Monday, 18 July 2011

Caution Wide Vehicle - McLaren M23 M23/6

McLaren M23, Donington

The Ford Cosworth DFV powered McLaren M23 driven by Denny Hulme was designed by Gordon Cuppock, based on the lessons learned from the successful McLaren M16 Indy car. It burst onto the Grand Prix scene in 1973 with a pole position on its debut in South Africa. Denny scored the first win for the model in Sweden and Peter Revson followed that with wins in Great Britain and Canada in 1973.

For 1974 Denny who won his last race in an M23 in the season opening Argentinian GP was joined in the McLaren team by 1972 World Champion Emerson Fittipaldi who won in Brazil, Belgium, and Canada on his way to becoming the 1974 World Champion. McLaren also won the World Constructors title in 1974.

Jochen Mass joined Emerson in the McLaren team in 1975 winning the shortened Spanish GP while Emerson won in Argentina and Great Britain to finish 2nd in the World Drivers Championship.

1976 would prove to be the chassis most successful year in terms of wins with James Hunt, who replaced Emerson in the team crossing the line first in Spain, France, Great Britain, Germany, The Netherlands, Canada and the United States.

However 1976 was a year of high drama and comedy in Formula One first James was disqualified from the Spanish Grand Prix because his car was 1.8cm less than an inch too wide. In 1975 the McLaren had been used as a base model too set the dimensions for the 1976 Formula regulations.

McLaren successfully argued that when the tyres on the car were moving they were taller as a result of the centrifugal force taking up the slack on the side walls of the tyres and that this accounted for the discrepancy. The governing F.I.A. accepted this argument and the win was reinstated with a $3,000 fine, when the M23's next appeared they had a slightly narrower rear track.

On the first corner, Paddock Bend, of the opening lap of the British Grand Prix James Hunt was the innocent victim in a crash with Ferrari's Clay Reggazoni. The race was stopped and James who's car was severely damaged took a short cut to get back to the pits when the race was stopped.

Come the restart the organisers initially refused to allow James to line up on the grid because the team had worked to repair his car while the mess was being cleared up. However people power intervened and fearing a riot from the partisan crowd the organisers relented, James took the win, he and the partisan crowd partied long and hard into the night and later the F.I.A. disqualified both Hunt and Clay Regazzoni from the event for having failed to complete the opening lap.

Up until this point reigning Champion Niki Lauda had dominated the 1976 Championship with four wins three seconds, the last of which became 1st after Hunt's disqualification from the British GP and a third. The next race was the ill feted German Grand Prix in which Niki was eliminated in an accident that triggered an inferno from which he was lucky to escape with his life.

James won the German Grand Prix and the Dutch GP while Niki recuperated and 39 days after the inferno at the Nurburgring Niki and James met again at the Italian GP. At the end of practice for the Italian GP James and Mclaren team mate Jochen Mass and John Watson at Penske were found to be running with a fuel octane rating that was too high and had their Saturday times disallowed.

Since it had been raining during the first practice sessions on the Friday Hunt, Mass and Watson had effectively failed to qualify, however the 13 second plus off pace Otto Stuppacher was already on his way home to Austria when the announcement and the Marlboro sponsored Art Mezario withdrew as did Englishman Guy Edwards allowing Hunt, Mass and Watson to start.

Hunt crashed trying to make time and was applauded for doing so by the Tifosi and Lauda came home a remarkable 4th in his first race back.

James won both the Canadian and US Grand Prix while the brave Niki could only amass a further three championship points. Going into he last race of the season the Japanese GP Niki had a 3 point lead over James.

For the race James qualified 2nd behind Andretti with Niki just one place further back. I remember getting up at some unholy hour to watch this race live on TV in the UK and remember the disappointment when I saw the monsoon that unfolded on the track.

After much debate amongst the driver the race started and Niki who had lost his eyelids in the German inferno and yet to have them replaced through plastic surgery had little choice but to retire in the near zero visibility conditions. James took an early lead in the race but as the rain stopped and the track started to dry Hunt started losing ground dropping to 5th after a pit stop to replace a punctured tyre with just a few laps to go.

James charged back into the race managing to regain two positions which left him in third position when the flag came out for Mario Andretti to win by just over a lap from Patrick Depailler, with James Hunt, who had no idea what his position was in the race, right on his tail.

Hunt only learned that he had become champion after he got out of the car and stopped shouting at team manager Teddy Meyer for a less than perfect pit stop.

Hunt won the 1976 World Drivers title by just one point and Great Britain had it's first World Champion since Jackie Stewart had won his last crown in 1973.

The McLaren M23 was pressed into service again in 1977 but its competitiveness was on the wane James winning a non championship race before committing fully to the M26 successor which had gone through a troublesome one year gestation period before coming on song.

The works M23 had a final swan song when it introduced Gilles Villeneuve to the world of Grand Prix racing in Great Britain and Bruno Jack'O'Malley in Italy towards the end of the 1977.

I have done my best to find out exactly which of the 13 M23 chassis this is, The Donington Museum blurb identified this car as McLaren M23/8 and said it was used to win the '76 Spanish and US GP's however M23/8 was destroyed in 1975. The car was then given a new tub with the chassis number M23/8-2 and the old tub was apparently eventually repaired to 1975 tall airbox spec and now resides in the United States.

M23/8-2 went on to become one of the stars of the 1976 season being used to win the controversial Spanish GP along with those in Canada and the US GP. M23/8-2 is said to belong to BCE the man responsible for running the the whole Formula Show since 1981.

It is said that the vehicle in my photograph appeared at the 60th Anniversary celebrations of the World Grand Prix Drivers Championship in Bahrain last year, it is also suggested that the M23 which appeared at Bahrain belongs to the brave octogenarian who started a modelling career with Hublot earlier this year however I have no firm evidence of the ownership of the vehicle in the photograph at the top of this post
at this time.

Most likely the vehicle above seen at the Donington Park Museum is M23/6 which seems to meet many of the criteria hinted at on various threads of The Nostalgia Forum and who's whereabouts is listed as unknown by the respected Old Racing Car site.

M23/6 was used by Denny Hulme to win the Agentine Grand Prix in 1974 then in 1976 James Hunt drove it to win the French Grand Prix, cross the line first in Great Britain only to be disqualified .

At the next race the German Grand Prix I saw James win in this chassis which became one of a rare set of vehicles that crossed the line first in three consecutive races, though it was disqualified from one of them.

In 1977 Emilio de Villota drove M23/6 with little success in Grand Prix events, 2 starts three DNQ's, but did win two rounds of a British series open to all single seat racing cars.

My thanks to Michael Ferner, Wouter Melissen, Steve Holter, Simon Hadfield, Slurp1955, at The Nostalgia Forum for their valuable contributions to todays blog.

Hope you have enjoyed today's 1976 edition of 'Gettin' a lil psycho on tyres' and that you will join me again tomorrow. Don't forget to come back now !

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