ATLAS F1   Volume 6, Issue 45

  Rear View Mirror

Backward glances at racing history

Where Upon Our Scribe, Sherman, & Mr. Peabody Once Again Crank Up The Way-Back Machine for 1961...
by Don Capps, U.S.A.

Which is better known as...the Season of Low Expectations or Britain Sees Red

In this chapter:

The last races and looking Back at 1961...

  • 1961.10.12  -  I Coppa Italia, Vallelunga
  • 1961.11.04  -  I Rand Spring Trophy, Kyalami
  • 1961.12.09  -  IV Rand Grand Prix, Kyalami
  • 1961.12.17  -  I Natal Grand Prix, Westmead
  • 1961.12.26  -  VIII South African Grand Prix, East London

    While the last of the races counting towards the Championship was now run, there were a few left to be conducted. The first of these was the rather unusual Coppa Italia run at Vallelunga. This was a leaf right out of the notebook of such luminaries as Carl Kiekhaefer. Kiekhaefer, owner of the company that produced Mercury Outboards, campaigned a team of white Chrysler 300's in a manner that Alfred Neubauer would have admired. When it became apparent that another event or two added to the schedule would increase the chances of his number one driver, the very talented Tim Flock, to win the Grand National championship, that is exactly what he did. His drivers won the 1955 and 1956 Championship and just as suddenly as he appeared, Kiekhaefer was gone.

    Six years later and far to the East across the Atlantic, Scuderia Sant Ambroeus did the same thing. The contest for the Italian Championship came down to Lorenzo Bandini and Giancarlo Baghetti. When it transpired that Bandini would be tied up elsewhere, this Thursday event appeared on the calendar. The only fly in the ointment was that the trusty Ferrari Dino 156 that Ferrari had made available for Baghetti earlier in the season, was not to materialize. After scrambling about, the Scuderia found a suitable mount: a Porsche 718/2 used by Hans Herrmann earlier in the season.

    As for the rest of the grid, it is one of the reasons Serious Racing Historians sneer at those who merely focus on the Championship events. Of the three Cooper 45's on the grid, I am quite certain that I few clues as to which was which. As to the teammates Baghetti had that day, Albino Buticchi and Lucien de Sanctis were scarcely household names at the time, although de Sanctis did have some recognition due to the Formula Junior cars bearing his name. As to exactly what an "Elios" was beyond a bitsa FJ car, I am open to any and all new information. Even Doug Nye is scratching his head over this one. It was not particularly successful with Mario Pandolfo retiring from both heats.

    There were two 30 laps heats with the winner being determined on the aggregate. With the only really competitive machine in the race besides the new Lotus 18 - Climax FPF of Ernesto Prinoth, Baghetti won both heats with Prinoth also second in both heats and Nino Vaccarella - in a Cooper 51 - Maserati, following suit for third. Thus, Baghetti became the 1961 Italian Champion. Whatever the nature of the Vallelunga event, his drives at Siracusa and Posillipo plus his win at Reims clearly made his the Italian star of the year.

    Now the action moves to South Africa. The first of these events is the Rand Spring Trophy at the then brand new Kyalami circuit. This was the final round in the South African Championship and the situation was pretty straight forward: to win Bruce Johnstone needed to win the race, otherwise it was match point to Syd van der Vyver. Ernie Pieterse, a teammate of Johnstone on Scuderia Alfa, took the pole with van der Vyver and Johnstone filling out the front row. On the sixth lap the Championship was handed to van der Vyver as Johnstone had a tire blow and had to retire. Pieterse won the race with John Love second and van der Vyver third. Although both scored maximum points 24 points - scores from only three of 10 events counted, van der Vyver won the tie-breaker with both more wins and more gross points.

