Confidence Restored

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It was like a dream come true for the entire Silk Cut Jaguar team as the two XJR-11s swept to victory at Silverstone on May 20th. It was 19 months since the last success, at Fuji in October 1988, and the first with the new turbocharged cars that were so troublesome in their first year. Martin Brundle and Alain Ferte took the flag a lap ahead of Jan Lammers and Andy Wallace, and so maintained Jaguar’s perfect record of Group C finishes at Silverstone: four appearances, four victories.

What, though, of the mighty Mercedes team? A year after their last defeat at Dijon, almost to the day, the Schlesser/ Baldi C11 retired from the lead with flames pouring from the exhaust pipes, the result of a camshaft breakage. Mass and Michael Schumacher, the 21-year old ‘apprentice’ didn’t even start, victims of the FISA rule forbidding any work being carried out on the car outside the pits area.

Towards the end of the Saturday morning practice session Schumacher coasted past the pits with the V8 engine idling and pulled over where the pits wall ends, parking in the exit lane near Copse. Mechanics accompanied by team manager Max Welti ran to the Mercedes and found that the gear lever had been pulled clear of the composite chassis sill. A gear was found and Schumacher set off again to complete the ‘in’ lap, but shortly afterwards the stewards disqualified the C11. Going further, they disqualified Schumacher personally for failing to fasten his seat belts.

Welti and Jochen Neerpasch made a strong appeal but the stewards, led by Alain Bertaut, were unyielding. Number 2 was taken off the computer leaving Jean-Louis Schlesser and Mauro Baldi to keep the star shiny, a task which didn’t daunt them. The decision did, at any rate, deprive Mass of the risk of setting a hattrick of first-lap incidents!

The Jaguar team went to Silverstone with high hopes, the XJR-11 having been revised by Ross Brawn with new uprights, a wider track and higher downforce bodywork. The modifications cured the brake deficiency and should have put the team onto level terms with the Mercedes. Sauber, though, had improved the Swiss chassis in the light of Monza experience and found another second per lap, probably, maintaining the advantage. Brundle and Lammers went into the third round believing that pole position would be established at 1 min 13 sec, and near enough that’s what they did. Unfortunately for them Schlesser and Mass were in the low twelves, the Frenchman lopping all of three seconds off his own qualifying record set in May 1988. Neither was particularly happy, having been held up by traffic, and Schlesser was sure he could get down to 1 min 11.5 sec — the magic 150mph lap — if he got a clear run on Saturday afternoon. Brundle, though, said that 1 min 12.5 sec would be “supersonic” for a Jaguar. This now becomes academic as the Group C cars won’t race again at Silverstone in its present form, more is the pity. The order on the monitor screens, 1-2-3-4, was familiar, but the removal of the Mass/Schumacher Mercedes promoted Brundle to the front row and increased Jaguar’s chances of winning by about 50 per cent!

Mark Blundell was ‘best of the rest’ in his Nissan, fourth on the grid and stealing a place from Jonathan Palmer (Joest Racing Porsche) in the last minutes of Saturday’s session. Bob Wollek was troubled by understeer, “just like Monza”, and languished in eighth place, but even so the factory assisted 3.2-litre Porsches were a class above all the others.

Bernd Schneider, with Steven Andskar in the Kremer Racing Porsche 962C-K5, was the top runner in Porsche’s 3-litre division, tenth on the grid at 1 min 16.529 sec. Such was the mechanical carnage at Monza three weeks before that there weren’t enough 3-litre water-cooled engines to go around so ageing 2.8-litre air/water engines, short of 50 bhp, were allocated to the Los/Thuner Cougar, one of Tim Lee-Davey’s Porsches and to the Almeras brothers who failed to qualify.

Geoff Lees, with John Watson in the yellow Taka Q sponsored Tom’s Toyota 90C-V, did a fine job to claim sixth place on the grid at 1 min 14.960 sec, considering that the boost control is strictly out of bounds for the Norfolk based team. Johnny Dumfries, who needed to impress his Japanese employers, was joined by Hitoshi Ogawa for the weekend, and it was the earl’s luck to be hit by a wayward engine cover which flew from Lammer’s Jaguar after a minor collision on Friday.

The Spice Engineering team based at Silverstone qualified in 12th and 13th places but would come up strongly in the race, in which fuel economy was surprisingly important. Heavy braking is the enemy of economy and there’s not much of that at the Northamptonshire track, but the Mercedes team is so fuel efficient, and has so stretched the opposition, that rivals have the choice of waving goodbye to the Silver Arrows or trying to keep them in sight, while in the red on the economy gauge. It’s not an easy choice for ambitious young racing drivers, all of whom look forward to next year’s fuel-free formula.

If Peter Sauber hadn’t recalled the defeat at Dijon 364 days before, no-one quite liked to mention it at the team dinner on Friday. There were no memories of it as Schlesser forged ahead from the start, challenged by Brundle at Copse, but as soon as the power and torque of the 5-litre V8 could be put to the road the silver car began to pull away.

