WS-PC Season Preview

“Economy Racing” Era to End

In October the Group C sports car formula will follow Formula One into the new decade, ruled by 3.5-litre normally aspirated engines. The `economy’ era, dictated by the need to make 51 litres of fuel last 100 kilometres, will be ended to the delight of most drivers but the mechanism to equalise the performances of production block, racing, turbocharged and normally aspirated engines will be removed. So the 1990 season is a culmination of the whole Group C formula which opened in 1982, and active manufacturers will make the most of it.

Mercedes, Porsche, Jaguar, Nissan and Toyota . . . that’s a good cross section of the world’s motor industry. Most, if not all of them, will support the 3.5-litre formula and they will be joined by Peugeot, whilst the specialists will be represented by Spice Engineering and Brun Motorsport, who will build cars that private entrants can campaign.

The climax of the season will inevitably be at Le Mans on June 16/17, but a great deal of controversy during the winter has overshadowed the fact that this should be one of the finest editions of the 24 hours ever seen. If it takes place outside the world championship (to everyone’s regret) Mercedes won’t be there.

The principal contenders will be Jaguar, Nissan, Toyota and Porsche, all of whom believe they stand a chance of winning; but if the race is restored to the championship, as seems possible at a special plenary meeting of FISA on March 13/14, then Mercedes will reverse its plan and attend the event. Five manufacturers racing to win, over a 24 hours duration, is something unique in the history of the race, and this is something M. Balestre must have been aware of when he threw the chicanes issue into the agenda last December.

Those chicanes will not only eliminate the sustained 250 mph speeds that many drivers fear, but they will put even heavier demands on the already stretched brake and transmission systems. Brakes can be built for the job but only those manufacturers with the strongest gearboxes can afford to feel confident in the run-up to this year’s race.

When the entries closed for the World Sports-Prototype Championship there were 32 guaranteed runners, four fewer than last year, and another seven cars that can run if accepted. Nissan and Toyota will run their full allocation at Suzuka, obviously, and outfits such as Team Davey can lease their second entries, in this case to Team Schuppan. Neither Mercedes nor Jaguar have applied for a third entry, but Joest will run a fourth Porsche on occasions and Nissan Motorsports Europe could expand from a singular regular entry to three, if the team wanted to. Typically there will be around 36 entries for each race, and that number is confirmed for the opening round at Suzuka.

All races are of 480 km duration (usual proviso except for Le Mans) and the second round will be at Monza at the end of April. We didn’t go there in 1989 because the pits and suites were being renewed, but the Italian parkland track is always a favourite and historic place to visit.

We go, then, to Silverstone, another race ditched from last year’s calender. The British race, historically one in which Tom Walkinshaw’s Jaguar team excels, has been put back a week to avoid clashing with the San Marino Grand Prix at Imola. Spa-Francorchamps has been confirmed for June 3, to the dismay of all the teams preparing for a serious bid at Le Mans. Really, the cars have to leave base on June 11 for scrutineering at Le Mans next day, prepared to perfection, and the schedule simply doesn’t allow for damage at the Belgian round. If the FOCA element can be persuaded to house the group C teams in the lower paddock, using the downhill pits, some lost magic will be restored to the race.

FISA has, at least, put the Spanish race back a week to July 1, confirming the venue at Jarama. The teams are in for a surprise, because with very little fanfare the Spaniards have re-built the pits and extended the track, also taking the opportunity to resurface and widen it. There should now be better facilities for everyone, and a much nicer track which has been extended beyond the usual first corner. On average the track is two metres wider, and has been lengthened from 3.31 kms to approximately 3.60 kms. Midsummer heat could be a real problem this year.

By contrast no activity has been reported at Dijon-Prenois, the attractive circuit in Eastern France’s Burgundy region. The pits are old and completely inadequate for a full entry, and all the facilities are run down, but Dijon is a drivers’ circuit where Mercedes was humbled last year. This time the tables are turned . . . Mercedes runs on Goodyear tyres, the Joest Porsches on Michelins so we’ll look forward to the race with particular interest.

If the weather is fine the Eiffel region can also be attractive in August, though the Nürburg race has a nasty habit of alternating between fine and foul conditions. Last year’s race was fine! This has become a Mercedes success circuit, but the Silk Cut Jaguar team will be particularly keen to Spring a surprise.

Donington was much liked last year, although drivers hated the critical need to save fuel. There’s lots of braking and acceleration, and poor fuel economy is the inevitable by-product. This year the East Midlands race will, again, be agony for thottle merchants (unless they’re driving a 3.5-litre car free of restriction) but in 1991 it will become a flat-out contest. This could be the race Spice Engineering has been waiting for.

On then to Montreal, the Grand Prix track on the Ile Notre Dame, and the teams will then overfly the United States of America to land in bumpy Mexico City for the high altitude finale to the season on October 7. It seems totally ludicrous to insist that no American circuit has adequate facilities (especially pits) when, (a) many are better than Dijon, and (b) the outline regulations for 1991 detail two urban races, street races for which no proper pits could be utilised.

