#225 1973 Belgian Grand Prix

2022-07-06 00:00

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#1973, Fulvio Conti, Translated by Siria Famulari,

#225 1973 Belgian Grand Prix

On Thursday 3 May 1973, the tests for the 1000 km began on the very fast Spa-Francorchamps circuit, the fifth round of the World Sports Championship w


On Thursday 3 May 1973, the tests for the 1000 km began on the very fast Spa-Francorchamps circuit, the fifth round of the World Sports Championship which will be held on Sunday 6 May 1973. In the fight engaged by Ferrari and Matra with alternating luck, it entered the race starting from this Alfa Romeo is also making its debut with the new 33 with a 12-cylinder engine, the car that should relaunch the Italian company on the world stage. Jackle Ickx laps for a long time, alternating with Brian Redman at the wheel of Maranello's number one car. Towards the end of the test session, the Belgian driver clearly forces the pace, dropping to 3'14"0, a new lap record, which improves the previous one held by poor Jo Siffert by 0.6s. The average is very high, equal to 261.649 km/h. The second Ferrari that will be in contention (the third one will be missing, the one that achieved second place in Monza with Reutemann and Gethln) runs with some difficulty. There are several pit stops and the fastest lap is set by Arturo Merzario, which laps in 3'20"0. Carlos Pace will race with him. The new Alfa Romeo driven by Stommelen and de Adamich did not disappoint, remaining just a few tenths of a second behind the second Ferrari. Stommelen set a time of 3'20"4 and is in seventh position compared to Merzario's sixth. The two Matras remained very far from Ickx's new record. The crew that recorded the best time was the one formed by Pescarolo and Larrousse, who laps with the first driver behind the wheel in 3'17"7. 


The second car is entrusted to an unprecedented pair formed by the former Matra Formula 1 driver, Chris Amon, and the elderly Graham Hill, who replace François Cevert and Jean-Pierre Beltoise who refused to participate considering the track too dangerous. Amon laps in 3'18"9. Friday 4 May 1973, while Jackie Ickx, with the Ferrari 312-P, sets another fabulous time (3'12"7) on the Spa circuit, Andrea de Adamich goes off the track at 250 km/h with the new Alfa Romeo. The driver is uninjured but the car suffers serious damage, so much so that he will not be able to participate in the fifth episode of the World Sports Championship. And the same goes for one of the two Matra-Simcas, the one in Larrousse-Pescarolo, ruined by a fire that arose after the engine broke. De Adamich's accident occurred a quarter of an hour before the end of training, set for 7.45 pm. In one of the fastest corners of the Belgian track, according to some, the tread of the left rear tire of the 'Alfa 33-TT-12. The car began to skid and, after an impressive series of turns, crashed into a guardrail. In reality, it seems that the origin of the problem is more serious: the failure of the suspension or the hub carrier. Previously, de Adamich had complained about something wrong with the wheel. Andrea de Adamich came away rather shaken by the adventure. It is not a lucky period for the Milanese driver, given that he was the protagonist of a similar scary episode in the Spanish Formula 1 Grand Prix. In Barcelona a wheel came off and Andrea's Brabham lost its front end against a safety barrier. Larrousse-Pescarolo's Matra-Simca stops after lapping with Pescarolo in 3'13"8 (second time of the two days of testing). Larrousse was at the wheel. 


"Suddenly the engine exploded and the oil spilled out and fell onto the red-hot exhaust pipes. In an instant the flames broke out. I put the on-board fire extinguishing system into operation, but the 5 kg of liquid were not enough. I jumped to the ground and waited for rescuers to arrive".


For the Matra-Simca MS 670 a decision will be made during the night. In any case, should only one car race, Henri Pescarolo and Chris Amon will take to the track, while Gerard Larrousse and Graham Hill will remain on foot. While Ferrari, Matra-Simca and Gulf-Mirage were preparing for the challenge in the 1000 km of Spa, Alfa Romeo technicians and drivers resumed their journey to Milan. The accident that occurred to Andrea de Adamich has postponed the debut of the new 33-TT-12 at the Targa Florio. Engineer Carlo Chlti, head of the team, explains:


"The car could perhaps have been repaired, but we felt it was not appropriate to carry out forced work: let's not forget that this is a circuit where you drive at over 250 km/h".


In Chili's opinion it is a construction defect, probably highlighted by the considerable effort that the tires have to make on this track with very fast corners; the centrifugal force is exerted very strongly on the tire casings. In this regard, the technicians of Ferrari and Matra-Simca declare themselves calm, as their cars are fitted with 15-inch tires instead of 13 inches like the Alfa Romeo; the larger dimensions make the phenomenon more difficult to occur. However, the adventure of the Matra-Simca of Larrousse and Pescarolo had a happy ending. The mechanics (five of them during the night and nine of them on Saturday, when no official tests take place) put the MS 67 back into racing condition, replacing the engine, the lubricant and petrol pipes, the electrical system and bodywork. Larrousse, who had helplessly witnessed the burning of his car, finds his smile again, but his prediction is for Ferrari, or rather for Ickx, on the Belgian circuit, contested by Stewart and other Formula 1 drivers for the excessive danger caused with very high speeds, Ickx expresses this opinion:


"It's certainly the most difficult track I know. Tension and the fear of an unpredictable mechanical failure grip you throughout the race. There really isn't a moment to breathe".


