This time we have another Bondurant story, that of Bob's first Formula III race. This isn't about a victory, as at Nurburg Ring, but about a race that was lost. And lost through a mistake.Even in losing, however, Bob was able to achieve goals that were important to him and to his racing career.
First, he was able to demonstrate impressively that he could drive a low-powered Formula III car with skill comparable to that he has shown in big-horsepower GT and sports cars. Second, and more important, through this demonstration of his skill, he was able to take an all-important first step into formula car racing-a step he intends will lead to his driving a Formula 1 car in the future.
BEFORE LEAVING CALIFORNIA last spring, I decided that I was going to have to see the Monaco Grand Prix this year. It has an atmosphere you get no place but Monaco. A fabulous setting. But when I left home I had absolutely no idea I would be driving there.
The car I drove was a Formula III Cooper with a BMC engine. I had wanted to find a Formula III ride this year and earlier I had talked to Ken Tyrrell, head of the Ken Tyrrell Racing Organization, who runs the works Formula II and III cars for the Cooper factory. Ken gave me a test drive at Goodwood and, though I wasn't all that comfortable in the Formula III (I was much more accustomed to driving a Cobra with lots of excess power), Ken decided to let me drive at Monaco. I was very pleased, to say the least.
Ken had found a nice little hotel near Monaco that was inexpensive, something that you and I could afford, and also had a garage we could keep the race car in. Throughout Europe you find cars in all sorts of little garages around the circuit and it is fun to visit them and see who's doing what.
The first day of practice turned out to be a very wet one. There were three practice sessions, one for Formula I and two for Formula III. The Formula III cars were run in two sections as there were about 40 cars.
I was in the first group for practice. It was still raining and I wasn't too eager to start. Not in the wet. I did go out, though, and on my first lap I didn't see how anyone could go very quickly. Not here, anyway. At one point, you pass through a curving tunnel so you must go from daylight to semi-darkness and back to daylight again. Or, in this case, from a rainy surface to dry and then back to rain again.
What an experience that is.
After five laps I came in for a check with Ken. He told me to go back out for the rest of practice and to take my time and learn both the circuit and the car. He added that I'd better learn the car and the circuit in the wet because I might have to race in it.
By the end of practice, both the car and the circuit felt very good to me. I actually learned the feel of the car, I think, more quickly in the rain than I would in the dry. The car has a tendency to move about more when it's wet. And I think you concentrate a bit harder because you have to keep your wits sharp. I know I learned a lot during this session and it helped me through the rest of practice and the race.
I tied for the fastest time in the wet, 1:59.3, along with Mauro Bianchi in a Formula III Alpine, a French car with a Renault engine. This was gratifying to me because I'd only raced in the rain three times in my life. The fastest time for Formula I cars in the rain was 1:59.1. The small difference in time between the I's and the Ill's was, I think, because the Formula I drivers were unable to use either their greater power or. wider tires to any advantage in the rain while we could use most of what little of both we had.
The rain stopped for the second Formula III practice session, so the lap times got faster. Willy Mairesse in another Alpine was the quickest, with a 1 :46.0. Before the end of my practice, the engine didn't sound too well, as though we had valve float at 8000. So our mechanic, Rodger Bailey, changed the engine that night as well as checking the entire car over for loose nuts and bolts and cracks in the chassis. So we were nice and fresh for the next day's practice, which was cloudy but then decided not to rain.
Again we were in the first practice session and we had to get there bright and early, at 5:00 A.M. With the new engine we hoped to be able to turn 8500 successfully. It seems fantastic to me to take one of these little 1100-cc BMC engines with a single throat carburetor and turn it at 8500 rpm. Even more amazing is the Ford Cosworth, used in most of the other cars, which turns 9500, naturally making them a little, more difficult to beat.
I decided to wait until the other cars had left the starting grid before I started out in the Cooper. I was still concentrating on learning the car and didn't want any traffic to go through. This paid off because I could take the line I felt was correct and in this way felt very relaxed. The "fresh engine both sounded and felt better. I could turn 8500 with ease and soon I began bringing my lap time down by 3 or 4 tenths of a second per lap.
I soon found, however, that I seemed to have a problem that was new to me: I was used to judging my distance by the shape of the body but now I had to do this by the wheels. This should be simple because you can see both of the front wheels but I kept forgetting there were also two rear wheels. When I came around the station hairpin, for instance, I kept making a white sidewall out of my left rear tire where I would clip the curb. This is very annoying when you think you've taken a good line and find out with a bump that you haven't at all. So I really concentrated on this turn and eventually it became my favorite.
