Bellof takes the WEC title
The World Endurance Championship title is, inevitably, a poor relation of the top prize in the world of Formula 1 but it is hotly pursued by the leading drivers, especially those in the works Rothmans-Porsche team within whose grasp the title is. Stefan Bellof deposed Jacky Ickx as champion at Sandown Park, Australia, early in December by winning the six-hour event with Derek Bell, leaving his nearest rival Jochen Mass trailing in second place.
The series remains an oddity in having eight rounds for the Manufacturers' title (secured by Porsche almost without challenge at the Nürburgring in July) and three more for the Drivers' Championship at Brands Hatch, Imola and Sandown Park. The factory team did not enter any cars at Brands Hatch, where Mass and Bellof earned some extra points in private team, and at Imola the Stuttgart company again ran a car with the electronically controlled twin-clutch transmission with ignominious result.
Australia's first-ever World Championship race was another matter, though, and Rothmans-Porsche entered no fewer than four cars. Two, as usual, were for Bell / Bellof and Mass / Ickx, the third was for Australians Alan Jones and Vern Schuppan, and the fourth carried a camera for live TV coverage and was driven by Johnny Dumfries and Sir Jack Brabham, who won the first of his three Formula 1 titles when the Scot was still in nappies. Now 58 and a successful businessman, Sir Jack has raced saloons on a handful of occasions since his retirement in 1970 and clearly needed some time to get his competitiveness back.
The lure for the Porsche company and most of its leading customers was the enthusiasm of the Light Car Club of Australia to organise the first world title event. The federal government and the Victorian State government put up the four million Australian dollars (£2.8 million) needed to turn the old quadrangle track into a fully-fledged 3.89 kilometre circuit that met the requirements for a title race, though with the constraints of public roads around the perimeter and a beautiful horse-racing track on the infield, complete with a lake, the additional roadway was necessarily highly artificial and tortuous. All the work has been carried out since June, when FISA finally confirmed that the event could go ahead, and workmen were still beavering away until nightfall before the race putting the finishing touches to the place.
In particular, Sandown Park boasts an enormous covered grandstand with excellent amenities, and all those involved could fairly claim "we wuz robbed" at the news that the Formula 1 World Championship race will be held in Adelaide, on a street circuit, next October.
Certain factors within FISA and FOCA seem to prefer street circuits (other than Monaco!) for reasons best known to themselves, and the South Australian government and the Adelaiders have the resources to cater for these expensive tastes. Those who have seen the proposed Adelaide track, though, Niki Lauda and Keke Rosberg in particular, approve the layout and expect to see a 100 mph average to be achieved. The Sandown Park 1,000 Kilometre race looks set to become an established event on the calendar, upgraded in 1985 to Manufacturers' Championship status. In fact 1,000 kilometres is a misnomer because even the winning car was unable to average more than 133.5 kph (82.95 mph) and there was never any possibility of the full distance being covered. When the chequered flag was hung out after six hours, as the fall-back regulation requires, only 206 of the scheduled 259 laps had been covered. Unfortunately the regulations do not allow 6-hour races as such, since the unhappy Silverstone event of 1982 when the Porsche 956 almost ran out of fuel on its debut outing, so the Australians are stuck with a title that doesn't fit.
The entry for the C1 class was exclusively Porsche with eleven 956s, a 962 and a Kremer CK5, so there was never any doubt about the outcome, just which team would be successful. Lancia have had a fitful year, proving to be just as quick as the Porsches at Monza and Silverstone, surprisingly competitive at Le Mans where the works Porsches were notable by their absence, and going downhill rapidly ever since. Lancia missed out on Mosport, on Spa to prepare for Imola, and after a complete fiasco on home soil ventured out only once again at Kyalami to record a hollow, worthless victory against local saloon cars, mainly, since the organisers had not been able to offer the private teams a sensible "deal" that would enable them to make the journey. With luck Lancia might try to get their act together a little better for 1985!
