roof, always assuming the driver had time to look upwards. Until the tail section was ready for the second car, McLaren did a few laps without it and from the rear it was almost impossible to see any difference from a Cosworth V8-powered Grand Prix car! The Howmet TX turbine car was most impressive, beautifully made and extremely well finished, the kerosene-fired turbine unit being remarkably small and light, mounted quite high in the rear of the car, behind the cockpit, and above the final-drive gear casing. It had left-hand steering, with all the instruments on the right-hand side of the scuttle and angled towards the driver, and two large pedals, right foot accelerator, left foot brake, and a hand-operated control for the emergency braking waste-gate. The air inlet for the turbine was just above the cockpit and the exhaust outlets were angled upwards at the end of the tail, having neat metal covers put over them when the car was stationary. Between the cockpit and the final-drive casing is an enormous alloy fuel tank, almost lining the centre of the car, with a filler orifice on each side of the body. Its smooth, quiet, efficient speed made all the raucous-sounding piston-engined cars seem old-fashioned and rather pathetic, in the same way that a piston-engined, propeller-driven aircraft looks dated. Its acceleration out of corners was deceptively fast and its position on the third row of the grid was impressive for a first visit to Brands Hatch. However, it was not without trouble, for the final-drive unit broke up on the second day of practice. Not surprisingly Siffert was fastest in practice, but McLaren was second fastest with the new Ford V8, but the first Ford broke its engine and was withdrawn. A shuffling of drivers put McLaren and Spence in the lone Ford V8, with Hewland gearbox, leaving Rindt and Hulme to spectate. The Alfa Romeo team were not at all impressive and Beckwith with the Dino Ferrari was easily fastest of the class, the times for the Alfa Romeo team being reshuffled after publication of the starting grid, so that the 35 starters were lined up as shown in the accompanying grid, not as printed on the official information sheets. Friday practice had been sufficient for Ickx and Redman to lap in identical times, so on Saturday, while lckx flew to Le Mans to drive the second Gulf-J. W. Automotive Ford GT40 at the test weekend, Redman merely had to bed in some tyres and brake pads and the car was ready for the race.
Sunday was dry and reasonably warm and a good crowd lined the circuit to watch six hours of racing for motor cars as distinct from racing for drivers. The large field of cars provided a fine sight and sound, from the raucous hard note of the 8-cylinder Porsches, and the high-pitched scream of the Cosworth V8 engine to the almost ominous whine of the turbine in the Howmet TX. Before the flag was raised the Chris Barber Lotus 47 was wheeled off the grid with a leaking fuel tank and John Hine’s race was over before it began. Later he was able to take over as relief driver on the Hone/Harris Porsche 906. McLaren in the Ford V8 shot off the line only to have the engine hesitate, and before it came back on power he was engulfed by the first four rows of cars. The Dutch Porsche driven by van Lennep was a hesitant starter and lost a quarter of a lap. Siffert led the opening stages, his Porsche 907 recognisable by the green panel on the nose and the green square on the blunt tail, Elford was second, his colour identification being yellow and Mutter was third, his colour being orange, lckx in the Gulf Ford GT40 was fourth, followed by the Howmet TX and McLaren with the Ford V8. In the midst of the tail-enders on the opening lap Hone spun his Porsche at South Bank Bend, and everyone missed him, but it looked tense for a moment. Following the leading group were Charlton and Bonnier in the Lola coupés, looking and sounding like Dinosaurs amid the Porsches, Alfa Romeos, the Ford and the Howmet. McLaren soon made up for his hesitant start, passing the turbine car, Ickx and Mitter and then made a bid to pass Elford and take second place, but the Porsche driver did not succumb and fought off the challenge of the Ford. Siffert was drawing steadily away, while Elford did his best to keep the Ford away from his team leader; time after time McLaren got past only