50 YEARS OF F1 IN CANADA - THE MOSPORT YEARS - VOL.3
To commemorate 50 years of Formula 1 racing in Canada, CTMP is compiling some of Mosport’s greatest F1 stories through personal memories from household names of Canadian motorsport…
EPPIE WIETZES: THE DRIVER
There’s a bitter-sweet sound in Eppie Wietzes' voice when he talks about Formula 1. Born in the Netherlands, Wietzes moved to Canada when was 12 and raced under the Canadian flag for two Formula 1 Grand Prix starts, and throughout his career in Formula 5000 and in Trans-Am where he won the 1981 championship.
“I had a lot of bad luck in Formula 1,” he says; and he’s not wrong. Both Formula 1 attempts were riddled with car trouble, and tough circumstances.
On the morning of August 27th, 1967, the Formula 1 World Championship found itself in Bowmanville, Ontario about to drop the green-flag on the first ever Grand Prix of Canada. The greatest drivers in the world were there; Jim Clark, Graham Hill, Jack Brabham, the list goes on.
Twenty-Nine year-old Eppie Wietzes was about to embark on his first Formula 1 start, which just so happened to be his first ever race in an open-wheel car.
Wietzes circa 1967.
“I had always driven sports cars and closed cars. I had never been in a Formula car in all my life…not even a Formula Ford.”
Mosport Park owner Harvey Hudes had organized a deal with Lotus’ Colin Chapman for the team to field a third Lotus 49 for Wietzes. Hudes wanted to ensure a Canadian would run the country’s innaugraul Grand Prix, and with Chapman’s championship winning cars he might even have a chance to finish well. Canadian Al Pease would also compete in an Eagle.
But on Friday, Jim Clark found himself crashed on the outside of turn one, which meant that the third Lotus, meant to be Eppie’s car, was handed over to the reigning world champion.
Friday came and went and Wietzes still hadn’t turned a single lap of practice yet. Working around the clock, Chapman’s Lotus team managed to bring the car back into working order.
“The first time I got in the car was Saturday,” Wietzes says. “I sat in the car and I was sitting in gasoline. The fuel line between the tanks in each side had a leak in it.”
Finally Wietzes got in the car for qualifying and was able to get in 5 laps. He qualified 16th, with a time that was 8.4 seconds off Jim Clark’s pole-position lap.
Wietzes in the Lotus 49 at the 1967 Canadian GP.
Although Wietzes sponsors were paying Chapman for Eppie’s F1 opportunity, the team manager wasn’t overly thrilled to be supplying a third car to an inexperienced open-wheel driver.
“Chapman told me to stay out of everybody’s way and don’t crash the car. He was a firm Englishman, I didn’t like him very much...I got along with Jimmy, he was good to me."
Jim Clark & Colin Chapman at Mosport Park in 1967.
Sunday morning was damp and cool, rain was in the forecast. Wietzes wasn’t bothered by the prospect of running his first Formula 1 race in the rain. He felt he could benefit from it, as the rain is “a bit of an equalizer,” he says.
At the drop of the flag Wietzes managed to gain some positions.
“At the start of the race I thought, geez these guys are slow, I had passed a couple of cars before we even got to corner three.”
From there Wietzes tried to settle into a pace with the Lotus, and continue to chase the cars in front of him.
Then on lap 68, leader Jim Clark pulled off the track at the exit of Moss Corner. He was suffering an ignition failure from wet electrical components in the damp conditions.
“There was a spectator there who took his t-shirt off, and it was still dry because it was under his jacket and he gave it to Clark, and he started wiping the ignition and whatever he could and the car started again.”
Two laps later, Wietzes' car suffered exactly the same problem in exactly the same spot. This time, the spectator didn’t have a dry shirt, but began to shout instructions to Wietzes about what Clark had done.
“This guy was yelling at me telling me what to do, and I managed to get the car started again,” says Wietzes.
Rejoining the race, Wietzes’ Lotus quit again on the pit-straight and when mechanics came to his rescue and pushed the car to his pit-stall, Eppie was automatically disqualified. Jack Brabham went on to win the race.
Several years passed before Wietzes would get another crack at Formula 1 again. In 1969 Wietzes began racing Formula 5000, building his experience in open-wheel cars should he get another F1 chance.
Wietzes in Formula 500 during the 1969 race weekend at Mosport Park.
Wietzes in Formula 5000, at the 1974 Mosport event - Photo by Paul H. Gulde.
Then in 1974, Harvey Hudes put together another deal for Wietzes to run the Canadian Grand Prix at Mosport. This time it was with Bernie Ecclestone and the Brabham Motor Racing Developments Team.
They rented a BT42 from Ecclestone, which was shipped to Canada before the Grand Prix. The car was going to be entered under the name Team Canada Racing, which was essentially a Comstock F1 effort managed by Paul Cooke.
“The car arrived early and Harvey said we could use the track so we went to test the car,” Wietzes says. “At about the third lap the engine quit coming out of turn one. The timing belt broke and it bent some valves…so that engine was finished.”
After blowing the engine, more details and problems began to arise with this particular Brabham car. Wietzes and Cooke learned that the car had not started the previous four Grands Prix, and that it seemed to be riddled with issues.
“Paul and I went to change the engine and found the upper radius rod, which had a lot to do with the toe in and toe out, was loose in the mounting…it was going back and forth about half an inch.”
After welding in some washers to tighten the radius rod, the car began to handle like a Formula 1 car should. Wietzes and the team were poised for a good showing, rolling into the Grand Prix weekend.
“The car was handling great, and then in Sunday morning practice I noticed there was something funny with the gears. I found out later someone had taken the gears out of my car and put it in one of the other Brabhams…It would get stuck in second gear, so I couldn’t use it and that put the engine out of the power band.”
After the mysterious gearbox change, Wietzes qualified last on the grid and the Brabham only lasted 33 laps before Wietzes was forced to retire with transmission problems.
Wietzes in the Brabham at the 1974 Canadian GP - Photo by Paul H. Gulde.
Earlier this summer Eppie Wietzes was invited to be a Grand Marshal at the FIA Masters Historic F1 Series race at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park alongside Joann Villeneuve.
Despite his bad luck in Formula 1 competition, Wietzes was all smiles 50 years after that first start in 1967. During the day Eppie signed countless autographs, including a hand-made model of his 1974 Team Canada Brabham.
But whether good or bad memories of Formula 1, Wietzes says they're “the kind you never forget.”
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