John Fitzpatrick had three cars in the Sandown Park entry, a pair of 956s in Shoal colours for David Hobbs / Thierry Boutsen and Rupert Keegan t Franz Konrad and his 962 (with a 956 engine, just as the works team will run in 1985) for Australian drivers Colin Bond and Andrew Miedecke. Also from Silverstone, Richard Lloyd's GTi Engineering / Canon Porsche 9560 was in Australia for Dr Jonathan Palmer and Jan Lammers.
The Kremer brothers ran a pair of Porsche 956s for Manfred Winkelhock / Rusty French and the South Africans Sarel van der Merwe / George Fouche, plus Kees Kroesemeijer's CK5 which the Dutchman shared with Peter Janson and Jesus Pareja. Le Mans winner Henri Pescarolo had a particular interest in finishing well since he was narrowly leading the well-endowed Porsche Cup for privately entered drivers, and he was sharing Reinhold Joest's New Man sponsored 956 with Klaus Ludwig; Dieter Schornstein shared his 956, with the same sponsorship, with John Winter and Paul Belmondo.
The C2 class had a lot more variety. Gordon Spice went to Australia with his much modified Tiga-DFL (3.3-litre) which he plans to reproduce in some quantity before the 1985 season gets under way, with Neil Crang co-driving. Martino Finotto had two of his rapid 1.8-litre turbo Albas there, sharing one with Carlo Facetti as usual and having Guidi Dacco in the other with local driver Lucio Cesario. Brothers Fritz and Gunther Gebhardt had three cars bearing their name: Gunther shared a new DFV powered car with Frank Jelinski and the exceedingly rapid German girl, Brute Nodes, and Ian Harrower, who has now bought the older DFV powered example, shared it with New Zealander Neville Crichton. The third Gebhardt, with two litres of BMW power, was for the lady team of Cathy Muller, Sue Ransom and Margie Smith-Haas.
Jens Winther, a longtime BMW MI exponent with Castrol sponsorship, has now transferred his affection to a German URD chassis, still with the 3.5-litre MI engine in the back, and shared his new steed with Lars Viggo Jensen. From England went Roy Baker's Tiga-Ford BDT for the owner with Jeremy Rossiter and F3 driver Gary Evans, and John Bartlett with his Lola-DFL T610 shared with Richard Jones and David Burroughs.
Local entries, few but interesting, included Bap Romano's 3.9-litre DFL powered car, appropriately named Romano and co-driven by Alfredo Costanzo, a Mazda rotary powered JWS built for the C2 class (but not yet homologated), a black and gold JPS sponsored BMW 320 run by Frank Gardner, lugubrious as ever, and a couple of absolutely fearsome Australian "super saloon" creations. A twin turbo, Chevrolet V8 powered "Mercedes" producing 850 bhp is one of Sandown Park's attractions, though unhappily it overheated so much during practice that it was withdrawn. More evident throughout the race was a "Chevrolet Monza" with normally aspirated Chevrolet V8 power, around 650 bhp worth, for Allan Griee Dick Johnson / Ron Harrop.
Nick Faure took his newly acquired Porsche 911 Turbo all the way to Australia with an unfortunate outcome, and American Chuck Kendall with Jim Cook completed his world tour with his Lola-Chevrolet T600, only to have a driveshaft break midway through the race.
Bellof would not have remained a favourite with the bookies ten minutes into the untimed practice session on Friday after hitting a kerb at the third turn and launching his 956 backwards into the barrier, doing enough damage to keep the mechanics busy until next morning. Winkelhock was unofficially quickest on Friday followed by Jones, Boutsen and Mass, all closely grouped in the 1 min 33 sec bracket, the Canon Porsche being next quickest though hampered by a misfiring engine which never ran clearly all weekend.
