In 1970 the Germans and neighbouring countries dreamed up a new form of racing modelled on the Canadian-American series that we know as Can-Am. This was for Group 7 cars, or two-seater racing cars, as they are described by the CSI. Six events were run in 1970 and they were called Interserie, the idea behind them being that Europe might enjoy the racing of 7 -or 8-litre Chevrolet-powered “specials” like McLarens, Lolas, etc. It was not too clear exactly who Interserie was supposed to appeal to, as regards competitors, and those organisers who were interested grasped at it in the hope that it would be cheaper to run than Formula One or sports cars, and more attractive to spectators than Formula Two. The 1970 events were run at Hockenheimring (two meetings), Norisring, Thruxton, Croft and Keimola in Finland which was not a very auspicious collection of events after the initial discussions. Competition came from private owners with Can-Am type cars that were obsolete for any other form of racing, and from people with sports cars who were getting nowhere in long-distance racing, or could not afford to go on with the classic events. The Interserie winner for 1970 was the German driver Jurgen Neuhaus driving a Porsche 917. In 1971 the Interserie continued and the glimmerings of an enthusiastic following began to show. Seven events were run, two at Hockenheimring, which was still the centre of Interserie, and two at Imola and single events at Zolder, Norisring and Keimola, the British opting out. The list of competitors improved, with Can-Am cars from BRM, March and McLaren while private Porsche 917s were modified into open cars devoid of all sports car equipment as was permitted in Group 7. This time the winner was Leo Kinnunen with an open, or spyder, Porsche 917 belonging to the Finnish Porsche importer Antti Aarnio Wihuri, using a full 5-litre flat-12-cylinder engine. Interserie definitely gained ground in 1971, filling in gaps in the International Calendar, allowing circuits that could not cope with Formula One to have fast cars competing, giving an opportunity for Can-Am cars to be tried out prior to going across the Atlantic, and letting Ferrari, Alfa Romeo and Porsche have a closer and practical look at Group 7, as well as affording an opportunity for private owners to go on racing their expensive but obsolete Group 5 sports cars.
This year Interserie has taken another step forward as Porsche have made it clear that they will support the races, either with factory cars or customer support, and will use the early events as a test programme for their Can-Am onslaught, in which they are co-operating with Penske Racing of Philadelphia, and Donohue. The first signs of Porsche participation were seen at the opening Interserie race at Nurburgring on Easter Monday when they produced a brand new 917 Spyder with 5.4-litre engine, new brakes, redesigned chassis and body and the very latest offerings from the design department of Dr. Porsche. The car was painted blue with white lining and entered by Wihuri’s “Racing Tearn AAW” and driven by Kinnunen. The engine has been enlarged up from 5-litres to 5.4-litres by increasing the bore to 90 mm., that well known cylinder dimension that engine designers have arrived at since the early days of the internal combustion engine. This first appearance of the latest factory car was a disaster for it was beaten in practice by Kauhsen in the Can-Am 5-litre 917 that Siffert raced last year, and in the race the 5.4-litre engine never ran properly and Kinnunen could only finish 4th, behind Ganley with last year’s BRM-Chevrolet V8, Kauhsen with the 5-litre 917 and Kelleners with a brand new McLaren Chevrolet V8 M8F. Doubtless Porsche will get things sorted out, and they intend to make the 90-bore engine available to other Interserie competitors; meanwhile they are continuing work on an exhaust turbocharger layout for this new engine, which could give 800 b.h.p., this being destined for Donohue to drive in the Can-Am races to try and break the McLaren stranglehold. If work progresses according to plan the turbocharged unit could appear in the Interserie event due to be run at Silverstone on May 21st. While the series is showing signs of improvement as far as the mechanism is concerned it still needs some “Professional-professional” drivers to use these powerful cars. as 600 b.h.p. is beyond the ability of most of the “Amateur-professionals” who make up the field at present. In order to strengthen the field the Interserie is also Open to Group 7 cars of under 2,500 c.c. who have their own race-within-a-race and this is the domain of Lola T210, T212 and T290, and Chevron B8, B19 and B21, as well as smaller makes like Daren and one-off 2-litre specials. This year there are nine events in the Interserie, with Silverstone, Osterreichring, and Nurburgring joining Hockenheim, Imola, Keimola and Norisring, so it look as though this form of racing will gather momentum, and if the GPDA continue to cause the classic events to be cancelled then Interserie might well profit from their actions.
