Doug Nye: Remembering the dominance of the Ferrari 312 PB

23rd February 2017
new-mustang-tease.jpg Doug Nye

Back in the winter of 1972-73, I was asked to review the just completed endurance-racing World Championship for the newly-introduced ‘John Player Motorsport Yearbook’. It was edited by a breezy and engaging Fleet Street newsman, turned entrepreneurial PR guru, named Barrie Gill. 


I had spent a happy few months reporting several of the year’s great sportscar races. I adored that scene. Each of the qualifying rounds really wove a story that was fun to analyse and enjoyable to report. Compared to a fleeting Grand Prix, here were majestic motor races into which one could really sink one's teeth. Lap-scoring an entire six-hour or 1,000Km race took some doing – but one just became totally absorbed within the task in hand.

I wrote the Yearbook piece and sent it off. Typically me – the intro rambled along (sound familiar?). Barrie ‘phoned me one day, thanked me for the bulk of the piece, but said proudly that he had re-written the intro. With Fleet Street national newspaper oil he read: “It was the year the retired textile man wove magic. The year that the quiet linguist with four tongues at his command silenced the Latin babble, and brought clinical competence to the Ferrari camp. It was the year when efficiency marched hand in hand with enthusiasm, and Ferrari crushed the rest of the sports car world…” Yes – quite.

Peter Revson in Alfa Romeo T33/3 at Brands Hatch 1972

Peter Revson in Alfa Romeo T33/3 at Brands Hatch 1972

I was pretty embarrassed eventually to see my name printed above such ooze, but hey – the cheque was on its way. In fact that 1972 endurance Championship season had just been totally dominated by Ferrari and their gorgeous little fleet of 3-litre flat-12 312 PB cars. Just study the design at our forthcoming Members’ Meeting – it’s like a purebred Grand Prix car in a vacuum bag...

Ferrari that season had the finest cars, the finest drivers and – in team manager Peter Schetty – the finest organiser – wielding the Scuderia as a weapon even more formidable than John Wyer’s legendary Gulf-JW operation.

Regazzoni - Ickx - Munari - Peterson and Schenken at Fiorano 312 team launch 1972

Regazzoni - Ickx - Munari - Peterson and Schenken at Fiorano 312 team launch 1972

Through 1972 in fact, Schetty’s team was certainly more successful than the Gulf-Fords or Porsches had ever been. Perhaps their rivals were not quite as formidable, but the preparation and direction of the cars gave a formidable driver squad just the tools to do the job.

Schetty himself was a Swiss, born in Basle in 1942, and he held a doctorate in economics and social sciences. He was a lifelong motorcar enthusiast. He had raced an old Volvo before trading it for a Lotus Elan, then went muscle car and traded it for a Shelby Mustang GT350 in which he tackled the 1966 European Hill-Climb series. He won his class repeatedly and finished second in the GT Championship. Abarth gave him a test drive and signed him on for 1967-68. He won in the new Abarth 3-litre V8 at Aspern, Austria, and won the Nurburgring 500Km and races at Aspern and Innsbruck in 1968.


Chief mechanic Ermanno Cuoghi had joined from Gulf-JW, and his men tended the pool of seven 1972 cars – two for each regular driver pairing and one as spare and test/development hack. Each pair of race cars alternated between events.

Ferrari pocketed everything in sight that memorable season, including the non-Championship races at Imola and the Kyalami 9-Hours in South Africa – and wound up with 12 major International endurance race wins from 12 started. Ronnie Peterson/Tim Schenken won at Buenos Aires, Mario Andretti/Jacky Ickx at Daytona, and Sebring, and Brands Hatch – Ickx and Clay Regazzoni at Monza – Brian Redman and Arturo Merzario at Spa – Merzario with rally man Sandro Munari in the Targa Florio – Ronnie and Tim again at the ~Nurburgring – Ickx/Redman at the Osterreichring – and Ickx/Andretti yet again in the Watkins Glen 6-Hours.

‘Nanni’ Galli’s Alfa T33/3 being chased by Merzario’s Ferrari 312 PB during Targa Florio practice 1972
Pace in works 312 PB at the Karussel, Nurburgring, 1973

Rivals during that 1972 season were the works-backed Autodelta team with its handsomely chunky Alfa Romeo T33/3s – and Gulf/Wyer with their Mirages. Ferrari did not tackle the Le Mans 24-Hours – regarded as a bridge too far – and it fell to the glorious 3-litre V12 French Matra-Simcas. But for 1973 Ferrari would bite the Le Mans bullet, and come up short with the ultimate Coda Lungo – long-tailed – aerodynamic pack on their developed 312 PB fleet.

These were fabulous cars, which produced the finest Ferrari endurance-racing season there had ever been – mirroring Ascari’s Grand Prix dominance of 1952-53. I still feel privileged to have seen so much of it. If you're lucky enough to be coming to 75MM, you can sense the buzz…

Images courtesy of The GP Library

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