to have Elford nip by again on braking or accelerating out of a corner. With less than 15 minutes of the race run the Howmet stopped very suddenly when it hit the bank at Druids Corner, and van Lennep was in the pits with the late-starting Porsche as its ignition was faulty. Bonnier managed to rumble his way past Charlton and McLaren finally shook off Elford and set out after Siffert, while Ickx still held fifth place, untroubled by the Lolas in sixth and seventh places. Hawkins was making up for his low starting grid position, caused by slight engine trouble, and took eighth place from Rodriguez in the Piper Ferrari LM. Dean had a sudden spin on Clearways and finished up pointing towards the pit entrance road, so called at his pit to see if anything had broken, but all was in order. Just before 12.30 p.m. McLaren was right behind Siffert and in the melee of a high-speed traffic jam, as they lapped some tail enders, the Ford took the lead from the Porsche, but Elford was right there with them, to lend weight to the Porsche team leader. Mitter was not coping at all well with the “traffic driving” and was losing ground, though he was comfortably ahead of lckx. The two Porsches had no intention of letting the new Ford V8 get away, and kept up the pressure, passing and repassing one another and each worrying at the Ford’s tail. They all lapped Rodriguez without trouble, and then Hawkins, and just before the end of the first hour they came up to lap the Lolas of Bonnier and Charlton. This was as they came out of Clearways and for a fraction of a second McLaren hesitated before passing Charlton. That was all that the Porsches wanted, they were both alongside and the Ford V8 was neatly boxed in among the Lolas, with Bonnier in front of them all. This little “pushing and shoving” lasted down Paddock, round Druids, along the bottom straight, and as they all clambered round South Bank, Bonnier was still holding them up and about to be passed on all sides. This bit of team work put the Ford V8 down to third place, but McLaren soon got between the German cars and at 1 p.m. the order was Siffert (Porsche 907), McLaren (Ford V8), Elford (Porsche 907), lckx (Ford GT40), with Mitter (Porsche 907) in the pits handing over to Scarfiotti, who rejoined the race in fifth place. McLaren soon got by Siffert again, and this time, with a fairly clear road ahead, he began to draw away. After Dean’s spin and pit stop Attwood (Alfa Romeo 33) was leading the small Prototype class, and Jack Oliver (Lotus 47) was leading the small sports car class, with McLaren (Ford V8) and Ickx (Ford GT40) leading the large classes.
As the first hour and a half of racing was approaching pit stops for petrol and driver changes came thick and fast, the Ford came in, had the front brake pads changed while it was refuelled, and not the front tyres as the commentator seemed to think, and Spence took over. McLaren looked very tired, the car having been giving him a rough ride, as well as the two Porsche drivers giving him a bad time. Siffert stopped and handed over to Herrmann, but Elford was still going and now in the lead, while Ickx was in second place with the Ford V8 just ahead of him on the road but almost a whole lap behind. Hawkins handed over to Hobbs and Oliver to Miles, and then at ten minutes to 2 p.m. the Alan Mann Ford coasted to a stop opposite the pits. Spence get out, took a quick look through the opening in the tail and then crossed the track to the pits. The left inner drive shaft coupling had broken and the flailing shaft had smashed the exhaust pipe and damaged the rear bulkhead of the chassis. Refuelling stops were still taking place, Beckwith going off in the Dino Ferrari and Spoerry taking over the Swiss 910 Porsche. Just after 2 p.m. Elford was in the pits for a very fast refuel and Neerpasch took over, and at the same time Ickx brought the J. W. Automotive Ford GT40 in and Redman took over. At this point the scoreboards got rather out of step and there was some doubt as to who was third, though it was agreed that the Elford/Neerpasch Porsche still led, followed by the Ickx/Redman GT40. Charlton had been having gearbox trouble on the white Lola and finally got no gears at all going into Druids and went off the road. He had earlier had a big spin at Clearways due to getting a neutral very suddenly.
