First or second class championship?

FISA’s World Motorsports Council decided, at the end of June, to kick the current ‘unlimited’ Group C cars into an early grave. Next year the World Sportscar Championship will be dominated by normally aspirated 3 1/2-litre cars with a 200kg weight advantage and, with ‘free’ refuelling, the opportunity to make up a minute at each pit stop.

The ‘turbo-teams’ — and they are narrowing down to Nissan, and those Porsche customers who stay aboard the sinking ship — will start the four-hour races behind the new generation of noisy 3 1/2-litres, and can only expect to pick up a lucky fifth or sixth place in the results. FISA will return to CanAm scoring though (whose idea can it have been to adopt Formula 1‘s 9-6-4-3-2-1 for a single season?) enabling ten teams to claim World Championship points, but they will be available only to members of the Manufacturer’s Commission. Nissan will accumulate points through the season but Richard Lloyd, Reinhold Joest and the Kremer brothers will not!

As a consolation prize the non-works teams, for want of a better description, will compete for the FIA Cup. If that is as well regarded by the FIA as the old Group C2 championship was, the winner won’t even be invited to Paris for the annual prizegiving in December.

It’s easy to predict that sports car racing will consist of first and second classes, unless FISA takes the trouble to make all the teams feel welcome, on past form they won’t, but there was plenty of hard talking at the Manufacturers Commission meeting prior to the WMSC convention, and Bernie Ecclestone was given some truths in clear terms.

Top of the list was the total lack of FISA promotion for the World Championship, as a result of which paltry crowds attended the races at Monza and Spa; attendance at Silverstone was about half what it should have been, highlighting a further problem that non-committed people won’t pay Formula 1 ticket prices for sports car events. The cancellation of the Jarama race, at a week’s notice, was another very sore subject — can anyone imagine cancelling a Grand Prix at such short notice? The teams, and fans, would storm the Place de la Concorde! — and the general mood was that someone ought to pay.

FISA, predictably shifted full responsibility onto the Royal Automobile Club Espana, and the Jarama circuit owners, and went so far as to deprive Jarama of a World Championship status race next year as some sort of punishment. Everyone knew, though, that the Brun team had made a Porsche available to Jesus Pareja for testing on May 24-25 and that the circuit was quite ready, apart from some kerbstones. The pits were ready too, said Pareja, ‘but not upstairs, like Monza’.

It was clear that the race had been dragged into a political wrangle between FISA and Le Mans, and that it suited FISA to cancel the Spanish race once all the teams had completed their preparation for Jarama. The result of all this nastiness, though, is to deprive the 4.7 million citizens of Madrid of World Championship racing, even after nearly 2bn pesetas had been spent on bringing the track up to Grand Prix standards.

The third, and perhaps the main, topic of conversation among manufacturers was the status of Le Mans. It was made abundantly clear that the reinstatement of the 24 Hours to the World Championship calendar was a main priority for all the manufacturers, and without delay Mr Ecclestone opened a dialogue with the Automobile Club de l’Ouest. The negotiations will concern television rights and financing, precisely Mr Ecclestone’s area of responsibility, and leaving out the ghastly polemics that surround every utterance by Jean-Marie Balestre, we may hope for the desired outcome.

Like all good closed shop members, the manufacturers agreed not to talk to the press, thereby keeping the public uninformed. One representative went out on a limb to declare that he was ‘encouraged’ by the discussion, and ‘hopeful’ that a number of serious shortcomings in the Group C championship would now be rectified.

The most serious concern of some manufacturers has been that the sports car series is an elaborate honey-trap, to lure them into commitments to build 3 1/2-litre engines. Once hooked, and locked into a series that is deliberately and systematically undermined by FISA, they might then move on into Formula 1 racing where Mr Ecclestone’s true interest lies. “I thought that,” our contact agrees, “but having attended the Manufacturers meeting and heard what Bernie had to say, I no longer believe that is the case. We have a very good future”.

Everyone feels positive now, so let us be as well. We have the prospect of a properly promoted World Sportscar Championship starting in 1991. With a mix of four-hour races on the traditional circuits, plus Le Mans, plus a couple of two-hour street races (rumoured for Hawaii and Birmingham!). We should go to Japan, to Eastern Creek in Australia, to Canada, to America and to South America.

There will be fresh 3 1/2-litre cars from Mercedes, Peugeot, Toyota, Jaguar, Alfa Romeo and Spice, then from Nissan and Porsche in ’92 and perhaps from Mugen representing Honda. At its peak the championship could assemble 20 fully fledged ‘works’ cars in 1992 plus, presumably, enough Spice, March, Lola or Porsche customer cars make full grids.

One can understand the fears of the ACO, which would like an entry of 60 cars for the 24 Hours. In an ideal world FISA will allow all the current, unlimited Group C cars — turbos, rotaries and stock-blocks — to participate at Le Mans for three or four years on a ‘grace of favour’ basis, with penalties just stiff enough to make the race interesting. Is FISA big enough to contemplate such a solution? Let’s wait and see!

The striking Peugeot 905 ran for the first time in public at Magny-Cours on July 4, in the hands of veteran driver Jean-Pierre Jabouille. No records were set, but the V10 engine ran well and sounded superb. The 905 is expected to race in the last two rounds this season with the drivers being named nearer the time, but likely to be Jabouille and René Arnoux.

The first composite material monocoque was delivered by the Dassault aerospace company on April 15, and the Peugeot-designed 6-speed gearbox was ready on June 15, the day before the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Tests continue at Michelin’s track at Clermont-Ferrand, at Dijon and at Magny-Cours.

Peugeot’s design team has been strengthened with the appointment of Robert Choulet to take charge of aerodynamic development. One of France’s leading aerodynamicists, Choulet has worked at the Charles Deutch design office, Matra Sport and at the Society Aerodyne.

To the surprise of many, the 905 closely resembles the mock-up shown to the press last February. What was believed to be a styling exercise has proved to be uncannily close to the first prototype, although the rear wheels are now open to the elements. The seating position is almost central, taking advantage of relaxed passenger seat regulations for next year, and the driver views the road through an acrylic windscreen.

The wide sidepods are fixed in place. The side windows open up, gull-wing style, for driver swaps and the rear view mirrors are inboard, suggesting a record breaking Cd figure. MLC