Notes on the cars at Long Beach

There was no doubt in the paddock that the 1981 season was now well under way, for all the teams of importance had new cars ready to go, or if not, like Renault, they had them in the wings ready for the European season. The Scuderia Ferrari stole the show, for after ten years with the 3-litre flat-12 cylinder engine, those were now gone and a new era was underway. This was the forced-induction 1 1/2-litre V6 engine in a totally new car. There were three cars, now painted all red, in true Ferrari fashion, as distinct from last year’s red and white colour scheme and on each side, as well as the Ferrari Prancing Horse shield was the name FERRARI in large gold letters. Two cars (049 and 051) had the Brown Boveri “Comprex” pressure-wave supercharger system, and the spare car (050) had the twin KKK turbo-charger layout. The basic concept of the car was still as seen in practice at Imola last year, but everything was considerably tidied up, giving the whole car a much neater appearance. The transverse gearbox ahead of the final drive unit had undergone a lot of development, as had the four-camshaft V6 engine, and Villeneuve’s car had all the latest modifications (Car No. 051). The Brown Boveri “Comprex” supercharger is mounted on top of the engine, together with a large intercooler, and the pressurised rotating drum is driven by a toothed belt from the end of an exposed jack-shaft running along the top of the engine from the camshaft drive at the back of the engine. The exhaust ports of the V6 are on the top of the engine and feed straight up into the supercharger, cold air is taken in each side and the pressurised air is fed forwards into the primary inter-cooler, from where it splits to a secondary inter-cooler on each side of the car before feeding the inlet manifolds low down on each side. The extra inter-cooler is needed because the exhaust pressure-wave system imparts a certain amount of heat to the incoming cold air by conduction, which adds to the rise in temperature caused by compression. The spent exhaust gases exit by way of a large megaphone with an internal baffle and the noise emitted is a very satisfyingly “different” sound, very shrill and very “tight”, unlike the “knackered Formula Ford” sound of a turbo-charged layout. The KKK layout of two turbo-chargers mounted above and ahead of the engine, with an inter-cooler in each side pod, was very similar to that seen last year, though the plumbing was much improved, but it was pretty obvious which system Ferrari was concentrating on, with Brown Boveri engineers in attendance, Brown Boveri advertising on the side of the car and, apparently, an exclusive contract with the Swiss firm for this season, much to the chagrin of Renault. Starting the “Comprex” fitted engine from cold was interesting, for as the engine is revolved on the starter air is blown into the intake by a portable electric blower, rather like the way you squirt neat petrol down the intakes of a Cosworth DFV when starting from cold.

Also receiving a lot of attention, much of it unwanted, was the totally new Lotus 88, the culmination of all the work and experimentation done on the Lotus 80, 81 and 86. This new car is very complex and offers a new concept of racing car which has been evolving over the past 18 months or more, and now it has appeared a lot of the opposition got together and protested that it was not strictly within the rules, though which rules seemed to vary depending on who you listened to. The basic principle of this new car is that it has two chassis units, each with its own springing system. The primary one comprises all the bodywork, side pods, under-tray and the aerofoils, or in other words, the aerodynamic aspects of the car. The secondary chassis unit comprises the cockpit monocoque (made from a composite of carbon-fibre, Kevlar and Nomex honeycomb), the fuel tank, the engine, the gearbox and the rocker-arm suspension front and rear. The primary unit is suspended on coil spring/damper units at its four corners, coupled to the bottom of the wheel uprights by short links, while the secondary unit uses the normal upper rocker-arm and lower wishbone layout. The idea behind this is that the aerodynamic part of the car calls for different spring rates and shock-absorbing than those ideally required by the driver and the mechanical components. The driver/mechanical components want to nose-dive, squat, and roll while the aerodynamic components need to remain constant and unaffected by braking, acceleration and cornering, and the Lotus 88 sets out to achieve this. Some small-minded people seemed to think it was built to dodge round the no-sliding-skirts rule; a very expensive and complicated way of doing so if it be the case. This brand new car was 88/1 and was entrusted to de Angelis, while he also had 81/3 and Mansell had 81/2, the two older cars having full-width nose aerofoils to assist down-force and all three cars were using the Lotus gearbox/final drive unit with the inboard spring units sunk into the casting. This interesting new car will be dealt with in greater detail in a future issue of Motor Sport, after the initial hoo-ha has died down.

The Williams team had two new cars to C-specification (Jones FW07C/11, Reutemann FW07C/12) in which the whole of the front of the monocoque has been redesigned to form a much stronger, totally enclosed, box for the pedals and the driver’s legs. At the same time the instrument panel has been redesigned and the driver now has only a tachometer and a water temperature gauge to worry about. Low oil pressure or low fuel pressure are indicated by warning lights. To replace the down-force lost by the effectiveness of the side-pods without sliding skirts, a large full-width aerofoil is mounted on the nose on a sheet steel fabricated mounting in the centre: the aerofoil carries quite large end-plates. As the spare car, FW07/10 was to B-specification, without the new front to the monocoque and with none-fins instead of the full-width aerofoil.

