Grand Prix in the North
Oulton Park, August 17th.
All motor-racing enthusiasts in the north of England must feel a debt of gratitude to Oulton Park and the Mid-Cheshire Motor Racing Club Ltd. for bringing Grand Prix cars within their reach, especially when our Grand Prix is held in the bottom right-hand corner of the country. In order to avoid clashes with other important events the annual Gold Cup meeting was brought forward a month and benefited from entries from Ferrari, Brabham, Lotus, Matra and B.R.M. There should have been entries from McLaren and Honda, but more important projects kept them away at the last moment, Hulme and McLaren being busy on their Can-Am Group 7 dollar-chasing cars, and Surtees preparing for Monza with the Japanese firm. Nonetheless the entry made up in quality what it lacked in quantity, and luckily the practice on Friday was held in two sessions, so that some really quick times were recorded in the morning, before the inevitable rains came down.
Brabham’s existing lap record of 1 min. 31.6 sec. was soundly beaten by Hill, Stewart, Amon, Brabham himself and Ickx, while Rodriguez and Oliver equalled it. Hill was driving the Lotus-Cosworth V8 number 49B/5 as usual, Stewart was driving the Matra-Cosworth V8 with which he won at Nurburgring, number MS10-02 using the same engine, but with wide nose-fins fitted like the Lotus cars, Amon was driving the same Ferrari he had at Nurburgring, number 0011, Brabham was driving BT26-1 with the 4-cam Repco engine, Ickx had reverted to his French G.P.-winning Ferrari, number 0009, Rodriguez was driving B.R.M. number 126-03, now fitted with a large “aerofoil” across the tail, mounted on the rear-wheel uprights and braced forwards to the roll-over bar with cables, and Oliver was in his Nurburgring Lotus 49B/2. In addition to this very fast seven, there was Derek Bell, the new Ferrari recruit having his first Formula One drive in Ferrari 0007, his only previous experience of a 3-litre being some practice round the little Autodromo at Modena. Rindt was not happy, as his usual Brabham BT26-2 went off song in the first practice period and he had to take over the brand new car BT26-3, but before he could get used to it the rains came, so he was in a low position on the grid, after Bell who had done a very creditable 1 min. 32.4 sec. on his first outing in the 3-litre Ferrari. Courage was driving the Parnell B.R.M. as usual, this team also entering the Rodriguez works car as B.R.M. did not want to enter officially. The remaining three runners were Bonnier with his yellow and red McLaren-B.R.M. V12, Lanfranchi with a Tasman B.R.M. V8 on loan, and Hobbs with the Bernard White V12 B.R.M.
Saturday was a fine sunny day for a change and the northern crowds poured into Oulton Park to watch the Gold Cup Race, sponsored by Guards Cigarettes, the donors no doubt hoping that they would not have to present their Trophy to a member of the rival firm from Players Gold Leaf Team Lotus! After Juan Manuel Fangio had been round the circuit to open it officially, and an excellent Group 4 sports-car race for the Speed World Trophy had been run, the sights and sounds of Grand Prix racing came out of the paddock, for the 40-lap race, all except the last three cars carrying “aerofoils” of various shapes and sizes. Fangio gave the start and all thirteen cars got away splendidly, Stewart jumping into the lead as they went away on the opening lap, being followed by Amon, Hill, Ickx, Brabham and Oliver. On the second lap Hill squeezed past Amon and set about catching Stewart, but the little Scot had made the most of the clear road on the opening lap and was away, the Matra going splendidly and almost being airborne as it breasted the rise of Deer Leap, the engine r.p.m. rising as the weight came off the rear wheels. On lap 3 the order was Stewart, Hill, Amon, Brabham, Ickx, Oliver, Rodriguez, Bell, Rindt, and Courage, with Bonnier, Lanfranchi and Hobbs having a private race of their own for last place. Brabham was being severely harried by the two young boys, Ickx and Oliver, and Rodriguez had Bell and Rindt very close behind his B.R.M.
As Stewart roared through to finish the seventh lap, the number-one Lotus could be seen rounding Lodge Corner on the inside and heading for the pit lane as Amon went by into second place. The drive in the Hewland gearbox had all gone and the Lotus was out already. Having cured the breaking half-shaft troubles, the weakness had now moved further inboard. The race for the lead was now all over, for try as he might Amon was not going to make any impression on Stewart, the wily Scot keeping an eye in his mirrors along the straight between Cascades and Island Bend, and again from Druids’ Corner down to Lodge Corner, and gauging the severity of Amon’s efforts. The Ferrari driver was putting all he knew into his driving, hurling the red car through the corners in beautiful full-blooded slides. Both cars were lapping consistently under the old lap record and were a stirring sight to watch.
