MO­TOR SPORT FLASH­BACK

MICHAEL WINDS THE CLOCK BACK FIVE DECADES TO WHEN KIWI F 1 DRIV­ERS WERE A FORCE TO BE RECK­ONED WITH. HE ALSO PAYS TRIB­UTE TO RAC­ING LEG­END, DAN G URNE Y

New Zealand Classic Car - - Contents -

On March 17, 1968, the lat­est Mclaren For­mula 1 (F1) chal­lenger de­buted in the non-cham­pi­onship Race of Cham­pi­ons at Brands Hatch. Des­ig­nated the ‘M7A’, it was the third pur­pose-built Grand Prix (GP) car from the still-young team. The first — the M2B — had run, un­suc­cess­fully, in 1966, while its suc­ces­sor was pow­ered by the V12 Bri­tish Rac­ing Mo­tors (BRM) car that was so late in ar­riv­ing that Bruce spent the early part of 1967 run­ning an adapted For­mula 2 (F2) car that used a 2.1-litre BRM V8 — which was never go­ing to be a con­tender against 3.0-litre op­po­si­tion. De­spite the re­li­a­bil­ity and light­ness of the Rep­coBrab­hams pow­er­ing Denny Hulme to the 1967 World Cham­pi­onship, it was clear that Cosworth’s Ford-fi­nanced DFV was the fu­ture. Lo­tus had ex­clu­sive use of the V8 in 1967 but, for 1968, ad­di­tional sup­ply was avail­able to two teams, and Mclaren was se­lected, along with Ma­tra, a French mis­sile man­u­fac­turer. Ma­tra would have Jackie Ste­wart, but Bruce was be­ing joined by Denny.

The open­ing round of the new cham­pi­onship was on New Year’s Day in South Africa, and marked Jim Clark’s record-break­ing 25th GP vic­tory for Lo­tus, but Ste­wart in­di­cated that he would be a force once Ma­tra was sorted. Mclaren sent the M5A for Denny — the new cham­pion rac­ing a V12 F1 car for the only time — af­ter a coat of pa­paya or­ange, a first for the F1 team. Denny was fifth but knew that the Cosworth-pow­ered car was be­ing read­ied back in Eng­land. He could hardly wait …

Two M7AS were ready for the Race of Cham­pi­ons, and Bruce put his on pole, while com­pa­tri­ots Hulme and Chris Amon were on the sec­ond row with iden­ti­cal times. This was at a time when non-cham­pi­onship races formed part of a F1 cal­en­dar, most no­tably the early sea­son Daily Mail Race of Cham­pi­ons at Brands Hatch in March, and the Daily Ex­press In­ter­na­tional Tro­phy at Sil­ver­stone in April. For the fledg­ling Mclaren F1 team, the Race of Cham­pi­ons was a chance to de­ter­mine if its new Cosworth-pow­ered de­vice would be on the pace. The M7A was, as found­ing Mclaren me­chanic Wal­ter Will­mott re­called, “a pretty straight­for­ward and sim­ple car — more along the lines of the F2 M4A than the overly com­pli­cated BRM car”. Sim­ple was also ef­fec­tive, as Bruce planted the Mclaren on pole. Will­mott: “He was pretty pumped. Bruce al­ways went bet­ter when he was pumped, and the oc­ca­sion of hav­ing his car with a real chance would have been part of it”. Mike Spence’s V12 BRM and Jackie Ste­wart’s Ma­tra made up the bal­ance of the front row, while right be­hind was an all-kiwi af­fair, with Chris Amon’s V12 Fer­rari and Hulme record­ing iden­ti­cal times.

With Jim Clark in tax ex­ile, Gra­ham Hill had the sole Lo­tus sixth fastest, ahead of Pe­dro Ro­driguez in the sec­ond BRM and Jacky Ickx in the No. 2 Fer­rari. Au­to­car mag­a­zine noted that the Mclarens were “a credit to the team, be­ing beau­ti­fully pre­pared, well made and ex­cit­ing to look at. Since Hulme had driven the car only once be­fore, it was to be ex­pected that Mclaren him­self would be the quicker of the two.” Over 40,000 spec­ta­tors were scat­tered around the pic­turesque Kent cir­cuit on a sunny-but-cool day. Among them was a ‘ fresh-off-the-boat’ 19-year-old Kiwi mo­tor rac­ing fa­natic — Pe­ter Buck­leigh would, in the fol­low­ing decade, be­come hugely in­stru­men­tal in the ca­reer of Brett Ri­ley, but now found him­self gaz­ing at the fa­mous Brands Hatch that was “just a cou­ple of me­tres away — be­tween us and the track was an earth bar­rier lined with rail­way sleep­ers. Given the ba­si­cally flat tracks I had been to in New Zealand, I was quite stunned at the drop down and climb back up to Druids — and the speed they took it at.”

