“It Never Rains, but it Snows: The 1973 BRDC International Trophy”
An unseasonal cold spell broken, a sodden and wintry base is revealed, as the snow in Ireland and the UK peels away feebly.
The once pretty white sheets, now betray their subtle beauty as they age to a dirt riddled slush. This is what winter in Ireland is supposed to look like – grey.
Motorsport tends not to happen in these conditions. Smaller race meets and track days would often be cancelled beforehand, while many Championships are deliberately scheduled to avoid such poor weather systems.
In the early-70s, it was not unusual for seasons to be filled out by non-Championship meets. Occasionally drivers would also partake in Formula 2 races, as well as the odd Sportscar or CanAm event – it helped keep them sharp, as well as offering decent entry money (on occasion).
When in 1973, there was an eight-week gap between the South African and Spanish Grand Prix on the Formula One calendar, the BRDC International Trophy stepped in.
A 40-lap run – held at Silverstone – was supported by the Formula 2 fraternity, but this – being the 25th running of the event – was something extra special. Alas, even the best of events can have its hiccoughs and no weather forecasters – regardless of their accuracy – can see months in advance.
Thus when the 1973 International Trophy was originally scheduled, it is rather unlikely that any of the 29-car field foresaw a snow flurry approaching, amidst what was becoming an icy-cold spring day. Admittedly practice and qualifying had witnessed some strong winds and brief bouts of heavy rain; however this was something else entirely.
Filling out the pack for this non-Championship event were thirteen Formula 1 entries, mixed with sixteen of the best Formula 5000 cars from the previous day’s support race.
Although some top names were taking part in their contemporary machines, many of the Formula 5000 cars found themselves manned by pilots who would rarely be seated at Championship races.
On pole was reigning World Champion, Emerson Fittipaldi ahead of his Lotus team mate Ronnie Peterson, with Jackie Stewart’s Tyrrell filling out the three-wide front row.
The McLaren pairing of Peter Revson and Denny Hulme swept the second row close behind. Fittipaldi’s race did not last long. The Brazilian’s clutch gave up on the opening lap, as it did with Jackie Oliver’s Ford-powered Shadow.
The rest of the race was peppered with several more retirements – in fact, six Chevrolet engines blew up, while a further entry, Ray Allen, fell foul a fuel pressure problem; the frailties of the exhausted engines laid bare for all to see.
Carlos Pace also failed to reach the halfway distance when a wheel nut worked its way loose from his Surtees Ford. As the race creaked onward Denny Hulme, Howden Ganley and Mike Hailwood also parked their respective machines thanks to various faults.
Out front, Peterson had made the perfect start, jumping to the head of the pack, yet the Swede was being closely harried by Stewart, eager for the win.
When the field came by to complete the second tour, the Scot had assumed the lead from his Swedish rival.
Normally, in these situations, Stewart would simply have kept his head and ran to a(nother) solid victory, but several laps in, the unthinkable happened. Under no pressure, Stewart rounded Becketts, only for the grip to disappear from beneath him – the crowd taken aback, as the Tyrrell pilot lost both traction and positions. By the time he had recovered himself, Stewart had dropped to 6th spot.
With little time to waste in the relatively short race, Stewart deposed the BRM pair of Niki Lauda and Clay Regazzoni, before relegating Revson and Hulme to garner 2nd place. Half the race was gone and the wired Scot zeroed in on Peterson’s Lotus like a man possessed. Every supposed limit of the Tyrrell was being broken, while the Swede was being drawn in.
Still pushing, Stewart tested Peterson’s temper with every turn, however the “feel” of the Northamptonshire circuit was soon to change – a chill was noticeably increasing.
Above the track, clouds gathered en masse – not the darkened grey clouds that signal incoming rain; instead, near white mounds collected, bringing with them layers of snow. The surrounding air grew colder still, sending a clear invitation to the skies to open up – within moments, Silverstone in April became a severe black slick.
In the middle of the fast sweeps at Becketts, leaf-like dots of white precipitated the circuit, causing Peterson to helplessly lose both his Lotus and the race lead. Stewart, too, spun in the flurry – his deep blue Tyrrell sliding out of control at Stowe, but the Scot maintained his advantage of being the frontrunner.
Ironically enough, there were only two retirements due to the flurry (both Brett Lunger and David Oxton spun off) – many of the remaining runners got to the end; however a number of spins and harmless slides would cost much time and add skipped heartbeats.
Stewart continued on to win, some ten seconds ahead of Peterson, with Regazzoni and Lauda 3rd and 5th respectively, sandwiching 4th place Revson.
It was indeed a good result for BRM, who mechanics particularly enjoyed themselves in the paddock later on, as they conducted a fierce snowball fight.
American George Follmer brought the sole remaining Shadow home in 6th place.
Gijs Van Lennep was the leading Formula 5000 car, finishing 7th overall and two laps down on Stewart, although with respect the Formula 5000 class was being led easily by Brett Lunger, until he stuffed it on lap 33. Thirteen cars made it to the end, most of whom were lapped.
The snow really hit hard after the race, but died down just enough for several Formula Ford and historic races to be run later in the day, albeit shortened.
Doubtless, nowadays a race would almost instantly be stopped should snowy conditions prevail, although it is unlikely that simple things like snow would bring a halt to the World Rally Championship at any stage.
But that just makes me sound old, doesn’t it?
1973 BRDC International Trophy of Silverstone (8 April, 1973; Non-Championship Event)
|Pos||Driver||Car / Engine||Time||Diff||Speed (km/h)|
|22||Howden Ganley||Iso Marlboro-Cosworth||1’21.4||5.0||208.349|
|25||Gijs van Lennep||Lola-Chevrolet||1’22.1||5.7||206.572|
|2||Ronnie Peterson||Lotus-Ford||40||+ 10.4 s|
|3||Clay Regazzoni||BRM||40||+ 22.7 s|
|4||Peter Revson||McLaren-Ford||40||+ 28.6 s|
|5||Niki Lauda||BRM||40||+ 50.0 s|
|6||George Follmer||Shadow-Ford||39||+ 1 Lap|
|7||Gijs Van Lennep||Lola-Chevrolet||38||+ 2 Laps|
|8||Tom Belsø||Lola-Chevrolet||38||+ 2 Laps|
|9||Vern Schuppan||BRM||38||+ 2 Laps|
|10||Keith Holland||Trojan-Chevrolet||38||+ 2 laps|
|11||Tony Dean||Chevron-Chevrolet||38||+ 2 laps|
|12||Clive Santo||Surtees-Chevrolet||37||+ 3 Laps|
|13||Bob Brown||Chevron-Chevrolet||37||+ 3 Laps|
|Ret||Howden Ganley||Iso Marlboro-Ford||24||Oil pressure|
|Ret||Denny Hulme||McLaren-Ford||24||Oil pressure|
|Ret||Carlos Pace||Surtees-Ford||16||Wheel nut|
|Ret||Ray Allen||Surtees-Chevrolet||6||Fuel pressure|
*Drivers in italics ran Formula 5000 machinery.