Le Castellet, April 18th, 1971.
The opening round of the 1971 FIA European Championship for 2-litre sports cars, held at the Paul Ricard circuit in the south of France, provided the Austrian Dr. Helmut Marko and his co-driver Frenchman Jean-Pierre Jabouille with the luckiest of wins in their Lola T212, as Vic Elford, who had dominated the race from the opening laps, was caught and passed with just three laps of the race remaining. Elford, driving a Scuderia Filipinetti Lola T212, drove the whole 140 laps single-handed and looked set for a thoroughly deserved victory when his Morand-tuned engine developed a misfire due to suspected dirt in the petrol, and slowed the car sufficiently enough to allow Jabouille to take the chequered flag, thus scoring nine Championship points for Lola Cars Ltd.
A superb 40-car entry, including works cars from Chevron, Abarth and Lola (the Scuderia Filipinetti cars of Elford and Bonnier), together with the leading private teams, were allowed three and one half hours’ practice time, the fastest 25 Group 6 and the five fastest Group 5 cars qualifying for the race. During the first session, John Miles driving a DART Racing with Castrol Chevron B19 shattered the existing lap record, established by Bonnier in last year’s race at 1 min. 21.1 sec., with the aid of a set of newly-introduced Firestone “slick” tyres of ZWB 25 compound which were also used the same weekend by certain teams contesting the Spanish Grand Prix. The Miles time of 1 min. 18.5 sec. was not bettered during practice despite a frantic rush for the remaining nine sets of “slicks”. The second practice period followed a bout of torrential rain which flooded the track, and although new tyres were introduced by Dunlop and Goodyear, Miles occupied pole position with Marko’s Lola alongside and the Chevron B19 entered by Canon Cameras driven by the Dutchmen Swart and Hezemans also on the front row.
At the fall of the Tricolour, Marko zipped away, Miles and Hezemans hard on his heels, and the order at the end of lap 1 read Marko, Miles, Hezemans, Bonnier, Elford, and Merzario in one of the brand new works Abarths in sixth place. With the race just three laps young, Craft, driving the works Chevron, crashed heavily when the front section of his B19 became detached, obscured his vision, and sent the Chevron, together with a Lola, into the chicken wire which surrounds most of the track. Both Craft and the Lola driver were unhurt but were out of the race which soon had Elford driving with tremendous flair at the head of the field.
Such was Elford’s speed that by 55 laps he had lapped all but sixth placed man and was quite happy to continue racing solo, although F2 driver Peter Westbury was scheduled to take over from him at the 40-lap stage. The expected Abarth challenge had already fizzled out when first Salvati spun and crunched the front end of one car, and then Merzario, who seemed to spend most of his time spinning off the circuit at one point or another, retired the second car with no fuel pressure. Elford’s team-mate Bonnier was to retire a few laps later when his engine blew up, and other notable retirements included Burton (Chevron B19) who suffered the same fate as Craft, Bridges (Red Rose B19), a fractured gear-lever support, and the Lola T210 of Terry Croker with no fourth or fifth gears.
As the race entered its last half-hour, Elford’s engine, which had already started to misfire, got progressively worse, and from being well in the lead and looking set for certain victory, Jabouille hauled in the Lola and, to the delight of the partisan crowd, snatched victory from within Elford’s grasp. The DART Chevron of Miles finished third, Swart fourth and von Wendt fifth, with British driver Andrew Fletcher comfortably winning the Group 5 class after a single-handed drive. If the standard of entry is maintained throughout the series, it will indeed be a fine competition, which already has some of the World’s leading sports-car drivers competing in it.—H. G. W.