It would appear that there are only two ways to win a Formula One Grand Prix this season.
The first is being Grant Riddall. And winning seems an evidence. The other is ensuring that Grant Riddall does not show up for a race. By luring him away with a free trip to the Caribbean, for instance.
Word has it that Enzo Ferrari and Gérard Ducarouge had been conniving to achieve just that. The both of them chipped up some green bills and offered Riddall an all-in trip to a desolate island.
Some rumors even claim that, while convincing Grant the Great to take the offer, Ducarouge even arranged for Ali MacGraw to be Grant’s travel companion. But it was only when Ferrari opened the vaults of his estate and got Riddall a 250 GTO for ride around the island, that the Surtees-man gave in.
The result was the entire driver line-up mangled through a blender. With utter chaos as result, as drivers left and others joined and yet others just changed cars.
Acerclinth had enough of the unpredictable whims of the Tyrrell. He moved to CMG Racing where Dana Schurer had abandoned ship. Coxon, not really looking forward to bearing the weight of the entire Surtees-team on his shoulders, was swift to apply for Acerclinth’s seat and got it.
John Surtees was thus left with two empty cars and secured Gabriel Sterr to partner regular Surtees-driver Blom.
Enzo Ferrari had insisted on Bruppacher travelling to Southfield, Michigan. Where he was supposed to test and inspect a small car developed by AMC called the Amitron. The car, amongst others, had something called regenerative brakes and Forghieri had convinced old Enzo that such technology would hand them supremacy… one day.
Fellow Swiss Jundt was wheeled in to replace Bruppacher at the helm of the number 5 Ferrari. At Brabham, Goissen was out riding the waves of his beloved Atlantic coast. Jereb stepped in but would never make it to the actual race.
Over at March, Max Mosley fired Adamovich. Whited jumped onto the first plane to London, took Mosley for a probably bad, this being England after all, lunch on Bond street and took over the Alfa powered March.
That is when it started to get interesting as Whited moving left Frank Williams with a car on his hands. Following Zandvoort, I had made sure that Voigt outpacing the number 22 Williams car with a similar 711, had been branded in Frankie boy’s inner brain. Some H Tea Plus sponsor money did the rest. And suddenly Voigt had a full time drive for the rest of the season. Even if it was only a jalopy 701.
The only 701 on the grid as it would be. Jundt being ordered in by Ferrari and Johnson of to the Monterrey dessert doing clod knows what.
Qualifying was quick and swift. Jundt crushed all opposition into oblivion with a lap over half a second faster than anyone else. God had finally descended into Maranello and it only took him one fast lap to obliterate all the excuses the regular Ferrari drivers had been brewing during the season.
Plaçais was second, followed by Coxon, Parker, Hlavac and Sabre.
Voigt qualified dead last. Actually, Wilks was one spot down on Voigt but that was only because the Portuguese driver had not completed one single qualification lap. Adding to the somewhat enigmatic image of the Lotus front man.
P-Daddy’s fastest lap was about 1.3 seconds slower than anyone else. But we could not care less; Voigt was part of the fray for the remainder of the season. As the boys set out for their warm-up lap, I opened a chilled bottle of Minuty, this being the Saint-Tropez hinterland after all. Guzik refused to join me because he had read somewhere that the soil along Route de la Berle did not produce kosher grapes. Few things however proved easier than convincing Marcelo in joining me for a toast on Voigt’s first Grand Prix as an official Williams-driver.
When the starting flag dropped, Jundt maximized the advantage of his pole and shot away into a clean lead. Plaçais in the Matra followed.
Coxon had a hard time putting the power of the Tyrrell down, completely missing his start. Hlavac went by. Parker went by. Riddall the Wiser went by. As did about 5 others. Tyrrell’s new number one driver was down to 11th, before he had even crossed the start-finish line.
Behind, Mikula made an impressive start, jumping both Blom in the Surtees and Sabre in the second Matra. On the run to the Esses de la Verrerie, the big V12 propelled the Matra, which was already past Parker, level with Mikula’s March. The Matra had the inside line for the first part of the turn. The March the outside line.
