1962 Porsche 804: Speed Costs Money – How Fast Do You Want to Go?

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“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Then quit. No use being a damn fool about it.”

~W.C. Fields~

Ferry Porsche was adamant. If they were not competitive, they would not race. To ensure his ultimatum could not be ignored he personally made the trip from Stuttgart to Zandvoort to supervise. The car had only been shaken down six weeks before, travelling in a straight line down a rough and rutted runway. Once faced with corners on a track it was found to be undrivable, and subsequently underwent significant modifications of its suspension. Even before the start of the 1962 season Ferry was getting cold feet. If their new creation wasn’t significantly faster than the old, they would quit. With only the first practice session to prove the cars latent potential, Dan Gurney wrestled his still recalcitrant steed around the sandy and sinuous Zandvoort circuit, suspension not yet race tuned and an engine probably no quicker than the old one.  With dogged determination, he managed to achieve a lap time almost two seconds faster than his qualifying performance the previous year. With that, the racing team was given the green light to continue.

Denis Jenkinson, at least, was impressed…and I’m sure he didn’t impress easily, though I did wonder if he was being sarcastic. In his race review of the 1962 Dutch Grand Prix, he wrote, “Rivalling the Lotus 25 for the lead in the technical innovations were the two factory Porsche cars for Bonnier and Gurney.” The Lotus 25 was the first monocoque chassis. The Porsche it was being compared to was…well a Porsche…albeit with their new…but so far not improved…8-cylinder air-cooled boxer engine, a somewhat trimmer and slimmer chassis, and disc brakes…which in effect was just joining everyone else rather than pushing any boundaries of innovation. Maybe Jenks was just shocked that their new car actually existed as there had been little heard about it prior to its arrival in the paddock at Zandvoort.

Even though it looked a breed apart compared to the slimmed down sports-car they had been using the previous year, Ferry Porsche wasn’t so sure they had nailed it. They were now well into the third year of building the 804. The project had stalled…multiple times…difficulties assailing them from every side. Unlike their previous model, this one was not held back by the genetics of the original beast lurking beneath the thin veneer of silver metal. It was designed to fulfil a specific purpose – to win in Formula One. What they hadn’t realised was that it would be so…painstakingly…slow. Their previous experience with building sports-cars was you built a car. Then you raced it. If the engine wasn’t good enough, you made it better. Then you won. Simple. After just a single year of competition, Ferry Porsche was struggling to see the point of continuing in Formula One. It was a hopeless cause. A hopeless, hugely expensive, never-ending cause…gobbling up hundreds of thousands of marks.

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(unattributed)

By the cessation of the second practice session of the 1962 Dutch Grand Prix, it was evident the rest of the field had also made a sizeable leap in speed over the winter break. The lap times tumbled as practice continued, ten drivers eventually bettering Jim Clark’s lap record from the year before…Gurney qualifying in 8th. During the race, he ran as high as 3rd until a pitstop to fix a broken gear lever took him out of contention for a points finish. Teammate Jo Bonnier finished 7th, a lap behind Carel de Beaufort driving a Porsche 718/2. Ferry Porsche was less than pleased. They had been beaten by a privateer driving last year’s car. The talk about quitting resumed. But Dan Gurney continued to fight for the car’s future. How could Porsche expect to develop a car without racing it? With that, he persuaded Ferry to let them continue.

Porsche hadn’t procrastinated, the blueprint for the new engine being drawn up way back in 1959, followed by its first bench test in December 1960. A beefed-up version of their illustrious Fuhrmann engine, they had doubled its cylinders to 8, and which also doubled the complexity of building it. The task of creating a new engine was immense. As Karl Ludvigsen described, “Porsche weren’t capable of treating the creation of a new engine casually. In Germany, an engine wasn’t an affair of inspired artisan engineers as in Italy. No, it was an industrial undertaking that called for the same materials and methods used in at least limited production. Forged crankshafts instead of machined ones. Permanent-mold instead of sand-mold castings. Symmetrical cylinder and head castings to reduce tooling costs. For Porsche, and especially for Ferry, it was unthinkable to spend large amounts of time and money on an engine without giving it other work to do besides propelling a race car.”

Having to outsource casting and forging gave them multiple months of delay, German factories not geared to the speedy production of race car components. There was no option but to patiently wait their turn as the months ticked by…nine long months…before they had their new crankshaft on hand ready to install. Then, at its first bench test, the new engine wouldn’t start.  Long-time Porsche engineer, Egon Alber, had the task of assembling the new engine. He later recalled, “After a lot of cursing and praying and every trick in the book, it finally ran after all.”  Then everyone held their breath to see how close to their goal of 200 horsepower it would be. The only good news was that the dyno showed a number with triple figures. The bad news was that it was a lot closer to 100 than 200. But this was Porsche. No-one panicked…at least, not yet.  They knew how to build engines and there only remained the dark art of persuading the unrealised horsepower sequestered deep within it to emerge. Before the start of the season, they had got the number up to 178…which while a significant improvement, still hadn’t caught up to what Michael May’s fuel injected 547 Fuhrmann engine had achieved. (Click here for the story about Michael May and the 1961 Porsche 718/2)

804 engine

(unattributed)

The chassis may have been a clean sheet design, but in reality, it was practical rather than poetic. A place for the engine, the fuel and the driver. A tubular stainless-steel lattice moulded around the necessary components and the resultant sculpture covered by the silver sheen of 0.03-inch aluminium. Although significantly slimmer than the previous 718/2 it still appeared squat and stubby when compared to their more streamlined British and Italian competitors.

Development was relentless and ongoing as teams sought to either catch-up or maintain their advantage, which meant Porsche were under pressure right from the beginning. After their dismal start, Ferry only sent one car to Monaco. At least they could check that the gear lever would remain in its proper place. Gurney showed that his faith in the vehicle was not displaced when he qualified the car in third…which turned into fifth as there were three cars with an identical time. Unfortunately, he was taken out on the first lap with a shunt from behind when a plethora of vehicles arrived too close together and with too little control at the Gasworks hairpin.

Porsche then withdrew from Spa, blaming “technical difficulties.” After Monaco, Dan Gurney had given Herbert Lang a list of thirteen items he wanted attended to on the car before the next race. This wasn’t going to be the work of a weekend. The seating position of the drivers was lowered, enabling their head to be less of an aerodynamic impediment. This necessitated changing the location of the fuel tank, as well as a quickly removable steering wheel to enable the drivers to actually get into and out of the car – possibly the first such device in Formula One. Ferry then sent everyone off to the Nurburgring with instructions that if they couldn’t do a full race distance, they could forget about racing. Gurney did the obligatory fifteen laps, and off to France they went.

Porsche 804

(unattributed)

Rouen-Les-Essarts was a seldom used street circuit consisting of bumpy public roads, hard on drivers and even harder on suspension. A series of downhill curves through the forest looked like the Suzuka Esses on steroids, requiring the heady combination of maximum skill to hit every apex and maximum bravery to hold the throttle foot flat while traversing the roller-coaster ride through the trees. A cobblestone hairpin at the bottom added to the thrill…or the trepidation…of the trip down the mountain. The field was depleted with Ferrari stuck in Modena due to a metalworker’s strike making it impossible to prepare the cars. Phil Hill had to settle with sitting in the stands and enjoying the race as a spectator…waiting to see how many points his rivals for the championship would gain on him…probably more frustrating than inspiring as he had no way to fight back in return. Dan Gurney felt like he’d driven the race before he’d even started, struggling with fatigue because of the flu.

Graham Hill’s BRM led off the line, with Jim Clark, who had been on pole, initially slotting in behind him. This state of affairs didn’t last long as John Surtees quickly rocketed from 5th up to 2nd passing Bruce McLaren, Jack Brabham and lastly Clark, whose Lotus 25’s suspension was already starting to complain. Initially, the race looked like it was going to be a dull and dreary procession with the only battle between Graham Hill and John Surtees, as the two front-runners steadily pulled a gap on those behind. However, the circuit itself would play a prominent role in this race – only those cars able to stand the pummelling from the bumps would be there to take the chequered flag.

Gurney was in 6th, but McLaren ahead of him was being unnecessarily distracted by his Cooper jumping out of gear at inopportune times. This resulted in him spinning the car and hitting a curb. When he pitted his suspension was deemed to be only bent, not broken, and he managed to come back through the field to finish the race in 4th despite the bizarre handling of his car.  It was later found to have a cracked chassis. A few laps later Jack Brabham was out with a broken right rear suspension. Gurney was now up to fourth. Then Surtees pitted with a misfiring engine. A podium position was now firmly in Gurney’s grasp.

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Just after half race distance, Clark’s Lotus appeared in front for the first time, with Hill now relegated behind him. Jackie Lewis was being lapped by Hill when the brakes on his Cooper failed. Unfortunately, Hill’s BRM was in the way, and a hefty nudge sent it spinning off the track.  Hill re-joined and despite the loss of his right rear tail pipe took only three laps to catch the poorly handling Lotus of Clark, who would shortly be out of the race when his fractious left front suspension finally failed. Hill reclaimed the front position with a comfortable 30 second lead on Gurney’s Porsche. Again the race looked like it was going to settle into a staid procession, but on Lap 42 Hill became the last of the front-runners to suffer misfortune when he was out of contention because of a broken fuel injection mechanism.

And that was how Dan Gurney inherited the lead…all of the cars in front of him, as well as most of the cars behind him, waylaid by various adversities. No-one else even finished on the same lap. With 12 laps yet to run the team encouraged him to go as slow as possible…just in case…but the engine chugged happily along, the brakes worked as required, there was no fuel injection to go wrong, and his suspension remained intact. The win may have been due more to serendipity than skill, but you have to be in it to win it. As Jenks wrote in his summary of the race, It was a victory for Porsche by default of others, but if any driver deserved it, it was big Dan Gurney. From the first appearance of the 8-cylinder Porsche he has done all he could to encourage the designers.”

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Porsche eventually extracted 185 horsepower out of their engine, but it was never given the extra boost of fuel injection. Karl Ludvigsen stated that Michael May had told them it wouldn’t have helped. I can’t help but think that no-one at Porsche would actually have had the gall to ask May for his opinion, as he hadn’t been given a very convivial reception when he arrived there the previous year.  He had now signed with Ferrari who were desperate for a bit more horsepower to help them bridge the gap to BRM and Lotus. I’m sure if asked May would have replied that there was no way Porsche could possibly pay him enough to persuade him to return.

Porsche never made an official announcement that they were quitting Formula One. They withdrew from the South African Grand Prix and then didn’t show up for the first race of the 1963 season. Two years in Formula One, one win, third in the constructors and drivers’ championship the first year, fifth in both the second year…certainly not results to be ashamed of. But the cost to Porsche, both in dollars and in stress, wasn’t worth it. So far, they have yet to return. Carel de Beaufort offered to buy their 804s, but Porsche declined. Maybe they didn’t want to know if there was any potential yet to be unlocked from their only purpose-built chassis. De Beaufort would continue to race the 718/2 until 1964, accumulating three points finishes and three podiums in non-championship races.

