Lancia belter

With better luck, the Lancia LC2 could have beaten the Porsche 956. Giancarlo Reggiani remembers it as Bruno Giacomelli takes one to Monza for a final blast

Nearly two decades ago, the world of sportscar racing was turned on its head. In a bid to revive seriously flagging crowds and grids, racing’s rulemakers at FISA threw out the increasingly jumbled categories that allowed cars to be entered in one of six increasingly confusing groups, opting instead to allow manufacturers just four classes in which to race. At the top of this list lay Group C an unfettered formula in which the only real restrictions on race car designers came in the form of fuel consumption. You could choose any engine you wanted and mount it in almost any chassis that took your fancy all that mattered was that it did not drink its fuel too fast or too soon.

In Italy, as the old Group 6 racers enjoyed their last hurrah, all eyes turned to Lancia. In the first season of Group C, the marque had taken up Fl SA’s offer of running an interim Group 6 racer, the 1.4-litre, turbocharged LC1, thereby allowing it an extra 12 months to prepare its all-new contender. But with typical Italian efficiency, Lancia’s board took until the summer of 1982 to rubberstamp its racing plans for the coming year, giving designer Gianpaolo Dallara six months to produce a car capable of taking the fight to the seemingly indomitable Porsche 956. Some task.

Lancia’s engineers went to work on a purpose-built engine but it was soon clear that a unit offering both Group C power and economy would take rather more than six months to develop. So Dallara’s partner on the project, Gianni Tonti, approached Maranello, which obliged with a 2.6-litre twin-turbo V8, derived from the unit in the road-going Ferrari 308. It was a move steeped in racing history. Twenty-five years after the Prancing Horse had accepted Lancia’s offer of its Grand Prix D50s, the favour was being called in.

Unveiled in February 1983, the LC2 made its debut two months later at the Monza 1000km, the opening round of the World Endurance Championship. Up against a pack of Porsche 956s, the LC2 immediately showed its potential Piercarlo Ghinzani lapping the autodromo in excess of 135mph and snatching pole from Stuttgart’s works cars in the process.

But the observant spectator would have noticed that a string of tyre failures had afflicted Ghinzani and teammate Riccardo Patrese. From pole position, the first LC2 sailed into the lead and held it comfortably until, just eight laps in, a Pirelli slick exploded on the start-finish straight. Ghinzani’s race was effectively over and with it went the dream of a home win for the LC2’s debut.

While tyres remained a worry, reliability soon became the biggest headache for team and drivers alike. Promising runs at Silverstone, the Nürburgring and Le Mans all ended with cars stranded in the pits or by the side of the track. The cars fared no better in a sprint race at the Norisring. Again all the pure speed was there the Lancia running third but so too were the gremlins. An enforced lay-off before the next event at Spa allowed team manager Cesare Fiorio to work long and hard in testing and by the time the cars turned out in Belgium they were destined, at least, to last the length of the race. The problem was, their rivals had been testing too and while the LC2s were at last reliable, they were no longer able to match the blistering pace set by the 956s.

It wasn’t until the middle of October that Dallara’s creation finally secured its first victory. Teo Fabi and Hans Heyer at last came good on home ground at Imola and in doing so secured the marque the runner-up spot in the world championship, albeit with less than a third of the points boasted by Porsche.

Though the team headed into 1984 looking to build on the modest successes of the debut season, it was not to be. Technical problems were slowly weeded out, but vagaries in tyre production and sheer had luck meant that the highpoints such as victory at Kyalami were all too often outweighed by the lows.

To say that 1985 was make-or-break for the LC2 is considerable understatement. The successes of Lancia’s rallying wing served only to increase the pressure on the beleaguered sportscar and its designers. Engineer Claudio Lombardi was called in to oversee revisions to the LC2-85 and, at first, things seemed to have improved. At Mugello, Patrese and Nannini seemed guaranteed victory when the engine failed. With hindsight Lancia perhaps should have stopped there and then, for the story soon progressed from drama to farce. A fortnight later the drivers lay in a promising third at Monza when a freak gust of wind blew a tree across the track and the race was abandoned. A possible first place at Silverstone was stymied by mechanical failures, and at Le Mans the cars once more lacked straightline speed.

Two races later the LC2 finally secured its greatest win but the history books only recall one sad fact about Spa ’85 the death of Stefan Bellof in an accident which also wiped out the works Porsche of Jacky Ickx.

The factory cars did return for 1986, but it wasn’t long before Fiat cried enough. The works cars were retired and although private entries continued to run until as late as1991, the few morsels of comfort for the ill-fated project had already been and gone.