David kept his car well to the inside, but Pascal needed to move over to make the second part of the Esses. There was slight contact, sending the 34 March through the gravel. Both cars continued without damage, but Mikula had to concede a spot to Parker.
The rest of the field made it through the Esses de la Verrerie cleanly. As they did through the Chicane and the Esses de la Sainte-Baume. An unscathed peloton thus blasted onto the endless Mistral straight for the first time. Except for Janik, whose Brabham’s electronics called it a day while he was rounding L’Ecole. The first retirement was a fact.
On Mistral, Jundt used the massive power in the Ferrari to edge away from Plaçais. The Frenchman was in turn using his Matra powerhouse to edge away from Hlavac, who already had a small cushion over Sabre. The entire field actually looked relatively spread out on that first rush along Mistral straight and, even at this early stage, some feared that the race might become a boring procession of cars.
Voigt had a pretty good first lap. He had taken a very cautious start, making sure to not get in the way of Wilks or Chacon who shared the last row with him. Chacon had taken over the second Tyrrell from Martinelli. His slow start left Voight dead last of the pack.
A position he would however only hold for about 200 yards. Whited was even more prudent while starting and before they even reached the Esses de la Verrerie, Voigt was ahead of the Virginian driver.
The lack of power and the weight of the 701 showed on Mistral Straight. In order to get some speed out of the decrepit chassis, Voigt had opted to turn the rear wing as level as possible, reducing the drag to a minimum. The result was that he struggled to pick up speed through the second part of Saint-Beaume and L’Ecole.
Whited as a result stormed on the Mistral with more momentum and easily caught our car back. But then an amazing thing happened. Voigt unashamedly used the tow of the Alfa March and pulled back ahead just before the fast Signes curve. Whited had a discrete look to regain the position under braking for Beausset but my man fended him off. He remained in front of the American for at least the rest of lap 1.
Further up, there were some incidents. Parker oversteered out of Bendor and spun. Bos slightly touched him but continued without much time lost. Parker also continued, be it some ten spots down.
Remmen spun his McLaren entering the Virage de la Tour. Ryon, in the third Ferrari, could not avoid him, t-boned the McLaren and lost his nosecone. Remmen was out of the race. Ryon entered the pits for some lengthy yet superficial repairs and rejoined dead last.
Jundt could not be bothered with any of it. He was quietly setting out for what looked like crushing dominance. There was not much more to be reported about the top four, everyone running at respectful distances from one another.
Blom had made it past Mikula but the German, true to his image, was not giving in easily. Further down, more action seemed to be brewing between Sterr, who had taken over one of the Surtees, Coxon, Bos and Janak.
Bos made a pass on Janak under braking for Sainte-Beaume, hitting the rear right of the Ferrari along the way. The Czech Ferrari man was understandably not very impressed with this development and used the power of the Maranello power-unit to get back ahead.
Janak had a slow exit out of Beausset and had Bos straight on his exhausts again. The Dutch driver was particularly aggressive in these opening stages and, trying to move ahead in Bendor, hit the rear of the Ferrari a second time. Both the Lotus and Ferrari spun.
Janak was soon on his way again, but a charging Steve Parker could not avoid the stranded Lotus. The BRM lost its nosecone, entered the pits and retired. Bos soldiered on and would soon manage to have my very own wrath descend upon him.
Mikula and Blom were now entering moderate warfare. Mikula passed Blom through Beausset. The Dutchman defended fiercely, shutting the door very late. So late in fact, that his front right hit the rear left wheel of the March.
Blom then sailed by again on the Mistral straight but Pascal was straight back in Beausset. This time he overtook the Surtees round the outside, repaying the pleasure of shutting doors, both cars touching once more.
On the front straight, it was Blom’s turn to pull ahead and we were back to the Surtees leading the March.
All that swapping of positions allowed a train of Riddall, Jaques, Coxon and Sterr to move in on the Mikula-Blom tandem. On lap 5, Riddall went hard over the inside curve exiting La Verrerie, the BRM loosing all momentum. Teammate Jaques seemed to hold back and allow Riddall to get up to speed again. But then Coxon came charging in the Tyrrell as they approached the Chicane.
