Karting Magazine – December 1974
WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP IS DOMINATED BY THE ITALIANS
World Kart Championships have always been tumultuous and aggressive occasions right from the early sixties when a Texan team turned up in the Bahamas with baseball bats tucked inside their steering hoops! Ten years after this sickening spectacle so history repeated itself when an Italian brandished an exhaust system as a club, in Sweden. On both occasions, incidentally, the aggressors didn’t win the coveted title. With this background of frayed tempers and strayed egos, there could be little doubt that the 1974 event would not be a docile meeting.
The host country inevitably puts its own stamp on the character of the meeting and the entry list, which increases both by number of drivers and participating countries annually, may well bring in additional nations by virtue of old colonial or imperial connections. This year there were drivers from Austria, Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Denmark, Finland, France, Great Britain, Holland, Italy, Luxembourg, Monaco, Morocco, New Zealand, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Uruguay, USA and West Germany. Very few, if any, of the drivers, had been put off competing by virtue of the political upheaval still continuing in Portugal and the considerable number of cholera cases that had been reported.
The Estoril circuit is situated near Lisbon and is a modern, well equipped proper motor racing track with superb pit and grandstand accommodation. The karts used a 1114 metre circuit that included part of the main straight in front of the two grandstands and with each country being provided with a pit room that could be secured with shutters and locks to make it thief proof. The Portuguese organising team headed by Dr. Martins, handled every stage of the event with honest and calm efficiency so it came as no surprise to find that there were three noise meters in operation around the circuit with one of them a superb unit that produced a print-out of the peak noise reached for each kart so there was no possibility of argument about a mis-reading.
Both Goldstein and the Italians had gone to considerable trouble to visit the circuit in advance for private testing but none seemed to have read the regulations concerning noise levels that had been in existence all year. In brief these regulations permitted a noise level of 90db plus a 3db tolerance. After 93db one received penalty times to be added to one’s timed practice and penalty points to be added to the points gained in every heat and final but should one exceed 96db then one was excluded from the meeting.
Each country was permitted a maximum of six drivers with two being seeded into a final series of races on Saturday and Sunday with all the others having to compete in a completely separate elimination series of events on Thursday and Friday. Despite the adverts for sunny Portugal, no sooner had the first ten drivers completed timed practice on Thursday than it started to rain with a dramatic effect on lap times. Terry Edgar had succeeded in putting up a very creditable time during the dry period but when the time sheets we released all hell broke loose for the organisers had naturally applied the rules about excess noise. Rodrigues of Morocco, Rijn of Holland, Mata and Freitas of Brazil and Cooke of New Zealand had hefty point penalties whilst Korten the rapid Austrian, Cheever and Rovelli (the Junior Cup winner) of Italy, Vokinger of Switzerland, Lesgourges of France and Lavenwim of Holland were all excluded for being over the limit. Perhaps if it hadn’t rained then these penalties might have been reluctantly accepted but the weather had meant that the slowest man in the wet had put up a time 50 per cent longer than the fastest in the dry – a gap of 25 seconds! There was everything to gain by kicking up a fuss about anything that might eventually result in the time trials being re-held, so within a short space of time 28 drivers had signed a petition and six protests deposited by the excluded drivers.
The next morning the protests were considered and after listening to stories that the excess noise was caused by wheel spin in the wet allowing ultra high rpm all were rejected. Anxious Portuguese officials reported to the CIK that the Italians were preventing other drivers from going out to the heats and an ultimatum was made – either drive or be excluded. An uneasy situation now developed where nobody was certain whether they could trust the other drivers to keep to their word and there were examples of a mystified competitor having his kart seized and manhandled back into the pits by other drivers who were unable to explain what was going on due to the lack of a common language. Just when it seemed that the drivers were about to waiver and give in so Defrancesco, President of the CIK, suddenly agreed to drop exclusion for those with very high noise levels and replace it with penalty points and penalty times. One good thing came from this for Britain, even though we had not been involved in any of the penalties, for “Sensitive” (this British driver does not want his name published) had overslept and would have missed the first race had it not been for the delay!
