Tests a recent Formula One Ferrari in 1976Riverside Raceway F1 Ferrari 312B3
I HAD NO idea what to think when I was called one day and asked me if I would drive a Formula 1 Ferrari of recent vintage at Riverside. Let's say I had mixed emotions about the whole thing. I hadn't driven a F 1 car or anything like a F 1 car for more than 10 years, the last being Dan Gurney's Eagle at Monza in 1966. Besides, giving up racing was a big deal for me, as I guess it is for everybody, and I've never/been too sure of how much my quitting was strictly controlled with "good sense" and how much was just a retreat from something about which) was overly compulsive for many years of my life. I had never been all that certain about my power to stay away, even though I had intelligently chucked racing., I had learned to treat it like a number of other things that I knew I could become addicted to, again, such as skiing, and had developed a defensive sort of reaction against it.
I had no intention of seeing how fast I could get around Riverside in the car, but I thought of it as an opportunity to enjoy myself, sampling what surely must be one of the ultimate machines of the day, even though as a 312 B3 it is about a type~and-a-half back from last year's championship winner. In retrospect, and I'll say this prematurely, to drive the Ferrari that day had to be one of the greatest things in my life in an automotive sense.
Actually, I didn't have that much of an idea about what I was going to do, because I hadn't even driven a racing car since I retired. I've played at it, but to me racing is how close a vehicle will enable you to have a go with it, in relation to what its potential was at one time. My impression when first getting in the car was "neat, marvelous," because now I could get into a race car and enjoy it for once rather than reading later that it really counted for something~ I liked it very much, for even the Monterey Historic Automobile Races were a little too serious to thoroughly suit me.
When I first drove the Ferrari, I was put off a little bit. It was great, but it did go through a period of shaking. By the time I got out of 2nd gear, in fact, it had been through a rather strong vibration period and then started coming back in about the time I got in 4th gear. Both front wheels were a bit blurry, so both were suspect, though they were said to have been balanced. I didn't like coming down the straight too much, because that meant going up into the 2nd stage of out-of-balance, which was so severe. Then the car's owner, Harley Cluxton, took it around and confirmed there was some thing out of balance. At first I'd thought, "God, maybe this is normal; maybe they've all got square wheels now."
Also, the feeling that I could enjoy myself in the B3 was jaded since the last thing in the world I wanted to live with was the thought that I had stuffed it into the wall or spun off at Turn 2 and gone up into an embankment. But little by little I found the Ferrari had marvelous control and was extremely honest as far as integrity in a machine is concerned. I can't remember there being any more than in that car. But honesty I mean an awful lot of my racing life was spent dealing with the vices of a racing car rather than thrilling to the damn thing's virtues. It always seemed everything they'd got into the car was very good except for that miserable little twitch at a certain place or this or that; all the negative things were too apparent, whereas this car was all- the things would have wished for in a racing car all the years I was driving. Which is asit should be with a decade gone by. If they hadn't really done anything with those 10 years, it would be disappointing
and hardly understandable.
The Ferrari has an enormous amount of power compared with what I was used to and as far as power-to-weight in a road racing car goes, I had never driven anything that powerful (the 3l2B3Ferrari carried 2.7 lb for every hp while the 1961
car was 5.6 lb per hp). And that power is very manageable. At first I was put off and wary, for all I knew there was a whole new type of driver who had come up to drive these. Right around 7000 rpm, I think, the engine evened out and started to get going. The power went up in a very abrupt line, but once I got it up to the revs it liked, where it sort of belonged, the whole thing was a lot easier to deal. with. Although my foot is not trained in recent years to deal with that sort of power, it wouldn't take me long to get used to, it. Handling and control were just fabulous. I couldn't believe the B3 had well over double the power we had. And chassis development has come along so quickly. By the end of the day I had sampled how fast I could get out of Turn 6 and around into Turn 7 and the transition back to the right-hand part of 7 A. (It had been 10 years since I had driven at Riverside
and the circuit had changed' enormously.) I loved the way I could hold the tail out and control it very, very nicely. The car understeered on slower turns quite a bit, but it was so easily adjusted by the available, power and obviously that's why the
car does what it does. If I try to go through Turns 7 and 7 A like the car wanted to, it would go to an understeering attitude. You have to put on a fair amount of power and I was very surprised that even with the revs well up on the power band, the car was very controllable. There was a great feeling coming off a turn like 7 A or even 9, getting all this positive feedback that the car was generally sticking beautifully and would continue to and at the same time telling the driver that he could do almost anything to adjust his directional attitude with the throttle. You knew you were getting an enormous amount of power on the ground in an honest way. . . much more so than it used to be. Some of the better sports racing cars such as the Chaparral were of a high order for their time, but before that there was so much bad stuff with the good. It really made this a special treat. I was surprised that even though the diameter of the steering wheel is smaller than when I was driving, the steering isn't as heavy as I thought it might be although this car had infinitely fatter tires than were used when I was driving . . . though the Chaparral tires were getting up there. I had also expected there would be an enormous gyroscopic kick in the wheel because I can remember that even with the skinny
tires we used there was often a feeling as though you were turning resistant gyroscopes with the wheels. When the car passed over bumps, there was a kickback to the wheel which muddied your ability to road what was happening. I remember once curing a particularly bad case of this ailment during the 1965 Tasman Series when Bruce McLaren and, I cut away a substantial portion of the front tread for relief from the annoying kick. I felt that with all these wide wheels and tires there would be a lot of this sort of thing and I was pleased to see
there wasn’t. This is a car you don't have to wrestle. It is beautiful, responding to the tiniest increments of steering, anything you want.
