A good entry arrived at Oulton Park for this round of the Shell F3 Championship which was a support race for the European F2 round, the race taking place on Good Friday.
The F3 cars were greeted with pouring rain for their Thursday morning practice session and to many it seemed as if the rain had got into the timekeepers watches as several odd times were issued. The session did dry out a little towards the end and this was when the fastest times were set. Tom Pryce put his Royale RP11 on pole by an amazing 1.6 seconds which was perhaps a little generous although most felt he was the fastest man on the track. Second fastest was Andy Sutcliffe in the works GRD who put in a lot of laps, setting the same time was Tony Trimmer’s Lotus 73 which is waiting for a revised rear suspension, nevertheless Trimmer was pleased with the car’s progress. Roger Williamson headed row two disappointed that his March had run out of petrol during the drier period, next up setting identical times were the Ensigns of Colin Vandervell and Rikki von Opel and Peter Hull’s Brabham BT38. The New Zealander was another who missed the end of the session when he spun off at Druids when a radius rod on his Brabham broke.
Mike Walker was one driver who most felt had gone several seconds quicker than the time he was credited with, he was complaining of bad front wheel patter in his Ensign, observers around the track supported his comments. James Hunt also felt he had been hard-done-by as regards his time whilst Andy Sutcliffe lost time from experimenting with wings and having a faulty master switch dealt with. Others suffering sundry problems were Tony Brise who had bump steer and erratic braking on his Brabham and Chris Skeaping who hit the Armco at the Esses, the Chevron being taken back to the works at Bolton for a precautionary check. Barrie Maskell was also less than happy when after going very quickly in the wettest period, despite a lack of brakes, he had to give his car up to Geddes Yeates whose own car had been delayed after the Travisco transporter broke down. The JPS Lotus team missed a trick when they left early unaware that there was an untimed session later in the day which was dry which meant they had no chance to set up the 73s for the better weather.
Come the start of the race the track had virtually dried out except for the odd damp patch and the entire field started on slicks. Williamson made a demon start and tried to dive between Sutcliffe and Pryce who were ahead of him on the grid, realising the gap was closing on him Williamson backed off but not before the rear wheels of the GRD and Royale had hit the front wheels of the March. After the race it was found Williamson had cracked a rim and was perhaps fortunate the tyre stayed on during the race. Through Old Hall it was Pryce from Williamson, and onto Cascades where there seemed to be some midfield contact although everyone kept going. Coming into Esso however it all went wrong; Hunt, Trimmer and Sutcliffe all contrived to hit each other, the March and the GRD were instant retirements with damaged suspension, Trimmer and the innocent Hull were both delayed, especially the Brabham and Williamson also lost a little time.
All this meant that at the end of lap 1 Pryce had a big lead over Williamson, Vandervell, Ashley, Evans, von Opel, Matthews and Walker. Trimmer, after his delay, was next just ahead of Maskell who still had no brakes to speak of. Poor Peter Hull was down in 23rd place which was at least better than Gambs and Harness who were both out, oddly for the same reason, broken gear linkages. Lap 2 saw Evans pass Ashley and Matthews fall back behind Walker, Trimmer and Maskell whilst on the following lap Kuwashima spun at Knicker Brook and continued last.
By lap 4 out at the front Pryce continued to extend his lead and Williamson was comfortable in second, not going so well was Vandervell who hit the barrier at Esso after a tire deflated and on the next lap Sutcliffe ran wide at Cascades also striking the Armco. Walker was now third from von Opel, Evans and Maskell who were starting a battle that would last the rest of the race. Pryce’s easy run all came to nothing on lap 10 at Knicker Brook when he spun the Royale resuming in 17th spot, this left Williamson in a secure lead despite the best efforts of Walker to narrow the gap.
For the last few laps Williamson took it easy and crossed the line 2.2 seconds ahead of Walker. Third was another matter, von Opel taking the place on lap 12, Maskell then passed the Ensign round the outside at Knicker Brook on lap 19, then on the last lap it was von Opel ahead along Top Straight until he ran wide at Lodge knocking the nosecone off Maskell’s car in the process. This left Maskell to take third while von Opel and Evans virtually dead heated for fourth, the Ensign driver getting the verdict. Peter Hull made it back up to an excellent 6th despite not having a top gear, next up came Tony Trimmer who just managed to hold off Tony Brise who was suffering from an engine that was loosing power. Pryce’s unhappy race finished at Cascades on the last lap when he tore the suspension off one side of the Royale.