Porsche is big on anniversaries as we celebrate their 75th year. There has been a lot of history over that time and this month we look back fifty years to two motorsport events in which Porsche was involved and experienced both a last and a first.
First, in the fall of 1973, I attended the 1973 Canadian Gran Prix. For that race, my friends and I kept a lap chart. As a Formula One race there were no Porsches in the race so why mention it? Well it lead to a first in Formula One.
Fog delayed the start, and my recollection is that in the afternoon the organizers sent Emerson Fittipaldi (Lotus) and Jackie Stewart (Tyrrell) out to reconnoitre the track to see if it was clear to race. The fog had lifted, and the race went ahead even though the fog still hovered close over the hill on the Andretti Straight.
Shortly after the race began it started to rain. All the cars pitted to change tires resulting in chaos because this was not a common practice at that time. Timing and scoring got mixed up, but more confusion was on the way.
Stewart’s teammate Francois Cevert and Jody Scheckter collided. For the first time in F1 history, the organizers decided to send out the pace car – a bright yellow Porsche 914 with a sign on the door and two yellow flags on the back. Eppie Weitzes, a Canadian racing champion, was at the wheel was sent out in front of Howden Ganley who was not the race leader. Cars in front of the pace car were able to go around and makeup a lap adding to the confusion.
At the conclusion of the race Peter Revson in a Mclaren was declared the winner. The Lotus team protested maintaining their driver Fittipaldi had won. Interestingly our lap chart, admittedly done from our vantage point at corner five, showed Fittipaldi as the winner. I often wondered if we had known and submitted our lap chart at the time, if it would have helped Lotus’s case! Pace cars are common now in Formula One and sometimes I think (cynically) they are used just to spice up the show.
Another race that took place fifty years ago in Sicily, was the last Targa Florio as an FIA World Sportscar Championship race. The first race took place in 1906 and ran on a variety of courses ranging from a single lap of 975 km to the 72 km lap in 1973.
The fact that this was the last Targa Florio run as it was too dangerous to continue, was well known amongst the participants ahead of time. The total distance in 1973 was 972 km and took place on mountainous roads through towns and farms. There were two fatalities during the 1973 race plus other incidents. Earlier in 1971, Brian Redman crashed in a Porsche 908/03 and was severely burned. Spectators cared for him during the 45 minutes for medical help to arrive. The Porsche team didn’t know where he was for 12 hours!
Prototypes from Alfa and Ferrari were expected to win but they either crashed out or suffered mechanical failure. Herbert Muller and Gijs van Lennep won the race in a Porsche Carrera RSR at an average speed of over 114 km/hr in just under six minutes shy of seven hours.
The Targa Florio was a grueling event. Over the 67 years, Porsche scored more victories than any other manufacturer. Porsche’s first major sportscar overall victory was there in 1956. Porsche subsequently called the hardtop convertible version of the 911 after the Targa Florio race – Targa meaning plate or plaque and continues to be used by Porsche.
Fifty years seems like a long time, some memories stay with us. The 1973 Grand Prix, with the miserable weather and confusing outcome stayed with me. Porsche’s record at the Targa Florio also resides in many people’s memories.
Postscript. As many of you know I am a model builder and I recently purchased markings for the 914 from ALO decals of France. Although I was unable to find a publishable photo I just received permission to publish ALO’s original artwork which clearly shows the 914 Pace Car. </>