After the painful defeat suffered a few weeks earlier at the hands of the Ferrari 312P of Sandro Munari and Arturo Merzario, by a margin of a mere 16.9 seconds on the 792-kilometer route of the Targa Florio, Ing. Chiti was increasingly determined to break the dominance of the 312P during the remaining challenges for the 1972 World Championship for Makes competition.
Unfortunately, the game of "cat and mouse" with Ferrari materialized once again at Le Mans due to the non-participation of Ferrari factory in this Le Mans race. Porsche chose not to participate with their official team cars leaving Alfa Romeo to compete with the 12-cylinder Matra cars, the Lola cars with their Cosworth engines, the Ligier team, a plethora of French teams racing Ferrari Daytonas, Team BFGoodrich with Chevrolet Corvettes, two DeTomaso Panteras and several cars such as the 908, 911 and others of the same kind.
The game of "cat and mouse" also continued in the subsequent years, reducing the challenge to the most competitive brands that... for reasons of convenience ...rarely raced against one another.
The Autodelta team, sponsored by Alitalia, Shell, Goodyear and Koni brought three V-8 cars to the circuit with a truck full of racing parts, a machine shop bus and a full team of the top Autodelta technicians ... including myself (!) who "once again" had the enviable task of keeping the cars spotless, keeping the Alfa garage clean and performing the duties of a night watchman.
Shown above is the Autodelta announcement program for the 1972 Le Mans race assignment..... the '70s system' utilized to inform the staff of the travel departures for the race, together with their mode of transport and their departure times.
In this case my departure ... (written: "Americano") together with my friend Ermes Moscardo (the body painter and Autodelta machine shop truck driver) ...was scheduled for Monday morning June 5th at 5 a.m.
The following photos were taken during the slow and long journey to the small village Le Mans, France.
This is the 'marsupial" carrier truck that Autodelta used for many, many years to transport material and racing cars to European racing circuits and once in a while to the Alfa Romeo test track facility "Balocco". The truck is so named in the Italian and English language for an animal that has a "pouch" used to carry things like their own babies.
The carrier truck is always loaded 'behind the walls' to prevent prying eyes, cameras and curious onlookers.
The passage to France through the Mont Blanc tunnel under the Italian / France Alps.
Finally...at 11:30 in the morning...Le Mans!
The authorized Alfa Romeo workshop in Le Mans had been made completely available to the Autodelta team through the courtesy of the local Le Mans Alfa Romeo Authorized Service facility.
The Alfa sign can be seen on the facade of the building on the right. On the left you can see the Alfa Romeo 'marsupial' carrier truck....where our three T-33s are shown being unloaded.
Together with the Autodelta machine shop bus, the premises made available to us made it possible to prepare the cars for the race. Clean, well organized and spaciously equipped to house everything with relative privacy.
In the unfortunate event of an emergency or unforeseen parts shortage on site, a ride from Settimo Milanese to Le Mans would have required a short drive of slightly less than six hours.
Driver Nanni Galli on the left wearing his blue Autodelta squadra jacket.
In the background, Nino Vacarella and Rolf Stommelen can be seen a little out of focus while discussing sthings with team engineer Severi. My friend Nicolas Paone is shown in the foreground.
Notice how the car body panels shine!
Nino Vacarella is shown testing the driver's seat on his car, number 18 shared with Andrea de Adamich. The car ended up finishing 4th after a grueling twenty four hours of racing.
It is 6 a.m. on the morning of the race. During the night hours I had been provided with a makeshift bed in pit box number 18 for the night time surveillance of the materials...and a few middle of the night beverages and snacks.
My night shift responsibilities guarding the cars and equipment is now over with the arrival of the sun.
I take some pictures and go to the team bus for a few hours of rest.
It certainly looks like a ghost town at this moment... but wait...ten hours later a half of million people will shout excitedly around the circuit to see the green light signifying the official start of the race.
The famous Le Mans clock indicates that the race will start in about ten hours. Yes, it was a long day for all of us.
The disembarcation of the three cars inside the circuit at 6:15 a.m. The race started at 4:00 p.m.
In another section of this Autodelta Golden Years.com website there are a number of images displaying Alfa Romeo transport vehicles used over the years by Autodelta.
You can see the adjustments made to the cars by Autodelta... designed to suit the aerodynamic requirments of this Le Mans high speed circuit.
You might have noticed in the first part of this story the references I made to the rear section of the car, n. 33 as prepared for Le Mans and to the wind tunnel model tests by Mr. Bordoni over the course of the season.
