MAR 02nd 2016

Doug Nye – When Ferrari Set Fire To A 512 At Monza

Ferrari 512 Monza

Doug Nye

Doug Nye began writing about racing cars at ‘Motor Racing’ magazine in 1963-64. Today he is a multiple award-winning motor sports journalist and author of over 50 years’ experience, with some 70 books to his name. He is Goodwood Motorsport’s founding Historian and consultant and fulfils similar roles for Bonhams Auctioneers and the Collier Collection/Revs Institute in Naples, FL, USA. He is a member of the National Motor Museum Advisory Council at Beaulieu, Hants, and is a regular columnist for ‘Motor Sport’ magazine, while contributing to many other specialist periodicals worldwide.

Group 5 sports cars from the 1969-71 period are to be demonstrated at our forthcoming Members’ Meeting. I wrote race reports for various magazines on several of the FIA World Championship races for those cars – and I must say it was an absolute pleasure to do so. Here was a form of motor racing involving great marques, major teams, absolutely top-line drivers and all run on some of the World’s most challenging (and historic) racing circuits. This was where the old Sports Car World Championship racing story had led us, updated into the new decade – in effect the old Goodwood Tourist Trophy, with gold-plated knobs on.

Berger 74MM promo

Having an historically-inclined turn of mind I had always regretted having been born too late to witness the pinnacle age of the German ‘Silver Arrows’ in Grand Prix racing through the 1930s. I must confess that as a fully paid-up and devout wimp I didn’t regret, by the same token, having been born too late to experience World War 2… but never mind that aspect – it’s the motor racing link that matters.

The upshot was that while I regretted never having seen the great Mercedes-Benz and Auto Union Grand Prix cars of the 1930s pummelling their rivals from Alfa Romeo, Maserati and Talbot-Lago into the ground, I do now look back with intense gratitude upon having been able to witness the Porsche 917s, Ferrari 512s and Lola-Chevrolet T70 GTs in no-holds-barred action on such circuits as Spa, Monza, the Nurburgring Nordschleife, and so on.

From the beginning of 1970, it was plain that the late-started and hasty Fiat-Ferrari challenge to Porsche – while very welcome – was only ever going to be something of a rearguard action, it was the Sedan bridges against the Blitzkrieg all over again. But the 5-litre Italian V12s still did well enough, and proved competitive enough, to keep the Porsche brigade honest and having to run hard to seal their successes.

Ferrari 512 Porsche 917 Monza

That ’70 season saw the Gulf-JW Porsche 917 win the opening round at Daytona, before running out of luck in the Sebring 12-Hours, which was won instead by Ferrari with little Ignazio Giunti, Nino Vaccarella and the great Mario Andretti sharing their victorious 512S roadster. The remaining eight Championship rounds that year all fell to Porsche 917s and (in the Targa Florio and Nurburgring 1,000kms) the wickedly stubby little 3-litre 908/3 sports-prototypes.

In 1971 Porsche would again win eight World Championship rounds, and the title, but the other three qualifying races all fell to the Italian joker in the pack – not Fiat-Ferrari who had reduced their 512 programme commitment, despite introducing the more aerodynamic 512M variant, but Autodelta’s quasi-works Alfa Romeo team with its 3-litre T33/3s.

Abiding memories from that period are of 1,000kms practice at Spa, sitting in the tiny pub on the inside of the 140mph Burnenville Curve, and hearing Jo Siffert and Pedro Rodriguez slam by in their blue-and-orange twin 917s, and the pub’s sash windows being rattled and shuddered by the cars’ wash. Sitting there with a cool drink we were indoors, yet barely six feet from the corner apex – and those fantastic, ear-splitting projectiles flashing past us.

Ferrari 512 Monza

Another time at Spa, our friend Jenks of Motor Sport fame led us up a lane onto a ridge about half-a-mile infield from the Masta Straight with its midships kink and hamlet. Standing on a bank there to see over the hedgerow (not easy in little Jenks’ case) we could see the entire 1.9-mile length of the Straight – and above all could hear the cars screaming along it – flat-strap in top gear, 180mph and more, for second, after second, after second… ‘Listen for the lift in the kink’ bawled our guide… and with the best and the bravest it was barely perceptible. Believe me, those guys strapped in their cockpits with their foot-pedals and feet overhung in the flimsy nose extremities of their cars were brilliant, brave or so dumb as to be devoid of any imagination whatsoever… They were warriors, in fact, and they were at war – plain and simple.

Monza was another speedfest – the spiritual home of motor sport. It’s been cited before, but for any enthusiast it was always a spine-tingling experience to arrive at the Autodrome with practice in progress, and to drive in through the access tunnel, which passed under the track between the Curva Parabolica and the startline area. In the queue down there in the tunnel cutting, you’d hear the fast runners wailing out of the ‘Diabolica’ to your right, and then bawling their V12 or flat-12 or V8 song absolutely unrestrained right above your head as they blasted up to 180-190mph, and the entry to the Curva Grande far, far away to your left. For those so-wired the history was tangible. Like the noise, and its echo, it simply hung there in the Monza air.

And it was from the press tribune there, way up in the back of the tall main grandstand, that I would happily lap chart an entire 1,000km race, and from where I saw the flames and flurry and extinguishant cloud as Ferrari set fire to its number one entry during the 1970 race. Ferrari newboy Giunti had been quicker than Leo Kinnunen in the leading Gulf-Porsche 917 and the enormous crowd had been in tumult as he briefly took Ferrari 512 race number ‘3’ into the lead out of the Parabolica, only to dive immediately into the pits to refuel. Later in the race the inevitable Pedro Rodriguez had restored proper order to proceedings by hurtling his 917 away into the distance, but at least the works Ferrari really was keeping the German effort honest.

Ferrari 512 Monza

Nino Vaccarella brought in No. 3 for its final pit-stop, and Ferrari put Chris Amon into it for the deciding stint. Chrissy was fresh from Silverstone’s International Trophy meeting where he scored a rare Formula 1 race win in his works March 701 (remember that?). He was on-form and up for the chase.

But as he hit the big Ferrari’s starter button, spilled fuel beneath the car flashed into fire. Ferrari pit work of the period had always been lampooned as a Chinese fire drill. Well in this case the nearby mechanics and marshals – and even one or two of the normally-notorious Monza policemen – erupted into frenzied and effective extinguisher action, and the Kiwi was soon on his way. But any faint chance of catching Pedro was long gone, and the big rosso corsa-liveried Ferrari wailed home a slightly singed, but entirely honourable, second to Porsche. Which really was the name of the game in Group 5 racing, 1969-‘71. Just don’t miss the chance to glory in these great cars’ presence at Goodwood ‘74’.

Photography courtesy of The GP Library

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