Jaques was pushed into the defense and trying to keep Coxon behind, was forced into an outside move around Riddall. It went sour and Jaques’ BRM spun. Both Coxon and Sterr were through.
Barely six laps into the race, Jundt now already enjoyed a massive lead over Plaçais and Hlavac who were dicing over second. But then a mystifying event occurred.
The greatness with which Jundt has been running lately, lead to his car by times being surrounded by a halo. At Paul Ricard, the halo shone brighter than ever before, blinding all onlookers with the sheer brilliance of the Swiss’ talent.
As the Ferrari entered Beausset on lap 6, the halo suddenly grew gigantic and seemed to absorb the entire car. Making it invisible. Next thing the Ferrari-crew knew, was Jundt’s Ferrari in the box, refusing all service. How it had gotten there remains a mystery to this day. Some reports claim that, at exactly the time of the halo inflating, commiserating voices were heard all over westwards Lourdes.
Others reported a young man called Peter standing behind the bar of his Burslem-pub suddenly singing: “I don’t want to rock DJ, but you’re making me feel so nice.”
He would continue singing it, even using it as a lullaby for the son gifted to him some years later.
Plaçais duly took over the lead of the race. With that lead change, the race suddenly faced a real fight for the lead as Hlavac was shadowing the Matra closely. The French car used the power of its massive V12 to edge away ever so slightly on the long Mistral straight. The latest S10 evolution of the Cosworth, equipping the McLaren, however provided Hlavac with sufficient power to keep more or less up.
The Czech driver then poured out of the abundance of his driving skills to put some real pressure on Plaçais in the more twisty bits.
Behind the leading pair, Sabre was enjoying a lonely 3rd place. Blom was somewhat releasing himself from Mikula’s passes, getting a stronger hold on 4th. Mikula looked safe in 5th. Behind followed a small train of Riddall, Jaques and Sterr. Janak had his Ferrari in 9th and Kowalski rounded out the top 10 in his factory entered March.
Richard Coxon, who had been making his way up the field, had dispensed with Riddall for 6th just one lap earlier, but than lost the rear of his car in Beausset. He rejoined in 12th, sniffing at Wilks’ gearbox.
Guzik and grey Marcelo were, at this stage, stuffing me with Inderal tablets in an idle quest to get my blood pressure and heart-rate down.
Voigt had been driving an exemplary race up to now, avoiding other people’s messes and staying out of sandpits. He was, as a result, already back up to 17th. But now had Bos, recovering from his mishap with Janak, large in his mirrors.
Bos had the faster car even if our man’s low wing settings allowed him to keep more or less up on the straight. With a car that was 24 horses down on power and weighed 10 kilograms more!
On the twisty bits, Voigt was suffering however. On lap 5, exiting the Virage du Pont, the Belgian driver prepared for a move on Voigt. P-daddy was anticipating that move and was actually set on letting the faster car through, as even he understood that there was not much point in fighting the powerful Lotus.
What surprised Voigt was Bos opting for the outside line. Voigt kept his head on his shoulders and moved to the inside, handing the Lotus the space to go around on the outside. Which completely flunked our line through Verrerie, crushing our momentum. When in a poorly powered car on a track like Paul Ricard, momentum is about all you have to cling on to.
My blood vessels were swelling, pulsing dangerously.
Then, Bos spun wildly into the Chicane, almost taking our car out with him and killing even more of our momentum.
My heart rate was now starting to disturb those in the pit.
The Lotus was quick on its ways again and one lap down the road, looked at a second move around Voight on the start-finish straight. This time, J.P. decisively moved to the outside line exiting Virage du Pont, clearly indicating that Bos should go for the inside.
But the Belgian was obstinate as only people from the Low Lands can be and stuck to his outside line, almost hitting the pit wall while trying to pull alongside. Juha luckily had the senses to back off in time. Then placed his attempt on the inside approaching the Chicane. Jonny-boy left the room and the Lotus was passed, which was in line with the race logics.
