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Pedro, the 917, Rain and Brands Hatch

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#1 WGD706

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Posted 24 September 2003 - 17:41

I hate to keep posting Roebuck's recollections, but his stories are from a vantage point in history that I was never allowed near..........
"Pedro and the 917 in the rain at Brands...like you, like everyone else who was there, it remains an unforgettable day for me, too. I guess, in terms of atmosphere, and for the sheer quality of the entry, Le Mans '67 will remain my particular sports car racing highlight, but in terms of a memorable drive, nothing comes close to Rodriguez at Brands in '70. He simply made every other driver look flat-footed, didn't he?
In those days, a World Championship sports car race was a Grand Prix by any other name, so let me take a line or two to go through the entry. In the JW Automotive Gulf 917s were Rodriguez/Leo Kinnunen and Jo Siffert/Brian Redman, and in the Porsche Salzburg cars were Denny Hulme/Vic Elford and Hans Herrmann/Richard Attwood. The works Ferraris were crewed by Jacky Ickx/Jackie Oliver and Chris Amon/Arturo Merzario, with Mike Parkes/Herbert Muller in the Scuderia Filipinetti car.
There was a factory Alfa Romeo for Piers Courage/Andrea de Adamich,
and the Matras were crewed by Jack Brabham/Jean-Pierre Beltoise and Henri Pescarolo/Johnny Servoz-Gavin. There were several Lola T70s for such as Jo Bonnier/Reine Wisell, and a bunch of Porsche 908s, one of which was driven by Gijs van Lennep and a brilliant newcomer, Hans Laine, who would sadly die in the car at the Nurburgring a few weeks later.
Porsche was immensely serious about sports car racing in those days, to the extent that John Wyer's team - which operated the Gulf-sponsored factory cars at the time - had available the 917 for fast circuits and the nimbler 908/3 for tight ones. The latter would have been the thing to have for Brands Hatch, but in April was not ready. Pedro, Seppi & Co had therefore to run the big cars.

