EQUIPE MATRA SPORTS 1970 - 1972: THE SCREECHING EPOQUE

 

After numerous successes in Formula 2 & 3 with Cosworth powered cars (and very often with the team of former woodcutter Ken Tyrrell) French space and aviation group Matra had decided to enter Grand Prix Racing for the beginning of the 1968 season. Matra is the abbriviation for Mechanique Aviation et Traction and with the financial backing of the French government they became able to construct a mighty V12 engine with a lot more power than the in 1967 appearing Ford Cosworth V8, that had got about 400 horse powers in the beginning. The Matra V12 was installed in the works car for Jean Pierre Beltoise, while the Matra International entry of Ken Tyrrell for Scotsman Jackie Stewart was powered by a Ford Cosworth DFV V8. At the end of the sixties Matra´s V12, that consisted out of a lot of space material, especially titanium, was not competitive enough. That was the reason for Beltoise´s works car (with a sporadic second entry for Henri Pescarolo) to be withdrawn for 1969. The Frenchman joined the semi-works team of Ken Tyrrell as their second driver. The outfit of the busy Briton had been successful from the very beginning, with the Formula 2 based Matra Ford MS10 Stewart had scored an excellent second place in the 1968 worldchampionship loosing the title only in the last round of Mexico City to Lotus Ford driver Graham Hill. In 1969 Stewart, Beltoise and Matra International became the dominating figures winning both the drivers´and the constructors´titles in a very impressing manner.

For 1970 the Matra Group changed their policy. With only five per cent of the groups turnover the road car sector was of minor importance, so they did not want to efford a dealer and service net of their own. So they joined that one of US-American car company Chrysler. Therefore Ford partner Ken Tyrrell was not allowed to use the Cosworth DFV units anymore for powering Matra made chassis, a decision, that was hard, but pretty understandable for the East Horsley based team. Tyrrell was offered Matra V12 works engines, meanwhile modified and supplied with a lot of further development, but the man from England refused with the hint to his strong technical and financial relationship to the Ford Motor Company (that also paid a big part of Jackie Stewart´s high salary).

With the French make of Simca also belonging to Chrysler Matra´s racing cars both on the single-seater and the sportscar field were re-named into Matra Simca. A new chassis called MS120 was inaugurated for 1970 and the V12 powered cars were driven by France´s national heroes Jean Pierre Beltoise and Henri Pescarolo. Things looked very promising, when Pescarolo was fighting very hard in the top of the Monaco Grand Prix. A little later Beltoise was able to qualify his MS120 to a fine second place on the grid at the Frenchmen´s home Grand Prix of Clermont Ferrand. Beltoise gave a fierce battle to designate world champion Jochen Rindt, but before scoring Equipe Matra´s maiden Grand Prix victory powered by their domestic made V12 with the screeching, very impressing sound, Beltoise had to come into the pits for an extraordinary change of the back tyres to loose the race completely with a lack of fuel later in the race. Equipe Matra Sports finished 7th position in the 1970 constructors´worldchampionship with 23 points overall scoring three fine third places (Pescarolo in Monaco, Beltoise in Belgium and Italy) throughout the season

For 1971 New Zealander Chris Amon entered the All-French outfit with Jean Pierre Beltoise staying with his fellow countrymen´s team. A revised version of the MS120, the B-Version, had been constructed, and the hopes were high for the team now backed by Britsh & Dutch oil company Shell replacing Matra´s traditional sponsor elf. But at that season former Matra partner Tyrrell with Jackie Stewart and Francois Cevert were extremely dominant. The Britons won seven of eleven Grand Prix in their maiden complete season as ever supported by elf giving their cars that shining blue livery, while Matra scored only one third place the whole year (Amon in the Spanish Grand Prix at Barcelona-Montjuich). Again Equipe Matra Sports finished 7th in the constructors´worldchampionship, but only nine points had come their way. A Grand Prix victory was far, far away.

Meanwhile commercial sponsorship had become standard in Grand Prix Racing. Both as a car manufacturer and an international electronics, space & aviation company (that was earning a lot of money by orders of the French government) Matra did not have such a commercial sponsor, because they wanted to promote their own products by competing in motor racing. They also followed their great national aim of a victory in the 24 Hours Race of Le Mans for the glory of France, they spent the greatest part of the motorsport budget on. So for 1972 the Grand Prix programme was dramatically cut. While Matra brought a mighty fleet of four cars to the track of Le Mans (to win the event of greatest prestige with Graham Hill and Henri Pescarolo) they only entered one car for Chris Amon in Grand Prix Racing. A C-Version of the MS120 had been designed for the use earlier in the 1972 season. For their home Grand Prix at Clermont Ferrand a completely new chassis, the MS120 D gave it´s debut. In contrast to it´s predecessors the MS120 D had got a round monocoque otherwise looking very similar to the modified C-Type and Chris Amon put it on pole position ahead of all other Formula One stars using a spare engine remaining from the 24 Hours of Le Mans before ! In the French Grand Prix he led from the start and was on the way to score Matra´s All-French maiden Grand Prix victory, when a flat front tyre on the Circuit Charade forced him to come into the pits. The remaining third place was extremely frustrating. They were so near to a Grand Prix victory, but the same time so far away from it.

In spite of Chris Amon never giving up, Matra was not able to win a Grand Prix with a complete car of their own and that had nothing to do with the fact, that the New Zealander was the synonym for bad luck. Fighting alone against the other teams with often three cars each competing, Amon and Matra scored 12 points and position eight in the 1972 constructors´worldchampionship. That was not good enough to convince Matra´s board of directors to stay in Grand Prix Racing. They wanted to concentrate on sportscar racing, where they did very well the following years. The Matra V12 came back in 1976 with the new team of their French fellow countrymen of Ligier and a sole car car entry for Jacques Laffite, who scored the engine´s first ever victory in the Swedish Grand Prix of Anderstorp one year later. After an absence in 1979 & 1980 the screeching V12 a second time came back in 1981 under the rule of the Talbot group again for the Ligier team making Laffite win two further Grand Prix (Austria and Canada in 1981). As a chassis constructor Matra won nine Grand Prix all with Ford power and Jackie Stewart, as an engine manufacturer they scored three wins all in a Ligier chassis and with Jacques Laffite in the cockpit, but none with car plus engine made completely by their own. Funny story, isn´t it ?

J H

 

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Matra Simca MS120 (1971)

 

Star performance came from Henri Pescarolo in the 1970 Monaco Grand Prix scoring
a fine third place behind Jochen Rindt in the Lotus Ford 49 and Sir Jack Brabham,

 

A very special rear wing for more downforce was produced for Chris Amon´s MS120 B
and the Monaco Grand Prix in 1971.

 

Jean Pierre Beltoise and Chris Amon leading Pedro Rodriguez (B.R.M.), Francois Cevert
(Tyrrell Ford) and Jo Siffert (B.R.M) during the 1971 French Grand Prix held at the
Circuit Paul Ricard for the first time.

 

Chris Amon with the brandnew Matra MS120 D leads the world champions Denny Hulme
(McLaren Ford) and Jackie Stewart (Tyrrell Ford) at the 1972 French Grand Prix of
Clermont Ferrand.

 

Chris Amon had to use the older MS120 C during the 1972 British Grand Prix at Brands
Hatch after an accident with the MS120 D during practice. Here he is involved in a fierce
battle with Niki Lauda´s March Ford (No.4), Nanni Galli in the Tecno and Henri Pescarolo
in the Politoys Ford of the Frank Williams team.

 

continued . . .

 

 

Graphics: project * 2000

 

 

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