Soon after Guzik launched the idea of a racing team, we decided that Formula 1 would be our main objective. It is obviously a mainly European affaire, requiring extensive travelling. Both were likely to offer opportunities for our core business, some day.
Moreover, none of the top tier series back home offered us a true alternative. We could have looked at Nascar, yes. But even abandoning the iconic Nascar Grand National Series denomination for the more commercial Nascar Winston Cup Series, does not alter the fact that Nascar is, in essence, Deep South-territory.
At the exception of maybe Florida, the Deep South does not like the East Coast. And New York even less. When a Southern belle has no other choice but to come to New York, for a fancy dress or some other frolics, she is strictly forbidden to leave the safe walls of the vestige that is the Wayne Falkland. Let alone that she would ever set a foot in Brooklyn. So, Brooklyners running a Nascar-team? I think not.
Then, there is the USAC Championship Car series for open wheelers. A sunny meeting place for the Great Lakes and the West Coast. Where the stark industrialism of car industries around the great waters of the North strive to capture some of the West Coast color. That this year’s schedule included a race in Argentina does not materially change that. The chances of an East Coaster being allowed into their closed circle again were slim.
Does any of these series race our Glen or Lime Rock? Nope. USAC rather prefers moving the entire circus to Argentina for a race then come near the East Coast.
Formula 1 on the contrary, visited the mighty Glen every year since 1961 without interruption. The Glen has grown to be a fixture almost as certain as Monza or Monaco on the Grand Prix calendar. So, Formula 1 in a way is the closest we could ever get to home.
The first thing we needed for Formula 1, was a car. Through some old college-palls, Shumway had arranged a meeting with a snotty young lawyer from London. Mausolée or something, he was named. In 1969, he and three other brats had set-up a company that provided its clients with self-build racecars. In that same year 1969, they had managed to build exactly one car: a Formula 3-car.
Their young exuberance however easily overcame their solid lack of experience. And so, for 1970 they announced Formula 1, 2 and 3-cars, as well as a Can-Am car for anyone who wanted one. As well as running factory teams in each of the above series.
More than a fair share of racing’s inner circle was rather skeptical towards those objectives. And MARCH was soon known as Much Advertised Racing Car Hoax.
It did however not stop the snotty bastards to sell cars to Ken Tyrrell and secure sponsorship from STP for their factory team. At Kyalami, the first Grand Prix of the 1970-season, Stewart promptly set his Tyrrell liveried March 701 on pole. And Amon, hired away from Ferrari with the STP-money, took second. That silenced many critics.
For 1971, they had developed the 711, a car with a strange snout that looked like Dumbo with starched ears and no trunk.
They still had some old 701’s up for sale though. And Shumway had arranged for one such 701 to be put at the disposal of Vermeersch.
We arrived in Kyalami a week prior to the race to allow young Vermeersch some training. Only to learn that the British coaxer had sold our car to a French furniture manufacturer.
Marcelo then, through his former racing contacts, arranged for Vermeersch to drive another, even older, March 701 entered by Rhodesian John Love. Evening the score with Mr Mosley proved impossible for the time being, as the perky beatnik was nowhere near South-Africa. But the occasion would present itself. Arranging the fool to be caught on polaroid in an embarrassing situation, seemed like a cool plan. Something involving hookers and Nazi memorabilia maybe.
When Vermeersch started driving the car, giant grins adored his face every time he re-entered the pits. He felt comfortable in the car. And was erratically mumbling to Marcelo about sensing the car. And the old Spaniard showed some very reluctant tokens of appreciation when Vermeersch gave some feed-back on the behavior of the car.
It seemed that the Grand Prix-weekend could have the makings of a great one for us. There was a small detail however. As much as Vermeersch may have loved the car, he was desperately slow. And thirty cars had registered for only twenty-eight allowed starters. So we still had to qualify for the race.
Gradually, Vermeersch increased his speed. And by the time official qualifying ended, we had secured a comfortable 26th starting position. Even Marcelo, who had reverted back to his traditional sourpuss attitude, seemed genuinely pleased.
