(March 31st—April 1st)
The noise of racing cars on the Circuit of the Sarthe for the first time since last June must be what attracted a surprisingly large crowd of spectators to Le Mans for the weekend of testing and the 4-hour race. Although there is now a lot of activity throughout the year on the little Bugatti Circuit it is not the same as the full circuit being in use, with cars approaching 200 m.p.h. down the long Mulsanne straight. This year the number of competitors for the 24-Hour Race next June 9th/l0th who took the opportunity of practising and testing was very small and rather unimpressive as far as the spectators were concerned.
The Gulf Research team turned up with two Mirage cars M601 powered by a Cosworth-Ford V8, in open form as has been raced rather unsuccessfully so far, and M603 powered by the new Weslake-Ford V12 engine, and fitted with a long-tailed coupé body, making its first public appearance and still unpainted aft of the cockpit. On the Wednesday before Le Mans the Gulf Research transporter arrived back at Slough from the Vallelunga 6-Hour Race with M602 and M605, unloaded and next day set off for Le Mans with the original prototype and the unfinished coupé on board. At Le Mans were Bell and Ganley waiting to drive the cars.
Matra appeared with one car, the actual winner from the 1972 Le Mans race, fitted with the latest V12 engine and with three types of tail fairing to be tried.
Two works Porsches were in attendance, these being the latest Carrera RSR and both were fitted with 3-litre engines, the capacity being given as 2,998-c.c. Apart from a serious test programme the Zuffenhausen team also entered both cars in the 4-Hour Race, with Gijs van Lennep and Herbert Müller in one and Manfred Schurti and Helmut Koinig in the other.
Ford Werke of Germany sent along a Capri RS powered by a 3-litre V6 fuel-injected Weslake-Ford engine, with Gerry Birrell and Hans Heyer driving it, they also being entered for the 4-Hour Race as well as the test sessions for the 24-Hour Race.
Italian workers on strike were blamed for the non-appearance of the works Ferrari team, the almost mythical Alfa Romeo with its flat-12-cylinder engine and a trio of De Tomaso Panteras for private owners, but even so four Daytona Ferraris arrived under the surveillance of the Ferrari customer staff. More than likely the Ferrari team were still smarting under their defeat at Vallelunga by Matra the week before and the 12-cylinder Alfa Romeo is far from being race-worthy.
The rest of the entry for the weekend was made up by a Ligier JS2 with 3-litre Citroën-Maserati V6 engine, numerous Porsche 911 and Carrera models, Lolas, Chevrons and two French built copies of the last two, one called an ACE and the other a Grac, powered by Ford 4-cylinder engines coupled to Hewland gearboxes.
On Saturday the Mirage team had a bad time trying to get their V12 Weslake engine to run properly and Matra were in equal trouble, for while Beltoise was singing round the circuit the lovely Matra V12 noise suddenly died when electrical trouble intervened and the car came back on the end of a tow rope. The V12 Mirage eventually managed one lap, but it was lacking fuel pressure most of the time, and the Lucas fuel injection could not function on the low pressure. This compact Weslake engine of 75 x 56.5 mm. bore and stroke, 2,995-c.c. capacity is claimed to give 465 b.h.p. at 10,600 r.p.m. and the coupé Mirage with its long tail with full-width stabilising aerofoil is hoped to reach 220 m.p.h. down the Mulsanne straight. It looks like a smaller and meaner version of a Porsche 917 and the engine sounds good when it gets on to twelve cylinders. If it does give 465 b.h.p. there should be a lot of Formula One special builders rushing to acquire it, especially those with ordinary Cosworth V8 engines giving an honest 435 b.h.p. However, time will tell.
While all this was going on with the 3-litre prototype sports cars the two GT Porsches with their new 3-litre engines, were being impressively fast and making the GT Ferrari Daytonas look awfully slow. The coupé Porsches were not quite out-speeding the Daytonas, but they were certainly out-braking them and out-cornering them. One Porsche was painted in Martini Racing Team colours and was to the full racing specification, with the widest possible wheels and tyres and flared wheel arches, while the second car was plain silver and had narrower wheels and tyres with standard front wheel arches and narrow rear ones bolted to the body shell by a row of Allen screws. After trying the car in this “narrow low drag” form the front body sections were unbolted and complete new ones fitted to cover the very wide wheels and tyres that were then tried. The detachable panels at the rear were removed and wide ones fitted and the car tried again in “wide high drag” form, but with increased cornering power available. Van Lennep drove the car in both forms and returned almost identical times, the relationship of speed to cornering power just about balancing out which ever way it was approached.
