Early in June the Czechs were the hosts for the fifth round of this year’s European Touring Car Championship. Since the Jaguars were re-emerging from their two race absence in the series — occasioned by the need to re-engineer the already racing specification outer halfshaft flanges — and there was the prospect of seeing a really daunting closed public road track, I decided to try to report the event. I say try because I knew that attempting to secure a visa for a journalist might not be a straightforward operation in the case of Czechoslovakia, a colleague being turned away from the border when trying to cover the motorcycle GP last year!
Although I did actually have to make a lot of visits to the London Embassy before I secured a visa, the task was time-consuming rather than difficult: one section of the form has to have the identical information repeated four times! Further obstacles in my way proved illusory, rather than factual, as much of the talk surrounding the potential Iron Curtain traveller proved to be hot air rather than actual, especially in the matter of hiring cars.
In fact we flew to Vienna, took a very nice little Opel Kadett (in spotless condition with a good Blaupunkt radio, despite the fact our travel agent hadn’t booked any car with Avis) and were at the border about an hour later. The authorities having ensured maximum delays by stamping my profession on the passport visa, the simple process of clearing the border took much longer than it took the soon to be all-too familiar military to search the car. Incidentally Standard House magazines seem acceptable to the authorities while the chap in an Escort in front of us lost all his publications, from normal daily newspapers to the obviously fraught girly titles he also had on board!
Although we had taken the longer route from Brno, via Bratislava, we were still able to comfortably book into our hotel and go out for a look at the circuit by early evening. I say we, because I had been fortunate in travelling out with Tom Walkinshaw, who is now concentrating his energies on BMWs. Tom was there to co-drive Alpina’s startling shiny green BMW CSL with Austria’s Dieter Quester, the pairing expected provide the main opposition to the Jaguar XJ5.3Cs. The Jaguars already sat in the paddock for Derek Bell/Andy Rouse and Tim Schenken/John Fitzpatrick. Also expected show well in the final results were two official Luigi CSLs (Jean XhencevaVPierre Dieudonne) and Claude de Wael/Eddy Joosen/Umberto Grano). Also in the reckoning were the easy leaders of this year’s Championship, the Autodelta Alfa driver Carlo Facetti and wealthy Italian Chemical Industrialist Martino Finotto, Facetti appearing in the latter’s ex-Luigi CSL also decked out in UFO Colours.
The Brno circuit is based entirely on closed public roads, measuring 6.8 miles per lap. Until 1950 it was actually used for Grand Prix cars. The present touring car event, for machines modified to Group 2 of the FIA regulations, retains the title Grand Prix CSSR.
Of the contestants assembled for the race I watched, expatriate Swede Freddy Kottulinsky had the keenest of memories. The tough little driver, who was sharing the works supported Audi 80 GT on this occasion, and driving with a broken bone in his hand, related vividly how the track was just ten years ago. “Then there was no Armco, all of us came here in 1 litre Formula Three cars and slipstreamed each other like hell… Through the houses, through the trees, oh there was nothing but trees or walls if you went off? And you know, this Formula was very, very competitive and this track was three or four kilometres longer, going much closer into town,” he concluded with a twinkle in his eye and a broad grin across his face.
Kottulinsky had indicated the drab sprawling suburbs of Brno as evidence of where the extra length in the old circuit had been, but what is Ieft proved well worth the trip itself, especially when combined with a race of unexpected excitements. As Walkinshaw drove me round, the track came to life as a fine combination of corners and gradients. It is inevitably compared to Spa-Francorchamps, but it has a twistier nature, and emphasis on uphill straights that really gave the Jaguars a chance to stretch their legs. In practice the Jaguars had just about covered 170 m.p.h. but by the end of a hectic race Fitzpatrick had seen a full blooded 7600 r.p.m. in top, equivalent to marginally over 175 m.p.h. The imagination is almost overloaded by the thought of how such speed in the big, 27 cwt, Coupes must feel, flying the fearsomely noisy twelve cylinder cars through village streets and the wide open sections.
I hope the reproduction of our circuit map is sufficiently good for a general outline of the the circuit to be gained. From the start, which is like that of any other modern circuit like Jarama, the cars travel for the best part of a kilometre on a flat out straight, which slopes into the village of Bosonohy. Here the bumps and third gear corners produce a real spectacle, the Jaguars exiting the village with some 140 m.p.h. reached before the change into top for the uphill straight. As this slopes into the second village (Veselka), drivers are confronted with really tight, bottom gear right with a dip in the middle. To see the big BMWs come flying into this – or occasionally shooting up the escape road! – was one highlight of practice. Spoilers grounding, wheels airborne, and a lot of opposite lock on the way out, a real cowboy show, with the cars substituting for Bucking Broncos.
From that village, the cars climb uphill for a kilometre or so, then start swinging through some really quick Spa-style swerves, but up and down. Next on the menu is a gradually tightening sequence through the woods, culminating in some first and second gear work uphill, over bumps and sharp corners: all the competitive entries suffered some sort of gearbox maladies, and it was this section that contributed much of these transmission afflictions. As they emerge past the 9 km. marker, leaving Kohoutovice on the left and the woods behind, they streak into a downhill right in front of a grandstand that can hold 30,000 spectators. Total attendance was comparatively low this year, something over 100,000 under mainly dry, but cloudy skies, compared with the frequently quoted quarter-million for a fine day!
Thence into a long downhill straight, before another Jarama style wiggle-woggle delivers the cars onto that start and finish area. Phew! Lap that little lot in the 3 min. 31 sec. bracket, as Dieter Quester had in a previous and more sophisticated BMW CSL than is permitted under today’s regulations, and you average over 116 m.p.h. In the race the Jaguars proved capable of these speeds as well.
The 3 1/2-hour race was a prime example of the race reporter’s favourite cliche, “action-packed”. Unfortunately the action, or lack of it in mechanical terms, brought Bell’s leading Jaguar into the pits on the second lap and the sister car, driven by Fitzpatrick, was in by the seventh tour! The Bell Jaguar had a broken capillary oil-feed to one overhead camshaft and this new occurrence baffled the team for some time, deluding them into trying to rectify a gearbox oil seepage that was actually from the top of the engine. The other car had far more drama and ill luck though. Fitzpatrick said, “I was just topping one of those flat-out crests, must have been doing nearly 170, when the rear tyre exploded: I think we must have touched some debris from an earlier shunt.” How did he hang onto the deflated Jaguar? “Oh, I just hung on … and on … and it really wasn’t too bad, though you can see what a mess it’s made of the car.”
While the Bell Jaguar rejoined a race now comfortably led by Quester from Facetti and Dieudonne in BMWs, that Jaguar was destined to retire shortly afterward with first gear stripped in a now seizing gearbox. However all wasn’t totally lost and both Schenken and Fitzpatrick put in some fine laps.
While Facetti and Finotto took their third win from five ETC rounds, the second placed Luigi CSL for Xhenceval and Dieudonne was lucky to hang onto second. A rear suspension link fractured, leaving them 2 min. 5.12 sec. in front of the fast closing and still crisp VW Scirocco of Anton Stocker/Jorg Siergrist.
In the closing laps the surviving Jaguar began to billow out dense clouds of smoke, the visible result of rear engine oil seal rupturing and allowing considerable clutch slip. But Leyland were not be denied their first finish, a blast of fire extinguishant powder providing just enough friction to get the car home. – J.W.