The first heat saw the Italian Nechi open a fantasic lead almost immediately and keep it without interruption until the end whilst “Sensitive” dropped back to finally finish twelfth. The Danish driver Christensen and several others must have been grateful that the ‘retire when lapped’ flag had been dropped from this event for they were quickly overtaken by the flying Nechi.
The ‘z’ shaped first bend after the start was lined with straw bales so there was no run-off area and it took its toll in the second heat when a Brazilian thumped the bales and bounced back into the congested pack causing a pile-up involving at least twelve other competitors. Whilst this was being sorted out Terry Edgar opened up an excellent lead until Gabbiani eventually crept up and passed. Alan Lane was also driving extremely well in fourth place and some idea of the excellent performance by our two drivers in this race can be gained by the fact that they had a considerable gap over Cheever and Rovelli without taking into account the fact that these two later drivers were dropped even further back on the results due to their penalty points.
Despite the fact that each heat is yet another cocktail of the various groups, the third heat closely resembled the previous in that Terry Edgar took the lead to hold it until Gabbiani could work his way to the front and take over. Our second driver, “Sensitive”, was passed back with both exhaust problems and then a seize.
The fourth heat started with the Swiss Bruggisser flying into the lead with Alan Lane eighth and gradually creeping forward to dispose of Rijn to get into third. Gallois took over the lead temporarily and they finished with Lane locked tight behind Bruggisser’s back bumper.
Nechi naturally took the lead as usual in heat five and held it to the end but Lane’s duel with Sweden’s Ollson continued right to the end, the British driver finishing third. Like many other people, Lane was in trouble with chain that was quickly knocked out on the arduous circuit and Bruno Ferrari had much rushing around to do in order to locate fresh supplies.
Nechi again disposed of all the opposition in the final heat, Gabbiani coming home second with Edgar holding an excellent third place. A Spanish driver by the name of “El Grand Amadeo”, presumably a bull fighter, had earlier caused irritation by charging into the assembled standing grid and now managed to hit Finland’s Haggblom with an almighty knock to send him permanently off the circuit.
As soon as certain of the Italian drivers came into the weigh-in area, a technician supplied by Rovelli Senior took the temperatures of the rear tyres and was getting figures of around 56 to 58°C. Up to now kart drivers had appreciated the need to get their Goodyears warm for maximum performance. Whilst karters do not have rows and rows of different tread compounds to try (thank goodness) once could presumably alter tyre pressures to get consistent temperatures across the width of the tread.
After the heats there was a second-chance race which finished up very much as a rag-bag of back runners and all together this was a pretty boring spectacle. Any interest in the race for British supporters soon expired when “Sensitive” apparently had chain and carburettor trouble.
The concluding part of the first half of the World Championship could now commence. All those that had qualified by means of the heats or the second-chance race now took part in three finals with their best two to count. Although most drivers tend to have inflated estimates of their own ability, most would be well satisfied if they could get through these finals and qualify for the main World Championship series on the Sunday. The tension was naturally high for you do not travel thousands of miles at great expense not to feel that extra adrenalin when you commence the rolling lap. Nechi and Gabbiani were making no mistake in this first final but Alan Lane latched on to them and refused to give up the struggle throughout the race. Terry Edgar lost a couple of places at the start but even so Cheever, Olsson and later Vokinger all had a job to get past – and they are all top class drivers.
If there were any weaknesses at all in the Portuguese organisation it concerned the quality of starts and indeed there had been some cause for concern for the standard displayed at other international meetings this year.
The problem briefly is that if one raises the flag in good time then it enables the front row to accelerate well before the line with the result that one has a stretched out grid. This is magnified with a circuit such as the one at Estoril because the back rows might still be around a blind bend whilst the front row have started the race. To counteract this problem, organisers have tended to leave raising the flag until the very moment the front row crosses the line but this means that either the front drivers must look over their shoulders to check that it really has been started or assume that every rolling lap is going to result in a start and not slow down until marshalls further around the course so indicate. In the second final the leaders had passed the false start flag position when that was shown and as far as they were concerned the race was on until they were eventually stopped with a chequered flag. Technically this meant the race was now finished (after one lap) and could not be re-run but fortunately none of the drivers had their rule books handy and this error on the part of the organisers was not picked up and eventually a satisfactory start was accomplised.