As Courage braked heavily for Lodge Corner the right-hand lower front wishbone collapsed, letting the wheel fold back, and he had a busy moment skating to rest, fortunately without any damage, and walked back to the pits. Bell arrived at the pits at the end of lap 9 in a great rush, his Ferrari stuck in 4th gear. The fault was rectified and he rejoined the race, but now well down the field. Ickx worried away at Brabham’s rear wheels for lap after lap until he found a way by on lap 13, and then Oliver took up the Brabham-chasing role, and he got by on lap 16, after which the Ferrari and the Lotus drew well ahead of the Australian car. Meanwhile Rindt had had a brief moment of glory when he got past Rodriguez and took over sixth place, but it did not last long for his Repco engine blew up on lap 54. By half distance Stewart was more than 6 sec. ahead of Amon, setting his pace by the Ferrari pressure, and it was not slow, for on lap 18 Amon had recorded 1 min. 30.6 sec. All three tail-enders had been into the pits, Bonnier worrying about the McLaren’s oil pressure, he said, Lanfranchi to change the battery on his car, and Hobbs because he felt the front end was falling off his B.R.M.
At the end of 21 laps Ickx arrived at the pits with his engine misfiring badly and the car sat there for the rest of the race while mechanics tried to find an obscure electrical fault in the ignition system. On the next lap Brabham drew into the pits to retire, With a lot of oil all over the back of the Repco engine, from a suspected damaged oil seal on the back of the crankshaft so now there were only four cars left in the running: Stewart in the lead, driving smoothly and confidently, Amon really charging along behind him, Oliver in a secure third place, and a not very inspired Rodriguez in fourth. Bell was fifth but a long way behind after his pit stop, and Lanfranchi and Hobbs were still running, but Bonnier had given up.
Amon was not giving up and the Ferrari team must have been proud of him, for Stewart had to keep pressing on and the Matra went round in 1 min. 30.4 sec. and then 1 min. 30.0 sec., but Amon equalled this. Stewart had everything under control, but he had to keep his beady eyes on the Ferrari all the time, and the Matra was timed at 160 m.p.h. down the straight to Knickerbrook, a speed never before seen at Oulton Park. This pace was kept up tight to the end of the race, and though it may not have been an exhibition of cut-and-thrust racing It was a fine demonstration of the art of high-speed driving by the leading pair. Bell had been forced to retire when his Ferrari engine broke, an unusual occurrence for one of the Maranello cars, and with six laps to go Rodriguez went by with ominous smoke coming from his engine, which was sounding very rough.
Stewart won the Gold Cup, following in the footsteps of previous winners Moss, Salvadori, Brabham, Surtees and Clark, and as he was driven round on a lap of honour many of the spectators must have been applauding him for his wonderful victory at the Nurburgring two weeks before, as well as for his masterly Oulton Park drive.
The racing began at 2.30 p.m. with a 19-lap race for Group 4 sports cars and saw a magnificent scrap between the two T70 Iola-Chevrolet coupés, driven by Bonnier and de ‘Udy, the lead changing a number of times as the two great cars thundered round the circuit. The issue was in doubt until three laps before the end when Bonnier spun (or was he nudged?) at Island Bend and split the Lola fibreglass body in all directions. This left de ‘Udy to romp home, with Bonnier in second place trailing bits of bodywork. Hawkins should have mixed it with this scrap but he cooked the clutch of the yellow and blue Lola-Chevrolet he had borrowed from Norinder, at the start, and had to drive softly-softly to finish third. Nelson was fourth, having trounced all the other private GT40 Fords, and also some very fast Chevron-B.M.W.s, especially the immaculate green one of Tech-Speed Racing, driven by Craft, and the white works car of Schenken. There was a shortage of cars in the 1,600-c.c. class, but notable was the driving of John Miles, in the second of the Gold Leaf Team Lotus Europas, who started with a 10-sec. handicap for not qualifying in practice, and roared through the very large field to finish 10th, just behind his team-mate Oliver.
To end a most enjoyable day there was a 19-lap saloon-car race after the Gold Cup event and this saw the three vast Ford Falcons of Muir, Hobbs and Pierpoint thunder round in a tree-shaking blast of sound like giants at play. When they lapped the Minis and Imps it was hair-raising, but all was comparatively well, though there was the inevitable clanging of bodywork by some of the competitors. Graham Hill drove an Alan Mann FVA-powered Escort fitted with an air-blower so that it could be called supercharged and be up-graded into the Falcon class in order that he could try and upset Saloon Car Championship points for the Falcons and help Gardner in the normal FVA Escort win points overall. It did not work out as the Falcons were too fast for Hill, and anyway he retired with a flat tyre.—D. S. J.