Porsche Finally win Le Mans

HERE ARE TWO ways you can do it. You can either spend the entire spring winning the Manufacturer's Championship and then break your donkey trying to win Le Mans, or you can just spend the entire spring breaking your donkey trying to get ready to win Le Mans. One way is as good as the other, because if you don't win Le Mans the rest of it just doesn't matter (for further references, see the chins of World Champion Porsche last year,badly scraped from being dragged on the ground after losing the 24-hr by 100 yards; see also the sly, fully satisfied grin on winner Jacky Ickx's face whenever he talks about that race, even though he won only one other enduro all that year). Being Weltmeister is nice, but only if one of the races you win happens to pass within 20 feet of a pair of pleasant little restaurants in Hunaudieres at something over 200 miles per hour.For Attie it was a rewarding win he'd been very close to last year after leading so much of the race, and for Herr­mann it was a win he'd missed last year by only 100 yards. For Oerhard Strasser and Porsche Salzburg it was two wins in a row after a very trying season. Their luck had finally changed. And if you don't think there was some luck in it, just ask me how high the telltale was on the winning 917 at the finish without having done any damage. Oerhard must

And so Le Mans received its usual huge entry, with 'every factory this side of Alpine (mercifully absent this year) dealing out race cars like half-price coupons, consulting its corporate astrologers for weaknesses in the skies, sleeping with middle toes crossed, and doing anything else that might keep its cars running 24 hours in a row. Porsche and Ferrari were there, of course, the former having won the Manufac­turer's title in the most inevitable sort of way with six pre­Le Mans wins to Ferrari's one. Then there were the Oroup 6 entrants, Alfa and Matra, neither of whom took the entire series seriously, preferring to skip the occasional race in favor of developing a suitable Le Mans car. However the teams may regard the Championship, the sheer numbers present at Le Mans make clear what is thought of this event.

There were, mind you, eleven Ferrari 512s, eight Porsche 917s, four Alfa 33-3s, three Matras (one 660, two 650s), two Ferrari 312Ps and two Porsche 90Ss. Approximately half of these cars were ostensibly "private" entries, but any­thing more than a cursory glance revealed that everyone of them had been heavily breathed on by the gods back at the foundry. Nobody was taking any chances.

The Porsche 917s came in two shapes, with two different engines. There were the usual shorttail 917s, three for John Wyer, two for Porsche Salzburg (one of which didn't start for lack-would you believe it?-of a second driver) and one for Oijs van Lennep/David Piper. Then there were two very longtail 917s with high vertical fins and horizontal airfoil for Vic Elford/Kurt Ahrens of Porsche Salzburg and Gerard Larrousse/Willi Kauhsen of the Martini International team. These cars, dubbed "batmobiles" by the dullards a damn how they qualify. And rightly so. As long as you're in amongst the right sort of cars and not back with the 911s, everything's fine. With the exception of Matra, whose en­gines just seemed all wrong and kept them far too busy, evcryone went around their cars with wrenches all week making sure everything was tight. There was one incident when Brabham's 650 and Dieter Spoerry's 908 came together bcfore the chicane early Wednesday evening and after hit­ting the ground in various awkward ways the 90S's trans­mission went 50 yards one way, the engine went 50 yards another way, the front half of the car severed diplomatic re]ations with the back half (and, incidentally, Dieter his­self), the back half promptly bursting into flames. It was one of those absolutely horrid fatal looking things, but Spoerry got unstrapped and out just as it exploded and had nothing more than a monumental case of the shakes for several days later. Small enough price. He would have been co-driver of the third Salzburg 917 but he was simply too badly shaken and teammate Steinemann withdrew the entry on race day. We've all heard of the Le Mans Start, right? Well, it no longer exists because in the dash to the cars in the past drivers have felt themselves too hurried to bother fastening_ their seatbelts. Which would greatly displease the National Safety Council. So this year all manner of alternate plans were suggested, from co-drivers sprinting across to switch the external ignition control on, to having electrical green start lights flash on while drivers sat in the cars, to a ] 0­minute game of "Simon Says" ("Simon Says don't touch that starter button. Touch that button! Ahahahaa-I didn't say 'Simon Says.' Ferrari #7, you're out. . ."). Finally they settled on having. four flagmen along the pits who, at the official starter's signal, decorously were to drop their flags­which is exactly what they did at 4 p.m. Saturday and EIford and Siflert were off first (natch), with everyone else sprinting like quarter-milers "just getting it out of their sys­tems." At the end of the first lap Vic was way ahead of Jo, then came Rodriguez, Merzario (who was to be the "hare" among the Ferraris to lure Porsche into a car-breaking sprint), Nino Vaccarella, David Hobbs, Herbert Muller, Oijs van Lennep, Oerard Larrousse, Derek Bell and 41 other Speed-Crazed-Daredevil-Maniac-Speed-Demons. Nanni Oalli promptly overshot the chicane in his Alfa, waited for the field to pass before reentering, and everyone took great no­tice of it, not quite yet ready to accept the idea that there were 24 hours more and Oalli hadn't appreciably hurt his chances of winning one tiny bit.

