Victory Lane Magazine, March 2015, Vol. 30, N0. 3
VRG Jefferson 500 – Saturday, May 17, 2014
Story and photographs by Terry Johnsen
One of the joys of walking through the paddock of any vintage racing event is discovering the wide variety of cars on hand. There are always plenty of makes, models, shapes, and sizes, for everyone’s tastes. Each car has a unique history and personal story behind it. During the Jefferson 500 weekend I met up with Earl Roberts, of Lebanon, PA. Earl is the owner/driver of a 1972 GRD Formula 3 car.
First things first, I was initially drawn to his car because of its classic livery. The car is blue with white trim, and features the iconic Gitanes logo and markings. Gitanes, is a French cigarette brand, and this classic livery could once be found on 1970’s Ligier Formula 1 cars and Matra-Simca World Championship of Makes prototypes at LeMans.
Earl told me that GRD (Group Racing Developments) was an English car builder formed in 1971. The company was comprised of personnel that formerly had been with Lotus. Earl described that noted Grand Prix driver Roger Williamson was asked to test the first car designed and developed by GRD. In that initial test, Williamson was able to achieve a time that was 1.8 seconds faster than the Brabham car from the previous year. Naturally, the GRD became the car of choice for the 1972 Formula 3 season.
The car that Earl owns and races was driven by Frenchman, Pierre-Francois Rousselot in the 1972 F3 season. Rousselot competed with the number 31. Earl is using #131 this weekend in the Jefferson 500. Rousselot’s results were mixed, but Williamson on the other hand, went on to win the 1972 Championship in the sister GRD car.
Earl stated he purchased the car in 2004, and then went about developing the car to its current specification. The car is equipped with a Lotus twin-cam engine, and features a rare Brian Hart designed head. When asked to describe his impressions of driving the car he chuckled. “The car has so much potential”…”It’s a 1000 pound car with 180 horsepower”…”It’s a faster car than the driver.” Earl added, “It’s just four tires and a driver…you can sense and see everything.”
Earl said that he really enjoys competing at Summit Point. It’s where he took his first driving instruction, and it’s close to home. Earl described Summit Point as a track that features a nice mix of high speed sections and technical portions as well. “There’s a lot of loading and unloading.”
Watching the car on track conjured up thoughts of how dominant it must have been back in the day. The compact, sleek design strikes a balance of speed and aesthetic. It was by far my favorite car of the weekend.