Eppie Wietzes

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Last updated: 28-December-2001


Biography

Before Formula One Formula One, I Between Formula One
Formula One, II
After Formula One

Before F1
1958-64

Establishes himself on the Canadian motor racing scene; crash leaves him out for the year

With the many advances in the safety of F1 racing over the years, one of the now-familiar sights at a Grand Prix is that of the safety car pacing the field for a few laps after a serious incident. The safety car was reintroduced at the start of the 1994 season, but before then the idea of pace cars had already been tried. In fact, it had appeared for the first time in the 1973 Canadian GP, although it was used in the most amateurish way. And this is the story of the man who drove it.

Despite his Dutch ancestry, Eppie Wietzes was Canadian through and through. He began racing as early as 1958, and in the 1960s established himself as a versatile and capable driver on the Canadian racing scene. Racing mainly in sports and GT classes, in 1963 he drove an AC Cobra in the USRRC-GT round at Watkins Glen, but retired. Thanks to Donald Yourth, we know that in 1964, Eppie drove for the Comstock team, but at the first event of the season Weitzes had a severe shunt, suffered serious leg injuries and was out for the year.

1965-67

Tries rallying, performs well for Comstock Ford in Can-Am

In 1965, he drove in the Canadian GP, then for sports cars, taking a Ford Mustang 350GT to 14th place. Going off road, he also took part in the Shell 4000 rally across Canada that year, sharing his Mustang with Eric MacDuff. In 1966, he entered the event again, although this time sharing a Lotus Cortina with Brent Davies. 1966 was also the year when Wietzes really began leaving his mark, when he drove a Ford GT40 for Comstock Racing in Can-Am, the first ever Ford factory-built Can-Am machine.

However, it was an inauspicious start at the Sebring 12hr, when, sharing the car with Craig Fisher, it was withdrawn during the race. But from there Eppie began recording consistent finishes, his best being a 6th at Mosport, and a 5th in the non Can-Am race at St Jovite. He backed that up in 1967, firstly with a 2nd at St Jovite in July, and an 11th at Mosport in September. But by that stage, he had already made his Grand Prix debut, although one wonders if it was somewhat premature for someone with limited open-wheeler experience.

F1, part I
1967
Comstock Lotus

Same equipment as Clark and Hill, but much less experience

For the first ever World Championship Grand Prix Canadian GP at Mosport in 1967, still under the Comstock Racing banner, Wietzes rented a drive in the third works Lotus, with the same equipment as Jim Clark and Graham Hill, i.e. a Lotus 49 with a Ford Cosworth DFV 3.0 V8 engine. Despite knowing the track well, Eppie found himself with little time to acclimatise to the car, after Clark backed into a wall in practice and took over his car.

As a result, Wietzes' inexperience at the level, and with the car, shone through in qualifying. While Clark had pole with a 1:22.4, with Hill only 0.3s behind him, Wietzes was way down as the 17th quickest driver, some 8.4 seconds behind Clark, and even 0.7s slower than reject king Al Pease! However, he was bumped up to 16th when Jo Siffert failed to make it around for the start in his Cooper/Maserati.


With only limited open-wheeler experience, Eppie took to the F1 grid at Mosport in 1967. Here is he seen talking to fellow Lotus pilot Jim Clark.
With only limited open-wheeler experience, Eppie took to the F1 grid at Mosport in 1967. Here is he seen talking to fellow Lotus pilot Jim Clark.

1967

Deluged race sees Eppie disqualified from the results

The race was held in awfully wet conditions, and while the Brabhams of Sir Jack Brabham and eventual World Champion Denny Hulme were the class of the field on the treacherous track, Clark eventually retired when his engine cut, courtesy of ignition problems no doubt caused by the rain, having completed 69 of the 80 laps.

Wietzes didn't fare much better. Circulating consistently if off the pace at the back of the pack, his Lotus also suffered from ignition problems after he completed 69 laps. Forced to receive assistance in order to get the car going again, the local was eventually disqualified as a result. Hill's was the only surviving works Lotus, coming in 4th behind the Brabhams, and Dan Gurney's Eagle.

