Works Porsche on form
One of the features of this year’s World Endurance Championship has been the closing-up of performances due to the lower fuel allocation, 510 litres for 1,000 kilometres, and the apparent loss of form by the factory’s Rothmans-Porsche team. Peter Falk’s 962Cs were eclipsed at Le Mans and the Hockenheim race was one to look forwrd to for a number of reasons: it was the first time an endurance race had been held at the circuit, and Tom Walkinshaw had promised a confrontation between his new XJR-6 machines and the cram of the German and Italian car industries, namely the Porsches and the Lancias.
The failure of the TWR Jaguars to show up at Hockenheim was a huge disappointment. Testing the previous Monday had apparently shown up an understeering problem, a driveshaft had snapped, and a lack of spare parts was also mentioned. However the second XJR-6 was virtually finished so the latter problem was not a major one, and the ADAC organisers – not to mention the German importers and their 400 trade guests – felt that at the very least the XJR-6 should have been given a public showing.
If the race could not be held on the historic Nurburging long circuit, Hockenheim was certainly next best, and preferable to the antiseptic new track which will be visited in alternate years. It’s not as fast as Silverstone or Le Mans, but the straights are long enough to let the Group C cars stretch their legs, the Ostkurve remains a great challenge, and the “stadium section” provides plenty of viewing for the spectators, numbered at 26,000 on race day.
Competitors were allowed to test on Thursday and Friday, but the works Porsches had been there a fortnight before so they had all the data they needed to run comfortably at below two minutes on the 6. 79-kilometre track. They can never afford to discount Lancia, though, and at the end of the untimed session on Friday Riccardo Patrese took the LC2/85 round in 1 min 55.33 sec, some ten seconds faster than Klaus Ludwig’s Group C record and only two seconds slower than Alain Prost’s outright track record. Patrese’s time was set with a 3-litre race engine on high boost, not the special 800 bhp “qualifying” engines the Italians take to most races.
Time is running out for the Lancia team in Group C, for unless it wins a remaining European race (Spa and Brands Hatch are all that remain) the prQgramme will come to an end, and Jaguar will be Porsche’s only serious rival. Now, a quesqon mark hangs over the Brnds Hatch race scheduled for September 15th, the new ·date for the Belgian Grand Prix. Seven or eight Formula 1 drivers are involved in long-distance racing regularly and their teams rely on them for pace, for sponsorship, and for crowd appeal. After Saturday’s practice at Hockenheim every team in the race signed an open letter to FISA threatening to withdraw from Brands Hatch (a Drivers’ Championship round) and the Fuji 1,000 Kms on October 6th, the new date allocated to John Webb for the European Grand Prix.
With the names of Peter Falk and Cesare Fiorio at the top of the petition, FISA will have to consider the document carefully and, if reason prevails, will postpone both events by a week. The Spa track debacle early in June has had far reaching consequences, and the welfare of the Group C World Championship has never been considered for a moment.
Lancia had a relatively quiet Jay on Saturday, concentrating hard on getting the cars in peak condition for the race, and we saw a clutch of Porsches in the 1 min 55 sec bracket, Mass fractions ahead of Stuck, Bellof, Ludwig and Winkelhock. Five German drivers commanded the grid, while in the C2 class Gordon Spice was quickest from Frank Jelinski’s Gebhardt, Giangrossi’s Alba, the Ecosse driven by Ray Mallock, David Leslie and Mike Wilds, and Finono’s Carma Alba.
The temperature soared above 30 degrees C on Sunday as Bellof took command of the race, from Stuck and Mass, the RothmansPorsches now finding something like the form of previous years. Patrese and Nannini were in there too with the Lancia, but Le Mans winner Klaus Ludwig was dropping away with low boost pressure, as was Jonathan Palmer in the Richard Lloyd I Canon Porsche, oversteering badly in the first hour, then slower on the straights when the rear wing was cranked up.
The heat was much to blame for a disaster in the Rothmans-Porsche pit when Mass came into refuel. Such was the pressure inside the car’s tank that it blew back to the 250-litre reservoir inside the garage. Instantly a huge ball of fire erupted from the doorway, engulfing team manager Norbert Singer and five mechanics around the car. The fire was put out within seconds and the whole team reacted in exemplary fashion – those working in the Stuck I Bell Porsche ten feet away hardly flinched, and Bell rejoined the race still in second place, behind Bellof. Singer and a mechanic were taken to Ludwigshaven hospital, and four more were treated by the team’s doctor. It’s expected that the mechanic would be in hospital for a week, Herr Singer up to a month.
Bellof and Boutsen controlled the race until lap 99, of 147, under pressure from Bell / Stuck, Patrese IN annini, and Larrauri I Sigala in the Brun Porsche 956, about to finish for the first time this year. In this race, at least, the leaders were actually racing, not touring around to conserve fuel, Bell and Stuck for instance being able to drive pretty hard on 1.1 bar boost pressure, within their fuel limit. The.cars were like ovens, though, and the drivers completely exhausted after an hour at the wheel.
Complete electrical failure took Bellof out of the race at two-thirds distance, leaving a three-way battle for the lead. Winkelhock and Surer, in the Kremer 956, retired after the second fire of the afternoon, this time caused by a ruptured fuel cell leaking into the cockpit. At the pits Winkelhock was followed out of the cockpit by a ball of flame which was extinguished, then broke out twice more. No sooner had that emergency been dealt with than Costas Los’ MarchPorsche 84G caught fire during refuelling, though this time it was only paint that got damaged. Never has a pits lane been so empty of hangers-on than after these alarms.
Just 43 sec separated Bell, Nannini and Sigala a dozen laps from the end, the Lancia and the Brun Porsche having a fine duel which ended when the Lancia ran out of fuel four laps from the chequered flag. The relationship between power, speed and fuel consumption is clearly defined, and the Lancia’s speed was at the expense of the needed economy, unfortunately. “If we had a dozen Lancias against a dozen Porsches it would be a different story” said team engineering Claudio Lombardi afterwards, though even that statement is open to some doubt. Porsche have shelved their full 3-litre engine project for the time being on the advice of their computer, but time is running out for the Turin team.
For a change the Ecosse team won the C2 class, an almost perfect run bringing the Bovis sponsored car eighth place overall, two laps ahead of Gordon Spice’s Spice-Tiga which was hampered for half the race by the engine cutting out through the corners. Finono’s Alba was slowed by brake problems, to finish third in class, and now seems unlikely to retain the C2 Championship. – M.L.