On Sunday morning the Matra re-appeared and Beltoise put in a very quick lap in 3 min. 36.3 sec. – 227.018 k.p.h. and then once more the car returned on the end of a tow rope; this time the engine had broken so the French team went home. However, this fast lap was a new unofficial record so Matra were fairly happy. Last year’s fastest practice lap was by Ickx with a 312P Ferrari in 3 min. 40.4 sec., and the fastest lap in the 24-Hour Race, and the actual official record was by van Lennep in a Lola T280 in 3 min. 46.9 sec. After some more trouble with a flat battery the V12 Mirage coupé finally got going and Bell lapped in 3 min. 56.5 sec., while Ganley in the open car, with Cosworth V8 engine, recorded 3 min. 40.7 sec.
One way and another the prototype sports cars had a miserable and unproductive weekend, while the Porsche and Ford works GT cars were most impressive and instructive. The Porsche Carrera RSR was over ten seconds faster on the lap than the best Daytona Ferrari and Birrell was half a second quicker than the best Italian car, with the blue and white racing Ford Capri. This was indeed a sign of the times and an indication that Porsche and Ford are out to force the future long-distance race rules into “super hot” production GT cars rather than the present “detuned Formula One” cars.
If Ferrari is going to stay in the GT race he is going to have to produce his 4.4-litre flat-12-cylinder mid-engined BB car, for the front-engined V12 Daytona is now obsolete by comparison with the Porsche Carrera and the Ford Capri.
In the 4-Hour Race on Sunday afternoon, which should have started at 2 p.m., but actually started at 2.08 p.m., Porsche rammed home two lessons. One was the speed of the 3-litre Carrera, which we had already seen, and the other was the economy of the fuel-injected flat-six cylinder. Both works cars ran for 1-3/4 hours on the regulation 120-litres maximum fuel tank capacity, whereas the Ferrari Daytona could only just manage 1-1/4 hours on 120 litres. In a 24-hour race that is a disastrous difference, apart from the sheer performance difference.
The Martini coloured car was driven by van Lennep and Müller and they had little difficulty in winning. The challenge from Larrousse and Bayard with a Lola T292 did not last long as the Ford FVC engine cooked itself. Greder’s very fast Chevrolet Corvette disappeared when he handed over to Marie-Claude Beaumont and the engine blew up in a big way. Birrell and Heyer were having fun with the Ford Capri until the engine broke and all that the Ferrari Daytonas could do was to give the second works Porsche a bad time. This was driven by two newcomers, Schurti and Koinig, who the Porsche team drew from Formula Vee and Formula Super Vee.
The experienced Andruet and Wolleck driving a Daytona for Charles Pozzi, the French Ferrari agent, just managed to beat the two new boys, but ahead of them all and in a very worthy second place were two French amateurs, Tourel and Rouget with an old Porsche 910 fitted with a 1972 engine from a 2.4-litre 911S. By reason of consistent and economical running they were rewarded with second place, admittedly a long way behind the winning Porsche, but ahead of a lot of worthy runners.
Those two well-known Historic racers, Willie Green and Neil Corner, shared Anthony Bamford’s Ferrari Daytona, the actual car that Maranello Concessionaires of England ran at Le Mans last year. It was entered by JCB and painted in the bright JCB yellow and in all the publicity material and entry lists it was supposed to have been driven by Graham Hill, but even the JCB coffers were not prepared to pay the sum demanded so the car was left in the enthusiastic hands of the two Historic sportsmen. It destroyed its clutch on the morning of the race and a real “vintage rebuild” in the paddock got it into the 4-Hour Race just two minutes after the rest of the runners had departed. Green and Corner drove it flat-out with great enthusiasm and finished up in sixth place overall, it running perfectly for the whole 4 hours.
The Le Mans Test weekend was not an exciting one, nor was it a profitable one for some teams, but there was quite a lot of “writing on the wall” and the Porsche Works Racing Team went home still insisting that they would only participate with factory cars as much as was necessary to further the technical development of the Porsche Carrera for customer use. Which sounds a reasonable thing for the Racing Department to do! — D. S. J.
4 Hours of Le Mans – April 1st – Circuit of the Sarthe – Cold and dry
1st: G. van Lennep/H. Müller (Porsche Carrera 3-litre) … 772.629 kms. – 193.157 k.p.h.
2nd: R. Tourel/J-P. Rouget (Porsche 910 2.4-litre) … 754.116 kms.
3rd: J. C. Andruet/R. Wolleck (Ferrari Daytona 4.4-litre) … 753.185 kms.
4th: H. Koinig/M. Schurti (Porsche Carrera 3-litre) … 753.015 kms.
5th: F. Migault/L. Guitteny (Ferrari Daytona 4.4-litre) … 742.735 kms.
6th: W. Green/N. Corner (Ferrari Daytona 4.4-litre) … 725.241 kms.
Fastest lap: G. Larrousse (Lola T292), in 4 min. 07.4 sec. – 198.480 k.p.h.
25 starters – 13 finishers