    The Rand Grand Prix then followed almost a month later at the new Kyalami track. It was a very impressive entry that rolled into the paddock. It included: two entries from Team Lotus - Jim Clark and Trevor Taylor; two Porsche works entries for Bonnier and Edy Barth; Masten Gregory in the British racing Partnership (BRP) Lotus 18 - Climax FPF; and, Reg Parnell running two cars for locals Tony Maggs and Bruce Johnstone. Plus there were the other fascinating machines of the South African racing scene such as Rauten Hartmann in the Netuar; a Lotus 15 - Alfa Romeo for Gene Bosman; several of the LDS machines of Doug Serrurier for Sam Tingle and Fanie Viljoen; and, the other usual suspects.

    The Porsches for Bonnier and Barth only appeared a mere hour and a half prior to the start of the race! A session was hastily "organized" for them and the times counted for the grid. The situation was going to be protested by Reg Parnell, but when the flag dropped and the front row of Jim Clark, Trevor Taylor, and Masten Gregory zipped off the grid, the Bonnier car was in the pits being fuelled, so end of protest.

    Clark simply dominated the race, leading from start to finish with teammate Taylor in second after an early ding-dong with Tony Maggs. After his late start from the pit lane, Bonnier showed the tiger beneath his usually placid appearance. He sat the fastest lap and managed to finish third - on the lead lap, and gave the spectators their money's worth. Barth was fourth and Bruce Johnstone fifth.

    At the Natal Grand Prix at Westmead, Stirling Moss joined Masten Gregory as a BRP entry, otherwise the entry stayed about the same. The grid saw Clark on the pole with Bonnier and Taylor sharing the front row. Moss was on the back row after a late appearance due to having a commitment in the United Kingdom which delayed his arrival. There were serious concerns about the newly-laid track surface. The oven-like heat was playing havoc with a track that was laid under less than ideal conditions. The track actually shifted under the feet of course officials as they surveyed the track. The reason they were walking the track in the first place was that it was breaking up very badly at points around the entire circuit during practice. It would do the same during the race.

    Times being different then, the race went on despite the warranted concerns about the track surface nit being able to stand the pounding of the 23 cars on the grid. At the start, Clark was off in a flash along with Taylor, leaving Bonnier behind. Slicing through the grid from the back row of the grid was Moss. By lap 23 Moss was second. Everyone anticipated another patented Moss victory. However, that was as close as Moss got. Clark matched him stroke for stroke, lap for lap, and won easily. It was the first signal that perhaps the Scot was as good as he seemed at times. Bonnier and Barth were third and fourth in their Porsches. The best of the locals was Champion van der Vyver in fifth.

    An omen of things to come was the collapse of the rear suspension on the Lotus 21 of Trevor Taylor and the resulting crash at speed. The crash saw Taylor fortunate to emerge unharmed since the Lotus executed a roll-over. The results could have been very nasty. Sad to relate, this was the first of many such incidents to plague the very talented Taylor.

    On Boxing Day, the South African Grand Prix was held at East London. This was a full dress rehearsal for next year's event which would be a round in the World Championship. As was what was by now the usual, Clark was on the pole with Moss and Taylor making it an all Lotus front row.

    At the start, Clark and Taylor led, but Moss was soon past first Taylor and then Clark. As he entered the Esses, Clark was confronted by the Cooper 45 of Dave Wright sitting in the middle of the track, where he had stalled. Clark managed to avoid the Cooper by spinning his car. Moss and Taylor had enough warning to slow down and avoid the Wright Cooper. This allowed Moss into the lead, and when Moss usually took the lead and had a reliable machine under, put his name on the check. Clark was now having gearbox problems and sometimes getting second gear and sometimes getting fourth gear when he selected gears. However, Clark took off after Moss like a demon. In only 20 laps he caught Moss and passed him and didn't slow down a bit after he did so. Clark left the lap record in shards, lapping over three seconds faster than the previous record. Moss was most impressed and started telling everyone to keep an eye on the young Scot because he certainly was!

    Bonnier was third yet again with Europe-bound Tony Maggs fourth in a Parnell Cooper. Once again, the first local home was van der Vyver.

