The 1978 European Formula Two championship opened at the traditional Easter Monday Thruxton meeting, providing, not surprisingly, the proven March-BMW combination with a landslide victory. The Bicester-built, BMW-powered cars took the first five places, with the two works cars of Italian Bruno Giacomelli and young German Marc Surer taking first and second places. Supporting the premier F2 event on the windswept Hampshire circuit were a BP Formula Three round and a round of the British Saloon Car championship, while the BARC’s six-race programme was completed with “lesser” events for Historic Cars, Formula Fords and Thoroughbred Sportscars.
Practice was held on the Saturday in cold, wet and windy conditions, the F2 cars being allocated two practice sessions, the first, morning session lasting for an hour and ten minutes, the very wet and miserable afternoon session lasting for twenty minutes longer, although, naturally, very few drivers improved on their morning times because of the inclement conditions.
All in all thirty-four cars practised and it came as no surprise to learn that at the end of the day the swarthy Italian Bruno Giacomelli had taken pole with his works March BMW 782. Alongside, and causing quite a stir on his F2 debut was last season’s FF2000 champion Rad Dougall. South African Dougall had hurled his Tolemans Group March BMW round with immense confidence, belying his lack of experience in anything other than Formula Ford machinery – a great effort. Row two contained Giacomelli’s team-mate Marc Surer and the cheerful, burly Italian Alberto Colombo, who was also March-BMW mounted. Making a return to the formula of which he was once champion – when March first started to use BMW engines – was none other than Frenchman Jean-Pierrre Jarier. “Jumper” wheeled his Univac March round to annex a third-row starting position. Next to Jarier and breaking the March BMW domination was the quickest Chevron, that of the very talented Irishman Derek Daly. Daly’s car was the second Hart-powered Chevron belonging to the ICI Racing Team present at the meeting. ICI’s “guest” driver on this occasion was German F1 star Jochen Mass, who was separated from the faster Daly on the grid by the Ferrari-engined Chevron of Italian Elio de Angelis, the Hart-powered March of the little Brazilian Alex Riberio and the third works March of the totally inexperienced – as far as single-seaters are concerned! – Manfred Winkelhock. Of those that practised, four were destined not to start the 55 lap race, having failed to record a good enough time to quality.
The weather had improved slightly by race day, but there was still a very sharp wind when the 29 cars came to the grid for the 2.40 start. Bruno Giacomelli made the perfect start to the race, leading Dougall, Colombo, Jarier, Surer, Daly, Winkelhock, Mass and Larry Perkins’ Italian-owned Ralt round at the end of the opening lap. Already though, we had cars missing. The Complex had been the scene of a scuffle on the first lap, the cars of Ingo Hoffman, American Don Briedenbach and de Angelis being eliminated. Mass’s car bore the results of contact and very soon he was suffering from chornic understeer. As the first handful of laps were rolled off, Giacomelli started to force a pace, but Dougall, intent on proving that his practice performance hadn’t been a flash in the pan, stayed with the works March while Colombo dropped back a little in third. By lap the, Winkelhock had passed Daly,, and a few laps later, American Eddie Cheever in the sole-remaining Project 4 March had also passed the Irishman to make it a March-BMW in each of the first half dozen places. Mass pitted on the 23rd lap to have his battered nose-cone changed as well as a front tyre.
By lap thirty Jarier had closed right in on Colombo, but oil pressure problems cruelly robbed him of any chance to pass and he coasted into the pits to retire. Fuel problems started to drop Colombo down the order at this stage and Marc Surer was soon past and on his way to catching Dougall. He evntaully passed Dougall just ten laps for the end to finnish behind theam leader Giacomelli who had driven a perfect race, his only problem being Alex Ribeiro, whom he had difficulty in lapping. Dougall therefore finished his first F2 race in third place, with Cheever right with him at the close after a good drive, following a troubled practice. Winkelhock took fifth from Daly, who picked up the final point on offer with his sixth placing. Beppe Gabbiani was placed seventh in the second Chevron-Ferrari just ahead of the ailing perhaps, but then a lot of new drivers and teams were still trying to get their acts together, something they will have to do very quickly if they are to have any hope of halting those works March BMWs.
The fifteen lap Formula Three race was the second qualifying round in this year’s BP Championship. There were two half-hour practice sessions in which the twenty entered drivers, spanning six nations, could attain their grid positions. The second (afternoon) session, conditions were atrocious compared to those in the morning practice: all the times that ultimately counted for the grid, therefore, came young Brazilian Chico Serra in the Ron Dennis-run, Sadia backed March 783. Serra managed a time of 1 min. 16.13 sec., a speed of just over 111 m.p.h., his Toyota engine being the sole Toyota/Novamotor on the grid being “tweaked” by F2 engine expert Brian Hart. Alongside the South American were two British hopes, Nigel Mansell and championship leader Derek Warwick, in March 783 and Ralt RT1 respectively. The second row was filled by the Ralts of Jack Brabham’s son, Geoffrey, and the Brazilian Nelson Piquet.
