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One off Grand Prix winners: Jochen Mass Montjuich 1975

Submitted by on November 20, 2010

Some say that winning your first Grand Prix is one of the most difficult aspects of being a successful GP driver, but over the next few weeks we will showcase seven drivers from the 1970′s who might argue that getting your second win is the really hard part…….

Spanish Grand Prix: Montjuich Park 1975

Sometimes a Grand Prix weekend just lurches from one crisis to another and you just know that it’s going to go from bad to worse. Imola 1994 is one example of this and Montjuich 1975 was another weekend from hell. When the teams arrived in the beautiful Barcelona park they found a temporary circuit that had been built by a bunch of lazy idiots. Safety barriers were attached (or rather, not) to their support posts only by the occasional bolt. The drivers threatened to boycott the race unless the barriers were built properly, but the Spanish organisers seemed unable to appreciate the implications of their lack of preparation. In the end the teams set to work themselves, mechanics and team managers alike wielding spanners to replace the missing bolts and ensuring that the barriers were capable of doing their job. All of this was not enough for reigning World Champion Emerson Fittipaldi who refused to drive and went home leaving the McLaren team with just one driver for the GP, his young German team mate, Jochen Mass.

Mass had given up a career in the merchant navy to pursue a career as a racing driver, rising to a drive in the Ford works touring car team. In time this led to drives in both formulae one and two for the Surtees team. Following Mike Hailwood’s leg breaking crash in the 74 German GP, Mass was given the opportunity to race the McLaren “B team’s” Yardley M23 and when Denis Hulme decided to retire at the end of the season, Jochen was the obvious choice to become Fittipaldi’s team mate in the second Marlboro car.

The first laps of the 75 Spanish GP were some of the craziest ever seen. Car after car broke down, hit the barriers, or each other. Even the Ferraris of Lauda and Regazzoni managed to take each other out. After just 10 laps Mario Andretti led the race in his unfancied Parnelli, but even this was showing signs of accident damage from the first lap. Before long the bumpy nature of the road circuit caused the Parnelli’s damaged suspension to collapse and Mario was the next driver to test out the barrier repairs. This left Rolf Stommelen leading the race in Graham Hill’s Embassy sponsored car. By one third distance, more than half of the field were out of the race. Stommelen led from Carlos Pace’s Brabham and a tooth and nail battle for third between Jacky Ickx’s JPS Lotus and Mass in the sole McLaren. Then, as the leader started his 26th lap, this weekend went from bad to worse.

Heading up the hill at the start of the lap, Stommelen’s car’s rear wing failed. The young German immediately lost control and the car speared into the barriers, bouncing straight back across the road. The following Pace was forced to brake as hard as possible and the Brabham also slammed into the barriers. Now the Embassy Hill mounted the top rail of the barrier and leapt over the top, demolishing lamp posts and street furniture as it went. When the car finally came to rest, Stommelen lay dreadfully injured and four people lay dead. Unbelievably it took the (so called) race organisers  another 4 laps before the race was stopped. During this time Ickx led, but he was still involved in a titanic fight with Mass and when the chequered flag was shown it was Jochen who happened to be in the lead. Mass was awarded the GP victory, but only half points due to the race being stopped so early.

Another two seasons at McLaren failed to bring any further victories for Mass and he was soon dropping down the grid with the likes of ATS and Arrows. By 1982 he was driving for John MacDonald’s Rothmans March team and involved in more tragedy. First he was caught up in Gilles Villeneuve‘s fatal crash in Zolder and then he tangled with Mauro Baldi’s Arrows in the French GP, the March barrel rolling into a spectator area and briefly catching fire. Miraculously no-one was killed, but Mass decided to walk away from F1 and concentrate on winning sportscar races first for Porsche and then Mercedes, including the LeMans 24 hours in 1989.

Mel Turbutt

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