The German championship leader made up for his mistake when timed practice opened on Saturday morning, quickly settling down to a pole position time of 1 min 31.6 sec. After the second session there were six cars in the 1 min 32 bracket, driven by Mass, Jones, Boutsen, Winkelhock and Palmer. Gordon Spice handsomely led the C2 class grid with an impressive time of 1 min 38.0 sec, the 11th fastest time overall.
Bad start by Mass
More familiar names to Europeans controlled the race, Pierre Aumonier from Silverstone acting as Clerk of the Course and Tim Schenken, representing the Confederation of Australian Motor Sport (CAMS) driving the course car which led the field round on the pace lap. Within sight of the startline Nick Faure's Porsche Turbo blew a piston and laid a huge pall of smoke — and a slick of oil — around the latter part of the lap.
Off, then, went Bellof into his accustomed lead but, unusually, he was outbraked into the first turn by Alan Jones and into the second turn by Jochen Mass. Accelerating to 180 mph along the back straight Bellof was clearly third, but things changed rather dramatically when leaders reached the evidence of Faure’s blow-up. Mass felt the tail of his 956 slide out, didn't quite catch it and spun helplessly onto the infield, luckily coming to no harm and restarting in 15th place. Bellof then returned the compliment to Jones, taking him under braking at the first left-hander, and started to ease away in his usual fashion.
Ten lap into the race Bellof was leading by eight seconds, his nearest challenger now Boutsen ahead of Jones and Palmer, with Mass catching up well in fifth place, Ludwig sixth, van der Merwe seventh, Keegan eighth and Winkelhock ninth. Even at this early stage Palmer was having to cope with a misfiring engine; the mechanics felt sure they'd found the cause when they discovered a cracked inlet plenum chamber, but that wasn't it, and Palmer could only make matters better by turning down the boost, thus extending his lap times by about three seconds.
Mass finally moved up into third place after 31 laps but was now 35 sec adrift of the leader, and it was going to be no easy job passing Boutsen, either. The Belgian was feeling confident aid going well, though the first pit stop was a bit messy and the advantage was lost. Man Jones dropped a clanger by stopping in Boutsen's pit, two places short of his own, and the Shoal car arrived while the third Rothmans entry was being pushed away. It only cost a couple of seconds but the mechanics were unsettled. Mass, too, lost a few seconds when he was badly carved up in the pits lane by Rusty French and left black lines on the roadway as he braked to swing in behind the Kremer Porsche. The pits didn't looks very healthy place to be for a while!
Ninety minutes into the race Lammers and Pescarolo dashed into the pits to have wheels changed, due to punctures of course, and reported that the recently laid sections of the track were breaking up. A few minutes later the Swedish entered URD-BMW came out of the final turn in a helpless spin as the bottom link on the right rear suspension had sheared, allowing the wheel to swivel, and the car came to rest against the barrier in front of the pits. It was quite a while before Aumonier and Schenken agreed that the pace car should go out — as long as it took the Swedes to get a trolley tack ready — and soon Bell's 35 second lead evaporated in Schenken's wake.
We had the unusual sight of seeing Mrs. Smith-Haas spin her brakeless Gebhardt while following the pace car in a slow turn, and she was later to demolish the front end. The Albas, too, were having problems with their rear brakes, and Finotto's car was further delayed by a loose rear wheel, cured only by fitting a new hub. So Spice and Crang, running at a predetermined speed, moved comfortably into the class lead they were to maintain all the way to the end.
While the yellow flags were out there were some minor infringements that can so easily occur when only one part of the track is affected. Aumonier delivered a stiff warning to Porsche's Peter Falk about the conduct of Bell and Ickx, but decided that Pescarolo had done something naughtier and had him black-flagged, so, the courteous Frenchman was effectively docked two minutes.
Soon after the race resumed at full speed, with Bell, Boutsen and Ickx now bunched up, Dumfries in the Rothmans camera car was smitten heavily in the rear .by the Romano and drove, ever so gently, to the pits with a back wheel askew. He was caught by Bell in a particularly slippery corner and in a flash Hobbs was through into the lead, bringing the race to life again.