Dan Gurney later reminisced about what the 804 was like to drive. “The 8-cylinder car’s handling was reasonably neutral. You definitely could get in sync with it. The car didn’t produce speed effortlessly, you had to look very carefully everywhere to find the speed. We were constantly hoping we would unlock that little bit of extra power, so I’d try to hunch down in the car as much as possible to keep everything as aerodynamically small and clean as possible. The chassis felt as if it flexed a bit, but you just ignored it and pressed on anyway. And, because you hadn’t driven the other fellow’s cars you figured maybe they were putting up with the same thing…you were supposed to be a Grand Prix driver, so you would just get on with it…”

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References and Further Reading:

Porsche 718+804 – An Adventure into Formula One during the 1.5 Litre Era by Thomas Födisch, Jost Neßhöver, Michael Behrndt, Rainer Roßbach

Building Porsche’s Grand Prix Car by Karl Ludvigsen – Excellence Magazine 11/2004: http://porschecarshistory.com/building-porsche-s-grand-prix-car-excellence-mag/

Racing Porsche’s Grand Prix Car by Karl Ludvigsen – Excellence Magazine 12/2004: http://porschecarshistory.com/porsche-804-excellence-mag/

The Dutch Grand Prix – An Excellent win for BRM by Denis Jenkinson–Motorsport Magazine: http://www.motorsportmagazine.com/archive/article/june-1962/12/dutch-grand-prix

48th French Grand Prix  – A Race of Surprises by Denis Jenkinson– Motorsport Magazine: http://www.motorsportmagazine.com/archive/article/august-1962/54/48th-french-grand-prix

1962 Porsche Formula 1- High Expectations by Thos L Bryant – Road and Track Magazine 12/1982: http://porschecarshistory.com/1962-porsche-formula-1/

A Relic of the Sixties by Michael Sohnke https://files.porsche.com/filestore/…/usa/…/History-A-Relic-of-the-Sixties.pdf

Video of 1962 French Grand Prix: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p7YpsWmsqVs

Main Photograph – Unattributed
Photo Credits – Bernard Cahier
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Dan Gurney: 1931-2018 – Unlimited Passion

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“What is art if not a concentrated and impassioned effort to make something with the little we have, the little we see?”

~Andre Dubus – Meditations from a Movable Chair~

Dan Gurney once said, “The difference between dreamer and genius, between lunatic and visionary is very thin and with our limited budget and our unlimited passion we constantly walked a tightrope.” There are very few teams with unlimited funds with which to use to compete in Formula One, but some are more limited than others.

Dan Gurney dreamed of constructing and racing an American built Formula One racing car. Gurney’s first Formula One drive had been for Ferrari in 1959. He then signed with Porsche where he got them their one and only Formula One victory as a constructor with his maiden win at the 1962 French Grand Prix. In 1963 he drove for Brabham and achieved their first win at the 1964 French Grand Prix.

Dan-Gurney-9-Eagle-1967The 1960’s saw the peak of driver-operated teams and Gurney was inspired by Brabham, McLaren and Surtees to start his own American based racing team. Len Terry was their chief designer, and their car with its magnesium chassis and titanium exhaust system was both light and robust. Their V12 engine was built by Harry Weslake, but this wouldn’t be ready until the second race of the 1967 season. This was Weslake’s first complete car engine, having focused on bike engines previously.

The stunning midnight-blue “Eagle” with its white racing strip running down the centre and its eagle-like front nose was first seen at the 1966 Belgium Grand Prix. It was only 12 months later when they triumphed at the 1967 Belgium Grand Prix, the first time an American had ever won a Formula One Grand Prix driving a car of their own construction.

Gurney stated afterwards, “In Spa, everything finally came together. I qualified second again next to Jimmy Clark and won the race ahead of Jackie Stewart with a new race record and a new lap record, putting this Grand Prix into the history books as the fastest ‘grande epreuve’ ever run on a road course.”

546b5185cbd56_-_gurney-spa-big-lgOne week before his win at Spa, Gurney had also won the 24 Hours of Le Mans, driving a 7 litre Ford GT40 with co-driver A J Foyt, winning by four laps over the rest of the field. It was after this race that Gurney started spontaneously spraying the champagne from the podium to celebrate his unexpected victory. It was at the 1968 German Grand Prix that Gurney was also the first Formula One driver to wear a full face helmet. He is also one of only three drivers with wins in Formula One, Nascar (1963) and Indycar (1967).

The Eagle remained competitive throughout the 1967 season, usually managing to qualify on the first or second row of the grid, though engine reliability continued to be a problem. During the 1968 season, the money was running out, and Anglo American Racer’s last race would be at the 1968 Italian Grand Prix. Gurney said, “After that, the budget did not allow us to continue our Formula One effort anymore. I took the Eagle out of circulation and closed down our facility in England with a heavy heart, but with the knowledge that we had put the Europeans on notice and that we had put an American Grand Prix victory in the history books for all time.”

Flying Closer to the Ground – The Advent of Aerodynamics

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“The man who has no imagination has no wings.”

~Muhammad Ali~

It was Christmas Eve, 1968, and James Lovell, Frank Borman, and William Anders were beavering away at their allotted tasks in the close confines of their Apollo 8 spacecraft. Three days before they had been blasted into space, the miniature nuclear bomb of the Saturn V rocket propelling them onwards and upwards towards the moon. Their first assignment was to persuade the Apollo 8 to exchange earth orbit for lunar orbit. William Anders graphically described it “like driving your hot rod to try to beat the train to the railroad crossing. It’s going through, God knows, how many thousands of miles an hour around the Earth, and we scoot right in front of it and slow down and go into orbit, a pretty dynamic manoeuvre.” The astronauts were now busy with the routine duties of the mission, systematically photographing the surface of the moon and visually evaluating possible sites earmarked for a future moon landing…looking for craters and volcanoes that could cause havoc for a fragile lunar rover attempting to settle on the yet unknown surface.  The capsule was initially circling the moon backwards, the lunar surface beneath them zipping by as if viewed through a glass-bottomed boat.  During the fourth orbit, while in the process of rotating the spacecraft into a forward-facing position, Anders happened to glance out of a nearby window. There in front of him, far beyond the curve of the barren brown vista of the moon’s surface, rose a tiny, blue, gibbous earth – adorned with swirls of white clouds like icing on a cake.

It was also during 1968 that wings were first fastened precariously onto Formula One cars. The Apollo 8 mission took men further into space than they had ever been before. The function of wings was to achieve the exact opposite. They kept tyres planted more firmly to the ground than they had ever been before. The use of softer rubber and broader tyres had ably demonstrated to car designers that good road adhesion was just as necessary as a powerful engine for generating fast lap times. This desire to further increase tyre adhesion led to a revolution in racing car design…the introduction of inverted wings to produce negative lift or down-force…which, in turn, enhanced corner speed. The increase in down-force also allowed the tyres to transmit a higher thrust force without wheel spin, resulting in the further benefit of improved acceleration. When Graham Hill arrived at Monaco in May 1968, a modest front wing and a very subtle rear spoiler secured to his Lotus 49B, it would herald the advent of aerodynamics in Formula One.

May

Michael May’s Porsche 550 Spyder with Wing

Wings first appeared attached to a race car at a race track when 22-year-old Michael May arrived at the 1956 Nurburgring 1000, astonishing his fellow competitors with his outlandish be-winged Porsche 550 Spyder. Unfortunately for May, Porsche racing boss Huschke von Hanstein was also impressed…maybe too impressed. He got it banned before the close of practice…purportedly under safety grounds. Practice on day two had been wet, showing to full effect the car’s improved road holding ability, and unfortunately for May, it had been faster than all the factory Porsches. It is probable that von Hanstein’s action was more due to his resentment of being beaten by a callow youth, bending the rules with some new-fangled contraption hovering over his car than any sincere concern for the safety of participants and spectators. May then decided to study engineering…though he also kept racing, winning the inaugural Formula Junior championship in 1959. He eventually ended up at Ferrari in 1962 as a consultant on fuel injection – but would have much more to offer them than just improving the flow of combustible liquid to their engine.

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Chaparral II with front and rear spoilers

Jim Hall managed to actually race his winged car, albeit his fledgeling excursion into the domain of aerodynamics was far subtler than May’s had been. Influenced by the aerospace industry, the body of the Chaparral II consisted of a plastic reinforced fibreglass chassis moulded into a smooth, sleek design…making it look more like a plane than a car. When it was first run with its elegant fibreglass body in place, it was unexpectedly slower than the tub they had initially been testing. Despite the fact that logic dictated that an aerodynamic covering should have made it significantly faster, its front end lifting at high speed was slowing it down. Hall put what he referred to as a “snowplough” on the front – two curved front wings looping around on each side. This cured its propensity to take off like the plane it was inspired by, but as a throw on effect, the car now had terrible understeer. Hall then thought if he could get rid of 300 pounds of lift on the front, why couldn’t he get something to push down on the back. On went the ducktail and down went the lap times…by an amazing three seconds. The Chaparral II would win 22 of the 39 races that it entered. Hall later said, “I was young enough that I was willing to go ahead and do what I thought was best. It’s only when you get older, and you make a few mistakes that you become afraid to take those sort of chances.” Over the next few years, experimentation and evolution continued unabated, eventually culminating in the dramatically high wing, mounted on pivots, of the 1965 Chaparral 2E. Despite Hall’s success, none of the designers in Formula One seemed to take much notice…

Chaparral 2E

Chaparral 2E with high rear wing

Even without its wings the Lotus 49 was a revolutionary car, winning its first outing at the 1967 Dutch Grand Prix at Zandvoort with Jim Clark at the wheel.  It was the third Grand Prix of the season, and the Lotus 49’s now legendary Ford Cosworth DVF engine had been fitted only a few days before.  Jim Clark had not even laid eyes on the car, and Graham Hill had spent just a few brief hours gaining some degree of familiarity with his new steed.  Hill put it on pole but retired from the lead on lap eleven with a broken tooth in the timing gear. Clark was back in fourth, but after Hill retired he persistently worked his way up the field, overtaking Jack Brabham for the lead on the sixteenth lap. Clark went on to win the race by 23 seconds with Brabham in second. The car had finished higher than anyone had dreamed possible and Lotus and Ford were ecstatic.  Not since Fangio had won in a Mercedes in 1954 had a Formula One car performed so well on its first outing.

First Race for the Lotus 49 and Ford-Cosworth DFV

By the end of the season, Clark had four wins to his name, but the better reliability of the Repco powered Brabham gave New Zealander Denny Hulme, despite only two wins, the World Championship title. Hulme was only a handful of points ahead of his triple champion team owner, Jack Brabham.

The 1968 season started well for Lotus with Jim Clarke winning the first race of the season at Kyalami. He had taken the lead on the second lap and was never bettered, teammate Graham Hill finishing second 25 seconds behind. It was Clark’s third consecutive GP win. Tragically, it would also be his last, the paddock devastated by the heartbreaking news of Jim Clark’s death while driving a Lotus in a Formula 2 event at Hockenheimring. With Colin Chapman not even showing up for the Spanish Grand Prix at Jarama, it was now up to Graham Hill to try to pull his grieving team together. It had been over two years since Hill’s last victory, and he could only manage sixth in qualifying. However, the field was close, less than a second separating the top seven drivers.  Lotus had the added mental pressure of having to argue with the authorities in Spain about the legality of their new livery. Gone was their longtime British racing green, their car now looking like a moving cigarette package, emblazed with the eye-catching Gold Leaf sponsorship. They eventually had to use tape to obscure the objectionable tobacco logos from view.

One by one the cars in front of Hill were forced to retire because of mechanical failures or accidents.  Eventually, Hill ended up in the lead after Chris Amon’s fuel pump failed. Although pursued by Denny Hulme, Hill was aided by Hulme losing second gear, culminating in Hill taking the win, with Hulme 16 seconds behind. Graham Hill told reporters, “We badly needed this win just now.  It’s been a long time coming, and it could not have happened at a better time.  I reckon I completed 1350 gear changes during the race today. It was real hard work.”

It was at the next race in Monaco that the Lotus 49 appeared with the first hint of aerodynamic appendages.  Despite the team still coming to terms with the death of Jim Clark they unveiled their new Lotus 49B and the press were immediately impressed. It had unsloping, wedge-shaped bodywork covering its Cosworth engine and a small front wing.

