World Sportscar Championship
Sandown Park 360kms
One defeat doesn’t end a war, but the Silk Cut Jaguar team went down badly at Sandown Park, Melbourne on November 20, trounced by AEG Sauber Mercedes. The two dark blue cars crossed the line five seconds apart at the end of the 360 kilometre ‘sprint’ event, with the Martin Brundle/Eddie Cheever XJR close to being lapped, and Jan Lammers/Johnny Dumfries one lap behind.
The result must hasten the development of the new Jaguar which has been designed by Tony Southgate, “a completely new package” as the team calls it. Since Le Mans the Swiss Sauber team has won four races (Brno, the Nurburgring, Spa and Sandown Park) and Jaguar only two, admittedly important events, at Brands Hatch and Fuji.
On points, therefore, Sauber Mercedes has won the “second half” of the championship by 120 to 80, a measure of the team’s increasing strength. Martin Brundle admitted, in the post-race conference, that “our package is beginning to look a little dated now” but declared himself confident that the team would be rejuvenated in the early part of next season. Both Jaguar and Mercedes will run with four-valve cylinder heads in 1989, probably from the start of the season, and TWR engine manager Allan Scott predicts a power output for the Jaguar V12 of between 750 and 800 horsepower, within the fuel allocation. Southgate has designed a new car around the big V12, a machine that will have a life of just two seasons, and the Silk Cut team will hope to gain an advantage over Sauber Mercedes early in the season, before the new C11 appears after Le Mans.
The Australian Lucas Supersprint race, the eleventh and final round of the 1988 World Sports-Prototype championship, was won almost as a formality by Jean-Louis Schlesser and Jochen Mass, who now form a most impressive partnership, from Mauro Baldi and Stefan Johansson. Two Silk Cut Jaguars, two privately entered Porsches and a locally-built Ves Kanda Chevrolet completed the seven-car C1 entry, and 11 C2 cars took the number of starters to 18. The amount of backing given to the works teams was pathetic, and FISA should be supported on the proposal that every team registered for the championship in 1989 must compete in every round. It may be hard on those who have difficulty in raising sponsorship and on those who prefer to take in certain events, but a World Championship is nothing if leading teams are lured away by big-money rival attractions.
The Joest Racing team entered four cars at Kyalami the following Saturday, while Brun Motorsport, Kremer and Lloyd all found the World Challenge of Tampa (Florida) more attractive the following Sunday. None of the three organisations was willing to change its date, but FISA’s insistence on a proper turnout for World Championship events should be decisive in 1989.
Sometimes people say things they might regret later. Surveying the pits at Sandown Park on Friday Roger Silman, the Silk Cut Jaguar team manager, was moved to say: “It’s a good job Mercedes came. . . what sort of race would it be without them?” A darned sight better for Jaguar is the answer! Not, though, for the 12,500 spectators, still a very low turnout by European standards but better than when the Light Car Club of Australia first staged the event in 1984, and lost its shirt in the process. This time Lucas sponsored the event (down under, Lucas is a recently acquired subsidiary of Jaguar Rover Australia), and the LCCA hopes to have Lucas’ support again next year if the Sandown Park meeting can be “twinned” with another at Pukekohe, New Zealand. With all the teams supporting the full World Championship next year, of course, each event will have a full entry and the costs for the ‘trans-continental’ organisers will be much greater than ever before.
Once again the AEG Sauber Mercedes team was in full control of the front row of the grid, though rather against expectations considering the twisty nature of the circuit around the outside of a picturesque horse-racing track, and its low average speed of 98 mph. Schlesser claimed pole position at 1 min 28.62sec ahead of Baldi at 1 min 29.98sec, and it was noticeable that the Saubers could run with more rear wing than the Jaguars, helping their comering speed without hindering their pace down the two half-mile straights.
Lammers and Brundle put their Jaguars on the second row at 1 min 30.20sec and 1 min 30.95sec respectively, and it was planned that both cars would race with carbon-fibre brake discs for the first time. However, in the final qualifying session Lammers handed his car to Dumfries who promptly left the road at the first corner as the brake pedal went to the floor, the fluid having boiled while the car was in the pits. Brake temperatures are considerably higher, so the team decided not to take the risks involved with a pit-stop race and replaced the usual iron brake discs. Fifth in qualifying was World C2 Champion Gordon Spice, again right on form with his Spice Cosworth and, with Ray Bellm, not so far behind the works teams at 1 min 34.95sec, just ahead of Tim Lee-Davey and Neil Crang in the former’s Porsche 962C.
With a display of strength that bewildered the Jaguar team Schlesser and Baldi drove away into the distance, pulling out 14 seconds in the first five laps and half a minute by lap 14, when a shower of rain made driving difficult for a while. The Saubers have usually been faster in qualifying but rarely in race trim, and for an hour Silman debated whether the Swiss team had changed its tactics, running outside its fuel allocation.
Apparently not. When the halfway pit stops were due Schlesser was on his fuel schedule and seven seconds ahead of Baldi, with Lammers 50 seconds down and Cheever a further eight seconds behind. So confused was the Silk Cut team by this time that Brundle was sent out with softer compound rear tyres and Dumfries with a harder compound, a decision that enabled Brundle to overtake his team-mate quite early in his stint .
Dumfries was duly lapped 19 laps from the end, Brundle avoiding that fate by only a few seconds, and it was a chastened set of World Champions who faced the public afterwards. Spice and Bellm won the C2 division after a contest that was exciting to the end, signing off a five-year dominance of the category as next season they move up into the new 31/2-litre class. The champions had lost an extra 75 seconds in the pits with a jammed starter motor, allowing the ADA and GP Motorsport teams to get clear away, but fuel consumption was a particular problem at Sandown Park, and again the Spice team proved to have the best speed with economy. The unlucky Costas Los rolled his Spice Cosworth to a standstill within sight of the chequered flag, and the ADA Cosworth driven by Australians Arthur Abrahams and Jobe Smith slowed right down in the closing laps, dropping to second in class by some 46 seconds.
The Australian event could hardly have been described as well supported or exciting, but the result was greeted with joy by the AEG Sauber Mercedes team which earned such a fin victory. MLC