A Matra victory
Dijon-Prenois, France, April 15th.
With the cancellation of the BOAC 1000 at Brands Hatch the Automobile Club of Bourgogne were quick to take up the date and organise a 1,000-kilometre race on their new Autodrome north-west of the town of Dijon. This new circuit is carved out of virgin land in undulating countryside and is roughly rectangular, with a straight of 1,100 metres, on which the pits are situated and a winding, switchback of a back leg, with no really slow corners, so that average speeds are in the region of 120 m.p.h. As small Autodromes go it is quite amusing and it keeps the driver’s very busy. There are plans to extend it considerably in the near future with an out-and-back stretch off the back leg of the present circuit. At 3.209 kilometres (2 miles) to the lap a maximum of 20 starters was imposed and the race was over 312 laps, a time-keeper’s nightmare.
Such is the trend in long-distance racing these days, that 20 cars on a 2 mile circuit is accepted as a round in the Manufacturers Championship, but it could hardly be called a long-distance classic race.
The main contestants were pairs of cars from Matra, Ferrari and Gulf, with various private teams in support and at the end of the list a factory Porsche 911 Carrera run under the Martini Racing Team colours. Two Matra-Simca MS 670 open cars were entered, mechanically as raced at Le Mans last year, but having various aerodynamic devices added, like the protruding lips on the nose cowling and modified tails and aerofoils, Beltoise and Cevert had a car with a Hewland gearbox and Pescarolo and Larrousse had a car with a ZF gearbox, both being powered by the well-proven Matra V12-cylinder engine. The two Ferrari cars were up-dated 312P models, with large air snorkels feeding the inlets of the flat 12-cylinder engines and the 1973 suspension layout at the rear and the 1973 “shovel nosed” bodywork. The driver pairings were Ickx/Redman, and Merzario/Pace. The Gulf Research Mirage cars were both Cosworth V8-powered, with open cockpits and were driven by Hailwood/Schuppan and Bell/ Ganley. These six were the sum total of the “pace-setters” though not necessarily the sum total of the possible winners in this age of long-distance Formula One two-seater sports cars. The rest of the entry comprised old Porsche 908/3 models, various Lola-Cosworth V8 cars, 2-litre Lolas and 2-litre Chevrons, a Lola with a fuel-injection Weslake-Ford V6 Capri engine, a Maserati V6-engined Ligier coupé, a De Tomaso Pantera and three Porsche RSR Carreras, Muller and van Lennep with the works car, Fitzpatrick/ Keller with the Kremer Racing Team car, and a Swiss-entered one.
Although 29 cars entered for the event, only 20 turned up for practice so there was no problem over qualifications, the whole object of practice being to get as near the front of the rolling-start grid as possible, as overtaking on the little circuit was not easy. The Lola-Capri V6 was too slow to qualify leaving just 19 starters. Being such a fast circuit the lap times were around 1 min., just under the min. for the Matras and a Mirage and just over a min. for the other fast cars, the slow ones taking a min. and a quarter or more. It was all instant happening. Cevert was fastest in practice at 59.4 sec. for a lap.
As at the twisty Vallelunga circuit the Matras proved to be faster than the Ferraris and the puzzled faces in the Italian camp indicated that they did not realise that their cars were not very good last year, but there was nothing to compare them with. Now that Matra have joined in races other than Le Mans it has become obvious that having things all their own way last year did not do Ferrari much good. At the best of times the team drivers merely raced amongst themselves and that is never good for development. This year they are paying the price for domination, not that they could be blamed for the domination, but without any sort of yardstick you cannot tell how good you are.
