Car: March-Ford 711 / Engine: 900 V8 Ford-Cosworth DFV / Maker: March / Bore X Stroke: 92.5 mm X 55.5 mm / Year: 1978 / Capacity: 2,997 cc / Class: Formula 1 / Power: 480 bhp at 10,500 rpm / Wheelbase: 108 inches / Track: 68.1 inches Front, 64.2 inches Rear / Weight: 1344.8 lbs
When Max Mosley told his father that he was leaving the bar to join Alan Rees, Robin Heard and Graham Coaker in starting March Engineering. To this Lord Mosley would remark that, “You’ll almost certainly go bankrupt, but it will be very good training for something serious later on.”
In 1969 March Engineering was established, financed by equal shares of £2500 from the four founders. Their intention was more ambitious than a field a normal racing team but rather to become a successful racing car production business to provide chassis for customers to use with Cosworth DFV engines and Hewland gearboxes. With Robin Herd as their chief designer March Engineering set about to make their mark. Herd had worked at McLaren before moving over to Cosworth and the 4wd effort. When that effort failed to produce a viable race car he knew the next stage of his career would be as his own master. The time seemed right, if that’s possible with a growing market for Formula 2 and 3 cars as well as several teams wanting to take advantage of an available Cosworth engine supply to race in Formula 1, chief among them was Ken Tyrrell and his immensely talented driver Jackie Stewart.
March Engineering did not take half measures, they proposed to build cars for F1, F2, F3, Formula Ford, Can-Am and the American Formula B. This was met by disbelief if not open derision by the British motor racing establishment. The response to today’s BAR team seems mild in comparison. From the more charitable March was called the Much Advertised Racing Car Hoax from those less so the Bullshit Racers. The laughing stopped when March put five cars on the grid at Kyalami with Jackie Stewart on pole and finishing a solid 3rd. Wins at the Race of Champions, the Spanish Grand Prix and International Trophy at Silverstone meant that the improbable team had just won three of their first four Formula 1 races! But the magic would not last as the team could not financially support five entries regardless of how good their drivers were. Tyrrell would soon resort to building their own cars. The March team still had some tricks up their sleeves and while their cars were not the fastest did have some interesting bits including the the March 711 with its distinctive Frank Costin inspired “tea tray” front wing. But the nose wing proved too much of a trick and was soon discarded from the car if not the racing public’s imagination. March’s one true weapon was the young Swede who was proving to be quite super, Ronnie Peterson who by the end of the season was 2nd in the Driver’s Championship.
The Italian Grand Prix at Monza witnessed the closest race in history. Its hard to imagine these days but the Monza circuit used to play host to tremendous slipstreaming duels of which 1971 was the greatest. Various components had been stripped off the leading cars to reduce drag. Peterson’s March had no front wing while Henri Pescarolo’s March had a front wing but no radiator covers. Those with four extra cylinders found themselves at the front in the colors of Matra, Ferrari and BRM.
As the flag drops Clay Regazzoni’s Ferrari blasted into the lead from the fourth row but on the fourth lap he was passed in turn by Peterson, Stewart and Jo Siffert. Stewart and Peterson would trade the lead for the next couple of laps. Resembling not so much a Grand Prix race but an American stock car race, all that was missing was the fender bending. The lead group consisted of no less then 12 cars racing flat out nose to tail but soon this murderous pace began to take its toll. Both Ferraris and Stewart’s Tyrrell were out while Mike Hailwood, the motorcycle champion, was now in the lead from his 17th position at the start of the race. Chris Amon decided to make his move and went from fourth to first in one lap with eighteen to go. Could this me the day that Chris Amon, the greatest driver never to win a GP finally lose that Moniker?
With seven laps to go, and heading for a long deserved win disaster struck the unlucky New Zealander. While ripping a tear-off strip from his visor, the whole visor came off in his hand! Now driving nearly blind at 150 mph he bravely soldiered on in a disappointing sixth place. The lead group now consisted of four cars, Peterson, Cevert, Hailwood and Gethin. Entering the last lap Peterson was in the lead but was passed by Cevert entering Lesmo. Peterson took this in stride as he was planning to resume the lead at Parabolica where he had a definite advantage over the Frenchmen who he felt to be his biggest challenger. Cevert braked late but Peterson braked even later forcing his March to run wide. Cevert made a move for the inside and just as he was lined up to make his move he saw out of the side of one eye a blur streak by. That blur turned out to be Peter Gethin passing on the grass and seemingly out of control. Fearing the worse Cevert hesitated as Gethin with all four wheels locked up and smoking furiously was able to regain control and cross the finish line 0.01 sec in from of Peterson. In the end 0,61 seconds covered the first five cars.
Denis Jenkinson would remark at the time that: “That last corner fracas was really rather interesting for in it you could see the characters of the three drivers concerned. Peterson is a charger, with not too much racing intelligence, Cevert is a beautiful young man who is timid and doesn’t want to get hurt, and Gethin is a tough little Londoner who has obviously grown up the hard way.”