Between F1
1968-72

Back to back Champion in Canadian FAtlantic

In 1968, assessing his options, Wietzes did do some USRRC races, coming 7th at St Jovite in a McLaren M6B with a Chevrolet engine. He subsequently moved into Formula Atlantic racing (later to become F5000) to great effect. In 1969, he won the prestigious Canadian Formula Atlantic championship in a Lola T142, and made it back-to-back titles in 1970 driving a McLaren M10.

In the same car, he was 4th in the SCCA Continental Championship (the North American F5000 championship), and finished there again in 1971 in a McLaren M18. For 1972, he changed to a Lola T300, and despite only finishing 5th overall, managed a victory at Donnybrooke, his only ever victory in the category.

1973

Disastrous use of the Wietzes driven safety car in Canadian F1 GP

1973 then saw Wietzes return to the Grand Prix scene, but not as a race driver. Instead, he made his little piece of F1 history when he was asked to drive the safety car at the Canadian GP at Mosport. When Jody Scheckter and Francois Cevert collided, Wietzes took his yellow Porsche 914 onto the track, with FOCA representative Peter Macintosh beside him. However, what had started as a wet race had become dry, and it was around the same time that everyone dived into the pits for slick tyres.

Back then, in the days of lap charts by hand, this was a nightmare situation, and in no time everyone's charts were a useless mess. As a result, Wietzes and Macintosh had no idea who to pick up as the leader of the race. In the end, they mistakenly stayed in front of the unlikely Howden Ganley's Iso-Marlboro, which allowed several drivers, including eventual winner Peter Revson, to gain a lap on the field. The race ended up being one of the most confusing of all time, and we have Eppie to partly thank for that!


The pace car that destroyed the 1973 Canadian GP, driven by one Eppie Weitzes.
The pace car that destroyed the 1973 Canadian GP, driven by one Eppie Weitzes. First car behind is Howden Ganley's Iso-Marlboro.

1974

Consistently on the pace in F5000, returns to Can-Am

Anyway, in F5000 that year, Wietzes upgraded to a Lola T330, but slipped down to 6th. However, he would bounce back in 1974. Despite his privateer status, he tuned his Lola T332 just right most of the time, and usually brought it home behind pace-setters Mario Andretti and Brian Redman, but was only 4th overall, and perhaps unlucky not to be higher.

1974 also saw Wietzes make a return to the Can-Am scene, driving a Ferrari 512M Spyder for Herbert Mueller Racing, first at Mosport, and then at the USRRC round at Watkins Glen. After starting a good 7th on the grid, fuel feed problems forced him to drop down to 11th by the finish. Come September, though, another real F1 opportunity was beckoning.

F1, part II
1974
Team Canada

Rents a Brabham for a second tilt at the Mosport F1 race

When it came time for the 1974 Canadian GP, once more at Mosport, the chance arose to rent a Brabham BT42 for the event. Under the name of Team Canada F1 Racing, the deal was done to use the chassis with the now-ubiquitous Ford Cosworth DFV 3 litre V8 engine. With the Canadian flag emblazoned on the nosecone of the car, Wietzes was potentially in better shape than he had been when he made his F1 debut seven years earlier.

In terms of time, Wietzes did indeed improve, now only 3.123 seconds away from Emerson Fittipaldi's McLaren on pole. But position-wise, Eppie was still stuck right at the back, just squeezing onto the grid in 26th spot, beating Derek Bell, Mike Wilds, Vittorio Brambilla and Ian Ashley (also in a customer Brabham BT42) to the last spot.

1974

Ford engine splutters, heralding the end of Wietzes F1 run

Up front in the race, Niki Lauda got the jump on everyone else in his Ferrari, and led for 67 of the 80 laps, before making an error and crashing out. That left Fittipaldi to pick up the scraps and take the win, en route to the world title as well. Clay Regazzoni in the other Ferrari was 2nd, ahead of Ronnie Peterson's Lotus.

