World Endurance Championship, 1982-85
Porsche’s grip is relaxing at last!
Too soon though it certainly is to write an epitaph for the current Group C sportscar formula, what we have seen so far will never be regarded as anything but a Porsche benefit just as was the 3-litre/5-litre championship of 1968-1971, and the Group 5 “silhouette” formula of 1976 to 1981. For although it is expected that Rothmans and the factory Porsche team will scale down its efforts during 1986, customers Reinhold Joest, Erwin Kremer, Walter Brun and Richard Lloyd all operate teams easily capable of winning races, and have enough accumulated experience to keep an upper hand to the end of 1987, at least. Salvation is on the way, however, from the TWR Jaguar team — and from Japan where Nissan, Toyota and Mazda will emerge soon enough with strong teams, and not a moment too soon!
Although Group C has, so far, turned out very much like Group 5 the history is rather different. Porsche spent all of 1974 and 1975 preparing the Turbo model for Gp5, a production derived racing car so efficient that potential rivals were scared off. BMW gave a good account of itself with the 3.5-litre CSLs. the “leftover saloons”, and even won three races, valiantly, in 1976 when Porsche’s wonderwagen ran into homologation difficulties with the air-to-air intercooler shape. Who, however, will forget Ronnie Peterson’s handling of the turbocharged CSL, sideways and tyre-smoking its way round Silverstone? A pity about the transmission, though! Once BMW’s Jochen Neerpasch perceived that he hadn’t got the equipment to beat the Porsches he turned the Munich company’s attention towards Formula 1, and the Zuffenhausen firm had such domination that it developed the “ultimate” car in 1978, the 24-valve 935,78, raced it three times, then withdrew from top-class racing to concentrate on development of the 924 Carrera GTR, the 944 prototype, and things like that.
In the latter half of 1981 FISA was still dillying and dallying about the new fuel consumption formula, named Group C and due to commence in 1982. Most entrants, real and potential, would have preferred the formula to start in 1983, and indeed the final details were only finalised in December, but Group C was born on January 1st, 1982 and was seen as a fresh approach to old problems. The C1 cars would weigh a minimum of 800 kilograms and could use an engine of any capacity so long as it did not consume fuel at a rate of more than 60 litres per 100 kilometres, or 4.708 miles per gallon. Thus almost any number of manufacturers could build chassis and get “stock” engines off the shelf, and provided they could develop around 600 bhp in turbocharged or normally aspirated guise they’d be in business.
There were some stipulations about the cars, but not many. The total length was not to exceed 4.800 mm, nor was the width to exceed 2.000 mm. Then, to limit the dreaded ground effects so well exploited by Grand Prix constructors, the floor had to contain a flat plate measuring at least 100cm x 80 cm.
And how effective has this been? The Porsche 956s delivered to customers early in 1983 produced about 1,200 pounds of downforce, but such has been the pace of development in under-car aerodynamics that by 1985 this figure had grown almost three-fold, to around 3,500 pounds; in the case of the Nigel Stroud-designed Richard Lloyd Racing 956B, the figure is even higher at about 4,200 pounds. A figure well in excess of 4,000 pounds is also produced by the Tony Southgate-designed TWR Jaguar XJR-6, which means that twice the car’s static weight is pressing, or pulling down the chassis through the corners, producing cornering forces of between 2g and 3g.
In turn, that makes the difference between taking Eau Rouge, at Spa, in fourth gear with an uneasy feeling, or flat out in fifth with the car glued to the road, as some were last September. The downforce figures quoted are at least as high as in Formula 1 before the “flat” bottom” rules were introduced, and it is remarkable that the visible shape of the Porsches, for instance, has changed so very little in the past four seasons.
Lap speeds, too, have improved dramatically. At Silverstone last May Riccardo Patrese was knocking on the door of the 150 mph barrier, circulating his Lancia LC2/85 ten seconds per lap quicker than Alboreto’s time of 1982 in, admittedly, the little 1.4-litre turbocharged “barchetta” that the Italians produced in an attempt to scoop the Driver’s Championship title; it was, anyway, quicker than lckx and Bell in the Porsche 956 on its debut outing, handicapped as this entry was by the six-hour duration of the event, though still on 600-litres of fuel. Similar gains have been seen on other tracks where comparisons are possible, for instance at Spa where Patrese set a sportscar lap record at 2 min 21.18 sec in the little Lancia. Last September Jochen Mass set a new mark at 2 min 10.73 sec, and these are race speeds, not qualifying times. As in Formula 1, qualifying is almost meaningless as Lancia claimed one pole position after another with special 800 bhp engines, filled with new pistons, cams, valves, higher compressions and bigger turbos. What that has to do with eking out the current ration of 510-litres of fuel in a 1,000 kilometre race no-one really knows, but it’s good for the spectators and, therefore, good publicity for the formula, so let’s leave it at that!