In November 1967, Jim Clark had raced an American Indy Car called a Vollstedt at Riverside, California.  The Vollstedt had understated extensions on either side of the radiator inlet which inclined upwards to the front suspension, and a sloping covering protecting the engine. Hugely impressed with its grip and stability, Clark later said that the Vollstedt “had driven faster than was thought capable by a mortal man.” Subsequently, during the lead up to the 1968 Teretonga-Tasman race in New Zealand, Clark persuaded his mechanics to build him a rear wing from a helicopter rotor. There appear to be no photos of this, as it wasn’t used in practice, qualifying or the race, but the pieces were starting to come together for an innovative way to get more speed in Formula One. An eagle-eyed Ferrari engineer also took note of what Lotus was up to, and the result of the new ideas he brought back to the Ferrari factory would later be seen at the Belgium GP.

vollstedt

Vollstedt 67-B which was raced by Jimmy Clark in America in 1967

Lorenzo Bandini had been killed the year before at Monaco, and Ferrari didn’t attend the 1968 race amid reports that the team was not happy with the safety standards at the circuit.  There was also a lot of political unrest in France at the time, and threats of a power cut meant the organisers borrowed generators to ensure they would not suffer the ignominy of the tunnel being plunged into darkness during the race. Graham Hill was on pole, 0.6 seconds ahead of the next fastest car. Johnny Sevox-Gavin was the first off the start, but Hill took the lead early after Servoz-Gavin suffered a driveshaft failure on lap three and crashed his Matra.  Hill then held on to the lead until the end.  Richard Atwood in his BRM gave Hill a fight for the win, setting a lap record on the last lap on the race and finishing only 2.2 seconds in arrears. They were the only two drivers on the lead lap, and just five drivers finished the race due to multiple accidents and mechanical failures.

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Lotus 49B being admired closely in Monaco

The 1968 Belgium GP saw the return of the Ferraris. They had put their time off to good effect as Chris Amon’s V12 was now sporting a rear aerofoil. This was more than just a curved covering over the engine. Instead, it was a slim expanse of scarlet that appeared to levitate above the rear wheels, the mass of engine exhaust pipes looking like an octopus seething beneath it. The first Ferrari to have the benefit of aero experimentation was Vittorio Jano’s 1961 246 SP Dino sports-car which was given a ducktail spoiler. Michael May arrived at Ferrari in 1962 as a consultant on Bosch direct fuel injection. He mentioned the function and success of the wing on his Porsche Spyder which he had tried to race with at the Nurburgring to Mauro Forghieri.  With the information gained from talking to May and the intelligence gained about the Lotus wing experiment in New Zealand, Forghieri got to work on their own interpretation of what might give some useful down-force to help them compete with Lotus.

Amon’s pace during the first practice on Friday morning clearly showed the effectiveness of the Ferrari’s high-flying addition.  At Spa, the high speeds meant that any extra rear down-force could add significantly to the stability of a car, without upsetting its overall balance. It was evident that the Ferrari had a spectacular advantage and Bruce McLaren had his mechanics fabricate a small spoiler in time for the Friday afternoon practice session, but with rain the following day, he was unable to further develop this into a high-flying wing like the Ferrari. Both Brabham’s also had fixed wings over the gearbox, but expensive and time-consuming engine issues sidelined them meaning they were unable to adequately assess the effectiveness of their new appendage. Due to heavy rain on Saturday, Friday practice times were used to determine the grid positions for the race…Chris Amon on pole with a lap time nearly four seconds faster than the next fastest car of Jackie Stewart. However, many drivers had had their running curtailed due to mechanical issues, and this was far from an accurate representation of actual race pace.

Spa Amon Wing

Jackie Stwart between two Ferraris

Amon fought a high-speed battle with John Surtees for seven laps before Amon was unfortunately forced to retire after stone punctured his radiator.  Four laps later, Surtees was out when his suspension collapsed.  Stewart was then in front with a commanding advantage, but on the second to last lap had to stop for more fuel because of a miscalculation of his fuel consumption. This put Bruce McLaren unknowingly in the lead as he was unaware that Stewart had had to pit.  It was McLaren’s first win, and Stewart came in fourth despite his late pit-stop. Bruce McLaren thought he had only finished second until he pulled up on the exit of the La Source hairpin to save himself the strain of another 14km cool-down lap. Rival BRM team chief mechanic Cyril Atkins ran up to him shrieking, “You crossed the line number one.” Bruce was momentarily confused as his McLaren car was carrying race number five. Then he got the point as Atkins continued to bawl; You’ve won! Didn’t you know?

McLaren Spa 1968

Bruce Mclaren at Spa

Six weeks later when the cars arrived at Brands Hatch for the seventh race of the season, the majority now sported both rear and front wings.  Race footage from the day shows the numerous varieties in the heights and sizes of the aerofoil on the stern.  The only two teams that were missing out on the fun were BRM and Cooper, misguidedly believing that their system of ducting air through the nose to hold it down would be sufficient.  Lotus and Honda attached their struts directly to the suspension uprights, Colin Chapman bragging that he was able to get 400 pounds of down-thrust onto the rear wheels.  Everyone else attached them to the chassis somewhere, compressing the springs with the resultant of the shock absorbers deleteriously affected. Always one step ahead of the competition, Chapman raised his wing by a further foot, now swaying a towering five feet high, so that it would be unimpeded by the turbulence being produced by the other cars.  Beltoise had a self-adjustable spoiler on the Matra, but he didn’t think it helped very much.

This was the Rob Walker Racing Team’s first year using the Lotus. Jo Siffert had crashed his Lotus 49 earlier in the year while practising for the non-championship Race of Champions, at Brands Hatch in March. He had been driving the late Jim Clark’s car, the same chassis Clark had used for his win in South Africa.  Not long afterwards the vehicle was destroyed by a fire at Walker’s racing workshop where it was being repaired. Siffert was now the proud owner of a Lotus 49B, complete with the latest in wings, but the car was not yet completed, and despite three mechanics working all night it wasn’t ready when the first practice session started. Siffert managed to get a few laps in with ten minutes to go, setting the eleventh fastest time. The car must have been fast out of the box because Siffert qualified it in fourth, just behind Graham Hill, and Jackie Oliver in the works Lotus team, and Chris Amon in his Ferrari.

Brands Hatch 1968

Jo Siffert (Lotus) leading Chris Amon (Ferrari) at Brands Hatch

Hill led the race until engine failure on lap 26 forced him to retire.  Jackie Oliver was forced retire on lap 43, leaving a closely fought duel between Chris Amon’s Ferrari and Jo Siffert’s Lotus. The Swiss driver held off Amon to win the race by four seconds as well as breaking the previous lap record.  It was the first victory for a car with elevated aerofoils.  Colin Chapman was there to offer his hearty congratulations to Siffert at the end of the race.

At the Belgium Grand Prix, Denis Jenkinson wrote, “Whether any of these devices had any real effect is debatable for the results depended entirely on the psychological effect on the drivers. Like contented cows, contented drivers drive well, and a driver convinced of the improved stability of his car would take the fast corners just that bit faster.” That theory didn’t last long.  The logic behind wings was to generate down-force. Just what configuration would work best was all presumption and supposition. The engineers merely made it up as they went along. They tried them big and small. They tried them high and low.  As they increased in size on the back, they then had to get more prominent on the front to even out the myriad of forces acting on the car. The ultimate effect on the car was all guesswork, a far cry from the supercomputers and wind tunnels of today. It might have all made sense at the time…or may it may all have just been arbitrary and accidental.

Graham Hill went on to win the title in 1968, and the Lotus 49 continued winning races until 1970. It would be inaccurate to say that it was due to its wings that Lotus won the 1968 championship.  It won because of the superiority of its Ford-Cosworth engine that Chapman had the foresight to make a stressed member of the chassis. It was also being piloted by a World Champion driver. Be that as it may, the Lotus 49B marks the divide between the pre-aerodynamic era of the sport and Formula One’s modern age.

Spyder with Wings: The Evolution of the 1961 Porsche 718/2

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“Intelligent people, when assembled into an organization, will tend toward collective stupidity.”

~Albrecht’s Law of Business~

Michael May strode down pit-lane…resolutely heading in the direction of the Ferrari garage. It was Saturday morning, and May’s promised car had not arrived for the 1962 Pau Grand Prix. He no longer had any illusions that Porsche had any intention of making good use of his talents. Ostensibly head hunted from Mercedes to help sort out fuel injection issues on Porsche’s forthcoming engine, May was instead unceremoniously shoved into a back room to twiddle his thumbs. Ferro Porsche had failed to correctly read the mood of his engineers. There was no way they were going to have some juvenile up-start show them up at their own game. Eventually, May was given the diversion of tinkering with the stopgap four-cylinder engine with which Porsche was making do until their cutting-edge eight-cylinder configuration was ready. The boss had assured him that if he could coax another twenty horsepower out of their ageing powertrain, he would be rewarded with the opportunity to drive it at a race. The Porsche engineers were confident he had no chance of success. They were wrong. But it was the engineers who packed up the machinery for the forthcoming race weekend. May had already embarrassed them in the workshop. They didn’t want him to embarrass them on the track. That was easily fixed. They didn’t bring his car.

May grew up in post-war Germany with an inventor and engineering father. He had easy access to tractors, bikes, cars, and, most importantly, a workshop filled with all the tools a practical and inquisitive youth might desire. He built boats. He rebuilt engines. He tinkered with motorcycles, dreaming of setting the world alight with new speed records. He demonstrated his latent engineering talent when, at the tender age of 22, he entered the 1956 Nurburgring 1000 with the lofty ambition of winning his class. His cousin, Pierre May, had bankrolled the car in exchange for being the second driver. Pierre evidently had more than a modicum of money to splash about as the aforementioned car was a Porsche 550 Spyder. However, its appearance was unlike any of the other numerous Porsches in the field. Perched over its mid-section was a sizeable expanse of silver metal, shaped like an unturned aeroplane wing with a winglet at each end. Not only that, it was able to be adjusted horizontally through a variety of angles, and so vary the amount of downward force exerted on the car. Correctly foreseeing that this alteration might cause some consternation in the paddock, he booked an appointment with Doctor Angel to discuss his bodywork variation. Angel headed up ADAC, the team in charge of setting technical regulations.  After examining May’s calculations and being given a practical demonstration of the wing in full flight, he gave it the green light.

In the end, it made no difference. No one said anything…to begin with…but that didn’t last long. By the close of the second day of practice, there was talk in abundance. With the track soggy and slippery, May’s car was in its element, clocking the 4th fastest time. Wolfgang von Trips, driving the highly tuned and tweaked Porsche factory entry, was a distant 20th. Porsche racing boss Huschke von Hanstein had no intention of allowing some second-rate privateer outdo them driving their own car. He got the wing banned on safety grounds. This wasn’t difficult as the tragedy of Le Mans the previous year was still fresh in everyone’s mind. The Mercedes involved had sported a flip-up air brake over the rear wheels, and it didn’t take much embellishment to strike abject fear into the hearts of the organisers over what weird metal objects attached to racing cars could potentially do to fellow racers or bystanders in the event of an accident.

1955 Porsche 550 RS Spyder 550-0031

May’s 550 Spyder with Wing
Photo: Sports Car Digest – Tim Scott

After a repeat experience later that year at Monza, Michael May arrived at the realisation that racing was neither a stable nor a reliable occupation – especially when your inventions were summarily banned. He proceeded to study engineering, writing his final thesis on direct fuel injection. Despite this change of direction from the practical to the theoretical, racing remained on his agenda. He competed in Formula Junior, winning the inaugural 1959 championship driving a Stanguellini. After graduating in 1960, he initially worked at Mercedes Benz before heading off to Porsche in the July of 1961. He was 26.

Fifteen years earlier Ernst Fuhrmann arrived at Porsche at the age of 28. His studies temporarily interrupted by WW2, he received his Doctorate of Machine Construction in 1950. In 1952 he was put in charge of the development of a new engine that would go on to be so successful that it would eventually bear his name…the Fuhrmann Engine. Porsche’s 550 sports-car chassis had been designed specifically for racing. To make full use of it, they now needed an engine to match.

