#171 1968 Canadian Grand Prix

2021-11-21 00:00

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#1968, Fulvio Conti, Translated by Caterina Fioretti, Valentina Bossi,

#171 1968 Canadian Grand Prix

Nel 1967, quando si è disputato Il primo Gran Premio del Canada a Mosport, questo era stato inserito tra il Gran Premio di Germania e il Gran Premio d

In 1967, when the Canadian Gran Prix took place in Mosport, it was put between the German Gran Prix and the Italian Gran Prix, which made the organization of the travel quite difficult. In 1968 instead, the race was relocated, arranging it two weeks before the US Gran Prix. Furthermore, the location of the race changed, since now we race at Mont-Tremblant circuit, 60 miles north of Montreal. The circuit in not that quick and tight, surrounded by grass and bushes, with only some occasional barriers. However, after Bonnier modified it, the circuit was more like all the other circuits that are spreading around Europe. The cost of the changes was around 35.000 dollars, with the add of the runoff areas in the grass, making some parts of the circuit look like the old track of Casablanca, which ends in the desert. There are a lot of Aramco barriers and chain-link fences and John Ross, the head of the works, justifies the waste of so much money saying that without all the works, no races could have taken place on the Canadian track. The track record belongs to Al Unser, set with a four-wheel drive Lola USAC championship car, while the fastest lap belongs to Mario Andretti, who just like his American teammate, drove a USAC championship car, with a time of 1’35”7. These lap times are set a few weeks before the F1 Canadian Gran Prix and for that many Americans observers are interested in knowing the performances of F1 cars, to understand which category can be more present between USAC American championship and the European one suggested by FIA.


Whit a length of 383.830 kilometres, the capacity of the fuel becomes something important. Some drivers and team manager want to shorten the race, but Bruce McLaren refuses to sign the unanimous petition to reduce the length of the race. Scuderia Ferrari goes to the Canadian Gran Prix with three cars, which are available for Chris Amon and Jacky Ickx. They are the 0015 for the Belgian driver and the 0003 and 0009 for the New Zealander driver. Due to the brief period between the Italian Gran Prix and the flight for the transport of the goods to Canada, a little was done in terms of development. On Ickx’s car, the driving control switch on the wing activate in a hydraulic way, was removed making it completely automatic. The wing is on an optimal place when the driver is in first, second and third gear and every time he brakes in fourth and fifth gear. Then, the only time the wing is enabled is when the driver is in the two upper gears, the fourth and the fifth, without the brakes. On Chris Amon’s car the control switch is designed so that the wing is put at the discretion of the driver himself, while he is on full throttle in fourth or fifth gear. On this circuit, the wing is enabled only in two points, for a total of three seconds. B.R.M. team brings a P133-01 car which is driven by Pedro Rodriguez. The second news of B.R.M team is the presence of the Parnell team car which will be driven by Piers Courage, the same used in Monza, including the Pannier tank for extra fuel. Brabham team brings two cars, the BT26-1 for Jack Brabham and the BT26-3 for Jochen Rindt.


This last car was used as a replacement both in Monza and at Nürburgring and raced for the first time at Oulton Park. Both cars are equipped with two wings, while the big rear hinged wing is secured in one place, and it is not controllable by the driver. On Rindt’s car have been applied some nasal spoilers that will be removed when it is discovered that they influence the lateral extraction of the air from behind the radiator with harmful consequences due to high temperatures. Lotus team brings three cars. Graham Hill will drive the 49B/6, numbered with final code 8, being this car destroyed by Oliver in Rouen. The wing is wide until the edge of the tyres. Jackie Oliver will drive the 49B/2 with a medium size rear wing, and, with Bill Brack’s car, these are the only car with a Cosworth engine to be equipped with a new drain that provides 15 horsepower more, but that reduces mid-range power which is particularly important on this circuit. The third Lotus 49B/5 is for Bill Brack, a Canadian driver leader of the Eastern Canada Formula Championship, as well as supplier of Lotus in all the Canadian field. Jo Siffert goes on driving also in Canada with the Lotus 49B/7 made available from Walker-Durlacher, equipped only with the usual wing with the big HART SKI advertisement. On the entry list there are four McLaren, two of them are the fabric car for Bruce McLaren and Denny Hulme, a third McLaren Cosworth for Dan Gurney and, obviously, the McLaren-B.R.M. for Jo Bonnier. This last has the usual M5A/1 which has finished P6 in Monza. The car that Gurney will drive is the M7A/3 that was bought with Cosworth engines from AAR to compete for the last three race of the championship since the Eagle is not completely developed to race.


