Alfa Romeo makes it three
Watkins Glen, NY, July 24th.
The might of Stuttgart bowed to the dogged persistence of Alfa Romeo in the final round of the 1971 International Championship for Makes at the Watkins Glen race circuit when Andrea de Adamich and Ronnie Peterson handed Ing. Carlo Chiti’s Autodelta Racing Team their third victory of the year in the last event to be run under the 5- and 3-litre Groups 5 and 6 rules. Though it was de Adamich’s second trip to the winner’s circle this season, after having partnered Henri Pescarolo in the BOAC 1,000 Km. on April 4th when Alfa recorded its first international triumph in 20 years, the race marked the first such win for Sweden’s Ronnie Peterson to add to his 1971 tally of Formula Two victories and high placings in Formula One races.
Though there was little at stake in the season-closing endurance race, since Porsche had already taken the title by virtue of eight wins in the ten preceding races, the outcome doubtless provided much in the way of encouragement for Milan to get on with it for 1972, when their pretensions to the crown will be contested by a renewed effort from Ferrari, possibly a strong challenge from Matra-Simca, plus the various Cosworth DFV-powered machines.
The final round of the year afforded ample opportunity for a full-scale test of the Glen’s preliminary revised configuration, which saw the circuit lengthened from 2.3 to 2.428 miles and widened to a uniform 36 feet. Included in the overall renovation scheme, which will see an additional mile of macadam added in time for the GP in October, were the grading of the uphill section between turns 1 and 2 to provide better vision for overtaking, the replacement of the former Fast Bend by a left-right chicane, and the tightening of the final turn which has been more recognisably banked.
Upon completion the computer-simulated average speed of on F1 car over the total 3.37 miles will be 121.38 m.p.h., with the maximum attainable 178 m.p.h. at the end of the long front straight. Almost ready for occupancy are fifty 15 x 14-ft. enclosed pits bordering on a concrete apron adjacent to the pit lane, which is separated from the finishing straight by a three-tiered guard-rail, behind which is a raised signalling footpath. Though many drivers criticised the closeness of the rail to the running surface, particularly at the end of the back straight, most agreed that the result is very functional.
An encouraging complement of works entries was on hand to complete the 1971 schedule, with the exception of Matra and, of course, the Martini and Rossi 917s. Twin Gulf-Porsches were fielded for Siffert/Van Lennep and Bell/Attwood (Van Lennep replacing Oliver in the team), a trio of T33-3 Alfas was on hand for Pescarolo/Stommelen, Galli/Elford, and de Adamich/Peterson; and the much-repaired 312P Ferrari was entered by SEFAC for Jacky Ickx and Mario Andretti. Adding spice to the line-up was the experimental Tubolare T33-4 which Chiti fondly hoped would make its first start.
Heading the list of private entrants was a horde of 512M Ferraris, not the least of which was the immaculately prepared, Sunoco-sponsored car of Roger Penske and Ferrari dealer, Kirk F. White. Mark Donohue and David Hobbs were the drivers. Luigi Chinetti’s North American Racing Team (NART) car was in the hands of Ronnie Bucknum and Sam Posey; Alain DeCadenet’s Ecurie Francorchamps machine was entered for himself and Lothar Motschenbacher; Gregg Young and Jim Adams were on hand to run the former’s mount which had been rebuilt following its fiery accident at Sebring, while Canada’s George Eaton partnered Herbert Muller in the latter’s Rolanaflor-sponsored entry. The sole private Porsche 917 was that of David Piper and driven by Mario de Cabral and Tony Adamowicz. This last had a true international flavour—a German car entered by an Englishman and handled by a Portuguese and a Pole! There followed the usual (and dangerously slow) pack of 911s, Corvettes and Lolas.
