March 721X Formula 1 car

March (formed by Max Mosley, Alan Rees, Graham Coaker and Robin Herd) was formed in October 1969, and had reasonable success in the 1970 and 1971 Formula 1 seasons with the 701 and 711 cars.

March started the 1972 season with the 721, which was an improvement of the 711, with over 50 changes and modifications. Herd then designed a totally new car, the 721X (72 for 1972, 1 for Formula 1 and X for experimental), which March hoped would place them amongst the top teams. While the car followed the majority of cars in using the Ford DFV 3-litre V8 engine and Hewland gearbox, there were a couple of innovations. One was the rear suspension, which featured high mounted rear springs operated by cranks and levers. Inspired by Porsche and Alfa Romeo sportscar design, the gearbox was mounted between the engine and the rear axle, instead of behind the rear axle, which was the ‘norm’ in Formula 1 at the time. In theory these two features would be very good for the car’s overall weight distribution, and lead to excellent handling.

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Left to right – designer Robin Herd, driver Ronnie Peterson and Max Mosley with the first 721X. Along with the rear suspension and placement of the gearbox, other interesting features include the full-width front nose, elaborate roll-cage and exposed DFV engine.

The 721X made its debut at the non-championship Race Of Champions at Brands Hatch in March, driven by Ronnie Peterson, with the car making its World Championship debut at the Spanish Grand Prix at Jarama in May, driven again by Peterson and Niki Lauda.

Unfortunately for March, the customer Goodyear tires that March were using were designed for a conventional chassis and suspension configuration. The front tires were completely overloaded and caused all kinds of trouble in corners from complete understeer to acute oversteer, resulting in an uncompetitive car.

 

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Niki Lauda in the 721X at the 1972 Monaco Grand Prix.

Both Lauda and Peterson retired in Spain, and were nowhere near the top cars in Monaco (Peterson 11th, Lauda 16th) and Belgium (Peterson 9th, Lauda 12th).

March realised that with the team locked in to using Goodyear tires, the only solution was to replace the 721X. This was done expediently by using the Formula Two chassis, modified to take the DFV engine, with the fuel capacity increased by side tanks. The 721G was more competitive, with Peterson finishing in the points at the French, German and United States Grand Prix.

Both 721Xs still survive, and the car driven by Ronnie Peterson competes in historic racing. Here is some great footage of that car lapping the Scandinavian Raceway in 2017, juxtaposed with Ronnie Peterson driving the same car at the same circuit 45 years earlier.

The following books were used as sources for this blog post:

Anthony Pritchard, “Directory of Formula One Cars: 1966-1986”, Aston Publications, England, 1986, p. 142

David Hodges, “A-Z of Formula Racing Cars”, Bay View Books, England, 1990, p. 160-161

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A bizarre place to “park” a car…….

I have come across some unusual accidents and incidents through my reading of and watching motor racing events over many years, but one of the most unusual that I have ever come across was Major Peter Braid’s accident at the Blandford Army Camp in 1949.

Due to the rarity of purpose-built motor racing circuits in the UK in the late 1940’s, any venue that had sealed roads was pressed into service for racing, even if this was just a single airfield runway. The Blandford Army Camp in south-western Dorset was one of the better venues available, as its perimeter access road around the camp of just over 3 miles in length meant that a layout which was similar to purpose-built circuits could be used. The layout was fast and challenging, with competitors reaching over 100 mph on the two straights.

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The Blandford circuit layout.

 

After several motorcycle events were held from mid-1948 to April 1949, approval was granted by the Royal Automobile Club for the first car racing meeting to be held on the 27th of August. The meeting featured several sportscar races, as well as the new 500cc Formula 3, which were small rear-engined cars powered by motorcycle engines.

The events leading up to Braid’s accident occurred during the morning session of racing. During the third race for sportscars, Gordon Woods lost control of his Frazer Nash – BMW between Engineers Corner and Hood Corner. The car demolished a bus shelter, and Woods was thrown out of the cockpit, receiving critical head injuries from which he died in hospital later. In the current environment, the meeting would have been immediately stopped, but back then, the racing continued on. The demolished bus shelter was left in situ, and this would have a major impact on Braid’s accident.

