This winter it was the world of sports-car racing that suffered from dalliance on the part of the FIA, the calendar not being announced until mid-December. When it was revealed where the races would take place there were accompanying rules and regulations which have destroyed the essence of such racing, principally in limiting races to a maximum length of 480km (298 miles) with only one driver per car.
The accepted race length of 1000km (621 miles) for a sports-car race, with two drivers per car and the need for fuel-stops and tyre-changes, with time to allow early race trouble to be rectified and recovered, has been abandoned. The 1000km length was started by the ADAC on the old Nurburgring, which meant 44 laps round the gruelling Eifel mountain circuit, and the races were justified in being described as “long distance”.
With the new ruling we can forget the word “long”, and prepare for sprint races, and this will mean major re-designs to cars to make them lighter and more nimble “sprint specials”— though not too light, as minimum weights still apply. The regular teams can hardly be encouraged by the fact that the first event is scheduled to be held in Japan in April.
Overriding this diminution of the status of sports-car racing is the position of the Le Mans 24-Hour Race. The Automobile Club de l’Ouest has been allowed to opt out of the rules, yet retain its position in the World Championship for sports-cars, otherwise we would have had the Le Mans 21/4-Hours Race. So all the competing teams have to do is design “sprint-cars” for eight events and a long distance sports-car for one event. Since a win at Le Mans will be worth more than the other eight put together, you can imagine what the serious manufacturers will be doing.
Apart from changing the face of sports-car racing, the FIA has annihilated saloon car racing from the international scene. The long-established European Touring Car Championship, fought out between Ford and BMW, is finished, with nothing to replace it. Formula Three disappeared from the international scene a year or two ago and flourished as a national activity, with each country’s champion taking part in a final free-for-all; it is hoped that saloons will go the same way.
Formula One looked all set and stable a month ago, but has now undergone changes. Sixteen races were listed, with the Austrian GP on the superb Osterreichring as first reserve should any of the sixteen withdraw. After the United States GP at Detroit last year, Bernie Ecclestone and the Mayor of Detroit told us how 1989 would see the Grand Prix held on a new permanent circuit built on an island in the Detroit River. Everyone cheered, being tired of the awful street circuit in downtown Detroit, but now the Belle Isle circuit is not going to be built, so that is the end of Detroit for the United States GP. Hurrah! some of us said and looked forward to a return to the majestic Osterreichring; but no, being first reserve means as much as being 51st reserve, and a circuit at Laguna Seca on the west coast of America is being got ready (we hope!) for the United States GP.
What happened to the FIA rule which stated that a circuit and organisation had to hold a non-championship Formula One race before they could have a World Championship event? Do I hear Mr Ecclestone saying: “Don’t be stupid, there aren’t any non-championship Formula One races”? Sorry Bernie, I was only asking.
Almost as an aside, the Canadian GP had its date changed from June 11 to June 18 in order that the proposed Laguna Seca event could be held one week after the Mexican GP, so that the teams could stay in the far west and call in at Montreal on their way home to Europe.
One thing in Formula One that does seem certain is that the British Grand Prix will be held at Silverstone on Sunday July 16; though whether anyone will be able to afford to go and watch is another matter altogether.
Formula 3000 continues to be an International Championship, but it is kept away from the more important circuits so aspiring Formula One drivers will learn little that will be of use to them in future years. At least they can have fun in their own quiet world, with races at such places as Pau and Brands Hatch.
Through all the changes and upsets, the European Mountain Hill-Climb Championship goes its own quiet way, unmolested by officialdom, with events on proper mountain public roads from Portugal to Czechoslovakia. DSJ