In Belgium, therefore, yet another challenge between Ferrari and Matra-Simca in this race that Giacomo Caliri, technical manager of Maranello, defines as an engine race. Little credit is given to the Gulf-Mirage by Hailwood, Schuppan, Bell and Ganley, whose relative progress can be attributed above all to a new, very effective type of rubber prepared by Firestone. One thing is certain: Ferrari is the favorite. However, in racing you can never be sure of anything. Ferrari and Matra-Simca had also stood out in the tests for the 1000 km of Spa and promised another great challenge. Instead, the two manufacturers know the bitterness of defeat in this fifth round of the World Sports Championship, while the previously disappointing Gulf-Mirage achieved its first success. The surprising ranking of the very fast Belgian race places the Gulf-Mirage of Bell-Hailwood and Ganley-Schuppan in first and second place, the Matra-Simca of Amon-Pescarolo-Larrousse in third and the Ferrari of Merzario-Pace La in fourth volture bleu of Amon-Hill-Pescarolo (the drivers of the French team took turns at the wheel of the two cars) is forced to retire due to engine failure and the 312-P, entrusted by the Maranello team to Ickx and Redman, is forced to recall due to failure of a gearbox oil cooler fitting. Of course, the winners must be congratulated. Gulf-Mirage, a group formed last year by Gulf to participate in the World Sports Championship with a British sports car, had so far not managed to achieve the en plein and had had to play the role of wingman. At Spa his cars, equipped with an 8-cylinder Ford-Cosworth engine, had no problems and ran regularly, stopping only for the scheduled refueling. The English technicians had only one moment of concern and only at the beginning of the race: Hailwood slowly returned to the garage with the front bodywork damaged and a dechapped tire. The repairs caused the car to lose two laps and Hailwood was then put on the one driven in the first shift by Bell, so the crews changed compared to the program: Hailwood with Bell and the slower Ganle and Schuppan together. From that moment on, thanks also to the adoption of another type of tyres, less fast but more reliable, on the Gulf-Mirage (the same Firestone ones that were used in 1972), Hailwood and his associates no longer had any problems. As is obvious. Ferrari and Matra Simca, on the other hand, had to face many inconveniences. Let's start with the French company, which was quickly eliminated from any reasonable possibility of success due to a tire massacre. First Pescarolo, then the other MS 670 drivers had to return to the garage several times with deteriorated front tyres, especially those on the left side), more subject to strain due to the particular layout of the circuit. The known causes of this problem were not even clear to the managers of Matra-Simca, who could not understand why the same tires did not constitute a problem on the Ferraris and caused so much trouble on their cars. Among the various hypotheses put forward, that of a wrong supply. In this regard, Georges Martin, technical manager of Matra Simca, says:


"Today we used a batch of freshly built Goodyear tyres. They turned out to be a disaster. Then, we used identical covers, but from another, older stock. And we had no more problems, but it was too late. You can see that these tires are like wine: as they age, they improve".


Martini tried to hide with a joke the disappointment suffered in this 1000 km, which was supposed to relaunch Matra-Simca after the defeat suffered in Monza by Ferrari. There was a lot of spite in the French clan, also because the MS 670 had demonstrated in the first eleven laps of the race that it was the fastest car: Pescarolo had quickly gained fifteen seconds on Ickx's 312-P which at Spa was by far the most skilled. Then, the collapse, made more bitter at the end by the withdrawal of one of the two voitures bleues. Disappointment, of course, also among the men of the Maranello team, who had the chance to win this haunted Belgian race twice. When Pescarolo stopped in the garage to replace the first tire (12 laps), Ickx jumped into the lead, and, after handing over the wheel to Redman for a driving shift, he remained there until lap 37, accumulating the advantage of almost three minutes on the Gulf-Mirage of Bell-Hailwood which, in turn, preceded the Ferrari of Merzario and Pace by 56s. At this point the gearbox oil cooler fitting - which is supplied to Ferrari by an English supplier - causes the lubricant to leak and, consequently, the gearbox to lock. Ickx returned to the garage on foot, in time to witness the progressive comeback of Merzario and Pace's 312-P on Bell-Hailwood's Gulf-Mirage. It was the second opportunity for Ferrari and Peter Schetty and Giacomo Cauri were preparing to get Ickx into the car. Pace's return to the pits was a shock.


"I no longer have fourth and fifth gear, the gearbox is breaking".


A quick intervention and the problem was identified: again the oil radiator fitting. In the rush, the rear bonnet of the car came loose and hit one of Ferrari's good mechanics, Silvano Toni, who is from Maranello, in the face, between the eyes. The man fell and, in the infirmary, they had to apply four stitches to his wound. The radiator was replaced, Ickx - whose work was unfortunately no longer necessary - remained in the pits and Merzario set off again: on a circuit like this, where fourth and fifth gear are always used except in a corner where the drivers engage first gear, turning using only the first three gears means using 40-50s more per lap. The second Gulf-Mirage and the surviving Matra Simca took advantage of this to relegate Ferrari to fourth place. Why did this essentially banal inconvenience happen in Spa? Engineer Caliri states:


"I can't explain it; furthermore, with the long tails used here, we used radiators and fittings from last year, ultra-tested, and not the new type of the 1973 version. Perhaps it is a question of vibrations, of resonances. It's a shame, because we could have won".


