Sunday 25th of June 1967 the French drivers Schlesser and Ligier, this last one former rugby driver, win the 12 Hours of Reims for sport prototypes, driving a Ford-Mark seven liters. The race, now in its ninth edition, is held under the banner of speed and records, and is marked by many retirements. All the cars that have followed one another at the head of the pack, forced to a frenetic pace by the pursuers, have not held up. It happened to Hawkins Epstein, Surtees-Hobbs and Hulme-Gardner.
Schlesser and Ligier didn't put too much effort into chasing the first ones, preferring instead to wait for their adversaries to get into trouble. The traditional Ferrari-Ford duel is repeated, even if in a lesser tone. The Ferrari, P2, of Siffert and Piper always followed the French couple that was forced to never take their foot off the accelerator. One hour before the end of the race, the Ferrari was only one lap and twelve seconds behind. The slightest accident, the most banal stop of one or the other car, would have meant an irremediable defeat. At a quarter of an hour from the end, the Ferrari gave way because of the breakage of the crankcase.
In the meantime, in Italy, the driver Andrea De Adamich was the protagonist of a frightening accident - which could have had very serious consequences - during the uphill race Palermo-Montepellegrino. As he rounded a bend, his Alfa Romeo 33 slid against a rocky ledge, the fuel tank was damaged and a stream of gasoline flowed out, ignited by sparks caused by the rubbing of the metal sheet, setting fire to the car. With great readiness of spirit, De Adamich threw himself out of the cockpit of his Alfa before being enveloped in flames, but without being able to avoid a burn - fortunately very slight - to his hands. Nanni Galli, winner of the race and De Adamich's teammate, who had started before him, recounts on arrival:
"I saw, arriving at a bend, a red car wrapped in flames on the side of the road; I slowed down and a few meters before I recognized De Adamich who was making wide signs with his arms to continue. It was an emotional moment, but having ascertained that my friend was unharmed made me overcome the uncertainty and I continued".
Later, Andrea De Adamich would recount:
"I was running along the fastest part of the route: at four kilometers from the arrival, in a not fast curve, I skidded and the rear part of my Alfa went to end up against a protruding rock edge: the car caught fire but I managed to escape in time and it didn't happen mind...".
This was the only accident of the race (which was run for the nineteenth time), named after Achille Varzi. The young Nanni Galli, at the wheel of an Alfa 33 of the Scuderia Autodelta, as has been mentioned, climbed the 8.700 kilometers of the climb (which has an altitude difference of 420 meters) in the best time: 4'44"0, at an average speed of 110.915 km/h, which improves by more than seven seconds the record of the race, set last year by Ignazio Capuano. In second place was the Sicilian Clemente Ravetto in a Ferrari-Dino, who, however, complained of gearbox trouble, losing a handful of seconds.
The Automobile Club of France started Grand Prix in 1906, and set the standard for this form of competition as the pinnacle of driving and building race cars. The Grand Prix of France Automobile Club has always been held in high regard and has provided some memorable moments in Grand Prix history, although it has decayed slightly from time to time, as have all races with a long and varied history. Great friends of the AC of France are the members of the Western Automobile Club, who own and operate the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and last year they started a driving school on a 4.422-kilometer circuit they built in the pit area and parking lot of the famous Circuit de la Sarthe, naming it Circuit Bugatti in memory of the famous automaker.
This circuit uses the pit area and the starting area of the 24 Hours circuit, goes around the right hill, under the Dunlop bridge and down to the esse, where instead of heading towards Tertre-Rouge, it bends right into the large parking lot, makes two more turns joined by short straights, crosses another parking lot where it makes an artificial sharp bend, and rejoins the main pit area with a very slow right turn. The well-paved road is covered with sand, like everything at Le Mans, and the corners are marked by old tires sunk into the ground. A driving school circuit, perhaps, but not a Grand Prix circuit by European, or even British, standards. Yet the Le Mans club has convinced the ACF to hold its famous Grand Prix at the Bugatti circuit, when Reims, Rouen and Clermont-Ferrand are available.