Braid had only started racing in Formula 3 a couple of months previously, and had already achieved a win at Silverstone and a second place at Great Auclum. While leading the Formula 3 race in his Cooper Mk III powered by a J.A.P engine, Braid slid into the outer bank on the left side of the road. The car bounced back across the road to the other side, hitting the ruins of the bus shelter, previously destroyed in the Woods accident earlier in the day. This acted like a ramp, launching the Cooper over a fir tree and onto the roof of the Battalion Headquarters, located on the inside of the track.

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Baird’s Cooper on the roof of the Battalion Headquarters – other drivers said that it was disconcerting to see the car on the roof as they raced past!

 

The car appeared to be neatly parked the correct way up and facing the right direction, and remained there for the duration of the race. Braid survived with only some bruises to show for what must have been a terrifying ride.

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A closer view of the Cooper on the roof.

 

 

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A rear view of the Cooper, showing the relatively minor damage that the car suffered in what was a very spectacular accident.

The photos show what an amazing accident this was, and how lucky Braid was not to be killed. The Cooper could have so easily struck the pole located next to the Battalion Headquarters, or worse still, actually crashed into the side of the building. What is particularly intriguing is the relatively small amount of damage suffered by the Cooper – a dent on the front nose, a buckled wheel and a dislodged engine fairing. As well as the lack of damage, the way that the Cooper is sitting on top of the roof is unusual – it almost looks like the car has been gently placed on its wheels. I can only assume that the car had just enough speed to reach the roof after becoming airborne, and that the corrugated iron acted like a brake, immediately bringing the car to a stop.

Braid continued racing in Formula 3 until the end of 1952, when he retired. He died in the Barnes rail crash in London on the 2nd of December 1955.

Racing continued at Blandford, but their were several motorcycle facilities and one further car driver – Joe Fry, who lost control of his car when practising for a hillclimb on the 29th of July 1950.

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Joe Fry – the 2nd and last car racing fatality at Blandford.

 

This the final car event at Blandford, although motorcycle racing continued until the early 1960’s. The track still exists, although it is now impossible to drive a full lap, due to the installation of several steel fences across some of the corners.

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Cuckoo Corner as it appears now – far away from the sound of roaring engines and racing cars.

 

 

 

 

 

Four-engined Can-Am racer

This blog has covered the S.E.F.A.C. and the Connew – two unsuccessful but relatively orthodox racing cars. The entry for this blog post is arguably one of the more unusual and complicated racing cars ever built – the Mac’s It Can-Am Special.

Back in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, the North American Can-Am series had probably the most exciting series of racing in the world, with open cockpit sportscars powered by big -block engines producing fast and memorable racing.

When Enavon Racing decided to throw their hat into the ring for the 1970 series, agains the McLarens, Porsches, Lolas and other established, they decided on something totally radical.

The Mac’s It Special was designed by Jack Hoare, and he believed that instead of having one huge engine to provide the power, a separate engine for each wheel would give greater grip and better performance. A 775cc Rotax two-stroke motorcycle engine powered each wheel.

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Front view of the Mac’s IT special, clearly showing the two front-mounted Rotax motorcycle engines.

 

All of the motors were connected to each other by shaft-drive, with the main driveshaft going alongside the driver. The car was tested at the Orange County Speedway by driver Hiroshi Matsushita, but the drive-shaft was broken after only a couple of laps. The variation in power between four engines would lead to breakages every time Matsushita accelerated.

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Cockpit view – a rev counter for each engine.

The car turned up at Laguna Seca in California for the 9th race of the 1970 season, the Monterey Castrol Grand Prix on October 18.

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The Mac IT’s Special with Hiroshi Matsushita driving, going out to qualify at the Monterey Castrol Grand Prix at Laguna Seca.

Matsushita’s fastest lap  was 1 minute 29 seconds, 12 seconds slower than the second-slowest qualifier. The fastest qualifier was a Chaparral 2J, which did a lap in 59 seconds.

The Mac’s IT Special was a non-qualifier, and was never seen again at a race meeting.

