F.1 v F.A is no-contest
Ontario, California, March 28th
Money talks in motor racing and particularly when the currency is American dollars. So when the Ontario Motor Speedway, constructed last year at a cost of a vast 25 1/2 million dollars, decided to stage a road race for Formula One and American Formula A cars, everyone started to take interest, particularly when a prize fund of $278,400 was announced, with plenty for everyone. However, there were several problems, including the only available date being just one week after the Brands Hatch Race of Champions, and the fact that the supply of new or freshly re-built engines from Cosworth was almost non-existent.
The original plan was to have twenty Formula One cars ranged against the best ten Formula A cars in the States, with USAC drivers like the Unser Brothers and Foyt to drive amongst the regulars to give the crowd an even better spectacle. As it happened, there were only seventeen Formula Ones after Team Surtees withdrew, and March only decided to send one car. So the remainder of the thirty-car field was completed by the Formula A machines with a couple of hopeful reserves as well.
All the European cars, except the Ferraris, were transported in a big airlift from Gatwick airport direct to Ontario airport in California. As the cars left on the Tuesday after Brands Hatch, there was very little time for preparation. However, facilities at the vast Speedway are so good for mechanics that they were able to catch up on circuit.
Ontario Motor Speedway lies some forty miles inland from the vast, sprawling, smog-bound city of Los Angeles in California. The facility was completed last August and has, since, seen major races for USAC Indy-type cars and the NASCAR stockers, as well as a Dragster meeting. This was, however, the first time that the road circuit on the infield of the dominating 2 1/2-mile oval had been used.
This twisting, difficult to learn and rather featureless track utilised the main straight and first banked corner of the oval, and then swooped off and twisted and turned through the infield, with only a short 1/4-mile straight in which to relax. Along the main straight are huge stands which, when filled to capacity, seat something like 140,000 spectators, who have a very good view of the whole circuit. If you prefer to be nearer the action and see the drivers gritting their teeth and sweating it out, rather than have a panoramic view of the cars looking like Scalextric, then it is possible to watch from the infield. However, the large run-off areas on the corners still make it difficult to get really close to the cars.
The six-storey main grandstand is quite something with its liveried lift-men, range of executive entertainment suites, timekeeping and race-control offices, not to mention the vast press box which seats over 300 people in just two tiers. One big drawback in this air-conditioned room is the double-glazing, which unfortunately shuts out the great majority of the sound from the racing cars!
The entry was headed by two Ferraris, but the Italian team had split forces and sent Regazzoni to Brands Hatch the previous week with the new car, and Andretti and Ickx with their regular 312Bs to Ontario. BRM did not have the same problems as the Cosworth runners as they make their own V12 engine which at last is starting to prove reliable, so they fielded three cars. Rodriguez had his regular P160, Siffert had the second, and brand-new, P160 and Ganley remained with the ex-Eaton P153. Matra Sports still had just the single MS120B for Amon, using an engine without the 1971 modifications.
Following their brief encounter with the turbine car, a slightly dis-spirited Gold Leaf-Team Lotus fielded the pair of regular Lotus 72s for Fittipaldi and Wisell (who was one of only two drivers at the meeting to have an “11” series Cosworth engine—the other was Stewart). The well-organised McLaren Motor Racing team fielded the M19 for Hulme and an M14A for Gethin while, likewise, Motor Racing Developments had the new Brabham BT34 for the senior driver Hill, and a last year’s BT33 for the junior, Schenken, now confirmed as a regular member of the team. Stewart was in the lone and original Tyrrell, still looking for his first win with the car, while March Engineering sent a single STP 711 for Peterson. Following the drive-shaft failure at Brands Hatch the team decided to revert to outboard discs on the front, and this entailed a fair bit of last-minute modifications.
Similar changes were made to the March 711 of the Frank Williams Race Cars team, this car being driven by Pescarolo for the first time, although Peterson had driven it the previous week. There were two of the older March 701s, one from Williams for Bell and the other, the ex-Andretti, ex-Amon Tasman car, from STP for the American Formula A Champion John Cannon of Canada. Pete Lovely also brought along his near-vintage Lotus 49B hoping for a start but, though he practised, he was out of luck.
