"Lafayette, we are here"...or, "An American in Paris"... or "We love Paris in the Fall...whatever the theme, Paris was just another suburb of Dallas, to the Abilene Marine Racing Team, on October 11th. Texans, Johnny Sanders & Tommy Posey, gunned Alan Yaw's Johnson-powered Molinari, to a solid win in the world's roughest, toughest boat race - The 6 Hours of Paris.
They came, they saw, they conquered & became the 1st American outboard drivers ever to win the big one, since its inception in the '50's, dispite fierce competition, from the top European drivers. They completed 150 laps of the violent Seine River course, for a total of 437 miles, in 6 hours, to top the old record of 405 miles (that's an average of 73 MPH, for 6 hours, including fueling & repairs!) & they toted home a ton of trophies, including a Sevres porcelain vase from President Pompidou of France & a free trip to South Africa in December - to drive in a 6 hour race there!
The Paris race is unique. Run on a course of just under 3 miles in length, the event takes place in the heart of Paris - the start being at the foot of the Eiffel Tower. The Seine River is narrow here & bounded by vertical stone walls of great age. Numerous stone bridges cross the course, further reducing the effective width, of the river. For the 1st hour of the race, all river traffic is stopped & the river barges, tugs & sight-seeing boats pile up, at each end of the course! The river is reopened, after the 1st hour & everything that floats, plows through the course, for the rest of the day. Mayhem! As Bob Herring, of the Mercury Factory Team put it, after viewing the liquid convultion for the 1st time - "They call this a boat race course?"
His reaction was not unusual. The best of drivers trying the Seine, for the 1st time, seem to go into shock for a while, before getting things sorted out & starting to stand on the gas pedal! This is where the European masters - Renato Molinari & Cesare Scotti - take advantage of their Paris experience, to build an early lead!
This year was no exception. 80 single engine inboard & outboard boats, took off from a standing start, at the command of President Bladinaire, of the Yacht Moteur Club of France. 1968-'69 winner, Renato Molinari, shot into the lead & completed the 1st lap in front - but with Paris veteran, Jimbo McConnell, from Victoriaville, California, right on his tail. Jimbo passed the flying Renato, from Italy, to lead the 2nd lap, only to drop back to 2nd spot, as the mass of boats started to churn the river into a wild mess of bubbling boiling water! Renato moved into the lead again,as it looked like another of his Paris wins was inevitable - particularly since cousin Cesare Scotti was 2 laps late in getting started, because of a flooded engine!
Meanwhile a lot of top American drivers were still trying to decide how to handle the sloppy going. Mercury Factory stars like Jim Merten, Mike Downard, Bob Herring, Tom Stickle & Don Clark, were new to Paris, but team mates Don Pruett, Denny Berghauer & Bill Sirois, had all seen action there in past races. Similarly, OMC exponents, Johnny Schubert, Tom Posey & Bob Nordskog, were newcomers, but Ron Hill, Jimbo McConnell, Ted May, Mac & Tom McCune & Johnny Sanders, were veterans. The McCunes, father & son, placed 2nd to Renato Molinari in '68 & Sanders was runner-up to Molinari, in '69.
The talented & tough, Mr. Pruett, soon moved his Mercury Twister powered Molinari into 2nd spot behind Renato & ahead of McConnell - who was clearly having trouble keeping a brand new OMC built hull, on the water. By this time, the stop-watch watchers were sending a message, that Sanders & Scotti, were coming through the pack at tremendous speed, lapping much faster, than the leaders! Just before the end of the 1st hour, Sanders moved his Johnson-powered Molinari past Pruett & as the hour ended, it was Renato Molinari, Johnny Sanders & Don Pruett, in that order!
A few laps later, in hour 2, Sanders blasted past Molinari to take the lead - never to relinquish it, but to stretch it out, with every succeeding lap! Then came a new development. Arie deBoom, Amsterdam's pride & joy, in a Johnson-Molinari, came out of nowhere, to pass Pruett & move into 3rd place. As the 2nd hour ended, it was Sanders, deBoom & Pruett - Renato Molinari having temporarily lost 2nd spot, as he went into the pits for fuel & relief driver, Jackie Wilson, of Great Britain!