The two cars M7A/1 and M7A/2 are like the ones seen in Monza, apart from the presence of the new drains. Denny Hulme, in an unofficial practice done on Thursday 19th September 1968, tries the new drains four to one, but the New Zealander driver is not satisfied. Cooper team has two cars, which will be driven by Vic Elford and Lucien Bianchi. In particular, the Belgian driver will race with the F1-1-68 with a fixed wing, while the British driver will race with the F1-4-68 with a spring wing that flexes when the speed increases. On the entry list there are also four Matra, two of them are Matra-Cosworth for Jackie Stewart and Johnny Servoz-Gavin: the MS10-01, with the wing directly assembled on the struts, will be driven by the Scottish driver, while the MS10-02, with the wing assembled on the chassis, will be driven by the French driver. Both cars have the old drains, otherwise they will have the same layout as the ones seen in Monza. The two Matra cars, the MS11-01 of Beltoise and the MS11-03 of Pescarolo have both fixed wings since the electric solenoid have been removed. On Pescarolo’s car are assembled the twelve old pipes instead of the six drainpipes; they were rejected after Monaco Gran Prix in favour of the system twelve in four. Honda team brings two cars for Surtees, the RA301/801 and the RA301/802. The 801 is the oldest car and has the largest wing; also, the engine has an old drain system, to regain some of the power lost in Monza. Surtees complained that there are only 10.000 rpm. Completing the grid there is the Canadian driver Al Pease, who will drive an Eagle (101) Climax with four-cylinder engine, with the same balance as the Canadian Gran Prix in Mosport.


Under the scorching sun and with the practice that starts at 1:00 pm on Friday 20th September 1968, there are all the twenty-two cars, and most of the drivers are ready to go when the track is opened. The firsts going out of the pits are Hulme, Surtees, McLaren, and Courage, then followed by all the other drivers. Hill and Stewart lead the way after few laps and soon the firsts lap timings of 1’38”5 are set, but in the first half of hour the fastest are Denny Hulme and Jochen Rindt with 1’36”9 each. The Brabham of Rindt is too hot; since his car has front spoilers and a front wing, it is supposed that spoilers bother the exit off the air from behind the radiator. After the first practice session, the mechanics change the transmissions on lots of cars. Dan Gurney, trying a McLaren for the first time, finds some problems regarding the comfort of the cockpit for his body size. John Surtees, using the old car, is also able to set a 1’36” as lap time. Later he brings on track the new car, but it must be balanced as regards the brakes and the tyres must be changed. The first stop during practice happens when Vic Elford goes off track and the rescue camion brings him again on track. Later, the Cooper stops on the uphill stretch for fuel pression problems. When the car reaches the pits and the starter engine is activated, everything seems normal when it switches on, but a little bitt after the fuel pression raises and the engine switches off.


With the recovery of the practice session, Graham Hill is the first driver to set a time of 1’35”08 that is only 0.1 seconds slower than the lap record, while Jo Siffert lives a moment of tension when the throttle pedal blocks on one of the hills. While the mechanics are solving the problems on the Swiss driver’s car, they also change the entry horn of the engine with the one used in Jarama and Monaco. The lap record is firstly set by Chris Amon, then by John Surtees, Graham Hill and eventually by Jackie Stewart in quick succession since all of them reach the time of 1’35”0. John Surtees does the firsts practice sessions on the newest car, but after that he decides to concentrate on the old car. The two McLaren are not as strong as they were in Monza since no one of them is able to go under the lap record. Jackie Oliver goes on completing laps, improving in every try, but never going under the 1’36”0 limit of time after the second practice session. Both Brabham are under 1’35”0 and they are likely to be faster if the temperatures are going to decrease. During practice Jacky Ickx, who on Thursday set the fastest lap on Mont-Tremblant-St. Jovite circuit, after some laps done with kept up speed proving his good driving skills, he goes off track at turn three after the stand and the finish line. The people there attend the scene, which seen Ickx losing control of his Ferrari, before running into the barriers, rearing up and eventually overturning on the left side in the grass near the track.