Ever since the Munich firm of BMW introduced the 4-cylinder 1800 series and recovered their composure as motor car manufacturers they have gone from strength to strength. With this growth they have kept a small but active racing department going, competing in hill climbs, saloon car racing and Formula Two, their most successful outings being in saloon car racing. Shortly they are going to increase their racing activity and are setting up an independent racing department away front the main factory, but still in Munich, and intend to operate it in rather the way that Alfa Romeo in Milan support Autodelta. To run this activity BMW have enticed Jochen Neerpasch away from Ford of Cologne, where he was competition manager, and he has taken others with him, from Ford and Porsche, to form the nucleus of this new BMW racing department. If all goes well this new move in Munich could enliven the European touring car racing scene.
Last year the Ferrari team dabbled in long-distance sports car racing with a single 312P prototype, powered by a 3-litre flat-12-cylinder engine as used in the Grand Prix cars. Throughout the season it went from one disaster to another, having accidents and mechanical setbacks, but while it was running it was much faster than the 3-litre Alfa Romeos and Matras, though no match for the 5-litre Porsches of the J.W. Gulf team or the Martini racing team. During the ups and downs of the 1971 season the Ferrari people kept saying that they did not mind the troubles as they were merely doing test runs in readiness for the 1972 season when they intended to make a complete onslaught on the Sports car scene, for from January 1st 1972 the 5-litre cars were to be banished from sports car racing. This they have done and they certainly seem to be dominating the scene, even though their troubles are by no means over. In the last round of the Manufacturers’ Championship in Europe in 1971 the 312P began to show its potential and though it could not quite keep pace with the 5-litre 917 Porsches, it did not lose enough ground to allow the Porsches to make an extra pit stop for fuel. The 3-litre engine of the Ferrari was more economical than the 5-litre Porsche engine and in a 1,000-kilometre race it looked like making the distance with only three stops to the larger car’s four stops. Just as the situation was getting interesting the rules were changed, but we must remember that if the rule changes had not been planned two years ago the 312P would never have been created and Ferrari would probably have gone on developing the V12-engined 512 car.
As so often happens when new rules are announced Ferrari gets on with the job and does not waste time bleating about the changes or trying to get them modified for some spurious reason, as a lot of people in racing do. He did this in 1951 when unsupercharged 2-litre cars were clearly going to be the thing in 1952; in 1953 he was already racing his 1954 Formula car; he had 3-litre V12 sports cars ready for Le Mans when that limit was imposed ; he was first away with 1 1/2-litre Grand Prix cars in 1961; and again with 3-litre Grand Prix cars in 1966; the GTO was right there in GT racing, as was the LM after it, and now the 312P is well away in the 1972 sports car racing. It wouldn’t be a bad idea for some people in racing today to read up some Ferrari history in their spare time. Ferrari doesn’t always win and is not always in the forefront, but he is always there, whatever form the racing takes, as long as it is important racing on the International plan. Only one other firm has been so consistent in racing as Ferrari, and that is BRM, who haven’t missed a racing season since 1950, but it would be wiser not to read their history. The 1972 Ferrari sports car effort involves having two complete teams of cars and mechanics, and as one lot are returning to Maranello the other team is setting off for the next move in this big effort to win the Manufacturers’ Championship. It is quite likely that the Ferrari effort in Formula One will suffer as a consequence of the sports car programme, it has happened before and can happen again.
D. S. J.