During the warm-up, I overheard some drivers discussing the setup of their cars. As they went on like bunch of old bags, my chest filled with pride over our young driver. They were bragging about maybe lowering their wing to 2, to have more speed on the straight. But then feared the lesser handling in the twisty section of the track. Vermeersch notched down his rear wing as of day one. And had just marveled at the extra speed, never complaining an inch about the handling in the twisty parts. Instead, he had worked the rear suspension, camber and tire-pressures with Marcelo. Ending up with a car to his likings.
Off course, leave it to Vermeersch to blow any credibility he had carefully gathered straight out of the door. As the starting flag dropped, he seemed asleep. Blocking himself to what looked like complete stop behind Parker’s car. And all the others speeded past and away.
The entire field stormed down the hill towards Crowthorne Bend, like a pack of squirming ants raving for a good start. It seemed that Wilks was going to hold on to his pole position. But Coxon in the Surtees made a daring move round the outside of Crowthorne and grabbed the lead in the very first turn of the race. Fredriksson had shot his March from 6th to 3rd position. Behind them followed Plaçais in a Matra, Grant Riddall in the second Surtees and David Jacques in the first of the BRM’s.
Remaining safely tucked in behind Parker meanwhile had proved a judicious decision from my boy. On the inside line of the track, Dana Schurer, starting from 15th position, had stalled her car and come to a complete stop. Cars swerved and swayed trying to avoid the CMG Racing entered March 711.
Most succeeded but Jason Fitch slammed his car straight into the number 42. Kowalski, in a similar Dumbo March also got involved in the wreck and was now dead last. Schurer retired on the spot. Fitch tried to make it back to the pits on three wheels but fell massively behind.
Adam Hackman, the American driving the other John Love entered car, had to brake hard before throwing his car to the other side of the track, letting our boy through.
Before we had even reached turn one, my man had already gained two places.
The first lap looked particularly nervous, even for a Grand Prix. Drivers drifting and sliding, several of them three wide through turns. Constantly juggling for position. Fredriksson overdid it, wildly spinning backwards out of Clubhouse. Apparently without involving other cars. The Swedish driver continued his race unabated, be it back in tenth position.
Riddall then got the better of Plaçais through Leeukop and as they came over the start-finish for the first time, the order was: Coxon, Wilks, Riddall, Plaçais, Jacques and Sabre, who steered the second Matra into the top six. Before lap 2 had really started, the Canadian would move one up, relegating the BRM to sixth.
Further down the field, our pupil only continued to get better. The first time across the start finish straight and into Crowthorne Corner, Vermeersch attempted a move on Jonatan Acerclinth, who seemed to be struggling to find a pace in the Tyrrell.
I felt my chest swell with pride. And threw some very meaningful looks in the direction of John Love. Making it clear to the Rhodesian that it was my boy who made his car shine.
Our tides soon turned however. The move on Acerclinth caused Vermeersch to loose all momentum, allowing Hackman through. And Vermeersch now had Kowalski on his tail to content with. It was an uneven fight. The Polish driver had a brand new March 711 with a more powerful Cosworth under the belt. On the main straight, Kowalski simply pulled by and we were last of the running cars again.
As the front of the pack was settling down into an early rhythm, our kid did not seem very puzzled by the move of Kowalski. As the March 711 prepared to pass Hackman on the main straight, Vermeersch positioned his car in the Pole’s slipstream and shot past Hackman. We were back to being best of the Love-cars.
Riddall meanwhile in no time closed the gap to Wilks and seemed in a hurry to get by and join his teammate upfront. He had a first half look under braking for Clubhouse. Then simply out-braked Richard’s Lotus into the Esses and was past. It almost looked simply and one started to get the impression that the Surtees cars might be a lot less evolved than the Lotus, but were a lot easier to handle nevertheless.
Wilks worries were far from over. He now had two furiously growling V12 Matra’s in his mirrors. Plaçais had a first peep into Crowthorne, but wisely backed off. But the pressure was unmistakably on for Richard Wilks, who besides being a great driver, also is a magician when it comes to the physics of a racecar.