Not for long through. Starting lap 7, Bos, in typical Bos’ fashion, spun his car out of the exit of Verrerie and slammed backwards into the Armco. Another Lotus was ready for the junkyard.
Voigt was firmly into 17th but back at our box, both Guzik and Shumway now had their full weights pressed on my shoulders to prevent me from getting out of my chair. Now, I’m a reasonable man. And I therefore understand that a driver of the skill of Bos in a car as good as the Lotus has every right to dispense with the feeble little louse our operation is. But why did he insist on sticking to that risky outside line? Twice! When, the second time round, Voigt cleared indicated that he would leave plenty of room on the inside.
If at Lotus, that Chapman-fellow was fine with his cars being smashed in to oblivion race-weekend after race-weekend, that was his silly decision. But to, completely unnecessary, put our car at an even greater risk than it already had to endure by being at the hands of that moose head Voigt? That was uncalled for. And I was set on making sure that Chapman got that message loud and clear… till Guzik calmed me down.
From the corner of my eye, I caught the distress on Frank Williams’ face. Seemed like old Frank was getting a taste of what he had let himself get into.
The race was hitting a first little dip now. Hlavac made sure to keep close to Plaçais but never had a real opportunity to have a shot at the lead. Sabre was behind in an ever more lonely third, but probably did not mind that at all.
Mikula was having some peeps at Blom’s 4th position, but also without ever being within real striking distance. Riddall was lonesome but happy in 6th. His teammate Jaques had gone wide in Signes leaving an impressive Sterr into 7th. Janak and Kowalski completed the top 10, while as Coxon had made it back past Wilks.
Way behind, brave Gerard Ryon was soldiering on in a battered Ferrari, dead last. The Italian crew had failed to fix a new nosecone to the car, and Gerard was now struggling with a badly understeering wreck. On lap 11, Plaçais came up to lap him.
On that same lap, Sabre was to have a taste of the worst Signes had on offer. Signes is the very fast right-hander at the end of Mistral straight which, with its 1.8 kilometers, is one of the longest on this year’s calendar.
The most powerful cars, like Sabre’s Matra, break the 300 km/h mark by the end of the straight and then have to negotiate Signes. An open very fast right turn, it is often slippery due to sand being blown onto the track surface. As Sabre approached the turn, his front wheels met less grip than he anticipated. The Matra understeered, sending it into the gravel, where it went spinning.
The Brit ended his ride nudging the barriers with his front wing, slightly damaging it. It then took him ages to get out of the sand and as he rejoined the race, he was down to 11th. Which allowed Coxon back into the top 10.
Richard soon caught a small train lead by Sterr, who was towing Jaques, Janak and Kowalski. One Surtees, one BRM, one Ferrari, one March and one Tyrrell constantly eyeballing each other’s positions without anyone being really successful at overtaking.
Coxon had a look at Kowalski’s 9th spot around the outside of Beausset but got hampered by Janak whose speed choked on an abandoned move on Jaques. The Tyrrell feathered the rear end of the Ferrari. It was enough to have Coxon careening through the sand for a few yards and to lessen the Ferrari’s speed even more. Kowalski mumbled a silent thank you and was in 8th.
The Pole seemed to get a taste for it and, one lap further, made a clean move on Jaques under braking for Verrerie. With Mikula’s March running 4th and Kowalski 7th, that snotty Mosley was on the phone, ordering clod knows what kind of broads.
Coxon slipstreamed ahead of Janak on Mistral and was back to 9th. Ken Tyrrell also started dreaming of some extracurricular diversions.
Riddall steered wide in Virage de la Tour and skidded across the kitty litter back onto the track. He struggled to build up speed along the main straight, allowing Sterr into 5th. The brilliant rookie pretty soon ensured himself of a small but comfortable advantage.
Further up, Mikula looked undisturbed in 4th, as was Blom in 3rd. Hlavac was holding on to Plaçais’ Matra, but was never close enough to actually attempt a pass.