Ickx is immediately rescued. The Belgian driver does not lose consciousness and tries to free himself from the jalopies of his car that fortunately do not catch fire. The reason of the accident is the arrest of the throttle pedal, a problem that Ickx reported many times to his mechanics, but it was not fixed in time because they did not listen to the Belgian driver. It is Ferrari’s head of the mechanics, Giulio Borsari, with lots of honesty, which will say it some years after. After a quick trip to the emergency room of the circuit (that is placed on Laurenziani mountains, 120 kilometres north from Montreal), Ickx is moved to St. Jerome hospital. The Belgian driver has the leg and the cheekbone fractured and many facial grazes. For the 23-year-old Ferrari driver, the biggest bitterness is given by the fact that he will not be able to race at the Canadian Gran Prix and at the next last races of F1 championship, USA, and Mexico. Ickx, with the P3 achieved on Sunday 8th September 1968 in Monza, had 27 points in the championship, foreran only by the British driver Graham Hill (with 30 points) and followed by Jackie Stewart (26 points) and Denny Hulme (24). Now Ickx has lost all the chances (for at least two months he will not be able to race), while Graham Hill sees his place strengthened. Also, the British driver faces a big risk during practice. After setting the fastest time of 1’35”4, Hill, maybe after a damage to the suspension of his Lotus-Ford, does an impressive series of spins, stopping across the track after being on and off it at least a couple of times. The car is seriously damaged, but the mechanics of the British team think they can fix it for the race.


When Siffert can reach the pits, his throttle pedal is still blocked completely on full throttle. Unlike Ickx’s case, the pedal is found beyond the limit, without turning back at its original place. When the practice session resumes, Amon set the time of 1’34”7, but he complains about the track being slower than when he tested a Can-Am car in 1966. Hill brings his Lotus until the limit of 1’37”8, going then in overdriving almost at the same turn where Ickx crushed, running into the barriers, bending the front nose of the car, and breaking the front left suspension. Stewart is fast but he cannot go under the limit of 1’35”0, while Servoz-Gavin – with the other Matra-Cosworth V8 – is three seconds slower than his teammate. Both B.R.M. engines have no power, and the drivers cannot be in the firsts places of the ranking. The two drivers of Matra do a few laps and their times are not competitive, just like the Coopers are not because they suffer from the loss of development of the B.R.M. engines. The Canadian drivers are not able to go under the limit of 1’40”0 and Pease can only break the time of 1’50”0. During the next practice session, the temperature drops and there are some clouds. Hill’s car is built during the night and has a Hewland DG300 gearbox instead of the FG400. Scuderia Ferrari’s mechanics instal an external flanged waterpipe on Amon’s car to reduce the temperature and block the overheating of fuel pips that cause the vaporization.


Cooper team has reorganized their fuelling system, assembling the mechanic and electric pomp in parallel instead of in series. Rindt has a new engine after the previous one broke. The first going on track after a delayed start is Surtees, who completes some laps before that Siffert, McLaren and Pease join him. McLaren team decides to use new Goodyear G9 tyres with Indy tread, the same tyre used by Hulme for winning in Monza. Monza tyres are now known as the intermediate G9. Since the dry front tread of the tyre is a centimetre wider, this unbalances the cars; then, some teams decide to use dry rear tyres and front intermediates. While Brabham is out testing the tyres, the welding on the arm of the rear fork breaks in the assembly point and they are forced to drag the car to put a new one on it. No one sets fast laps in the firsts two hours, due to the presence of oil on the asphalt from the cars that competed in previous races; moreover, the research of fast times is made difficult by the presence of the clouds and the low temperature. Siffert, however, continues being competitive and quickly goes under the time limit did on Friday, before the exit of some smoke from his car at the exact time he passes the pits, worrying the mechanics that will found out that the smoke is not caused by a failure, but only by a fire extinguisher that activated by mistake.