There were even bigger headaches for the other Lotus-driver, Juha Bos, though. Bos had spun and severely damaged his car. He had succeeded in hauling the car back to the pits, where lengthy repairs had put him two laps down. To add to his woes, he received a penalty for reckless driving in the pit while rejoining the track. Forcing him back in the pit for a stop and go the next time round. While exiting the pits from that stop and go, he unluckily hit a cone, earning him a second drive through penalty. Which totally mortgaged his race with a 3 laps deficit to the leaders.
The other Lotus was meanwhile conceding a growing gap to the two Surtees, who looked very comfortable in the lead. Sabre, who had swapped positions with teammate Plaçais, and was now running fourth, pulled along side the Wilks’ Lotus into Crowthorne, but thought the better of it.
Further back, Brian Janik and Raul Jereb were having some fierce disputes over 16th place. At some point covering almost the entire main straight side-by-side and remaining two wide into Crowthorne. While a shrewd Jason Whited was lying in wait to capitalize on any mistake one of them would make.
At the front, the Matras switched places once more. Their powerful V12’s made them fly on the straight, where they always looked like about to catch Wilk’s Lotus. In the twisty part of the track, they however seemed much more of a handful, allowing the Lotus some breathing room.
It was however clear that Wilks would not be able to resist the V12-power for much longer. On lap 12, Sabre pulled alongside out of Leeukop. Brave Richard made a vain attempt to defend the inside line. But the Union Jacked Matra simply responded by demonstrating the true might of its engine, blasting past on the outside line.
The race did not have much of rest in store for Wilks, as now Plaçais was addressing him some particular attention.
The real action at this stage was however further down the field. Fredriksson was fighting his way back up the field and, having already dispensed with a series of cars, was now running eight. With an eye out for the seventh position of Ray Riddall. The Brit was defending his spot with the determination of a lion. Both cars at some point rounding Crowthorne, Barbecue Bend and Jukskei Sweep side-by-side. The Cosworth in the back of Jacob’s March seemed no match for Riddall’s BRM 12-cylinder machine on the straight. But made up with sheer handling brio in the twisty section.
Raul Jereb had by now let go of Janik and was now dicing for glory with Jason Whited. Both were in equal March 701-cars and their battle was by times breathtaking.
The two Surtees were still well in the lead and Riddall felt the time had come to put some pressure on Coxon. In lap 18, a strange thing occurred. While approaching Clubhouse Bend, Coxon suddenly moved to the inside and slowed down. It allowed Riddall to go by on the outside and many commentators wondered whether Coxon had let his teammate through.
Riddall seemed to be much harder on his tires though. And many spectators wondered whether Richard Coxon was not simply being the smarter driver at this stage. Conserving his car for the last part of the race.
Fredriksson was passed Ray Riddall by now. And was reeling in the second BRM driven by David Jacques. The only Canadian driver in this first Grand Prix of the season.
One lap down, Coxon recaptured the lead, blasting by his teammate on the main straight. The leaders were now lapping back-markers. One of the first to be lapped was Jari Bruppacher. The Ferrari-driver had started from tenth but had been thrown back as a result of some spins. The fact that he was one of the first lapped cars underlined that the Ferrari’s were struggling at Kyalami. Powerful as it may be, the Ferrari 312B seems to be handful to drive.
With about one third under the belt, the race now seemed to settle into a pattern of teammates battling for position. Coxon and Riddall for first and second, Sabre and Plaçais for third and fourth. Behind them followed Wilks in the Lotus. And then the two BRM’s of Jacques and Ray Riddall, with Fredriksson in between.
My boy was meanwhile still leading his one-off teammate Hackman. Slowly building a small cushion, but loosing ground to the more modern cars upfront. He seemed better at being lapped than Hackman, and as the faster cars started coming by, the gap with the second Love-car steadily increased to nearly 10 seconds.
