A tribute to Graham Hill
Silverstone April 10th/11th
The annual Springtime motoring garden party at Silverstone, organised by the BRDC with the help of the Daily Express, this year took on a new role, as it was named the Graham Hill International Trophy, in memory of that very popular figure who tragically lost his life last year, along with five members of his racing team. The two-day programme of events covered numerous races, displays and parades and included an innovation for the paying customer in that he (or she) was allowed access to the pit lane for a limited period of time on Sunday morning before all the activity began. This allowed people to approach the precious jewels of the Formula One Constructors Association, who had graciously allowed a handful of their members to perform before the public in return for a fee of £70,000, so it was not surprising that it cost upwards of £7 to take part in the garden party as a spectator. For a mere £175 the amateur world of Clubmans Sports Car racing put on an uninhibited 12-lap thrash on Saturday afternoon, which they all enjoyed. At times I wonder if our priorities are wrong. Ferrari changed his mind some days before the event and withdrew his single entry of Niki Lauda.
The main event of the weekend was the Formula One demonstration of Grand Prix driving, which produced a popular win for James Hunt in a McLaren, and while leading for all 40 laps he notched up a new outright lap record for the revised Silverstone circuit with its fast ess-bend on the apex of Woodcote corner. For the very first time the McLaren raced with its new compressed-air starter motor fitted, this allowing a much smaller electrical battery to be used for the other ancillaries. Previously this new starter mechanism had only been tried in practice, the worry being not so much in starting the car on the grid, but restarting out on the circuit if the driver should make an error and spin to a stop, stalling the engine in the process. The McLaren team need not have worried for Hunt never put a foot wrong and though his win was unchallenged, only Brambilla being able to keep him in sight, he was not hanging about as evidenced by his new outright lap record of I min. 18.81 sec. 133.93 m.p.h. (215.54 k.p.h.). The McLaren was running with its six-speed McLaren/Hewland gearbox, as usual. Brambilla, in a pure white works March instead of his normal orange one, did his best in second place but lost a bit of ground when slower cars had to be lapped, and towards the end lost more distance on Hunt for some obscure technical reason like the rotating nut on the gimbal pin of the swivel bearing housing, slacked off due to the thread having been cut at 47 deg. instead of 46.5 deg. Or it might have been something simple like the March people making the wrong choice of Goodyear tyres. Whatever it was it would not have affected the outcome of the race, for Hunt was in complete command and Scheckter was too far back to worry Brambilla even if he was having trouble with his March. The South African Tyrrell driver had a bad time in practice, with an impressive blow-up in the Cosworth engine, as a result of which you could look right through the crankcase at the rear, where the two rear connecting rods had done the damage. With another engine installed Scheckter continued on Saturday afternoon, only to be delayed again by the front exhaust pipe on the left of the engine breaking. However, during all these trials and tribulations Tyrrell found time to try out a new air collector box for the engine, ready for the new-rule Spanish GP on May 2nd. This was a fiat affair with ears sticking out on each side of the driver’s head, the orifice in each “car” being very small indeed, air speed and flow recovery being regained by the shape inside the duct. Very scientific. Scheckter appeared to be going well in the rather mediocre field of mid-runners, and made a cracking start from the third row of the grid to snatch third place ahead of Pryce and Jarier in Shadows, Alan Jones in the Suttees TS19, Andretti in Frank Williams’ latest car and Nilson in the lone Lotus 77.