The last LC2 chassis built by Dallara never saw the race track and was completed by its owner, Silvano Toni, the former Maranello engineer, over the course of a year. Built to sprint specifications, chassis number 10 houses its powerful Ferrari V8 under the same beautiful, sinuous carbon body that graced the original racers. Even the Martini livery was completed by the same artist who painted the first of the LC2s.

The Ferrari cylinder heads hardened to withstand racing temperatures are the same as those from the 288 GTO, while the twin KKK turbos, when running at 3 bar boost, begin to pull at 3000rpm and don’t stop until the 9000rpm rev limit is reached. But it is the Lancia’s formidable powerband that really puts things into perspective. At just 4800rpm, the LC2 develops over 8001b ft of torque. Weighing in at just 850kg and putting out a shade under 840bhp, the car would hit 60mph in less than three seconds even with the Le Mans gearing that drove to 230mph on the Mulsanne straight.

Starting this monstrous engine requires considerable computing skills, for like so many sportscars of the 1980s, only the appropriate tap-top and software can talk the Lancia’s complicated Magneti MareIli/Weber engine management into firing the eight cylinders into life.

For all its inner sophistication, this motor is also an aesthetic masterpiece, with its shining intake manifolds, purposeful fuel and oil lines and exhaust manifolds crafted from Inconal, the same alloy used in afterburners on Tornado jets. Yet amongst all this space-age technology, you’ll find a typically Italian touch the brake lights on the LC2 are borrowed from a Fiat 238 van.

The enormous 14-inch ventilated discs are clasped by four-piston calipers and all around there a further glimpses of carbon and titanium that bind and strengthen the car. The chassis is made from aluminium alloy Joined to titanium mounts, and not a centimetre is spared or wasted in the cockpit. There is room enough to operate the pedals, gearshift and steering wheel but nothing else. With your backside resting precariously just three inches from the asphalt and the dashboard in front of you hosting a plethora of switchgear, the over-riding feeling is of stepping into a modern jet fighter. In reality the performance is little short of it too.

Just how close is clear if you climb on board with Bruno Giacomelli for a lap of Monza. Then, and only then, are the bald figures fleshed out and the true capabilities of this Group C racer becomes apparent.

After a gentle installation lap to warm the brakes and check the pressures, Giacomelli starts out in earnest. Running down the long pit straight in fifth gear, the LC2 crosses the timing beam at 222mph, before he dives hard, very hard, onto the brake pedal just 200 metres before the first chicane.

Dropping three gears, the Lancia begins to understeer as the locked rear cliff pushes it straight on. To counter this Bruno rides up onto the concrete rumble strip, unsettling the LC2’s balance, turning unhelpful ‘push’ into useful oversteer. It’s a neat trick in cars that adopt this driving pattern and one that our driver refers to rather modestly as “child’s play”.

With the engine revving at about 6500rpm, he snatches third on the short straight before the speed builds inexorably for the wide Serraglio curve, taken in fifth gear and a gently oversteering attitude at a mind-numbing 160mph. Just to add to the fun, Bruno runs the rear left wheel out onto the grass as we slingshot out towards the Roggia chicane, tackled under neck-snapping braking in second gear. Next it’s the two Lesmo corners, a sequence of right-handers that puts so much strain on the car and body that the thought of doing this for 1000km is unimaginable.

Barrelling through Lesmo 1 at around 120mph, Bruno snatches fifth gear for Lesmo 2 and the Lancia begins to understeer towards the edge of the track at 150mph, with at least 2g trying to force the car off the track at a tangent. Before you can blink, the Lesmos are past and so is the Ascari chicane, taken in second with a flick left and then along, glorious power exit in third gear using every inch of the road to ensure the maximum speed clown the straight to the technical and exhaustingly long Parabolica corner.

Interestingly Giacomelli stays to the right on approach to the turn in point — the asphalt on that side, he reveals, is better suited to high speed braking — before hauling the Lancia quickly left and immediately right at the turn in point. The Parabolica begins at about 110mph and finishes at 150mph and seems to take forever to get between the two. Exiting in fifth gear with your body jammed hard up against the left side of your seat you fly out into the wide expanses of the Monza pit straight to start another lap.

We’ve have just covered 3.6 miles of the most famous race track in Italy at an average of over 130mph. For Bruno it was all just another day’s work in this most sophisticated of offices, for us it provided fitting prod of the sadly rarely realised potential of one of Lancia’s most beautiful sportscar. The LC2 may never have been a huge success on the racetrack, but over one lap it is a piece of pure Italian magic.