Mclaren made the best start from Spence and Hulme, and it was this trio that led past the pits on lap one, but where was Amon? The Fer­rari had bogged at the start, and the Kiwi was down in eighth. The pace was fre­netic, and Hulme was soon past Spence’s BRM, but the English­man wasn’t giv­ing up and passed not one but two or­ange cars to take the lead. A BRM in the lead re­ally got the crowd ex­cited, while team-mate Ro­driguez was shad­ow­ing the Mclarens with the two Fer­raris close be­hind Hill. A stone smashed one of Hulme’s gog­gle glasses, and al­though the pain was in­tense, Denny sol­diered on, de­spite drop­ping to sev­enth. Be­fore long, he was mon­ster­ing Amon. The first sign of trou­ble for BRM came when Ro­driguez dropped out with a me­chan­i­cal prob­lem, and al­though Spence looked fan­tas­tic out front, Mclaren went past on lap 11 of 52. Hill was now sec­ond and clos­ing on Mclaren be­fore drop­ping out, and, soon af­ter, Hulme was past Amon, who’d com­pletely put team-mate Ickx in the shade. De­spite the pain to his eye, the

The M7A was, as found­ing Mclaren me­chanic Wal­ter Will­mott re­called, “a pretty straight­for­ward and sim­ple car — more along the lines of the F2 M4A than the overly com­pli­cated BRM”

ir­re­press­ible reign­ing world cham­pion was now third and clos­ing on Spence be­fore re­ally get­ting the bit be­tween his teeth and tak­ing sec­ond, then the lead, from his boss. Spence was not to be de­feated and also passed Mclaren, clos­ing to within four sec­onds of Hulme, but, to the mas­sive dis­ap­point­ment of the pa­tri­otic crowd, it all came to an end on lap 40, with an­other bro­ken BRM. For the young Kiwi in the crowd, it was a dream re­sult — Buck­leigh: “The pa­paya or­ange was ge­nius, and gave the Mclarens a very dis­tinct and cool im­age.”

So Bruce won on the de­but of his new com­bi­na­tion, with Denny in third. It was, near as dammit, 10 years to the day since Bruce had left New Zealand for the first time to take up his Driver to Europe award — and even across half a cen­tury, I am strug­gling to think of any other mo­tor rac­ing fig­ure who achieved so much in an ini­tial decade of ar­riv­ing on the world stage.

The next out­ing for F1 was an­other non-cham­pi­onship race, this time at Sil­ver­stone. The re­sult was not only an­other win for the new Mclaren M7A — with Denny get­ting the vic­tory gar­land — but a one-two, be­cause Bruce was sec­ond. To cap off a mem­o­rable An­zac Day, Chris was third for Fer­rari. Buck­leigh was there too — “The spec­ta­cle at Sil­ver­stone was a lit­tle less as we were pushed a lot fur­ther from the track.”

The M7A Mclarens had a solid sea­son in 1968, with Denny win­ning two races late in the year to have an out­side shot at the ti­tle, but the first cham­pi­onship win was, ap­pro­pri­ately, with Bruce at the wheel in Bel­gium. In tak­ing that vic­tory, Bruce be­came the only man to win

Grand Epreuves in the 2.5-litre, 1.5-litre, and 3.0-litre ver­sions of F1.

Dan Gur­ney

Dan Gur­ney’s big­gest month in rac­ing was June 1967 — over the week­end of June 10 and 11, he’d an­chored the win­ning 7.0-litre Ford MKIV, co-driven by AJ Foyt, at Le Mans (and, at the end of 24 hours, sprayed cham­pagne, the first time it was sprayed on a ros­trum) and then the fol­low­ing week­end won the Bel­gian GP at Spa in the gor­geous Ea­gle-wes­lake — a car that was as much his cre­ation as the Mclarens were Bruce’s, or the Brab­hams Jack’s. The son of a fa­mous opera singer with the New York Metropoli­tan, he grew up in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia just as sports car rac­ing was about to ex­plode. Af­ter serv­ing in Korea with the US Army, he soon showed him­self to be a fast and smooth op­er­a­tor — drives were of­fered, and when he starred in a Fer­rari, Enzo no­ticed. He shone im­me­di­ately — he was run­ner-up at the Nür­bur­gring, no less, in only his sec­ond GP.

At Monza, he was fourth, and sec­ond in a front-en­gined car — the tifosi were con­vinced that the next Fer­rari world cham­pion had been found; how­ever, Gur­ney wasn’t in­ter­ested in Enzo’s pol­i­tics and took up BRM’S of­fer. It was a bad choice, and when the rules changed for 1961, it looked as if his new team — Porsche — would be a strong con­tender as, in an at­tempt to slow the cars down, the rule-mak­ers brought in the 1.5-litre for­mula — un­blown. For Dan, the im­pact of these new low-pow­ered cars was way more sig­nif­i­cant than for any­one else — he’d ar­rived in Europe at al­most the worst time for a man of his size to run in F1.

