Alfa Romeo at last
Brands Hatch, April 4th, 1971.
When Henri Pescarolo crossed the finishing line to win the BOAC 1000 and give victory to the Autodelta Alfa Romeo T33/3 he shared with Andrea de Adamich, it was a landmark in the history of Alfa Romeo and their present sports car racing programme. It was sad indeed to see the great Alfa team pull out of Grand Prix racing in 1951 yet, in the past six or seven years, the Italian company has made an unspectacular but successful come-back to motor racing. First, it was through saloon car racing and, for the past five years, with the T33 sports car.
It has not been an easy road to success, for the early 2-litre T33 coupés, with their large tubular frames, were somewhat dangerous. However, the past three years has seen a much better chassis constantly improved, and the V8 engine enlarged and redesigned to 2.5 and then 3 litres with success by the enthusiastic Autodelta team led by Carlo Chitti. High placings, but not victory, had already been achieved in the Buenos Aires and Sebring rounds of the Manufacturers Championship for Sports Cars, and so this overall victory, in round four of the competition, was somewhat overdue if not unexpected.
It was a win for good preparation, first-class design and smooth-running team-work for, although the de Adamich/Pescarolo car was not the fastest in the race, it ran faultlessly throughout where faster cars floundered.
One of the younger races in the Championship, the round at Brands Hatch certainly does not have the glamour of Le Mans, the Nurburgring, or Spa but, nevertheless, is well worthy of its place. The Kent circuit offers its own particular problems for the cars with its bumpy section round the back and the many tricky corners.
This year, Nick Syrett of the BRSCC had not recruited quite such a strong field as in previous years. Since the Buenos Aires accident, Matra Sports seem to have lost interest in sports car racing and were not represented, Ferrari only had one 312P to bring, there wasn’t sufficient money available to tempt either the Roger Penske or NART teams over from America, while non-starters reduced the field to twenty-four cars which, even so, seemed quite a lot on the tight 2.65-mile circuit.
Those twenty-four were split into four categories—both Group 5 and Group 6 having a sub-division at 2-litres. It was in the over-2-litre Group 5 category where the most consistently successful sports car team could be found—JW Automotive Engineering. The team selected from their stock the two Porsche 917s which had raced in Buenos Aires for the regular pairings of Siffert/Bell and Rodriguez/Oliver with a spare car also on hand.
The JW cars sported the drilled disc brakes first tried at Sebring but discarded, four-speed gearboxes, and new alloy wheel hubs.
The Stuttgart challenge was further strengthened by Dechent’s Martini & Rossi sponsored team of Porsche 917s for the victorious Sebring pair of Elford and Larrousse while Dutchman Gijs van Lennep was entered to drive a second car with either Ahrens or Marko. Neither were seen in the paddock and the place was taken by Brian Redman, now out of semi-retirement in South Africa, and happy to be back at the wheel of a 917. Redman/van Lennep had the Sebring winner, while Elford/Larrousse had a hastily patched up machine which had obviously been in the wars at Daytona! A fifth Porsche 917 was entered by a brand new equipe from Mannheim in Germany, Team Auto Usdau, who had a 4 1/2-litre car which had seen service in the making of the Le Mans film as had a 908/2 entered by the same team. The 917 was to be driven by the experienced German pair of Reinhold Jost and Willy Kauhsen.
The challenge in this category to Porsche supremacy came from two privately-owned Ferrari 512s brought up to latest “M” specification, and two very tatty Lola T70-Chevrolets which had been entered by somewhat optimistic gentlemen. Both reached the paddock, but neither looked likely to last a 10-lap club race, let alone 1,000 kms. Fortunately, both were taken back from whence they came without setting a wheel on the track. The Ferraris were a different matter for both were very fully competitive. A new team, Herbert Muller Racing, entered two 512Ms, converted at great expense by the factory to the latest specification after being used in the Le Mans film, but one was not ready in time. However, the one that did arrive was driven by the 30-year-old Swiss driver Muller with one René Hertzog, a rich Swiss youngster with only a year of racing a BMW saloon behind him, as co-driver. He proved remarkably competent.
The second 512M has already been seen regularly and came from Escuderia Montjuich, the Spanish team run by wealthy Jose Maria Juncadella, who had replaced his regular co-driver, Arturo Merzario, with David Hobbs who has been driving the Penske 512M.