Almost as anticipated, the Penske-White 512M took the number one starting position after Friday’s time trials. Several days of unofficial practice had resulted in surface eruptions, but the Glen’s Executive-Director, Mal Currie. was confident that the situation that happened in 1970, when the final turn took on all the characteristics of a ploughed field, would not again prevail as great pains were taken to see that the necessary patching would withstand two solid days of pounding by the sports and Group 7 cars alike. Eight-tenths of a second behind Donohue’s 1 min. 07.74 sec. (129.22 m.p.h.) came the first of the Wyer cars—Siffert at 1 min. 08.51 sec. (127.71 m.p.h.), Ickx managed to split the World Champions with his 312P Ferrari, besting Bell’s 1 min. 08.64 sec. to 1 min. 08.97 sec. The NART 512M followed and the eventual winners qualified on the outside of the third row in 1 min. 09.22 sec.
The weekend soured somewhat for Autodelta when Narini Galli virtually wrote off the Tubolare during practice. He tangled with Peter Gregg’s 911 Porsche driven by Hurley Haywood in the short uphill stretch between turns 1 and 2. Both cars became airborne and Haywood’s vaulted the inside guard-rail coming to rest upside down. Incredibly, neither driver was injured and, though the shunt pointed up the speed differential that has been the subject of some considerable notoriety this year, the feeling was expressed that perhaps Galli should have backed off since there was nothing at stake at the time.
Under the threat of rain, the race began with Donohue setting the pace in the royal blue Ferrari. Ickx was relegated to fourth as the Gulf-Porsches stormed into the runner-up spots. This quartet soon outdistanced Posey in the NART 512M. It took only 13 laps, however, for Ickx to hound his way into second place, providing the unusual sight—for 1971 at least—of the titleholders forced to play catch-up.
By the end of the first hour the Penske Ferrari had built up a 9 sec. lead over Ickx at a cost of a 110.435 m.p.h. average, Bell was 2 sec. back, but the first of several punctures in the left rear Firestone had dropped the team-leading JW Automotive car to fifth. Already the race had produced unwanted drama for, faced with the need for a phenomenal avoidance to escape a pack of gyrating Porsches in turn 1 on lap 18, Muller tangled with the 911 driven by Michael Keyser. The former rode the outside Armco 75 feet before scraping to a halt with the Rolunaflor 512M very badly bent.
Shortly after the second hour began Bell parked his JW Porsche opposite the start-finish line with a broken throttle pedal. Fifteen minutes were lost as Bell disputed with himself over packing it in or stumbling to the pits after being unable to remedy the deficiency. Choosing the latter course, and with the aid of some fancy footwork, he slowly returned to an anxious crew where repairs were hurriedly made and the car rejoined second from last. In the meantime, the demise of the Penske car with a broken tie-rod bolt on lap 54 immediately produced a cut-throat struggle for the lead, which was held by Andretti for two laps (54 and 55), then Peterson for four laps (56 to 59) in the leading Alfa Romeo. Forced to stop for fuel on lap 60, the latter surrendered the lead to Van Lennep as the second hour drew to a close with the average nudging 120 m.p.h.
An expired starter dropped the SEFAC 312P out of the race on lap 56 when the car refused to come to life after a routine stop. A 15-minute fiddle was futile, and the rest of the day belonged to the Milanese. Of the three cars that started, however, only the winner made it to the chequered flag as its sister cars were eliminated in a pair of shunts that irreparably damaged the suspension systems. Pescarolo and Stommelen, after running foul of the Locke-Bailey 911S on lap 98, and Elford 21 laps from the finish after ramming Skip Barber’s Lola T212 off the road, having been unable to see in the rain which came down in buckets during the closing stages.
Opting to sart the race on intermediate Firestones, de Adamich and Peterson were able to postpone their inevitable stop for “wets” until the skies had well and truly fallen, though, by that time, the decision was academic as a 2-lap lead was more than enough to see off the last of the 10 official finishers. The winning car completed 677.412 miles (279 laps) at an average speed of 112.772 but Bell prevented a complete rout by setting the fastest time of the day—1 min. 08.297 sec. (127.98 m.p.h.)—on lap 36 in the third-placed Gulf-Porsche.—J. M.