What in the world...?

The Sportscar World Championship saga continued well into the New Year, adding to the problems of the private entrants. Max Mosley, president of FISA, seemingly crushed hopes of there being a World Championship when he remarked, a few days before Christmas, that “if they can commit themselves to producing 20 cars there will be a world championship.”

So far as FISA’s World Council is concerned these 20 cars must be registered for the 10-round World Championship, and would not include those registered for the FIA Cup series which is reserved for the seven rounds in Europe.

Mosley knew very well that existing teams could not produce 20 cars, and the World Council thickened the plot by stipulating that the major manufacturers would be held financially responsible for the non-appearance of any cars.

Peugeot, Toyota and Mazda, for three, would not enter such a commitment on behalf of private owners, bearing in mind that each no-show is worth $250,000 which the organisers will claim.

President Mosley seemed to have relented over Christmas. At the opening of the Auto Sports International racing car show at the Birmingham NEC on January 2 he stated: “We have 13 serious contenders who want to run cars this year, and there are a further seven or eight who are keen to run in the FIA Cup.

“With this level of commitment it would be a shame to cancel the championship, and I believe a positive announcement on its future will be made soon.”

Mosley said afterwards that the race promoters would be asked to accept the FIA Cup cars as part of the 20 entries, and he hoped to confirm the outcome by the middle of January.

The Japanese, with rounds scheduled at Autopolls on April 5 and at Suzuka on August 30, were expected to agree since their own championship cars are eligible for the races.

The Mexicans, however, would not run an event on September 13 for 13 cars. Their choice would be to withdraw from the series, or to enter an arrangement with IMSA to run a Camel GT round as part of the World Championship event, a happening that would tie in well with the recent accord between Mosley and IMSA’s Mark Raffauf.

The difficulty everyone had was to read the minds of Mosley and FIA vice-president Bernie Ecclestone. They made it quite clear at the Heathrow meeting in November that they don’t want to have a Sportscar World Championship, on the grounds of paucity of entries and lack of public interest. But would they now allow a series to go ahead, perhaps against their better judgement?

Many people hold these illustrious gentlemen entirely to blame for gutting the sportscar championship, which was flourishing until they took control in 1989, but at this stage we are no longer discussing whose fault it is that Group C has got into difficulties.

FISA is under some pressure now from Peugeot, which has given an enormous commitment to the SWC series, and from Toyota and Mazda. For Mosley it is a time for being nice to the Japanese, and taking note of their wishes, because they played an important part in his election last October and he subsequently had JAF delegates Kamakura and Takagi appointed vice-presidents of FISA.

In the New Year Mosley reacted to a demand by Toyota and Mazda that he should clear the SWC series for take-off by January 4, otherwise they would withdraw their commitment.

Bound as he was by the December 5 decision of the World Council, Mosley could not dictate that the Sportscar World Championship will go ahead but he can make the right noises, and on January 2 he possibly did just enough to keep the Japanese happy.

Few people are as clever with words as barrister Max Mosley, and none in motor racing would be more adept at walking a proverbial tightrope. The president said early in the month that the World Council members would be asked to send a telex vote to Paris, once a proposal had been put to them.

Confidence among the teams, organisers and supporters was further eroded with each day that passed, and even if the Sportscar World Championship has scraped over the hurdle this year it’s hard to suppose that it will do so again in 1993. Would Jean Todt really start planning now for a continuation of Peugeot’s costly involvement in sportscar racing? Could Peugeot maintain an interest in the championship knowing that Porsches and other ‘unlimited’ cars are now eligible for Le Mans?

It has always been made clear that Peugeot is in the championship with the main intention of winning the Le Mans 24 Hours (just as Renault’s programme was geared to success at Le Mans in 1978), and only last September Todt made it expressly clear that “if the turbos run at Le Mans, Peugeot will not take part”.

On December 5 the World Council decreed that the turbos would indeed be at Le Mans, but still Todt is playing a central role in keeping the World Championship in existence. If he wants to maintain his little empire at Vélizy, he has no choice.

Todt called a meeting of SWC teams on December 19 and the privateers such as Allard (Jean-Louts Ricci, Costas Los and Chris Humberstone), Hugh Chamberlain and Alan Randall (RM Motorsport) went to Paris hoping to hear of an aid scheme from Peugeot.

They were disappointed. Asked the question about aid, perhaps in the form of transport to Japan, Todt replied that it was FISA’s duty to help the private teams. “Chance would be a fine thing,” responded Mosley next day. The 13 cars referred to by Mosley include two cars each from Peugeot, Toyota, Mazda (TWR XJR-14s with Judd V10 engines), Citra Sports (Allard J2X with Cosworth DFR engines), Randall Motorsport (Jaguar XJR-14s), Euro Racing (Lola T92/10) and one BRM.

Candidates for the FIA Cup category include Randall Motorsport, Hugh Chamberlain and Ranieri Randaccio (all with Spices), Fritz Gebhardt, ROC and Argo Cars.

For many of these teams vital sponsorship deals hang in the balance. Kentish man Alan Randall, who plans to order two Jaguar XJR-14s for Derek and Justin Bell, Raul Boesel and Tiff Needell, has lost one leading sponsor because of the uncertainty, and could not place the order at Kidlington because an alternative sponsor needed to know if the series would indeed be a World Championship!