Surtees must face a problem with his two Honda: the new car starts to overheat and to vaporize the fuel at such a speed that it would run into a lack of fuel during the race, while the old car has a little bit cracked block, so he does not know which car he will drive. When he must decide, the newest car stops on the quickest part of the circuit. The chassis lowers until the level of the track for a long distance and when the Honda can stop, smoking, an enthusiastic firefighter covers it with lather, which enters directly in the engine. The tension begins to raise as the last hour arrives, because of all the preparations this is the right moment to take pole position and BOAC trophy; equal to 1.000 dollars. Siffert hits thee track and he does a lap time of 1’34”5 which is equalled by Gurney on his McLaren a few moments later. Later, Hulme sets a time under the limit of 1’35”0, but he does not do better that 1’34”9, a tenth faster than McLaren during the same stint. So Rindt tells the mechanics it is time to set a time under 1’34”0 and so he does. In a series of very quick laps the Austrian driver sets the time of 1’33”8, receiving clapping from all the people there. Now all the expectations are on Amon and Hill. The New Zealander driver equals Rindt’s time, while Hill is not happy at all. Something is wrong with the rear part of his car, and despite the British diver had his car checked twice by the mechanics, it does not seem there is something wrong with it.


Hill’s lap time is 1’35”9, it looks disappointing until - few minutes before the session stops - it is found out that Hill’s rear tyres have been put on Brack’s car, and vice versa Brack has Hill’s tyre. The British driver can do a free lap without a time, but the free practice session finishes and in that exact time the sky is covered by the clouds, throwing thunders, and completely flooding the track. Once the practice is finished, Al Pease’s mechanics take apart the Climax engine and find out that the smoke going out the drains during the session is worst than they thought; so, the slowest car is retired. In the race, took place on Sunday 22nd September 1968, participate twenty-two drivers. There will be 90 laps each of 4264 meters, for a total distance of 383 kilometres. The race day is sunny and dry with some clouds that worry the tyres suppliers. On all three Lotus some support plates are assembled and welded to the chassis in the same place where Oliver’s chassis cracked. The final preparation for the race consists of putting as much fuel as possible in the tank. Some drivers ask for an acclimatation lap before the formation lap, and the organizers agree providing a 10-minute session at 1:00 p.m. When Hill returns to the pits, after joining the little free practice session, the mechanics notice that the transmission shafts on his car are a little bit crooked. Looking at the ones put on Oliver’s and Brack’s car, it is stated that everyone has the same problem, so the mechanics work to change the damaged parts with new ones. Meanwhile Bonnier’s car is drag throughout the paddock without any chance to switch it on.


It is 2:30 p.m., the expected star of the race, lots of drivers are not on track; for this reason, the organisers decide to add 15 minutes at the expected start of the race, which is 2:45 p.m. the Canadian prime minister lowers the flag, and the Gran Prix starts. Amon is in ahead, followed by all the other drivers, except for Bonnier’s car that is in the box with a broken engine; after more than an hour, the mechanics find a small sheared off Allen key in the doser of the fuel. At the end of the first lap the cars are aligned at the lead of the race, wit Amon trying to hold off Siffert. Rindt is in P3 followed by Gurney, Hill, Hulme, McLaren, Brabham, Surtees, Rodriguez, Oliver, Stewart, Courage, Servos-Gavin, Beltoise, Bianchi, Brack, Elford and Pescarolo. During the second lap the pace of the drivers begins to stabilize, and it is very quick. Brabham and Surtees switch places, just like Oliver and Stewart. During the third lap, the drivers begin to distance form each other: Amon and Siffert are close, with Rindt behind them who looks happy to assist to the battle in front of him without being involved. The gap between the firsts three drivers and the rest of the group, including Gurney, Hill, Hulme, McLaren, Surtees, Brabham, and Stewart, is wider and quicker. The rest of the drivers begin to disperse. During the following laps, the tension grows, and the order is not altered; indeed, during the fifth lap there are five seconds between Rindt, and the group led by Gurney.