The Group 6 category restricted, of course, to 3-litres was where many pundits thought the winner could be found; they were right. In fact, some people expected the Porsche 908/3s to re-appear, as they were considered more suitable for Brands. Despite the rumours there was no sign of them, so the 2–3-litre category was left to the Alfas, the Ferrari and the older Usdau team Porsche 908/2 driven by Dieter Spoerry/Hans-Gunther Weigel.
The Ferrari 312P really is a fabulous device for it is little larger than a Lola T212 but the stressed flat-12 engine in the rear must punch out something like 450 b.h.p. The car is of monocoque construction with the Formula One type engine and gearbox bolted to the back of it and the rear suspension hung around a gearbox yoke. Very non-Ferrari looking un-spoked centre-lock road wheels have been made for the car to speed wheel changes and the scarlet red device looks very purposeful indeed. With Ickx and Regazzoni sharing the driving chores, there was no doubt it was strongly tipped to win.
The two Autodelta Alfa Romeos were much the same as at Sebring, but did feature new gearboxes which save considerable weight and the V8 engines are now proving very reliable. The driver pairings were Stommelen/Hezemans and de Adamich/Pescarolo—an international team indeed. The rest of the field was filled with 2-litre cars in both the Group 5 category (which comprised solely of Chevron B16 coupés) and Group 6. Here there was plenty of interest with several Chevron B19 Spyders led by the Miles/Birrell car from the new DART organisation, various Lola T210/212s including one driven by Bonnier/Westbury, plus one of the new Hurons making its racing debut, a new Dulon powered by a Porsche 910 engine and a Martin-BMW.
Practice filled Friday and Saturday, with the Motor Sport Formula Three brigade also joining in with a practice session and race on the second day, while the main topic of conversation seemed to be the near-freezing early April weather. The practice time to aim at was reckoned to be the outright circuit record of 1 min. 25.8 sec., presently held by Brabham in a Formula One last year. In fact, no one got near this and the fast cars had trouble enough improving on Amon’s last year’s qualifying time of 1 min. 28.6 sec. in a Ferrari 512S.
By the end of Friday’s session no one had bettered this time and, with the works Ferrari with various injection problems and the Porsche drivers looking very hairy and complaining bitterly about 917 handling over the bumps, it was Stommelen who was quickest in his Alfa at 1 min. 29.2 sec., with de Adamich next up in the second car at 1 min. 30.0 sec.
However, on Saturday the works Ferrari was ready to demonstrate its full potential and it was Regazzoni who really put the machine through its paces with a 1 min. 27.4 sec., while Ickx was a little slower at 1 min. 28.0 sec. Stommelen was again impressive and his time of 1 min. 27.8 sec. was fully two seconds quicker than co-driver Hezemans. Meanwhile, the JW Porsches were in and out of the pits like mad, with co-drivers Oliver and Bell getting very little practice, as Rodriguez and Siffert tried to tune their cars to the circuit. Siffert’s enthusiasm finally got the better of him just five minutes before the end of the final session and he spun at South Bank Bend and hit a bank damaging the Porsche’s rear end. To add to the troubles the engine sucked in various rubbish that was flying about as the car came to rest. It was decided to fit a complete new rear sub-frame, engine, gearbox and all, to the car and this was done and the car seemed none the worse for the adventure. Siffert had finished third fastest at 1 min. 28.4 sec., a second faster than team-mate Rodriguez, who was next up.
Both Elford and de Adamich qualified their cars at 1 min. 29.6 sec., while Redman lapped his 917 in 1 min. 30.0 sec., Hobbs in the Spanish Ferrari recorded 1 min. 31.6 sec., then Juncadella shunted the car quite heavily although a lot of midnight oil was burned and the car made the grid, Miles’ time of 1 min. 32.0 sec., in the little DART Chevron, was ninth fastest but the 2-litre category was going to be no walk-over for them with Westbury recording 1 min. 32.2 sec., with Bonnier’s Lola and Bonnier himself quicker than Miles’ co-driver, Birrell. The Martini team made a late decision to pair Redman with Elford, so Larrousse joined van Lennep for the race.
