An eventful race
Nurburgring May 29th.
The last World Championship race ever to be held at the Nurburgring resulted, predictably and deservedly, in a win for Jacky Ickx and Jochen Mass in a Rothmans-Porsche 956. Deservedly because the Belgian’s name has been almost synonymous with the nordschleife circuit (as it is with Le Mans and Spa) since the day in 1967 when he threatened to make a mockery of the German Grand Prix by getting among the leaders with his Formula 2 Matra.
The 1,000 kilometre event became a pilgrimage for many of the competitors. Ickx wanted to win one last time, Derek Bell wanted to win for the first and last time, David Hobbs was racing there for the first time since 1969, even Vic Elford came out of retirement for a nostalgic run in a BMW M1 which, unfortunately, expired early in both practice sessions and failed to qualify. Keke Rosberg had an arrangement with Reinhold Joest’s team go wrong, so a last-minute agreement was made for him to share the Canon Porsche 956 with Jan Lammers and Dr. Jonathan Palmer. In fact, when Rosberg tested the car on Friday afternoon it was the first time he’d driven a turbo in anger, and he could not believe the throttle lag. “When I get on the accelerator, I’m a million miles too late!” The defeat of the works Porsches at Monza in April, the first round of the championship, spurred Mr. Helmuth Bott’s department into renewed development activity. This might be good news for the team, but it was definitely bad news for the customers and other rivals who cannot now remotely match the pace set by Bellof, Ickx, Mass and Bell. The works 956s are 20 kilos lighter than the customer cars, they have the latest Bosch Motronic ignition / injection system, subtle new nose panel shapes, higher compression engines which are certainly more powerful, and different front suspension to make the steering a bit lighter.
Bell started the ball rolling on Saturday morning recording 6 min 31.69 sec in the number 2 Rothmans-Porsche, on race tyres and on a still damp track. Shortly after Ickx recorded 6 min 27.36 sec in the number 1 works car, but this was just a foretaste of what was to come in the afternoon when the track was dry. It had been agreed that the German drivers, Bellof and Mass, would have the set of qualifying tyres available to each car–. Dunlop had not wanted to bring qualifiers, as they would only be effective for half a lap, but since the last 3 km of the lap is a straight the Porsche team thought it worthwhile to try them.
Mass went out and recorded 6 min 16.85 sec, and Bellof promptly replied with a 6 min 11.13 sec, an average of 202.053 kph. In the same conditions, and with qualifiers, Wollek’s best time was 6 min 31.59 sec while, in the Canon entry, Rosberg’s efforts resulted in a time of 6 min 39.52 sec. “I thought it was a good lap, until I saw the times” the Finn commented, and that really summed up the yawning margin of superiority.
The Lancia-Martini team entered one car for Riccardo Patrese/Michele Alboreto, backed by a new replica for the Mirabella racing team which is operated by a group of Brescia businessmen. Piercarlo Ghinzani was drafted in from the factory team “to help with setting the car up”, joining Giorgio Francia and Paolo Barilla. Both cars were affected by the bumpy state of the track to a greater extent than the Porsches, the drivers complaining of “porpoising” and a generally uncomfortable ride, and the works car spent most of its time in the pits having springs and dampers changed, doing single laps, while the Mirabella car blew a turbo seal during the morning session and missed the afternoon session having the engine changed, an eight-hour task.
Thirteen Gp C cars, plus the Giannini-Alba “Junior Gp C”, nine over 2-litre Gp. B entries and 18 assorted 2-litre Gp B and old Gp 2 cars made up the grid, and when Sunday dawned cold, wet and miserable the prospects didn’t look good for the third round of the 1983 World Endurance Championship. Porsche team manager Norbert Singer told his two German drivers to tour around at 6 min 45 sec to save fuel (which wasn’t very critical), to save the cars, and to make a race with the others.
His instructions were promptly ignored by Bellof who powered away into an ever-increasing lead, pursued by Mass. After two laps they were 11 sec apart and a full minute ahead of John Fitzpatrick, who was heading for the pits to change on to slick tyres, while after six laps Bellof was 36 sec in front of Mass and 21/2 min ahead of Rosberg! Bellof had lapped in 6 min 35 sec, Mass in 6 min 49.3 sec and Rosberg in 7 min 01.2 sec on the sixth lap.
Bell and Ickx resumed the race at more sedate speed, Ickx gradually catching up his English team-mate, but when the second pits stops were due at the 15-lap point Bob Wollek, running third in the Marlboro-Porsche and handicapped by the loss of third gear, was 5 min 20 sec down. Bellof was clearly rather annoyed that his lead over the number one car had been lost, and drove faster and faster from the 15th lap onward until he went into orbit! After setting a fastest lap of 6 min 25.91 sec, and extending his lead over Mass to 29 sec, Bellof lost control of the Porsche at the Pfianzgarten and attacked the barriers at 160 mph, destroying the car but fortunately stepping out of the wreckage unhurt.
Mass was very upset by this, going past the pits slowly and using the radio microphone to tell the crew what had happened, and drove noticeably slower until he handed the car back to Ickx on the 23rd lap. By then, Wollek and Johansson were 4 min 59 sec behind and Fitzpatrick/Hobbs in the J David 956 were the only others on the same lap, followed by Rosberg/Lammers/Palmer, Patrese/Alboreto and Ghinzani/Francia/Barilla one lap behind, and Lassig/Plankenhorn/Heyer (Boss Porsche 956) and Sigala/Larrauri (Lancia LC1) two laps behind.
Shortly after the race had to be stopped when Swiss driver/entrant Walter Brun had a dreadful accident on the run up to the Karussel, destroying his BMW turbocharged Sehcar against the barriers and blocking the track. Fortunately Brun sustained nothing worse than a broken arm in this accident.
Almost two hours later the shortened race was restarted for 19 laps, to cover a total of 44 laps (906 kilometres), and Johansson in the Marlboro car found that the boost pressure was fading so that he could run no higher in fifth place behind Ickx, Rosberg, Alboreto and Hobbs.
Only six laps into the second heat the whole complexion of the race changed. Both the Lancia LC2s retired with gearbox failures, Fitzpatrick arrived at the pits with his left-front wheel locked up, and then Mass was reported to be going slowly with a puncture. The Hobbs/Fitzpatrick car lost six laps having the front suspension rebuilt, falling to sixth place overall, the brake caliper having broken free and wrapped itself round the suspension. As for Mass, he had to cover half a lap with the top link broken on the right rear suspension, and it took the factory mechanics 5 min 56 sec to replace the broken part.
Overall, the works car was now only about a minute ahead of the Marlboro entry, but Wollek/Johansson were so handicapped by the gearbox and boost pressure problems that they couldn’t make a challenge. The Canon entry scored a popular “second heat win” ahead of the Boss entry and the Wollek/Johansson 956, with Mass/Ickx fourth on the some lap. Overall, and DM36,000 richer, it was the Rothmans-Porsche team that won the last World Championship race at the big Nurburgring circuit. — MLC.
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