Meanwhile Jo Siffert’s car releases oil clouds from the cesspool drain, especially in turns. The speed increases and at the end of the eighth lap Siffert beats Unser’s record. The gap between Siffert and Rindt is now two seconds, while the one between Gurney and the group is eight seconds. The first car to retire is Surtees’ one during the tenth lap, because the gearbox breaks on track. This event marks the beginning of the retirements. After two laps also Jackie Stewart goes slowly in the box with the left suspension broken. After standing next to the car and watching for a minute the damage that slowed down the Scottish driver, Ken Tyrell suddenly decides to remove the broken arm and change it, so Stewart loses eight laps but comes back on track in last place. The leading group does not change; Amon and Siffert pull ahead the group and go solo. At lap 16 Bianchi does the first of the six pit stops with a chronic loss of fuel that will never be properly recovered, even though the charging system was removed and reassembled. During eighteenth lap Siffert sets a new record of 1’35”2 and again Amon can forerun the Swiss driver, even though the nose of the Lotus is sometime near to the Ferrari’s one. But after setting lap records, both leaders are forced to face some difficulties. Amon loses the use of the clutch during the twelfth lap, when a part of the control unit unhooks blocking the splay system; so, when the Ferrari driver brakes and changes gear, Siffert can move close on the right side of the car of Maranello, but while accelerating the Ferrari is able again to move away.


And later, the volume of the smoke from Siffert’s car increases. Meanwhile Rindt is separate by 8 seconds, with Hill almost 10 seconds behind him. Gurney, Hulme, and McLaren follow at 4 seconds. At the end of the seventeenth lap, Brack goes slowly to the pits, without the right tyre, and retires with the axle shaft broken. At the end of the twenty-second lap, Siffert sets another record, while he is committed to be close to Amon. His time of 1’35”1 will remain the fastest of the day and of the entire history of the circuit. Meanwhile Courage completes twenty-two laps, then he stops in the middle of the track with the gearbox stuck in neutral. Of the twenty-two driver that started the race only sixteen have left. Also, Hill’s car has problems. His Lotus does not seem competitive, so much so that he starts going to the back of the grid. Brabham seems also to have problems, because, when the throttle value opens, it emits heavy noises. While the leaders cross the finish line and complete the twenty-fifth lap, there are only 0.4 seconds between Amon and Siffert. Rindt follows at 11.6 seconds, in third place, who in turn has 13.6 seconds gap from Hill. There are other 6.6 seconds between the British driver and the three McLaren, which forerun Brabham who in turn has 7 seconds gap. 16 seconds is the gap between the Australian driver and Oliver. The only driver that has the same laps as the leader are Rodrigues and Servoz-Gavin. The drivers left have a lap less, and in order they are Rodriguez, Servos-Gavin, Beltoise, Elford, Pescarolo, while Bianchi has two laps less than the leader and Stewart 8 laps less.


In the following laps the loss of fuel from the engine of Siffert’s car begins to damage his performances and the Swiss driver loses places lab by lap, until he arrives to the pits and retires at the end of the twenty-ninth lap. The mechanics think that a ring or some rings of a piston are causing the passage of the fuel throughout the seal; moreover, the front left tyre is almost consumed, and it would not last for the whole distance of the race, and the drive shafts, which were already twisted at the start of the race, are now badly twisted. While Siffert retires, the two McLaren get passed Gurney, in front of the pit, the American driver points the front part of the car, and during the twenty-ninth lap goes into the pits with the radiator perforated with all the water going out. Two laps after, Jack Brabham slows down, leaving for Oliver and Rodriguez the sixth and seventh place. When the Australian driver goes into the pits, the mechanics can look at the Repco engine and finds out that the hubcaps has collapsed, dropping the left drain. The happiness for Oliver’s P6 is temporary, since during the thirty-second lap he is forced to stop for the breaking of the drive shift. At the end of the thirty-third lap Chris Amon has an advantage of 32 seconds on Jochen Rindt and, going on with the same pace, the gap from Graham Hill is 16 seconds. In turn the British driver has 3 seconds advantage on Hulme, who starts to be closer to him. The only cars with the same laps are the McLarens, Hulme, Rodriguez, and Servoz-Gavin. at this point of the race, Jochen Rindt’s car seems to be one that has the most difficulties because of the smoke going out of his engine, while Jean-Pierre Beltoise goes into the pits to change the battery, since the generator does not work since the beginning of the race.