Lolas dominated the Formula A section. It should be explained that the only major difference between the A cars in America and the 5,000s in Britain, is that the As are allowed to use fuel-injection, and in fact all those entered had it fitted. Brand-new 1971 Lola T192s were delivered in time for Lou Sell and Tony Adamowicz, both former Formula A Champions in America, plus another car intended for an amateur driver, but hired out for this race to reigning USAC Champion Al Unser. Mark Donohue had the prototype T192, prepared as immaculately as ever by the Penske organisation, while former sometime Grand Prix driver Bob Bondurant also had an early T192. The Charlie Hayes team had two earlier T190 models modified by them and to be driven by Bobby Unser, who was briefly with BRM, and Ron Grable. A reserve Lola T190 was entered for Jack Byers.
There were just two McLarens, both 1970 model M10Bs, for the five-times USAC Champion A. J. Foyt, who seemed to be somewhat dis-interested in driving the machine at anything like racing speeds, and British driver David Hobbs in the car Cannon had used so successfully last year. Unfortunately, he was on the reserve list as a late entrant and did not get a race. There were two brand-new Surtees TS8 models for the well-known American drivers Peter Revson and Sam Posey, while a lot of interest was raised in the paddock by a new Californian-built car called the ASD American. ASD stands for Aero Structure Developments, and this firm had concentrated on building the monocoque tub from alloys not normally used in car construction, and had formed the tub in a rather different way. The car also featured a water radiator mounted in the wing and rising-rate front suspension. It was driven by another former Formula A Champion Gus Hutchison. All the above cars had power from Chevrolet engines tuned by such firms as Traco, Bartz and Bolthoff (run by former McLaren engine man George Bolthoff).
A brand-new Mk 2 version of the so far unsuccessful Lotus 70 was on hand for George Follmer, who had done much of the development work on this machine, and this was powered by a Boss Ford engine modified by Bartz—probably the most powerful, if not reliable, unit in the race. Finally Gurney’s protege Swede Savage had a private 1969 Eagle fitted with a Plymouth engine tuned by Keith Black, who is better known in drag-racing circles.
There was plenty of time to learn the circuit, with practice sessions starting on Wednesday (untimed), and then four hours each on the following three days. However, there was drama for the Ferrari team on the Wednesday when they had the circuit almost to themselves save for a few Formula A cars. After only a few laps Andretti skidded off course and damaged the front of his Ferrari quite badly. Repairs would take a couple of days, with the added complication that, on Saturday Andretti, along with the Unsers and Foyt, would be taking part in a USAC race at Phoenix, Arizona.
On Thursday the rest of the circus arrived and, as is so often the case, it was Stewart in the Tyrrell who made most of the fast running. He topped the list with a time of 1 min. 43.143 sec., to head Ickx (1 min. 43.700 sec.) and Amon at (1 min. 43.919 sec.). Hulme and Siffert were also showing well, as was Donohue’s 5-litre Lola.
Friday saw Stewart, now with an older engine fitted (the 11 series was re-fitted for the race), really dominating the session. He reduced his time to 1 min. 41.227 sec., which stayed good enough for pole position. Of the rest, Ickx improved to 1 min. 43.052 sec., Amon had several problems including a broken gearbox cross-member and troublesome fuel injection on the Matra, and failed to improve, but Siffert in his new BRM, and both the Lotus 72s broke into the 1 min. 43 sec. bracket.
As usual, practice finished with a frantic half-hour in which both Amon and Ickx made a stern bid to knock Stewart off pole position, while Andretti, back from Phoenix where he had finished ninth, tried to work his way up the grid in the short time available. Amon was quickest at 1 min. 41.275 sec., fractions slower than Stewart’s previous time, while the Scot’s best was 1 min. 41.357 sec., and Ickx turned in a 1 min. 41.531 sec. These three were obviously going to make all the running if practice was anything to go by.
Hulme improved and finished up fourth fastest, finding the M19 not handling quite as well as he expected, the rising-rate suspension possibly not offering an advantage on the smooth Ontario track. But the circuit, and particularly the banking, was proving hard on the cars, and particularly the BRM P160, which both suffered failures of the rear suspension mounting casting which is sandwiched between the engine and gearbox. These were strengthened for the race. Nonetheless Rodriguez moved up to fifth fastest with help, perhaps, from a fresh engine fitted with the new type heads first tried at Monza last season. Rodriguez’s best time was 1 min. 42.427 sec. and this was followed by Hill who again had the new Brabham going well. Seventh fastest was Donohue with the first of the Formula As, then came Siffert with a time recorded on Friday.
