South Africa is always a popular race with the Grand Prix circus, for the 24-mile Kyalami track although a little short is fast and interesting while the race’s promoter Alex Blignaut is a true professional who does a tremendous job. The weather, of course, is also an attraction although this year the majority of the Grand Prix set already have a tan following the two earlier races in South America. Blignaut by-passed the political squabbles between the Constructors and the circuit owners, represented by Henri Treu’s GPI, by offering a prize fund that no one would sneer at. Prospects for the race looked good a month before the event with Ferrari, Brabham and McLaren all intending to bring their new models, while the new Shadow and Ensign teams were scheduled to make their first public appearances. Racing cars rarely seem to be finished on time and, in the end, the new Brabham BT42 wasn’t completed, the Ferrari was tested prior to the race in Italy and it was decided to leave it home for further development, while the Ensign project for Rikki von Opel was severely hampered when new and larger premises fell through at the last moment and the car consequently was still in a multitude of bits and pieces in a cramped workshop. In contrast McLaren Racing are ready with their new car, the McLaren M23, and are confident that it was a race winner from the word go. On its very first test day Denny Hulme lapped Goodwood quicker than in his well-sorted M19 and then the new car was shipped to South Africa, after being proudly shown to the press. Shadow also made it to South Africa after crying off from the first two races and, in between, they had tested extensively at Paul Ricard. But it is soon evident at Kyalami that there is plenty more work needed before the car can be regarded as a potential race winner.
The rest of the field is made up of the majority of the competitors seen in Brazil plus some replacement cars sent out from Europe while two locally owned Formula Ones complete the 26 on the entry list. John Player-Team Lotus are Nos. 1 and 2 on the programme with cars for Emerson Fittipaldi and Ronnie Peterson, and again chassis 72/7 and 72/8 are on hand. The two earlier works cars are back at Hethel, being stripped and rebuilt to comply with the new safety regulations which come into force at the Spanish Grand Prix. Elf Team Tyrrell likewise have their usual pair of 1972 models for Jackie Stewart and Francois Cevert and are numbered 3 and 4. The next three places are taken by Yardley-Team McLaren. Hulme is driving the brand new M23, Revson has his usual M19, while their apprentice Jody Scheckter is given his third Formula One chance in this, his home country. He has Hulme’s regular M19C, which won this race a year ago. Although the team has not brought it to the circuit they also have the original M19A/1 on hand in South Africa in case of emergencies. One of the biggest disappointments is that Ferrari’s new 83 model has not arrived at Kyalami. Thus the team fields two of their regular B2 models for Jacky Ickx and Arturo Merzario. Ickx retains chassis No. 5, which he raced in South America, while No. 8 has gone back to Modena and has been replaced by No. 6. The various arms of Teams Surtees entry no less than four cars. As usual Mike Hailwood and Carlos Pace are in their regular TS14As while Andrea de Adamich makes his first appearance of the year with his faithful TS9B, which served him adequately last year. Then, less than a week before the race, John Surtees entry the prototype TS14 for himself to drive. But the team is really rather short of mechanics to handle four cars, so the idea of racing has been scratched. The mini March Formula One effort is unchanged from the previous two races, with the Frenchman Jean-Pierre Jarier handling the official STP entry and Mike Beuttler hopefully continuing with the stockbroker sponsored similar 721G.
