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Belgian Grand Prix 1968

We had been engaged to film a series of Grand Prix on behalf of Honda Racing.  Their car was driven by John Surtees. Now, we were off to Spa Francorchamps in Belgium.  I brought in Vittorio Della Valle in to join with Piet Van Strien from Holland and  Jan Borg from Oslo.

Della Valle and I had agreed to meet up in Brussels airport.  His flight from Rome was due only a few minutes after mine from London.  When I arrived in Brussels, there was an announcement for me to go to the information desk.  There was a message from UPI Brussels to say that Della Valle’s flight had been cancelled and that he was coming on another flight which would arrive forty minutes after my flight.  The message went on to invite us both to lunch in Brussels.

I waited for Vittorio and we went into Brussels in a taxi.  We were welcomed by the bureau manager who then took us to a fabulous lunch in central Brussels and then put us in a taxi for the railway station.

We went by train to Verviers where we would be staying until after the Grand Prix. We stayed at Le Roannay Hotel which was within walking distance of the town.

The following morning, Della Valle and I went for a walk in Verviers. It seemed that every shop, whatever their normal merchandise, were also selling strawberries.  The local strawberries are very dark, almost black, and have a wonderful taste.

Strawberries, les fraises, were a favourite of Vittorio.  We looked forward to having some with our lunch back at the hotel.

Vittorio told the waiter that we would like some strawberries. He said ”We have none, they have not been delivered”.  Vittorio suggested that they sent someone down to the shoe shop. For us, it was back to Ananas.

We made our arrangements at the Francorchamps circuit which, at that time, was very long so that, whereas in most grand prix there were between fifty and sixty laps, here there were only 28.

Sunday, and now it was time for the race.

Della Valle worked in the pits, to cover start, finish, the pit straight as well as pit activity.  Piet Van Strien and I found a spot at the first bend where we could see the start and all the cars coming straight at us until the track moved off to our left.

Jan was roaming around the huge circuit getting what he could, where he could. He got some first class shots at Stavelot Corner.

It was an extraordinary race in that, it seemed, that each leading car broke down leaving the car behind to go into the lead.  Sometimes a leading car with a long lead would go straight into the paddock, knowing that he could not carry on and, therefore he was off the track before the second car came round the last bend into the home straight.  It even took the pit crew by surprise and they were not able to tell their man that he was leading until the end of the following lap.

At the Monaco Grand Prix, Lotus introduced wings.   At Francorchamps, a number of entries arrived with a variety of experimental wings.  It was quite a novelty.  Ferrari came with two cars, to be driven by Chris Amon and Jackie IckxJackie Stewart was to drive for Matra International.

Chris Amon (Ferrari 312) was fastest in Friday’s practice, gaining pole position, alongside him on the front row was Jackie Stewart and Jackie Ickx driving a Ferrari 312.

Honda RA301 (#5 John Surtees) 1968 Mexican GP ...

Image via Wikipedia

Our man, John Surtees, in a Honda RA301, made the second row alongside Dennis Hulme, driving a McLaren Cosworth M7A.  Practice runs on the Saturday were pointless in the downpour that was around for most of the day.

Raceday itself was overcast. Chris Amon was the first to take the lead followed by Jackie Ickx, John Surtees and Dennis Hulme.  Soon John Surtees, in the Honda, had taken the lead and we began to think it might be our day.   He also clocked the fastest lap at over 240 kph. Soon, cars started to break down. First Graham Hill (Lotus-Cosworth 49B), then Richard Attwood in a BRM P126, Jack Brabham (Brabham-Repco BT26) and Jochen Rindt, driving another Brabham-Repco BT26. .

On the seventh lap Brian Redman, in a Cooper BRM T86B, retired with suspension trouble.  This caused him to crash over a concrete barrier and into a parked car. The Cooper caught fire and Redman was lucky to escape with a broken arm and some minor burns.

Chris Amon retired when his Ferrari developed a radiator problem.  Next, it was John Surtees in the Honda who drove straight into the paddock with a broken suspension.

Dennis Hulme was now in the lead, but he was quickly overtaken by Jackie Stewart in his Matra-Coswworth MS10.  They fought for first place until Dennis Hulme’s car had a driveshaft problem.  This left Jackie Stewart in the clear thirty seconds ahead of Bruce McLaren and then, incredibly, he ran out of petrol and was overtaken by McLaren, Pedro Rodruigez and Jackie Ickx.

Bruce McLaren 1966

Bruce McLaren - Image via Wikipedia

The race was, eventually won by Bruce McLaren.  Only seven cars finished and only three completed the twenty eight laps.  What a day.

After the race, Della Valle, Borg and I went for the train to Brussels.  We were late getting to the station and just had time to climb on board.  After a while, the ticket inspector came round after our tickets.  We pointed out that we did not have time to buy them before the train pulled out.  He was furious.  Jan Borg pointed out to him that any other railway system in Europe, that he had used, allowed for the sale of tickets on the train by the ticket inspector.  The inspector finally relented and gave us our tickets.

When we got to Brussels, we went for a taxi for the airport where we all went our separate ways, with Della Valle going south east, me going west and Jan Borg, well, he went off to Paris. Things were happening there.  There were riots and our Paris cameramen, Badin, Botras and Chaudensen were being targeted by the rioters, who seemed to assume that they were working for the government, and their safety was at risk.  UPITN decided to send in “foreign” cameraman to cover the unfolding events.  Jan Borg covered the rest of the 1968 Paris riots.

© Terence Gallacher and terencegallacher.com, 2012.  Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Terence Gallacher and terencegallacher.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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