Filling the next three positions were three Lotuses, and it was interesting to note that Follmer in his new F.A Lotus 70 split the two Formula One Lotus 72s. Next up was Andretti in the repaired Ferrari, but it was obvious that he was still learning the circuit and could speed up some more. Pescarolo only practised the new March on Saturday, so his time was impressive, and he headed Schenken, Posey’s F.A Surtees, Cannon in the old March and Peterson in the other March 711, which also only practised properly on Saturday and had a suspect engine into the bargain. In fact it was interesting to note that, after an abortive attempt to practice on Friday when the Cosworth unit lost all its oil pressure, the March chief mechanic set about re-building the engine himself in the lock-up. After that it never missed a beat.
The Unsers and Foyt, unlike Andretti, did not rush back from Phoenix so they were well back on the grid, although Stewart tried the Foyt McLaren and showed it to be as competitive as any of the Formula A cars present. The three reserves or “alternates” as they were called, were not required, so the drivers had to sit and watch, which was a shame for Hobbs who was faster than most of the other Formula A machines.
Because the 5-litre cars do not have sufficient fuel capacity to take them much more than 100 miles at a time, the race had been split into 32-lap parts. Race day saw the previously dull weather brighten into what all the Europeans had expected of a Californian climate. This encouraged a large crowd of over 65,000 to turn up although, even so, they were able to watch their racing in comfort. Not only did they have the Questor Grand Prix to entertain them, but also several local club events plus various other attractions including a parachute drop, vintage aircraft, acrobatic flying, and teams of schoolgirl dancers, not to mention various other forms of ballyhoo.
It was rather disappointing to see that the organisers decided to use the standard American rolling start procedure rather than give the crowds the chance to see the much more spectacular European standing start.
So after raggedly following a pace car driven by actor James Garner, the race was on almost before the crowd, and for that matter the official starter, knew it. It was Ickx who grabbed the lead from Stewart on the opening lap followed by Amon, Hulme, Hill and then Siffert, who held up those following with a spin on lap two and himself dropped to twelfth. The second group was led by Donohue followed by Andretti, Rodriguez, Fittipaldi, Wisell and Pescarolo.
Stewart has had red Ferraris in front of him too many times lately, and he was really working hard to pass Ickx. While this was going on Hulme made one of his rare mistakes and spun down to twelfth place, while Foyt came in to say that even if Stewart thought the handling of the McLaren was fine he didn’t, so he retired.
Stewart, meanwhile, had managed to outbrake Ickx while Hill, new in fourth spot, was coming under strong pressure from Donohue whose Lola was the only competitive Formula A as Follmer’s car blew-up within the first couple of laps. Hill’s race was somewhat short-lived as an oil pipe fractured and the engine started to tighten as a result, so he stopped.
The Formula A cars were quickly dropping out, for Swede Savage crashed the Eagle and was seriously injured, Revson’s Surtees broke its gearbox, and the similar car of Posey overheated. Before half-distance the Lolas of Bondurant and Al Unser had also retired with their Chevrolet engines unserviceable.
At half-distance Stewart was in the lead by quite a margin from Amon, for Ickx’s car had sustained a puncture and lost almost a lap having it replaced. Andretti, after quite a battle with Donohue, had moved up to third place with Donohue still a strong fourth ahead of Siffert, Ickx, Fittipaldi, Wisell (who had lost fourth gear), then Schenken, Peterson, Cannon, Pescarolo, Ganley and the rest. Rodriguez had lost a lot of time having a broken suspension plate replaced but was now making up some lost time.
With both Amon and Andretti running hard, Stewart’s lead was gradually being narrowed, but suddenly Amon’s chances took a tumble when he, like Ickx, sustained a puncture. The Matra pit changed the wheel quickly and Amon rejoined in tenth place. So now Andretti only had Stewart in front of him, and the little Italian-born American, who reckons the Ferrari 312B is the best handling racing car he has ever driven, was catching the Tyrrell. Gradually the lead shortened, which really brought the crowd to its feet, while the other fast-running American, Donohue, stopped to have the engine’s failing fuel injection equipment attended to. So with three laps to go the leading pair were only separated by inches, and to a huge roar from the enthusiastic spectators, Andretti grabbed the lead. On the remaining two laps he pulled out three seconds on an exhausted Stewart. Siffert took third place (despite his early spin) with Hulme fourth and pit-stoppers Ickx and Amon in the next two positions. Schenken stopped on the last lap, short of fuel, but was classified seventh, ahead on Ganley, Donohue, Grable, Gethin, B. Unser, Bell and Sell. Both March 711s stopped, Pescarolo with a fractured cross member under the gearbox, and Peterson, who left the road when a shock absorber top pulled off. The Lotus 72s also retired, Wisell’s with the engine seized, Fittipaldi’s with a fault in the injection system.