Warwick used the outside of the grid – which is probably a better starting place than the pole spot anyway! – to good effect, to lead the rest away into the first corner, Allard. From then on the local man was never challenged and he walked away to an easy victory – his third of the season. Mansell made an early mistake around the back of the circuit when he “tucked in” too close behind Piquet’s Ralt, understeering off as a result. New Zealander Rob Wilson (Ralt) and erstwhile Lotus F1 driver Jim Crawford (Chevron) were two others who suffered from trying the same slipstreaming manoeuvre – Crawford managing to roll his Bolton built car right under the noses of the television cameras. Piquet stayed clear of fellow countryman Serra to take second behind the lonely victor Warwick, while Phil Bullman (Chevron), Swede Stefan Johansson (Argo) and Ian Flux (March) finished next, with a recovered Mansell just failing to oust Flux from the final top six placing at the close.
The Tricentrol British Saloon Car Championship contenders arrived at Thruxton fresh from having provided a battle royal at Oulton Park on Good Friday. And indeed, it was Oulton winner Gordon Spice who claimed pole with his Ford Capri, which like team-mate Chris Craft’s was running on Goodyear tyres, in preference to the Dunlops which everybody else were using. Slotting in between the two Capris of Spice and Craft on the front row was Tony Dron, who wheeled his Leyland Cars Dolomite Sprint round almost a second slower than Spice. Dron’s colleague John Fitzpatrick had his Dolomite on row two, where he had the Faberge Ford Capri of Stuart Graham for company.
Spice made a peach of a start to put his unsponsored Capri into a lead which it held for the twenty-lap race duration. Dron’s Dolomite suffered ignition fluffing problems at the start and, as the race wore on, he dropped further and further back to eventually finish fifth. The race, as it turned out, proved to be Capri dominated. Second spot, behind Spice, finally became the property of West Countryman Vince Woodman after he had beaten off the attentions of Graham’s similar car. The promising young Jess Allam hauled in Dron after three-quarters’ distance with his Nu-Lux Foam Capri, while Fitzpatrick suffered suspension failure which halted any possibility of a Dolomite duel between himself and Class B winner Dron. The two smallest classes were won by the dominant Volkswagen Golf GTI and the Mini 1275 GT of Richard Lloyd and Richard Longman respectively, these two having dominated their particular sections in practice in much the same way.
The three smaller supporting events were run after the F2 race, starting with the ten-lapper for Historic cars. Alain de Cadenet, who has now become more renowned for his Le Mans exploits than for his skills behind the wheel of less modern machinery, uncharacteristically muffed the start to the race which, incidentally had been set out into three classes; for single-seater cars up to 1960, Historic prototypes or Sports racing cars from 1950-1957 and from 1958-1960 (including all Listers). De Cadenet’s poor start allowed David Ham’s Lister-Jaguar into a short-lived lead, for he was soon overcome by de Cadenet’s Aston Martin DBR4 until this expired with a blown piston. This let through Willie Green’s forcefully driven Ferrari Testa Rossa. Green’s hard driving soon began to tell on the Bamford-owned car, however, with an oil-based smoke screen soon appearing. The V12 engine finally cried enough on the last lap, leaving victory to Sidney Hoole’s well-controlled Cooper Monaco. Ham recovered from a Campbell spin to take second from the rather rough-sounding Lister-Jaguar of Bobby Bell.
A full-grid of Formula Ford cars was also given ten laps in which to do battle. Irish youngster Kenny Acheson made the best start in his works Royale, but braking problems had dropped him to eighth place by the time the chequered flag had been waved. Fellow Irishman David McClelland (Van Diemen) was therefore able to take a comfortable win from David Sears’ Royale; David the son of “Gentleman” Jack Sears, the great saloon car driver of yesteryear.
The final race, for Thoroughbred Sportscars, was disappointing in that it provided few contestants. The driving of the vast majority of the cars, though, was most spirited, some of the lines being taken through the Club chicane being most novel. The race was won by last season’s champion David Preece, who cruised his Jaguar XK120 round in a seemingly leisurely manner to gain maximum championship points from John Harper’s similar machine. John Chatham (Austin Healey) and Reg Woodcock (Triumph TR3) both drove with verve to fill the next two places. — M.C.S