Vic and Jo had a Orand Prix for several laps, while Vac­carella came in after seven laps with a great steaming hole through the nether end of the block. One Ferrari out and everyone took great notice of it, not quite yet ready to accept the idea that there were 24 hours more, etc., etc. After one hour things began to pace a bit more. Vic was still ahead, Siffert close behind, then Rodriguez, Hobbs, lckx (who hadn't rushed at all in the beginning), Van Lennep, and Merzario (who had pitted early for a vibration in the front end). At 5: 30 Rodriguez stopped on Mulsanne with his cooling fan drive clunking about loose somewhere down in the Porsche's crankcase. Brian Redman took over for Siffert and got ahead of Ahrens (Elford's teammate) but they both eased off a bit, lckx well behind them but comfortably third. Then Brian pitted with a front wheel balance weight missing and Ahrens regained the lead, Brian getting back out in second place.

It was at this time that a most bizarre thing happened. Five Ferrari 512S's were coming down 'past Maison Blanche. The first of these was Reine WiselI, going about 50 mph and wandering all over because he couldn't see after Lar­rousse's Porsche (he said) had covered his windshield with oil. Sam Posey in a NART 512S came up on him, 'saw he was very slow and got around, but Derek Bell, CJay Regazzoni and Mike Parkes were too close behind Posey to see who prevail, were fantastic looking, reminding one of the pre-war Oerman record cars (though oddly the shapes were actually worked out by a French team of aerodynamicists) and the Martini car made its point even more indelibly by carrying a purple-dayglo green psyche-stripe paint job that was so lovely that we almost had the temerity to say so out loud before being informed by the Sacred Ouardians of Oood Taste (read, British Motoring Press) that it was, after all, "unthinkable." Before that I could have sworn I liked it.

The longtail 917 had been very unpleasant down Mulsanne in early spring tests, but the addition of the wing had made'it so nice that Vic said he could one-hand down back at 225-which, by the way, does not mean that you or I, or maybe anyone else, could do the same. Vic lives by a different set of rules. At any rate (of speed), it worked quite well, while the short 917s were subject to that same old hull speed, 5-liter or no, and just plain didn't go much better than about 205-20S. (Shucks, Mortie.) The longtails both used 5-speeds and Vic's 5-liter was expecting about 240, but Herr Doktor Komputer didn't figure tire drag correctly and disappointed them slightly. At last, Vic's was faster on Mulsanne than all the Ferraris. He, Rodriguez/Kinnunen and Siffert/ Redman had 5-liter engines, while the other 917s had the thoroughly reliable,4.5.                                                                                          ,

Ferrari may have been slower down Mulsanne than Vic's Porsche, but in longtail trim they were all faster down there than any other Porsche. Ferrari had spent time on Le Mans and arrived \vith a very clean longtail. Except fora partially wasted spoiler lip and vertical fins that w.::ren't really properly aligned front-to-rear and, if anything, would make the car turn Jeft (to compensate for the righthand kink in M ulsanne, they said 'later), the streamlining was otherwise quite effective. All the cars but one (the Escuderia Mont­juich entry) were coupes, and the factory selected the low­lift noses which had first appeared at Sebring, giving two others to Filipinetti.- Among the other entries were three shorttail private cars and three longtails mated with the less effective Daytona nose. This latter combination proved a ter­rible handful for lack of front-end stability, but ironically two of these three, Sam Posey/Ronnie Bucknum and Hughes de Fierlant/ AI Walker, outlasted the more :'important" Ferraris. The 512S engine for Le Mans used a slightly milder cam, subtly changed intake porting, lovely new transparent plastic velocity stacks (in case that sort of thing interests you), and one-inch-wider rear tires.

Matra, for all their local-boy~makes-goodery, arrived de­pressingly unprepared. Ostensibly they had been spending the entire spring on Le Mans and hadn't competed since Monza but somehow they had only completed one of the new 660 models and had to cobble up a pair of 650s from spare parts and long lost dreams in order to present any­thing like a serious entry. Each of their three cars was different, except that all used the center-induction 1970 F[ V-12. They ran one completely conventional short 650 for Jean-Pierre Jabouille/Patrick Depailler, a longtail 650 with narrow long trailing pontoons (and thercfore 13-in. instead of 15~in. rear tires) for Jack Brabham/Francois Cevert, and the all-new 660 for Jean-Pierre Beltoise/Henri Pescarolo. Chief difference in the 660 is that the monocoque stops at the firewall, after which the engine carries all the rear gubbins. The front suspension is quite different, the tub very much simpler and lighter, the body aerodynamically more, efficient, and all of this grand and glorious news has somehow produced a car which is yet slow~r than its predecessor, less stable at speed, less predictable in corners and generally sordid. And even the 650, after an additional year's sorting and lightening, is still a full three seconds slower than the 3-liter Porsches were last year at Le Mans. It's possible to say the 660 is simply too new, but with the amount of time spent on it for Le Mans, it would seem more likely that Matra hasn't found any clues yet, more's the pity.