Again it was Nechi, Gabbiani and Lane holding the first three positions but this time Olssen went to third in the initial stages only to disappear from this effort and Cheever climbed forward to have a fabulous dice with Gabbiani.
As the third final was being assembled so some of the competitors noticed that items such as carburettors and tools were missing from their pits and team managers started to take better precautions by locking up the thousands of pounds worth of valuable equipment. The third final started with a handsome scrap with Cheever in the lead followed by Nechi and Gabbiani. The strain of this contest presumably forced the pace to the point of unreliability for Nechi seized at the end of the straight after adjusting his carburettor and Gabbiani also broke his engine so leaving the order Cheever, Rovelli, Lane and Edgar, with Olssen this time being kept back into fourth place.
The organisers had done an excellent job in making up a great deal of time after the initial delays over noise penalties and most had a sense of relief that the first half of the meeting was now completed so that the events for the title could commence on Saturday morning with a fresh programme of scrutineering, time trials, heats and finals lasting two days. This feeling of relief was shattered when a letter was put on the notice board on Saturday morning to the effect that an International committee of kart drivers had been formed comprising Goldstein of Belgium, Fullerton of Britain, Larsson of Sweden, Brandhofer of Germany, Gorini of Italy, Heinz Peters of South Africa and Lopez of Brazil with Mario Arman of Sweden as secretary. Their letter required free practice to follow the original programme times, for penalty points for non-national colours of helmet and leathers to be deleted and also penalty points and exclusion to be deleted for excess noise. Basically the CIK decided to ignore these requests and follow the regulations so scrutineering continued with the new drivers Union having frequent meetings and eventually withdrawing to one of the pit boxes for more privacy. As resistance continued so a meeting was called of all the coaches and there was much impassioned argument as to the need of noise restrictions or not. Eventually someone made the good point that the purpose of the preliminary noise checks was to give a competitor a chance to know his noise output before the official checking during time trials. As the only adjustment available to him was to alter the silencer and nothing could be done about the induction roar (augmented by the current use of Tillotson carburettors), the noise meter should be placed on the exhaust outlet side. Eventually it was agreed to make this one consession and the various protest groups started holding meetings in the paddock area lobbying officials whenever they had the opportunity. Eventually a stage was reached where an ultimatum had to be given – either compete in the event within the next three minutes or the World Championship would be cancelled. Officials took up their places and the seconds ticked by until, to everyone’s relief, there was the staccato noise of a kart being push-started and the deadlock was broken right at the last moment.
With the noise trials and tests taken all from the exhaust outlet side there was a marked reduction in sound level although it was noticeable that some drivers had a style that produced tyre screech which sent the reading very high. Only three competitors received penalties and the most seriously affected was Gabbiani who now lost his chance of the World Championship because the penalty points would go through every race including the finals. The time trials were most interesting for the seven drivers who managed to get into the 51 second bracket were Fullerton (current World Champion), Alan Lane, Gorini and Goldstein (former World Champion) – who all got slower on the second lap (which is what you would expect from a motor that was getting hotter) whilst Patrese and Cheever all put up faster times on their second lap which could have been the result of a kamikaze last ditch effort but could indicate that their clearances would remain constant throughout a race – a view that tends to be confirmed by the final results. It was most encouragingto suddenly see Fullerton a contender for all year long his performances have been most disturbing with a tremendous amount of mechanical unreliability and apparently no chance of repeating his World Championship win. By next morning Gabbiani had lodged a protest about his noise penalties but this was rejected.
The first heat started with a great boost for British supporters when Fullerton went out in front only then to apparently seize then re-start, fiddling with his carburettor. Patrese took over front position but Goldstein refused to be denied and as he came through from third place to first so one of his arch-enemies, Nechi, got pushed into the bales. Mickey Allen was following Terry Edgar, the former having borrowed a Taifun kart from a New Zealander which cannot have pleased the manufacturer of his British kart that he had originally started using. On the last lap Allen was black flagged for a loose chain guard.