Then, tragedy struck for the first of the Matra’s driven by Sabre. On lap 28, exiting Clubhouse, the Matra spun and hit the armco’s backwards. After the race, Plaçais, who had been running immediately behind Sabre, mentioned a small puff of smoke escaping from the Matra’s right rear side in the previous turn. Which might indicate a suspension failure.
Sabre continued his ways, but his car was swerving and looked very unstable. His misery was far from over. As he pitted for some necessary repairs, he speeded in the pit and got a drive through penalty. After which, he found himself in 20th position.
Jacques had made use of the confusion caused by the Sabre-spin, to get under the gearbox of Wilks and, as they steamed up onto the main straight, he pulled along side. Making a clean pass in Crowthorne Corner. Wilks however kept the pressure on as the BRM seemed to be struggling in Sunset Bend. In lap 35, Jacques lost the back end in Sunset, sliding wide towards the outside of the corner. Wilks was back into fourth. And an unleashed Fredriksson also sailed passed the BRM.
The flying Swede in his flying elephant March was hungry for more and started hunting Wilks. The pressure seemed to be getting to the Lotus-driver. On lap 37, the Lotus and the March prepared to lap Jonatan Acerclinth’s Tyrrell in Clubhouse. Wilks had a near come together with the Tyrrell and there was slight contact, but the cars seemed undamaged.
With 40 laps finished and the race just past the halfway mark, it was still the two Surtees at the front, Coxon leading Riddall. Then followed Yves Plaçais on Matra, Richard Wilks on Lotus, Jacob Fredriksson on March, David Jacques and Ray Riddall, both on BRM, and Martin Lacina on another March 711. The two Ferrari’s of Michal Janak and Gerard Ryon rounded out the top ten.
Through others retiring and running in all sorts of trouble, our boy had picked up several places, and was now running 18th. Still solidly leading the other Love-car of Hackman.
The Matra-curse was not over yet. As Plaçais was speeding up the long straight for the 42nd time, his engine died on him and his car coasted to a halt on the side of Crowthorne. Both Matra’s were out.
Crowthorne was about to see even more action. Fredriksson decided he had seen enough Lotus for the day. And moved around the outside of Wilks’ car into Crowthorne, effectively putting the March on the podium.
Vermeersch had by now steered his old March to a solid 17th place. With Jereb and Whited possibly within reach. The most impressive March 701 driver at this stage was Swiss Jundt however. The Swiss driver was driving an underpowered year old car. But Jundt seemed to have forgotten all that and had valiantly made it into the top ten. It must be said that Jundt is somewhat of a specialist in underdog cars and always seems to extract more from these cars than what can be reasonably expected.
Fellow Swiss Jari Bruppacher meanwhile had a small off at Leeukop with his Ferrari, but was able to continue.
Jereb retired his March 701, moving my boy into 16th.
Then, in lap 49, disaster struck. Jacob Fredriksson came up to lap our car. He was rather impatient and went by on the inside of Sunset Bend. Portuguese legend Richard Wilks came straight up behind in the Lotus. Vermeersch left Wilks the inside line in Clubhouse Corner and the Portuguese went by. Just as Fredriksson spun in front of both cars on the short straight between Clubhouse and the Esses. The Lotus hit the Swede’s Dumbo March and was thrown off course, bumping into the side of our car.
Fredriksson could continue his way with an apparently undamaged car. The front-end of Wilks’ car had however suffered substantial damage. Richard tried to make it back to the pit, but soon parked the car at Leeukop. His race was over.
Vermeersch drifted into the sand but managed to avoid contact with barriers or other obstacles. He turned the car around and continued his way.
Hackman had gone by and the fight for the honor of being first within the Love-team seemed lost. Marcelo, who had rushed to the pitwall with binoculars, was now moaning that the entire left suspension was bent. And that our rookie would never be able to drive the car like that.
The old fool however seemed to be mistaken. As a saint fire seemed to have gotten hold of Vermeersch. He had been driving a bit slower for two laps, but was now flying and started to eat into the 12 seconds deficit on Hackman. At one point even unlapping himself by repassing Acerclinth for the entire length of about 2 meters.