If the GpC formula started out full of hope and promise, the subsequent history is a catalogue of lost opportunities. Cars seen on a fairly regular basis during 1982 included the Porsche 956, the Lola T610, Sauber SHS C6, Rondeau M382C. Ford C100, the Joest Porsche 956C, the Kremer C-K5, the Grid-Plaza S1, the WM-Peugeot and the Aston Martin Nimrod, a wide selection of chassis and engines even if the Cosworth DFL, in 3.3 of 3.9-litre forms, powered half of them. We did not, yet, have a C2 class and the 3.3-litre was pretty uncompetitive, while the 3.9-litre favoured for the Ford C100, the Rondeau, the Lola, the Sauber and the Grid had such severe harmonic vibrations that it tended to destroy ancillaries such as starter motors, electrical systems, engine mountings and so on.
Keith Duckworth was adamant that good installation would cure these ills, but he also revealed to us that he planned to fit balancer shafts such as are employed in the Porsche 944 engine, as well as adding a mild turbocharger system to boost the power from, say, 590 bhp to anything the teams desired, 700 bhp if need be. The C100 itself, originally designed by Len Bailey, was making good progress midway through 1982 and was beginning to get results (fourth and fifth at the Brands Hatch 1,000 kms. Jonathan Palmer’s first good sportscar result if you remember, with Desire Wilson). Ford had chosen a different version of the car, designed by Tony Southgate for Alain de Cadenet, to carry the colours with preparation by Zakspeed, and the plot looked very promising indeed for 1983.
There is a story, apocryphal perhaps, that during (or maybe after) a good lunch, Ford’s newly appointed motorsport supremo Stuart Turner asked Keith Duckworth if the turbo version of the DFL would be competitive. “No chance” the enigmatic Duckworth Is supposed to have said, believing that Turner would realise that his tongue was in his cheek. Turner said little more. but went back to Warley and added the C100 endurance project to his hit list of 1983 programmes to be axed!
In itself, that was the worst blow to befall Group C endurance racing. for not only did we lose the C100 but all the stuffing was knocked out of the Rondeau programme – the likeable constructor from Le Mans had finished a close second to Porsche’s 956 in 1982— also Sauber, Lola and Grid, for Turner additionally withdrew the development budget for the turbo DFL and killed it off for three lean years. Had Turner looked through and beyond the C100 racing car, at the basic logic of the fuel consumption formula, he might well have concluded that for very little money he could have the Ford name on a 3.3-litre DLF turbo that would sustain a whole “kit car industry”, much as the DFV itself did between 1967 and 1983. Duckworth’s DFX turbo lndycar engine has sustained the reputation of the remarkable DFV concept, and only now, in 1986, will we have a chance to see the 3.3 DFL turbo in action in Tim Lee-Davey’s Tiga. A lot could hang on that!
If Stuart Turner knocked one large nail in to Group C’s prospects, Cesare Fiorio didn’t do the formula much good when he elected to chase the World Endurance Championship for Drivers title in 1982. Porsche got on like good boys in preparing the 956 in record time, but when it made its debut in May 1982 it was well beaten on scratch by the 1.4 litre turbocharged Lancia Group 6 car, also purpose-built around existing parts with full ground effects, skirts too and marvellously light and economical. FISA had given the old Group 6 a stay of execution for a year to ensure decent grids, and were none too pleased to see the Italians producing a new car which, although ineligible for Constructors’ points, would win three races outright and put Patrese into a strong position for the driver’s title. Porsche had other ideas, and Lancia had their come-uppance at Brands Hatch when, after one of the most exciting races of the entire formula, Jacky lckx beat Patrese by a scant 4.6 sec to lift the title. Better still, it was the first World Championship ever won by the popular Belgian, one that was long overdue.