Although the general standard of racing improved with the second part of the meeting, the automatic seeding of two drivers from each nation into this part meant that there were the odd examples of circulating obstructions. For example Znagui of Morocco couldn’t even keep up with the pace of the rolling lap at the start of the second heat despite going flat out! Gorini’s initial lead was briefly captured by Cheever but positions were quickly reversed again with Alan Lane going like a steamer with his Parilla sounding unstrained in third position.
At the first bend of heat three Lane was in second position with Fullerton fourth but almost immediately Fullerton had got right behind the leader, Cheever, and the two of them plummeted down that wickedly fast main straight, flicked as one to enter the right angle bend and were gone to leave drivers such as Nechi, Gabbiani and Lane apparently trailing. After several laps of feints Fullerton managed to get past with a Red Indian tribe of three Italians behind him – glorious stuff for the British! As the laps were reeled off so Fullerton started touring home to save his engine with a tremendous amount of time in hand.
The fourth heat saw Fullerton in the lead with this time a decent gap over Gorini who in turn had a long stretch in front of Gabbiani, Lake Speed (USA), Prost (France), Peters (S Africa) and Nechi.
In the fifth heat Gorini used a spare set of equipment to put him out front for he had seized near the end of the previous one. Patrese initially separated Goldstein from the leader but the Belgian had no intention of being held back and plummeted to the front so rapidly that either the fright or draught of his passing had Soler or Uruguay headed straight for the bales in a big spin. Gorini seemed to find some additional performance from somewhere, closed up to Goldstein and started tapping on his back bumper causing the ex-World Champion to raise his arm in protest but the Italian was not to be put off and managed to squeeze by near the end.
A battle royal developed right from the start of the last heat when the three leaders – Cheever, Patrese and Goldstein circulated as one with Patrese managing to snatch the lead whilst Alan Lane kept station behind this star trio. Goldstein then took his turn in the front and after various swoops of the lead managed to hold it on the important last lap.
Such were the numbers of competitors in this division of the race that two second chance races had to be held and in the first of these Gabbiani’s mechanics refused to let him go out as they felt that his noise penalty should have been scrubbed following the protest. Terry Edgar took a good lead from the start and was only overtaken by a rapid Frenchman, Gallois. It was a shame Edgar had to fight through the second chance series of races because his performance early in the meeting had shown great promise and had it not been for a stone in his engine and a shunt that was none of his concern, he could well have qualified for the finals.
The first five in the first second chance race went on to the back of the grid of the second of the second-chance races. Normally such races consist of people with little chance of a world rating but this one included drivers such as Larsson, Vokinger and Nechi – all who have been tipped for the World Championship title at one time. Initially it was Bruckner’s race but then Nechi galloped forward from the back of the grid and Edgar just could not make the front five to move into the finals.
It was now time for the drivers and mechanics to take stock of their motor situation for, if they had held back anything special as a last reserve then now was the time to put it on the line. The three finals that were to follow are the whole purpose of this expensive trip and the preliminary races had proved that you needed every fraction of horsepower that you could find. Two drivers appeared to be particularly well placed because of both having been seeded and because they had no mechanical ailments so far – Patrese and Goldstein. All the other favourites have either had to compete in the gruelling elimination series of races or had seizures and other catastrophes so their equipment larder was beginning to look somewhat empty. Not helping the situation was the knowledge that the scrutineers had arranged for a balance to be available to check whether connecting rods were truly of the homologated material or had been replaced by titanium. Several teams were suspected of having made this modification and this news must also have made them pause when deciding which motor to take off the shelves for the finals. As it happens the balance was purely a letter scale and there was no press available to split crankshafts but the competitors were not to know it was all a bluff.
The packed grandstands emitted a sound like an agitated swarm of bees as the grid assembled for the first final. Quickly they formed up on their first rolling lap and were launched as a screaming mechanical snake into the first bend, miraculously without entanglements. Amongst that mass of helmets once could glimpse Lane in fourth position and Fullerton in sixth but it was not until they had completed their first lap that it became obvious just how well the cream had risen to the top. Patrese was holding a miniscule lead over Goldstein with Cheever, Lane, Fullerton and Rovelli desperately trying to stay in contact. Terry Fullerton was certainly not playing a ‘waiting game’ and there could be no mistaking his determined look as he climbed up into fourth place only to suddenly drop right to the back of the field. Only one all-green outfit remained in a competitive position, that of Alan Lane and first he coped manfully with the German Brandhofer and then kept off the urgent efforts of Gorini for quite some time. After the opening laps Goldstein slipped past Patrese and managed to hold the front position for five laps before once again the Italian managed to take the lead.