Alfa had four 33-3s, beautifully turned out as usual, sexiest of all as usual. These cars too had long tails, with two vertical fihS mounted a foot inboard and large spoiler tabs along the trailing edge. One nice touch noticed by our Oeoffrey Ooddard was a little air intake beautifully molded into the passenger seat cover to jet cool air to the driver. Very comfy. Aside from detuning the V-8s in order to supress their suicidal tendencies the Alfas were very mllch as always.

Now listen. Practice for Le Mans just isn't worth going into. Except for Vic Elford, who simply couldn't stand having Nino Vaccarella ahead of him on the pole and did a fastest lap in 3: 19.5, to Nino's 3:20.0, nobody really gives '

Wiseli. As Posey got past the following three descended on Wise!l at some ridiculous rate of speed immorally close to 150 mph, everyone tried a different direction to avoid Reine. Regazzoni first gave him a proper great wallop from the rear, Bell overrevved the bejeezus out of it down-shifting to try to get slowed up and osterized the bearings in a termi­nal sort of way, then Parkes went straight up the middle for a strike, rather blunting his car and making mush of what remained of Regazzoni's and Wise!l's cars. Miraculously no one was hurt but four Ferraris had been packed up and shipped in just one incident. This left only Ickx well placed and challenging, the Posey/Bucknum 512S way down with a weakening engine.

There were four 917s leading after four hours, then Ickx pacing coolly now in fifth, and two more 917s. At this point an incredible rain storm hit, during which just about everyone dervished on the greasy track at least once and Hail­wood crashed the second Wyer 917 into Facetti's already immobile Alfa. Conditions were simply abominable for over an hour, but Siffert/Redman, Elford Ahrens, and Van Lennepl Piper were able to hold position. Then at 10 p.m. Piper spun and damaged the nose of the 917 at Tertre Rouge and after long repairs it limped around in the dark until it threw a tread on M ulsanne, further whacking the front end and eliminating the car. Vie came in shortly afterward with odd handling and it took them a long time to find a slow leak in a rear tire, putting Ickx up to second behind Siffert.

Jacky's wonderful sense of pace had gotten the car up to a strong position but he was feeling very tired and the body burns from the Spanish OP aggravated by the fuel leak into his cockpit at the Belgian OP, were causing him severe and exhausting discomfort. Dicing with Siffert (though several laps behind) about 1 a.m. in the rain he locked up a rear br'.'.ke going into the chicane, the 512S crashed heavily, killing a turn marshal and bursting into flame. Jacky got free without injury but it was a terrible thing for him after so many other terrible things have happened to him this year.

An hour later Sifferfs car popped out of gear and overrevved, eliminating the last Wyer car. This put the slowish but sensibly paced Herrmann! Attwood 917 in the lead. The challenge from Ferrari had collapsed completely before the 10-hr mark and indeed there were only two factory Porsches left. Then Elford! Ahrens sucked an intake valve just after 8 a.m., leaving only the Herrmann! Attwood car of a!l the factory entries, with the two "private" Martini cars of Lar­rousse/Kauhsen (917) and Lins!Marko (908) 2nd and 3rd.

Of the other factory entries all three Matras were out after only four hours with their rings disintegrating. The Masten Oregory!Toine Hezemans Alfa ingested a stone through an intake after only five laps and developed appropriate dyspepsia. Carlo Facetti!Teodoro Zeccoli were hit by Hailwood in the rain, Nanni Galli/ Rolf Stommelen were disqualified for a pushstart at 8 a.m., and Piers Courage! Andrea de Adamich finally withdrew at 10: 35 a.m. with a dead engine,

It was not a bad day for Luigi Chinetti's North American Racing Team. Despite their 512S's engine degenerating to a V-IO.5 Posey and Bucknum soldiered on and had fourth place, the first Ferrari home. Parsons and Adamowicz had been having ignition trouble with the NART 3 l2P a!l week and it slowed them Sunday morning, though they had been placed as high as sixth. They dropped to tenth getting a new distributor, but ran well for the rest of the day, unfortu­nately not covering enough distance to be officially classed as finishers. De FierIant/ Walker did well to finish fifth for the Belgian Ecurie Francorchamps, and sixth was the remarkably consistent Porsche 914/6 of Claude Ballot-Lena/Guy ChasseuiI.

For Attie it was a rewarding win he'd been very close to last year after leading so much of the race, and for Herrmann it was a win he'd missed last year by only 100 yards. For Oerhard Strasser and Porsche Salzburg it was two wins in a row after a very trying season. Their luck had finally changed. And if you don't think there was some luck in it, just ask me how high the telltale was on the winning 917 at the finish without having done any damage.Gerhard must sleep with his toes crossed.

Le Mans 72







A Dead Loss