Running 5th in only one’s first Grand Prix is a magnificent, yet stressing achievement. Entering the very slow first right of the Esses de la Sainte-Beaume, Sterr went too wide, the sand slowing him down. Riddall was back through and Gabriel was in a hurry to rejoin the fray. Too much of a hurry maybe.
He steered back onto the racing line as Kowalski with Jaques on tow came storming on. Kowalski went by. Jaques was pulling along side as Sterr steered in for the second part of Saint Beaume, leaving very little room for the Canadian driver. The Surtees and BRM touched, pushing the BRM into a spin. Jaques retired, somewhat disgruntled.
The German driven Surtees continued but lost momentum. Which allowed Coxon to pull ahead on the following Mistral straight.
The Tyrrell immediately had an eye out for Kowalski’s 6th spot. He had a first look into Beausset, but was skillfully blocked by the Polish ace.
Coxon had another run into the Chicane, which ended with the Tyrrell and March tackling the entire right-left section side by side. The Brit got the better from the March in the slow initial part of Saint Beaume.
But it only lasted for about 100 yards. In the second part of Saint Beaume, Kowalski moved back in front of the Tyrrell.
All that dueling at speed allowed Sterr to close right back in on them and onto Mistral, the German seemed to have a look at dispensing with both the Tyrrell and the March in one go.
The move failed and Kowalski was still leading the dance. But it all started to look very much like a Russian roulette kind of dance.
Sabre felt it was high time to gain some positions back. On the Mistral straight, he tucked in behind Janak’s Ferrari. The slipstream of the Maranello-car now supplemented the already sizeable power of the Matra. Just before Signes, Sabre shot out from under the Italian wing and slung himself past not only Janak, but also Sterr.
The Matra was somewhat on an inside line for Signes, making it loose some momentum on the run to Beausset. Luring Sterr into an attempt to regain his lost 8th back. It did not work however and the Surtees ended up bumping the rear right wheel of the Matra.
David seemed to be running lower wings than Gabriel and all through the twisty section leading back to the main straight, the Surtees was all over the Matra. It ended with the Surtees bumping a rear wheel of the Matra once again into Virage du Pont. That unsettled the Matra enough for Sabre to spin on the exit of the turn. Sterr sailed by. As did Janak.
It really seemed that the eagerness of Sterr to do well in his maiden Formula 1-race was now slightly obscuring his fair judgment.
Coxon was still turning the screws on Kowalski. The pressure finally got the better of the Polish driver. He spun at Sainte Beaume and was back down to 11th, Wilks also slipping into the top 10.
Over at Tyrrell more girls were phoned in for the post-race party while as, at March, some invitations were withdrawn.
Coxon was on a roll and went past Riddall for 5th under braking for Saint Beaume. The BRM power however allowed Raymond to catch the Tyrrell and get back ahead along Mistral. Only for Coxon to claim 5th straight back in Beausset. Riddall grinned and bore it.
All this resulted in a relatively spread out top 10. Plaçais was leading with Hlavac’s McLaren still in sight, but nowhere near enough to make a move. Followed Blom in 3rd, Mikula in 4th, Coxon in 5th and Riddall in 6th. Sterr in 7th was feeling an increasing pressure from Janak. The German looked slightly damaged as he was struggling with an unruly rear end.
Sabre and Wilks were a bit further down, running 9th and 10th.
Voigt was running 16th, much better than we had ever hoped for in view of the meager power resource at his disposal.
David Sabre’s Matra started developing a will entirely of its own. It shot wide at Verrerie, pushing the Matra through the sand. Wilks and Kowalski went by. Then spun again in Signes and in Virage de la Tour.
Sabre decided to pit hoping that the mechanics kicked some sense into the Matra. It took them a very long time, allowing Voigt into 15th.
Further to the front, it had only taken Coxon about one lap to reel in Mikula. On Mistral he pulled aside. The Tyrrell and the March covered a great chunk of the long straight side by side, but it was Coxon who made it.
