Fresh from success at Le Mans, the Sauber Mercedes team went to the Jarama track outside Madrid with another winning performance on June 25.
Jochen Mass, the German who surprised himself the most by winning the 24-Hour race after many years of trying, was again the team’s “anchor man” in Spain, driving the winning C9/89 in the first and last shifts, leaving Jean-Louis Schlesser to drive 70 minutes in the middle. Heat was every driver’s enemy and Mass, at 43 the oldest member of the Mercedes team by some years, was declared the fittest of all.
It is fair to say that the Swiss-German team dominated this 480km race — only the third round of the 1989 World Sports-Prototype Championship, halfway through the calendar year — as Mauro Baldi’s C9/89 also led the first fifty minutes before being delayed by a brake hydraulic leak. But the Silk Cut Jaguar team showed a revival with the V12-powered XJR-9 and earned second place, a lap down, with the car driven by Jan Lammers and Patrick Tambay.
A Brun Porsche was third (Oscar Larrauri and Jesus Pareja) and a 31/2-litre Spice- Cosworth fourth (Thorkild Thyrring and Wayne Taylor), so there was quite a variety in the order. So twisty and slow is the Madrid circuit, in fact, that the Spice team rather fancied its chances for a surprise victory, but found that fast practice times are one thing, a fast race another: the 7-litre Jaguars and turbocharged Mercedes and Porsches can out-accelerate anything between the corners, overtaking in situations where the Spice drivers find themselves short of “go” and become baulked.
Johnny Dumfries put in a remarkable performance as he finished tenth in the Tom’s Toyota after a solo drive lasting 3 hours 27 minutes, something most people thought was impossible. The ambient temperature was 37°C on race day, and cockpit temperatures around 50°, so no-one envied the Scottish earl when co-driver Geoff Lees reported to the track on Sunday morning with his neck in a brace, totally handicapped by a pinched nerve.
Baldi earned his first pole position of the year at 1 min 15.58 sec (98.026 mph), helped by a completely clear lap, with slight hold-up. The Frenchman, though, complained that after a couple of laps of fast running he was literally gasping for air, and the Mercedes team came up with two solutions.
Mass would start and finish in Schlesser’s car, since he wasn’t so badly troubled, and each stint would last for about an hour and ten minutes. Baldi and Kenny Acheson, through, predicted that the race would last for 200 minutes and split it into four sectors of 50 minutes, therefore stopping three times instead of twice. This, they considered, would also give them the advantage of three new sets of tyres as the race progressed, and that seemed very sensible as the Michelins had not given very good grip at Dijon.
The French tyre technicians, though, had come up with a new compound which seemed to be working well, and on Saturday afternoon Acheson set his best time on his lap, while checking consumption. Would all the pundits be wrong again?
There was a nice symmetry about the grid. The two mauve-and-white Jaguars claimed their positions on the second row, Lammers at 1 min 16.601 sec, and John Nielsen at 1 min 16.717 sec on the latest Dunlop Denloc radials being readied for the XJR-11. All the leading times were about a second slower than last year’s due to the intense heat. Two Japanese cars were on the third row, Dumfries in the Toyota 89C-V (1 min 17.504 sec) and Julian Bailey with Mark Blundell in the Nissan R89C (1 min 17.730 sec). Behind them were the two yellow Spice 3 ½-litre models of Ray Bellm/Eliseo Salazar and Thyrring/Taylor.
Hot on their tail was Fermin Velez, the Spaniard who is so small that he even looks up to Jan Lammers. Velez was driving the Chamberlain Engineering Spice-Cosworth C2 car faster than anyone thought possible, and the three Silverstone built cars were in the 1 min 19 sec bracket despite the non-availability of qualifying tyres from Goodyear. Fermin, World C2 Champion with Gordon Spice in 1987 but returning to sports-car racing after a disappointing year in International Formula 3000, was threatened with a new form of Spanish Inquisition if he didn’t slow down, since Hugh Chamberlain was only interested in winning the class.