Motor Racing Developments Ltd. are again represented by their South American pairing of Carlos Reutemann and Wilson Fittipaldi and, with the Brabham BT42 unfinished, they rely on the safety clad BT37s. Marlboro-BRM are at their usual three-car strength with the regular P160s for Clay Regazzoni and Jean-Pierre Beltoise while a chassis not previously used this year, No. 4, has been brought out for Lauda in replacement for No. 5 which has been returned to Bourne. In testing, however, Regazzoni had tried the Lancia car and decided he liked the feel of it more than his own, so he swopped B.R.M.s. The Frank Williams team have their normal pair of Iso Marlboros, as they call them, but are short of a driver as Nanni Galli had broken a leg testing an Abarth sports car at Vallelunga. So Howden Ganley’s new teammate has turned out to be local driver, Jackie Pretorius, who had raced his own Brabham BT26 in the Grand Prix two years ago. A brand new name on the entry list is that of Nichols AVS Inc. Shadow Cars. The Universal Oil Products sponsored team is the brainchild of an American called Don Nichols, who has already run a similar Can-Am venture for UOP. As has already been mentioned in these pages Nichols has chosen Tony Southgate to design the car and Alan Rees to run the team while Nichols himself remains in overall charge. None of the mechanics on the team have worked in Formula One before, although some are widely experienced, but a couple are completely new to motor racing. There is no doubt that this is no shoe-string effort for the team is tremendously well equipped and the whole outfit looks thoroughly professional. The team so far have two cars, complete numbered DN1/1A and DN1/2A respectively for Jackie Oliver and George Follmer. The cars vary in the width of the inside dimension of the monocoque as Follmer’s hips are rather wider than Oliver’s, but otherwise the sinister black cars, described elsewhere in this issue are similar.
For Oliver it is his return to a full-time Grand Prix seat after an absence of over two years, for Follmer this race is his first in Formula One, although as the reigning Can-Am and TransAm Champion he is vastly experienced in many forms of racing and a most worthy addition to the Grand Prix circus. Completing the entry are the two cars from Lucky Strike Racing, although actually prepared completely separately. One is the Lotus 72 of three times South African F1 Champion Dave Charlton who took part in three European Grands Prix last year and the other is Tyrrell 004 which is now owned by Alex Blignaut and driven by South African F5000 Champion Eddie Keizan. Since the car was raced to seventh place in the US Grand Prix by Patrick Depailler it has been fitted with Lockheed brakes. Both the local cars are absolutely immaculate in the red and white Lucky Strike colour scheme. Practice is spread over seven and a half hours of Wednesday, Thursday and Friday but, before this, many of the teams have been testing at the track as it is available free of charge to any Formula One cars that might like to use it. In fact, this spate of testing really started before the Argentine Grand Prix when both Firestone and Goodyear held tyre testing sessions at Kyalami. The Lotuses of Peterson and Fittipaldi both circulate around 1'16"7 and so does Hailwood and this is obviously the time everyone would aim for, although the lap record actually stands to Dave Charlton whose best of 1'18"74 was recorded in a national race last year. McLaren Racing arrived with the new M23 ten days before the race and soon set a new standard. Hulme was delighted with the car and lapped in 1'16"2 during this unofficial testing. Quite a few other teams join in before official practice but no one approaches Hulme’s time. Shadow are learning a number of answers including the fact that the body is not securely enough fastened and on one occasion the main piece of fibreglass flies off on the straight giving Oliver a very nasty shock.
The official timed practice commences at 2:30 p.m. on Wednesday and immediately Hulme starts to show that the testing times are genuine; which is hardly a surprise. What was not expected is a complete domination by the McLaren team. With half an hour of the session gone, the first three fastest cars are McLarens with Scheckter’s speed belying his inexperience and proving that he is a real natural in the Fangio/Clark/ Stewart mould. By the end of the three hours it is still McLaren, McLaren, McLaren with Holm fastest at 1'16"42 Revson on 1'16"72 and Scheckter on 1'16"87. Everyone else laps in 1'17"0 or more. In fact the Lotuses are the next fastest with times of 1'17"0 for Fittipaldi and 1'17"04 for Peterson, after some very dramatic opposite lock motoring from both the John Player drivers. Stewart is trying various combinations on his car and finishes up sixth fastest at 1'17"18, while five more cars are all very close behind. Several teams are struggling including Shadow. Jack Oliver laps in a respectable 1'17"64 but then an engine mount pulls away from the chassis while Follmer’s engine blows up, after only two laps, as did Charlton’s. The Shadow problem is obviously fairly serious and both chassis are strengthened and they both miss Thursday’s session. Neither Ferrari look very competitive and Team Surtees are trying hard to approach the times obtained in private testing and Hailwood’s car looks particularly skittish. On Thursday it is very much a matter of the local boy making good for Scheckter improves to 1'16"77 to be fastest for most of this hot session. But in the final hour lightning flashes across the sky and, ten miles away in Johannesburg, it is obviously torrenting down. The air suddenly cools off and it is in the closing minutes that Team Lotus choose to knock the McLarens off their pinnacle. They very nearly succeed, but the times hung out by the pit crew are a trifle optimistic with Peterson recording an official 1'16"44 to almost knock Hulme off pole, with Fittipaldi a trifle slower. Both Hulme and Revson are inside 1'17"0 again, but neither is as fast as Scheckter.
