Red, white and blue
There were two red, white and blue cars in the World Sports-Prototype Championship paddock at Dijon-Prenois in May, both prepared in high-tech laboratories, but similarities seemed to end there. The Nissan R89C, designed and built by Eric Broadley, was obviously a state-of-the-art Group C car powered by Nissan, one of the world's leading motor companies, and would soon be an outright winner. What, though, could one say about the Aston Martin AMR-1?
Unkind to say at the time, it looked like sportscar racing's Belgrano, and marshals reached for the oil flags every time they heard the bellowing V8 started up in the paddock. A wheel fell off and David Leslie and Brian Redman really did earn their fee that weekend. The oil pressurisation problem was cured for the race and no more wheels fell off, so the British car was able to finish 17th, a lap behind the Nissan which lost two windscreens.
Designer Max Boxstrom found his Dymag wheels business claimed so much of his time that he could not give the AMR-1 all the attention it dearly required, and all the development work has since been carried out by Ray Mallock, the team's chief engineer and occasional driver, and his father Arthur, who is better known in some circles for designing the enormously successful Mallock U2 Clubmans cars.
What the Mallock family doesn't know about suspensions is probably not worth bothering about There were two rear suspension failures at Le Mans, only one during the race fortunately, and this is where development has been concentrated. Neither the Nissan nor the Aston Martin had any degree of suspension compliance, less than an inch at the front, designed for a perfect race track that doesn't have any bumps or cambers. Le Mans isn't like that, as the two teams already knew.
The Aston does have rugged reliability on its side, and although the team lost an engine on one car at Le Mans, due to a burned out rev counter, the other ran to an eventual 11th place, which was about what its backers, Peter Livanos and Victor Gauntlett, hoped for, but hardly dared expect The Aston then went back to its Protech factory in Milton Keynes, missing Jararna, where Nissan were disappointed to collect only three points.
Even on 5-6 July testing, the Aston Martin showed little sign of its born-again form, as Michael Roe wrestled it round Brands Hatch in lmin 22.3sec. Two weeks later, though, an astonishing transformation was seen at Brands Hatch. David Leslie made the AMR-1 look positively graceful as it sped round in lmin 17.961sec, Brian Redman being only a litde slower. Behind them were the entire Brun Porsche team, a Joest Porsche, the Mazda 767B and some other usefully quick cars.
A long way ahead was the Nissan R89C on the second row of the grid, but again the speedy tortoise beat the hare. The mix of cross-ply tyres on the front of the Nissan and radials on the rear was too much for Julian Bailey, who put it in the gravel at Clearways, facing David Leslie as he sped past
There was yesterday's car, the Jaguar XJR-9 V12, battling with tomorrow's, the Aston Martin AMR-1, and at the end the Aston was the winner of this pairing with a fine fourth place, to the great delight of a section of the crowd. Quite how the Jaguar has fallen from grace so quickly is a mystery; when TVVR people say it's old, they should remember the Porsche 962C is several years its senior.
In terms of results, the Aston Martin is now ahead of Nissan Motorsport Europe (as distinct from the Japanese team's Nissan which finished fourth at Suzuka), and is treated with proper seriousness. A nice tribute came from Mercedes ace Jean-Louis Schlesser: "I couldn't gain anything on the Aston Martin in the comers, just a leeeetle on the straights."
It would be foolhardy to continue this line of thought to a point where Aston Martin beats Nissan on the road. We can all see that the Nissan has immense potential, and that it will soon give the Mercedes a very hard time. In all likelihood the normally-aspirated Aston Martin will challenge Mercedes in qualifying, but it might well become what the Jaguar XJR-9 ought to be a constant threat in fuel consumption-limited competitions.
Manager Richard Williams would be over the moon to collect a top-six placing at the Niirburgring, but he is more optimistic for the Wheatcroft Trophy race at Donington on 3 September, when a third chassis will be available at a predicted scrutineering weight of 910kg a far cry from the 980kg scaled at Dijon and Le Mans. There, the two cars will be handled by David Leslie/Michael Roe and Brian Redman/David Sears, and it would not be surprising if they were both very effective competitors.
On the Jaguar front, the V12 has possibly been rather neglected in the rush to get the IMSA and Group C turbo models onto the track, but they reveal a great deal of potential and the XJR-11 could well show Mercedes the way before the season is over. The team is certainly strengthened with the signing of Alain Ferte, the gutsy Frenchman who holds the Le Mans lap record and makes it easier for Tom Walkinshaw and Roger Silman to prepare for the clashing races at Donington and San Antonio, Texas. Onlookers, though, wonder how TWR will fit five world championship drivers into two cars next year.
It now seems more than possible that the Germans will relieve Jaguar of the teams' championship at Donington, though they will not be allowed to dominate the proceedings as they did those historic days in 1937-38. With no team orders, though, JeanLouis Schlesser and Mauro Baldi will remain arch rivals to the end of the season, the Brands Hatch result having boosted the Italian's prospects in the drivers' championship. MLC