The 547 was a four-cylinder, air-cooled, boxer engine…in other words…typically Porsche. Being aware of over-square and under-square engines, I initially thought that boxer meant square, like a box. Instead, it indicated that the two pairs of pistons were situated at 180 degrees and moved towards and away from each other, like two boxers hitting one another’s fists. It had four camshafts, each controlling either four intake or four exhaust valves, driven by an elegant and intricate network of bevel gears. The four combustion chambers had dual spark plugs…a fact which means a lot more to me now that it did a few weeks ago. Incredibly sophisticated, it took three weeks to build, and another 12-15 hours to painstakingly perfect the timing. Placed in a 550 Spyder, Umberto Magiloli piloted it to Porsche’s first overall race victory at the twisty 1956 Targa Florio…Magiloli the sole driver for the almost eight hours it took to finish the 720 km race.

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Porsche 550 Spyder/Fuhrmann 547 Engine –Hans Hermann drove it to a class victory at the 1954 Carrera Panamericana
Photo: Jennie Mowbray

The following year saw the return of the Formula 2 championship with engine size limited to 1.5 litres but no stated requirement for an open wheel chassis. Maybe it was just assumed that no-one would enter with a sports-car but if so, they were wrong. Porsche turned up for the 1957 German Grand Prix with three 550 Spyders…which looked like stately and elegant poodles compared to the sleek greyhounds that surrounded them.  It was a mixed race where both the Formula 1 and Formula 2 cars raced together. Porsche won their category…Edgar Barth finishing 12th overall and only one lap down…while Fangio overcame a 48-second deficit to pass Hawthorn for the lead on the final lap. It was the first Formula 2 win for Porsche and the last Formula 1 win for both Fangio and the Maserati 250.

1957 German Grand Prix

Carel de Beaufort in a Porsche 550 Spyder pursed by a couple of Maserati 250Fs at the 1957 German Grand Prix at the Nurburgring
Photo: Unattributed

All this was enough to entice Porsche to join the fray when, in October 1958, the new Formula 1 regulations were announced for the 1961 season. With engine capacity dramatically reduced from 2.5 litres to a mere 1.5 litres, it appeared to be a match made in heaven for Porsche. They spent two more years paddling around in the waters of Formula 2, and it seemed warm and inviting. Their 550 sports-car had evolved into the 718…sharing much of its DNA. This was then slimmed down into the single-seater 718/2. Porsche won the last five races of the 1960 Formula 2 season.

With ambitious plans for a faster engine and a slimmer, more streamlined chassis, at the dawn of the 1961 season, neither was yet in readiness. Their now ageing Fuhrman engine had held its own in Formula 2, but more would be needed if they were to have any hope of realising their high expectations for Formula 1.  Initially, they attempted to squeeze a bit more power out of their engine with fuel injection. This, however, had to be tempered with the substantial disadvantage of also making it unreliable. They quickly returned it to the old configuration; at least the original was capable of finishing a race.  Additionally, their chassis was far from streamlined. Despite the fact that its wheels had been released from its bodywork the genetics of its sports-car body was still clearly visible. An interim chassis (the long wheel-base 787) proved to be even more unwieldy and was discarded after only two races. As the season advanced, progress on their new engine stalled. With a fortune being sunk into its development, failure was not an option. Ferry Porsche had the brainwave that fuel injection would solve all their problems. It was at this point that Michael May came into the equation. But Porsche’s engineers didn’t agree. They didn’t want help. They could sort this out themselves.

Fuhrmann 547

Fuhrmann 547 Engine
Photo: Jennie Mowbray

Eventually, May requested permission to tinker with the old Fuhrmann engine. At least he wouldn’t be standing on anyone else’s toes as Ernst Fuhrmann had left Porsche in 1956. Already extensively developed, it was thought to be well beyond any hope of further improvement. The first issue that came to May’s attention was oil…there was far too much of it. Although an essential ingredient for reducing friction between parts in motion, too much lubricant became sticky and viscid, increasing resistance instead of the opposite as initially intended. This was not in the realm of “if a little is good, then more is better”. May plugged up the oil holes to decrease their diameter. The result was a drop in oil pressure from 8 to 1.5 psi…a surprisingly simple measure which resulted in a net gain of 8 hp.

Although ordinarily reliable, the engine had a limited life at peak power, only capable of sustaining maximum revs for a few minutes before hairline cracks started to emerge on the crankshaft. These then put the engine in danger of imminent failure. Development of a new crankshaft was far beyond the bounds of May’s much more modest objectives. What was needed was a way to enable the current one to take more stress and so improve the longevity of the engine.  As May remembered, “Maybe one year before, Degussa had invented and patented a new hardening methodology called “teniferen”. It’s a chemical-thermal treatment. Treated parts could take double the load of un-treated parts. So I took the disassembled crankshafts, went to Degussa and asked, “Could you please…?”

A cooler engine was a more reliable engine…its numerous seals and gaskets less likely to fail than at higher temperatures. Water cooling was more efficient than air cooling, but it was also more fragile. Air cooling had the advantages of being light and reliable, requiring much less maintenance. To improve the air cooling of the 547 May placed the second fan beneath the rotating fan. It was stationary and functioned to funnel the air directly onto each cylinder. Lastly, of course, he added fuel injection…after all, it was why Ferro Porsche had hired him the first place. The engine was now not only more powerful but also better able to use the horse-power available to it due to its improved longevity.

May invited the whole engine production team to see his upgrades in action. May remembered telling them, “’First we will warm up the engine.’ Then I said, ‘Let’s go to the peak torque,’ maybe 5000 rpm or something. Everybody knew I did not change the camshafts, so, after maybe 5 minutes when their engine would have already had blown up, I said, ‘Okay now let’s go to the power run.’ Maybe it was about 8200, which they never reached with their engine. And there it was, we had close to 200 horses. We left the throttle wide open for over 5 minutes.” They left like stray dogs with their tails between their legs. They could not believe it. Putting myself in their shoes, I can imagine that it must have been a very annoying experience. I realise that now, but back then I was so naïve, I thought they would be happy as they now had an alternative until their eight-cylinder became competitive…it would have been a 100% safe winner.”

On the Monday morning after the Pau Grand Prix, Michael May drove to Maranello and met with Enzo Ferrari…signing a contract in violet ink on the dotted line.  May replaced the Weber carburettors of Ferrari’s V6 156 engine with Bosch fuel injection, giving it a significant boost in power. May didn’t just help Ferrari with fuel injection. A few years later when Jim Hall was starting to experiment with wings on his Can-Am cars, May told Mauro Forghieri about his wing – and Forghieri listened.  Formula 1 would no longer be just engine and tyres and the rudimentary aerodynamics of a slim, sleek, lightweight chassis. It would also involve wings, growing ever bigger and more complex.

Ben Pon and Carel 1962 Dutch GP

Ben Pon #15 (Porsche 787) passing Carel de Beaufort #14 (Porsche 718/2) at the 1962 Dutch Grand Prix at Zandvoort…Pon crashed on the next lap…
Photo: Unattributed

Unlike his be-winged Porsche, May’s modified engine did get one, albeit brief, race outing – the 1962 Dutch Grand Prix at Zandvoort. Dutch racer Carel de Beaufort had his own privateer team – Ecurie Maarsbergen – his Porsche cars usually brightly clad in the distinctive orange livery of the Netherlands. The previous year Dutch sports-car driver Ben Pon had piloted a Porsche 356 at the 24 Hour of Le Mans, winning his class.  De Beaufort offered the 25-year-old entry to the Dutch Grand Prix, driving the unruly and uncompetitive Porsche 787 chassis, which had May’s modified Fuhrmann 547/3B engine ensconced in the rear. Carel de Beaufort finished 6th (ahead of the two works Porsche drivers), becoming the first Dutch driver to score points in Formula One. Ben Pon rolled his car on the second lap, and vowed never to drive a single-seater again…

Further Reading:

Michael May quotes from Interview with Joris Koning: http://porschecarshistory.com/michael-may-and-porsche-interview-356-registry-mag/

Porsche 718+804 – An Adventure into Formula One during the 1.5 Litre Era by Thomas Födisch, Jost Neßhöver, Michael Behrndt, Rainer Roßbach

Photo Credit:

Main Photo: Unattibuted

1997 European Grand Prix – Deadlock, Deceit and Disaster

“No violence, gentlemen — no violence, I beg of you!
Consider the furniture!”

~Arthur Conan Doyle – The Adventure of the Mazarin Stone~

Twenty years ago the European Grand Prix bought the 1997 season to a breathtaking finish. It would be the last Formula One race to be held at Jerez. The battle for supremacy had been tightly fought with the leading contenders for the title, Jacques Villeneuve driving for Williams and Michael Schumacher in a Ferrari, separated by a single point. The closeness between the two protagonists was further accentuated during qualifying when Villeneuve, Schumacher and Heinz Harold Frentzen in the second Williams, all put in identical qualifying laps of 1:21.072. Villeneuve had done it on his first run so was on pole, Schumacher on his second run, and Frentzen on his fourth and last attempt, so close, yet so far from achieving a pole position. Less than a second separated the top ten on the grid.

Schumacher had already acquired a reputation for pushing the boundaries of fair play if a championship, or even a race, was slipping out of his grasp. He was willing to discard any resemblance of gentlemanly behaviour if it could jeopardize a potential win. Prior to the race Max Mosely warned of dire consequences for any unsportsmanlike conduct, keen to nip in the bud any contemplation Schumacher may have had of trying to swing the odds in his favour.

An electric start catapulted Schumacher into the lead and he had already established a gap by the time the pack arrived at the first corner. Villeneuve spun his wheels on the start and was passed on the inside of the first corner by teammate Frentzen. Closely behind were the McLaren pair and the five cars seemed to be in a different league to the remainder of the field.

start

Once the chaos of the first corner subsided the first 20 laps settled into a prosaic procession, with Michael rapidly gaining five seconds on those trailing him. Frentzen sensibly let Villeneuve past on lap eight who then set his sights on the Ferrari ahead of him. Schumacher managed to maintain his advantage but over the next few laps Villeneuve pulled out four seconds on his teammate. Both Schumacher and Villeneuve appeared to be driving close to the limit…Villeneuve in attempting to catch Schumacher, and Schumacher trying to conserve his tenuous margin. The drivers behind them disappeared rapidly into the distance, Frentzen perhaps assisting by holding the McLarens in his wake to prevent Villeneuve being threatened by chasers from behind.

Schumacher boxed on Lap 20, and Villeneuve covered him by pitting the following lap. Suddenly the Williams strategy started to become clear. Frentzen had yet to pit and now Schumacher was stuck behind him. Schumacher could go faster but he couldn’t get past and Villeneuve had the opportunity he desperately needed to try to trim down the five second gap between them.

By lap 26 there was only fresh air separating the two rivals. Coming around the final corner onto the main straight Villeneuve’s rear wheels twitched sideways in his eagerness to get on the power, hoping for either the possibility of a pass or perhaps to entice an error from Schumacher. Finally there was a battle worth watching!

HakkininSchumacher had to bide his time behind Frentzen for what must have seemed like eternity before Frentzen eventually pitted on Lap 28 and with clear air in front on him Michael had the chance to try to reestablish his gap to Villeneuve. It was now that the back-markers started to come into play. All at once Jacques was three seconds behind. Had he pushed too hard and make a mistake or had he been held up by  back-markers? It wasn’t until later that I found out that Norberto Fontana had been sluggish in getting out of the path of the flying Villeneuve. As his Sauber was Ferrari powered there were accusations bandied about that Ferrari had intimated to their engine customers that some subtle aid might be looked at favourably when the time came for renewal of contracts…or maybe it was just sour grapes as it was only the Argentine driver’s fourth race.

Lap after lap flashed by, Villeneuve always there, always on the limit, the gap between the two challengers varying between 1.5 and 3 seconds. Would Schumacher remain cool and collected? Would Jacques push too hard and throw it all away? The cars behind them dropped further and further behind, no-one else able to match the pace the two leaders were setting.

