Zeltweg, Austria, August 25th.
As they have no Formula One race yet in Austria the OAMTC give the title of Grand Prix of Austria to their major event, and this year it was the 500-kilometre race for Sports and Prototype cars. The event also scored half points for the Manufacturers’ Championship, in view of its abbreviated length, but as this already meant 157 laps of the airfield circuit it was reasonable enough. Austria is very restricted in its motor-racing activities, but enthusiasm is strong and a half-length Championship race on an airfield was deemed better than no International event at all. What the Zeltweg airfield lacks in facilities it makes up by the hospitality of the local club who do the organising for their parent body in Vienna, and few, if any, entrants are heard to complain about the meeting.
The entry was made up by two Prototype Group 6 classes and two Sports Group 4 classes and in both categories last-minute withdrawals disappointed the enthusiastic organisers and public. Ford of England had shown their intention of sending two Alan Mann 3-litre Cosworth V8-powered coupés, and the organisers would have been happy with just one, but both were withdrawn. Having said they would race these exciting 3-litre coupés as much as possible in 1968, as an experimental year leading up to a full-scale effort in 1969, Ford of England seem to have changed their mind and think they will race the 3-litre when it is ready to win. Happy optimists! The other withdrawal was a Gulf-sponsored GT40 Ford for Ickx, the J.W. Automotive people deciding there was nothing to be gained from competing at Zeltweg from the point of view of gaining points towards the Championship of Manufacturers. Justified but disappointing for the Austrian people who were looking forward to seeing Ickx perform.
However, Porsche made up for the English withdrawals, fielding four 3-litre 8-cylinder cars as a full-scale prelude and try-out for Le Mans, while Alpine-Renault ran a brand new A220 coupé 3-litre, also in readiness for Le Mans. Alfa Romeo have shown faith in the Belgian VDS team by letting them have a 2½-litre V8 engine to install in one of their Tipo 33 cars, and Pilette drove this. The rest of the entry comprised private owners and one problem that the race-distance provoked was whether to use one driver or two. Normally 500 kilometres of racing is well within the capabilities of most drivers, but the little L-shaped airfield circuit does not leave much time for relaxation so some teams had two drivers per car, others relied on one driver going the whole distance. In the Porsche team Siffert and Elford were set to do the whole distance, but Herrmann was to have the help of Ahrens, the stocky little Formula Two driver having his first drive for the Porsche factory, and Neerpasch was to have the help of the Austrian driver Lins, also having his first try-out with the Porsche team. Mauro Bianchi elected to drive the Alpine-Renault V8 alone, even though de Cortanze was on hand, and Pilette and Trosch needed no help with the VDS Alfa Romeos. The private 910 Porsches were driven by Steinemann/Spoerry, Kauhsen/von Wendt, Bradley/Dean, but Koch reckoned he could do the distance alone. Three Group 4 Porsche 906 coupés were driven by Austrian and German pairs of amateur drivers, and a lonely Austrian in a Lotus 47 Europa did not anticipate doing the full 500 kilometres; indeed the Lotus fell apart on the starting line, but did a few laps later on. In the entry list Hawkins was to have the help of Prophet with his red GT40, with Gurney-Eagle Ford V8 engine and Hewland gearbox, but in fact Prophet was stand-by to Bonnier with the Lola T70, patched up with odd bits of bodywork after its Oulton Park accident. Nelson was alone in his Ford GT40, with TJ fuel injection, and De ‘Udy was unaided in his green Lola T70. Missing from the entry list was Piper with his Ferrari LM, as it could not be got ready in time, and as the race was a Championship event, Group 6 cars were limited to 3-litres, so he could not run his successful Ferrari P3/134.
The event should have been a Porsche benefit, with the 3-litre air-cooled cars from Stuttgart running in 1-2-3-4 formation, but so typical of Porsche this season they floundered and stumbled about in a most un-typical Teutonic fashion. In practice the number four works Porsche of Neerpasch/Lins spent much of its time having the alternator changed, and this being in the centre of the plastic cooling fan, it took an absurdly long time. Elford’s car had the front plastered with oil, from a car he had followed, yet a leak was “found” in his own oil radiator and there was a big production over fitting a new one, which curtailed his practice. The four works cars had started the second practice session by cruising round in formation while their oil warmed up, and spectators were justified in thinking they were practising for a photo-finish in team formation, but it was not to be. The Bonnier Lola and the works Alpine-Renault upset the perfect Porsche picture on the starting grid, but it did not take many laps for the Porsches to be 1-2-3 in number order, driven by Siffert, Elford and Herrmann, but Neerpasch could not keep up and Bonnier and Hawkins were in front of him. With the race barely under way Elford stopped with a broken control rod between the slide linkage and the injection unit. Another one was fitted and he pressed on furiously, his braking for the hairpin at the end of the back straight being disturbing to watch, but making one admire the modern disc brake! He finally overdid things on one lap, nearly taking team-mate Herrmann with him, this little contre-temps spoiling the 1-2 demonstration that Siffert and Herrmann were putting on for Porsche. It availed Elford nothing for the replacement control rod also broke, something obviously being badly adjusted somewhere, and he had another stop. Later in the race the same trouble befell the Neerpasch car and the jinx on this car continued when Lins took over for the gearbox played up and he spun off, only to find the starter would not work. He got a push-start to get going again, to return to the pits, and the car was withdrawn, just as the organisers were about to disqualify it for the push-start.
Siffert and Herrmann drove in full command of the race, neither the Bonnier Lola nor the Hawkins Ford being able to challenge them, and when they stopped for fuel Siffert continued, while Herrmann handed over to Ahrens. Bonnier held third place until around half-distance when a fuel bag sprung a leak and the cockpit began to fill with petrol, at which time he deemed it wise to stop. By the time the leak was cured he was too far back to qualify so withdrew the car. The Lola of De ‘Udy did not complete a single lap, as the oil-pump drive sheared, it having done the same thing in practice, and the Alpine-Renault did not go far as vibration fractured an oil pipe that could not be repaired. The oil that came out sprayed all over Steinemann’s 910 Porsche and he had to stop to clean the windscreen so that his hopes of catching the 910 Porsche of von Wendt were gone. Bradley’s Porsche 920 broke a ball joint on the left front suspension just after he had handed over to Dean and the car limped to the pits with “one wing low”, to retire. The 2½-litre-engined Alfa Romeo ran like a clock, even though Pilette clobbered some straw bales and a fuel tank was leaking, and he drove it hard to chase Hawkins. The 2-litre Alfa Romeo seemed to spend more time in the pits than on the track, with continual plug trouble and the look of them suggested something very much amiss in the mixture or ignition settings. After holding sixth place overall, ahead of all the 910 Porsches, Nelson’s Ford broke a push-rod and as the bits could not be fished out he withdrew before the expense began.
All the 3-litre Porsches were fitted with a pair of little hinged flaps on the tail, each about 6 in. x 10 in., coupled by long vertical rods to the lower rear wishbones so that they lay flat as the car accelerated or rose as it braked, while on corners the roll caused one to sink and the other to rise. Their area and angle of movement did not look enough to be effective, but presumably every little helps! Siffert cruised home to win, feeling that 157 laps were quite enough, and it was lucky that the race was not 158 laps, for on his slowing down lap something broke in the transmission! The Herrmann/Ahrens car was on the same lap and Hawkins had driven a good reliable race into third, hotly pursued by Pilette, while von Wendt and Kauhsen, who have been doing well in long-distance events this year, led the 910 Porsches home.—D. S. J