Following the absolutely heart-braking loss to a Ferrari 312P driven by Sandro Munari and Arturo Merzario by only a mere 17 seconds over the course of nearly 500 miles of the Sicilian countryside in the Targa Florio only weeks before, Ing. Chiti was even more determined to break the domination of the 312Ps and to take on all challengers to the 1972 World Championship for Makes title.
. Unfortunately, a high stakes game of 'cat and mouse' ensued where Ferrari withdrew from LeMans, Porsche did not enter a factory team and Alfa Romeo Autodelta was facing 12 cylinder Matras, Cosworth-powered Lolas, Ligiers, a variety of French Ferrari dealer racing teams sporting Daytonas, the BF Goodrich Team of Chevrolet Corvettes, a couple DeTomaso Panteras and a vast plethora of privately-entered 908s, 911s and cars such as that.
The 'cat and mouse' game continued for the following three years reducing the competition between the major marques who would for various competitive reasons rarely race against one another.
The Autodelta team, sponsored by Alitalia, Shell, Goodyear and Koni brought three V-8 cars to the circuit along with a full and complete racing caravan of spare parts, a large Alfa Romeo autobus machining operation and a full staff...including the writer who was ..."once again".... in charge of keeping the cars absolutely spotless, keeping the local LeMans Alfa Romeo garage clean and guarding the assets of the company during off hours.
The Autodelta bulletin board...the 1970's way for the men to know precisely when they were expected to leave for a certain race, with whom and being conveyed in what. In this case, you will notice that I (Americano) was instructed to leave with my friend Ermes Moscardo (the body painter) in the large Autodelta machine shop bus on a Monday 5/6 at 5:00 a.m. in the morning. The photos that follow were taken on that slow-moving long trip to Le Mans.
Passing into France and through the Mont Blanc tunnel under the French alps.
My view out the front window of the large Autodelta machine shop bus passing through the French Alps.
Ah...finally after 8 hours at machine shop bus speed...Le Mans!
The local Alfa Romeo authorized service facility in Le Mans kindly offered the use of its entire facilities to the Autodelta team. Note the Alfa sign on the building at right. Also peer closely on the left for a glimpse of the Alfa Romeo transporter in the process of unloading our three T-33 cars.
The center of team activities in the town of Le Mans.
Combined with the Alfa Romeo machine-shop-autobus parked outside, this shop had every possible convenience required by the team to prepare the cars. Clean, well-lit, spacious enough to fit everything and relatively private. In the unlikely event that an emergency part or sub-assembly became necessary, the ride from Settimo Milanese to Le Mans was a relative short transit of perhaps six hours or so.
Driver Nanni Galli is pictured on the left wearing his blue Autodelta team jacket
You see Nino Vaccarella and Rolf Stommelen in the background out of focus as they discuss things with a team engineer Severi.
Notice how sparkling clean each body panel appears to be...!
Nino Vaccarella being fitted to his car and visa-versa. The car #18 would end up finishing in fourth place with Andrea de Adamich.
It is 6:00 a.m. the morning before the race. My overnight guard duty of the cars and the team assets is over and I take a few photographs and head to the team trailer for a few hours of sleep.
Appears like a virtual ghost town, but wait....in about ten hours a half a million people will be screaming around the circuit.
For the night time hours prior to the actual race, I was stationed on a makeshift bed in the pit box # 18 for the night time security of the team materials. The famous Le Mans clock indicates that the race will begin in approximately 10 hours. Yes, it was a long day for all of us.
Unloading the three vehicles at 6:15 a.m. prior to the start of the race on Saturday at 4:00 p.m.
You will notice one change in the cars from all other Autodelta cars over the season...the existence of a transparent side panel circle appearing only on the right side of the vehicle, allowing the illumination of the vehicle number for night time tracking by official timekeepers. You might have noticed back in Part One of my story the reference I made to the Le Mans tail section on car number 33 visible in the background and later the LeMans wind-tunnel model being held by sculptor Bordoni working in his office. Well...here it is...designed for ultra high speed stability on the Mulsanne Straight.
The FIA formula for the World Championship for Makes competition and this 1972 Twenty Four Hours of LeMans race specified that prototypes run with three-litre engines. The era of the magnificent 4.5-litre 917 in Le Mans was over, but a 908 long tail privately entered by Reinhold Joest turned heads. Joest, Mario Casoni and Michael Weber shared the car owned by Jo Siffert and scored third overall behind two factory-run Matra-Simca 670's and a single Matra-Simca 660. The 908 benefited mainly from its' sophisticated long-tail aerodynamics and its low weight. Despite its substantially lower engine output compared to the works Matra-Simcas, the Porsche reached an identical top speed on the Mulsanne straight.
You will notice the famous 'Chiti coppola', the air intake bulge behind the driver's head. This aerodynamically-proven design would be an Alfa Romeo signature exclusive and would continue to appear on all prototype cars through to the 2.2 liter supercharged model of 1977...an evolution of the original 1967 'Telescopia' design. You will also notice the air fins riveted on the leading edge of the front fenders...the first time I can recall seeing those stabilizers being put onto a T-33.
Taken early on misty-wet race morning (rain never again appeared during the course of the next several days) the photograph shows the cars in a kind of a holding pen that, I believe, permitted the technical scrutineers to review the cars one final time for compliance.
The fourth place finisher, a few hours before the 4:00 p.m. start of the race.
Andrea de Adamich
The writer is pictured savoring the Experience of a Lifetime, standing beside the car of Vic Elford and Dr. Helmut Marko. This car DNF'd due to gearbox issues and officially finished behind Pescarolo and Hill by 112 laps.
One minute prior to the beginning of the start. This car of Rolf Stommelen and Nanni Galli DNF'd due to gearbox issues and was classified 81 laps off the pace of the winning Matra-Simca 670 V-12 screamer.
In Remembrance: The last few hours in the life of Jo Bonnier, an early Autodelta driver under the direction of Ing. Chiti who campaigned the early GTAs: On the Sunday morning of the race, Bonnier approached a car driven slowly and tried to avoid the Ferrari 365GTB4 of Florian Vetsch. The cars touched, Bonnier was launched over the barriers and ended up high in the trees. The Lola was completely destroyed...Bonnier had been killed upon impact. Alfa Romeo T-33 driver Vic Elford stopped his car to try to help but became violently sickened and slowly drove back to the pits. Elfords' words are memorialized in a video of that crash.
The green light indicates that the starting flag has not yet been unfurled officially but the front row of Matra-Simca 670 V-12 cars are approaching this point to begin Lap 1
This is a rare look at the starting field as the warm-up lap is poised to begin. And one of your last images from me of Le Mans as from this point I grew amazingly busy for the next 28 hours or so...with a catnap in the team trailer in the middle of the night. Yes, one of the longest days in my life and yet the single most exciting day in my life. Hope you have enjoyed the pre-race imagery.
The start of the 1972 24 Hours of LeMans...with the front row of Matra-Simca MS670 3.0 litre V-12s driven by the eventual race winners Henri Pescarolo, who had been a Autodelta team driver in 1970... and Graham Hill in car #13 and along side (pictured) finishing eleven laps down the special "long-tail" version #14 Matra-Simca MS670 of Francois Cevert and Howden Ganley. Pescarolo would eventually move to Alfa Romeo and help hand Ing. Chiti the 1975 World Championship for Makes title. The fourth place car, a T-33/3 of Nino Vaccarella and Andrea de Adamich would finish 37 laps off the winning pace.
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