An unlucky day, therefore, for Ferrari and Matra Simca, who however remain protagonists of the world championship. Our company is in the lead with 75 points against the 64 of its French rival and the 28 of Gulf-Mirage. On Sunday 13 May 1973 the World Sports Championship will move to Sicily for the Targa Florio: the Matra-Simca and the Gulf-Mirage will be missing, the Alfa Romeo will make its debut. For the Maranello team, the opportunity to gain precious points and forget about Spa on the magical route of the oldest race in the world. The one on Sunday 13 May 1973 is the Targa Florio number 57. The last, at least as a test of the World Sports Championship and as a road race. There is a crossroads in its future: either retain the world title and lock itself in a racetrack already studied down to the smallest detail, abandoning its current magical track, or give up the championship and remain on the ancient circuit as a race for grand touring cars. These are two solutions that do not satisfy Sicily and that, ultimately, displease both motoring enthusiasts and those who saw in the Targa Florio the last glimmers of the young years of competition and the image of a daring and pioneering world now lost. It is a myth that is broken after having resisted two wars and the changes imposed by 67 years of history. Sixty-seven years: 6 May 1906, 13 May 1973, the human and technical story of the four wheels, condensed in a patch of land bristling with sharp edges and lit by the sun. Legends, anecdotes, dramatic episodes, names, many names, from those of drivers and cars which are only a memory to those which are very much alive today, because the Targa can be recognized in them: the Madonie, the Bonfornello straight, Cerda, the city fortified of Caltavuturo, Campo Felice. And the atmosphere, the scents, the colors of a race that is unique in the world and which is surrounded by the warmth and enthusiasm of a public that is too generous and disdainful of the danger, present in every car competition. 


The risk was there in 1906, when Alessandro Cagno won the first Targa with an Itala at an average speed of 46,800 km/h, and it was there in these latest editions, in which the Porsches, Alfa Romeos and Ferraris established themselves at over 120 km/h. Relatively low averages, especially when compared to the 240-250 km/h of Monza and Spa, but going off the road at 70 km/h in the midst of spectators could equally cause tragedy. And how can we keep enthusiasts away from the 72 kilometers of the circuit? This is probably the most valid critical observation regarding the Targa Florio, but it must be pointed out that the race has never known drama and that the number of drivers who have fallen in the Madonie mountains can be counted on the fingers of one hand. The Sicilians proudly proclaim:


"We know very well which are the most dangerous points and we stay away from them".


Perhaps this isn't exactly the case but you have to believe them for the passion they put into organizing this competition which has a very meager budget (it is said to be around 25.000.000 lire) and which is based on an incredible union of intentions, to all levels. Sicily knows that with the Targa Florio it holds an important card in the field of tourism and feels bigger for having a world race, which has always brought together the best drivers and the most famous cars in a challenge that constitutes a real test for men and machines. Vincenzo Florio was convinced that he had created a very tough and tiring competition.


"Whoever wins here can win anywhere".


Even if times have changed, the concept is still valid, in the sense that the team capable of preparing a good car for the Sicilian race must have such experience and such men as to be able to establish itself elsewhere. The Targa, with its 72 kilometres, is the longest race route on which a round of the world makes championship takes place and is the only truly road one. The surface, although tidied up every year before the competition, is not as homogeneous as in the racetracks and the curves do not always have the right inclination. And there's everything: uphill, downhill, straight, false flats. The official tests are condensed into a single day, because houses and towns cannot be kept isolated. This creates the problem for the drivers of knowing exactly the limits of themselves, and their car in relation to the road and for the technicians to quickly develop a vehicle created for the tracks for this particular track. The former, especially the gentlemen, seek help by drawing colorful references on trees and walls, the latter attempt to launch a self-compromise, without exalting some characteristics to the detriment of others, as is the norm almost everywhere. Robustness, cornering and straight-line grip, braking and acceleration must condense into a harmonious and balanced cocktail. And, what's more, a certain organization is needed to control the path of the car as it travels from the sea to the mountains and vice versa. The latest Targa Florio offers a very Italian duel, worthy of the race: Ferrari against Alfa Romeo. The Matra-Simca and Gulf-Mirage, other protagonists of the World Sports Championship, gave up due to the difficulty of preparing a car suitable for the track. This time, therefore, the color of the Targa, among the many colors of Sicily, could only be the red of Maranello and Settimo Milanese.


"We would have felt deprived of something if we hadn't come here at least once".


For this Targa Florio, which is also enlivened by the participation of the Lancia Stratos of Munari-Andruet and that of the Porsche-Martinis, it is a testimony of esteem and affection. Who wouldn't want to be in a roll of honor that brings together the most famous drivers of yesterday and today? Friday 11 May 1973 was a day of testing punctuated with accidents and emotions at the Targa FIotìo. Cars off the road, others burned, in a whirlwind of news that left no breathing room. Luckily, nothing serious, no driver - according to the tradition of this magical race - was hurt, training had to be suspended twice, so much so that it was extended by an hour to allow teams and teams to recover. the wasted time. 