Sunday morning’s weather was still cold and it was drizzling hard, yet some 20,000 keen enthusiasts turned up to witness sports car endurance racing at International level. The weather made a choice of tyres difficult but most teams decided on intermediates and filled their pits with wet and dry tyres as well. The Brands Hatch pits are hardly up to a race of this kind, for they are not only cramped but also offer nothing in the way of refuelling facilities. Hence the teams had to rely on hand filling by churns. Here Porsche attention to detail showed up, for the factory provided, for the JW and Martini teams, a system mounted in a tubular construction whereby five churns (a total of 120 litres) of petrol fed into a single reservoir pipe which ended in a NASCAR/USAC type quick-fill nozzle and the cars’ tanks were modified to accept this. This gravity feed system worked well and discharged its load in nine seconds with no likelihood of spillage and far less effort by the mechanics.
The race was started by a pace lap, with Syrett’s Capri Vita 6 peeling off into the pit road, and the race was on in the damp, but slowly drying conditions. It was Ickx who immediately took the lead from Rodriguez and soon the gaps started to open out, with Siffert rapidly moving up to third place ahead of Stommelen and de Adamich, and Miles, in the Chevron, leading the rest although Jost was close on his tail. It was in these opening laps that an incident took place that had a direct effect on the final outcome of the race. As Ickx came up to lap one of the tail-enders (the DuIon) for the first time, it spun at Westfield and the Ferrari climbed a bank in avoidance. By the time Ickx had extracted it with some rather battered front bodywork, a lap had been lost and he came straight into the pits. A new body section was fitted but this took another six laps which, of course, lost them the race. Once the Ferrari was going again it was soon making up places but was already a long way down. So it was the two JW Porsches setting the pace, followed by the two Alfas.
It was just before the fifty-lap mark that the two Porsches came in for their refuelling stops with Rodriguez in the first (and losing a little time as the fuel filler fouled on the bodywork), while the Siffert stop went perfectly and this moved him into the lead. So at fifty laps, with just under an hour and a half’s racing gone, Siffert led Rodriguez with de Adamich third, while an astounding performance by Miles, who had not made a pit stop, had moved the Chevron up to an amazing fourth, ahead of Stommelen. Jost was doing a good job in the yellow and green Usdau car and lay sixth, ahead of van Lennep. John Burton was also impressive with the WRA Chevron and lay eighth, ahead of the Elford/Redman Porsche, which had been slowed by a leaking fuel tank which was spraying petrol onto a rear tyre. Another fine 2-litre performance in the early stages came from Fletcher in one of the closed Chevron B16s, the Scottish driver well ahead of the rest of his class. Martin’s Martin was already out with an incurable clutch problem, and the Huron had already made a couple of pit stops, as the brand new suspension started to settle down, and was soon to retire when the flywheel fell off its brand new Cosworth engine. The DuIon also retired early on with a broken driveshaft. The two Ferrari 512s were taking it quite easily in these opening stages, while lckx was down in 18th place.
There was quite a change round within the next fifty laps, and so the Porsche fortunes did not look so bright. On lap 58 the Rodriguez car suddenly stopped in the country with a dead engine, caused by a blockage in the fuel system. The Mexican managed to limp it back to the pits where it seemed to be sorted out, but on lap 79 it stopped again, with the same trouble as before, and was abandoned. So with 100 laps completed it was the Siffert/Bell car in the lead (Bell was now driving), followed by the Stommelen/Hezemans car, about 40 sec. down. Despite a minor bump and a resultant flat, whilst Pescarolo was driving, the other Alfa lay a strong third. Muller had pulled his Ferrari well up from 11th to fourth position and the inexperienced Herzog was now holding his end up very well.
Hot on its heels, however, was the works Ferrari with Regazzoni at the wheel. He had lost his vizor, but little stops the determined Swiss, and he was carrying on at unabated speed. Despite their problems Elford/Redman lay sixth, ahead of the second Martini car, but Miles had struck trouble in the Chevron. The car had started to run short of oil, but none could be added until lap 80, so he was tip-toeing round the corners, and thus had dropped to eighth place. Once oil was added he was back at full speed again. He needed to be, for early engine problems with the Bonnier Lola were now sorted and Westbury was driving the car like the wind. The other quick B19 Chevron, that of Burton/Bamford, had fallen by the wayside with a broken gearshift. but the Fletcher/Tuckett B16 still lay tenth overall, behind the Juncadella/Hobbs Ferrari, although Tuckett was now at the wheel and was considerably slower than Fletcher. The Twaites/Smith Chevron had also stopped for good, for the timing chain had broken as the car left the pits, and though Smith tried to repair it himself, with the mechanics shouting instructions, the attempt failed.