In 1983 Lancia-Martini started to make amends with a pukka Group C car, the chassis designed by Gianpaolo Dallara (formerly with Lamborghini, where he designed the Miura), the bodywork by Arrigo Gallizio’s GStudio near Turin, and the V8 engine supplied — not with good grace — by Enzo Ferrari. The LC2/83 was not commissioned until October 1982 which meant that Porsche had a full twelvemonth start (and six victories to prove it!). And poor weather, which meant that Fiorano’s team did no dry-track testing, ensured that when the Group C car made its debut at Monza in April 1983 no-one had any idea that the Pirelli radial ply tyres were inadequate for the speeds and loadings, bursting asunder at regular intervals. Silverstone brought no better luck and Pirelli seemed to be in all sorts of trouble with its Formula 1 programme too, so a rapid decision was made to ride out the ’83 season with Dunlop’s crossply tyres of an old compound, for the only rubber available off the shelf for the 19-inch rear rims was suited to the Porsche 935.
Add, then, difficulties in developing the Weber-Marelli fuel injection system to attain the correct consumption, and an inevitable weakness in the Hewland DG gearbox, which was not designed for such applications, and you will understand the problems encountered by Lancia-Martini during 1983. They did manage to win the Drivers’ Championship race at Imola late in the season, against private Porsche entries, but had another lacklustre season in 1984, due to handling and fuel consumption problems as much as anything else, and won only the Kyalami 1,000 kms which was renounced (only for financial reasons) by virtually all the Porsches.
The past season was a whole lot better for Lancia. Under the new technical direction of lng Claudio Lombardi the chassis were much improved and although they were surprisingly the original tubs built early in 1983, the track was taken out to the full 2000, mm which benefited the handling considerably: so too did the contract with Michelin for the exclusive supply of tyres. The Fiat Group also managed to establish the correct economy with a full 3-litre engine, which Porsche could not so although you can safely ignore the 40 bhp power advantage claimed by the Italians, the 12% torque advantage (506 lb ft at 5,200 rpm, against Porsche’s 451 lb ft at 4,500 rpm) was real enough, and a distinct advantage.
Still, though, Lancia showed a remarkable propensity for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory but maintained its record by claiming a late-season success, at Spa-Francorchamps on September 1st. Bob Wollek, Mauro Baldi and Riccardo Patrese would surely have won even had the race gone the full distance, and it was a terrible shame that Stefan Bellof’s death should mar for Lancia its first defeat of Rothmans-Porsche.
Which brings us, inevitably, to the crux of the formula. Before the start of the 1986 season the score sheet shows that in four seasons the Rothmans-Porsche team directed by Peter Falk has made 60 starts, has finished 49 times (invariably in the points), has won 25 races and been defeated seven times (and since they started, technically, at Fuji in last October’s monsoon we count that one too!). The 11 DNFs include three crashes (Mass, Bellof and Ickx one apiece, while Derek Bells card is unblemished), one disqualification (out of fuel), two “retirements” (Fuji), and merely five mechanical failures: engines at Le Mans on one car apiece, in 1983 and 1985, a turbo on the “MIX” car at Hockenheim, a PDK transmission failure at Imola in 1984 and a dnveshaft on the “BEST” PDK entry at Selangor last December.
Against such a crushing display of Teutonic efficiency, what chance do the others stand? Well, Porsche’s own customers have won nine Group C races, and without question the star team is that of Reinhold Joest, from Abtsteinach. who won live of them: Mugello in 1982 with his 936C, Monza and Mugello with the 956 in 1983, Le Mans in 1984 and Le Mans, again, in 1985. The two 24-hour successes were superlative. especially the 1985 rendition when he beat the factory Porsches and Lancias, and of course Joest was the one who beat the factory on the first occasion the private teams were able to meet the Rothmans-Porsches on equal terms, at Monza in 1983. The Kremer brothers, Richard Lloyd/Canon, Walter Brun and John Fitzpatrick each won a Group C race.
Other than Lancia’s three successes, non Porsche victories include two for Jean Rondeau in 1982 (Monza and the Nurburgring) and one for March Nissan at Fuji last October. Its not much of a record, is it, for four years of World Championship motor racing?