If the proposal had been to hold it on the great circuit of La Sarthe, the famous 24-hour circuit, there would have been no objection, but before it took place the famous French Grand Prix was nicknamed The Parking Grand Prix. As if in sympathy, entries dwindled before practice began and were nearly decimated before the end of the race. With Parkes still in the hospital and Scarfiotti losing interest after seeing the accident at Spa, the Scuderia Ferrari is reduced to the sole participation of Chris Amon, who can choose between the two 1967 cars. Surtees is forced to drop participation as the Honda team does not show up due to lack of engines and a competitive car.
Brabham and Hulme will race with 1967 cars and the latest Repco V8 engines, while Clark and Hill have Team Lotus' Model 49 available. Gurney is in with his titanium Eagle-Weslake V12, as is Bruce McLaren. Stewart and Spence are entered with H16-powered B.R.M.'s, and Irwin has the Reg Parnell Racing team's V8-powered Tasman B.R.M. at his disposal. The Cooper team shows up with Rindt in the 1967 car, and Rodriguez in a modified 1966 Cooper-Maserati V12. Private entries are those of Anderson, present with a Brabham-Climax 4-cylinder, Ligier, with a Cooper-Maserati V12, and Siffert with Rob Walker's Cooper-Maserati V12 team car.
The two Ferraris are both 1967 models, chassis numbers 0003 and 0005, with the 36-valve V12 engines with the central exhaust layout, and although in practice a short, blunt radiator will be tested, the normal long one will be used for the race. Amon, having the choice between the two cars, will use the 0005 for the race. Brabham drives the 1967 car he tested for the first time in Zandvoort, number BT24-1, and Hulme has an identical car, the BT24-2, which should have been ready for the Belgian Grand Prix. Both cars use 1967 Repco-Brabham Type 740 V8 engines, with Repco-designed and built crankcases that are stiffer than the GM ones used last year and have wet cylinder liners and cross-bolted main bearing caps.
The new cylinder heads have vertical valves, in line with the cylinder centerline, instead of the 10° inward slope like last year, which necessitated repositioning the camshafts and making the engine a little wider, but the camshafts are still driven by a duplex chain. The intake and exhaust ports are all in the center of the engine's vein and the unit is about 30 pounds lighter than last year, conceding 325-330 horsepower, with a wide torque range. The two Lotus 49s are the 49/1 and 49/2 already used in previous races, but with numerous modifications and improvements. After the problems in the Belgian Grand Prix, the team uses a new type of clutch, and in order to make the 400 horsepower more controllable a revised throttle linkage is fitted.
The power seems to come rather suddenly, which is not a problem on a high-speed circuit where you can use the full throttle opening all the time, but on a slow circuit more control will be desirable, so both cars are fitted with a progressive movement system. The shape of the windshield has been improved, and on the dashboard, which is now rubber-mounted, there is a control for the driver to change the adjustment of the brake pedal balance bar, so the front-rear braking ratio can be varied at will. Both cars are now technically legal, as they have tubular structures bolted to the back of the ZF gearboxes to form the legal end of the car. That's because there's a particular FIA rule that says exhaust pipes must not extend more than ten inches beyond the rear of the car. However, the long exhaust pipe of the V8 Cosworth engine is well beyond this limit when measured from the end of the gearbox.
The two Anglo-American Eagle-Weslake V12 cars are similar in specifications. Gurney will have at his disposal the very light model, number 104, the same one that first appeared at Zandvoort. McLaren will drive the No. 102, which was the first Eagle to have the 12-cylinder engine and made its debut at Monza last year. In early practice the engine will break a gear on the oil recovery pump, but fortunately the team will have a spare engine. The B.R.M. team arrives at Le Mans with two cars equipped with H16-cylinder engines, and a third thinner and lighter car, recognizable by its efficient roll cage around the cockpit, rather than the usual flimsy crash-bar loop.
