Alan Jones 1987 Toyota 87C
After a calamitous Formula One Swansong, Alan Jones raced a Tom’s-run Toyota. The car was inadequate, however and the team-driver relationship matched it as Adam Cooper revelas
When the Beatrice Formula One team ground to a halt at the end of 1986, Alan Jones welcomed the chance to spend more time at home in Australia. But he wasn’t prepared to retire just yet. So when Toyota came calling with a lucrative offer to contest the Japanese Sports-Prototype Championship, he found it hard to resist
“It was good money, but it also wasn’t too far away for me,” Jones recalls. “What it allowed me to do was hop on a plane on a Thursday, and get over there in eight hours, which is less than driving from where Hived to Sydney. There was only a one hour time difference, so no jet lag. I could do the race, leave on Monday night, and be home on Tuesday morning, with only an hour’s time difference. So in that way it was actually quite good.” Jones partnered Japanese veteran Geoff Lees in the TOM’S team. Its four-cylinder turbocars had shown prodigious speed in the previous year’s Fuji
World Championship race, where Satoru Nakajima had been faster than the European visitors in qualifying. The car had a good chance of beating the Nissans and the locally run Porsches in the Japanese series.
When Jones first drove the 87C, he was reasonably impressed, but one thing caught his eye. He was convinced the rear wing wasn’t in the most efficient position.
‘I said to Geoff Lees, ‘What’s that rear wing doing there?’, and he said, ‘Mate, if you can get them to put that wing back, you’re a better man than me, because I’ve been trying for two years.” Jones now had the sort of challenge he relished. “So I said to them, ‘Why is the rear wing there?’, and they said, Designer!’ And I said, ‘I realise it must have been the designer — obviously someone’s put it there — but why don’t you avail yourself of the best possible position and have it as high as you can, and as far back as you can, so it’s in fresh air?’ Designer!’ was again the reply.”
The key to survival for any foreign driver in Japan is to never get upset with the team or overreact to the day-to-day frustrations of trying to get a job done in such an alien land. The late Harvey Postlethwaite once said that when he got fed up at Ferrari, he imagined a cupboard containing his salary in cash. When he opened it and had a look he soon forgot his troubles. Jones is not the type to listen to such advice…
“I did a race with the thing, and kept asking them to put the rear wing up and back a bit I quickly discovered the way to get the Japanese to do something was embarrass them into it! So I offered to pay for the mounts to be made to move it up and back. At which point they went off and made some aluminium ones. And Geoff and I went about a second quicker and about 150% more comfortably.”
At the Fuji race in May it poured down, and Jones, Lees and Masanori Sekiya somehow survived the chaos to win the 1000kms event. Not that Alan enjoyed it very much.
“They actually succeeded in building a racetrack in one of the rainiest parts ofJapan on a mountain — and one that didn’t drain!”
In the middle of the short Japanese season Toyota headed to Le Mans. The car performed respectably in qualifying, but early in the race Jones coasted to a halt, a kilometre short of the pit entry, out of fuel.
“Before we went to Le Mans I told them to please get the windscreen wipers working properly. A car promptly blew up in front of me, and when I put the wipers on it smeared everything up, and I couldn’t see where I was going. So I had to make an extra pit stop for that.
‘Then it ran out of fuel. They had said that when you see the fuel light come on, flick the switch and you’ll have two laps on the reserve. I flicked the switch and ran out about 50 yards up the road! The two-way radio they put in the car didn’t work, because the batteries were flat, so it was a comedy of errors. After about half an hour of trying to cornmunicate with everybody, I just said, ‘Stuff it’ and walked back.”
Abandoning the healthy car before taking official advice did not endear Jones to the management, for it guaranteed instant retirement Later a mechanic topped it up and drove it back to the paddock.
By now the rot had set in, and Alan’s patented bull/china shop approach was less than ideal.
“I said to them I’d have to stop, and gave them notice that they should find somebody else. They said ‘Do you want more money?’! said no, it’s pointless, I’d have to give half of it to a psychiatrist Then I spent the next two races trying to convince them that I didn’t have a psychiatrist, and it was just a throwaway remark that! made because they were driving me mad.” Alan’s final outing with the team was in the World Championship race at Fuji in late September, when Jaguar, Rothmans Porsche and the rest of the European contenders turned up. A good performance was essential for Toyota.
“They informed me they had a new super lightweight car that would be a real bullet, and! thought, ‘Terrific’. I got over to Japan and there was the new super lightweight car. But guess where the rear wing was? Back in the original position. So! asked them what it was doing there, and they said ‘But it’s the lightweight car.’
“I know this sounds impossible to believe: they’d left the brackets back in Tokyo, so someone had to go and fetch them so they could put the rear wing where it should have been.”
Jones was unhappy, too with the structure of the TOM’S team.
“They used to go in this room for the debriefing, and you’d be lucky to fit in. There’d be a cast of thousands. There was a bloke specially for putting on valve caps, and about an hour and half into it, they’d ask him his opinion on what colour valve caps should go on!” Alan might be stretching the truth a little here, but you get the message. And yet behind the wheel, he couldn’t help himself. In a wet qualifying session at Fuji he ignored three requests to pit and hand the car to Lees, instead staying out to pip Jaguar’s acknowledged rainmaster Jan Lammers and all the local heroes to the quickest time. And the bloody wipers weren’t working…