Even the best drivers have been protagonists of unwanted excursions to the meadows surrounding the 72 kilometers of the Madonie circuit. Brian Redman dents the Ferrari used as a training car against a wall, then Jacky Ickx, with the same car, ends up in a field, losing the front bodywork, after performing a thrilling spin. Andrea De Adamich smashes the right side of the nose of his 12-cylinder Alfa Romeo and, shortly after, Clay Regazzoni rolls down a twenty-metre deep embankment. The Swiss' 33-TT-12 suffered serious damage and on Friday evening the technicians of the Milanese manufacturer did not know whether it would be possible to repair the car in time for the race, which will take place on Sunday, while there will be no official testing on Saturday. Regazzoni, having returned to the Cerda stands by helicopter, recounts his adventure.


"I was going up the road after the crossroads for Polizzi. A fairly easy stretch, wide and well asphalted. Suddenly the car swerved and I found myself airborne. I was traveling at 150 km/h. One, two, three somersaults and, finally, I stopped with my wheels in the air. I crawled out in time to see a bystander still with his hands over his face, shocked with fear. The Alfa Romeo's suspension is fine, I checked, but it was quite a bang. It's a shame, because I think I could have achieved an excellent time".


Ickx ends up in a meadow after the town of Cerda.


"I set a curve badly and ended up with my wheels on the gravel at the edge of the road. One moment, and I was in the grass. I observed the condition of the car and then got back on the road. This is a really difficult circuit, where you have to drive in a very different way than usual. The Targa resembles a very high-speed rally".


In de Adamich, however, the car turns around when exiting a hairpin bend.


"I was in first gear and I pushed the gear all the way down. When I eased my foot for a moment, zac, I hit a wall".


It is not surprising that many other drivers, less capable and trained than these pilots, ended up off the road. The list would be too long, the route seemed like a war route. Among the best known names are those of the young son of Baron Pucci, one of the winners of the Targa, who destroyed a Porsche Carrera RSR of the Martini Racing Team. The flames devoured Natale Spinnato's BMW, Pirrello's Alfa Romeo GTA and La Luce, Tango's Chevron. The Sicilian Lauricella suffered a back bruise with his «124». One competitor, Santo Famoso, even ran over a mule, which demolished the windshield of his BMW. And there are those who avoided the accident by miracle, like Luciano Trombotto, whose Alpine Renault had a punctured tire at 200 km/h on the Buonfornello straight. On this day full of tension, Ferrari proved to be faster than Alfa Romeo. Arturo Merzario, in excellent spirit, lapped in 33'38"5, at an average speed of 128.412 km/h, coming close to the record set by the Finnish Kinnunen with a three-litre Porsche in 1970 (33'36"0). Rolf Stommelen replied. The German, with the 33-TT-12, flew through the curves and ups and downs of the Targa in 33'41"0. A margin of 2.6s therefore divides the two cars and the two men, truly negligible given the length of the route, but - in the opinion of many - neither Merzario nor the other drivers of the Maranello team have used up the resources of their 312-P, whose possibilities are certainly superior to what we have seen. In any case, Alfa Romeo seems capable of offering a valid defense with its debutant, but already satisfactory, 12-cylinder engines. The Ferrari drivers are happy, in particular Nino Vaccarella, the lion of the Targa Florio, who has found Ferrari again on his home roads.


"The car seems well prepared for this race. The set-up is excellent and I believe that the technicians managed to obtain an excellent compromise for the different characteristics of the route".


And engineer Giacomo Caliri is also satisfied, having had to deal with a tire problem for a change. Goodyear sent tires with an excessively hard compound to Sicily, so much so that the cars were difficult to drive. Luckily, Ferrari - like Alfa Romeo - had four with softer compounds available. A bit few, however, and so more were urgently requested in England, from where they will arrive in Palermo in the evening. Among the organizational refinements studied in particular for the Targa, the use of two-way radios on board the two Ferraris and Munari-Andruet's Lancia Stratos. Cesare Fiorio states that, as in 1972, he also effectively takes care of the sporting direction of the Maranello team for this occasion:


"In this way the pilot can inform us in advance of any possible inconvenience and we can transmit information and reports to him".


The Stratos, making its debut in speed racing, set the sixth time with Munari (37'26"5), demonstrating that it had already achieved a notable level of competitiveness. It should be underlined that Munari set the time with the reserve car , which weighs 890 kg compared to the 800 kg of the racing car, and that the berlinetta still features the two-valve Dino Ferrari engine, less powerful than the four-valve one that was later used. A very interesting performance, therefore. Van Lennep-Muller's Porsche Carrera was faster by just thirty seconds. Now, let's hope that luck continues to protect this Targa Florio which is preparing to experience, at least in theory, its last edition under the sign of Ferrari and Alfa Romeo. A challenge designed specifically to ignite the enthusiasm of the island. But the practice is very different, and on Sunday 13 May 1973 Porsche won the Targa Florio with the Carrera RSR of the Dutchman Gijs Van Lennep and the Swiss Herbert Muller, which preceded the Lancia Stratos of Sandro Munari and Jean Claude Andruet. This is the surprising result of a race that should have been illuminated by the challenge between the two Ferrari 312-Ps of Merzario-Vaccarella and Ickx-Redman and the Alfa Romeo 33-TT-12 of Stommelen-de Adamich. The three cars, however, retired in the first four laps, leaving the latest edition of the Sicilian competition to drag wearily towards the end. This is Porsche's second success in the 1973 World Sports Championship, of which the Targa Florio represents the sixth event. The German manufacturer, thanks to various teams and, above all, to the team organized with Martini, gains points in all the races and now finds itself in third place in the standings with 62 points, compared to 64 for Matra-Simca, absent here. and the 75 points of Ferrari, who only collected another bitter disappointment. 