By 1970, the 917 was relatively civilised, if not the natural vehicle for Brands Hatch on a wet day. Amon must have groaned on race morning for he had little relish for racing in the rain. In the dry he had Put the Ferrari on pole position, a couple of tenths faster than Ickx's sister car and the Elford Porsche, with Brabham, Siffert and Servoz-Gavin also faster than Rodriguez. But Pedro will have rubbed his hands. Never a man much to concern himself with qualifying, anyway, he loved the wet.
In absolute terms, the crowd - around 20,000 - was middling for a World Championship sports car race in those days, but in light of the weather it was astonishing. Cars were towed into the parks that morning, among them my Lotus Elan. Had it not been for Rodriguez, I might well have spent much of the afternoon worrying about getting out again. Had it not been for Rodriguez, come to think of it, I'd have left long before the end.
As it was, Pedro made that impossible. It is easy, quite commonplace, to add layers of folklore to a day, to let hindsight amplify; but only rarely do you appreciate something of legend as it happens before you. That day, sodden and cold, the crowd stayed. This owed nothing to a close race, for it was hardly that. I can speak only for myself, but that afternoon I waited simply for the pleasure of enjoying Pedro's victory.
Elford led at the end of the first lap, tailed by Ickx, Siffert, Amon, Brabham, Pescarolo and Rodriguez. In their stead, back in the pack, a T70 spun coining out of Clearways, finishing up near the start/finish line, bits of bodywork all over the road. Nowadays, they would stop the race in these circumstances, and you couldn't argue with them. Back then, they waved yellow flags, and hoped everyone would see them through the murk.
Pedro didn't - at least, he always claimed so, and John Wyer, for one, believed him: "He would never have gone through the accident scene flat out if he'd been able to see the flag. There was so much spray from the cars in front that he simply missed it. I never doubted him."Whatever, next time around Rodriguez was shown a black flag, and this one he did see . A lap later the Porsche was into the pits, and while the Clerk of the Course bawled him out, Pedro impassively sat there, steely eyes straight ahead. When the lecture was over, he let in the clutch with some vim, and hurtled away down pit lane. By now he was going on a lap down on the leaders - yet by lap 20 he was on Amon's tail, past the Ferrari and into the lead.
Rodriguez's driving that afternoon beggars description. In the course of catching Amon, he had first to deal with such as Siffert, his own team mate, whom he outbraked into Paddock in a move which left everyone stupefied and shaking their heads.
I can still see those two pale blue 917s blasting through the spray down the main straight, still recall the amazement that Pedro was up with Seppi already, and next time around would be by him. Into Paddock Siffert braked where a very brave man would brake, but Rodriguez still kept coming, and on an impossibly tight line aimed inside the other Porsche. In the dip there was the merest shimmy from the back of the car, and then it was gone, seeking out Elford and Amon.
They, like Siffert, were sacrificial lambs this day, nothing more. "That old joke," Chris said, "about why doesn't someone tell Pedro it's raining...it wasn't a bloody joke that day! I remember the way he came past us all, the things he was doing with that car. It was like sleight of hand..."
After that, it was really a matter of waiting out time. There was no race, as such, yet there was something hypnotic about the afternoon, the watching of one man, one car. We were soaked and frozen, yet curiously unaware of it. Until mid-race, anyway. At that point Pedro came in to hand over to Kinnunen, his new team mate. It seemed a good moment to seek out a cup of tea and a sandwich. Even at Brands Hatch.
An odd fellow, Kinnunen. He had made his name in Finnish rallying, and would prove shatteringly fast at the Targa Florio, where presumably he felt in his element. But at a slippery Brands Hatch he was clearly not so, and in the pits Rodriguez began to fret. He had built up a lead so substantial there was little chance of their car being caught, but he worried that Kinnunen might stick it in the fence. After an hour he could stand no more, and asked Wyer if he could take over again.
It was done. In dry overalls, now, Pedro resumed his rhythm, continued on his flawless way. Behind him, Redman crashed the other Gulf Porsche out of second place, and Amon was in and out of the pits with a recalcitrant fuel pump. Ickx, the one man who might have kept Rodriguez alert on a day like this, had stopped countless times for attention to his windscreen wipers... Ferrari electrics had struck again.
The Hulme/Elford 917, though, continued without major problem save that of having covered five fewer laps than the Rodriguez car. At 6.45 Pedro emerged from the gloom of Clearways for the last time, and took the flag. On South Bank spectators plodded through the mud to their cars, sounded their horns in the time-honoured salute of the day.
On the rostrum Rodriguez looked untouched by his work. The black hair was immaculately swept back, as ever, and there was the faintest of smiles. What was there about this Mexican - this Latin born to dust and heat - that put him at such ease on so English an April day? Siffert, sometimes a match for him on sheer pace, had been dominated, along with everyone else.
"Finesse," said David Yorke, Wyer's team manager for so many years. "In terms of speed, there wasn't usually much between them, but you always had the impression that Seppi did the job with arm muscles flexed, while Pedro sat there resting his thumbs on the wheel. His precision and sensitivity were fantastic. A day like that was made for him."
Those days, though, are gone. Do I think we will ever see their like again, that sports car racing can ever regain its previous heights? Not for a second, sadly. Just rejoice that you knew it in its glory days.

That last sentence tells it like it is......Just rejoice that you knew it in its glory days.


#2 jph

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Posted 24 September 2003 - 18:53

... for the sheer quality of the entry, Le Mans '67 will remain my particular sports car racing highlight, ...

The 1970 BOAC 100 must rank in my own top 5 of ‘thank the Lord I was there’ races. Not just a coincidence, it is also in the top 5 of most uncomfortable (though Easter 1965 Goodwood probably tops that particular league), and my one regret with hindsight is my father having had enough discomfort and dragging me away from Brands after about three hours and so missing the rest of Pedro’s supreme performance.

The comment about the quality of the entry for this race and the comparison with Le Mans 1967 is worth a bit of debate. Without wishing to detract from either of these events, it strikes me that the entry for the 1967 BOAC 500 (actually it was a six hour race) must rank as one of the best, in terms of driver quality, of any world championship sports car race. The list included: Surtees, Hill P, Hill G and Brabham as former world champions; Stewart, Hulme and Rindt as future champions; and Spence, Amon, Siffert, McLaren, Scarfiotti, Attwood, Oliver, Miles, Bianchi, Gethin, Taylor, Elford, Rodriguez and Redman as then-current, former or soon-to-be F1 drivers. In addition, there were other ‘occasional’ F1 pilots, including de Klerk, Charlton and Hermann.

