The ETC starts to ook interesting again
With the withdrawal of Jaguar and the BMW 635 CSi now in decline having reached the limit of its development, the European Touring Car Championship has, this year, lost some of its glamour. It's not that the Rover and Volvo victories this year have been hollow, for both marques have proved themselves quicker than last year's ETC-winning Jaguars, it's more of a case that neither make has quite the cachet of either Jaguar or BMW, it's been a middle management car series, rather than one for company directors' cars.
The Championship has also been clouded by wrangles over the eligibility of the Volvo 240 Turbos which, this year, have not only been quick but also reliable. Indeed, although early rounds seemed to indicate a Rover steam roller operation this year, Volvos have done most of the winning. The dispute centres on, among other things, the size of the rear spoilers and the size of the turbochargers. Essentially it all comes down to how different people read the rule book but it seemed as though all results would remain provisional until the end of the year when the championship would be decided by a tribunal. Whatever the rights or wrongs of the matter, this is an unfortunate way to settle races. Now it seems that the controversy has been quietly buried and Volvo will keep all its points.
If this year's ETC has not had the glamour we've enjoyed of late, next year's should be much more interesting with the expected arrival of new cars from Mercedes-Benz, BMW and other makes and the Tourist Trophy gave us a taste of the future with the ETC debuts of the Ford Sierra XR4i Turbo, the Ford Escort RS Turbo and the Mitsubishi Colt Starion and at various points in the race, all three debutants led their classes. The Brodie/Schuppen Colt, indeed, started from pole ahead of the Rover of Walkinshaw/Percy with Andy Rouse putting the Sierra which he has developed in third place. Underlining the promise of the newcomers, the Longman/Curnow Escort RS Turbo sat in ninth place on the grid, quicker than any BMW and easily ahead of the Alfa Romeo GTV 6s which dominate Class 2 and the overall Constructors' Championship. Qualifying is one thing, especially when some teams have turbo boosts to tweak, and racing is another, and the pre-race warm-up, a fairly reliable guide to form, showed the three TWR Rovers quickest ahead of the two Eggenberger Volvos.
Brodie's Starion led for the first lap then Rouse's Sierra took the lead followed by Walkinshaw (Rover), Jean Louis Schlesser (Rover), Gianfranco Brancatelli (Volvo), Brodie, Jeff Allam (Rover), Rex Greenslade (Sierra) and Frank Sytner (BMW).
By lap six we had a situation unique in the history of the ETC for every class was led by cars from one maker, Ford. Rouse's Sierra led the race and class three, Richard Longman's Escort RS Turbo led class two and Ray Belcher's Escort RS 1600i led class one. It was a fine effort but not to last for, going into Copse on lap nine, Rouse had a stub axle break.
Schlesser then took the lead, followed by Brancatelli but shortly afterwards he spun at Stowe, sustained a puncture when hitting the kerb, was T-boned by a Golf but limped round to change a wheel and rejoin in 18th place. Brancatelli then was able to pull clear of Walkinshaw and Allam. On lap 25, Richard Longman retired his Escort with a badly slipping clutch and the class was once again disputed by Alfa Romeos, the Lombardi/Drovandi car eventually taking the honours, but the Ford's performance perhaps signals an end to Alfa Romeo's dominance of Class 2.
On lap 27 came an incident which perhaps decided the race. The BMWs of Marco Micangeli and Frank Sytner had been disputing fifth, at Woodcote Sytner left his braking very late, Micangeli shut the door across his bows and the Sytner car spun Micangeli's hard into the Woodcote barrier. Though off the racing line it was deemed to be a hazard and on lap 42 the pace car was sent out while marshals pulled the car clear. The field closed up and Brancatelli lost his advantage.
Then confusion reigned as drivers failed to remember the correct procedure to resuming racing with a pace car on the track and led by an Alfa Romeo, whose driver was subsequently fined £1,000, half the field barged by.
Walkinshaw hounded Brancatelli for the next dozen laps, then pitted quickly and handed over to Win Percy. The Volvo's pit stop took longer as oil had to be added as well as fuel and tyres and when Thomas Lindstrom took over he had a big job on his hands for Steve Soper had taken over from Schlesser in second place, the pace car laps having more or less wiped out Schlesser's earlier mistake. The third Rover had expired on Hangar Straight with an electrical fault.
The two Rovers came home first and second, giving Tom Walkinshaw his fourth TT win. Volvo came away with the consolation that its car might have won save for the laps under the pace car and a longish pit stop. There were few consolations, however, for Richard Belcher and David Carvell for the crankshaft on their Escort snapped minutes from the end and they were unclassified even though they had completed as many laps as the Class 1 winner, the Kudrass/Putz Golf GTi. It was cruel fortune. Against most people's expectations, the Brodie/Schuppen Starion actually finished and in a creditable fifth place.
It was an exciting and absorbing race in itself but even more interesting were the indications for the future as shown by the pace of the Sierra, Starion and Escort RS Turbo. With other cars waiting to join in, the future of the ETC looks bright. - ML.