The newly formed Talbot team combining Ligier aerodynamic and chassis knowledge with Matra engine knowledge resulted in three very nicely made, and immaculately turned out, JS17 cars powered by a 1981 version of the Matra V12 engine, its 12,000 r.p.m. scream being a sound that was welcomed back. Still backed by Gitanes cigarettes the cars were painted blue and white with Talbot red overtones and the whole team turn-out was a credit to the graphics designer. With Talbot as the parent company and Matra as the power supply, to refer to the cars as Talbot-Matra seems logical.

Another new car was the McLaren MP4, designed by John Barnard for the combine of McLaren Racing and Project Four, now known as McLaren International. This new car uses a carbon-fibre monocoque and conventional springing, with Cosworth power but great attention has been paid to the air-flow under the car with the result that the underside is extremely smooth and very neat. This new car (MP4/1) was entrusted to John Watson while de Cesaris had a much modified M29 (No. 5) now to F-specification as far as bodywork, aerodynamics and suspension were concerned.

Still on the totally new cars there was the Theodore TR3 from the drawing board of Tony Southgate, late of the Arrows team. A fairly orthodox “kit-car” to English standards it was built to the 1981 rules and presented no problems other than getting it finished in time for practice, and fitting Patrick Tambay into the cockpit. The Italian Osella team were looking quite impressive, with two new cars which were developments of their 1980 cars, but conforming to the no side-skirts rule, and last year’s car as the spare. Other new cars for 1981 were the March 811 and Fittipaldi F8C “Kit-cars” as seen in the recent non-championship South African race. The Alfa Romeo team had three brand new cars, designated Tipo 179C, that were developments of last year’s cars suitably altered to conform with this year’s regulations and in the side pods were slots which encouraged some of the air to flow downwards to (optimistically) form an air curtain between the lower edge of the side-pod and the ground, thus keeping under-car air under the car and not allowing air to leak out of the side. Andretti and Giacomelli had three cars between them, all powered by the latest V12 engine.

The Brabham team were using C-versions of the successful BT49 with two brand new cars, number 11 for Piquet and number 12 for Rebaque, the latter having the Weismann gearbox. To compensate for the lack of side-skirts the cars were fitted with nose-fins with turned-down ends, and there was an elaborate hydro-pneumatic system of ride-height control that seemed to lower the car the faster it went, but after the first day of practice it was dispensed with. Car number 9, which was the spare car in South Africa was also the spare car at Long Beach.

Tyrrell, Arrows, ATS and Renault were all using last year’s cars, modified where necessary to conform to 1981 regulations, though the French team had two brand new cars, RE26B for Prost and RE27B for Arnoux, with RE22B as the spare, and Ensign had the new car they had built for South Africa. The new Renault RE30, which is smaller, lighter and more compact and ready to go, is not due to appear until Grand Prix racing reaches Europe. — D.S.J.



The RAC National Hill Climb Championship for 1981 will be starting this month with the first round taking place at Wiscombe Park, Nr. Honiton, Devon on Sunday, 12th April. The entry list, which had not closed at the time of writing, looks impressive and it will be interesting to see what changes have taken place since last season. Testing sessions have already taken place both at Wiscombe and Harewood and fireworks look likely for the AMOC organised first round. The first climb is due to take place at 1.00 p.m. – P.H.J.W.

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In the Obituary Notice to S.C.H. Davis last month I wrote that he crashed the Bentley he was driving at Le Mans in 1926 while in process of winning. I should, as a well-known Roesch Talbot fancier has pointed out, have written finishing. When the Bentley (the famous “Old No. 7”) slid into the sandbank at Mulsanne, having run out of brakes, it was chasing the three leading Lorraines and there was about 20 minutes of the race left. It had overtaken one of the Lorraines at that point but had no hope of catching the other two, and these 3.4-litre, six-cylinder cars finished I, 2, 3. However, the next year Davis and Benjafield made no mistake, bringing “Old No. 7 Bentley” home first, inspite of the White House accident. — W.B.

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The Things They Say

“We do not like modern cars and we do not like motoring. . . my admiration is sought for the solidity of our Campagnolo gears, the light-weight strength of our Constrictor Conloy (Standard) Asp rims, or the silkiness of my pre-war Bayliss Wiley steel hub. . . devoted worship is reserved for his Blumfield large flange light alloy hub.” Elizabeth West in “Hovel in the Hills” (Faber & Faber, 1977) — I would perhaps not have inflicted this enthusiasm for push-bicycles on you, if Sir Geoffrey Howe wasn’t so obviously determined to drive everyone away from vehicles that use petrol or Derv! — W.B.