    Looking Back on the Season

    Much to the surprise of nearly all of those in the racing business, the new formula was a success. The races were well attended and there were enough nail-biting sort of races to make the fans happy. Although Ferrari came loaded for bear and was only bested by the brilliance of Stirling Moss, the British constructors and engine manufacturers were making rapid progress. The new Climax and BRM vee-eights were running by the end of the season and looking very promising once the gremlins were exorcised from the engines.

    Ferrari simply did a masterful job and quietly putting the pieces in place for a run at the Championship. It had three excellent drivers, an unusually muted season on the management front, and the will to do what was necessary to win. At Monte Carlo and the Nürburgring they were beaten by Moss, but only when the Maestro reached far down into his reservoir of skill and daring. While it is perhaps clear that Wolfgang von Trips was perhaps the first among equals with teammate Phil Hill, both were worthy challengers for the crown. From a career noted earlier for his ability to survive crashes, von Trips had developed into a mature, skilled driver. Hill was among the best of his time in sports cars, giving even Moss a true run for his money more often than not, and a solid and very fast Grand Prix driver. However, a major brew-up between Enzo Ferrari (actually more Laura Ferrari) and Carlo Chiti resulted in the Ferrari team being faced with a walk out of most of its technical staff. Richie Ginther also left to join the BRM team for 1962. And there was the deal that would have made a Dino available to Rob Walker for Moss to drive...

    Little did folks realize that they had seem almost the last of Stirling Moss. After running a handful of events in early 1962, he suffered a massive crash at Goodwood from which he was incredibly fortunate to survive. After bouncing back from the horrid crash at Spa in 1960, it was expected that Moss would once again perform a miracle. It was not to be. In the Spring of 1963, Moss announced his retirement.

    We also saw Tony Brooks retire. He simply said it wasn't fun any more, he didn't like the cars and so it was time to quit. I for one, always thought very highly of Brooks and regretted his retirement. He was still capable of winning races given the right equipment.

    Innes Ireland ended 1961 a bitter man. His sacking by Colin Chapman from Team Lotus was not only a shock, it was unexpected not only by Ireland, but the motoring press in general. For some years Ireland blamed the sacking on Clark and found much to criticize the young Scot on. Later, as he learned more and realized that his sacking was entirely the work of Chapman, he recanted - but Clark was now gone.

    Today it is difficult to imagine that four Americans - Phil Hill, Dan Gurney, Richie Ginther, and Masten Gregory - were regular features on the Grand Prix grids. The first three all ended up on the top steps of the Championship ladder. Phil Hill is rarely though of today as a great Grand Prix driver, but his performances for Ferrari from late 1958 until early 1962, were often excellent races. He was much faster than he is given credit for. One only wonders how it would have been if he had been given his first Grand Prix start in 1956 - he was usually faster than the young drivers who did get first drives that year: Peter Collins and von Trips. However, he survived and they didn't.

    Overall, there was an amazing glut of F1 races in 1961. The reason, naturally, was that there was only one other open-wheeler formula in Europe that season - Formula Junior. There was a decline in the number of F1 races in succeeding seasons as more organizers went to FJ and new F2 and F3 formulae were introduced in 1964. Also, while there was a flash of red in 1964, the rest of the days of the formula were to be painted green. Perhaps the lasting legacy of the formula is that it completed the revolution that Cooper started several seasons earlier: moving the locus of Grand Prix racing to Britain from Italy. Unfortunately, the "tiny" displacement killed any ideas of drawing the Americans into F1 by adopting the new international formula for the USAC National Championship, something last done in 1938. However, the wonderful success of the USGP at Watkins Glen probably did more for creating US interest in international racing than anyone realized at the time.

    All-in-all, it really was a great season despite the tragic event at Monza. Moss provided us with two of his best-ever drives and an American emerge as the World Champion. Four decades later, I still look back at this season find it easy to get excited about it...

    Mister Peabody and Sherman will return in the future with another look at the racing life. This time it will be a look at the first seasons of the three-litre formula - 1966 through 1968. Plus, a few other surprises along the way.

  • Don Capps© 2000 Kaizar.Com, Incorporated.
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