Schlesser sliced 1.6 sec off the Group C lap record on his first flying lap, setting the new mark at 1 min 16.649 sec (139.5mph) and opening his advantage to 2.4 sec, but he then settled down to a nice rhythm in the 1-18 to 1-19 bracket. He kept off the kerbs and rumble strips, earlier and more gently than anyone else and seemed to have all the time in the world, even while taking 15 seconds off Brundle in the first 20 laps.

Analysis shows that nobody else, not even Brundle, broke the two-year old record of 1 min 18.24 sec, but in the new C 11 Schlesser did so five times in the first half-hour. An interesting thought that emerges from the results is that the winning Jaguar’s average speed for 480 kms was almost identical to that of the Brundle/Cheever XJR-9 (V12) in 1988, over 1000 kms. Accepting that the XJR-I11 ran 60 laps without too much pressure, enabling Ferte and Brundle to go easy on the throttle, the opposition really did have a major consumption problem throughout.

Jan Lammers was in trouble almost from the start with heavy fuel consumption and more understeer than he expected. The team had experimented with a different Motronic chip on Sunday morning, but six laps into the race the Dutchman realised that he’d received a gift-wrapped problem. First he let the two Nissans go by, then the two hard-charging Spices, and Lammers wasn’t far off being lapped when he handed over to Andy Wallace.

A new chip, identical to the one in Brundle’s car, was installed before Wallace joined the race. Lammers got too involved in this and had his right foot trapped when the car came down off its air jacks, bruising his toes.

Until Silverstone the Sauber Mercedes team had a perfect record of engine reliability in World Championship racing, so one failure can hardly be construed as a criticism. Flames jetted from both exhausts as Baldi approached Stowe, and Ferte went through into the lead even as the C11 came to a stop on the grass. The Italian played the dashboard like a Wurlitzer for several minutes under radio instructions from the pits, but baled out when the battery went flat. A camshaft drive breakage guaranteed some major derangements inside the V8, and up in the pits the collective sigh of relief from rival teams was enough to warp the flagpoles. Now the race would run at Ferte’s speed, not Baldi’s, a bonus of two seconds a lap. The Frenchman was not a pushover, though, and his lap times were little different from Brundle’s. Both he and Wallace felt overshadowed in the races at Suzuka and Monza, and played major parts at Silverstone.

Ferte steadily increased his lead over Brancatelli and Acheson, keeping their Nissans in station in second and third places, extending a 20 second advantage at 40 laps to 47 seconds at 60 laps. Now Fermin Velez and Wayne Taylor were fourth and fifth in the works Spices with no consumption worries at all, and Wallace was holding sixth place so easily that he stayed in the car all the way to the finish.

The second fuel stops were more than usually interesting. Brancatelli moved into the lead for a single lap when Ferte’s Jaguar refuelled, then Acheson led for six laps in the other Nissan. John Watson, passed over by most teams even though he’s younger than some at 44, made his point with a very strong and consistent drive in the Taka Q Toyota, holding seventh place when he stopped for fuel. The Tom’s plan went wrong when the fuel system vapour locked, and Lees did so much cranking that the battery went flat. It was a full six minutes before the yellow Toyota rejoined the race, any chance of a points-scoring place having evaporated. While all this was going on the Ogawa/Dumfries Toyota was refuelled with too much enthusiasm and four litres over the allocation went into the tank, earning a speedy black flag disqualification.

Tim Harvey’s Cosworth engine blew asunder at 70 laps, then Jonathan Palmer went slowly to the Joest pit with a broken driveshaft, forfeiting a likely points placing. Just ahead at the time was the Bob Wollek/Frank Jelinski Porsche which was classified fourth.

Ten laps, and 15 minutes from the flag, the two Nissans were astern of Brundle’s Jaguar, Bailey 1 min 22 sec behind and Blundell just lapped. Wallace and Giacomelli occupied fourth and fifth positions, then Wollek led a convoy of nine Porsches which were clearly outclassed once again.

Then Bailey’s Nissan swerved onto the grass while braking from 200 mph for Stowe and staggered through the corner with smoke pouring from the left wheel arch. It was tyre smoke, caused by a breakage and collapse of the rear suspension, something that has led to a deep investigation in the run-up to Le Mans. Bailey was out, and on the final run down to Stowe Blundell’s tank ran dry. The Nissan coasted to Club with a dead engine, and was driven all the way to the line on the starter motor. It was a brave try, but the final lap took too long, 61/2 minutes, and the car was disqualified.

Jaguar’s victory was very popular indeed at Silverstone, and deservedly so. The scale of the team’s achievement comes into perspective when we consider that the whole turbo programme was started two years ago, and Jan Lammers raced the prototype for the first time in IMSA trim at Lime Rock on Whit Monday last year. Just inside 12 months (or 10, if you start counting from the debut of the XJR-11 at Brands Hatch last July) Tom Walkinshaw Racing has developed a worthy race winner which blew the doors off the Porsches, Nissans and Toyotas, to use a vernacular, and they have been working on turbo-engined cars for a good many seasons. Walkinshaw doesn’t delude himself that it will be easy to beat the Mercedes on straight terms, but the team’s pride and confidence has been fully restored.

MLC

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