Continental Notes, November 1971

For the past couple of years the efforts by Ferrari in sports car racing have been a bit luke-warm with no serious onslaught big enough to worry the Porsche teams. It did not need much imagination to see that the 5-litre V12 Ferrari in 512S and 512M form was not really a match for the Porsche 917, apart from isolated instances and during the past season the Maranello works team has only run a 3-litre prototype, as a feeler for 1972. It had a pretty chequered season but showed great potential and was far superior to the Matra 3-litre and the Alfa Romeo 3-litre, and at times was almost a match for the Porsche 5-litre.

In the days of the beginning of my interest in motor-racing I remember the sports Alfa Romeos that were virtually two-seater Grand Prix cars, like the 2.9-litre Tipo B and the “sporting gentlemen” of the day who thought a sports car should be like a vintage 3-litre Bentley and used to mutter about the “damned Italians and their thinly disguised Grand Prix cars running in sports car races”. If ever a Grand Prix car was thinly disguised to run as a sports car it is the Ferrari 312P, for if you remove the fibre-glass body shell you have a 312B, and it is a splendid machine; not as awe-inspiring as a 917 Porsche, for it will be a long time before we see anything to improve on that, but impressive nonetheless. During the past season Ferrari made it clear that the single car he kept running was a probe for a serious sports car programme for 1972 and he has already signed up six drivers for next year’s programme. These are Ickx, Regazzoni, Andretti, Redman, Peterson and Schenken, so it is obvious that we are going to see a team of three red cars from Maranello at all the important sports car races next year.

It is no surprise to see Ickx and Regazzoni staying with the Ferrari team because they must know a good thing when they see one, and the 312P is definitely a good thing. There are certain “pop” journalists who thrive on making up scandal and intrigue and they were all hard at work suggesting that Ickx was going to join the John Wyer team or Regazzoni was going to join BRM and so on, when they had to come to a grinding halt because Ferrari announced his team for next year. Brian Redman is a first-class choice for long-distance racing and you only have to look back through the results book to see how many long-distance races he and Siffert won together and to read the reports to know that Redman drove as much as Siffert and equally as fast. He did not get his name in the results book the way Oliver or Kinnunen did, by keeping the car on the boil while the real race winner had a rest; Redman was as much the race-winner as Siffert. Last winter he went to South Africa with the idea of retiring from professional racing, but the call was too strong and when the 1971 European season started he was back home in Lancashire, having decided to postpone his retirement, and the sport must be the better for it. After a nasty accident in the Targa Florio he happily recovered and has been racing as well as ever and next season should see him a strong member of the Ferrari Team. He is naturally starting with them this month in the Kyalami 9-hours race in South Africa.

We are getting used to Andretti being a part-time member of the Ferrari team and he does show occasional flashes of brilliance, such as at Sebring earlier this year and he will drive in the Ferrari sports car team as and when it suits him, his place probably being filled by Merzario on occasions. The two new boys to sports car racing, Peterson and Schenken are an interesting choice, obviously being snapped up on account of their performances in Formula One. Peterson is as fast as anyone would want a driver to be and if he can knock off some of the rough edges of his driving and cultivate smoothness he could go a long way. You don’t have to be on opposite-lock all the time to stay with Stewart or have the brakes on solid, even though it is spectacular to watch. Even Rindt learnt that you went faster if you relaxed and drove smoothly, while drivers like von Brautchitsch, Gonzalez and Hawthorn never did learn; sheer courage and bravery took them ahead. If you are up against smooth drivers like Fangio, Moss, Brooks, Clarke or Stewart, then courage and bravery is not enough. Peterson tried his hand with the Alfa Romeo team this past season, so knows something of long-distance racing, but his young team-mate Schenken is new to the game and if he makes progress the way he did in Grand Prix racing this year he will be a useful member of the team.

Armed with the flat-12 cylindered 3-litre “thinly-disguised Grand Prix car” the Ferrari team are going to set a pretty hot pace in 1972 that few look like being able to challenge.

Group 6 races
As from 1972 all the sports car events are to be restricted to 3-litre cars and now there is a move to limit the distance to 1,000 kilometres and this I think is a bad thing. It is the thin-end of the wedge that is likely to drag long-distance racing down to the level to which Grand Prix racing has descended. There are too many people doing too much talking, especially during the winter and last winter there was a spate of conferences with delegates from this Union and that Union. Somewhere in all the talk Grand Prix races were limited to 320 kilometres or 200 miles and when we suddenly found that the races were over almost before they began and asked whose idea it was the Constructors Association blamed the CSI, the CSI blamed the Constructors, others said it was the race organisers, others said Formula One cars could not carry enough petrol for more distance, nobody wanted to refuel and so it went on. Nobody stood up proudly and said, “I made the decision”. I can see the same thing happening in sports car racing if we are not careful. Already Daytona has reduced its 24-hour race to 6-hours, which from all accounts is a move that is popular with everyone, including the handful of spectators who doggedly turn up every year. If things are stabilised at 1,000 kilometres then all is well, but how long before the professional Union men move in and demand 800 kilometres “because the members of the Sports Car Contractors Association cannot design bigger fuel tanks into their cars”, or some of the British special-builders decide to have a go at sports car racing and think a Cosworth engine will only last 500 kilometres at racing speeds, and some of the Formula One prima donnas want all the starting money and prize money and the GPDA decide thay don’t want to share cars with a co-driver. We have seen the creeping sickness of the mid-twentieth century spread through some branches of racing already and once given a start it would soon deal with sports car racing. Imagine the 4 hours of Le Mans on the Bugatti circuit or the BOAC 100 kilometres on the Brands Hatch club circuit, “and why not?” say the people who want to “improve” our sport.

At the other end of the scale there are people like those in America who want to keep a good thing going even after it is dead and buried. One such is the move to keep 5-litre sports car racing alive, even though Ferrari and Porsche have stopped making 5-litre cars. The decision to run sports car races for a 3-litre limit has been made. Right or wrong, it’s too late now to stop it; such moves should have been made three years ago. The real truth is that a lot of well-meaning but misguided people are stuck with obsolete Ferraris and Porsches and want to go on using them, but such moves are a waste of time. We say Inter-Continental Formula and we now have Inter-series races which are prolonging the life of old 5-litre sports cars, but their life is limited.

Alfa Romeo
After two abortive years dabbling in Formula One with a 3-litre V8 Alfa Romeo engine screwed into the back of British “kit-cars” the Milan firm have cried enough. The McLaren-Alfa Romeo never really got off the ground in 1970 and in 1971 the March-Alfa Romeo occasionally rose to a visible height only to fall flat on its back every time (or on its head, like the occasion at Silverstone when Peterson showed that what it really wanted was a good driver). After winning the Brands Hatch 1,000-kilometre race, the Targa Florio and the Watkins Glen 6-hours, the Alfa Romeo factory realise that they stand fair chance in the 1972 Manufacturer’s Championship and are gathering up a pretty good team of drivers headed by Elford and Marko, retaining Hezemans and Stommelen and making up a third entry from Adamich, Pescarolo, Galli or Vaccarella, depending on circuits and circumstances. All season there have been mutterings about a 12-cylinder Alfa Romeo engine and we have seen the interesting layout of the Tipo 33/3TT with the gearbox between the engine and the rear axle in the interests of low polar-moments of intertia, so it is obvious that the Alfa Romeo technical department is not standing still.—D. S. J.