Dan was circa 1.9m tall at a time when the next tallest F1 driver would have been Gra­ham Hill, at about 1.8m. Jim Clark, Bruce Mclaren, John Sur­tees, Chris Amon, and many oth­ers al­most uni­ver­sally fell into a range of 1.72–1.75m. Jack Brab­ham, and, later, Denny Hulme, were a tad taller, Jackie Ste­wart shorter, but none of this would have mat­tered as much had F1’s rules not led to the low­est-pow­ered cars ever — even a slim and ath­letic 1.9m guy is go­ing to be heav­ier than a slim and ath­letic 1.75m driver, and when there is only about 150kw avail­able, that re­ally counts. Plus, of course, there was so much more of Dan stick­ing up in the airstream than any­one else.

Yet, three of his four F1-cham­pi­onship wins came in those 1.5-litre cars — the first for Porsche on the daunt­ing French Rouen cir­cuit in 1962, and then two in

Brab­hams — at Rouen again in 1964 and at that sea­son’s fi­nale in Mex­ico. His boss, Jack Brab­ham, had hired the Amer­i­can not just for his driv­ing abil­ity but also as an en­gi­neer — the Aus­tralian was fa­mously hard to im­press, but he be­lieved Gur­ney to be spe­cial. So spe­cial, in fact, that Jack was al­ready plan­ning his exit — an­tic­i­pat­ing that his driv­ers for the new ‘re­turn-to-power’ 3.0-litre F1 of 1966 would be Gur­ney and Denny Hulme. De­spite the two wins, Dan was des­per­ate to do his own thing, and his All/an­glo Amer­i­can Rac­ers (AAR) pro­duced an F1 car of ex­quis­ite beauty — the Ea­gle. With its deep mono­coque, ‘beak’ nose, snazzy V12, and dark blue liv­ery, it is on most short­lists of the best-look­ing GP cars ever.

In 1966, the V12 Wes­lake wasn’t ready ini­tially, and Dan ran with a four-cylin­der 2.7-litre Cli­max, per­haps pri­vately curs­ing that the car he had left be­hind at Brab­ham was do­ing most of the win­ning. A win in an early non-cham­pi­onship race in 1967 showed prom­ise, but his vic­tory at Spa in June hinted at a break­through — sadly for Dan, the V12’s re­li­a­bil­ity cost the project dearly, and the navy blue Ea­gle flew for the last time at Monza in 1968.

He was also com­pet­ing in Can-am with Ford fund­ing, plus build­ing Ea­gles for Indy rac­ing, in which he was also com­pet­i­tive — he won at River­side in 1967 and fin­ished sec­ond in ’68 at Indy to Bobby Unser — both in Ea­gles. As his North Amer­i­can ef­forts took up in­creas­ing amounts of time, he stepped away from F1 in 1969, when he was run­ner-up at Indy again. He’d al­ways been close to Bruce and the Mclaren team, and when the great Kiwi was killed in June 1970, Dan an­swered the call for both the F1 and Can-am op­er­a­tions. He won two of the three rounds that he drove for the works team in Can-am, and, soon af­ter that, he re­tired from driv­ing du­ties to con­cen­trate on run­ning his team and build­ing race cars.

Even aside from Indy, Nascar, Trans-am, the low-slung Al­li­ga­tor mo­tor­cy­cle he had been de­vel­op­ing, Toy­ota IMSA (In­ter­na­tional Mo­tor Sports As­so­ci­a­tion), and other en­gi­neer­ing stuff, his time in F1 and sports cars alone makes him a leg­end — all the other stuff sim­ply puts him on a level of di­ver­sity even Mario An­dretti can’t match! He re­mained com­pletely mod­est about his many achieve­ments: he was in­dis­putably a great bloke, to­gether with be­ing both a hero and an in­spi­ra­tion to many fans across the planet. Dan Gur­ney passed away on Jan­uary 14 this year. He was 86.

He re­mained com­pletely mod­est about his many achieve­ments: he was in­dis­putably a great bloke, to­gether with be­ing both a hero and an in­spi­ra­tion to many fans across the planet

Of­fi­cial mo­tor rac­ing pro­gramme for the Race of Cham­pi­ons at Brands Hatch, March 17, 1968

Above: Dan Gur­ney ready to be taken for a ride at Goodwood Re­vival 2017 - Photo: Jac­qui Madelin

Be­low: From the AAR web­site — Dan lean­ing on one of the hugely suc­cess­ful Toy­ota IMSA cars

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