The main source of information for this blog entry was John Krill’s page about the car on his website.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The last Le Mans start at Le Mans

The Le Mans 24 hour race for high performance sports cars is one of the most famous motor races in the world. The Le Mans Grand Prix d’Endurance, to give it is full name, was first run in 1923 on a circuit around the roads near the French village of Le Mans. The race lasted 24 hours and the format became a favourite with motor racing enthusiasts. Apart from the duration of the race, which required more than one driver for each car, swapping over at regular pit stops, the Le Mans race was famous for its start.

The cars were lined up in front of the pits on the main straight, while the drivers were lined up on the other side of the main straight. At the starting signal, which was a dropped flag, the drivers ran across the road, jumped into their cars and raced off to start the 24 hours. It was a spectacular if dangerous way to began the most competitive 24 hour race in the world.

As cars became faster with every tear, safety became an increasingly important consideration. It became obvious that many drivers were trying to save a few seconds at the start by driving off without fastening their harnesses. The organisers of the race decreed that 1969 would be the last year of the Le Mans start. In 1970 all drivers would be securely fastened in their cars before the starting flag was dropped.

So, on the 14th of June 1969, 45 drivers made the final dash across the track to start the race, whose starting time had been brought forward to 2 pm instead of the usual 4 pm, because of voting in the final round of the French presidential election the following day.

Of the 45 drivers, Belgian Jacky Ickx decided to show his opposition to the Le Mans start by slowly walking across to his car and slowly fastening his belts, which meant that he was in 45th and last place after the start, a seen in this footage of the start:

Ickx’s protest to the danger of the start was demonstrated immediately when the Porsche 917 of John Woolfe and Herbert Linge crashed on the first lap. Woolfe had not fastened his belts properly in order to get a good start, and it is believed that this action had a major role in his death.

The two factory Porsche 917s of Rolf Stommelen/Kurt Ahrens Jnr and Vic Elford/Richard Attwood led for much of the race, but by early on Monday morning both cars had retired. The battle for victory was now between the Porsche 908 of Hans Hermann and Gerard Larrousse, and the Ford GT40 of Jacky Ickx/Jackie Oliver, which had made up all of the ground lost due to Ickx’s safety-first start to the race.

Both cars shared the lead in the final stages, with Ickx managing to pass the Porsche on the Mulsanne Straight on the last lap before the 24 hours expired, and holding on to win by a margin of approximately 120 metres (393 feet), the closest finish in the history of the race (excluding the staged finishes where team cars cross the line side-by-side). Both leading cars covered 372 laps in the 24 hours, with the 3rd placed Ford GT40 of David Hobbs and Mike Hailwood covering 368 laps. Only 14 of the original 45 starters were still running at the end of the 24 hours.

Ickx’s victory was the first of six wins for him in the race (1969, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1981 and 1982), and the last of four consecutive victories in the 24 hours race by the Ford GT40, which is still considered one of the greatest sports cars of all time.

The other victor on the day was Georges Pompidou, who was elected as French President over an ageing Charles de Gaulle.

 

 

Connew – the last of the Grand Prix “privateers”

Formula 1 in the modern era is almost a business rather a sport, due to the huge amounts of money required to build, test and maintain highly technologically advanced cars, as well as paying for all of the personnel required to run a team, along with the transportation costs as the teams travel around the world from race to race.

However, there was a time when the spending required was not as astronomical, and teams could enter Formula 1 racing at a reasonable cost. One of these teams, and arguably the last of the true “privateer” entries in Formula 1, was Connew. Here is their story.

The Connew story starts with Peter Connew, who in 1969 was an apprentice draughtsman. A friend asked him if he would like to go with him to watch the 1969 Italian Grand Prix at Monza. When Connew asked his employer for time off for the trip, and they refused, Connew resigned on the spot. He attended the Grand Prix, and while the actual racing didn’t interest him, the sound of the engines and the design of the cars certainly did. Upon returning to England, Connew needed a job, and through a contact landed a job at the Surtees Formula 1 team. Team manager John Surtees won the 1964 Formula 1 World Championship, and after having driven cars for Lotus, Cooper, Lola, Ferrari, Honda, BRM, as well as driving a privately entered McLaren, had decided to build his own Formula 1 car, which was due to compete in the 1970 Formula 1 season. After seeing a Formula 1 car at such close quarters, Connew decided that he wanted to have a go at designing his own Formula 1 car. He resigned from Surtees and with a blank piece of paper, started work.