Slowly the front trio opened a slight gap over the other aspirants for the crown and several top drivers such as Sweden’s Olssen seized in vain effort to keep up. Lake Speed was driving well and as he overtook South Africa’s Irving so the latter carried on straight up the bank although there had been no physical contact. Fullerton continued to circulate at the back of the field, apparently holding on his ignition coil wire and the leaders remorselessly caught him up and one couldn’t help wondering how the World Champion would take the insult of being lapped. When the moment occurred there was in fact no drama and the trio of Patrese, Goldstein and Cheever swept past with the Belgian waving his arms theatrically to imply he was being baulked by the leader! For all that he was unable to do anything about Patrese and the flag dropped with the jubilant Italian in first place.
With a drivers best two out of three finals counting, and with the motors of the top five or six drivers apparently so evenly matched many had predicted that ties were likely and there was no reason for the British supporters to be despondent for Fullerton could still win the last two finals, discarding the first. For the second final the wind had increased even more so that the National flags streamed rigidly and the sun was now very low – straight into the drivers’ eyes in the trickiest portions of the course. Timing his effort to perfection, Goldstein managed to snatch the lead at the commencement of the second final with Patrese hot on his heels. In an endeavour to find the odd hundredth of a second they were now clipping corners and sliding well onto the grass edge of the main straight, kicking up spurts of dust which obscured the visors of those following. Patrese managed to get alongside Goldstein but the Belgian refused to back off as they plummeted towards a bend, so keeping his lead.
In the manoeuvrings for front place Cheever managed to get into second position for several laps before being retaken by Patrese and the latter then made a death or glory bid down the main straight – held a vicious high speed slide, somehow managing to keep it all together to find himself in front of Goldstein and Cheever! Goldstein now made a tactical error in that he started avoiding any manoeuvres that might give the following Cheever a chance to get past him. He didn’t seem to realise that only one thing mattered, to get past Patrese if he was to have the chance of becoming World Champion. As the last lap came up so Patrese kept in front to win the second final making him the World Champion with Cheever almost passing Goldstein at the post. That half of the Italian contingent that supported the IAME group (those using Komet and Parillas with Birel karts) went wild with delight – the Brazilians helping the celebrations with great draughts of whiskey and any other spirits that could be found. Meanwhile Goldstein was in tears and his sycophants were muttering about putting in protests for non-sporting driving.
With the World Champion decided, one could forgive any driver who decided not to take part but in the end all took their place on the grid and it soon became obvious that many were treating this as an opportunity to show that they could beat the new World Champion. Fortunately Patrese is a quiet, thinking type of driver who had no intention of being involved in a nasty shunt with the title now firmly in his grasp. Goldstein took the lead followed by Cheever, Rovelli, Patrese and Gabiani with the group taking on the appearance of a vibrating spring, sometimes a gap opening in one position only for it to close immediately and a gap appear further back. Initially Goldstein opened a lead with the Italians tightly packed in their bunch but then there was a surge forward and Cheever had swept to the front to be joined by Rovelli two laps later and then Patrese making it as well. The three Italians out front, looking like the devil’s disciples in their red outfits, emphasised the crashing defeat that had taken place to Goldstein – the only man this year who had ever looked like a serious alternative for the World Championship.
Post race scrutineering was carried out with great attention to detail, with careful examination of all components under the supervision of the British CIK delegate. The three Komet K88’s and the Birel karts were beautifully prepared but devoid of any gimmicks or frills. Everything operated smoothly and looked ready for another gruelling World Championship without attention. Patrese is 20 years old and is a student of engineering at University. He appears smoother in style and quieter in character than many of the other Italian drivers and will make an excellent new champion. By taking four out of the first five places the Italians have come back on the World Championship scene with a vengeance to make up for all those defeats since 1966 and will prove hard to dislodge next year.
© Karting Magazine – Reproduced with permission