If Van Lennep-Muller's Carrera (a grand tourer with modified suspension compared to the normal model and with a 2296 cc, 300 HP, 280 km/h on the Buonfornello straight) 6-cylinder engine gives back to the Porsche and the Martini the thrill of many victories and having revived the memory of the famous 917 and 908, the Stratos proves to be now ripe for great challenges. The berlinetta with the Dino Ferrari engine of 2400 cc and 245 HP (but just 200 km/h at Buonfornello because the gear ratios were those of the Rally version) passes the Madonie test with bold confidence, lapping in times very close to those of the Stuttgart car and above all, offering a good proof of competitiveness and reliability. His problem, a very banal one, is the breaking of the driver's seat attachment pin, so Munari and Andruet drive the car with great effort. Sandro, who is taller than the Frenchman and therefore reaches the pedals more easily, ends up taking on the greatest burden of the race, holding the wheel for eight laps: a truly remarkable feat for the talented Italian driver. Naturally, the inconvenience forced the Stratos to repeatedly stop at the garage (with related losses of time) to allow the mechanics to intervene with wooden blocks and anchor the seat to its guides. However, other and greater troubles struck Ferrari and Alfa Romeo, which had had to give up the plan to have Carlo Facetti and Clay Regazzoni ride the old eight-cylinder of the Brescia Corse team. After much discussion, the CSAI delegate, Ottorino Maffezzoli, refused to accept the car, which had not qualified in Friday's tests. Merzario, Ickx and Stommelen went up for the first driving shift. The road, strewn with dirt, was very slippery. Stommelen began to gain on the two Ferrari drivers, until Merzario, picked up by the radios installed in the Maranello team's garage, exclaimed:


"I got a puncture".


The Italian pilot was near Campofelice. What to do? Stop at a Ferrari steering wheel to get help in secret (the law would not allow it) in replacing the tire - the left rear - or continue slowly to. about ten kilometers to Cerda? Merzario opted for this solution, naturally losing some time: 40'23"8 per lap. But it was the third lap that proved fatal for Merzario. On the climb after Cerda the coupling of the left rear axle shaft of the 312 broke-P: is it the fault of the effort suffered in the section completed with the flat tire shortly before or another cause? Arturo is convinced that he is not responsible, nor is it possible for now to establish the why of the failure. In any case, it would seem unfair to blame the Italian driver is responsible for the affair. For Ferrari this third lap was cursed. Jckx, in the fast descent from Collerano to Campofelice, ended up off the road. The Belgian says:


"When tackling a tight Viotto curve, I didn't see that a large stone had rolled from the mountain onto the road. I heard something like an explosion, I saw pieces of rubber and rim flying, the steering wheel started to dance and... I ended up straight down an embankment, touching the wall of a bridge. A terrible impact. I didn't do anything to myself, but the car was heavily damaged, including the chassis, in my opinion".


Some road marshals confirmed Jckx's words, explaining that they saw the stone fall, but did not have time to remove it from the road. This is real bad luck, one of those truly unpredictable events that racing, and in particular the Targa Florio, holds. It's a shame for Ferrari, who were looking for points for the World Sports Championship and who were trying, above all, to regain ardor after the defeat suffered at Spa. The reason for the withdrawal of the debuting Alfa Romeo was more usual, albeit equally bitter. Stommelen handed over the wheel to de Adamich after three laps and the Italian collided while overtaking with the Lancia Fulvia of a Sicilian competitor, Adamo. Andrea says:


"After Bivio Polizzi I found myself in front of a Fulvia. I was behind her for a while, then, on a straight that ended with a right-hand bend, I came alongside her. At that moment the pilot spread out and hit me. With my left front wheel I touched a curbstone and one of the attachments broke. What could I say? Certainly not completing the entire Targa behind that car".


It was the end of the race also for the 33-TT-12, which up to that point had performed very brilliantly. We don't know if he would have held out to the end, but his performance was certainly very encouraging for the Milanese technicians. It's a shame that de Adamich perhaps didn't wait for a safer opportunity to overtake. With almost ten minutes ahead of Van Lennep-Muller's Carrera, the game seemed already done. Comments Carlo Chitti. technical manager of Alfa Romeo:


"The Targa is truly roulette".


