Cotton on....

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Goodbye to the Old Order?

FISA president Jean-Marie Balestre hinted strongly at Le Mans in June that future Group C regulations would favour 3.5-litre racing engines, and so it proved when the full executive endorsed his blueprint on June 27-28.

“There were three proposals on the table,” complained one manufacturer’s representative at Brno. “The proposal agreed unanimously by all the leading manufacturers, the Technical Commission’s, which were not quite the same, and FISA’s. As we feared, FISA’s were adopted.”

In 1989 the fuel consumption formula will be scrapped. That pleases the drivers enormously, and should please spectators too, but is rather less welcomed by the manufacturers. From January 1989 the World Sports-Prototype Championship will admit current Group C-type cars with 3.5-litre racing engines or with 6.0-litre “stock-blocks” such as Jaguar’s V12 and Aston Martin’s V8, and other types of engine with 55mm inlet restrictors, including Porsche’s flat-six turbo, Mercedes’ V8 turbo, and Mazda’s rotary engines.

In 1990 all engines except the 3.5-litre examples will run with 55mm inlet restrictors – including the Jaguar and Aston Martin – while the turbo/supercharged engines will, additionally, have to be equipped with pop-off valves further to restrict their power.

Finally, in 1991 and beyond, the Group C category will cater exclusively for 3.5-litre racing engines and other types with 55mm restrictors, but excluding turbo/super-charged and rotary engines altogether.

What the manufacturers proposed is irrelevant now, but unanimity was reached by Jaguar, Mercedes, Porsche, Toyota, Mazda, Nissan and Aston Martin in setting out an equivalency formula for 3.5-litre racing engines in cars weighing 850kg – giving them a very sporting chance, as Balestre would wish – “stock blocks” with two valves at 6.0 litres or with four valves at 5.7 litres, turbos with restrictors, rotary engines, the lot, at 900kg. It was a proposal each of the seven could have lived with, if not prospered from, and would have supported.

It is too early, yet, to know whether Jaguar and Aston Martin can field competitive cars under the new regulations; they’ll want to study the wording and, particularly, establish power outputs with the inlet restrictors in place. At first sight, though, Jaguar and Aston Martin could be competitive in 1989 without restrictors (Jaguar’s 6-litre IMSA engine develops a stated 620 bhp, and probably more).

For their part, Mercedes and Porsche will want to find out if their nominal 5-litre production engines will stretch to 6-litre reliably, and if they’ll develop the 600 bhp which will be required with 55mm restrictors in place.

As mentioned in this column last month, however, Mazda’s Mr Ohashi was quite shaken to learn that the rotaries would be banned, and none of the Japanese manufacturers have large-capacity production engines. They’ll have to build 3.5-litre racing engines if they want to remain in sportscar racing at all, and without substantial development (and “de-tuning” from Formula 1 specification) the 3.5 litres will not be suitable for 1000km races, still less for Le Mans.

Monsieur Balestre’s grandiose plan to have three regional championships – IMSA, European and Asian Pacific – run to the same regulations, and with the best events counting towards a World Championship, seems likely to founder: the Americans definitely have no means or plan to promote 3.5-litre racing engines. They are, rather, moving fast to the promotion of domestic stock-block engines of four-to-six litre capacity, with sliding weight-scales to equalise their performances. They’ll get rid of turbos too, like FISA, but that’s about all they’re likely to agree upon.

Sooner or later, specialist manufacturers such as Spice Engineering, March and Lola perhaps, will produce chassis to accept reliable versions of the new breed of Formula One engine including the Renault, Honda and Alfa Romeo V10s and the Lamborghini-Chrysler V12; as soon as they can run for five house while producing 600 horsepower we can probably say goodbye to today’s favourites Jaguar, Porsche and Mercedes.

The old order is already changing, for the recent Le Mans may have been Porsche AG’s final appearance in World Championship racing for some years. The Weissach team is busy concentrating on getting its CART Indycar V8 up to a competitive pace and has no budget, nor incentive any more, to design a brand-new Group C/IMSA sports-car.

The Rothmans-sponsored works Porsche team, and its customers, might have treated us to some very predictable racing between 1982 and 1986 but they did maintain the tradition of endurance racing, helped by Lancia and latterly, Jaguar and Mercedes. Now the factory team has gone and customers Reinhold Joest, Walter Brun, Richard Lloyd and Erwin and Manfred Kremer will find themselves in an increasingly parlous state. I suspect that by this time next year endurance racing will have lost its backbone.

In 1983 we were impressed to see that Porsche 956s occupied nine of the top ten places at Le Mans, though it didn’t advertise good inter-marque racing. This year only eight of the top ten places were filled by Porsche 962s, but because Jaguars were first and fourth we were extremely satisfied with the contest.

Take all those Porsches away, and I wonder what we’re left with? With one mighty bound, we turn the clock back to the doldrums of 1972! MLC