Schumacher pitted for the second time on lap 43, revving impatiently while waiting for fuel and re-joining the race in second in front of the two McLarens. Villeneuve again followed a lap later, driving fast down pit lane. What was the speed limit? It looked so much faster than it is today. While returning to the track he crossed onto the large yellow crosshatched area to the right of pit lane, his foot planted flat, but despite this David Coulthard managed to just sneak ahead of him going into turn one. Is this going to give Schumacher the chance he has been hoping for to pull out some time on Villeneuve?

Villeneuve desperately tried to find a way past but Coulthard had a light fuel load as he had yet to pit. Villeneuve knows that every lap stuck behind is time lost that he will have to make up later. Fortunately for Jacques, Coulthard boxed the following lap. Despite being 2.5 seconds in arrears, within a lap Villeneuve had whittled this down to less than a second. Shortly afterwards his Williams appeared be attached to the rear of Schumacher’s Ferrari. They had both made their last pit stop and there was nothing but a couple of meters of air between them.

Jerez 2.jpg

It was on Lap 48 that Villeneuve mounted his attack. While going down the back straight towards turn six, he moved to the right and broke late, very late. Schumacher wasn’t expecting it and hadn’t been defending. Villeneuve now had the tighter inside line, his right front wheel bouncing on the curbing. Half way through the turn Schumacher suddenly veered right and hit Villeneuve mid chassis. Villeneuve kept going but Schumacher’s car speared off to the left, coming to rest in the gravel. Despite spinning his wheels his car remained stationary. No degree of mental willpower would be enough to make it budge.

Villeneuve was still running but slowed to assess the amount of damage done to his car. Schumacher removed his steering wheel and clambered out of his car, standing on the track wall until Villeneuve came past on the following lap. He was out of the race and Villeneuve was still circulating. He must have known he had thrown all chance of becoming World Champion away. Frank Williams stared blank faced at his monitor, his thoughts indiscernible. Commentator Martin Brundle, noting the deliberateness of the action said, “That didn’t work Michael, you hit the wrong part of him, my friend”.

Schumacher’s teammate Eddie Irvine commented that “Michael really screwed up because he got overconfident. He did his final pit stop, he thought “I’m there”. So he backed off, partly also because he was scared of blistering his tyres, but he let Jacques get too close. If there is one driver you don’t want to allow to get too close it’s Jacques…That move also for me deserved the world championship. There is not another driver on the grid who would have come from that far back to make that move. Because one thing Jacques did have was big balls.”

On the next lap Villeneuve did a slow 1:29.4, while David Coulthard in second was circulating in the 1:25’s. There was a difference of 11 seconds between them and 19 laps to the finish. Lap by lap the gap diminished. Nine seconds, eight seconds, seven seconds… second by second Coulthard was reeling Villeneuve in. And then the haemorrhaging of time abated, hovering at around six seconds for several laps.

With only five laps to go the back-markers came into play once again. Once more Villeneuve lost three seconds in a single lap and both McLarens were now hunting him down, their prey clearly in sight. On lap 67 Hakkinen passed Coulthard going down the main straight. On the final lap of the race Hakkinen was right on Villeneuve’s tail, and going through the Senna Chicane Villeneuve locked his rear wheels while Hakkinen passed him on the outside. Villeneuve then let Coulthard past on the last turn onto the main straight, not willing to risk the championship by fighting for a place.

Mika Hakkinen took the chequered flag for his inaugural win in Formula One after 96 races. He would go on to win the next two World Championships for McLaren. Villeneuve became the newly crowned World Champion, three points separating him and Schumacher. Despite spending another nine years in Formula One, he would never win another Grand Prix. To this day Williams has never won another championship title.

Podium_1997_Jerez_04_PHC

While watching the race, I assumed that Schumacher had got his just deserts for trying to force Villeneuve off the track while attempting to attain his 3rd World Championship title. No points for the race, no championship title, enough said. I was surprised when reading about the race later than the punishment would be much harsher. He was stripped of all his championship points, though the team still retained them and so came second in the Constructor’s Championship.

It was then I realized that there was a bigger picture that I had missed. Michael Schumacher hadn’t had a single occasion of attempting to win races and championships by any means at his disposal. He already had a reputation for being willing to win by fair means or foul. Schumacher came back from the ignominy of being called for cheating and would go on to win another five world championships. I am not well versed enough in F1 lore to know if his pushing the limits continued…but I suspect they did…if he thought there was a possibility he could get away with it.

That wasn’t the initial decision though. Immediately after the race the stewards concluded that that it had been a “racing incident”! It was enough to make you wonder about the backroom power that Ferrari was capable of wielding. Were the stewards actually capable of doing the job they were given or were they too susceptible to pressure, subtle or otherwise, from Ferrari? Max Mosely took the matter into his own hands. He had given the threat and he was going to carry it through and not even the displeasure of Ferrari was going to stop him. They had lost the World Championship anyway. After all, as Damon Hill once said, “Winning is everything. The only ones who remember you when you come second are your wife and your dog.”

Jackie Stewart summed it all up for me when he said, “I don’t believe that what Michael did in Spain was acceptable, nor that it should be tolerated. Even in the late ‘90s, there is room in motor racing for morals, for a sense of ethics. If we don’t have that, I don’t believe we have a sport anymore.”

The Season of Darkness – Singapore 2017

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”

Charles Dickens – A Tale of Two Cities

As the sun set behind the towering dome of the Singapore National Gallery, the heavy beat of drums echoed around the circuit. Brightly coloured banners fluttered in the cooling breeze. There were still threats of rain. Earlier in the afternoon a violent thunderstorm had soaked track and spectators alike. When the sun returned, the temperature quickly rose, the humidity ramped up and I happily sloshed about in my sandals on the soggy grass. But this was Singapore. Afternoon thunderstorms were the norm. Evening rain was unusual. The track would dry. The race would run. A Ferrari would (hopefully) win.

The last month has not been kind to Ferrari fans. I wasn’t forced to watch the complete domination of the silver cars over the scarlet at Monza as I was enjoying the ear-piercing shrieks of a mass of Ford Cosworth DFVs as they hurtled down the main straight of the Historic F1 race at Zandvoort. Last weekend I had to watch with dismay and disbelief as Kimi’s car was wheeled from the front row of the grid when it lost power before the race even started. It was unable to be resuscitated and spent the race parked forlornly and silently in its garage. At least there was some glimmer of hope as Seb made his way through the pack before being thwarted by a lack of fuel to continue his fight for a podium position. But I was in attendance at the Singapore race…which made it difficult to see anything positive about two Ferraris in tatters before they had got 100 meters down the road.

Singapore was a complete contrast to Spa which I had attended three weeks before.  A few hundred meters from the Raffles City Convention Centre we entered the circuit, crossed the track via an overpass and were met by a huge expanse of lush green grass. The irony struck me.  Spa had been a mass of concrete enclosed by a circle of olive green conifers. We had trekked to the track, traversing a muddy forest trail, a spicy aroma emanating from the pine needles being crushed under our feet.  Singapore was a circuit of twisting city streets. However, within that narrow strip of fenced and barricaded tarmac, was an oasis of verdant green. Domed buildings, church spires, and skyscrapers dotted the skyline. Spread about us were picturesque statues and picnicking families. It was like a stroll in a garden versus a trek in the wilderness.

It was already dark when we arrived at the track for qualifying. Despite the darkness it was hot and sticky…the mugginess of the air oppressive. The day before there had been wide open green spaces. Now there were massive crowds of people standing shoulder to shoulder. A band was playing on the nearby stage and most were ignoring the fact that a Porsche race was in progress. We could hear the car engines reverberate above the sound of the music. Singapore at night looked like a Christmas tree. The Singapore Flyer shimmered in multicolour splendour, spotlights illuminated the surrounding buildings, and brightly coloured lights dotted the edges of the circuit.

The Red Bull duo had been fast all weekend, but the Ferraris were close. Would it be Max or Seb on pole? Of course, Daniel could have pipped them both but Max has out-qualified Dan more often than not over the past year. We didn’t have to wait long to see the Ferraris as they were out first. All the cars did their first time and Ferrari was fast. But as the slower cars came out for their second flying lap the times began to drop…and drop by more than a second. The speed ramped up session by session…until Seb just pipped Max for the prize…at least the prize for quickest on Saturday which while good for bragging rights doesn’t actually mean anything.

On Sunday I sat gazing on the architectural wonder of the Singapore National Gallery. It captivated me as I watched it, first sparkling under bright sunshine and later under spotlights. I chose our seats to observe the beauty of the cars backlit by the beauty of the buildings. It was much easier to photograph the building than the cars because at least it stayed still! The sky above changed from bright blue to gradually increasing cloud cover. The clouds got darker and greyer. As the rain poured down the dome was barely visible through the onslaught. The thunderstorm passed but the clouds stayed, episodilly a few minutes of random rain drops would fall on us, letting us know that there was still a possibility of more to come.

We all know what happened on Sunday evening. But prior to the race there was a concert. Duran Duran filled in the two-hour gap usually spent waiting impatiently for the action to come.  The band had formed in 1978, and released their album Rio in 1982 – the year I finished high school. It was their only album that I knew well. I probably hadn’t listened to them since. At the time I wasn’t aware that they would be the highlight of the evening. As the band played, occasional glimpses of the setting sun could be seen between and behind the clouds. The crowd was noisily enthusiastic. Fathers held up small boys so they could see the stage above the people towering over them. Mothers showed their pre-teen girls how to dance. The girls, in turn, looked at their mothers in askance that they would make such an exhibit of themselves in public. They didn’t sing “Hold Back the Rain”…and maybe the rain wouldn’t have made any difference. I don’t believe it was the wet track that caused the first lap…first corner…first 100 meters…starting conflagration…

“And if the fires burn out there’s only fire to blame
(Hold back the rain)
No time for worry ’cause we’re on the roam again
(Hold back the rain)
The clouds all scatter and we ride the outside lane
(Hold back the rain)
Not on your own so help me please, hold back the rain

I knew when the rain started half an hour before the race that it wasn’t going to be good for Ferrari…their car more skittish and unwieldy in wet conditions. I knew having Max beside Seb was always going to be a danger. I knew that one or two cars could easily end up colliding over the first few corners, fighting for the lead. I never dreamed that Kimi would get such a rocket start, hurtling up the outside of Max and getting his nose ahead of him. Then the nightmare started. The battle was swift and complete, destructive and decisive. Both Ferraris mortally wounded followed by two hours of racing with Daniel’s underlying gearbox issue meaning he was unable to mount any sort of challenge to Lewis. A podium for Nico Hulkenberg, or even Fernando Alonso, would have helped my mood immensely but both were eventually forced out with mechanical issues and Niko now has the unwanted record of the most race starts without a podium.

I was fortunate to be sitting next to a Mexican Ferrari fan and her Scottish partner. She was enthusiastic and knowledgeable and knew every car and every driver. Most of the other women around us were looking on bemused as their respective partners tried in vain to explain the finer points of strategy. After the crash her partner disappeared. When he returned he had changed his scarlet Ferrari shirt for a golden Daniel Ricciardo one. He thought he would join us and become an honorary Australian as at least it meant he had someone to cheer for.

“…It was the worst of times…it was the age of foolishness…it was the epoch of incredulity…it was the season of darkness…it was the winter of despair….”

There was no wisdom, there was no belief, there was no light, there was definitely no hope…and there was no use wishing…

 

Storm in a Teacup: Spa-Francorchamps 2017

And now the rain!
The rain—thudding—implacable—
The wind, revelling in the confusion of great pines!

~Leonora Speyer – Squall~

The hands of my watch moved slowly but steadily. It was not quite three in the afternoon and ominous grey clouds billowed loftily above the dense stand of coniferous forest. The dull sky mingled and merged with the increasingly dull treetops. Initially the droplets of rain were cool and invigorating. Within minutes it felt like I was sitting under a waterfall as torrents of water cascaded over and around and under me. But the rain had come 48 hours too soon. Mid-race on Sunday afternoon Fernando Alonso would inquire hopefully if any rain was expected. The answer he got was, “No, no chance of rain”.