The Cooper team still uses older Maserati 12-cylinder V engines, as the promising 3-valve-per-cylinder engine that made a brief appearance at Monaco still lacks power and reliability. For the race, Rindt will drive the lighter 1967 car, with Hewland gearbox, and Cooper cast magnesium wheels on the front and the new fabricated disc wheels on the rear, while Rodriguez will use a 1966 car. The modified 1966 car, with inboard rear brakes, is brought in by the British team as a backup.
The sun is unbelievably hot and the power and cooling systems are put under stress as the circuit involves a series of stops and starts, and no one shows much enthusiasm for practice that the public didn't even bother to come and watch. As practice begins and takes place on Friday, June 30 and Saturday, July 1, 1967, Team Lotus' transporter is detained at Dieppe customs, forcing Clark and Hill to watch their rivals start practice. A first session that sees the B.R.M. team embarrassed, because Chris Irwin runs faster in the 2 liter V8 car than the drivers in the cars equipped with the 3 liter engine. McLaren is very careful not to bother the Eagle team mechanics in their first public outing, while the two Brabham drivers take the opportunity to try freely, as long as the Lotus are absent.
The second day of practice is not much more exciting, although the Lotus team cars arrive at the circuit and the most enthusiastic supporters of the French Grand Prix find it difficult to get excited about the Bugatti circuit, especially since the cars pass by the pits so slowly that the team managers could almost talk to their drivers. Those accustomed to Le Mans cars passing the same pits at around 265 mph found the current situation, with Grand Prix cars accelerating at just over 140 mph, terribly boring, and it certainly doesn't help the huge organizational confusion, police presence, rules and regulations for passing at 165 mph, etc.
Some of the drivers and teams have dealt with all this before, since a Formula 2 race was held on this circuit last year, but since this is the first time the Formula 1 organization is present, there are no standards to aim for. It is no coincidence that most of the drivers are faster on the second day of practice, and it is amusing to see how B.R.M. takes away the Tasman V8 car from Tim Parnell and Irwin, to give it to Stewart, granting the former a car equipped with an H16 engine. In detail, Irwin will use chassis number 8302, while Spence will remain with chassis number 8303. However, during the tests Stewart will not be able to match the time set by Irwin the day before, while the English driver will be able to improve Stewart's time with the car equipped with the H16 engine.
During the tests, the Ford-Cosworth 3-liter engine, used by the Lotus team, begins to have problems with its sealing. Therefore, Keith Duckworth, Colin Chapman and the Team Lotus mechanics spend their time trying to solve the problem. The mechanics can't figure out if the problem is with the injection system, the ignition system or the fuel system, or a combination of all three: whatever it is, it remains unsolvable on Clark's engine. On the other hand, just as practice was drawing to a close, Graham Hill's engine was running normally again, allowing the British driver to record the fastest test lap with very little effort. Brabham and Gurney were dominating the qualifying timesheet, but Hill beats them both before he is fully aware that the Lotus is finally running properly. Clark is the fourth fastest driver, despite the engine not working properly.
The pit area at Le Mans is very long indeed, providing 24-hour facilities for 55 cars, making the mere fifteen cars lost in the middle seem just as rare as the 20,000 people who show up on race day in an area that normally holds 200,000 people. For some odd organizational reason, the starting line assembly area is at the lower end of the pits, while the pits in use by the Grand Prix teams are at the upper end. Also, to make life really difficult for the mechanics, all conveyors must be parked at the lower end of the paddock.
On Sunday, July 2nd 1967, the drivers are only allowed one warm-up lap; moreover, when the organizers demand that all cars be brought to the lower end before the start, a near riot breaks out, and most of the drivers walk away from their cars. The dummy grid is formed so far from the starting line that few drivers can see the starter beckoning them forward, and it is more by luck than judgment that the fifteen competitors were ready to go when the French flag was waved. Just before lunch there is a heavy downpour of rain, but by 2:00 p.m., when the race begins, the asphalt is dry, while a haze keeps the sun out.