Pascal stuck to the Tyrrell through the twisty section and regained his 4th spot in Village du Pont. Only to witness Coxon come alongside on the main straight. They stormed onto Verrerie side by side, none of them willing to give in. A catastrophe seemed in the making but then Mikula had the good sense to back off. Coxon was in 4th.
Mikula was now however giving it everything to stay with the Tyrrell, hoping for an opportunity to overtake. He looked very much on the edge through Signes, only to loose the rear end in Beausset. The March spun off backwards and hit the barrier hard. Mikula’s race was over.
At March, girls were being chased off towards the Tyrrell box.
Sterr made a second tiny error at Saint Beaune. It was enough to let Janak past. The Ferrari moved an additional position up through Mikula’s retirement and was into the points.
As to Voigt, he was in 14th leading a Ferrari and a Matra. What about that?
That Matra was quick on our tail again nevertheless. Sabre tried a first time into la Verrerie but Voigt managed to fend it off cleanly. Some yards further, the Matra was however unstoppable in the Chicane.
Voigt lost some ground through Sainte Beaume and L’Ecole and, on the ensuing Mistral straight, let Janak lap him. J.P. also stayed on the outside in Beausset to let Kowalski take a lap. But then, the dumbass pulled a pretty smart move.
He tucked in behind Kowalski and, as the Polish driver lapped Sabre, snuck passed the Matra in Kowalski’s wake.
Sabre had to let both Sterr and Wilks through and Voigt was actually enjoying a small lead over the Matra. The French car was moreover still acting up. Exiting the Verrerie, the rear of the car stepped out. The car hit the inside Armco head on. Front wheel and suspension were thorn off. Race over.
Kowalski was reigniting some enthusiasm into the March garage. He passed Wilks as the Portuguese driver had a near spin in Virage de la Tour, and then slipstreamed ahead of first Sterr and then Janak. Putting the March back into a point’s paying position.
Wilks slipstreamed the Lotus past Sterr on Mistral straight. Sterr started pulling everything he had to keep up with Wilks. He overcooked it a first time into Beausset, exiting the turn fully sideways on full opposite lock. The German however kept it together. Then had a second near spin entering Saint Beaume, to finally completely overshoot Virage du Pont. The Surtees hit the barriers head on, losing the front left suspension in doing so. Sterr’s race was over.
And there was more bad news for John Surtees. As Blom prepared to lap Bruno Chacon, the Surtees got slowed by the Tyrrell into Beausset. It was all a resurgent Coxon in the other Tyrrell needed to sail past Blom into third.
So, as Yves Plaçais prepared to enter his 32nd of 55 laps, he was still in a comfortable lead. Hlavac however seemed to be closing the gap with the McLaren. Coxon was pleasing Ken Tyrrell by running 3rd and distancing himself from Blom in 4th.
Ray Riddall was running a rather lonely race in 5th, with Kowalski in 6th and Janak in 7th. Wilks on the sole remaining Lotus and Acerclinth and Whited, both in March 711’s, rounded out the top 10.
Before the lap was over, Riddall however spun in Virage de la Tour, leaving both Kowalski and Janak through. Galls were shifted back from the Tyrrell to the March box.
Merely two laps later, Ray would spin again in Verrerie, leaving Wilks into 7th.
Chacon was struggling with the second Tyrrell. He had several slight offs and no longer managed to clock laps below 2 minutes. That inspired Marcelo to spur on Voigt, running 13th already, to open the hunt for Chacon.
As Plaçais came up to lap Voigt on the long Mistral, J.P. did thus not hesitate a second to decisively throw the jalopy March in the slipstream of the Matra. Together with the low wing setting on the car, it allowed Voigt to clock an impressive 296 km/h in the dilapidated car. After the race, Voigt was exhilarated by the entire experience, raving on and on about the sensation of absolute rush.
Kowalski was slightly optimistic about his and his car’s capabilities in Signes, spinning of at high speed. He avoided hitting anything and was soon back to racing the grey stuff. But Janak was passed into 6th.
Gerard Ryon seemed to be finding some sort of rhythm in the Ferrari but then, on his 36th lap, spun in Verrerie, hitting the Armco and losing another nosecone. Valiant Gerard soldiered on in the battered car but lost it at high speed on the Mistral straight. The crash disintegrated the Ferrari and Gerard’s race was over.
