World Sportscar Championship: Brands Hatch 1000kms

Almost in the bag

Victory in the Shell Gemini Brands Hatch 1000kms race has taken the Silk Cut Jaguar team to within one step of securing the World Sportscar Championship teams' title.

The two Jaguars were clearly the fastest cars on the track, challenged only by the Britten Lloyd Racing Liqui Moly Porsche which finished between them. Raul Boesel and John Nielsen beat Johnny Dumfries and Mauro Balch by 73 seconds after five-and-a-half hours of hard racing, with John Watson and Jan Lammers well back in third place after having a failed rear wheel bearing changed.

Switching to a Joest Racing Porsche 962 has done World Champion Derek Bell little good, he and Hans Stuck soundly beaten into fourth place. Although they are now second to Raul Boesel in the drivers' championship, Bell's chances of keeping the title have virtually disappeared, and he and Stuck are strongly critical of the Porsche factory.

In Group C2 the Swiftair Ecurie Ecosse team, which will move up into C1 with Aston Martin next year, turned the tables on Spice Engineering. Had they won the class, Gordon Spice and Fermin Velez would already have collected the drivers' championship, but Ray Mallock and David Leslie drove harder than ever before to defeat them, with Mike Wilds and Marc Duez in third place.

So with five wins and two second places, Spice and Velez lead the C2 championship from Mallock and Leslie with two wins and five second places. Clearly the other teams are hopelessly outclassed, both on speed and reliability, but there are signs of improvement from down below. Martin Schanche and Will Hoy ended their run of poor outings with fourth place in the Lucky Strike Argo Zakspeed JM 19B (delayed because the engine refused to run at less than 3000 rpm, which made the pit stops hazardous) and the ADA team made a splendid return with its new car, the ADA/2 which replaces the Gebhardt, and in this car Tiff Needell led the class handsomely for the first hour. New-car problems led to eventual retirement, but ADA Engineering, which won its class at Le Mans last year, is back in business.

The Spice and Ecosse teams have been highly impressive throughout 1986 and 1987, embarrassing the privateer Porsches on occasions, and it is amazing what they can still get out of the 20-year-old Cosworth V8. They regularly run more than 90% of the full distance on merely 60% of the fuel allocation (310 litres, instead of 510 litres) and mechanical failures are virtually unknown. Spice also hopes to move up into C1 in 1988 and is talking to several manufacturers about the supply of engines, but of course they would need a minimum of 700 bhp to be competitive.

Ecurie Ecosse patron Hugh McCaig is not disclosing what sort of Aston Martin engine he will use next year. It will develop 700 bhp and is therefore likely to be turbocharged, and it may be the forerunner of the power-unit intended for AML's new "downsize" grand touring car, which is due to debut at the end of 1988.

Tom Walkinshaw had every reason to be pleased with the Brands Hatch result because the main championship which Jaguar Cars and TWR so desperately want is virtually in the bag. The Porsche customer teams have their backs to the wall with cars that are clearly outdated, and the only team which can give the Jaguars a good race, Liqui Moly Equipe, is too far behind to stand even a mathematical chance of winning the teams' championship. Silk Cut Jaguar has only to finish in front of Brun Motorsport at the Nurburgring to secure the title, and it would be nice if Coventry could arrange a civic reception like that which greeted the team on its return from Le Mans in 1951.

Bell and Stuck are angry, not so much because the Porsche factory has withdrawn from the series, which can be understood, but because they are now getting no support from Weissach. Stuck, still under contract, complained bitterly that "the factory's support is absolutely zero," adding "we are the only Porsche drivers who could win the championship, and I would expect them to give us all the help they could."

The Porsche factory has, in fact, made available its 3-litre, fully water-cooled racing engines, one for each leading team, and it was supposed that four Porsches would give the two Jaguars a hard time. At Brands Hatch, only one of them did, the Liqui Moly car, and Richard Lloyd decided to run that with the usual, trusted 2.8-litre engine! His cars had won in 1984 and 1986 and clearly work well at Brands Hatch; the team had been testing there, and had won the Norisring race. "Why change to an engine we don't know?" asked Lloyd. Good question.

Porsche had played safe with the pukka engines, supplying them with microchips which would give them excellent fuel economy. Stuck, always quotable, said that his engine felt "like chewing gum", and when he had been lapped several times by the BLR Liqui Moly Porsche he commented gloomily that the factory engine "has no advantages at all." What the customers most wanted, and desperately needed, was power. They also needed car development, and weight-saving.

The Nigel Stroud-designed BLR Porsche has been progressively developed, an example to Joest, Brun and Kremer of what they should have been doing for the past two years, and had lots of the downforce which is so necessary at Brands Hatch. It was also the lightest of a meagre seven cars in C1 at 859kg on the official scales. The two Jaguars, and the spare all weighed between 870 and 876kg, the Brun Motorsport 962C driven by Jochen Mass and Oscar Larrauri 893kg, and the Bell/Stuck inert Porsche 907kg. "That's an awful lot of weight to carry round this circuit," Bell remarked.

As it happened, the C1 class cars were reliable. All reached the finish, and the lap times told the whole story of the race. The Jaguars could run easily in the 1min 16sec bracket on race compound tyres, Johnny Dumfries edged down to 1min 16.99 sec in the Liqui Moly Porsche (which he had never driven before), Stuck's best lap was 1min 19.05sec and Mass' best 1min 19.50sec. Multiply the times by 238 laps, and it is easy to see why Stuck and Mass, two of sportscar racing's legends, finished 10 laps behind.

It was a race John Watson and Jan Lammers should have won, but for the wheel bearing failure. The Dutchman had claimed pole position at 1min 14.44sec, a fifth of a second quicker than Riccardo Patrese went in the 1985 turbocharged Lancia LC2 which reputedly developed over 800 bhp on race boost. The pole position time which Stuck set last year, 1min 16.27sec in the Joest Porsche 956, was reached on race tyres; Lammers' new lap record stands at 1min 16.44sec, so the Jaguars are clearly competitive in qualifying on handling circuits.

Lammers pulled out an increasing lead at the start of the race; 8.5 seconds on Baldi in 10 laps, 15 seconds in 20 laps and nearly 40 seconds at the end of the first hour, by which time Stuck, third, was well lapped.

Boesel had made a daring challenge to Baldi at Paddock Bend early in the race, diving for the inside line, but the Italian predictably shut the door on the Brazilian and had the Jaguar spinning across the infield. Boesel went 11/2 laps down after having the tail cover changed, but his stops were merely out of sequence, and with a bit of help from the pace car at half distance he was not handicapped. Call it luck if you like — the sort of luck that the works Porsches used to enjoy.

Watson and Lammers went nine laps down, in sixth place, after having the left-rear upright changed, but ahead of them the Kremer, Brun and Joest Porsches were sitting ducks, and the Jaguar moved up into third place half-an-hour from the end.

Ahead of them Boesel and Nielsen were able to control the race quite easily, finishing nearly a lap ahead of Baldi and Dumfries, who had driven their hearts out. Nielsen claimed the second-fastest lap of the race at 1min 16.73sec— not bad for a driver who had never been to Brands Hatch before. Silk Cut Jaguar is now a happy team, united by success, and at Brands Hatch it had the aura of a winning combination. Walkinshaw confirmed that everyone will rally round Raul Boesel for the rest of the season; there may be nothing Derek Bell can do about that. MLC