The Race - Part 1
By Simon Taylor and Patrick McNally (Autosport 18 June 1970)
Further work on the Sarthe circuit since last year included 12 more kms of Armco barrier, which
now surrounds almost the entire circuit, and resurfacing and widening at the Esses and Tertre
Rouge. But of course the major innovation was the modified start. Mainly because drivers could
waste race time doing up their seat harness, and usually did their first stint without wearing
seat belts (Joh Wolfe was not wearing his when he had his fatal first-lap accident last year),
the traditional start with the drivers running across the road at the drop of the flag had been
abandoned. After toying with the idea of getting the codrivers to run across, it was decided
that now the cars were to line up in shallow down the pit road according tp practice timex,
with the drivers belted in and the engines switched off. At the drop of the flag (wielded this
year by none other than Dr Ferry Porsche) engines could be started andthe race was on.
Amid all the usual pomp and playing of national anthems the 51-car field lined up. Porsche
wanted to start the spare Salzburg 5-litre with Dieter Spoerry at the wheel, so that if one of
their other cars was an early retirement its driver could take this one over, but Spoerry didn't
paas his medical - his bruised leg from his incredible practice accident was still hurting him -
and so the car did not run.
Last minute drama for the JW team came when the Siffert/Redman car sprang a fuel leak just
before the start, but this was quickly fixed. The weather was warm and muggy, but the sky
theatened rain and almost everyone was on intermediate tyres - except for Merzarioo. He was
to be the Ferrari "hare" to try to keep the pressure on the Porsches, and his 512S was on
Suddenly it was 4 pm, the flag was down and the cars were firing up and snaking away down
the road. At the top of the line Elford made a good start, but Siffert's was even better, and
the two 917s accelerated up the hill side by side. By contrast, Jacky Ickx repeated his relaxed
demonstration of last year and waited for the worst of the frantic traffic to sibside before
driving off, while Jack Brabham was even cooler: he climbed aboard the Matra when there was
only 30 secs to go, and was one of the last away.
At the end of the first lap, to no-one's surprise, Elford came streaking through in the big white
Porsche well ahead of the Gulf Porsches of Siffert and rodriguez. The first Ferrari was Merzario's
according to plan, lying fourth just ahead of Vaccarella, Hobbs in the 4.5 Gulf Porsche, Müller's
Ferrari and van Lennep's 917. Elford was setting a terrific pace right from the start, and at the
end of his second lap his lead over Seppi was a far 5.8 secs, while Merzario was pressing Pedro,
passing him on lap 3. Elford continued to pull away from his pursuers, so that the gap to Siffert
was 9secs on lap 4, only for Siffert to make up some ground in traffic (the slowest cars were
lapped on lap 3!). The Porsche 908 camera car, having filmed the two opening laps ,came in for
a camera change: then the starter wouldn't work and it took an hour to rebuild it (under
regulations starters may not be changed).
Meanwhile there had already been several pitstops. Skalles brought the Chevron in after only
one lap with a loose gear lever, while Galli overshoot the chicane and called at his pit to avoid
penalty. Merzario came in to check a front suspension vibration, and then the fastest Ferrari of
practice went missing. After a long pause Vaccarella struggled in with a very crippled 512S: a
rod had come through the side, and that was that. Another early Italian retirement was
Hezeman's Alfa; a stone made its way through an inlet trumpet, broke a valve and holed a
piston, and oil and water were dripping out of one of the exhaust pipes.
First puncture of the race befell Derek Bell, which Pescarolo was another pits caller,
complaiining that the Matra's nose section was loose.
Lap 10 and Elford has settled down to some consistent lappery, but Siffert was certainly not
treating the Salzburg car like a team-mate and was driving very hard to catch it. The gap was
now 2.5 secs, about half a minute behind, Rodriguez was third from Müller, Hobbs, van Lennep
and Larrousse. Ickx was next, moving up well, followed by Merzario, who was catching up
againg after his short stop, and Attwood, who ad been caught rather unawares by the start.
Bonnier stopped to have his oily screen cleaned, and Zeccoli's Alfa came in with a loose
passenger seat, of all things.
After 15 laps cam the first fuel stops; the first three places were unaffected, but good Gulf
pitwork saw Hobbs make up a place on Piper, who had taken over from van Lennep. By
contrast, it took Matra 2m 14s to get Brabham out of the 650 and Cevert in.
With an hour of the race gone, suddenly Siffert was right on Elford's tail, and any doubts about
whether Wyer and Salzburg were rivals were displled by the blue and orange machine getting
alongside past the pits on two occasions, first on one side and then on the other, and then
taking the lead. The Swiss also set a new lap record in 3m 22.6s; but the vagaries of Le Mans
traffic saw him behind Elford again soon after, who replied with a lap in 3m 21.0s. The Ferrari of
Bonnier and Bell were battling equally closely.
Then came the first Porsche retirement on lap 22. At Arnage the engine in the Rodriguez
Porsche suddenly stopped. The shaft that drives the cooling fan had broken, and dropped into
the crankcase, wrecking the whole unit. The car was immobilised and Pedro walked sadly back
to the pits.
Siffert (no. 20) and pole-man Elford are first away from the echelon start, with Vaccarella's Ferrai hanging fire.
Gulf Porsche no. 21 with Rodriguez at the wheel before it retired on lap 22
Just before the two-hour mark light rain began to fall. It was nothing serious yet, however, and
everyone pressed on. Then the leaders came in for their second routine stops; Ahrens relieved
Elford and Redman took over from Siffert, and again Gulf's pitwork paid dividends, for at the end
of the next lap the Gulf car had a 10.5 secs lead. Ickx had worked his way up to third place
ahead of Hobbs, but Merzario, who had been going very well, was forced in by the rain to
change his Indy tyres, handling over to Regazzoni, which let Piper into fifth spot. In the 3-litre
category the de Adamich/Courage Alfa led for a while, but during their second routine stop the
Brabham/Cevert Matra went ahead.
Redman had now built up a 20 secs lead over Ahrens, but all this and more disappeared when a
wheel balance weight fell off and he came in for a wheel change. Then came a bitter blow for
Ferrari: an accident which eliminated no fewer than four 512Ss.
Reine Wisell in the Filipinetti car, unable to see where he was going as his screen was still
covered in oil, pulled to the side of the road just before the White House and slowed up; Bell,
Regazzoni and Parkes arrived on the scene almost as one, having been dicing together along
the Mulsanne Straight, and Bell swerved to avoid Wisell. Regazzoni tried to go between the two
and at 150 mph hit the back of Wisell's 50 mph car an enormous blow. The Swede shot across
the road into the crash barrier, ricocheting back across the road, and it and Regazzoni's
spinning 512S finished up in the path of Parkes' car. Parkes' car went into them and caught fire,
but marshals speedily put this out, although Parkes burnt his leg slightly. In all this drama Bell
missed a gear, coming straight into the pits with an over-revved engine, while Parkes was able
to struggle in to retire with his sadly battered machine. Four 512Ss fewer for Porsche to worry
about. . . .