By the end of this second practice session, I felt very comfortable in the Cooper. I could go flat through the tunnel and just raise a bit to go through the chicane, which exits on the sea front where the road is lined with hay-bales about two stacks high. It was surprising to me to see how fast these little cars go at Monaco. The old lap record for Formula III was 1 :43 .6, held by Jackie Stewart in the same car I was driving. I set a new lap record of 1 :42.6 at the end of practice and, believe me, I was just as surprised as everyone else as this was my first ride in a Formula III and my first race at Monaco. To say the least, both Ken and Rodger were very happy.
The second fastest was another American, Roy Pike, in a Brabham-Ford, with 1 :43.6. The next two cars also turned 1:43.6 and the next was 1:43.7, so you can see the competition in Formula III is very close indeed.
On Saturday, the day of the, race, we started in the second heat along with Pike, Knight in a Brabham-Ford and another American, Peter Revson, driving a works Lotus-Ford. The race, I was sure, would be a real battle and'I was looking forward to it. We lined the Cooper up on the pole position with Pike next to me and Knight and Revson in the row behind. The flag fell and I got off to a bad start. We hadn't had time to practice any starts and I hadn't kept the revs up high enough. I'm not used to such high-revving engines and I had the feeling that this little engine would blow up if I kept the revs too high. I should have used about 7500 revs to get off the line and instead I only had about 6000.
So I was fourth into the first turn behind Pike, Revson and Knight. Soon I got past Knight and caught Revson. In the meantime, Pike was pulling away from both of us. I had a battle royal with Revson, trying all kinds of things to get by. In Formula III racing, the cars are so evenly matched that it's very difficult to pass. Your only hope is to out-brake or to out-think the man in front of you. Which makes it very challenging. On one attempt I thought I could go through the chicane flat in fourth gear. I had been going through just lifting slightly. So the next lap, I tried it. To my great surprise, I got horrible understeer and the front end broke loose. I skidded up to the sea front, both left wheels rode up the side of the hay-bales and there I was at 90 miles per hour and a 450 angle. And still flat in fourth gear. Wow.
I didn't dare take my foot out for fear l would go over the top and into the water. Later somebody asked me if I'd seen the power pole that was sticking up through the hay-bales. I was too busy, I guess, and don't remember seeing it. It would have scared me to death if I had. I finally steered it gently back onto four wheels and proceeded after Revson. At the end of two more laps I caught and passed him by out braking him into Tobacconists Corner, which is just before that back pit straight. Then I started after Pike and the Brabham-Ford.
I started catching him about half a second a lap but as this was only the heat race, I had decided while I was chasing Revson that if I did get into second place I'd stay there and not try to pass Pike. But when I started catching him so quickly, I thought I might as well try and get him.
About eight laps later I was a car length behind him; At this point I had just set a new unofficial lap record of 1 :41.1. It was unofficial because only times in the final event count as official for some reason. On the next to last lap, I pulled up alongside Pike as we came through the gasworks, the turn that leads onto the front pit straight. He pulled me about two car lengths out of the turn and down the chute. On the last lap, up the hill toward the Casino corner, I was pushing him very hard. As we reached the crest of the hill, Pike went into the corner too deep and too wide. There was a crown on the road and he was on the negative camber side of the crown and I could see that he wasn't going to make it. There was just no way.
So I got on the brakes hard and tried to go underneath his car just as he lost it. He started to spin and as the back of the car started around, the rear tires hit the guard rail and this catapulted him straight across the road right in front of me.
I saw there was no place to go, so I threw my car sideways and ended up sliding into him. There wasn't much damage, but it broke my right rear upright and bent his rear suspension, so we were both out of the race.
At that point, just before the accident, we had been 14 seconds ahead of Revson. So he now coasted into a nice easy win and went on to win the final as well. I learned some lessons during this race. One, not to be too anxious. I probably should have waited in second place and then gone real hard in the final.
I also learned that when a car is spinning in front of you and there's a guard rail, you have to take into account what kind of car it is. Here, you have to stop and think that the tires on a formula car are out in the open. And like what happened in this case, when the tires hit the guard rail, they dug into the rail and shot the car right back into the road. If it had been a car with enclosed wheels, like a Cobra, he would have hit the guard rail and slid on down along it and I could have gone past with no problem.
But these are some of the things you have to learn the hard way, I guess.
NURBURGRING 1965 in a Daytona Coupe Cobra
WATKINS GLEN F1 race 1965 in a Ferrari