More to the point, maybe, the FOCA element couldn’t find an American track to put up $600,000 to stage the race, When at least two IMSA rounds could be secured for the money. Mexico is a FOCA track, and would be more acceptable if the promoters of the race would get their cheque books out and get the track into good condition. The surface has been especially bumpy since the earthquake of 1986, but there’s no reason why the drivers and car owners should be expected to put up with the dangerous conditions of this circuit.

Ten championship rounds, plus Le Mans is perhaps more than manufacturers and the private teams had expected for 1990. Sponsorship is, once again, a critical element and there is hardly one private team that has enough. Hugh Chamberlain, in fact, says he “hasn’t a bean” going into March, despite winning the World Championship for C2 teams last year and having champion drivers Fermin Velez and Nick Adams on his books . . . and, former world champion Derek Bell is agreeable to joining the team if the right offer is made. Team owners are fuming that potential, and even actual sponsors have been scared away during the off season by Balestre’s bizarre behaviour.

Changes for the 1990 season are as follows:-
Any number of mechanics may now work on the car during the pit stops, (previously the maximum was four).
The Grand Prix scoring system of 9-6-4-3-2-1 replaces the Can-Am system of 20-15-12 etc. Only six teams and drivers to be awarded instead of ten.
All rounds are compulsory on pain of a US $250,000 fine.
Maximum race duration of 480 km, or 3½ hours.
Cars to be weighed with drivers aboard, as in F1.
Official practice on Friday and Saturday, as in F1.

Mercedes Defending

Rival teams hope that the Mercedes team (no longer Sauber Mercedes) operated by Peter Sauber from Hinwil, Switzerland has shot itself in the left foot by taking on three youngsters to be apprenticed to Jochen Mass. Looking back on the team’s almost perfect record of finishes in 1988 and 1989, however, this seems to be wishful thinking. As a partnership Jean-Louis Schlesser and Mauro Baldi must be the strongest on the entire grid.

The new composite chassis C11 should be superior to the C9, and will also be available to Jochen Mass at Monza and Silverstone. Mercedes’ own five-speed transmission is coupled to the M.119, 5 litre V8 engine, replacing the somewhat marginal Hewland VGC, and this team must stand the best chance of winning the World Championship.

Last year the main rivals self-destructed to a large extent, and cannot be expected to do so again. Even so Mercedes should win at least half the races and retain the title comfortably. The young drivers who will take turns to partner Mass have driven sensibly and quickly so far in the C9, and might justify Jochen Neerpasch’s policy.

The Silk Cut Jaguar team operated by Tom Walkinshaw will surely bounce back with a couple of victories in 1990. The twin turbo 3.5-litre V6 engined XJR-11 has undergone a great deal of development during the winter, and most notably has Bosch’s proven 1.7 management system instead of the Zytek system.

Walkinshaw is absolutely delighted to have the services of Martin Brundle for 1990, the Englishman having not even sat in a Jaguar XJR from the day he won the World Championship at Fuji in 1988, to his race to second place at Daytona early in February. With Jan Lammers, Alain Ferte and Andy Wallace also on the books, and Goodyear tyres under them, the Jaguar team looks strong for the coming season.

Nissan Motorsports Europe (NME) went through a mini-crisis in February as Tetsu Ikuzawa was appointed team manager with overall command, while team director Howard Marsden prepared to concentrate on the Skyline touring car programme.

There were some uncomfortable feelings at the Milton Keynes base as Marsden insisted, for a fortnight, that Julian Bailey and Mark Blundell would be joint number one drivers (with contracts in their pockets), whilst Kenny Acheson was under the impression that Ikuzawa had invited him to be number one. Right now Ikuzawa is looking for new premises for the WS-PC team, perhaps as close as the former Aston Martin Protech base just up the road.

Unless NME runs two cars regularly there could be contractural and personell problems. Nissan has ambitious plans for Le Mans, preparing to run a minimum of four cars from England, Japan and America, and it’s surprising that only one basic entry was applied for in the WS-PC series.

The R90C is an evolution of the promising R89C, and it completed a very successful development programme in Phillip Island just after Christmas. In Japan, meanwhile, Nismo will run a pair of R9OCJ cars all season, these being last year’s cars with IMSA lookalike bodies, and powered by 3.5-litre V8 race-bred engines with twin turbochargers. Not to be confused are the IMSA cars developed by Don Devendorf, with unique chassis designed by Trevor Harris, and V6 twin turbo engines. However the Americans are due to take delivery of an R90C which they will prepare for the regular IMSA drivers to handle at Le Mans, and will leave with Ikuzawa after the race.

