The cries of joy and anguish were predictable last week at Indianapolis when the United States Auto Club rules committee sharply curbed the power of turbine racers.
Andy Granatelli, whose turbocar outclassed the field in this year's 500 and came within 10 miles of winning the race, said, "They have reduced the power of the turbine so much that it could not qualify for the 500, let alone compete in it. What they have done is effectively ban the turbine by the political way."
Granatelli got support from another longtime Indy competitor, J.C. Agajanian. "I'm very disappointed," he said. "It's not fair to stop progress. This is the jet age, and we've got to live with it. As a car owner, all I wanted was some way of equalizing the turbine so it would be competitive for all of us. I wanted something reasonable, not an out-and-out ban as this decision implies."
Pleased with USAC's ruling were piston-racing enthusiasts like Mario Andretti. "I'm for it," he said. "I don't think the turbine was an interesting car. Furthermore, the accessory companies aren't interested in it, and they are the backbone of racing."
Caught in this crossfire, USAC at least had the courage to make a decision. By reducing the size of the turbine air-intake area and thus decreasing potential horsepower, it is attempting to put turbine and piston cars on equal terms. Before this year's Indy race USAC researched turbines and let Granatelli's car in as a potential equal. In qualifying trials it was fast but not fastest. What nobody fully realized then was that the turbine could run right back to its 166-mph qualifying speed in racing conditions, while the piston cars—having qualified with near-empty tanks and jazzy nitromethane additives—all lost several mph, as they always do. The turbine could accelerate quicker and, with its four-wheel drive, corner better, too.
The USAC officials may well be too restrictive in their new formula, just as the previous formula proved too generous. At least they re-researched the question diligently and made a forthright ruling. If the ruling is proved wrong by next year's performance it should be revised.
Meanwhile, in what may have seemed a similar action but was actually a hasty and regrettable one, an advisory group to the International Automobile Federation (FIA) recommended the reduction of the piston-displacement maximum to three liters in the prototype class at Le Mans and other manufacturer-world-championship endurance runs. If approved this would force Ford to replace its winning seven-liter engine with a drastically different type or quit—a possibility—and it would definitely put Chaparral (seven liters) out of the Le Mans business. The proposal, dubiously linked to "safety," should be rejected by the FIA when it comes up for consideration in September in Milan.
International Olympic Committee rules prohibit an athlete from training at high altitude for more than 30 days a year prior to the Mexico City Olympics, unless, of course, the athlete just happens to have mile-high residence. With that in mind, Sweden has come to a high-level decision. It is sending six members of its Olympic track team to college next fall at the University of New Mexico. The hope is that the Swedish students, who will major in such subjects as physics and math, will find the proper atmosphere (alt. 4,943 feet) for their work.
SLEIGHT OF HAND