The 2 by 2 rolling-start grid saw the Matras of Cevert and Pescarolo on the front row, followed by the Ferrari of Pace, and the Mirage of Hailwood, with the remaining Mirage and Ferrari in the third row, driven by Bell and Ickx, respectively. The whole race revolved round these six cars, with the Lola T282 of Wisell leading the private teams and the works 911 Porsche leading the GT cars. After streaking off into the lead Cevert collected a flat tyre and his pit stop let Pescarolo into the lead. Hailwood gave the Ferraris trouble until an exhaust pipe split and lost him 300 r.p.m. along the straight, and Bell brought up the tail end of the works cars. With the long down-hill right-hand sweeps on the circuit, tyre wear on the outside tyres was pretty phenomenal and flat tyres were very frequent. The Ferrari of Ickx started the race with a front bodywork giving more down-thrust than that used in practice and while it improved the handling it was pressing the bodywork on to the front tyres. At the first stop the old-type front was put back on.
Cevert worked his way back to the front again, in company with the other Matra but then starter motor trouble and further deflating tyres delayed him and Beltoise. The second Matra ran perfectly throughout the 312 laps and Pescarolo and Larrousse were worthy winners. The Mirage of Bell and Ganley was well in the hunt, actually leading at one point, when pit-stops and driver changes caused a reshuffle in the order, but it was eventually forced to retire when the taper roller hearings in the left rear hub broke up.
The two Ferraris suffered badly from body damage at the front during the race, front contact with slower cars, front tyres rubbing under braking and flying rubber, so that they looked pretty second-hand at the finish. Throughout, the Matras were faster than the Ferraris, having more acceleration out of the corners and better handling, so that in spite of time wasted at pit stops the Matra of Cevert/Beltoise was able to snatch third place just before the end. At every stop the French V12 engine had to be started by a mechanic pushing a long rod up the tail and poking about at the starter motor.
The three Porsche Carreras that started gave a typical Porsche demonstration, finishing 1-2-3 in the GT class.—D.S.J.
Dijon 1000 Kilometres – Manufacturers’ Championship – Group 5 Prototypes and Group 4 GT – 312 laps of 3.22-km circuit.
1st: H. Pescarolo/G. Larrousse (Matra-Simca MS670 – 3-litre V12) … 5 hr. 14 min. 37.1 sec. – 179.525 k.p.h.
2nd: J. Ickx/B. Redman (Ferrari 312P – 3-litre flat-12) … 1 lap behind
3rd: F. Cevert/J-P. Beltoise (Matra-Simca MS670 – 3-litre V12) … 4 laps behind
4th: A. Merzario/C. Pace (Ferrari 312P – 3-litre flat-12) … 4 laps behind
5th: M. Hailwood/V. Schuppan (Mirage M602-Cosworth V8 – 3-litre) … 9 laps behind
6th: R. Wisell/J.L. Lafosse (Lola T282-Cosworth V8 – 3-litre) … 22 laps behind
7th: G. Pianti/P. Pica (Lola T280-Cosworth V8 – 3-litre) … 31 laps behind
8th: C. Haldi/C. Fernandez (Porsche 908/03 – 3-litre flat-8) … 41 laps behind
9th: H. Muller/G. van Lennep (Porsche 911 Carrera – 2.8-litre flat-6) … 46 laps behind
10th: J. Fitzpatrick/P. Keller (Porsche 911 Carrera – 2.8-litre flat-6) … 49 laps behind
11th: B. Cheneviere/C. Zbinden (Porsche 911 Carrera – 2.8-litre flat-6) … 55 laps behind
12th: A. Wicky/M. Cohen-Olivar (Porsche 908/2) – 3-litre flat-8) … 93 laps behind
Fastest lap: F. Cevert (Matra-Simca V12 on lap 165, in 1 min. 00.6 sec. – 190.634 k.p.h. new record
Retirements: J. Vinatier/G. Chasseuil (De Tomaso Pantera); J. Juncadella/J. de Bagration (Chevron B23); J. Busby/G. Edwards (Lola T292-FVC); G. Ligier/J-P. Jarier (Ligier JS2; D. Rouveyran/F. Migault (Lola T280-Cosworth V8); R. Jöst/M. Casoni (Porsche 908/03); D. Bell/H. Ganley (Mirage M605).
19 starters – 12 finishers
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