At the end of the thirty-eighth lap Amon’s advantage is of 44 seconds, and Rindt is obviously in a hard position. However, Graham Hill does not goo closer to the Austrian driver. While the cars complete the thirty-ninth lap Rindt loses the second place because he goes into the pits with the oil pressure dropped to the minimum level and the temperature of the water increasing. While Jochen Rindt retires Servoz-Gavin is lapped by Chris Amon, leaving only five cars with the same number of laps. Hulme is now catching Hill, but both lose time form Chris Amon. The gap is now of 52 seconds at the end of the forty-first lap, and it will increase at 62 seconds at the end of the forty-third lap, when Denny Hulme is able to place side by side with Graham Hill and passes him, also letting Bruce McLaren pass the British driver. At half of the race there are only eleven cars on track. In the next laps the places do not change, while Graham Hill distances himself and gain 20 seconds gap from Bruce McLaren, lasting only 4 seconds ahead oof Rodriguez, which B.R.M. is now starting to emit a huge blanket of smoke in a worrying way. During the fifty-fifth lap Pescarolo goes off track; later, going back on track the French driver notices that the pressure of the oil is dropping quickly. One lap passes and Pedro Rodriguez gets passed Graham Hill. Shortly after the British driver brings his Lotus to the pits and the mechanics immediately tries to find out why the vibrations have caused the slowing down of the driver.


It is a problem that can come from a broken or slackened element at the front part of the car. But since the mechanics cannot find anything, Hill goes back on track slower. So, the cars on track come back being ten, even though Bianchi as so much gap that is not even able to be in the final standing. At the end of the sixty-fifth lap Chris Amon has more than a minute advantage on Denny Hulme, who in turn is followed by Bruce McLaren. Pedro Rodriguez follows with a lap less, who goes on with his B.R.M. that continues smoking due to the burning oil in the cesspool drain. Servoz-Gavin follows, with Hill with another lap less. Elford in in turn followed by Beltoise, while Stewart closes the standing. The Scottish driver, even though staying behind, gains slowly a little bit of the time he has lost from the others. At the end of the seventy-first lap Servoz-Gavin goes off track and hits the barriers. There is a doubt about this accident: it is not clear if it is caused by a puncture or by the laceration of the tyre. Then the drama: at the end of the seventy-second lap Chris Amon goes into the pits with the tyres completely worn out due to the loss of the clutch. The poor New Zealander driver is comforted in the box by Jacky Ickx, who is there with crutches since it seemed that the teammate could have won the race.


Bruce McLaren slows down and he is lapped by Denny Hulme, who runs for his second season win. Jean-Pierre Beltoise changes another battery before the end of the race, before retiring a lap after with the gearbox broken. Six cars finish the race. McLaren team is happy that it has not signed the petition to reduce the race, proving that they built a strong and solid car. Pedro Rodriguez finishes the race in third place. The Mexican driver slows down at the end of the race to save the engine. Graham Hill and Vic Elford finish both with four laps less, and in sixth place – with seven laps less – finishes Jackie Stewart. Danny Hulme, after establishing himself on the 8th September 1968 in Monza at the Italian Gran Prix, has also won the Canadian Gran Prix, the tenth race of the F1 World Driver Championship. The New Zealander is ahead of this teammate Bruce McLaren, who in Monza was forced to retire, the Mexican Pedro Rodriguez (B.R.M.) and Graham Hill (Lotus). With the success at the Canadian circuit of Mont-Tremblant, Hulme does a bit step in the World Championship, going from 24 to 33 points, same as Graham Hill, which his fourth place only gives him 3 points. Really unfortunate is Chris Amon, the only Ferrari driver left after the accident of the Belgian driver Jacky Ickx during free practice on Saturday. Amon had a phenomenal race, and he was leading when he was forced to retire during the seventy-second lap of the ninety laps scheduled for a damage to the transmission.


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