A roulette for 700.000 spectators, according to the findings of the traffic police, who counted two hundred thousand cars around the 72 kilometers of the route. And it ended up winning a German manufacturer. Never before have we realized that the Targa Florio has two faces. On the one hand, there is the poetry of a wonderful tradition and the enthusiasm of a genuine and passionate public, on the other, the reality of a 72 km route fraught with mortal risks for everyone, drivers and spectators, with a road surface no longer capable of containing the power of current sports-prototype cars and grand tourers themselves. In the final stages of the race, near the town of Scillato, the Alplne-Renault of a Sardinian competitor went off the road, hitting two people, one of whom later died in hospital. Other spectators and some drivers were injured, making the outcome of the Targa Florio rather serious and amply justifying the decision to close this competition, at least in its current guise. Andrea de Adamich says:


"It's really scary to drive a 3000 cc and 470 HP car like an Alfa Romeo or a Ferrari on the streets of Targa. The uneven asphalt, the changes in the surface, the dirt make grip precarious and you splash from one side of the road to the other. Apart from the possibility of an accident for drivers and, above all, the danger of not being rescued in time, particularly in the event of a fire, the presence of the public at the edges or inside the road is frightening. At certain points, I felt like I was a cyclist, with the wall of people progressively opening up in front of you. What if you skid, what if a part of the car gives out? You think of a massacre and you become progressively nervous".


So far, the Targa Florio has managed to endure while other road races have disappeared. It has survived the times due to its high - albeit now limited - technical content, for the passion of those who look after it every year, for the merits collected in almost 70 years of history, for its charm. Taking a tour of the Madonie on the eve of the race means capturing its spirit and understanding what it means for the Sicilians and, in general, for those who follow the car sport. Let's not forget that there were 700.000 spectators: no other competition in the world attracts so many people, not even the Indy 500 or the 24 Hours of Le Mans or the German Grand Prix at the Nurburgring. Probably, if the Targa Florio were a private affair of Sicily and not a World Sports Championship event, as the organizers want for obvious reasons of prestige, it would calmly continue to take place, as it is. It would be absurd, just as it would be absurd to abolish it outright. The Targa must continue, but in an appropriate location, that is, in a racetrack. The project has been ready for some time, an initial loan has already been paid, the local authorities have ensured their availability at every level. Where will the 1974 Targa be held? This is still a fact that is not too clear today. On another circuit, waiting for the circuit to be ready (eighteen months from the start of work), or on these same roads, but without the championship test label and only for grand touring cars? The problem does not appear to be easy to solve. Never before has a Grand Prix sparked so many discussions and controversies like this one in Belgium and for an ultimately rather banal reason such as the poor asphalting of the track. It is even ridiculous that a Formula 1 race valid for the World Championship goes into crisis for such a reason. It is common opinion that it would have been enough to say no by Emerson Fiitipaldi and the representatives of the CIS in the final visit to the Zolder racetrack, carried out at the beginning of the week, to avoid this situation. Instead, time was wasted, the decision ended up being postponed until the official tests and yesterday the bomb exploded. Asphalt in pieces after a few laps of the twenty-three single-seaters entered in the race, gravel and sand emerging, potholes, volleys of stones raised by the tyres, drivers off the track, spins, series of scares for those who saw themselves grazed by the stones. And, therefore, general uprising against the conditions of the circuit. What happened is known: meeting of GPDA members, meeting between manufacturers, discussions between organizers. Promises, threats, ultimatums with an optimistic statement from the Automobile Club of Belgium and a dry one from the drivers, who wish to have in their hands a document signed by the leaders of the Automobile Club. 


"Either they undertake to cancel the Grand Prix if the track continues to be unsafe, or we do not participate in either the tests or the race".


Nobody would want to be in the place of the people who carried out the work in Zolder. The organizers could also take action against him. A decision is awaited, which should arise from a meeting between the drivers and representatives of the Belgian Automobile Club currently underway. The forecast is rather negative, despite having worked all night on the most battered sections of the circuit. But how can we hope that the road surface will remain intact after these repairs, when the certainly more careful works carried out in recent days have not withstood it? The results of the only hour and a half of testing naturally take second place when compared to the problems of the race. Furthermore, these first training sessions prove to be very little indicative, both for the conditions of the track and for the competitors being in the initial development phase. Fortunately, the repairs to the track carried out during the night by specialists from Brussels managed to resist during the second day of testing and there was no recurrence of the deterioration of the asphalt which was so dramatically evident on Friday. The riders finally give their consent and, finally, Mario Herion, race director, can make the happy announcement, thanking everyone - manufacturers, CSI representatives, organizers and riders - for the total cooperation offered. 


The expression is very diplomatic and hides, in reality, an endless series of negotiations, meetings and inspections along the circuit which continued from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.. On one side the drivers of the Grand Prix Drlvers Associatlon, on the other the organizing committee of this fifth round of the Formula 1 world championship. The GPDA, on Friday evening, had communicated that its members would not take to the track today if the Automobile Belgian club had not committed with a written and signed document to cancel training and competition if the circuit was not usable. This document would have been a guarantee for the men with the helmet, since, even in the event of their refusal to participate in the Grand Prix, they would still have received all the wages. On the other hand, the leaders showed that they did not trust too much the interested opinion of their opponents.


"And what if they don't run through a small hole in the asphalt? We have to pay them anyway".


