AFTER THE Winter recession of motor sporting activity in Europe, during which the Monte Carlo Rally took place and hardly anyone noticed it as it’s whole character has changed so much that it was viewed as “just another European Rally, and not a very good one”, the 1975 season should have begun with another event that was a classic and now looks to be dying an ignominious death. This is the Le Mans 24-hour race test-weekend, due to have been held on March 22nd/23rd, but cancelled at the last moment due to insufficient entries both for the testing sessions and the 4-hour race held after the testing was finished. There were many reasons for this, the most obvious one being the lack of important factory teams participating in long-distance sports-car racing this year, for without new cars from Ferrari, Matra, Alfa-Romeo and Porsche to be tried out on the Sarthe circuit in preparation for the 24-hour race in June, a test-weekend for a handful of private-owners and small “special-builders” was hardly going to prove worthwhile. There were numerous other reasons involving the cancellation, among these being a Championship 1,000-kilometre race at Mugello on the same weekend; in the past the Le Mans TestWeekend has clashed with our own long-distance sports-car race at Brands Hatch, but it has not made much difference, there being occasions when Ferrari divided their forces between the two happenings with drivers flying to-and-fro. With large factories entering for Le Mans the organisers were pretty certain of support for the test sessions, in spite of the clash with the Brands Hatch meeting, but 1975 was a different kettle of fish, everyone went to the Mugello race, the small teams and private-owners preferring to race than to spend money on test sessions. A few years ago the Le Mans organisers put on a 3-hour race after everyone had finished testing with the idea of letting teams try out their cars under racing conditions, and as an added attraction for the paymg public who were turning up in their thousands, hopeful of seeing something interesting. The serious factory teams showed little interest in the Mini-Le Mans, a car setup and prepared for a 24-hour race not being ideal for a “sprint-race” and the event did not justify a special car. The Mini-Le Mans Was enlarged to 4-hours, but still lacked interest, especially as it became two 2-hour races and last year there was a certain amount Of feeling that the organisers were viewing the 4-hour event as more important than the test-sessions for the 24-hour event. The Le Mans organisers became very righteous at the time of the pOlitical petrol crisis and wrote an economy clause into their 1975 regulations which automatically excluded their event from the Manufacturer’s Championship Series. Undeterred, they said they would stand on their own. and not be included with the other longdistance races, reckoning that the Le Mans 24-hour race was important enough to support itself without Championship status. They had done it before and they would do it again. It was also made pretty clear that anyone who wanted to enter for the 24-hour event would have to take part in the 4-hour event at the Test-Weekend. The result of all this was the cancellation of the Test-Weekend and the 4-hour event, due to lack of entries! Exactly what will happen in June is not known, but the Le Mans 24-hour race is due to be held on June 14th/15th, starting at the traditional time of 4 p.m. on Saturday and continuing until 4 p.m, on Sunday.