Also notice a semi-transparent circular panel on the right side of each car to illuminate the car number to allow official timekeepers to properly identify each car in the dark.
Here you see the final aerodynamic results designed for the stability of the car at the 220+ MPH speeds that are reached on the Mulsanne straight.
The FIA Formula for the World Championship for Makes competition and in this case specifically the 1972 Le Mans 24 Hour race required prototypes to run with 3-liter engines. The era of the magnificent 4.5-liter 917 at Le Mans was over the previous year, but a "long-tailed" 908 from Reinhold Joest entered the race. Joest, Mario Casoni and Michel Weber took turns driving the car, owned by Jo Siffert, and finished third overall behind a Matra-Simca 670 and a 660.
The 908 benefited from its long, sophisticated tail and low weight. Despite its lower engine power compared to the Matra-Simca and Alfa Romeo cars, the Porsche achieved the same top speed on the Mulsanne straight as the 917 did the previous year... and all of those drivers were 'graduates' of the Autodelta team in years prior to 1972.
You can see the famous "Chiti Coppola", the air intake behind the driver's headrest...a racing car design originally pioneered by Ing. Chiti in the early 1960s who received his education in Aerodynamics at the University of Pistoia.
This aerodynamic design would have been one of his own exclusive 'design language' elements on his T-33s up through the supercharged 2.2 liter cars of 1977 and was an evolution of his initial application on the 1967 "Telescopico" Fleron 2 liter car.
Formula One cars were the first to later adopt Ing. Chiti's revolutionary design, a successful solution to send clean unfettered air into the air intakes of his V-8 and flat 12 cylinder engines.
You can also see the riveted fins on the front fenders; I remember this to be the first time I saw them on any T-33.
The final pit area preparations taken a few hours before departure for the benefit of the time and scoring crew...as winds and rain were forecast.
Copyright Robert B. Little
Andrea de Adamich
The author of this website is photographed enjoying the "Experience of a Lifetime", alongside the car of Vic Elford and Dr. Helmut Marko.
This car did not finish the race due to a gearbox problem; it's official classification was 112 laps behind Henri Pescarolo & Graham Hill.
Commemorating the passing of a great driver:
The last hours in the life of Jo Bonnier, a famous Autodelta driver under contract with Ing. Carlo Chiti at the wheel of the new 33 Fleron during the Targa Florio of 1967 and an early GTA pilot of great reknown.
On the morning of this race Sunday, Bonnier with his yellow Lola T-260 ran into a slowly moving car and tried to avoid Florian Vetsch's Ferrari 365GTB4 in the process. The two vehicles touched, Bonnier's car was catapulted over the guardrails and landed high up in the trees along the Musanne straight in the trees.
The Lola was totally destroyed ... Bonnier was instantly killed on impact.
Alfa Romeo T-33/3 driver Vic Elford stopped at the scene of the accident to attempt to help.
The sight of the accident made him violently ill...vomiting and grief stricken. He slowly drove back to the pits and retired.
Elford's statements were recorded in a video about the accident taken at the scene and can be seen on You Tube.
Copyright Robert B. Little
One minute before the start of the 1972 Le Mans 24 Hours of Endurance. This car, pictured here with Rolf Stommelen taking the first turn as the "team rabbit" .. with Nanni Galli ...did not finish the race due to transmission problems and was classified 81 laps behind the Matra Simca 670 V-12.
The green light indicates the first row of the starting field, the two Matra Simca V-12s is approaching the start / finish line.
The start of the 1972 Le Mans of Endurance ... with the first row consisting of Matra-Simca MS 670 3 liter V-12s.
In the lead starting position, car no. 13 the eventual winners Henri Pescarolo, (the Autodelta Driver of the Year 1971) and Graham Hill.
Next to it (shown in the picture) finishing 11 laps behind the winning car in 2nd place was the car of Francois Cevert and Howden Ganley in a long-tail version of the Matra.
Pescarolo later returned to Autodelta and helped Ing. Chiti win the 1975 World Championship. The fourth-placed T 33 of Nino Vaccarella and Andrea de Adamich crossed the finish line 37 laps behind the winning car.
From this final picture in this series, I was very busy for the next 28 hours...interrupted by a nap in the Autodelta machine shop truck during the middle of the night. There were no real opportunities to take more photographs.
One of the longest days in my life and certainly the most exciting day in my entire life.
I hope you have enjoyed these photographs of the 1972 Le Mans race.
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