Fredriksson was meanwhile chasing David Jacques to recover the final podium spot. It was the best the other could hope for as the two Surtees were by now out of everyone’s reach. David’s BRM still seemed most unhappy in Sunset. Allowing Fredriksson to close up every time around, without finding a way past the BRM yet.
On lap 59, the March managed a perfect exit out of Leeukop and caught an ideal tow from the BRM on the straight. The Swede braked past Jacques into Crowthorne. Then the rear of his car stepped out and the Swede drifted his car towards Barbecue Bend. Jacques only just missed the car and a collision was narrowly avoided. But Fredriksson was back on the podium.
The mood of our incomprehensible Spaniard had meanwhile not improved. He was now running across the garage screaming something that sounded like: “Maldito! Maldito! Niebla roja.” I ordered one of the boys to shut his mouth up with a bottle of Stellenbosh, as even the patience of the most reasonable man that I am, has its limitations.
As faster cars were lapping Vermeersch, he managed to reduce the gap with Hackman to almost nothing. The pressure got to Hackman, and he spun out of Barbecue Bend. Vermeersch was top of the Loves again.
Jacques was now coming under increasing pressure from his teammate Ray Riddall. It seemed that the Canadian’s BRM had worn of its tires badly, and the car was now struggling even more through Sunset and Clubhouse. With his worn tires, David ended up sliding off in the Esses. Riddall was in fourth.
Grant Riddall had meanwhile also taken over the lead from Coxon and was now working on getting some space between the two Surtees. Coxon started reducing the gap to his teammate, but a very slow pace. He was now driving as if his life depended on it, using every inch of track and pushing his car as hard as he could. It was clear that he was certainly not considering the race as over.
Another one pushing hard at this stage was Michal Janak in the Ferrari, chasing the sixth spot, and the final point, of Martin Lacina.
With nine laps to go, Coxon now had Riddall clearly in view. And witnessed how Grant was smoking his tires in nearly every corner. Was the pressure starting to get to the cockpit of the leading Surtees? The battle for the lead was on as it was never before.
In lap 74, Riddall had somewhat of a moment to get past Hackman. It was enough to allow Coxon back to within less than half a second of the leading car. The crowd prepared for some thrilling last laps.
Grant had an even bigger moment lapping Francois Remmen, the Surtees and the McLaren almost touching each other through the Kink. Coxon was now straight onto Riddall’s gearbox. And immediately grabbed the lead coming out of Crowthorne.
Riddall’s reply was as immediate.
All bets were now off and it was a balls to the wall battle. Grant seemed faster on the main straight but never seemed in a position to capitalize on that advantage.
Coxon took a very defensive line on the main straight in the two last laps. Twice, Grant Riddall could close up on Richard, but he ran out of laps to find a way past.
And so the Surtees team managed a perfect first race, grabbing the two top spots, Coxon leading Riddall.
Behind followed Fredriksson in the March, coming home in an undisturbed third place.
Ray Riddall incurred a late race drive through penalty. Allowing his team mate David Jacques back into fourth. The penalty also allowed both Martin Lacina and Michal Janak through. Janak thus securing the last point for a struggling Ferrari-team.
Jundt incredibly only missed the points by one spot, bringing his dilapidated March home in seventh. In front of Gerard Ryon in a second Ferrari and a disappointed Ray Riddall who missed out on points in the last laps.
The top ten was concluded by Philippe Marinelli in a Tyrrell.
All by the end, Swiss Bruppacher received a drive through, allowing Vermeersch to secure 14th spot. In a car that should on paper not even have qualified. Concluding our race weekend on a high.
Vermeersch deserved a treat. So we took the whole John Love team to the Mala Mala game reserve, just North of Joburg, for a braai. And with the help of some Stellenbosch-bottles, soon convinced the Rhodesians to put their March 701 on a boat to Barcelona.
Just some admins left to deal with.