Soon thereafter, Sanders refueled & handed the rig to teammate Tom Posey - experienced in Molinari driving, but new to the water conditions at Paris! Could Posey hold the lead that Sanders had built up, in the face of the experienced (10 years at Paris) Jackie Wilson's driving? "Texas Tom",took 2 cautious laps, then - satisfied that he could handle the job - skillfully sent the roostertail high & went on to build a still greater lead, for the Abilene Marine machine!
When Tommy gave back his seat to Sanders at 4 hours, the standings were Sanders, Molinari & deBoom. The Abilene Team had 99 laps, Molinari/Wilson 97 & the father/son deBoom Team, had completed 96 laps! Ron Hill & Johnny Schubert, had moved into 4th place, in Jim Briggs' Johnson-Molinari rig!
Elsewhere, all was not good!Jimbo McConnell had nose-dived his hot rig in the 1st hour & fortunately only suffered severe bruising! Cesare scotti, had shortened his new Molinari, by ramming into one of the many barges that nonsholauntly cruise through the course, during all this heckic action, being thrown into the polluted Seine, in the process! Mercury's Jim Merten, nosed his Molinari into one of the many giant wakes coming off the stone walls, bad enough to suffer kidney dammage & be done for the day! Worst of all, Don Clark, blew over, was ejected from his boat, injested down a tunnel of a competitor's boat, struck by the lower unit, suffering severe lacerations to both his back & legs! It was a small miracle he wasn't killed outright, but I heard later he lost a leg due to complications from infection, probably caused by the polluted water of the Seine, which is essentially, a sewer! The McCune rig ran out of gas (dumb) & had to be towed in. Ron Hill, from California, lost his steering, when the cable jumped off its pulley, which caused a long delay!
Now, with Sanders & Molinari, back in their respective cockpits, fueled to go the final 2 hours, to the finish - all the fans looked forward to a real man-to-man driving battle between Sanders representing OMC & Molinari representing Mercury! Does it get any better than this? Would it be a repeat of last year, when the Abilene boat led til the final lap, then striking some debris on the course (a boat once struck a dead donkey, that floated down the course, in the current!) & let Molinari slip by, for a win by a few seconds? Could the skillful Italian, Molinari - the master of virtually flying a tunnel boat (named after his Dad!) at the edge of destruction - overcome Sanders' lead? Would OMC mastermind, Jack Leek, succumb to nervous prostration?
No! The Texan skimmed home nearly 3 laps ahead of the talented Italian. The spectacular deBoom - with no power trim, no Factory engine, no new style Molinari hull - accelerated out of the one-pin turns, like a rocket, to close the gap & surprisingly finish on the same lap as Renato! It was Abilene's day - for Sanders & Posey dominated the race, despite a bent prop in the opening lap & failed steering (cable off pulley) on the last lap (real close one!)
It was a big day for OMC, too. Johnson's white hatted Stingers took 1st, 3rd, 7th & 9th overall, stopping the mercury domination, which had never been beaten before, at Paris! Evinrude's 50 cubic inch, 3 cylinder Triumph, lived up to its name, by capturing the popular SE Class from Carniti, hitherto invincible & Konig. In winning the SE Class, local Paisians Luiggi & Parisot racked up 288 miles, for a new record, at an average speed of 48 MPH. Sanders & Posey also won the coveted, "Index of Performance" title, a sort of best average thing based speed corrected to engine displacement.
OMC shared in another 1st, when California's, Bob Nordskog, chose to follow his "Iron Man", technique & drive the entire 6 hours, without relief - unheard of, at Paris! Tired, but happy, Bob ground his Johnson - Molinari combination home to a respectable 9th spot overall!
However, Paris had something for others, too. England's Kendall & Fleming won the OI Class (90 cubic inches) for Mercury, pushing their 1000 BP, to a 62 MPH average. Floridinian, Bill Sirois, hung his Mercury Twister powered Molinari, way on the ragged edge, for a new lap record of 81 MPH! Sweden's Krusenstierns & Setterstrom (pity the poor announcer!) ran off with the inboard Class with an average speed of 53 MPH, using a NSV Wankel (rotary) engine, for power. Angello Molinari's wonder hulls, continued to dominate the race, which played such a great part, in their development over the last half decade!
England, Ireland, Holland, Italy, Spain, Portugal, South Africa, Germany, Austria, Cyprius, Sweden, Finland, Switserland - all sent their best to Paris, for the "Greatest Single Engine Race in the World!" But, a couple of guys, from Texas, proved what we've always thought - given the right equipment & a little practice, American Tunnel Boat Drivers, are unbeatable!