Pryce had no bother holding down fourth place, though he was having to drive the spare Shadow as his own car just refused to start on the morning of the race. His team-mate Jarier kept up with him, though he was a bit wild at times as he had the new Swedish driver Nilsson pressing him heavily. Team Lotus were actually smiling, for their new protege was having a bit of a go with the Lotus 77. He was driving 77/122 with the front brakes mounted outboard and a redesigned front suspension frame. This was the car that Bob Evans had tried to qualify in the Long Beach Grand Prix, as Nilsson’s own car was still being repaired after his first-lap accident in the American race. Clutch trouble wasted a lot of time for Nilsson during practice, but he eventually got things going pretty well and got on the second row of the grid. From eighth place on the opening lap of the race he dived past Andretti on lap seven going into the Woodcote ess-bend, to take seventh place, and on lap 15 he passed Alan Jones in the Surtees to take sixth place, and that was the real excitement of the race. With two laps to go the Surtees went a bit sick and Andretti managed to get by with the latest Frank Williams car. There had been a second Surtees car in practice, driven by Brett Lunger, but he crashed badly at Copse corner and though the car was repairable the driver was a bit knocked about and shaken so it was deemed wise that he should not start. Another unfortunate was Chris Amon with the old Ensign (the new one not being ready in time), as it developed engine trouble on race morning, so was posted a non-starter. Both the Williams cars, the Hesketh 308C and the new Postlethwaite-designed one, were running on normal coil springs, not “to find out” this time, but because they wanted harder spring rates than their range of rubber springs run to. Ickx was in the Hesketh-Williams, alongside the “Privat” Ferrari of the Scudcria Everest on the grid. He retired at half distance when in 10th place, with gearbox maladies. Just ahead of him was Carlos Pace, with an even bigger malady, in the shape of the flat-12 Alfa Romeo engine in the Brabham BT45/1. It sounds nice, and looks a fascinating car, but it just doesn’t go, and I can’t put the blame on Pace, because he is a known “flyer”. In practice the engine broke due to the Hewland gearbox playing up and causing the driver to miss gearchanges. After a panic to retrieve another engine from London Airport Customs clearance, the car was readied for the race and though it finished 39 of the 40 laps it not only suffered the ignominy of being lapped by Hunt and Brambilla, but was nearly beaten by the Italian F3 driver Giancarlo Martini driving the Ferrari 312B3 on loan to Scuderia Everest.
The back of this Formula One demonstration by the members of the Formula One Constructors troupe was made up of people learning the game or just “dipping their finger in” to see what it was like. The RAM Racing team of John MacDonald ran their three ex-works Brabhams, the two BT44 cars for Kessel and Neve and the BT42 for Magee, all three drivers still learning their way around in Formula One, as are the team. To complete the field of starters there was Guy Edwards with the Rent-a-Drive Hesketh 308, run by Horsley, but it all fell apart and he had to retire, and Brian McGuire from Australia with one of the 1974 Williams cars which he has bought to contest National Formula Libre racing, but he too did not last the distance.
The “big wheels” in the world of Formula One were making a lot of noise about this International Trophy race being the last non-championship event they were going to support. The reason being that their programme of 14 or 15 World Championship events was keeping them fully occupied, together with Goodyear tyre-testing sessions in between races. If this is true then it is a sad day for motor racing for a few non-championship events are needed to give people a chance of “dipping their finger into Formula One” and for new “stars” to cut their teeth. The attitude of the Constructors Association sounds to me like a selfish one, and we all know what happens to selfish and greedy people in the end, however long it may take. It’s time Goodyear stopped their continual tyre-testing sessions before every Grand Prix, for it would be the same for everyone as they all use Goodyear tyres, and it would save a lot of money. Alternatively these tyre-testing sessions could be organised as a spectator activity, with a nominal charge to watch the proceedings accompanied by an intelligent commentary, but that would present problems.
Although the 40-lap Formula One demonstration was the main event of the weekend, there were plenty of other things going on with a parade of rather motley and sad cars of the types driven by Graham Hill, some of them being non runners and taken round the circuit on lorries or trailers, others being driven round. John Fitzpatrick demonstrated a rough sounding Group 5 BMW saloon, as an advertisement for the 6-hour race due at Silverstone on May 9th, for those who like long-distance racing. Scheckter gave a very impressive demonstration with the latest six-wheeled Tyrrell Formula One car, Project 34/2, and there were supporting races for Formula Ford, Clubmans Sports Cars, Formula 3 and Touring Saloons. The Formula Ford races kept everyone on tip-toe with apprehension, there being so many of them in each race, it was rather like Wimbledon Stock Car racing. Two heats on Saturday sorted out a bunch to take part in the final on Sunday, and these sorted themselves out into an acceptable result at the end of 12 laps. The Formula 3 race seemed to lack both quality and quantity in its entry, but nonetheless proved to be surprisingly fast, with Toyota engines dominating the 20 laps. The Clubmans race was even more surprising in its speed and was a well-supported event with these professional-amateurs having a chance to drive on the full Silverstone circuit. The Saloon Car race was a bit of a farce as the car that finished first didn’t win! As is becoming a regular feature on this scene, a horde of three-litre Ford Capris were thoroughly embarrassed by Andy Rouse with the Broadspeed Triumph Dolomite Sprint two-litre. The Dolomite seemed to be glued to the rear bumper of Tom Walkinshaw’s Capri, until the Ford ruined its transmission, leaving the Dolomite to win easily, except that on the last lap it came to rest, out of petrol. One of the carburetters had stuck on “rich” and the two gallons “margin” allowed was used up. This let Chris Craft get the chequered flag, but after the race the scrutineers found that the engine air-cleaner was missing, so the car was disqualified and Gordon Spice found himself the winner. D.S.J.