The World Championship of Makes
Osterreichring, June 29th
With victories in both of what will probably prove to be the last two rounds of the series, Alfa Romeo have won this year's World Championship for Makes, taking the title for the first time in their history. For the small crowd that witnessed the Austrian event however, it won't be the Italian conquest that sticks in their minds, but the weather. From the moment that darkening skies unleashed a torrent of rain and hail half an hour before the scheduled start at Osterreichring, the inclement weather dominated proceedings to a point where the organisers had to cut the race from a planned 1003 to just 609 km. Indeed, with lightning searing the cloud-laden heavens and thunder echoing around the surrounding mountains like some celestial bowling alley, the elements provided a far more awe-inspiring spectacle than anyone on the track could manage.
Highlight of the entry was that, for the first time, we were to see two of the turbocharged, 2-litre Alpine Renault A442s in a race together. As regular team driver Jabouille was tied up with a Formula 2 race at Rouen, Gerard Larrousse was joined for this race by Jean-Pierre Janet, released from Ligier as the rival French team had pulled out after Le Mans. In the second car, Tyrrell F1 team-mates Jody Scheckter and Patrick Depailler made their debuts for the Dieppe equipe. The other salient point of interest in a rather thin entry came from the Alfa Romeo 33TT12s of the Willi Kauhsen Racing Team. Spa winners Derek Bell and Henri Pescarolo were together as usual, but Vittorio Brambilla was drafted in to partner Arturo Merzario. The only other big prototypes of note were the usual pair of Porsche 908/4 turbo cars, one for Reinhold Joest and Mario Casoni, the other for Herbert Mueller and Leo Kinnunen. Owing to the almost cataclysmic downpour, the start was greatly delayed, but eventually they were off.
Having set fastest time in practice, Larrousse promptly took the initial lead, but after only five laps his Alpine was forced into the pits with a deflating tyre after a minor collision with a painfully slow Austrian KMW. A few minutes later this car was eliminated altogether when a belt driving the fuel injection pump broke too far from the pits to coast back for repairs. This left Depailler in the second Alpine well ahead of the battling Alfa Romeos and Porsches - so far ahead, in fact, that when it suffered an identical belt failure soon after Scheckter had taken over the car, he was able to coast the few hundred yards to the pits, get it replaced and rejoin the refray without losing his lead. The failures were blamed on the weather, for some hastily installed splashguards in the engine bay had caused local overheating. For 75 laps, exactly half the intended full distance, Depailler and Scheckter maintained their advantage, but then the Alpine succumbed to the drenching as the rain returned with renewed vigour. Eventually, after numerous pit-stops to investigate a grating misfire, the car was wheeled away just six laps from the much truncated finish, suffering a legacy of its earlier belt breakage.
With the French challenge broken, the two Alfa Romeos were left comfortably in front. Barely three minutes before the chequered flag was hung out, Bell aquaplaned into a short but lurid spin. He missed everything, fortunately, and brought the car he had shared with Pescarolo into a deserved, hard-working first place, less than a lap in front of team-mates Brambilla and Merzario. The Joest/Casoni Porsche was third, just one lap down, enjoying a trouble-free run except for having to change tyre sizes mid-race when they ran out of the right sized wet weather Goodyears. Fourth, but much further behind, was the normally aspirated 3-litre Porsche 908/3 of Ernst Kraus and Jurgen Barth; the other turbo Porsche had been greatly delayed by serious gearbox maladies.
In the 2-litre class, most of the cars were badly affected by water, although Ian Grob's Chevron-Hart B31 dropped out very early with straightforward electrical failure, whilst Lella Lombardi's Alpine Renault A441 retired with a damaged camshaft. Helped by the troubles affecting rivals, John Lepp and Dave Morgan led the class the whole time except for one lap (and that just after a pit stop) in their semi-works, Hart-engined March 75S. The Lola-FVC of Claude Crespin and Ian Bracey looked likely to inherit second place in the category, but Bracey took things very gently in the closing stages to avoid engine damage, and in the last ten minutes was passed, first by the Lola-Ferraris V8 of Mohr and Finotto, and then by the Chevron of Pete Smith and John Turner.
OSTERREICHRING 1000 Kms
World Championship for Makes, Round 8
Watkins Glen, July 12th
Three common factors linked the races in Austria and America: again Alpines set the pace, both in practice and the early stages of the race; again Alfa Romeos finished first and second after the French cars had proved too fragile; and again the race distance was drastically curtailed by heavy rain. This time, however, the cloudburst came at exactly half-distance, and although the race was stopped and the cars held in the pits for just over an hour, this time was nevertheless considered as part of the scheduled six hours. Alfa Romeo had already assured themselves of the championship mantle with their win at Osterreichring, but they still sent two cars, although this time Merzario was partnered by the Italian-born American Mario Andretti. Only five other cars went from Europe: the two turbo Alpines, the two turbo Porsches and the old Porsche 908/3 for Kraus and Mike Keyser. In addition there were two works BMW CSLs, for Ronnie Peterson, Hans Stuck, Brian Redman and Sam Posey, which are permanently based in America for the "IMSA" series.
As in Austria the Alpines led at the start, only this time it was Scheckter in front. On the seventh lap Larrousse brought the second-placed Alpine into the pits for the first of two stops to tighten clamps on a pipe to the turbocharger's air cooler. This left Scheckter well ahead of Pescarolo's Alfa, but just before the first hour was up he missed a gear and over-revved, necessitating the Alpine's withdrawal. Once again Alfa Romeos were first and second, with the Pescarolo/Bell car in front. For much of the time the two Italian machines stayed on the same lap, but when rain burst upon the circuit like a waterfall approaching the three-hour mark, Merzario lost a lap to the sister car before red flags stopped the race.
When the field was restarted over an hour later, Casoni went out on intermediates and soon took the lead in his Porsche 908/4 (the other turbo Porsche was a non-starter after blowing its only engine in practice). With an hour to go, the slick-shod Alfas overtook him, however, and although Andretti unlapped himself there was little he could do to catch the winning car of Bell and Pescarolo, who took their third victory of the year together. The Jarier/Larrousse Alpine finished third, despite losing more time near the end with turbocharger leaks, but they were nearly caught by the Porsche of Casoni and Joest. After a hard-fought battle with the American Porsche Carreras of Hurley Haywood/Bob Hagestad and Al Holbert/Peter Gregg, the BMWs had worked their way into first and third positions in the IMSA class before the rains came, but then Stuck crashed during the storm, leaving Haywood/Hagestad to take fifth place and the class by a lap from the Redman/Posey CSL.-J.C.T.
WATKINS GLEN SIX HOURS
World Championship for Makes, Round 9