While the electric scoreboard and the manually operated one argued the toss about the first six places the Rodriguez/Pierpoint Ferrari stopped at the pits with a flat tyre and the whole track suddenly took on a grey overcast as news filtered into the pit area that Jim Clark had been killed at Hockenheim. It was now 2.30 p.m. and the scoreboards began to agree that the Siffert/Herrmann Porsche was leading from the Elford/Neerpasch car, but then Neerpasch made an unexpected stop for new front brake pads and the scoreboards got very confused and one insisted that number 34, the Alan Mann Ford, was leading. Trying hard not to believe the news about Clark, it did not seem to matter which Porsche was actually leading, for it seemed a foregone conclusion that Porsche were going to win. The Dino Ferrari stopped for a new battery as the alternator was not working, and then there was a panic in the Porsche pit when Siffert came in for front brake pads. He went out again, but was back almost immediately, via the back entrance to the pits, for the trouble was more serious than worn out pads and the right front wheel was reluctant to revolve. After dismantling the hub and the brake the damage was found to be irreparable and the car was withdrawn and tense German faces watched the progress of the other two cars, for Scarfiotti had also stopped for brake pads while Siffert was in the pits. All this left the pale blue Gulf-sponsored GT40 in the lead, followed by the two Porsches. Ben Pon made one of his rare mistakes and crashed the orange 910 Porsche, and by 3.15 p.m. the order seemed settled at Redman (GT40), Mitter (Porsche), Neerpasch (Porsche), Hobbs (GT40), Pierpoint (Ferrari) and Axelsson (Lola). Beckwith brought the Dino in with the steering column adrift, the mounting having broken, and drove away to the paddock to get it welded back into place. He rejoined the race later but was immediately black-flagged and disqualified, as all work on the cars must be done at the pits.
At 4 p.m., with two hours’ racing still to go, Hobbs handed the red GT40 over to owner Hawkins, and at 4.10 p.m. Redman brought the Gulf GT40 in to the J. W. Automotive pit very neatly and the mechanics quickly refuelled, changed the front brake pads and topped up the oil, there being a momentary panic when the pressure line for squirting oil into the engine failed to operate first time. As Ickx accelerated out of the pit road Mitter came into view at Clearways, on the same lap, and was obviously gaining rapidly. Neerpasch came in to refuel and hand over to Elford, and the car rejoined the race still in third position, followed by Hawkins (GT40), Rodriguez (Ferrari LM) and Axelsson (Lola). By 4.30 p.m. Mitter was pressing hard on the leading GT40 and shortly after this he took the lead and began drawing away, running with near-empty fuel tanks against the GT40 with a full fuel load. Things now got very tense for the GT40 could obviously keep going until 6 p.m., whereas the leading Porsche had to make one more pit stop for fuel and a driver change, four hours being the limit of driving of any one driver. At 4.55 p.m. the Porsche pit signalled Mitter in for fuel, to which he responded with a flash of the headlamps, and then came in. Petrol and oil were added in double quick time. Scarfiotti was in the car, but the blue GT40 had gone by, and when the Porsche rejoined the race it was 45 seconds behind with just under one hour of the race still to run. Relentlessly Scarfiotti closed the gap at the rate of one second a lap, and as the GT40 scuttled round South Bank Bend, the Porsche roared along the main straight. Steadily the gap was being reduced at one second a lap, and suddenly it closed ten seconds in one lap as Ickx coasted round Stirlings Bend vainly trying to get into gear. A small plunger in the gear selectors was playing up and making it difficult to get into gear, but Ickx did not panic and being extra careful got going again. Now as he rounded South Bank and went under the bridge, Scarfiotti was plunging down Paddock Bend, and the gap was down to 23 seconds and at that it stuck for a few laps. Scarfiotti had made his bid and Ickx was now measured up to it, and actually opened the gap up to 26 seconds at one point. It was now 5.30 p.m. with 30 minutes to go, but stalemate set in and try as he might Scarfiotti could only get the gap down to 22 seconds, Ickx having no further bother with the gearchange. At 6 p.m. the chequered flag came out and Hawkins was the first to pass under it, and lckx brought the blue GT40 over the line just 22 seconds in front of the 907 Porsche, after six hours of exciting racing.
During practice the Chevron-B.M.W. of Digby Martland had a fine dice with the Foitek/Lins Porsche 916, and during the race both he and Brian Classick were very evenly matched with the two Swiss, and every time attention wandered from the race leaders these two cars could be seen locked in combat. After six hours of racing the lads in the Chevron beat the Porsche by 42 seconds, to take eighth place overall.—D. S. J.