In the United States of America the two long-distance sports-car races that eventually joined the ranks of “classic events”, though neither of them ever justified the title, have both fallen by the wayside. The 12-hours of Sebring kept going for a long time on the airfield circuit in Florida and achieved a certain amount of glory over the years, but the racing scene was out-growing the circuit and little was being done by the organisers to keep pace. Finally Sebring was dropped from the FIA Championship Calendar, with the promise that it could return when the airfield circuit laws improved or the event moved to a more suitable venue, as the organisers were hoping to do. Neither happening occurred so Sebring never came back on the Championship scene, but the Sebring 12-hour race continued to take place as a National event. This year it took place at the same venue, limited to GT cars and non-graded drivers, so that it wag; barely more than an America club race. By reason of some strange licence-holding Brian Redman and Hans Stuck were able to take part with a Works BMW CSI. coupe, and together with two American drivers the four of them won the event from a long list of national amateur drivers. The other long-distance American race was the 24-hours of Daytona, held on the confined banked-track and road circuit at the Daytona Speedway. As an event it was never a great success, people who went there saying “You can put up with 24 hours of racing at Le Mans, once a year, but 24 hours at Daytona is more than anyone can stand”. The organisers tried hard to stay with the FIA and keep faith with the sportscar world, but it was all too much and too early in the season to gain whole-hearted support. This year it was inscribed in the Manufacturer’s Championship list, having been cancelled last year because of the petrol crisis scare, but with few serious 3-litre prototype teams in racing this year, the organisers said that if they did not get eight prototype entries they would withdraw the event from the Championship and run it as a National event in the American GT series, which is exactly what they did as the hoped-for eight entries did not materialise, and a privately-owned Porsche Carrera won the race. As the event had been inscribed on the FIA Calendar, even though its status was changed, International drivers could take part; Ronnie Peterson was in the Works BMW team with Redman, but engine trouble put the Munich car out. The fact that both the Daytona 24-hour and the Sebring 12-hours have opted out of FIA rules and regulations and continued to survive, presumably successfully on their own national scene, and now Le Mans has opted out, should not be taken as straws in the wind, but rather as the wind of change. Over recent years a great number of countries and organisers have got on to the band-wagon of longdistance sports car racing, and found it to be a very shaky wagon. I suspect a lot of them have been looking at Le Mans and its vast publicity and ballyhoo, without analysing why Le Mans appears to be such a great event. Everyone joined in with 1,000-kilometre events, but few had the lure of Le Mans either for competitors or spectators and while some continue to struggle along, others have died or are dying. There were some mutterings about 1,000-kilometres being IGO far to race, or six hours too long to run, but fortunately nothing came of the idea of “sprinttype” long-distance races, even though the optimistic progenitors looked hopefully for support from such teams as Tyrrell, Lotus, McLaren and Brabham. They did not seem to realise how much effort is required to compete in a full season of Grand Prix racing, without the added burden of a sports car season. The ADAC 1,000-kilometres of Nurburgring will undoubtedly survive, but whether the races at Brands Hatch, Dijon, Spa, Mugello, Osterreichring, Paul Ricard and Monza can keep going is doubtful. Last year more spectators turned up at Silverstone to watch the Saloon Car Tourist Trophy Race, than there were at Brands Hatch for the British Airways 1000 Sports Car Race. While Formula One racing appears to go from strength to strength the sports car scene is decidedly shaky. When the Grand Prix Calendar for 1975 was published there was doubt as to where the French and Belgian events were going to be held. The French Federation wanted their event at Clermont-Ferrand, but the GPDA and the CSI were being difficult, while the Belgians were in a deft stick, not wanting to go to Spa and being unable to go to NivellesBattlers. Now both events have been settled, the French GP will be at Paul Ricard on Judy 6th and the Belgian GP will be at Zolder on May 25th. The French fuss became a bit of a national confrontation between the FFSA (the French equivalent of the RAC) and the FIA and the French had to climb down. Everybody loves the Circuit d’Auvergne in the hills above Olerrnont-Ferrand, in spite of its short-comings such as a poor paddock, awful access roads, primitive pits and so on, because the circuit itself is truly fantastic to drive on. It is not good to race on, for the possibilities of passing are few and far between, but any racing driver worth his salt will tell you after a fast lap “That was terrific, it is what racing driving is all about”. The circuit inspectors from the Grand Prix Drivers’ Association and the Sporting Commission of the FIA went to the Circuit d’Auvergne and demanded numerous alterations, far beyond the capabilities of the local club, and refused to grant a track permit until they were carried out. The French Federation supported the local club and said that if their Grand Prix could not be held at aennont-Ferand it would not be held at all. The CSI were adamant and it looked as if there was not going to be a French GP in 1975 for though the Paul Ricard circuit wanted to stage it the FFSA were not interested in the Southern autodrome. After much discussion some sort of agreement has been reached, the CSI have won, the FFSA have climbed down and the French GP will be at Paul Ricard, but if previous Ricard races are anything to go by, the French might just as well have cancelled the 1975 event.
