The British Silhouette Round Goes To The Home Team ... Just

The only British round of the Group 5 World Championship for Makes, commonly known as silhouette racing, covered fractionally under 637 miles of Silverstone’s GP circuit as far as the winning combination of John Fitzpatrick/Tom Walkinshaw and their 3 1/2-litre BMW CSL coupe were concerned. Just 0.12 of a mile behind, less than 100 yards after six hours’ racing, was the fast-closing turbocharged Kremer Porsche, driven by Hans Heyer/Bob Wollek. It was a fitting finish to reward the courage of the BRDC in promoting this class of racing for British spectators, who are normally averse to turning up in great numbers for these endurance races. A surprising end too, for non-starters had also plagued the organisers to the point where just 17 cars started, with the outright favourite sidelined within seconds of the start.

Appalling spectator figures, reflecting the reduced status of sports-car racing in recent years, have led to the situation where the BOAC 500/1,000 is but a memory and there will be no round of this year’s Group 6 sports car series held in Britain.

The BRDC originally had 28 entries listed in the programme for this, the third round in a Championship headed by Porsche. The most important defections, from a crowd viewpoint, were those of the works Stratos from Lancia-Marlboro for Brambilla/Facetti, and the George Loos Gp. 4 Porsche Turbos for Hezemans and Schenken.

From the outset it became clear that Porsche were not in for one of the usual routs of the opposition. With two straight wins recorded for the sleek glassfibre-bodied 935, Porsche and the organisers were glad to find BMW had put together a really fabulous weapon. A brand new Ca. had been constructed in Munich, outward appearance and fundamental mechanics the same as the customer CSLs built in the winter for Hermetite, Alpina-Faltz and Schnitzer, all of whom were at Silverstone. Under the bonnet, instead of the 31-litre injection six giving a best of 480 b.h.p., was a KKK turbocharger, operating a fixed 1.3 atmospheres boost to a 3.2-litre version of the same engine. Complete with the usual racing four-valve heads, which account for the low boost pressure compared to Porsche (as it’s easier to get good power than with a two-valve, single-camshaft layout like Porsche’s) this mighty motor produced a thunderous 750 horsepower at 9,000 r.p.m. Even accounting for a rear-mounted water radiator system the 1,080 kg. coupe (up 60 kg. over normal aspirated CSLs) had poor weight distribution at 56% front, 44% rear. The compensation for those figures came in crowd spectacle, especially at the standing start (the first time this year) of what was to be a very surprising race. Jacky Ickx, who had recorded I min. 27.19 sec., versus partner Mass on 1 min. 26.85 sec., was to start for the Martini-Porsche team. Lined up next to him was the turbo BMW of Ronnie Peterson (1 min. 27.93 sec.) while his co-driver, Gunnar Nilsson, sat in the pits, secure that he is to do a lot more BMW driving during the year.

The second row comprised the Group 5 private Porsches of Leo Kinnunen/Martin Evertz (production Gp. 4 turbo engine) on 1 min. 31.57 sec., and the Kremer car for Bob Wollek/Hans Heyer (1 min. 29.0 sec.). The BMWs, without exhaust-driven supercharging, started on the third row with Dieter Quester/Albrecht Krebs in Schnitzer’s green CSL (1 min. 32.64 sec.); Harald Grohs/ Hughes de Fierlant for Alpina-Faltz (1 min. 32.65 sec.), plus John Fitzpatrick/Tom Walkinshaw, a row in arrears after injection maladies had dropped them Onto 1 min. 33.6 sec.

Ickx got the initial 10 yards on Peterson, who hesitated slightly with the wrong revs, built them up beautifully and set the soft compound 19-in, diameter rear Goodyears virtually ablaze as he blew the Martini-Porsche toward the pit wall. Ickx had responded in the same way as you or I might at being beaten off the traffic lights. However, the Porsche clutch, used to rolling starts, disintegrated. It was to take an hour and three-quarters before the mechanics could pick out all the shattered bits of pressure plate from the flywheel. Thereafter the car was the fastest on the track, eventually managing second to last, and a new record of just under 120 m.p.h. In fact Porsche were lucky they had Jochen Mass on the team, nobody else could have pushed the seized 935 back across the grass from Maggotts to the runway, poor Ickx looking puffed after the first 10 yards!

Peterson led the first 14 laps, the opening two in grand wheel-lifting style as he pulled away from a bunch that eventually settled down as Wollek and Kinnunen, ahead of the three injected BMWs, Quester (he held second place during the opening laps), Grohs and Fitzpatrick.

After those 14 laps Peterson had to bring the BMW in for new tyres! Equipped with harder Goodyears the Swede shot back into the fray and showed that he can he spectacular, and intelligent, in a saloon. Coming out of Becketts, Peterson literally had to ease the throttle all the time until the wheelspin had abated to launch the car down the Hangar straight at a reported 178 m.p.h. Under the bridge, towards the chicane, Mr. Peterson was also reported to be suffering wheelspin!

By the conclusion of the first hour Peterson was second, having wiped out much of that 90 sec. tyre halt, as he was within 10 sec. of the leading Kremer Porsche. Then, eight minutes later, he was in for good as the fivespeed gearbox had wilted at transmitting turbo power, Peterson having coped without third after only 10 laps, and other ratios absenting thereafter.

Leaders during the rather boring 4-hour middle of the race included both the Op. 5 private Porsches and Questcr, the latter eliminated when the engine failed after 150 laps. Both the Porsches had troubles, Kinnunen soldiering on with a misfire and poor braking, while the Kremer car lost over 20 minutes having the turbocharger re-assembled.

Nevertheless it was the Kremer car pursuing Fitzpatrick: with 16 minutes to go it made a 30-second pit-stop for fuel, a baulking delivery valve preventing a proper fuel intake, so Heyer had to stop again for 15 seconds to take on more. As he emerged from the pits he had 24 seconds to catch John Fitzpatrick, and there were nine minutes to go. The crowd responded to the first-class commentary, urging “Fitz” onward as the Porsche slashed away 5-6 sec. a lap in pursuit of the bulky BMW, which was now running very cleanly after earlier fuel pick-up problems had been circumnavigated by removing the primary fuel filter.

It’s rare to see a British crowd on their feet shouting themselves hoarse, but they did for the few remaining laps, until Fitzpatrick slid into view, passing the flag as the Porsche snaked out of the chicane. Fitzpatrick, the Midlander whose repute on the Continent has been backed by consistent speed in Porsches, BMWs and Fords, had come in to a tremendously popular home win.

As the British national anthem played, the multi-hued “big Be-Em” shrunk modestly from the limelight, the BRDC counted 12,000 spectators (they had needed 11,000), Jochen Neerpasch smiled quietly at this turn in Munich fortunes and David Hobbs, contracted Jaguar driver, diplomatically shuffled his feet.—J.W.

Colour pictures of this race appear on pages 674-675.