DANCING TO TECNO BEAT
RONNIE PETERSON’S CAREER REALLY TOOK OFF IN 1968. After hoodwinking his bank manager to give him a loan to buy “a house, or something”, he set off for Bologna with friend, rival and former instructor Reine Wisell, and they returned to Sweden with a Tecno 68 Formula 3 car apiece. While Wisell became Europe’s top-rated F3 driver that season, Peterson focused on a hugely successful season in Scandinavia, and also took his first two victories away from the Nordic countries in slipstreamfests at Hockenheim and Monza.
For 1969, Wisell was snapped up by the Chevron team while Peterson used new-found sponsorship from Swedish cough-sweet manufacturer Smog to upgrade to a Tecno 69. This was a titanic season of F3 competition, Peterson winning all over the continent, with the highlight a famous battle in
Monaco against Wisell. The young upstart won, and he was on his way to the top. “He drove everything very fast, you know,” remembers Wisell. “Whatever you gave him he put it to the limit. Sometimes I’m not sure he was too safe. I had to be very careful driving against him! He was very brave, you know.”
It wasn’t just the Swedes – there were also two very strong drivers from down under coming to the attention of Formula 1 teams: Australian Tim Schenken and New Zealander Howden Ganley. Both would become firm friends of Peterson’s. “I met him in 1968,” says Schenken. “We were at Brands Hatch, and he came and asked for some help with gear ratios. Normally, when someone asks you that, you just give them the gear ratios for Silverstone. But for whatever reason I gave him the right ratios. In ’69 we raced against each other a lot. Reine, Ronnie, Emerson [Fittipaldi, who joined F3 mid-season] and myself, I think we were the principal race winners.”
While Wisell would race for Lotus in F1 before Peterson did, the underrated Ganley would become a big help in his March days. “Whenever we needed any testing done and Ronnie couldn’t do it, we would get Howden along,” says March’s Robin Herd of a driver who raced briefly in F1 for his team in 1974. “People don’t realise how talented a driver and a person Howden is. He was very important to me and Ronnie.”
“WHATEVER YOU GAVE HIM HE PUT IT TO THE LIMIT. SOMETIMES I’M NOT SURE HE WAS TOO SAFE. I HAD TO BE VERY CAREFUL WITH HIM”