Reutemann and Cevert both improve into the 1'16"0 bracket but Stewart is struggling rather with the old wing set-up and new suspension while Cevert has the opposite. lckx tries Merzario’s Ferrari, likesit better, and laps in 1'17"16 but does not improve the next day when he sticks with this car and Merzario takes his over. Friday’s session is only an hour and a half long but it is action packed all through with Stewart making the headlines. He now has his wing set back and immediately his times start to fall. He records a 1'16"33 lap which would have been good for pole position if only Hulme hadn’t further improved to 1'16"28. Stewart’s glory is short-lived for, a couple of laps after his quick time, he brakes for the corner at the end of the straight, where the cars are touching 175 m.p.h., and the pedal goes straight to the floor due to a hydraulic failure. It could have ended in a terrible accident but the Scot is/was able to spin the car and then disappears backwards through three layers of chain link fence which he himself advises to be placed at that spot. The car comes to rest looking rather sorry for itself but Stewart is unhurt. He walks back and for the last half an hour is installed in Cevert’s car. The closing minutes of the session see some desperate efforts with Scheckter again staggering everyone with a 1'16"43. Fittipaldi lowers his time to 1'16"41 but then the rear subframe brakes so his chance of snatching pole position comes to naught. Hulme has a leaking water radiator so is unable to defend his fastest time, much as he wants to because never in his Grand Prix career has he ever started from pole position. In the closing minutes some very fast times come from Regazzoni, while Beltoise is not much slower either, and Lauda is far from disgraced. Peterson tries desperately to save Lotus honour but can’t improve on his previous time while Revson has to sit the whole session out while a mechanical fuel pump is replaced on his engine.
Then the flag is hung out, it is all over. One immediately realizes the closeness of the whole plot. Timing to one hundredth of a second always tends to confuse but a look at the grid will reveal that the first five cars are separated by only one fifth of a second and the first thirteen are covered by a mere second. Racing can get no closer than that. The grid looks particularly healthy for McLaren Racing with Denny Hulme sitting on pole position, for the first time in his long Grand Prix career, with the brand new M23 model. On the outside of the front row, sandwiching Emerson Fittipaldi’s Lotus 72, is McLaren’s No. 3 driver Jody Scheckter, in his second ever Grand Prix. On row two is Ronnie Peterson’s Lotus and Clay Regazzoni’s B.R.M. thanks to his final five minute burst at the end of the session, after various engine problems on the previous two days of practice. These five are closer than any Formula Three grid. On the third row is Revson’s McLaren, the Beltoise B.R.M. and Reutemann’s Brabham while on the fourth rank is Pace’s Surtees and Lauda in the third BRM. Row five contains Ickx’s Ferrari, Hailwood’s Surtees and local man Charlton, who finally has sorted out his Lotus when he screws one of the works team’s engine in the back of it. These leading thirteen are all covered by 0.9 sec. The rest are not quite in the same race with Jack Oliver’s first day time with the Shadow good enough for row six with Merzario while right back on row seven, in 16th fastest position, is Jackie Stewart with Cevert’s Tyrrell. Wilson Fittipaldi and JeanPierre Jarier can tell their friends that they started alongside Stewart. The rest are spread out behind with Cevert given a spot right at the back if Stewart’s wreckage can be repaired in time. This the Tyrrell team do but, because of lack of parts, have to convert it back to the old suspension and rear wing set-up and fit outboard front brakes.