Brands Hatch, March 18th.
The opening round of the European Touring Car Championship at Brands Hatch on March 19th proved one thing at least. Even though the series had diminished in stature since the demise of the works Jaguars, a Group a race could still produce a very exciting finish, even when it was in effect only a two-car race.
From the beginning of practice it was obvious that the only entries with any realistic chance of winning were the four BMW CSLs, the big 3.2litre winged coupes that went out of production over a year ago. However, both the Luigi team’s CSL, entered for Belgians Jean Xhenceval and Pierre Dieudonne, and the similar machine of Raijmond van Hove/Eddy Joosen failed to make the race after destroying their engines during practice. So that left only two big BMWs to head the 28-car grid. The veteran Italian Carlo Facetti put the emerald ex-Alpina CSL he was sharing with its new owner Martino Finotto on pole, while Tom Walkinshaw was second quickest at the wheel of a Luigi-prepared CSL owned and co-driven by the wealthy Italian, Umberto Grano.
Right from the rolling start these two cars were the only ones in contention. For a few laps Walkinshaw hung on grimly to Facetti, but then the Italian’s forceful style and slightly quicker, more powerful car took him away into a big lead. He had over a minute in hand on Walkinshaw when a heavy and prolonged shower brought the leaders into the pits for wet weather tyres after 46 Of the race’s iao laps. Walkinshaw’s stop was much quicker than Facetti’s, the latter handing over to team-mate Finotto and leaving the Scotsman with a long lead. However, the track then began to dry, and when Walkinshaw made way for Grano and took on fresh slick tyres after 70 laps, Finotto inherited the lead. Seven circuits later it was Finotto’s turn to change tyres, passing the initiative back to Grano, but Finotto drove far faster in the tricky conditions, catching the leader hand over fist and passing him on lap 91.
Within four laps Finotto was in the pits again after a spin, passing the wheel to Facetti, who rejoined behind Grano again. It took Facetti only eight laps to make up a half minute leeway and recapture the lead and then it began to rain again. With it laps to go, both the BMWs were in the pits together, and again the all-Italian driven car lost valuable time changing wheels; so much so that Walkinshaw regained the track only seven seconds behind Facetti. After a thrilling chase through the pouring rain, the Scotsman took the lead for the last time two laps from the finish and beat his Italian adversary to the flag by exactly a second.
After an exciting tussle with the rival VW Scirocco of Willi Bergmeister and Jorg Siegrist that did much to enliven the, first hour, England’s Richard Lloyd and Switzerland’s Anton Stocker took a class-winning third place in the latter ‘s 1,600-c.c. Scirocco. Bergmeister and Siegrist were fourth, only 19 sec. behind, regaining ground fast after delays to change a damaged wheel and a failing half-shaft. The other classes fell to a 2-litre BMW 320i driven by Germans Kurt Koenig/Heinz Weltrowski, the 3-litre Group 1 Capri of Jeff Allam/Stuart Patterson, and the nimble little 1.3-litre Fiat 128 of Lella Lombardi/Carlo Giani, which proved a shade too quick for a pair of Alfasud Sprints and a brace of works Skoda 13oRSs. Sixth Overall, Tony Dron and Jac Nelleman took the Group award in Rob Potter’s elderly 5.7-litre Chevrolet Camaro. – J.C.T.