At the start, Graham Hill leads the pack and is just ahead of Gurney, Brabham, Clark and Amon at the end of the first lap. Finally Clark can know the circuit and run it with 400 horsepower at his disposal, since the engine has been changed during the night. Brabham keeps firmly the third place behind Gurney, reflecting the potential that the practice sessions indicated in the past days; they are followed by Amon and Hulme in close company, by Rindt, McLaren, Rodriguez, Stewart with the car equipped with the 2 liter V8 engine B.R.M., Spence, Siffert, Anderson, Irwin and Ligier.
While the two green and yellow cars of Team Lotus gain an important lead, Mike Spence stops with the inner universal joint of the transmission shaft broken at the differential, and Hulme loses the wooden knob from his gearshift and is forced to change gear with only the metal rod. A little later, Rindt is the victim of a spin aboard his Cooper-Maserati, which forces him to drop from seventh to tenth place, while McLaren's Weslake V12 engine does not seem to have the same power with which it started. At the end of the thirteenth lap the Team Lotus mechanics do not show any happiness as Clark crosses the finish line alone: the reason is simple. Graham Hill's Lotus #7 coasts along the edge of the track and stops at the back of the pits. Most of the teeth on the ZF pinion and many on the sprocket have broken, damaging the final drive.
As the laps go by, Denny Hulme overtakes Amon, when he finally gets used to changing gears with a threaded bar, and apart from Rindt, who recovers ground after his spin, no one seems to want to catch or pass any of the rivals. After twenty laps the gap between Clark and Gurney is fifteen seconds. However, as Clark finishes his twenty-third lap, concern arises within Team Lotus as the Scottish driver heads to the pits to report a bad noise in the ZF final drive unit. This allows Brabham to lead the race with a precarious advantage over Gurney, while Amon manages to overtake Hulme, taking his Ferrari to third place.
During the sixteenth lap Bob Anderson stops along the circuit as a small part of his ignition distributor is broken, while Ligier spends some time in the pits to have the accelerator system repaired. On lap twenty-six Bruce McLaren pits to tell his mechanics that the Weslake engine is not working properly. It had been obvious for some time that the New Zealand driver's engine did not have 400 horsepower and could not overcome the acceleration of the Cooper-Maseratis, but in the pits the mechanics discovered that the tab on the ignition trigger disc was shearing off, delaying ignition. Thus, the car is retired.
On lap 30, Denny Hulme brings his Brabham-Repco V8 ahead of Chris Amon's Ferrari, while Rindt rejoins his teammate, leaving Stewart far behind. The B.R.M. equipped with Stewart's 2-liter engine is about to be lapped by the leaders, while Siffert and Irwin have already been lapped. On lap 33, a piston broke in the engine of Rindt's Maserati, and the Austrian driver was forced to retire. This, while during the previous lap Stewart is reached and overtaken by the two leading cars. At the thirty-ninth lap Gurney's Eagle suddenly loses a lot of ground: the American driver passes the pits pointing over his shoulder, towards the engine, and during the next lap it gives up. Gurney manages to get to the beginning of the pit area, and here he retires with a broken fitting in the fuel system on the injection unit. A small pipe between the injector unit and the pressure release valve system has broken, and all injection pressure has been lost.
This leaves Brabham alone, leading the race, with a comfortable lead over his teammate, who is no longer harassed by Chris Amon's Ferrari. Pedro Rodriguez pits on lap 47 with fuel present inside the cockpit, due to a broken pipe between the dispenser and the gauge on the dashboard. Due to the uphill pit area, the Cooper-Maserati stops just before the pits and the Cooper mechanics are forced to run towards Rodriguez' car to find the problem. In the first few moments, the mechanics detach the hose from the proportioner and fit an empty valve in the fitting, giving the Mexican driver a chance to get back into the race, with the Maserati engine sounding normal again. However, this mishap forces him down to last place, excluding Ligier who is far behind after making two long pit stops.