Toyota Team Tom’s (TTE) is a happy place after testing at Phillip Island in February. Roberto Ravaglia is . . . “a star” enthused team manager Dave ‘Beaky’ Sims on returning from Australia. “He can jump in a car, do the times straight away and use less fuel than the others. He’s a natural.” Ravaglia’s commitment to BMW Italia will prevent him from competing at Suzuka and Spa, and perhaps Silverstone also, but generally he’ll share number 37 with Johnny Dumfries.

Geoff Lees will run number 36 all season with Hitoshi Ogawa (Suzuka, Le Mans, Jarama, Nürburgring and Mexico) or Ogawa (Silverstone, Dijon and Donington) or Aguri Suzuki (Spa and Le Mans); Suzuki will share Dumfries’ 90C-V at Suzuka. The Japanese championship programme will be handled by Ogawa and Masanori Sekiya.

The Toyota 90C-V is virtually a new car for half a World Championship season, with a much revised chassis, new bodywork and a successful weight-saving diet to get down to 900 kg. At Le Mans the R32V, 3.2-litre V8 engine will be superseded by the R36V, 3.6-litre version with similar power but more torque. Meantime, the 3.2-litre version has a higher compression ratio and improved management to improve economy.

Supplementing TTT there will be another almost identical car entered by Toyota Team Sard (US) and driven by Roland Ratzenberger, Pierre-Henri Raphanel and Naoki Nagasaka. They will do the Japanese championship, plus Suzuka on April 8, plus Le Mans, and might prove some sort of spur to the TTT outfit.

At least 15 cars and perhaps 18, half the grids in other words, will be Porsche 962Cs entered by private teams. Some are more equal than others, and Reinhold Joest has official factory backing for his star-studded team. That means the best engines, new chassis developments and all the technical help Joest could wish for, with Ing. Norbert Singer from Weissach attached to his team.

Hans Stuck leads the Porsche assault partnered with Bob Wollek, but Audi will have a prior claim to his services on four occasions when the German Touring Car Championship clashes. Manuel Reuter will be his replacement, while the second car will be driven all year by Frank Jelinski and Jonathan Palmer.

The third, and occasional fourth Joest Porsches do not get the factory treatment. They will be driven by Stanley Dickens, Henri Pescarolo, John Winter and Jean-Louis Ricci, and all this sounds a monumental undertaking. Another handicap might be the switch to Michelin tyres (Joest felt that Goodyear’s priorities this year would be Jaguar and Mercedes), exactly reversing the situation which helped the Joest team to beat the Mercedes at Dijon last May. The Porsches have had to be adapted to run Michelin sizes manufactured for Mercedes last year, but new compounds will be developed.

The Kremer brothers, Erwin and Manfred, have developed the CK6 version of the 962C with carbon composite, or honeycomb aluminium chassis, but so far as is known have only George Fouche under contract, probably plus Bruno Giacomelli.

Walter Brun’s team, world championship winners in 1986 and still a force to be reckoned with, shares with Kremer the services of Yokohama tyres which improved steadily last season. Brun will run three aluminium honeycomb chassis Porsches, from John Thompson in fact, with Oscar Larrauri and Harold Huysman in the lead car sponsored by the Norwegian based company, Hydro Aluminium. At the beginning of March the name of Bernd Schneider, Germany’s ex Fl driver, was associated with the team.

Something to look forward to late in the season, Brun promises to give his new Neotech V12 powered 3.5-litre car a run. Perhaps this will be in Canada or Mexico where the new V10 powered Peugeot 905 should make its exciting debut.

The Cosworth DFR powered Spice team is expected to pick up a victory somewhere this season, perhaps at Donington. Since crashing his car heavily at Jerez, due to a brake failure, former C2 driver Ray Bellm has decided against continuing his career in the Spice team, and will prefer saloon cars (Sierra, naturally) in 1990. This leaves a nasty hole in the team which currently lists Bernard Jourdain from Mexico, Wayne Taylor and Tim Harvey.

With Spice designed six-speed gearboxes and other technical improvements, the works team looks good for a chance victory this season, most likely on a slow track. Much depends on mechanical reliability and the drivers staying out of trouble.

Backing up the works team are the privateers.

Chamberlain Engineering relies on last year’s cars, one of which ran spectacularly well in Mexico in the C1/3.5 litre class (that is in C2 configuration but without any fuel restriction). The team should do well, but Chamberlain took a flyer with two entries and can secure no sponsorship, even from Velez’s traditional backers Repsol and Gallahers Iberia. Derek Bell joined the team for a day of testing at the Ricard circuit at the end of February, and would be available to the team for most of the season (except for Le Mans where he will drive a Joest Porsche) should a suitable deal be offered.

Dave Prewitt of GP Motorsport has a new car for Philippe de Henning and David Hobbs, backed again by the Dianetics operation. Also in the list are the ALD Cosworth (curiously with technical support from Renault Sport!) and the Subaru/ Motori Moderni V12 powered Alba for Gianfranco Brancatelli and youngster Marco Brand.

Despite lacking Aston Martin and Mazda, and various C2 teams, prospects for the 1990 season look very exciting indeed. MLC