Instead, the rain made its sole appearance during the second practice session on Friday. Being well acquainted with the vagaries of weather in the Ardennes I came well prepared, bringing raincoat, poncho, and waterproof boots. I had snaffled up those boots at a sale one week prior to our departure overseas. They were an impulse buy – half price Merrill hiking boots – irresistible! They were big and bulky but I knew that if I left them at home I would likely be faced with three days of persistent rain at Spa. So I packed them. If I ran out of room for holiday purchases at least I would have a good excuse to buy another bag! The boots had already been worn in – a rainy day sloshing in the mud while watching World Rally cars slide sideways on thin ribbons of slippery tarmac while traversing verdant green vineyards in Germany. They now had an opportunity for a second excursion in the rain.

I put on my raincoat, followed by my rain poncho, educated by the obviously race savvy elderly couple in front of me. They positioned their ponchos over the back of their seats to prevent the disagreeable plight of sitting in the resultant puddle which resulted when water ran down the back of your jacket. I perched my handbag on top of my boots and under my poncho, exhilarated as the wind lashed and buffeted and the rain burst from the sky and encompassed me.

As our stand rapidly emptied, the majority woefully unprepared for inclement weather, my husband surveyed our surroundings: a covered stand to our left, another to our right, with a third directly across the track from us. Maybe he had good reason to question my sanity as to why I had booked the only stand in the near vicinity that would leave us naked and exposed to all that the weather gods could throw at us. My excuse – this one had the best view! If I was going to travel half-way around the world to attend a race, the least I could have was the best view available. Closer to the track than the other three stands, the cars could be seen emerging from the La Source hairpin far to our right. They proceeded to make their way downhill towards Eau Rouge, smacking the left-hand curb before accelerating past us, heading upwards and onwards through Raidillon before disappearing over the crest with only the sound of their engines enabling us to follow their progress around the track. I wanted to see for myself prodigious speed of the cars, hear the sound of tyres angrily thumping the curbs, and be awed by the magnificent panorama of thin ribbons of black track dwarfed by the grandeur of forest and sky.  It did lack a good view of the screen – but a view of the cars had precedence over what you could watch by remaining at home and watching the race on TV.

Prior to the first spots of rain making their appearance, the drivers had all emerged, one by one, for their qualifying simulation. We knew then that rain was a certainty. The Haas cars were a little slower than the rest to return to the pits when the rain started but it was shortly obvious to all that this was not going to be a mere sprinkle. Only Daniel Ricciardo and Fernando Alonso emerged on intermediate tyres to “play in the puddles”. However, there was too much standing water to have much fun and they quickly returned to the pits, an early finish to Friday practice. Within half an hour the storm had passed and we lingered to watch the spectacle of the F2 cars qualifying on a still sodden track.

When we arrived early on Sunday morning mist still wafted between the trees. The air was refreshingly cool, the seats sopping wet, and only the diehard fans were in the stands soaking up the atmosphere with over an hour to wait before the first car was due to make its appearance. I strolled about the near empty grandstand, savouring the aura of Eau Rouge. I didn’t choose the position expecting to see much action. The cars of today are more than able to go flat out through the elevation changes and rapid turns from left to right and back again. But I did expect to see the cars go faster than I had ever seen them go before.

Race day started with GP3. Giuliano Alesi, seventeen-year-old son of Jean Alesi, was second on the grid having had finished seventh in the longer race the day before. He took the lead from the start and was never bettered. Watching those smaller and simpler versions of Formula 1 cars attempt to navigate Eau Rough three wide was captivating. They all managed to get through unscathed but an engine did blow up directly in front of us with its pilot forced to park next to our grandstand. I looked on jealously as numerous small boys rushed over to gaze with unabashed admiration at the car and its unlucky driver, but decided that it has been a long time since I could get away with behaving like someone only a fraction of my age.

In the F2 race we saw McLaren development driver Nobuharu Matsushita overcook it going through Raidillon and crash into the barrier on the right-hand side in a copycat accident to Keven Magnusson’s last year. There was also the entertainment of watching future Ferrari hopeful Charles Leclerc slowly make his way through the field from the back of the grid following his disqualification for technical irregularities on his car the previous day. Ultimately he had to be satisfied with 5th place. The next action was during the Porsche Supercup where some argy-bargy heading up Raidillon resulted in a spinning Porsche that somehow managed to keep off the barriers on either side.

The Formula 1 race started as expected with the two drivers on the front line slotting into first and second places respectively. There was little chance under normal conditions that Sebastian Vettel would be able to pass Lewis Hamilton with straight-line speed. What was needed was something to shake up the race a bit…but that something wasn’t going to be rain. The only early excitement was Kimi Raikkonen not paying enough attention to the double waved yellow flags for yet another mechanical failure for the luckless Max Verstappen, so we got to see Kimi pass several cars after serving his ten second stop/go penalty.

Instead of the hoped-for rainstorm, it was a storm in a teacup that suddenly enlivened the race. I had been watching and waiting, not sure where the race was going to go from here. Everyone had done one pit stop, but I was unsure who would need to do a second. I suspected Daniel Ricciardo would have to stop again, but it was possible that Lewis or Seb could make it to the end. It can be very difficult to work out strategy options on the fly while at a race. The little of commentary that we could hear was alternating between English, French, and Dutch. The rest was drowned out by the cars hurtling by. The screen was largely unintelligible due to distance and the wire fence crosshatching.

The Force India drivers didn’t need rain. They created their own storm. Both wanted to be first…but only one driver could be. The one that was in front thought he deserved to be there. The one behind didn’t agree. As they rounded La Source I was unaware that they had already made contact while fighting for the ascendancy. Side by side they headed downhill towards Eau Rouge, tyres squealing. Perez ran wide off the track in front of us but it was already done and dusted as he was mortally wounded from his unwillingness to give his teammate room. Out came the safety car and the possibility for pandemonium always possible on a restart.

As the safety car came in Hamilton maintained his lead while rounding the hairpin but Vettel was right behind him. As they flashed past they were both on the limit. The gap was small, smaller than we’d seen the whole race. There was a chance for Sebastian to get past. As they headed up over Raidillon I squinted at the blurry images on the screen. Seb was in Lewis’s slipstream. He moved to the left and was almost even, but then they both braked for the corner and Hamilton was still ahead. Behind them Daniel and Kimi passed Bottas, one going left and the other right. And that was the position in which they all finished the race, Sebastian just over two seconds behind Lewis. It could have been much worse on a track that I had assumed would greatly favour the Mercedes.

As for Eau Rouge…probably Michael Schumacher’s statement sums up best what it’s like to drive and why it’s such an iconic stretch of tarmac. “Spa is a circuit steeped in tradition and to drive around it from sections like Eau Rouge, Blanchimont, and so on releases some special feelings; feelings of enormous satisfaction and confirmation of your ability to control the racing car at the limit and in doing so to be extremely challenged. Because in the cars back then, not quite so much now, to drive through Eau Rouge in them was simply sensational. The cars were so squashed together and then in the next moment they practically took off as you drove over the crest and doing that at the limit it was like it probably is doing a top level juggling act on a high wire so it was really an enormous sensation and at the same time when you have the feeling you are going to manage it that’s the greatest confirmation, the greatest feeling a racing driver can have.”

 

The Jones Dynasty – A Chip off the Old Block

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Longford Crop

“I believe that what we become depends on what our fathers teach us at odd moments, when they aren’t trying to teach us. We are formed by little scraps of wisdom.”

~Umberto Eco – Foucault’s Pendulum~

 

The musty aroma of stale beer wafted through the Country Club Hotel. It was late in the afternoon and the carpeted room was dim. Muffled sounds of murmuring voices and clinking glasses drifted in from the adjoining bar.  On prominent display was a large and grainy, black and white photograph. It depicted two cars…almost side by side…one with air visible beneath all four wheels, giving every appearance that it was endeavouring to imitate a rally car. It was the last lap of the 1959 Australian Grand Prix. The two drivers had just negotiated a hard right turn, in the process circumnavigating the very building I was standing in. The lead car was driven by Stan “The Man with a Plan” Jones, father of Alan Jones, the 1980 Formula One World Champion.  Hot on his heels was Len Lukey. Looking out of the window next to the photograph a railway crossing could be seen in the distance…the exact same railway crossing…

I was at Longford, once the home of the Australian road circuit that rivalled Reims and the Nurburgring for speed and danger. Four tight right hand turns, three seemingly unending straights, two slippery and rickety wooden bridges, and one terrifying chicane under an immense and immovable brick viaduct.  It also had a railway crossing that routinely caused the cars that traversed it to become airborne. Practice was suspended to allow the regular trains to go through. Races were timed so as not to coincide with the train schedule as those in charge of the railway were unwilling to alter the timetable for man, weather…or racing.

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Stan Jones’s racing career had taken off in 1951 when he obtained the first Maybach Special…and the car was certainly special. Its designer and maker Charlie Dean was an avid racer, keen to build his own machine to pit against the other home-grown “Specials” that made up a significant proportion of the racing population in Australia just after World War Two. With imported race vehicles prohibitively expensive as well as in short supply, those on the quest for pace and manoeuvrability would extract a Ford V-8 from the unwieldy “tank” that engulfed it, transplanting it into sleeker, more tractable surroundings, such as that provided by a 1920’s Lancia Lambda.

Dean had constructed his first car at the age of 17, a three wheeled contraption powered by a motorcycle engine, its single rear wheel chain driven. He was far ahead of his time as he also built an electric powered truck. Unfortunately the market had not yet developed much interest or enthusiasm in alternative form of powering locomotive devices. After spending the war years in the Engineering Corps, he established Replex, specializing in manufacturing industrial size transformers as well as servicing automotive electrical components.

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Demag Half-track Troop Carrier – Can you see the racing car hiding inside?

The construction of the  “Maybach Special “ commenced in 1946 when Dean discovered a Demag armoured carrier in a war surplus wrecking yard…not exactly what I would have had in mind if I had been thinking of building a racing car. The wreck had been shipped to Australia from the deserts of North Africa for “technical examination.” Fortunately the engine hadn’t been examined so closely that it was no longer functional as Dean didn’t actually want the whole vehicle. An outlay of forty pounds furnished him with a prime example of precision German engineering…a 3.7 Litre Maybach engine with 6 cylinders, SOHC and water cooled…in its raw state able to put out 100 bhp. But it wasn’t going to stay in that state for long.  After rebuilding the engine to enable it to deliver even more power, Dean fabricated a tubular frame to form the basis of the chassis. In it he placed a Fiat 525 gearbox with a steering-box from a Jeep.  This was followed by Studebaker front suspension, wheels and brakes and Lancia rear wheels, brakes and axle. The metal that covered the frame was salvaged from the fuel belly tanks of an army plane…the tanks themselves ironically constructed by Ford.

Shortly after the acquisition of his Maybach engine, Dean sold his business to Repco, staying on as manager. This gave him more time to devote to his hobby of building cars…and then racing them. Those may have been simple days when you could collect odds and ends from every kind of vehicle imaginable and built a race winning car, but just like today the development of the Maybach was constant and ongoing. Over the course of the next few years the car eventually started to harness the speed and reliability required for success.

During 1950 Repco appointed Charlie Dean to head up “Repco Research”, a development and test bed for their new products. This promotion, along with increasing family commitments, started to impinge on Charlie’s available spare time for racing and for a nominal sum the Maybach Special was handed over to Stan Jones. Repco appreciated the publicity the Maybach gave them, its success on the track perfect for advertising the superiority of their merchandise for the everyday motorist. It also gave them a way to evaluate and test under extreme conditions many of their components and the car continued to have full Repco support behind it.