Has any other sports car race ever had such a breadth of driving talent? All it needed was Clark and Gurney….

#3 Alan Lewis

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Posted 24 September 2003 - 19:59

I wasn't at Brands 1970 but I have wondered sometimes how those who were at both events (there will be some on this forum!) compared it meteorolo..metero..weatherwise to the inaugural Birmingham Superprix in 1986? I have vivid recollections of sitting on the banking around the roundabout hairpin and watching small bits of it sliding towards the track.

Of course, I went back in 1987 and every subsequent year, which just proves that my friends who were with me that day were right about me all along...


#4 Pedro 917

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Posted 24 September 2003 - 19:59

You lucky devils...........
However, I saw Pedro win the 1000 kms race of Spa-Francorchamps in 1971. In 4 hours and 1 minute it was all over, an average of 249 km/h !!! As I drove most of the old track last week, nearly unbelievable!

Here's Pedro at Brands Hatch, putting the cherry on the pie:

Posted Image

#5 Barry Boor

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Posted 24 September 2003 - 20:04

I picked up a hitch-hiker about 2 miles from Brands who, it turned out, had 2 tickets and only needed one.....

So I had the pleasure of watching this fantastic drive FREE OF CHARGE. :)

#6 Ray Bell

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Posted 24 September 2003 - 21:04

So where does the Austrian race fall in this list of Pedro's great drives?

As I recall, the description of that in Motor Sport concludes that all else before it was merely practice, that this was the iconic event of Pedro's lifetime...

#7 Pedro 917

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Posted 24 September 2003 - 22:12

......and what about the Belgian GP at Spa 1970? Ask Chris Amon!

#8 Keir

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Posted 24 September 2003 - 22:26

I read the race report of the BOAC 1000 at least as many times as the K's in the race.
Road & Track did a really good job of motor racing reporting back then!!

Spa '70!!
Chris had said back then that once you got clear of Stewart and Rindt, you were pretty safe, then he saw this white car coming up in his mirrors!!!

#9 Ray Bell

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Posted 24 September 2003 - 22:44

Neither seem to me to be a patch on what was written about the Austrian 1000kms race...

But maybe there was some journalistic licence used? I doubt it, however... the Osterreichring would seem to be a place where a Pedro would shine (even more so than Brands?)... and again it was raining.

#10 sterling49

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Posted 28 July 2007 - 22:19

Definitely worth a bump this thread, I have recently read "Racing In The Rain" and it brought alive the many memories of the great era of Sportscar Racing that John Horsman enjoyed. However, that race.....Brands, Pedro, JW Porsche 917 and the rain......cue Pedro powersliding the 917 out of Druids on full opposite lock and I watched in awe.......the best wet race driving that I have ever witnessed, he was special, so very,very special.
Any memories dare I ask?


#11 Tim Murray

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Posted 29 July 2007 - 11:42

Originally posted by sterling49
Any memories dare I ask?

Sterling, have you come across this entertaining ( ;) ) old thread on Pedro at Brands?:

Syrett on Pedro

#12 sterling49

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Posted 29 July 2007 - 12:03

Originally posted by Tim Murray

Sterling, have you come across this entertaining ( ;) ) old thread on Pedro at Brands?:

Syrett on Pedro

Great description of THAT incident! However, other TNF'rs must have attended the race, I was just amazed at Pedro's ease of driving that sliding, snaking monster on what was an ice rink with the power that he had available, he made it look so easy, the smaller, lower powered cars were spinning all over the place, Pedro was just unbelievable. There are certain days when you know you witness something very special (Aryton at Donnington,Stewart at the Ring,Clark at the Ring in 23, Ickx in 72 at Paddock) that puts other drivers performances in perspective. I still have to remind myself that Seppi was his teamate that day...............and that there was a class field of drivers competing also................

Thanks for the link, Nick Syrett was indeed an imposing figure!