Wings have a tremendous amount to do with it, of course.
When I went to the Nurburgring with the Chaparral and won the race the first time the car had ever been on the circuit with an automatic transmission and in the rain as well-I was astounded at what the wing did to make the Ring not what it had been. Before there were the great leaps, with the cars so light everywhere and the drivers having to keep all these aspects in mind. In that sense, this Ferrari feels like a logical Formula 1 extension of the Chaparral car to me I can definitely feel similarities.
Although Ferrari gearboxes were always excellent in my day, the transmission in this car must be a very sophisticated device. I never missed a shift the whole day and that says a lot for the car. Had there been anything tricky about the transmission, I would have missed a gear somewhere.. I double clutch and always have, even with synchromesh. Down, of course. In shifting up it's simply a quick push into the new gear without hardly thinking about it. I mention this because even when I was driving a decade ago, one had begun to hear that some racing drivers (ex-Porsche types) synched the engine, but didn't actually bring the gears up to speed by double clutching, which sort of horrified me. I've often wondered if it was true. If you're coming out of a corner and a gear change is absolutely called for, you need a little discretion when the power is being applied so you don't disturb the directional control and bang it into the next gear.
I'm not certain what to think about the brakes. Maybe I should have done more stops. I felt I was at the point of locking up the front wheels. In fact, I saw them start and stop a couple of times and I was told not to go beyond that because of the test. Whether there was too much bias on the fronts, I really don't know. One time, I rowed my way down through the gears 5-4-3-2-1 as I braked and another time I went 5-3-2-l and the last time I did a sheer braking test with brakes only. Compared to the old F 1 brakes it's too hard to tell. It felt to me that it was stopping like mad, but stopping has never been all that big a deal with me. I always got along fine with braking, never had a problem braking as late as anyone and felt that brakes were always commensurate with all other road-holding features, of the car.
I thought the seating position in the B3 was ideally comfortable. I didn't like some of the first rear-engine cars at all. They thought you had to be lying down with just your head tilted up straight. I was never very keen on that. This car also had none of the feeling of being on the end of a string which we got sitting very far back in the front-engine cars. That was a very tiring feeling, especially at tracks like Zandvoort where there are long, long right-hand turns followed by long, long left-hand turns. There was lots of fatigue in bracing yourself, trying to read what the car was trying to tell you, whereas this car felt like there were lots of other, easier ways to get clues as to what was happening.
Another important factor is that this new car is infinitely cooler than the old ones. Of course I never kept going for a long period of time, but what was there up front to be hot? In the old cars it was terrible because the hot air off the engine came into the cockpit. Even when the engines went to the rear there was still hot air off the radiators. It sneaked in through the tiniest cracks in around your feet and was very uncomfortable. Most people think you're exaggerating, but to live with miseries in the old days was a terrible feature. You even got up to the point where you were really wondering whether you were going to be able to handle the heat over the remainder of the race it could slow you down, The difference between when I first started driving and when I finished was like night and day and the last cars were a relief in terms of driving misery. This Ferrari is another huge step in the same direction and I got the feeling I could drive it for long periods of time without the kind of fatigue that used to get us. I may be kidding myself, but that's the feeling I got.
One of my reactions to the car is that the machine is more in the picture now than. ever before, there being less for the driver to do. You used to be able to take a Tazio Nuvolari, for instance, and hypothetically put him in a race somewhere in which there are seven 2.3-liter Alfas. His car breaks, he takes over the car of someone who isn't doing much and Nuvolari can perform miracles with the car through his skills. Today, there's not much like that the driver can do. The cars are so sophisticated and up to the hypothetically perfect point that the driver isn't able-to develop that way.
Not that the drivers themselves have changed that much. In the earliest days of racing the picture was very different in what it meant to a person to undertake a career as a racing driver, since those were the days before there was such a thing as a racing car that could kill. I think a person could much more easily get into the starting field and suddenly find himself in the 1903 Paris to Madrid race, not really asking to get there.
Everything changed after that tragic race and little has changed since. Most new racing drivers always look back on yesterday's racing drivers as being sort of cute, funny, befuddled little people who really didn't know what racing was all about. And those same new drivers won't find out that maybe the older drivers were as knowledgeable in their own right until the new driver puts it aside and has been able to see it through different eyes.
Face it, anyone who seriously pursues motor racing to the upper echelon has got powerful stuff going underneath. That aspect is no different than it ever was. And if they took away the super money side of racing today, I'm not sure that racing would change tremendously other than technologically. After you've been in racing for a while and get to treat it as a technique of your own a certain mystique so to speak you can exist and stay in racing for entirely different reasons than those that got you started in it.
Perhaps it is still some of that "powerful stuff" that makes me wish there had been more time and I had been more willing to charge around a bit harder. Then good sense comes back and says, "Be glad you had the opportunity to do it at all." I really did enjoy it. That same feeling also makes me wish I could somehow communicate the pleasure - I mean I have to be as rusty as anything, having not sat in anything more powerful than my Mercedes 6.3 for so long - to be able to manage the damn thing at all and even hang it out for a little bit. . .
NURBURGRING 1965 in a Daytona Coupe Cobra
OUT AFTER NINE HOURS
A HILLCLIMB IS DIFFERENT