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Maybach Special Mk 1                       (Photo: Ultimatecarpage.com)

The highlight of the Maybach’s career was its win at the 1954 New Zealand Grand Prix at Ardmore, a race in which my father-in-law was in attendance as a marshal. Stan was lucky to even get to the starting line on Saturday. During practice on Friday his car had sustained what appeared to be a terminal event when a broken connecting rod punched a hole through the crankcase. It was impossible to fly in replacement parts from Australia in time for the race and not surprisingly there were no German tank engines languishing in any of the local junk yards. Stan went to bed that night and slept soundly in the knowledge that there was no possible way he would be an active participant in the race the following day.

His mechanics toiled tenaciously throughout the night, ingeniously paring back a connecting rod from a GM truck to the correct weight and fit, machining a new cylinder liner and patching the crankcase. The resurrected engine coughed into life shortly before eleven the next morning…and just over three hours later Stan started the race from fourth on the grid with strict instructions not to go over 4,500 rpm. Ahead of him were three overseas competitors, all in possession of superlative examples of European engineering excellence, at least when compared to the locally made “Specials”. On pole was British driver Ken Wharton, the sound of his BRM P15’s supercharged V16 engine reverberating around the track like a screeching banshee, drowning out his quieter and more retiring rivals. Next to him was another Brit, Peter Whitehead, piloting a V12 supercharged Ferrari 125 F1. There were also three Cooper-Bristols. Two were driven by British drivers; Horace Gould who was in third and Fred Tuck further down the grid. The third Cooper was in the hands of Stan’s compatriot Jack Brabham who was shortly to head overseas to the United Kingdom to attempt to break into Formula One.

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The Maybach on race morning…will it start?                                                (Photo: Malcolm Preston)

Whitehead got the advantage over Wharton as the flag dropped for the start of the 100 lap race. The BRM’s V16 was prone to stalling at 7,000 revs and fruitlessly spinning its tyres at 9,000; flawless coordination necessary to keep it at the ear-splitting 8,000 revs required for the perfect start. Whitehead’s lead was short-lived when the BRM screamed past the Ferrari on the back straight.  Shortly afterwards Jones passed Gould in his Cooper for third.  Then on lap thirteen Whitehead spun his Ferrari. Although he managed to restart, his race was shortly bought to a halt when his clutch disintegrated, resulting in small pieces of metal flying through the cockpit. His only injury was a small cut above his eye – it could easily have been much worse. By quarter race distance the whole field had been lapped by the three front-runners of Wharton, Jones and Gould. An opportune shower of rain then helped to narrow the gap between Wharton and the pair in pursuit behind him.

Jones took the lead on lap 45 when Wharton came in for fuel and tyres, but it took only half a dozen laps before Wharton easily passed him to reclaim first place. It was lap 58 when puffs of smoke began to emanate ominously from the front of the BRM under heavy braking.  This was due to vaporising brake fluid and he required an urgent and unscheduled pit stop to disconnect his terminally overheating front brakes, leaving only the gears and rear brakes as poor excuses for stopping power. Re-joining after an eternal three minutes in the pits, Wharton was able to recapture second place but catching Jones in front of him was a step too far.  After two hours and 45 minutes of racing Stan Jones took the chequered flag for the win…53 seconds ahead of Wharton in his ailing BRM.  I’m sure Charlie Dean was shocked that the Maybach’s bodged together engine actually survived until the end of the race!

Eventually it became more expensive to continue development of the Maybach Special than it was just to procure an already tried and tested European racer. Early in 1957 Stan gave in to the inevitable and Charlie Dean headed to Modena, purchasing a Maserati 250F for 10,000 pounds…the deal also including a spare engine. It was the chassis raced by Jose Froilan Gonzales in the 1956 Argentine Grand Prix, out after 25 laps with an engine failure. Stan’s nine year old son Alan was in attendance on the Melbourne docks when the car was extricated from its protective packaging and he later remembered his disappointment that though the car was red…and Italian…it wasn’t a Ferrari…which he thought would have been a far preferable option!

Despite lacking the innate glamor of Ferrari, the Maserati 250F was the ideal car for the competitive privateer. Easy to set up and exquisite handling, its only hiccup being that it was designed around the gentle hands of Juan Manuel Fangio and most of its other pilots weren’t as kind to fragile mechanical objects as he was. It had won its first race when Fangio piloted it to victory at the 1954 Argentine Grand Prix, capitalising on its handling advantages in the marginal weather conditions. It went on to take the honours for the 1957 World Championship for Fangio and it was still there for the last race of the 2.5 litre era in 1959. Sterling Moss had used it to get his first podium at the 1954 Belgium Grand Prix and so demonstrate his latent talent to Mercedes and Stan Jones had wielded it to good effect to become the 1958 Australian Champion. The 250F deserves an article all on its own…there isn’t enough space here to do it justice!

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Race Day                 (Photo: Walkem Family/ Ellis French)

The 1959 Australian Grand Prix took place at Longford…its first appearance there. The race was held on a Monday, bureaucracy obviously having the upper hand in Tasmania as their “Sunday Observance Act” meant that no racing could take place on Sunday. After two race heats on Saturday to determine qualifying order for the big race on Monday, everyone could party on Saturday night with Sunday to recover…a bit like Monaco today when Friday is the day off and everyone can let their hair down on Thursday night. Young Alan Jones wagged the day off school to watch his father race. Stan was the reigning Australian champion after all – though he had yet to achieve his goal of winning the Australian Grand Prix.

Doug Whiteford had won the first heat on Saturday in his Maserati 300S sports car. Stan Jones’s Maserati 250F had won the second heat, but his race time had been almost twenty seconds quicker than that of Whiteford, thus giving him pole position. The railway crossing saw action very early. Whiteford had just passed Len Lukey, driving a 2 litre rear-engined Cooper-Climax, for second, and had accelerated hard to try to catch Jones who had shot into the lead. Whiteford’s car became air-born as it traversed the tracks at  speed. The 300S weighed 110 kg more than then 250F but utilized identical suspension. Not surprisingly this extra weight, combined with a full tank of fuel, resulted in the complete collapse of the rear of the car when it “crash landed”. Oil went everywhere, including under Len Lukey’s wheels, and he was lucky to keep his car on the road and pointing in the right direction.

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Lukey leading Jones through Pub Corner                                                                              (Photo: oldracephotos.com – Ed Steet)

With Whiteford’s Maserati already out of the equation the race was then a battle to be fought out between Jones and Lukey. It would be one of the last head to head battles between rear and front engines before the former rendered the latter completely obsolete. They each had different strengths and weaknesses in regard to handling through the tight right hand bends and speed down the runway like straights and all in all there was little to pick between them. Several lead changes along with some good Australian argy-bargy while going through the corners meant there was no way to foretell the outcome until they both took the chequered flag. After 25 laps, 175 km and nine years of trying Stan Jones won the Australian Grand Prix a mere 2.2 seconds in front of Lukey’s Cooper. Twenty-one years later Stan’s son Alan would win the 1980 Australian Grand Prix driving his championship winning Williams FW07 to victory at the Calder Park Raceway. Unfortunately Stan was not there to witness his son’s success as, after suffering several strokes, he had died in 1973 at the age 49.

Longford remains a small and sleepy country town. The deserted roads are edged by eucalyptus trees and rusty barbed-wire fences. Lush green fields, dotted white with grazing sheep, stretch out into the distance on either side. Dust and leaves blow lazily across the tarmac. Although most of the roads that formed the original track still survive, the modern motorway dissecting it in two, combined with the demise of the now ancient wooden bridges, means driving a complete lap is no longer possible. Being late in the afternoon my children were keen to continue on to our destination and I had to settle with what I could imagine looking out of the window. We headed back to the car, did a U-turn, traversed Pub Corner at a pedestrian rate, and headed sedately over the now obsolete railway track…no possibility that the wheels of our ponderous Mitsubishi Pajero would be leaving the pavement…

“Time it was and what a time it was
A time of innocence
A time of confidences
Long ago it must be
I have a photograph
Preserve your memories
They’re all that’s left you”

Simon and Garfunkel ~ “Bookends”

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(Photo: Ellis French)

Photo Credits: Featured Image – Charles Rice

Further Reading: Maybach to Holden: Repco, The Cars, People and Engines by Malcolm Preston

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1998 Tyrrell 026 – Remembering the Old Days

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 “Perhaps – I want the old days back again and they’ll never come back, and I am haunted by the memory of them and of the world falling about my ears. ”

~Margaret Mitchell – Gone with the Wind~

1998 would be Tyrrell’s last year in Formula One.  Even before the first race Ken Tyrrell had sold the team to British American Tobacco.  New team manager, Craig Pollock, chose Brazilian driver Ricardo Rosset to be Tora Takagi’s teammate.  Tyrrell had wanted to hire Jos Verstappen instead and he quit the team when Rosset was hired.

Ricardo Rosset was a Brazilian driver who was heir to a successful female underwear and bikini business which gave him plenty of money to fund his Formula 1 undertaking.  However, he’d had significant success prior to F1 in International Formula 3000 qualifying on pole and winning his first race…becoming the first ever to win on his F3000 debut…and eventually finishing second in the championship.

Even though he gave the appearance of real talent it was his money that was his major attraction in Formula One.  In his first season in 1996, driving for Arrows, he was consistently out-paced by his teammate Jos Verstappen. The cash-strapped team did very little testing and put no further money or development into the car.

In 1997 Rosset got a drive for Lola who was woefully under-prepared for the season.  Their cars had never even seen a wind-tunnel and they only competed at the first race in Melbourne (where they were 12 seconds behind pole and failed to qualify under the 107% rule) before quitting for the rest of the season.

He managed to get back into Formula 1 in 1998 driving for Tyrrell (although the team had already been sold and would become BAR the following year) as his significant sponsorship backing was essential in balancing the team’s precarious budget.  They scored no points over the 1998 season and their best finish was a 8th by Rosset in Canada. This was Rosset’s last season in Formula One. He failed to qualify under the 107% rule five times that season, the only driver to do so.

Prior to Tarso Marque’s DNQ at the British GP in 2001 he was the last driver to DNQ because of the 107% qualifying rule.

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Murray Walker and Martin Brundle, on discussing Rosset’s place in F1:

Murray –  “A lot of people here are really debating whether Ricardo Rosset is Formula One material.

Brundle – “Well, it’s a fairly short debate, Murray.

After Formula One Rosset returned to racing in the 2009 Brazilian GT3 Championship, partnering Brazilian Walter Salles.  At the end of the season they had won four times and were second in the overall standings.

BAR team manager Craig Pollock worked as a teacher and was director of sport at the College Beausoleil in Switzerland where he became friends with a young Jacque Villeneuve who had been sent to the school following the death of his father.   In 1993 Villeneuve asked Pollock to become his manager.  Villeneuve got a F1 drive with Williams in 1996 and took the championship crown the following year.

In 1998 Craig Pollock persuaded British American Tobacco boss Tom Moser to bankroll a F1 team and he bought Tyrrell Racing for 26 million dollars.  In 1999 Tyrrell became BAR and they signed up Villeneuve for their debut season.  Their world champion driver only managed to finish four races for the season with a best place finish of 8th – only marginally better than Rosset had managed the season before…maybe it was the car that was the problem and not the driver…

1991 Jordan 191 – Poetry in Motion

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“She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that’s best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes;
Thus mellowed to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.”

  ~Lord Byron~

The car was black. It wasn’t gleaming ebony, a gorgeous vision of beauty sparkling under multiple spotlights. Nor was it staid and sensible matte charcoal, a futile attempt to camouflage any possible aerodynamic advantages. Instead it was crude carbon fibre, a blank canvas ready and waiting for any willing sponsor to promote their wares. And that was the problem. There were no sponsors…none at all.