Sadly, Wietzes' race was relatively short-lived. He was the second retirement of the race, forced out after 33 laps with an engine problem from his venerable Ford DFV. In truth, Wietzes probably had no great pretensions to take F1 up full-time. He was only a semi-professional driver at most, but when his one-off chances arose to race in F1, he took them, as I presume anyone would.


A proud Canadian, Wietzes had the maple leaf emblazened on his Brabham's nose. It failed to be a luck charm, as he was out by lap 33.
A proud Canadian, Wietzes had the maple leaf emblazened on his Brabham's nose. It failed to be a luck charm, as he was out by lap 33.

After F1
1975-77

End of Nth American F5000 sees Eppie back in Trans-Am

Indeed, Wietzes was probably quite happy to remain in F5000, and he did so in 1975, when he came 5th in his Lola T400M. That year he also raced for the North American Racing Team in the Sebring 12hr in a Ferrari 365 GT4 BB alongside Milt Minter, and came 6th. He also raced in a 6hr race at Watkins Glen, driving for Martini Racing in a Porsche 908 Turbo, rekindling his ties with Herbert Mueller, who was one of his co-drivers, along with Leo Kinnunen. But engine problems forced them to miss the start.

The North American F5000 championship collapsed, though, and Wietzes subsequently reappeared in Trans-Am racing. Taking time to get into the swing of the things in this category in the late 1970s, one notable appearance was in the 6hr race at Mosport in 1977, where he joined Jim Busby in a Porsche 935 Turbo, racing against the likes of Gilles Villeneuve, Eddie Cheever, David Hobbs and Ronnie Peterson, but mechanical problems forced them out.

1980-81

Last driver for 15 years to win Trans-Am in a Corvette

By 1980 he was well ensconced in Trans-Am, but his bid at the Mosport 6hr that year, with Jacques Bienvenue in a Chevrolet Corvette, was unsuccessful. But 1981 was the year when it all came together. Although an attempt at the Daytona 24hr race in a Chevrolet Camaro with Maurice Carter and Richard Valentine ended in a DNF, Wietzes took his Garretson Enterprises Chevrolet Corvette to two wins and the Trans-Am title.

This included a victory at Charlotte, where George Follmer actually crossed the line first, but did so under a 15s penalty, which when added on saw Eppie take the win by a mere 0.630s. Wietzes would prove to be the last driver for over 15 years to win the Trans-Am title in a Corvette. That year, he also secured a drive in a Lola T600 Chevrolet prototype for the Mosport 6hr with Brian Redman for Cooke-Woods Racing and came 2nd.

1982-85

Continues in Trans-Am, but his Pontiac has lesser degrees of success

But in the came car, for the same team, with Ralph Kent-Cooke and Jim Adams as co-drivers their bid on the Daytona 24hr classic in 1982 failed. Subsequently, Wietzes continued in Trans-Am into 1983, and also did both the Mosport 6hr and the Road America 500 mile race with Paul Canary in a Pontiac Firebird, coming 4th in the latter.

The 1984 season saw Wietzes drive both a Pontiac Firebird and a Pontiac Trans-Am, notable results being 5ths at Road America and Watkins Glen, and 4th at Summit Point. Continuing with Pontiacs in 1985, his best results included a 6th at Mosport and 4th at Watkins Glen.

1986-93

Inductee in the Canadian Motorsports Hall of Fame

His career beginning to wind down, in 1986-7 he was still picked up by the Peerless-Hendrick team to race in some special events in their Chevrolet Camaro with Jack Baldwin. But in those two years, their attempts at the Road America 500 mile race, the Daytona 24hr classic, and the Sebring 12hr race proved less than noteworthy.

Nonetheless, Wietzes remains 49th in the all-time Trans-Am earnings list with $109,050 in prizemoney. While his two wins in 1981 were his only ones in the category, that puts him equal in the all-time winners list with Peter Revson and actor Paul Newman. For his long and varied career, Wietzes, who now resides in Thornhill, Ontario, was one of the first inductees into the Canadian Motorsport Hall of Fame when it opened in 1993, joining Bill Brack, Gilles Villeneuve, and, if you can believe this, 'Imperial Tobacco' as some of the first inclusions!

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