There were twenty-two starters for the second part as a three-quarters of an hour break had allowed several cars to be patched up, and Foyt had also been persuaded to join in again. Peterson also re-joined, albeit when the second race was half run. To his credit, he stayed with the second place dice for the remainder of the race.
As the cars crossed the line for the start of the second race it looked as if Andretti had the lead, but as they came out of the banking it was Stewart who had snatched the front again. Third was Siffert with Ickx on his tail then Hulme, Amon and Donohue, whose trouble in the first heat had been cured for the time being. Stewart was going all-out to open out a big lead early on, and by lap two he had a couple of seconds on Andretti. Behind there had been quite a mix-up, for Ickx had made a desperate attempt to pass Siffert, under-braking at the end of the short straight. The Belgian lost control and spun off, taking a furious Siffert with him and damaging the side of the BRM considerably. Both continued although Ickx stopped half a lap later with a puncture and a damaged wheel.
By lap five Stewart had opened the gap over Andretti to three seconds while Donohue retired from his newly-won third place when the fuel injection system packed up again. So Amon took over third place followed by Schenken, while both Siffert and Rodriguez were coming through the field. Foyt decided to call it a day by helping his rather smokey engine to blow up by dipping the clutch and revving it.
It seems that the Firestone tyres take quite a while to warm up to optimum operating temperature but now Andretti’s were in prime condition, and he was quickly closing on Stewart who, it was later discovered, had a broken rear roll bar. On lap ten Andretti had blasted past and was in a lead that was never again challenged. Amon was a clear third and starting to close on Stewart, while Hulme was fourth but slowing with a water leak which left his car almost bone-dry and very hot at the end.
At half-distance Andretti looked to be in a good lead but he was not at all happy, for the Ferrari was now down on revs and was puffing out smoke every so often. Now Stewart’s every move was shadowed by Amon, but the Scot wasn’t letting him through so easily. Rodriguez was making good progress and he passed Hulme, and then team-mate Siffert slowed when a bolt fell out of the rear suspension. Rather than stop and lose a lot of time Siffert elected to motor on at a reduced pace with the wheel rather dangerously cranked over at an angle.
Despite Andretti’s fears the Ferrari kept running strongly and well ahead of the Stewart/Amon battle, which now had Rodriguez wanting to join in. Just as the Mexican looked as if he was going to pass the pair of them he left the road briefly and lost some time, but not a place. All that was left was for Andretti to drive on to a 12-second victory and of course the overall honours. Stewart held off an ever-challenging Amon to the very last lap, with Rodriguez fourth. Hulme was fifth followed by Schenken, Grable, Cannon, Adamowicz, Ganley, Sell, Siffert and Hutchison. Fastest lap went to Rodriguez during his effort to close on second place.
The overall results were computed from a rather complicated points system which enabled drivers who had finished well up in one heat, but retired in the next, to be placed higher than cars that had run the whole distance. However, there was no doubt that Andretti had won overall and earned Ferrari no less than $39,400. Second was Stewart, followed by Hulme and Amon (overall time breaking a points tie here, which is fair enough). Classified fifth was Schenken, Siffert sixth then the highest placed F.A driver, Grable in the Hayes Lola. Next came Gethin ahead of Ganley and Rodriguez, while Ickx was strangely classified eleventh, ahead of finishers Cannon and Sell.
Ferrari seem to be winning Formula One races with monotonous regularity these days, and the score so far this season is Andretti—two, Regazzoni—one, Ickx—none. It was Stewart’s third consecutive second place to a Ferrari, while the BRMs at last seem to have found both speed and reliability in their engines and the Matra is going well too. The Questor Grand Prix was voted a great success by the team managers as they took their large cheques to the bank, while the spectators will no doubt come back next year when the Formula Ones will be fighting it out for World Championship. points.—A. R. M.
Track tests: Bathurst
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