A Porsche Domination
This year’s B.O.A.C. 500 was the European opener in the 1969 World Sports-Car Championship and, though held in cold, windy, overcast conditions, the six-hour event proved entertaining enough to be able to live up to its reputation as a Championship qualifying round. One may argue that six hours is too long to let the teams fight it out at full stretch and too short for the repair of any damage which may arise during the course of the event; six hours of racing lacks the lustre of the Daytona 24-Hour and Sebring 12-Hour events, while the 24-Heures du Mans remains a classic.
Without a win since the Austrian G.P. in August last year, the Porsche team came in force with four of its open-bodied 908 Spyders for Siffert/Redman, Elford/Attwood, Mitter/Schutz and Herrmann/Stommelen. Opposing them in the Group 6 prototype class was one lone 3-litre works Ferrari 312P for Amon/P. Rodriguez. Two cars had originally been entered but Team Manager Franco Gozzi remarked that they were concentrating on getting ready for a full-scale assault at Monza two weeks later so only one car arrived. The other car with any hope of winning was the new and unraced 3-litre Mirage-B.R.M. entered by J.W. Automotive Engineering for Ickx/Oliver. After the second practice session on Saturday, there was some speculation as to whether it would start but it did, along with its team-mate, one of J.W.A.’s many Ford GT40s, for Hobbs/Hailwood. This was not the car that had won this year’s Sebring but one of last year’s venerable mounts which used to be driven by Hobbs/Hawkins. Along with the Hobbs/Hailwood GT40 and a few others, the Group 4 challenge for outright victory came in the form of eight T70 Lola-Chevrolets, all but two being in the new Mk. IIIB form which is based on the T160 CanAm design. The dark horses must obviously have been the two Alan Mann-entered Ford prototypes but their latest creation, the P69 which is now an illegal open-bodied car with a hole for the driver’s head, didn’t race; it had run its bearings the night before the race. This left the P68 (last year’s more conventional model) to be driven by Hulme/Gardner, the latter replacing Gregory at the last moment, due to the other car being withdrawn.
Practice was a straight fight between the Siffert/Redman Porsche and the lone Ferrari. It also saw the tyre war heat up to near boiling point when Siffert elected to run on Firestone tyres for the race instead of the more customary Dunlops. Team Manager Rico Steinemann had no objections and as they had brought Siffert the fastest lap at 1 min. 28.8 sec. early on Saturday afternoon it seemed the best thing to do, even though it would mean more tyre changes than for the other three cars, all of which were on Dunlops. Siffert’s practice lap had certainly made everybody sit up and take notice for it was faster than his old F.1 lap record at 1 min. 29.7 sec. set up at last year’s British G.P. and without the aid of wings. Amon hadn’t been hanging around either for he soon got the Ferrari down to 1 min. 30.0 sec. dead, while Rodriguez was only 0.6 sec. slower, thus ensuring that the Ferrari pairing were the fastest on the track.
Race-day dawned cold and windy but the circuit was dry so everybody kept to their usual dry-tyre wear. Drama struck the Siffert/Redman car with only 20 minutes to go when the transistor ignition system started playing up. By staying on the grid to the last minute, the Porsche mechanics managed to get one ignition circuit working but not two, so Siffert started the race 600 r.p.m. down and with a supposed 20 b.h.p. loss. But this handicap didn’t affect the car, for at the end of the first hour Siffert/Redman had thwarted the Ferraris’ early challenge and was almost 80 sec. clear of the Elford/Attwood car, which in turn was followed, a lap down, by Mitter/Schutz, with the Ferrari next up following a pit-stop after 38 min. to change the rear tyres. The Herrmann/Stommelen Porsche came next, still on 39 laps as was the leading Group 4 car, the Hawkins/J. Williams T70 Lola-Chevrolet. The new Mirage lay seventh at this point and Ickx was driving it sensibly.