Chacon meanwhile had another off in Signes and steered wide in Beausset on the next lap. While Voigt was now turning steady high 1.56’s and low 1.57’s. P-daddy was closing in.
The Cosworth in the back of Wilks’ Lotus decided it was time to buy the farm and exploded with a loud bang in the Courbe du Village. Richard lost control of the car and skidded across track, straight into the path of Mick Chapman. The Lotus collected the March, causing both cars to spin into the inside gravel. Chapman continued his race without loss of position, but with a big dent in his picnic table wing.
Wilks’ rear wing had ended up in the middle of the track. Chacon hit it and had another spin. Voigt now had the Tyrrell within eyesight.
Coxon had a big scare hitting the outside curb on the exit of Signes. The Tyrrell spun at high speed and was catapulted across the track into the inside railing. Nosecone and front wing were gone and Richard dragged the car to the pits, where lengthy repairs were called for. He would rejoin in 8th. A brilliant first podium seemed lost for the Tyrrell-team.
Chacon in the other Tyrrell had meanwhile felt the heat of Voigt and was now picking up the pace. Voigt moreover messed up exiting L’Ecole and hit the fence hard with both right wheels. The car was unbalanced and did no longer steer straight. Fuck-face needed some laps to adapt to the car, allowing Chacon to edge away.
As Yves Plaçais entered his 45th lap and only 10 laps remained, he was still leading Hlavac in the McLaren. The Czech however seemed to have found some speed in the car as he was closing in. Blom was still in third with his Surtees. Janak 4th for Ferrari and Kowalski 5th with a factory March. Last of the point earners was Ray Riddall with a BRM.
Acerclinth, Coxon, Whited and Chapman completed the top 10.
Coxon was making up lost time, turning a string of 1.50’s. He unlapped himself from Janak and stormed on. Untill Signes bit him again. The Tyrrell lost stability over the exit curb, throwing the car backwards into the outside railing. The rear suspension was pulverized as was a rear wheel. Coxon’s first race for Ken Tyrrell was over.
Voigt clocked some 1.57’s again but Chacon was also back in a rhythm and the gap to the Tyrrell seemed near impossible to bridge. So Voigt seemed to lower his speed, taking no risks, and was running around 2 minutes per lap now. Still, with Coxon out, he was up to 11th and the top 10 beckoned.
The best action at this stage was to be found with Whited and Mick Chapman. Following Coxon’s demise, they were fighting for 8th. Chapman was running a Frank Williams entered March 711 with an older Cosworth in the back. Whited had a similar March 711 but with a slightly more powerful Alfa Romeo engine.
Whited had been enjoying a comfortable advantage over Chapman but spun off in Virage de la Tour. That had allowed Chapman to be right back on the American’s tail.
On lap 49, Whited had a horrible entry to La Verrerie, more or less crossing over the inside curb and losing all momentum. Chapman sensed the opportunity and positioned to make a move under braking for the Chicane. Whited did not insist and let the Brit go.
The Alfa March however seemed to be running much less downforce and on the long Mistral, the factory car blasted by the Williams entered car. Chapman held on to Whited’s rear, courtesy of slipstream, and once back in the twisty section, was all over the American’s car. Mick made a clean pass in L’Epingle and was in front again.
Whited abided his time till they were back on Mistral and there used his aero advantage to sweep in front again.
As soon as they were back in the twisty part, Chapman retorted and went by in Beausset. That gave him the entire twisty section to build a gap and Whited indeed stayed behind for about half a lap. Until Mistral presented itself again. The Virginian went by once more.
And now seemed set on defending his 8th spot. He slid and skidded sideways throughout almost the entire section from Beausset all the way to Virage du Pont. Chapman tried at almost every turn, but Whited stayed ahead.
That allowed the Virginia man to remain ahead till they headed out on the Mistral yet again. And there the factory entered March pulled away to stay ahead till the chequered flag. Whited and Chapman had however amply earned the award for best duel of the Grand Prix.