Neither party seemed willing to withdraw from the position taken, let us remember that the global contract that binds the teams and the organizers of the Grand Prix is based on a figure of around 100.000.000 lire. The drivers took refuge in a large van-caravan, barring the doors and windows, while Stewart, eminence grise of the GPDA, and Hulme, president of the association, kept in touch with the leaders of the Automobile Club of Belgium, and Pierre Ugeux, vice-president of the CIS, acted as an intermediary. At 10:00 a.m. the pilots receive a document in which the company that carried out the repairs gives assurance that they will resist; to 11:30 a.m. Cevert goes along the circuit on his motorcycle for an inspection; at 12:30 a.m., the time set for the start of rehearsals, Stewart announces:


"We don't go out on the track".


At 1:00 p.m., after a car ride with Cevert and Hulme, the Scotsman confirms his decision; to 1:15 p.m. the cars are lined up in the pits, but only Jacky Ickx puts on his overalls, stating:


"I'm not part of the GPDA and I think it's silly not to try: first let's see what happens to the asphalt, then we'll decide".


At 1.45 p.m. Mister Ugeux presents a proposal to the GPDA after speaking with the manufacturers, communicating that if at the end of the training sessions the road surface has shown signs of deterioration, the CSI itself will cancel the Grand Prix. The pantomime continues with the drivers' denial, while Ickx continues to carry out his tests with the Ferrari 312-B3. John Surtees threatens Hailwood:


"Either get in my car or I'll run".


Nanni Galli also takes to the track with Iso-Rivolta. Finally, at 1:57 p.m. Ugeux returns to the GPDA members with his proposal countersigned by the organizers. The situation is suddenly resolved. At 2:00 p.m. all the protesters left the cozy van-caravan and rushed to put on their overalls and helmets. De adam'ch declares:


"At the end of the day, we got what we wanted: a commitment, a signature".


And so, with an hour and a half late than the scheduled time, the second day of training could also take place. A first stop is made at 2:30 p.m. (and the organizers consider the rehearsals to open at 1:30 p.m. with the arrival of Ickx); half an hour interval and then conclusion at 4.30 p.m.. Everyone agrees on the good condition of the track. Stewart:


"So you can run".


Emerson Fittipaldi:


"There are no problems, the asphalt holds up, even if the road is a little dirty due to the sand".


Andrea de Adamich:



"Compared to yesterday, the story is different. You just have to be careful to take the exact trajectories, because otherwise you end up on the dirt and risk going out".


And so Peterson, with the Lotus, confirms his state of grace by lapping in 1'22"46, at an average of 184.234 km7h, while Emerson Fittipaldi is much further behind. The World Champion takes to the track with the race car and the reserve, but with both he has some technical problems (fuel on the first, and brakes on the other). Stewart is very good, second just 0.02s from Peterson, and this despite the Tyrrell suffering serious problems with the front inboard brakes due to lack of cooling After the McLarens of Revson and Hulme, always with very high standards of performance, Ickx follows with the fifth time, set with the reserve car because the 312-B 3, #1, is blocked due to engine failure, which the cause is to be found in a new oil tank design applied in Belgium for the first time. In the curves the lubrication becomes insufficient. In the race Ickx will race with the old type tank, with very interesting prospects. The 312-B3 is a beautiful reality, you just need to have a little patience. On Sunday, May 20, 1973, there is a test-session of one hour, then a Formula Super-Vee race, and eventually the Grand Prix field is lined up and ready to go by 3:30 p.m. Even the starting grid suffers in the overall chaos, for it is marked out for a 3x2x3 line-up, even though months beforehand it was agreed that the track was too narrow for this arrangement, and a 2x2x2 line-up would be used. At 2:00 p.m., when the cars are being made ready a revised list of practice times is published, which completely re-arranges the starting-grid, this being as a result of a protest by the teams. The timekeepers have a complete reshuffle of the second session Saturday times, and everyone is fairly happy. After so much haggling and chat, it is remarkable that the start is given a mere 13 minutes late, and Peterson shoots off into the lead with the other 22 runners hard after him. 


His hastily rebuilt car (see Notes on the Cars at Zolder) is far from perfect and he is only able to hold his lead for a lap and a half, before Cevert forces his Tyrrell past the Lotus. The French star is on great form and simply runs away from everyone, going faster and faster until on lap 20 he overdoes his braking going into the hairpin in the Bolderburg forest and spins to a stop on the soft earth on the edge of the track, rejoining the race in eighth position. While Cevert has been running away with the race the rest of the field has sorted itself out in one way or another. Hailwood szpins his Surtees off the track at the Terlaemen corner, and ends up in the catch-fence, Hulrne is off in the dirt and gets his throttle-slides and engine air box all clogged up necessitating a long stop at the pits, both of the Williams cars have been into the pits, the lone Ferrari lasts only six laps before it goes out with engine oil pump trouble, Beltoise is to the pits with brake trouble on his B.R.M., Oliver spins off in his UOP-Shadow and crashes into Hailwood’s abandoned Surtees. Follmer comes to a stop at the same part of the circuit because his UOP-Shadow has collected sand and dirt in the throttle slides and they have jammed shut, and the car will not drag itself along on tick-over so he can’t get back to the pits. Beuttler arrives at the pits with a flat rear tyre on his March, Reutemann retires at the pits when lying third when his Cosworth engine breaks a connecting rod, and the remainder have got themselves into a semblance of order. Peterson holds second place for eighteen laps, but behind him, his tearn-mate Fittipaldi is being very hard pressed by Stewart and the lap before Cevert spins away his lead they both pass the Swede, so that while Cevert is in the dirt, Fittipaldi goes by into the lead with Stewart hard on his tail, and as they start the twenty-fifth lap the Scot outbrakes the Brazilian into the first corner and takes the lead. 