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It was an inauspicious start. The media had been invited to Eddie Jordan’s premises at the Silverstone circuit to view his inaugural entry for the 1991 Formula One season. Jordan Grand Prix may have had no sponsors, but at least the car had wheels – shod with highly desirable Goodyear rubber. They also had their hard bargained for Ford engine prominently displayed in pride of place – proving definitively to all doubters that they had indeed acquired a competitive source of forward propulsion.  This couplet of essential components had required every ounce of wheeling and dealing skills that Eddie Jordan had perfected over his time in the lower formulae. New teams usually had to accept uncomplaining whatever was available after everyone else had chosen. Despite this journalist Jabby Crombac was not impressed. He wrote, “Why do they even bother? They can’t even afford to paint the car.” There was more than a fragment of truth to this statement but it was like a red rag to a bull to Eddie Jordan. Why was he bothering? Well he’d show him…

A little over a year before Jean Alesi had won the 1989 International Formula 3000 title, driving for Eddie Jordan Racing. After ten years participating in Formula 3 and Formula 3000, Jordan had managed to accrue a bank balance of five millions pounds. He could think of no better way to make use of his savings than to fund a foray into the rarefied atmosphere of Formula One. He was very fortunate that his wife agreed…I’m sure there are many who wouldn’t!  It was Christmas Eve of 1989 and Jordan had other things on his mind than the usual holiday fare of festivities and good cheer. Gary Anderson received an unexpected phone call, inviting him to design the first Jordan Grand Prix car.

Gary Anderson had made his way to the mainland from Northern Ireland at the age of 20, initially with dreams of car racing.  Even racers need something to eat and somewhere to sleep and to provide the needed funds for these essential activities he worked as a mechanic in the Brabham Formula 3 team. Promotion into the Brabham Formula 1 team resulted when he impressed Bernie Ecclestone with his ability to single-handedly lift the hefty 138 kg Ford-Cosworth engine…obviously a highly valued and sought after skill. He utilised his time well, watching and learning all he could from head designer Gordon Murray, and was rapidly elevated to the distinguished position of chief mechanic.

Anderson left Brabham in 1976 to go back to Formula 3, this time designing his own car with Tyrrell mechanic Rob Simpson. They built and raced the Anson SA1 but a lack of sponsorship dollars meant they ran out of funds to continue and he was forced back into Formula 1, this time as chief mechanic at McLaren. After two years he had a short spell at Ensign before returning to Formula 3 where he spent another five years designing the Anson chassis for competition in the various championships worldwide.

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1984 Anson SA4 which Franz Konrad used to win the German Formula 3 championship

Anderson then took a break from the constant financial strain that was an inherent part of design and construction and headed across the pond to gain more experience as chief engineer for the Galles Indycar team. This was followed by a return to Europe to act as technical director at Bromley Motorsport in International Formula 3000. Their driver was Roberto Moreno who won the 1988 championship driving a Reynard. Adrian Reynard then asked Anderson to design his chassis for the following year, and this is when the paths of Eddie Jordan and Gary Anderson converged.  Jean Alesi won the 1989 Formula 3000 championship in the Anderson designed Reynard 89D. No wonder Anderson was the first person that Eddie Jordan rang to offer the job of designing Jordan Grand Prix’s first chassis!

Eddie Jordan later said that “Garry was the biggest possible factor in Jordan’s entry in F1. The man’s a genius. He didn’t believe in himself enough to realize how good he was. We’d have heated discussions – two Irishman in one room, one big, one small – but we always emerged without any blood on the carpet!”

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Jean Alesi driving the 1989 Reynard 89D at Brands Hatch

Three people formed the technical department at the infant team…at Ferrari there would have been more personnel responsible for creating the end plate of the front wing! Mark Smith designed the transmission, Andrew Green the suspension, and Gary Anderson the bodywork and aerodynamics.  First on the agenda was a clean and quiet place to work. This was provided by a mezzanine office built above the workspace. He then utilised the unsophisticated but highly effective tools of paper, pencil and ruler to design the smooth, sleek lines of the now instantly recognizable Jordan 191.

With every dollar spent only after much agonizing thought, there was no room for imaginative flights of fancy. Simplicity and easy set up were of prime importance; as a new team they would have to run the gauntlet of pre-qualifying. Their goal was to harness reasonable speed with minimal fuss.  Wind tunnel testing cost 1500 pounds…per day! Jordan balked at the thought of throwing that many pound notes into thin air, but Anderson insisted. Just a few days…just to be sure.  It would be worth every pound.

Gordon Murray said in the book “The Art of the Formula One Car” that “Garry Anderson was my chief mechanic for years and years. It’s no wonder this is such an intuitive piece of design. Our early Brahams didn’t go near a wind tunnel; everything was done with wool tufts stuck to the car at tests. Garry would have been comfortable designing it by eye with limited tunnel time. It’s very balanced and elegant – and beautifully simple. “

Eddie’s savings…followed by his overdraft…had paid for everything so far but without sponsors they were never going to be able to afford to fly everyone and everything to the first race. To give Eddie Jordan his due, he thought he had a sponsor. Jean Alesi’s winning steed in 1989 had been canary yellow and emblazoned with Camel sponsorship. Jordan had what he thought to be a verbal agreement with Camel and was under the impression that they were going to continue their relationship into Formula 1.  Camel had left Lotus and as far as Jordan was aware there only remained the fine details of the contract to resolve.

But Jordan was no longer in the family-like world of Formula 3000, where you gave your competitor’s mechanics a lift to the next race. They were now struggling to keep from being rapidly eaten alive in the Piranha Pond environment of Formula 1. Flavio Briatore and Benetton had the savvy and experience to entice Camel away from Jordan, and get the money into their own pockets. They argued that Benetton had more to offer, much more. As the “works” Ford team, they could give Camel far superior exposure for their investment. Jordan Grand Prix were unlikely to be anywhere except struggling at the rear of the grid, lucky to even finish races, while Benetton would be fighting with the big boys for podiums…and even the occasional win. Camel knew what it was like to be struggling in the midfield with Lotus…and they didn’t want to be there again. They went with Benetton.

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Just as well that Eddie Jordan was exceptional at thinking fast and talking even faster. Seven-up was the most popular drink in Ireland…outselling Coke and Pepsi. With a brain wave of genius he proceeded to woo them. Any money was better than nothing so he didn’t aim high. Once he had a major sponsor on-board he knew that lesser names would fall into place behind them, the amounts continuing to add up. First he had to sell the idea of the sport to the diverse board of 7-up, who needed unanimous agreement for the deal to go ahead. Unsurprisingly many thought that sponsoring motor racing was the same as watching your money disappear into a bottomless pit in the ground. He painted a vivid picture of the advantages available to the astute sponsor. Corporate boxes at the races, mixing with the elite of the business world and the benefits of world-wide exposure of their product. Their logo would appear immensely more eye-catching at high speed than it would on an immobile billboard.

Jordan was pleasantly surprised when they quickly came to an agreement…1.1 million pounds. It was at least a start. It also provided a colour for the car…green. There was no colour more appropriate for an Irish team. He then had the brainwave that maybe Ireland could be even more prominently displayed on the car. Off Jordan went to baffle the Irish tourism board with Irish blarney. It was the first Irish Grand Prix team. Wouldn’t they like to advertise Ireland to the world…and pay for the privilege of course! The luck of the Irish was on Jordan’s side. They did. Another million pounds made its way into Jordan’s bank account. In one short week he had managed to accrue over 2 million pounds. The team could now afford to go racing!

The change in colour resulted in a new difficulty.  Kodak had been interested but they balked. Green was the colour of their biggest competitor. Despite Eddie promising to paint the rear wing yellow they were not impressed. The rest of the car looked like Fuji, who was their main competition. That gave Jordan an idea. Catching a plane for Tokyo, he took a model of the green car with a (slightly larger than it should have been) green rear wing…perfect for Fuji to advertise their merchandise. His quest for money was aided by the fact that the Japanese were exceptionally keen on Formula One.  After four days of wining and dining as only Japanese businessmen can, the deal was made. This time 1.4 million pounds was added to the bank balance.  Last, but not least, driver Andrea de Cesaris bought with him an essential 3.5 million of Marlborough money.

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Ian Hutchinson, responsible for the livery of the 1986 Silk Cut Jaguar, was given free rein with the visual presentation of the Jordan 191. Hutchinson said that “It was the easiest shape I’ve ever had to work with. What I’m hoping is that it will go down as one of the Gold Leaf Lotus type of liveries.” I think he achieved his ambition! Two tone green with blue sidepods – the car looked as stunning as the emerald fields and sapphire seas of Ireland. Even when the car was sitting stationary in the garage it looked like it was moving but at speed it was spectacular.

On January 31, 1991 the sponsorship deals were announced and their beautiful two-tone green car was revealed to the public. Jordan Grand Prix was the real deal. They had the premier Goodyear tyres, a Ford engine, 7-up sponsorship, and a country – Ireland – advertised on their car.  Now they just had to qualify!

They struggled at the first race…their Ford engine causing problems during pre-qualifying for Andrea de Cesaris but Bertrand Gachot finished in 10th…which would have been in the points today! They had no further problems with pre-qualifying and by the middle of the season had enough points to be guaranteed a race start. At the fifth race in Canada they got their first double points finish…a fourth for de Cesaris and a fifth for Gachot…with another double points finish shortly afterwards in Germany.

When Gachot was unexpectedly jailed for assaulting a taxi driver, they also gave Michael Schumacher his debut race at Spa. Having a rookie to compete against gave de Cesaris the impetus he needed to uncover another couple of tenths of seconds of speed and he was running in second, even giving Senna a few concerns with a failing gear box, when his engine blew up robbing the car of what would have been its maiden podium.  Unfortunately Jordan once again lost out to Benetton when they snatched Schumacher from his grasp.

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By the end of the season Jordan Grand Prix had thirteen points, one more point than Tyrrell in sixth…though still a long way behind Benetton in fourth with their 38.5 points. Fifth position out of 19 teams was a great success for their first year. The only other newcomers that year were Modena who usually failed to qualify – though they did have the major disadvantage of their financier disappearing with his reported 20 million dollars.

It was Enzo Ferrari who said, “Race cars are neither beautiful nor ugly. They become beautiful when they win.” The Jordan 191 never won a race but I’m sure there are few who would be prepared to deny its beauty. But what is it that makes it beautiful? Beauty is an undefinable combination of line and shape and colour that speaks to our imagination…it defies analysis. There is no possible explanation. It just is.

Poet Laureate Robert Hass wrote, “The way in which art creates desire, I guess that’s everywhere. Is there anyone who hasn’t come out of a movie or a play or a concert filled with an unnameable hunger? … To stand in front of one of [Louis Sullivan’s] buildings and look up, or in front, say, of the facade of Notre Dame, is both to have a hunger satisfied that you maybe didn’t know you had, and also to have a new hunger awakened in you. I say “unnameable,” but there’s a certain kind of balance achieved in certain works of art that feels like satiety, a place to rest, and there are others that are like a tear in the cosmos, that open up something raw in us, wonder or terror or longing. I suppose that’s why people who write about aesthetics want to distinguish between the beautiful and sublime… Beauty sends out ripples, like a pebble tossed in a pond, and the ripples as they spread seem to evoke among other things a stirring of curiosity… Some paradox of stillness and motion. Desire appeased and awakened.”

Just as poetry can move our souls, the colour and shape and line of a beautiful piece of machinery can also move us. We can admire a car while it is sitting still and stationary, but it is only a shadow of the reality of its true self. It is when it is moving, when it is untouchable, when it is only really present in our imagination as we watch it slide through curves and corners and twitch like it is alive…then and only then is it truly beautiful. If beauty could be explained, it would most likely cease to be beautiful. It is its presence in the realm of the impossible…in the realm of the imagination. It may be only coloured pieces of metal and carbon fibre, joined together for function and not form, but it awakens in us “some paradox of stillness and motion. Desire appeased and awakened.”

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“She walks in beauty like the night…”