Now the surface on the new section of rack broke up completely and there was an element of farce as the cars queued spin the pits to have wheels changed. Dunlop, supplying the major part of the 29-car field, replaced no fewer than 20 covers in one hour and feared for a while that they might not be able to cope with the demand (they were also fitting for Yokohama and Goodyear). In fact in the latter half of the race Dunlop replaced 40 of their own tyres, 11 of Goodyear's and eight of Yokohama's.
The Canon team claimed the record with 12 Punctures, Mass and lckx suffered six, as did Pescarolo / Ludwig, while Bell and Bellof cruised along with just one each. It seemed to be a lottery, for the leaders were going as fast as they could and using all of the road, but there were so many cars spinning on the gravelly track that the roadway was constantly being sprinkled with stones from the trackside. A flying stone also fractured a brake pipe on Pescarolo's car, so it wasn't really his day at all. The Romano later turned across Palmer and smashed the front wing on his car, and finally met its Waterloo when it was his in the back and sustained a broken gearbox!
Boutsen and Hobbs were keeping a lot of pressure until an hour from the end, the Skoal car suddenly expired out on the circuit with a burned-out coil. There was nothing Hobbs could do but trudge back to the pits, leaving Bell and Bellof with a more relaxed run to the flag. They had looked like winners all the way and probably had enough in hand to have dealt with the Skoal car if the need had arisen, and Bellof is certainly a worthy champion. His record in the ten Championship rounds he has contested this year is six outright wins, five pole positions and four fastest laps (at least, since the quickest lap has not been published on two occasions).
It's a credit to the Canon team that their 956 finished only four laps down after its problems, 13 unscheduled stops not being a sure recipe for success! Jones and Schuppan eventually finished well down the order after having a turbocharger problem rectified, but Spice and Crang had no problems other than a spin on their way to tenth place and a convincing class victory, their fifth this year; both the Albas retired, Finotto's with an engine failure and Dacco's with an electrical breakdown.
From the organisers' point of view it was a disappointment that only 13,800 spectators paid to go through the gate, far short of the anticipated 40,000, though a clashing West Indies cricket match in Melbourne might have kept the uncommitted away from Sandown Park. It seems, though, that the only form of racing that really pulls big crowds is saloons and the big names like Alan Moffatt, Peter Brock, Allan Grice and Dick Thompson. Maybe there's a moral in that. — M.L.C.
Sandown Park 1,000 Kilometres, 11th round, World Endurance Championship for Drivers. Actual distance: 801 kms.
1st: S. Bellof / D. Bell (2.6 t/c Rothmans-Porsche 965) 206 laps – 6 hr 01 min 30.3 sec (133.35 kph)
2nd: J Mass / J Ickx (2.6 t/c Rothmans-Porsche 965) 203 laps
3rd: J Palmer / J Lammers (2.6 t/c Canon-Porsche 956) 202 laps
4th: S v d Merwe / G Fouche (2.6 t/c Kremer Porsche 956) 200 laps
5th: M Winelhock / R French (2.6 t/c Kremer Porsche 956) 200 laps
6th: A Miedecke / C Bond (2.6 t/c Fitzpatrick Porsche 956) 198 laps
7th: H Pescarolo / K Ludwig (2.6 t/c New Man Porsche 956) 197 laps
8th: A Jones / V Schuppan (2.6 t/c Rothmans-Porsche 965) 196 laps
9th: R Keegan / F Konrad (2.6 t/c Skoal Porsche 956) 194 laps
10th: G Spice / N Crang (3.3 Spice-Tiga DFL C2) 189 laps
Fastest lap: Bellof, 1 min 34.5 sec
Championship points: Bellof 138, Mass 127, Ickx 104, Pescarolo and Bell 91, Lammers and Palmer 75, Hobbs and Stuck 54