From then on it is all over, even though there are still forty-five laps to run, for Stewart just drives away from everyone. By now, many parts of the circuit are suffering from surface damage and there is one clean groove in which to try and stay. Those who manage this, keep going until the end or until some mechanical disaster intervenes, while those who get a fraction off line and on the marbles are doomed to end up in the dirt, the wire catch nets, the guardrails or into an already abandoned car. Regazzoni’s attempt at racing is delayed on lap 33 when his right front tyre deflates and he limps round to the pits to have it changed. Revson ends up in the fence on lap 34, when lying third, for Peterson drops further and further back with uncertain handling and suspect brakes, and he eventually parks his Lotus backwards into the fence alongside the McLaren, having spun out of the groove. The only interest is that Cevert is regaining most of the ground he lost when he spun, and is climbing back up to second place, especially as Fittipaldi is suffering a loss of fuel pressure which is causing his engine to lose power and go slower and slower. When Cevert spins he blames a loss of brakes, yet eight laps later he sets up a new lap record, the brakes presumably having returned. When he gets past the sick Lotus of Fittipaldi the Tyrrell pit displays the signal STAY to their two drivers, and that’s how it is to the end of the seventy laps, the two blue cars coming through triumphant and unscathed in a magnificent victory. Of the rest, Fittipaldi nurses his sick Lotus home into third place, and Pace would have been fourth with his Surtees, but a rear tyre creeps round on its rim and puts everything out of balance and breaks the rear aerofoil mounting, so that the wing collapses onto the gearbox. He stops to have the wreckage removed and struggles to the finish with an oddly-handling car. This drama leaves Lauda into fourth place, but two laps from the end his B.R.M. runs low on petrol and he makes a quick pit stop, which leaves de Adamich go by, the bespectacled Italian having driven his Brabharn BT37 steadily along in the groove. With only a lap remaining, Lauda just fails to snatch back fourth place. Beuttler, Jarier, Ganley and Regazzoni all go off on the broken-up surface, with varying degrees of mechanical damage, but no personal injury, and Jarier’s works March collects Revson’s abandoned McLaren as it spins off. In amongst all this carnage Amon has kept the new Tecno going non-stop and finishes sixth, even though he is so cooked in the cockpit as to be almost comatose. Hulme, Pace, Hill and Beltoise all trail in behind the winners and after the two Elf-sponsored Tyrrells have made their joyful parade lap, ten derelict cars are retrieved from one end of the circuit. Tyrrell took revenge on Lotus in the Belgian Grand Prix, the fifth episode of the Formula 1 World Championship: Jackie Stewart won ahead of his teammate François Cevert, that is, the men who, more than anyone else, had contested Zolder in the name of safety, while Emerson Fittipaldi was forced to settle for third place due to a fault in the fuel system: the fuel pressure was insufficient, the engine could not exceed 9000 RPM and was constantly mumbling. Ronnie Peterson, who had been the fastest in training, went off the track, concluding a negative day: in the morning's free practice, i.e. without qualifying times, the Swede had flown off the road twice, damaging the Lotus ready for the race and the reserve car. Andrea de Adamich, with a careful driving behaviour, obtained a precious fourth place, which comforts him for the bad moments he has had recently, in particular for the Targa Florio episode. The debutant Tecno-Martini came sixth with a stoic Amon: the New Zealander suffered burns on his feet from the heat emanating from the water pipes passing through the cockpit. At the end of the race they have to drag him out physically. A positive debut, therefore, even if this machine will soon be replaced by a new version, which the British specialist Thompson is preparing in Bologna with the Pederzani brothers. Unfortunately, Ferrari gave up immediately. Ickx, on lap six, raised his arm on the grandstand straight and stopped at the edge of the track while blue smoke rose from the engine. The Belgian, at that moment, was in third position, behind Cevert and Peterson. An inconvenience that had emerged a few hours earlier in free practice was repeated, namely the failure of one of the three oil recovery pumps.


"It's a shame, because the car was really competitive and, when braking, I gained a lot of meters over everyone".


Ickx had been defrauded of two places in the official training sessions, as the timekeepers - who corrected the error on Sunday - had assigned the wrong times to Stewart and Revson. Iso-Rivolta, the third Italian brand present at the Belgian Grand Prix, had no better luck: Galli retired due to the breakdown of his Ford-Cosworth and Ganley went off the road. All the drivers complain about the track conditions. The asphalt held up, but the roadway, dirty with dirt and sand, turned into a trap for many, particularly in the two fast right-hand corners located in the wooded area of the Zolder circuit. Says Jackie Stewart:


"Woe to missing the exact trajectory".


Eight cars went off the road at this point and while Beuttler was able to continue, Ganley, Hailwood, Revson, Jarier, Follmer, Oliver and Peterson were left on foot with their cars parked at the sides of the track, luckily no damage to the drivers , on this already very sad day for motor sport.


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