Easter Monday at Thruxton

For the second year in succession, a British round in the European Formula Two Championship for non-graded drivers opened the Formula Two season at the Hampshire circuit of Thruxton. Expected to take over the role cast aside by Goodwood, perhaps the newer circuit will never have the same atmosphere as its Sussex predecessor, but it looked very pleasant in the strong Easter Monday sunshine.

This Easter meeting is, unhappily, destined to be Britain’s only contributing round to the Formula Two Championship, for the powers that be in British motor racing have decided that the class does not attract enough spectators and have invented their own heavily-publicised new Formula. It will be a long time before they can offer spectators the same absorbing and closely-fought competition which Formula Two provides at present.

The European Championship rules permit organisers to accept entries from up to six graded drivers for events in the Championship in order to attract larger crowds, although for points purposes these drivers are ignored. Nevertheless, the inducements were sufficiently attractive to bring along regular Formula One men—Hill, Rindt, Siffert, Courage, Stewart and Beltoise in addition to a full Ferrari team. The two Lotus drivers had brand new cars entered by Winkelmann Racing (the team which ran the semi-works Brabhams in 1968 and has followed Rindt into the Lotus camp), while Matra was represented by four of the 1967 MS7 designs, with Servoz-Gavin and Pescarolo backing up Stewart and Beltoise in the Matra International and Matra Sports equipes.

Other works cars came from the Tecno Racing Team, the B.M.W. factory and a newcomer to the Formula, Pygmee, while two Brabham customers had taken delivery of new cars also. Fuller descriptions of the new and revised cars will be found elsewhere in this issue.

As a training ground Formula Two is highly popular with non-works drivers, several of whom are capable of giving the works drivers a good run. Thruxton was no exception to this pattern and there were some competitive non-works aspirants ready to pounce if the stars happened to run into trouble. In practice, the man who made the best showing was motorcyclist Bill Ivy, who equalled Stewart’s lap time and put himself on to pole position in the second heat, his first-ever Formula Two race. The advent of wings has sliced over two seconds from lap times around Thruxton, although more powerful Cosworth FVA engines have contributed something to the increased speeds. Fastest was Rindt in the new Lotus, which seemed to require remarkably little “sorting out” apart from a minor brake problem. His practice time of 1 min. 13.2 sec. was to prove an accurate forecast of his race performance, because Ivy and Rindt were both trying hard for their 1. min. 15.4 sec.

A very strong entry of 30 cars enabled the organisers to run two eliminating heats of 15 laps with odd-numbered cars running in the first, a method which conveniently split the works teams. In the first, Stewart had an unchallenged win from Beltoise and Hill, although Hill closed rapidly after getting past Beltoise, only to spin in a moment on enthusiasm which was lacking in most of the World Champion’s 1968 Formula Two appearances. Ivy succeeded in holding off the newer Brabham of Ahrens for fourth place behind a recovered Hill.

Rindt was expected to show the way in the second heat, which he did at the rate of almost two seconds per lap. Challenging the Matras in this event were Courage’s 1968 Brabham and the tail-sliding Ferrari Dino of Brambilla, who could not match the performances he had produced over the winter in South America. Courage took over second place from Pescarolo by out braking him into the chicane on lap five, and almost immediately took the lead vacated by Rindt, whose impressive Lotus sustained a puncture, although he carried on after the wheel had been replaced. Pescarolo came home second and Brambilla vanquished the remaining Matra of Servoz-Gavin after an exciting display of tail-out driving.

Rindt found himself on row eight of the grid for the 50-lap final following low placing in the heat and things did not seem too promising for Lotus on the warming-up lap when first the Austrian’s tachometer broke and then transmission troubles struck Hill’s car, forcing an early retirement. Stewart took command, with the works Matras of Beltoise and Pescarolo following closely form Ahrens, Courage, Ivy and Regazzoni in the first Ferrari, the latter four all being destined to retire.

Unable to judge revs, Rindt was nevertheless driving through the field in champion style. His progress was irresistible and even the mastery of Stewart was not enough to stave off the green Lotus, for on lap 19 Rindt went past the Scotsman under braking into the chicane and pulled away at the rate of over one second per lap.

Stewart’s was not the only Matra to find itself being overhauled by a British car, for Courage had taken Beltoise for second place behind Stewart in the early stages, only to suffer the same fate as Rindt and pull into his pit with a punctured tyre. Ahrens had troubles with his gear-change linkage, allowing Ivy to go through, making his the best-placed Brabham for a while. But the most interesting performance of the day was the progress behind Ivy of Irishman John Watson in an ex-works Lotus. Watson overtook both works Tecnos and seemed to have remarkably little trouble getting past the Ferraris, one of which (Bell’s) soon stopped out on the circuit with fuel-feed troubles. The two-year-old Lotus then engaged Servoz-Gavin, successfully, only to crash after holding fifth place for a couple of laps when Ivy’s engine had blown up. It was an expensive way to end the day’s racing for both drivers.

The final results show Rindt over half a minute ahead of Stewart, who will have to find some more speed from his Matra before he can again challenge the new Lotus driver. Strangely, it is the first time Rindt has beaten Stewart: previously, one or the other has retired before a conclusive result was in the bag.

A round of the R.A.C. Sports Car Championship promised an exciting race with a field consisting mainly of Lolas in the larger of the two classes and Chevron GTs in the other. There were several non-arrivals following Snetterton’s toll earlier in the weekend, but Bonnier and Redman staged a good race in their identical new Lola T.70 Mk. III B.s, with Redman getting the verdict after allowing Bonnier to hold the initiative for 20 of the 25 laps. The third-placed Lola of Hawkins was a lap behind.

The smaller class produced a clash between Burton in the Worcestershire Racing Association’s Chevron and Schenken in Vestry’s similar car. Schenken overhauled Burton as expected but the Australian was more than a little surprised to find Burton sailing past as they headed into the chicane a few laps later. Burton’s throttle had stuck open, but he recovered sufficiently soon to get away in second position, ahead of Lucas, who normally wins in this class with McNally’s six-cylinder Porsche.

Another R.A.C Championship event, this one for Saloons in Group 5, resulted in yet another win for an American Ford Falcon Vee 8. Initial leader, Muir, in Gartland’s car, was yet another casualty of the puncture epidemic, leaving Pierpoint (in Shaw’s car which Muir drove in 1968) out ahead of the spectacular B.M.W. 2002 of Dieter Quester, the former hill-climb expert. B.M.W. efforts are being confined to formula Two and Championship Saloon Car racing this year, so we can expect to see more of the 2002. On this occasion, however, part of the exhaust system broke, which proved to be the end of its race, for the induction system incorporates an exhaust-driven turbo-charger, which promptly stopped working properly. Gardner finished the race in second place driving Mann’s Escort T.C. Like the B.M.W., this car incorporates a fan-charger, although in this case the idea is to put the car into a larger class rather than to increase engine horsepower.

Class winners were Mansfield (Fort Escort T.C.), Craft (Ford Escort GT) and Poole (Mini-Cooper).–M. G. D.