In Belgium the situation was completely different for the Niveiffies-Bauders circuit is heading to become a dusty monument to misguided enthusiasm, and the Belgians wanted to hold their event at the sandy Zolder circuit, but memories of 1973 were still clear. That year the Belgian GP had been taken to the Zolder circuit before it was properly ready to receive anything as big as the Formula One “circus”, and though the organisers tried awfully hard to cope with the situation no-one wanted to help them and the event was something of a shambles. Afterwards everyone stomped off angrily saying they would never return, but now the dust (or sand) has settled they are all going back; but the Belgians were a little shy of suggesting it when the calendar was made up. On that well-known modern principle of “change it, it must then be better” the circuit has been changed on the approach to the finishing line so that cars will pass the pits at a lower speed than before, though I do not recall anyone complaining that the cars passed too fast in 1973!
When the Matra team withdrew from racing at the end of last year there was a lot of expertise and knowledge going begging. On the engine side it was hoped that one of the Formula One teams would take up the rather expensive option on the supply of screaming V12 engines, guaranteed to beat the Cosworth V8 and Ferrari flat-12 engines, as they had done in sports car racing, or at least, appeared to have done. No-one was fully convinced about the supremacy of the Matra engine, wondering if the Cosworth V8 opposition had not been the best available and whether the fact that the Matra cars in 1974 had beaten Ferrari lap times of 1973 may have been due to tyre development and not engine power. Consequently there are no definite plans for anyone to give the Matra engine a try in a Formula One car. However, the French firm of Ligier Automobiles have it in mind as they are apparently going ahead with a Formula One project. The amiable and enthusiastic Guy Ligier, who used to race Cooper and 13rabham Formula One cars and GT40 Ford sports cars, set up his own car building firm a few years ago and developed the Ligier JS into a nice little coupe powered by a 3-litre Citroen-Maserati engine, as a competition car and road GT car. With Matra pulling out of racing the French cigarette firm “Gitanes” looked elsewhere to place their sponsorship money and it is rather nice that their choice fell on Ligier. Consequently he is running an allFrench team in long-distance sports-car racing, forsaking the Citroen-Maserati V6engine and replacing it with Cosworth V8power (all French team?). His driver line-up comprises Fleltoise, Jarier, Pescarolo, Dolhem, Migault and Lafosse and as well as taking up Matra drivers and Matra sponsors, Gerard Ducarouge has joined Ligier from Matra, as team-manager, and Paul Garai* has followed suit as project-engineer, all of which has brought a cheerful smile to Guy Ligier’s rugged countenance, just when things were looking very gloomy. In January a study was begun on the possibility of a Ligier Formula One car sponsored by “Gitanes” and work is now in progress with September as the possible date for its appearance. To start with the project is being based around a Cosworth V8-engine and Hewland gearbox but the ultimate objective is to use a French engine; and guess which one! On an entirely different front is the activity in Europe for Vintage and Historictype racing. Starting in rather a haphazard way the whole thing has become organised under an International committee approved by the FIA. Some people feel it has become over-organised, with costly paperwork and office administration to be paid for, but at least the activity has been put on a sound footing acceptable to race organisers and circuit owners. Instead of being something in the nature of “light-relief” at International events, even of Formula One status, the Vintage/Historic scene is now getting its own
events in France, Germany, Austria and Italy. Fortunately the sound basis evolved by our own Vintage Sports Car Club is being taken as an International standard and for anyone who can afford the travelling there is a goodly season of European events envisaged. Already this season race meetings have been held at the new circuit of Crois-enTemois, near Arras in France, and on the Bugatti “car-park” circuit at Le Mans. Other “old-car” events take the form of rallies and gatherings, such as the monumental Bugatti gathering at Lyon last Autumn and the splendid Grand Prix “retrospective” at Dijon last Summer, sponsored by Marlboro cigarettes. On May 3rd/4th there is a gathering of Ferraris at Spa, in Belgium, to co-incide with the 1,000-kilometre sports-car race, and on August 12th/14th there is an even bigger Ferrari gathering in Germany, co-inciding with the Historic car races due to be held at the Nurburgring on August 16th/17th. With so much activity happening all over Europe it is not surprising that some of these “Vintage” events clash with Grand Prix events!—D.S.J.