What started out in 1983 as the Junior class, but is now named C2, has proved much more colourful. Looking back, 1983 was a pretty awful start when Martino Finotto’s Giannini-Alba team was the only respectable one faced with such opposition as the Harrier Mazda plus works Mazdas at Silverstone and Le Mans. The following season was a lot better with Gordon Spice and Ecurie Ecosse joining the fray, along with the Gebhardt brother’s team and although Finotto secured the title by means of early season successes his luck began to ebb away midway through the season, in fact, the Mosport 1,000 Kms in August 1984 was the last occasion when the Alba team won any trophies, finishing third, fifth and sixth overall in a poorly supported event. From that point onwards it has been Spice Engineering and Tiga-based chassis most of the way, with strong intervention from Ecurie Ecosse and Gebhardt from time to time. One thing that is certain is the reliability, power and economy of a well-prepared Cosworth-DFL 3.3-litre V8, which has been de rigueur for successful Placings in the past 18 months.
Can we look forward to 1986 with any great degree of optimism? As one of the most ardent supporters of sports car racing I would like to say yes, but realistically Group C is still hanging on by its fingertips. The deaths of Manfred Winkelhock and Stefan Bellof not only robbed endurance racing of two leading drivers, but probably determined all the Formula 1 team managers to keep their expensive, heavily promoted chargers under lock and key in 1986. Maybe one or two, the likes of Jonathan Palmer and Thierry Boutsen, will escape the net to drive in Porsches, but by and large the great sacrifice made by the Automobile Club de l’Ouest, to start the 24 hour classic race on May 31 in order to avoid clashing with the Canadian Grand Prix, will have been in vain. There will be more motor racing reporters but few truly international drivers to promote. If you believe John Webb’s creed, that motor racing is all about promotable people (men and women), then the omens are not very good, for those drivers also attracted, or helped to hold, the big-time sponsors.
That brings us to another crux of Group C, the financial side. Even with his dazzling successes at Le Mans Reinhold Joest’s team seems to have spent its annual budget by September, and others are much worse off. In fact Rothmans-Porsche and the Roy Baker Tiga-Ford teams were the only ones to undertake the full 1985 programme. which does not make life any easier for the race promoters. Consider, if you will, that Bernie Ecclestone has secured a $150.000 prize fund budget for the Formula 3000 Championship, for each race that is, while each of the 15-20 cars taking part costs around $60,000.
The Porsche 956 and 962C customer cars, on the other hand, cost at least $200,000 apiece yet the total minimum prize fund for each race is now $50,000, to be shared among an average of 30 C1 and C2 entries. The economics simply do not, cannot, make sense. Despite all the obstacles to be overcome, however, privateers Joest, Kremer, Brun, and hopefully Lloyd and Fitzpatrick, will continue to operate at the highest level they can manage. Rothmans-Porsche will pull back a bit and mount a limited programme of perhaps five races (Silverstone, Le Mans, Nurburgring, Spa and Fuji), Lancia-Martini may contest only a short programme . . . and that leaves the Gallahers Silk Cut TWR Jaguar team, which is committed to a full programme.
Tom Walkinshaw’s cars will be lighter and more competitive, perhaps capable of winning on level terms, and it will not be beyond the team’s capabilities to win three or four races and, by dint of being there, pick up enough points to scoop up the Teams’ Championship.
As usual the Silverstone and Le Mans races should be the outstanding ones pitting the Jaguars against the Lancias and all the Porsche teams, plus the Japanese manufacturers if Mazda, Nissan and Toyota all decide to attend the British round to prepare their new, or revised cars for the 24-Hours. Much interest will focus on Nissan, which looked so competitive at Fuji, to see if speed is combined with the necessary fuel economy on the Electramotive prepared V6 engine, installed in a March chassis. Mazda will wheel out the triple-rotor 757C, though not as yet with turbochargers, and Toyota, we believe, will continue for the time being to rely upon the 2.1 litre four-cylinder engine… but for how much longer? When Japan’s number one manufacturer decides that it’s time to move, rivals had better watch out.
It does seem that, after tour seasons of almost total domination, the king (Porsche) is tiring, if not dying, and perceives that the public wants to see a new order. It may be two more seasons before the Stuttgart firm, or its customers, is no longer a regular race winner, but Jaguar’s turn is surely coming: the Japanese will attempt to take the citadel by storm when they feel ready, have no doubt, and these injections may prove to be precisely what Group C needs to arouse greater public interest. If only Ford and GM would become involved too. sportscar racing could benefit from a great infusion of capital, technology and excitement. Even now the Group C formula has hardly justified itself, and may still not doss in 1986. but beyond that there in much hope. M.L C