Such was the number of cars entered for this round of the Shell Super Oil Championship that it was necessary to split the field into three heats to qualify for the final.
It was French visitor Michel Leclere in his Alpine A364 who took pole position for heat one 0.2 seconds outside the lap record, the lap record holder Tony Trimmer was next in his Lotus 73 that was trying a track and wheelbase both shortened by two inches as well as a shortened nose, completing the row was Brands Hatch winner Bob Evans who was once again in the Alan McKechnie March 723. Row two comprised James Hunt still in the La Vie Claire March 713M and Mo Harness who suffered a broken cam follower in his Brabham BT28. Andy Sutcliffe wasn’t too pleased with the timekeepers as he felt he had been quicker than the time he had been credited with. Right at the back of the grid Bubbles Horsley was in the Dastle that Steve Thompson had gone so well in at Monaco.
There was a very Gallic feel to the sharp end of the grid for heat two with Jacques Coulon equalling the lap record to take pole in his Ecurie Antar-Filipinettti Martini Mk 9, sitting next to him was the second works Alpine of Alain Serpaggi with the Brabham BT38 of Tony Brise on the outside. Peter Hull lead row 2 in his BT38 whilst going very well and sharing Hull’s time was Jeremy Gambs in his Ensign F372. Barrie Maskell was further down than usual when his Lotus 69 suffered a broken crank during practice. Starters of interest were Christian Ethuin in the French Narval, Simon Sherman who was out in a new Royale RP11 and a second Mallock U2 Mk12 for Richard Mallock, his brother Ray had his Mk12 entered in heat one.
Mike Walker lead the other runners in heat three also equalling the lap record in his Iberia Ensign F372, Colin Vandervell was second quickest in his similar Ensign with local hero Roger Williamson in third. Row two had Alan Jones in the works STP March 723 again featuring its new nose and Rikki von Opel, his Ensign giving the F372 three out of the five fastest times in this heat. Further back Chris O’Brien was debuting his new Brabham BT38 whilst on the back row was a furious Chris Skeaping with everyone agreeing his Chevron B20 had gone much faster than the timekeepers official figure.
The start of heat one was a disaster for Andy Sutcliffe, his GRD wouldn’t fire up when his starter motor jammed and he was left sitting on the grid as the rest of the field roared off towards Gerards, a push start saw him chasing vainly after them. It was Trimmer leading Evans and Leclere as they exited Gerards but Horsley, de Henning and Dahlqvist were all at the corner, lap two saw Bond and Nelleman joined the retirements at the Esses. Meanwhile out at the front Trimmer found his Lotus suffering from a lack of brakes as he tried to pull away from Evans and Leclere. Evans lost second place to Leclere on lap 5 and by lap 8 the flying Frenchman had caught and passed Trimmer, the Lotus driver held on to finish half a length back at the finish. Evans dropped back into a big nine car battle for third loosing a place to Harness by the finish.
It appeared to most viewers that Serpaggi jumped the start to heat two but the judges didn’t agree so there was no penalty. Despite this Brise led the first two laps in his Brabham until on the third lap he went sideways at the hairpin, stalled his engine and was unable to restart it. This left Serpaggi in the lead he would hold to the finish even though he couldn’t relax as the Martini of Coulon tracked him all the way, Maskell held third until the last lap when Hull moved his Brabham ahead of the Lotus. Next up were Guitteny, Gambs (who was delayed by Brise’s problems) and Ethuin. Kuwashima and Ambrose had a collision at the hairpin with both cars being forced to retire.
The third heat was a battle between the Ensigns of Colin Vandervell and Mike Walker who worked together to pull away from the other cars, Roger Williamson could have expected to be with them but a flat (borrowed) battery on the grid meant a push start and the accompanying penalty meant that, like Sutcliffe, he wouldn’t make the final. Alan Jones held third until lap 8 when von Opel passed the March to make it an Ensign 1-2-3, Andersson took fifth from Skeaping who gained a place on the last lap when Mackintosh went straight on at the hairpin. Jean-Pierre Jabouille missed the start when a transmission problem stopped the Alpine on the warm-up lap.
There was almost complete indecision about what tyres to wear when it started to rain just before the start of the final, the start was delayed and as the sun began to shine Leclere and Rousselot decided on slicks, Walker, von Opel, Trimmer and Vermilio opted for the Firestone wet that had worked so well at Monaco, Jones and Guitteny went for Firestone intermediates whilst Vandervell had an old set (from the pre-slick days) of Firestone YB11s.
Walker jumped into an immediate lead and began to pull away from Vandervell who in turn was dropping Serpaggi, by lap 5 Walker had taken out his lead to nine seconds and seemed unstoppable. However as the track dried Vandervell’s tyres began to work better and better, initially holding the gap to Walker and then over the last five laps reeling the works car in. It was still Walker on the last lap but Vandervell went for the inside at the Esses, the Potterton Ensign went through into the lead and as Walker tried to hold onto Vandervell the Iberia car spun and, like Brise in heat one, Walker lost the engine and was unable to restart.
Behind Vandervell it was Alan Jones in the works March who took second as Trimmer and von Opel fell away as their wets broke up on the drying track, also in tyre problems was Serpaggi and he too found himself sliding down the order. Andersson, using a set of knobbly Firestones came through to take third ahead of Rousselot and Trimmer with Guitteny in sixth. The only retirements were Leclere who spun out of fourth at Gerards with four laps left, Coulon who lost it at the same corner and Evans who was forced onto the wet at the Esses and went off.