A lock-up garage in East London was hired as the team’s workshop, and work began in earnest making Connew’s drawings a reality, with the deadline being the opening round of the 1972 Formula 1 season, the South African Grand Prix. Connew were lucky in one respect – they were right in the middle of the “kit car” era of Grand Prix racing. Key components, such as a Ford Cosworth DFV V8 engine and a Hewland gearbox, could be bought “off-the-shelf”. The overwhelming majority of teams that competed in Formula 1 at this time used the DFV engine and Hewland gearbox, as they were reliable and could be easily fixed or replaced if there were breakages. The tub of the car could be machined out of aluminium, and other mechanical parts could either be machined or bought. As well as Connew, his cousin Barry Boor and friend Roger Doran built the car, which was named the PC1. Several benefactors and friends also gave financial support.

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Connew PC1 outside the workshop in East London, 1971.

 

One unusual design feature was the radiator setting, which offered an ingenious solution to cooling problems. It was front-mounted at a very slight angle of five degrees, enabling air to pass through upwards and come out through a vent on the top. This also prevented turbulence underneath the car. The thin chisel nose was also similar to the Surtees TS7, possibly due to observations made by Connew when he was working for Surtees.

Despite everyone putting in long hours to get the car ready in time, the team realised that they wouldn’t be ready for South Africa, and instead decided that the 4th round of the Championship, the Monaco Grand Prix, would be the debut of the PC1.  The small team then received a setback – due to a change in regulations, the team would have build a new tub, which they did, and which was not surprisingly called the PC2.

Now that the car was complete, the team needed to find a driver, which they did in the form of Frenchman François Migault, who had some promising results in the French Formula 3 and Formula 2 championships in the early 1970’s. Migault was signed up for 5 races – Monaco, France, Great Britain, Germany and Austria. As well as providing his driving talent, Migault also brought something else to the team – a Ford truck. In the rush to complete the car, Connew and his friends had given no thought as to how they would get the car to the races! Migault’s Ford was converted into a transporter, though by this time they had missed the Monaco Grand Prix.  They then travelled by ferry across the English Channel to Clermont-Ferrand, the site of the French Grand Prix, but 60 miles outside of Le Mans the transporter broke down. Unable to make the Grand Prix, the team decided to do some testing at Le Mans, but it was discovered that part of the rear suspension had been damaged in the trip across France.

The Connew finally got onto the track at the British Grand Prix, but suffered suspension problems during Thursday practice. Upon closer examination at the team’s garage, one of the rear uprights was found to be badly damaged, so Connew withdrew to fix the problem. As to be expected from such a small team with limited testing funds and testing time, the Connew recorded the slowest time in qualifying – 1 minute 30 seconds, 3 seconds slower than the second slowest car in the field.

Despite not filing an official entry, the small team arrived at the German Grand Prix, but the organisers refused their entry – claiming that the fearsome Nurburgring circuit was not the most suitable circuit for a new car with teething problems and an inexperienced driver to be competing on.

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The Connew PC2 in the pits at the 1972 German Grand Prix prior to its exclusion from the meeting by race officials.

 

After all of these disappointments, other people might have thrown in the towel, but the Connew team were determined that they would start a Formula 1 Grand Prix. At the Austrian Grand Prix they finally achieved their goal – Migault was the 25th and slowest qualifier, but he was going to start the race! By steady driving, Migault had picked up 4 places, but on lap 22 the rear suspension failed on the main straight, with Migault being able to bring the car to a safe halt on the side of the track.

