Saga of Audacity: Eagle F1

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Page 2: A saga of audacity: The AAR Eagle Formula 1 Story, by Dan Gurney

Our total budget for 4 new engines (including the prototype) was roughly $600,000. That we even managed to get it running, setting up all the facilities including dynamometer to test it and actually setting lap records and pole positions (Brands Hatch) and winning races (Brands Hatch and Spa) was a minor miracle. Contrast this with today's motor racing scene where the development of a from-scratch formula 1 racing engine runs in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

We introduced our first Eagle Grand Prix car at the Belgian Grand Prix in Spa in 1966. It was then equipped with a Coventry Climax 4-cylinder 2.7-liter engine and I was fairly competitive with it, usually qualifying in the 2nd or 3rd row of the starting grid. The car was underpowered and I was looking forward to the appearance of our Gurney-Weslake V-12 which was built over the summer in Rye. It showed up in our car for the first time at the Italian Grand Prix in Monza in September and was also in our Eagle at the U.S. Grand Prix at Watkins Glen, but many teething problems had to be worked out and we decided to finish the season at the Mexican Grand Prix with the old reliable Coventry Climax 4-cylinder.


We started the 1967 season with the same car/engine combination in South Africa and worked during the few remaining months until the beginning of that season on our V-12 engine as well as on a lighter version of our car. When I got the pole position and won the Formula One race at Brands Hatch in April (non-championship event) with the new V-12 engine, it gave us an enormous sense of accomplishment. We knew then that we were on the right track. We went to Monaco with the V-12 and appeared with our beautiful 'titanium car' (as it was often referred to in the press) for the first time at the Dutch Grand Prix in Zandvoort, where it caused a sensation. I qualified 2nd, Jimmy Clark 3rd (behind Graham Hill in the debut of his new Lotus Cosworth) but dropped out with fuel injection problems, something that would haunt us on and off all season. In Spa, everything finally came together. I qualified 2nd again next to Jimmy Clark and won the race ahead of Jackie Stewart with a new race record and a new lap record, putting this Grand Prix into the history books as the fastest 'grande epreuve' ever run on a road course (see article in Car & Driver 1988 by Brock Yates). The Americans in Europe lots of G.I.s stationed over there, went wild. After the race, I was flown by helicopter to a stadium 40 miles away, it was full, they all came to see the winner of the Belgian Grand Prix.

We continued to be competitive throughout the 1967 season, qualifying usually in the first or second row of the starting field and my battles on the track with Jimmy Clark , Graham Hill, Jochen Rindt and John Surtees during that memorable year are, they tell me, the stuff of legend. At various races AAR campaigned a second car driven at the beginning of the season by Ritchie Ginther and later by Bruce McLaren with good results. The race that stands out most in my mind apart from Spa is the German Grand Prix, executed at the fabulous Nuerburgring in the Eifel mountains. Starting from the front row again, I was leading the race by 42 seconds over Dennis Hulme, when a broken universal joint put me out of the race 2 laps before the finish. This was a tremendous disappointment for me and my team. However, I established a new lap record at this 14.2 mile course, an accomplishment which, at that time, was the goal of every driver and it meant a lot to me.

The 1968 season, overshadowed by Jimmy Clark's death in April, proved to be very difficult with a dwindling budget, but we managed to hold on for a little while longer and participate in 5 races, finishing only one which ironically I consider one of the best drives of my entire career. It again happened at the German Grand Prix at the Nuerburgring in August under the most appalling weather conditions. Heavy rain, fog and poor visibility made that race a standout forever. It was the perfect time to try out for the first time, my full-face Bell helmet, which I had introduced in Indianapolis 2 months earlier. It was soon adopted by the whole European F1 community. Initially, I was running third right on top of the leaders when I cut a tire on an earth bank inside a slow turn. I had to drive back 7 miles to the pits with a flat tire and re-entered the race in 19th position in last place. My pit crew told me that I subsequently drove some laps faster than the leader (who happened to be Jackie Stewart) who won in a Cosworth Tyrell. He considers it one of his all-time great races. My car worked terrifically well and on the cool-off lap at the Suedkehre, a 180 degree wide curve, I put the car in an opposite lock and held on with one hand driving and with the other hand waving to the crowd who popped their umbrellas in the rain, acknowledging the fact that it had been a good drive, a fact that is not reflected in the history books because I only finished 9th. But what a great moment!