The second hour saw the leading Porsche extend its lead to a lap, with Elford still second, but now the Ferrari had dropped to fourth behind the Schutz/Mitter Porsche but still in front of the Stommelen/Herrmann car. It was during this period that Amon brought the Ferrari in for its first routine stop at 1.13 p.m. and Rodriguez took over. Then 22 minutes elapsed before Elford brought the first of the Porsches in ahead of schedule, because he had a flat tyre. Within minutes the car was away again with Attwood at the wheel. Next to stop was the leader, Siffert, just before 1.30 p.m., followed by Mitter two minutes later and then Stommelen. The Ferrari’s extra stop had given the Porsches an even bigger lead, and though both Amon and Rodriguez did well to make up the lost time throughout the course of the race, the Italian car never looked like winning if the Porsches stayed together. The Ickx/Oliver Mirage had dropped a place between the Craft/Liddell Lola T70 and the similar car of Piper/Pierpoint, while the Hobbs/Hailwood Ford GT40 had crept on to the leader-board in 10th place, following an early unscheduled stop to rectify a fuel leak.
Halfway through the third hour and just before the Ferrari’s third stop, at which Amon took over, it began to rain slightly, making the track very slippery, but the Siffert/Redman Porsche continued unabated, with Attwood running like a train a lap behind. At 2.51 p.m. Attwood came in to start Porsche’s second string of lightning stops while Stommelen quickly rotated on the slippery surface at the same time. At the half-way stage, Porsches lay first-second-third and fifth, with the Ferrari wedged in between. The Hawkins/J. Williams Lola still lay a good sixth, while the Hobbs/Hailwood GT40 had moved up into eighth place behind the Pierpoint/Piper Lola, following the retirement of the Mirage after 2½ hours with a broken drive-shaft.
From now onwards, the race became rather processional, with the Siffert/Redman car pulling away from Elford/Attwood. The Ferrari was proving reliable and had got back to third place after four hours, though at one point the Italian challenge was nearly wiped out when Elford spun his Porsche coming out of Clearways, rejoining in a tail-happy manner just in front of the approaching Ferrari, which swept past into what was, then, second place. Unfortunately, Ferrari joy was shortlived, for it made yet another routine stop, letting Elford back into second place. Meanwhile, the Hobbs/Hailwood GT40 had taken over the Group 4 lead, the Hawkins/J. Williams car having retired at 3.50 p.m. with a broken rear wishbone. The Liddell/Craft car had also worked its way into eighth place, after the newer Lolas had suffered from overheating. Perhaps the greatest surprise of all was to see the tiny 2-litre works Chevron-B.M.W. driven by Wisell/Hine now in seventh place overall, after a consistent drive.
At 4.27 p.m. and only one and a half hours to go, Elford brought his Porsche in to the pits to begin the last series of stops for the Stuttgart equipe, and by 4.41 p.m. all four cars had been refuelled and sent on their way. But the Ferrari was now slowing due to a stretched throttle control and the car was only running on one-fifth-throttle. Amon took over at 4.49 p.m. to see out the remaining hour and 11 minutes. So, with one hour to go, the Porsches were in a happy position, with the ailing Ferrari lying third and gradually being caught by the Mitter/Schutz car.
The final hour brought much drama. After Bonnier had taken over the Scuderia Filipinetti Lola T70 from Muller, the President of the G.P.D.A., for no apparent reason, started driving well over the limit. Though many laps behind, as overheating problems had beset the car earlier on, the Swiss-based Swede charged through the field, hitting the Hobbs/Hailwood GT40 on the way and causing it to run on the rough and pick up a flat tyre. All eyes turned upon Bonnier as he came through Bottom Bend much too quickly, running wide and hitting the safety bank before somersaulting several times behind the pits. He was extracted unhurt from the wreck; could it be that he felt that the safety bank wasn’t strong enough and decided to find out for himself? What courage and from the President of the G.P.D.A., too!
The works Porsches ran on unchallenged and unflustered, though the Herrmann/Stommelen car did pick up some wreckage from the Bonnier fracas which necessitated a 20-minute pit-stop at 5.20 p.m., the car finally finishing sixth behind the J.W. Ford GT40.—C. W.