Here is a video of the 1972 Austrian Grand Prix, with a couple of fleeting glimpses of the Connew in the opening laps:

The car’s final appearance for 1972 was in the World Championship Victory Race at Brands Hatch, with David Purley behind the wheel. Another example of the misfortune or bad luck which plagued the team now occurred. Purley had requested that an engine “kill switch” be fitted to the steering wheel, but on the warm-up lap the switch was pulled out, thus stopping the engine. There was insufficient time before the start to fix the problem, so the Connew failed to start its final race.

And that was it – the car was modified to accept a 5 litre V8 engine to enable it to compete in Formula 5000 in 1973, but results were poor, and at the final meeting of the season, Tony Trimmer crashed the car, damaging the chassis beyond repair.

For many years the two chassis (PC1 and PC2) sat covered in weeds in Connew’s garden, but in 2015 Barry Boor and several friends started the ardous task of restoring one of them to either a rolling chassis or even a fully running car.

Migault raced Formula 1 in 1974 and 1975 for BRM, Hill and Williams but with very little success. He continued to race in sports cars up to the early 2000’s, before retiring, and passing away in January 2012 of cancer.

Connew retired with his wife to the Essex countryside in 1976, where for the past 30 or so years he has been a foster carer for hundreds of displaced children.

Looking back with the benefit of hindsight, the team were probably very naive in thinking that they could successfully compete with the major teams in one of, if not the biggest and most competitive motor racing series of the time. The persistent problems with the rear suspension would suggest that the team lacked the finances to build parts properly, as well as being able to extensively test them.

On the other hand, they achieved their goal, taking part in a Formula 1 World Championship Grand Prix, and probably had a lot of fun along the way, which is what life is supposed to be about. It is just a shame that the Connew adventure will never again be repeated in Formula 1.

The following sources were used for this blog post:

Mattijs Diepraam, Felix Muelas DIY heroes, Forix.com

Anthony Pritchard, “Directory of Formula One Cars 1966 – 1986”, Aston Publications, Bourne End, England 1986

Steve Small, “The Guinness Complete Grand Prix Who’s Who”, Guinness Publishing, London, 1994

 

 

Windsor RSL Speedway#4

Like any speedway track, the Windsor RSL Speedway had its fair share of spectacular accidents, and one of the most spectacular involved speedcar driver Merv Ward back in 1956.

On the 13th of May, Ward was competing in the speedcar feature race when he clipped the car of Gwes Bowen in Turn 1, which resulted in Ward’s car starting a series of roll-overs. In the process of the roll-overs, Ward was thrown from the car, and ended up against the safety fence after the car ended back up on its wheels.

During my research into the history of the Windsor RSL Speedway, I was able to obtain an amazing series of photos taken by a photographer on the infield of the crash, along with a picture taken from outside of Turn 1, and which was featured in a contemporary magazine. Here are these pictures:

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A very spectacular accident! Merv Ward’s head is just visible behind the ambulance officer in the final photo, and he is probably wondering how he is still in one piece and conscious. His injuries were a laceration to his lower right leg and ankle, and shock. He was taken to the Hawkesbury District Hospital and after observation, was allowed to leave.

Back in the 1950’s, speedcars did not have the range of safety measures that exist in modern cars. The only restraint that the drivers used was a lap belt which was fitted across their abdomen. Most of these belts were ex-military equipment, and they were not always reliable, as the Ward accident showed. It wasn’t until the early 1960’s that shoulder harnesses were fitted, and in the early 1970’s full roll-cages were fitted to cars.

Not all accidents at the Windsor RSL Speedway at this time had such a happy ending. On the 12th of August, Charlie Cam was competing in a speedcar race when his car rolled-over in a race. Like Ward, Cam’s safety belt broke, and he was thrown onto the track, suffering two depressed fractures of the skull, and died shortly afterwards – the first of two fatalities at the speedway between 1949 and 1968.

S.E.F.A.C. – 1930’s French Grand Prix disaster

In 1930 a company was formed in France known as Societé des Études et de Fabrication d’Automobile de Course, which, as its name implied, was for the study and building of racing cars. It was not a very successful firm, for they only built one racing car, and that has gone down in history as one of the biggest flops of all time. Using the initials of the firm the car was called the S.E.F.A.C., and it had been designed by Émile Petit, who had designed the successful Salmson cars in the 1920’s.