The fastest Porsche-powered car was the Le Mans built Cougar a 1 min 19.632 sec (Pascal Fabre/Bernard de Dryver), surprisingly since Yves Courage had the C22 designed as a low-drag, high-speed model which would excel on the Mulsanne Straight. Starting from the sixth row of the grid, Oscar Larrauri seemed to be struggling with the Brun Motorsport Repsol-sponsored Porsche, but his race performance was to be quite superior.
So soon after Le Mans, and running on the same day as the Norisring 200 Meilen, Jarama had inevitably attracted a small entry as Joest, Dauer, Aston Martin and Mazdaspeed exercised their option to miss one European race. The organisers didn’t mind, however, because there are only 24 pits at the ageing circuit . . .
The two Sauber Mercedes powered down the straight together from the rolling start, Mass tucking in behind Baldi as they soon made their intentions clear to Lammers and Nielsen. The two Jaguars drifted away at a second per lap, so that after ten laps they were entering the downhill chute as the silver cars were leaving it.
The Saubers’ Michelins did not lose grip to any appreciable extent, but the Jaguars’ Dunlops did. Oscar Larrauri, his Porsche on Yokohama radials, crept up on the XJR-9s and over took them . . . then Thyrring had his dreams come true as he harried, then passed, his fellow Dane Nielsen.
To justify his extra stop, Baldi should have pulled out a useful margin on Mass in the first 50 minutes, but the Saubers were absolutely together at the point, 36 seconds ahead of Larrauri. Mass was, already, looking a likely winner, especially to FISA’s Group C scrutineer Charlie Whiting who noticed hydraulic fluid leaking from Baldi’s car as the wheels were changed. Braking (on carbon discs) ws not a problem then, but it cost the team dear at two-thirds distance.
Andy Wallace lost valuable time in the second hour as he made two quick stops to have his seat-belts fastened properly; oddly Price Cobb had the same problem at Le Mans in the same Jaguar, when it was thought that he was knocking the buckle with his elbow. Wallace couldn’t find much grip from his tyres and drove a disappointing stint, with no second chance.
For Mercedes, Acheson had a disappointing first stint as well, including a spin, and was far from pleased with his own performance. At least he had a second later, as he drove the last 50 minutes and made up some lost time after Baldi’s stop for brake fluid, passing Nielsen for fifth place six laps from the flag.
Lammers and Tambay had no problems at all with their Jaguar, apart from failing to match the pace of the winning car, and they snapped up second place when Baldi lost is brakes.
For a while it seemed that the Thyrring/Taylor Spice might finish third, but with no restriction on fuel for the 3 ½-litre class they actually used about 275 litres (compares with 245 litres for the pukka C1 cars) and that means an extra 30 seconds in refuelling. Larrauri beat them by 41 seconds, having allowed the less speedy Jesus Pareja a 50-minute stint in the middle.
The Kremer team’s composite materials Porsche 962C CK6 has yet to show any great pace, and finished seventh in the hands of George Fouché, widely acknowledge as a fast driver, and Giovanni Lavaggi. The Kremers would much sooner finish four laps behind after dealing with a problem that without one, because finding more speed is often harder than improving reliability.
They did beat the Nissan R89C, another brand-new chassis which had to be trained for the job in hand but which lost tyre grip and fourth gear as the race went along. The next stage in development will include carbon brakes and radial-ply tyres from Dunlop, similar to those which will be supplied to Jaguar for the XJR-11.
Johnny Dumfries did a hero’s job by taking the Toyota all the way to a finish in exhausting conditions, keeping up a full race speed for three hours but wilting halfway through the last shift, when he was passed by the Cougar-Porsche. Dumfries’ legs ached, his bum ached, his neck ached and his feet hurt terribly, but he refused to call it a day even when team director Glen Waters advised him to.
C2 was won for the third time by Chamberlain Engineering’s partnership of Velez and Adams, who are now well on course to succeed the Spice works team as champions MLC