While all this is happening, Chris Amon stops along the circuit as the throttle control breaks at the pedal, thus leaving the two Brabham-Repco V8s in full command of the race, with Stewart third, although the Scotsman risks being lapped for the second time. With three quarters remaining, the Brabham-Repco V8 engines are running regularly, followed by Stewart in his B.R.M. V8 and Irwin in his B.R.M. H16, after overtaking Siffert's Cooper-Maserati, which has been malfunctioning for a few laps due to a flat battery and falling fuel pressure in the injection pump. The standings remained unchanged until lap sixty-nine, when Irwin appeared at the finish line with smoke billowing from the rear of the H16 B.R.M., due to an oil leak dripping onto an exhaust pipe.
With the end of the race approaching, mechanics direct Irwin to continue, and the driver tries to take care of the car's handling as best he can until the last lap, when the engine runs out of oil. When he reaches the finish line, the engine begins to clank, finally shutting down half a lap from the checkered flag. As Brabham finishes the scheduled eighty laps, Irwin is classified but his stop puts Siffert in a position to retake fourth place. Thus, the Australian driver Jack Brabham returns to success, winning the French Formula 1 Grand Prix held on the Bugatti track in Le Mans.
The latter was perhaps an unexpected success, for the Australian driver-builder himself, who almost halfway through the race was forced to set the pace behind the pair of Lotus drivers, Graham Hill and Clark. However, starting from lap 14, the twists and turns that allowed Brabham to take the lead began. As mentioned, Graham Hill retired because of a broken gearbox, after having set the lap record at an average speed of 164.624 km/h, and then Clark also retired because of a similar problem, and Brabham had the green light.
Jack Brabham, once he took the lead, had no difficulty in maintaining his position as leader, and the second placed driver, Denny Hulme, also on Brabham, arrived well behind, and all the other cars were lapped. Jackie Stewart finishes third, followed by Jo Siffert, Chris Irwin who does not finish the last lap, and Pedro Rodriguez, who, thanks to the intervention of his mechanics, finishes four laps behind. Thanks to the second place obtained at Le Mans, Denny Hulme consolidates his position as leader of the World Championship which he now leads with 22 points. In second place in the standings is the current World Champion, Brabham, with 16 points, followed by Rodriguez, Amon, and then Clark and Stewart in a tie.
Forty-year-old Australian driver Jack Brabham, who is the title holder, having won it last year, is also the manufacturer of the winning Formula 1 car, as well as that of the runner-up, New Zealander Denny Hulme. Despite the fact that the Brabhams had achieved excellent times in practice, their triumph - as mentioned - was a surprise to everyone, and even though it was made easier by the withdrawal of the two Lotus-Ford Cosworth cars driven by Jim Clark and Graham Hill, which were proving to be the best cars in the race, it was achieved with full merit. The cars of the friendly manufacturer-driver were, in fact, the only ones not to have complained of mechanical problems. In addition to the Lotus, Spence's B.R.M., Chris Amon's Ferrari (which was the only Italian car in the race), the American Eagle cars of Gurney and McLaren, Rindt's Cooper-Maserati and Anderson's Brabham-B.R.M. all failed. Gurney's retirement, due to a broken fuel line fitting, was probably the result of a high-frequency vibration transmitted to this short rigid hose, and would indicate the need for flexible hoses in the future.
McLaren's retirement, on the other hand, is more difficult to understand, although this type of problem for the Weslake engine is not entirely new. The Lucas transistorized ignition is usually triggered by segments on the flywheel that pass between a pair of pickup terminals, but the layout of the flywheel on the Weslake engine prevents the use of this system, as it does on the H16 B.R.M. engine, so an external trigger disc is used. On the Weslake engine it is mounted on the rear of the right exhaust camshaft, out in the open, with a tab guide in front of the shaft. This disc, with its twelve contacts, acts like a small flywheel on the end of the camshaft and is naturally subject to the sudden acceleration and deceleration of the engine, imposing heavy stresses on the transmission. Having the ignition firing disc on the camshaft also means that it runs at half the speed of the crankshaft when starting, which can be a disadvantage. In conclusion, fifteen drivers had taken the start, but just seven made it to the finish line.