Talking about chequered flags and dresses, they say it is never over till the fat lady sings. Plaçais, for having lead undisturbed for about 50 laps now, suddenly faced the possibility of not winning as he entered his last lap. Had he cooled of too early? Was he facing an issue with the car? No one knew but fact was that, as he approached Sainte-Beaume for the very last time, the Matra suddenly had Hlavac’s McLaren all over its behind.
Hlavac is a very smart driver who understood that going for an impatient rushed action in Sainte-Beaume was likely to only yield disappointment. So he waited, and composed himself in the shallow peace of the Matra’s wake.
Onto Mistral they both speared for the very last time. Where, on paper at least, the Matra held the advantage. Hlavac had however maneuvered his car in a position allowing it to fully benefit from Plaçais’ slipstream. About 500 meters before Signes, he pulled out and came along side. It looked as if the McLaren was going to enter Signes first.
Just as Hlavac, Plaçais is also a racer at heart. And a racer’s instinct, when leading, is to defend first spot for dear life. So Plaçais, who was already running pretty much in the middle of the track, made the right side of the track, where Hlavac was now abreast, yet a little bit smaller.
The cars touched. At over 300 km/h. The Matra was quick to settle back into a balanced ride. The McLaren however went on to the gravel at unabated speed. The instinct of a race-car driver is something we all understand. As we all grasp how Yves defending his lead was probably something of an irresistible urge, after having been on top for so many laps. Still, the way the gap for Hlavac was closed, left some wondering.
It nevertheless provided Hlavac with an opportunity to show the world what an incredibly gifted driver he is. Petr straightened the McLaren, now sideways in the gravel, out in no time. Rebalancing the car had however prevented him from slowing sufficiently for Signes. And the McLaren was now careening through the gravel again. The Czech managed to also get a hold on this situation. He kept his second spot but the Matra was out of reach.
That Matra by now exited Virage du Pont to give the French what the whole of France had hoped for: a French car driven by a French driver winning the French Grand Prix. La Marianne would be wearing a proud tricolore tonight. Maybe, I thought, France would feel slightly less widowed.
As both leaders took the chequered flag, Blom, who would take third, was about to brake for the Chicane and thus had about an entire lap left to cover. It illustrated the dominance that the Matra and McLaren had exerted on this race.
Janak had meanwhile already taken fourth, salvaging some honor for Ferrari. The only Ferrari to see the finish was however a lap down; something probably not entirely in line with the Commendatore’s expectations.
Kowalski took 5th in the March entered 711 and Riddall secured the last point for BRM.
Followed three 711’s: the CMG Racing entered, Cosworth powered number 42 of Acerclinth, the second factory entered and Alfa powered chassis in the hands of Whited and the Frank Williams Cosworth powered car driven by Mick Chapman.
Further back, Chacon had been struggling with an increasingly difficult to drive Tyrrell. The Brazilian driver finally crashed the car into the fences at L’Epingle.
Voigt picked up the spoils and, behold, in his first Grand Prix finished within the top 10. We headed out to Marseille at once. Straight into Fonfon for some excellent bouillabaisse. And then got stuck in the small winery shop adjacent to the restaurant, where the Mediterranean night lingered on and on.
In the championship standings, the one who could have benefitted the most from Riddall’s absence, Coxon, crashed out and did not capitalize. Plaçais was too far down to have his victory upset the order. The French driver however shot to fourth in the standings.
Hlavac did the best operation, holding on to his third spot, reducing the gap with Coxon to 7 points. The Brit held on to second, still 12 points down on Grant Riddall, whose lead seems untouchable, even with Grant the Great somewhere on a beach with Ali.
Janak and Johnson share sixth spot in the provisional standings. Blom, Fredriksson, Goissen and Jundt all on 4 points sharing 7th, complete the top 10.
It thus seems that even luring away their top driver cannot disturb the Surtees’ team this season.
Next round will be Silverstone. And, frankly, I expect to witness another Grant and the also-rans display in Northamptonshire.