Towcester, March 30th.
As ever in the meeting’s 21-year history, Formula One machinery topped the bill and the B.R.D.C. succeeded in assembling a better grid than had been seen at the Brands Hatch Race of Champions a couple of weeks previously. Unfortunately the works B.R.M.s for Surtees and Oliver did not turn up as the Owen Racing Organisation, due to a lack of parts, had not managed to prepare their new 48-valve V12 engine. Ferrari brought two cars, a new 1969 chassis for Amon and a 1968 chassis for Bell, but both powered by the Italian’s new outside yee exhaust V12 engine. The new car had first been seen in South Africa but there it had travelled incognito to get round Customs difficulties. Apart from Parnell’s B.R.M. for Rodriguez and a 1967 Cooper-Maserati from Antique Automobiles driven by Elford, the rest of the 14-car field was Cosworth D.F.V.-powered.
Rindt and Hill had works Lotuses which arrived on the second day of practice backed up by private cars from Rob Walker for Siffert and American Lovely’s ex-Andretti machine. McLaren and Hulme had McLarens, Brabham and Ickx plus Courage in a private car raced Brabhams, and last, but certainly not least, was Stewart in the Matra International Matra MS80. McLaren’s car was brand new and bore more similarity to the Formula A than anything else as it had the monocoque extended round the back of the cockpit. It did not have the side pannier fuel tanks used on the car McLaren has raced in the last couple of meetings. Brabham’s car had new front upper wishbones but was otherwise unchanged.
Practice was held over three sessions, two one-hour stints on Friday and one two-hour session on Saturday on a damp track. Nearly all the fast times were recorded in the second Friday session and for the first time ever the Silverstone three-mile Grand Prix track was lapped at over 130 m.p.h. The man who did it was Stewart, and he recorded a lap in 1 min. 20.9 sec. But he was not having it all his own way for Brabham was only 0.1 sec. slower and Amon only 0.2 sec. down. Ickx completed the front row with a time of 1 min. 22.5 sec. Courage, Siffert and McLaren made up row two. Rindt and Hill only practised in the wet Saturday session, but Rindt in particular showed that he could have been on the front row by lapping the Lotus on a damp track at 1 min. 23.9 sec. Stewart found the new bulbous Matra MS80 rather a handful in the wet and decided that if the conditions were the same on race day he would drive the older South African Grand Prix winning MS10 unless a set of narrow wheels could be brought from France for the new car. They couldn’t and, as he had not practised the MS10, he had to start at the back of the grid. The supporting events had dried off the track for the Formula Ones, but as they started to assemble a very heavy shower drenched everyone and the track. From the drop of the flag the World’s most experienced Grand Prix driver and champion of the Over-40s, Jack Brabham, made an excellent start and left the others floundering in his spray.
Things looked good for Brabham, for while he quickly increased the lead second place was being contested by the other two Brabham cars in the race, Ickx’s works machine and Courage in Frank Williams’ similar entry. Meanwhile, Stewart was finding his way through the spray of the various back-markers and Rindt and Amon with both engines popping with water in their ignition at the back of the field. But when, after six laps, Rindt’s car came on full song, the Austrian was to give one of his best performances to date. From tenth place he started gaining a place a lap and Stewart was also making good progress through the field. But on this occasion even he was no match for Rindt, who passed him for fourth place on lap 20. Brabham was still well in the lead and the Ickx v. Courage battle continued, but they were being caught quickly by Rindt. Just before half-distance they became mixed up in a scrap for seventh place between Hill and Rodriguez. Almost in one move Rindt took all four of them in between a couple of corners and moved into second place 28 seconds behind Brabham. So Rindt’s task was to catch Brabham to the tune of just over a second a lap, but Brabham, now happy with a Ford Cosworth engine in the back of his car, is no easy man to catch in these circumstances.
It was too much for Rindt, but he made a gallant effort and with only two laps remaining had closed the gap to 12 seconds. It seemed an impossible task, but during the penultimate lap he cut the lead to 9.5 sec. What he did not know was that Brabham’s car had run desperately short of fuel and on the last lap it cut out several times and Rindt quickly closed. But Brabham just made it, virtually crawling across the finish line only 2.2 sec. ahead of Rindt. Stewart had moved into third place but with Ickx hanging on well and they finished 2.5 sec. apart. Courage was a good fifth, ahead of McLaren. Hill and Rodriguez took the next two places ahead of the Ferraris of Bell and Amon, who had made a pit stop. Siffert also stopped to adjust his suspension and Elford was last, but rumour has it that Crabbe will be providing a far more competitive car in the future.
There were only two retirements on the steadily drying course. Lovely, who was on dry weather tyres, went off at Becketts on the second lap and retired with slight damage to the front end, and Hulme’s engine blew up disastrously on lap 16 when a connecting rod broke opposite the pits. On the equipment front it was the race of the Gs, for Brabham’s car was running on Gulf fuel and oil and Goodyear tyres.
Curtain raisers to the main race were events for Group 4 sports cars and Group 5 saloon cars. Both were qualifying events in the National R.A.C. championships. In the sports-car event the non-homologation of the McLaren GT due to a protest from a Lola-owning Swede left the race dominated by Lola T70s of varying age. Former Lotus Formula One driver, Trevor Taylor, back on form led in his brand new car for five laps and looked well in command. But a grabbing front brake got the better of him and put him off at Copse. This left the race between Redman in the Hamlyn Books/Sid Taylor Racing new Lola and the older but fuel-injected example of John Woolfe Racing driven by Hulme. The former World Champion managed to get in front of Redman but their close battle ended a couple of laps from the end when a plug fell out of the gearbox of Hulme’s car. He continued at racing pace, but the resultant oil smear left Redman with next to no vision and he limped sightless into second place. The Lolas of Hawkins, Craft and Piper took the next three positions followed by the 2-litre class winner Lucas in a Porsche 910. Following Lucas home was Swedish F.3 expert Reine Wisell in the works Chevron-B.M.W. with Sadler’s Ford GT40 eighth.
Pierpoint’s Ford Falcon Sprint made nearly all the running in the saloon car race, but was slowed on the closing lap by a deflating tyre. Gardner in the Alan Mann Escort Twin Cam with dummy supercharger to put it in the big capacity class chased hard and at Woodcote on the last lap made to pass the Falcon on the inside. The two cars touched, almost lost control and the Escort crossed the line first. Such is saloon car racing. Crabtree’s Willment Escort was a good third in front of the ex-Elford Porsche of Faure. The intense struggle in the 1,000-1,300 c.c. class came out in favour of Fitzpatrick in the Broadspeed Escort from Spice in the Britax Cooper Mini. Poole won the 1-litre class in a Cooper Mini.
The day was concluded by an interesting but hardly exciting Historic race, covered elsewhere.—A. R. M.