Obviously the odds on the Elford/Redman car finishing were not very good, and were finished off when Redman brought the car in to refuel and the petrol in the undertray ignited. The fire was quickly extinguished, but Redman got trapped by the safety belt as he tried to clamber out, so he set off the car’s extinguisher system as well. He gamely carried on for a lap or two but Dechent decided that it was too dangerous to continue so retired the car.
There was plenty of other action around the 150-lap mark as well, for the Ferrari 512 was undoubtedly the fastest car on the track. Ickx had taken over from the battered Regazzoni, and started to lap in the 1 min. 28 sec. bracket on the now dry track, and pulled the car right up to fourth place. Some of this hard work was undone when the throttle started to jam open and lckx lost a couple of laps in the pits while this was traced to a tightening ball joint in the linkage. Shortly before 150 laps, Bell came in to hand over the leading Porsche to Siffert and another dramatic change took place. Even in the distance one could hear the pneumatic wheel-nut brace pounding away and obviously making little headway until finally the recalcitrant nut came loose. The team immediately ran into trouble when they came to put it back on again. Expansion on the new alloy hubs was blamed and about four laps were lost, during which time the sweet-running Alfas shot past into first and second places. Finally Siffert hurtled out of the pits and, as he rounded Paddock Bend, a wheel was suddenly seen bouncing down the road. But the car carried on and it was quickly realised that this was the spare, obviously knocked loose during the efforts to remove the difficult wheel nut.
The car was immediately black-flagged as the organisers interpreted the regulations to read that a sports car must run with a spare wheel at all times, although this decision was later vigorously contested by JW team manager, David Yorke. However, his immediate problem was to find a spare wheel fitted with one of the special small Goodrich spares, an ordinary wheel and tyre would not fit into the allotted space. One was borrowed from the Martini car, just as the original was brought back to the pits. However, a couple more laps had been lost. So, at the 150-lap (85 to go) mark, the Alfas were in a very strong position with Stommelen/Hezemans leading team-mates Pescarolo/de Adamich by about half a lap, with the van Lennep/Larrousse Porsche third, some five laps in arrears. Bell/Siffert were now down in fourth place, ahead of Ickx/Regazzoni. Lap 183 saw the last major change take place for Stommelen had just lapped de Adamich when the leading Alfa suddenly slowed as it passed the pits. Up at Druids it let out a great pall of smoke and rolled to a halt behind the pits with a suspected collapsed piston and resultant damage. So de Adamich was now in the lead and he said afterwards that he thought that he and Pescarolo had, apart from the early stages, conserved their engine more than the other pair and with just cause.
By lap 200, the leaders had a four-lap lead over the hard-charging works Ferrari with Bell/Siffert now back up to third ahead of van Lennep/Larrousse, with the two 512 Ferraris running strongly in the next two positions. Jost/Kauhsen were seventh while the Miles/Birrell team, after their braking problems, only had a couple of laps to spare on the Bonnier/Westbury Lola and, when Miles’ flameproof mask almost disappeared down the fuel injection trumpets, it didn’t improve things either.
The three remaining 2-litre Group 5 cars were all far from fit but the Fletcher/Tuckett car was back in the lead of the class.
The closing laps were not without drama or change for either the Martini Porsche or the works Ferrari. With about half an hour to go Larrousse, who had been very spectacular in the Martini car, had a brake lock-on solid, as the pad was completely worn away. This was never really repaired and the car trundled out just before the flag went down and put in another lap but by then had dropped to ninth place. With only a couple of minutes remaining Regazzoni rushed in for a churn of fuel and the engine would not re-start. Jump leads finally got it going and he rejoined after Pescarolo had taken the Alfa across the line without the slightest acknowledgment of the chequered flag!
The final verdict was a victory by a margin of three laps with the overjoyed Autodelta boys spraying champagne all over the place. Another three laps separated them from the Siffert/Bell Porsche, which was only a lap ahead of the Muller/Herzog Ferrari; a fine debut for this new team. They in turn had a lap lead over the similar car of Hobbs/Juncadella with Kauhsen/Jost bringing the Usdau 917 into a reliable sixth place ahead of the DART Chevron, which won its class. In fact Miles shadowed the Bonnier/Westbury Lola, in the closing stages, despite the failure of the car’s clutch. So the new DART team had a good start to its racing career although Chevron just missed collecting a Championship point.—A.R.M.