The object was to provide a French challenger for Grand Prix honours in the 1934-37 period of racing, which had a weight limit of 750 kilograms for cars. The S.E.F.A.C. was certainly different compared to other cars that were going to race in the mid-1930’s, such as the Mercedes-Benz, Auto-Union, ALFA-ROMEO, Bugatti and Maserati, especially in regard to its engine.

The Petit-designed engine was probably all right in theory, but was not very good in practical terms. There were two 4-cylinder blocks mounted side by side on a single crankcase, each block having a cylinder head with twin overhead camshafts. In the crankcase were two crankshafts mounted side by side and geared together, so that they ran in opposite directions. The right-hand crank drove a large supercharger from its rear end, and the left crank drove the gearbox, so that the propeller shaft ran down the left side of the wide chassis frame. This allowed the driver to sit low, but made for a wide car. The channel-section stell chassis frame, designed by Edmond Vareille, carried independent front suspension and a rigid rear axle, coil springs being used at all four corners. The whole car was far too heavy, weighing in at approximately 930 kilograms, while the bodywork made the S.E.F.A.C. one of the ugliest cars to grace the Grand Prix scene. The biggest failing was the engine, which produced only 250bhp, the lowest amount of power of any of the cars eligible for Grand Prix racing.

The first appearance of the S.E.F.A.C. was at the French Grand Prix at Montlhery, on the 23rd of June 1935. The car was to be driven by local driver Marcel Lehoux.

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When Lehoux took the car out on the track and made a couple of slow laps, he found the S.E.F.A.C. to be extremely ill-prepared. The engine was short of power, the brakes did not work properly and the road holding was miserable. After Lehoux returned to the pits to explain the situation the car was pushed away and the entry was scratched.

The S.E.F.A.C. made no further appearances until 1938. A new formula for Grand Prix racing had been introduced in the same year, limiting supercharged engines to a maximum capacity of 3 litres, with no weight limit for the cars. This time the S.E.F.A.C managed to start the French Grand Prix at Reims on the 3rd of July, but its appearance was only marginally better than its 1935 debut. Driven by Eugene Chaboud, the S.E.F.A.C only managed two laps before retiring due to mechanical problems.

The third and final appearance of the S.E.F.A.C was at the 1939 Pau Grand Prix, held on the 2nd of April in the town located in the Pyrenees. Practice times show how uncompetitive the S.E.F.A.C. was. Fastest qualifier was Mercedes-Benz driver Manfred von Brauchitsch with a lap of 1 minute 47 seconds. The fastest time recorded by Jean Tremoulet in the S.E.F.A.C. was 2 minutes 14 seconds – 27 seconds slower! The S.E.F.A.C started on the 15th and last place on the grid. At least this time the S.E.F.A.C managed to actually do some laps, before retiring after 35 of the 100 scheduled laps due to mechanical issues.

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The failure of the S.E.F.A.C was neatly summed up by a British driver who said: “I went to see the S.E.F.A.C. and could SEFAC-ALL.”

There however was one final twist in the S.E.F.A.C story. In 1948 the French press announced a new Grand Prix contender, from the firm Dommartin. On closer inspection, the Dommartin was found to be the S.E.F.A.C., fitted with a non-supercharged 3.6 litre engine and new, but no less ugly body.

Dommartin

The Dommartin never raced, and for many years it languished in a French museum, until it was purchased by English enthusiast Richard Lines in the mid-1990’s, who undertook a complete rebuild which lasted for 10 years. Lines restored the car to its 1938/39 specifications, but then sold the car before emigrating to Australia. I have no idea as to the current whereabouts of the S.E.F.A.C, nor if it actually managed to reappear on the track in historic racing. I hope that it did, as a “lemon” like the S.E.F.A.C. is part of the rich history of Grand Prix racing.

While this was the end of the line for the Dommartin racing car, they did attempt to produce another vehicle, at the other end of the motoring spectrum. The Petit design was an unusual curious open all-terrain vehicle. Under the 4-seater forward-control bodywork lay an 800cc flat-twin air-cooled engine in the tail, and a 5-speed gearbox. Production was minimal.