A Porsche benefit
For a while it looked as though Porsche had some real opposition at last. The two Lancia-Martini entries had practised well, their tyre problems were solved, and for the opening dozen laps of the 1,000 kilometre race they romped away from the Porsche 956s, making the best use of their rain tyres on the damp circuit. A stop to change to slick tyres, favoured from the start by most teams, put the Lancias down the order, then at quarter distance they both stopped with serious overheating problems which led to retirement.
After that it was simply a question of which Porsche would win, and that issue was in doubt all the way to the finish. In the end the Rothmans-Porsche works car got the upper hand, driven by Derek Bell and Stefan Bellof, taking the flag 53 sec. ahead of the Marlboro-Porsche of Bob Wollek and Stefan Johansson.
The Lancia team came to Silverstone in a hopeful mood, believing that the tyre problems which ruined the debut had been overcome. Tests at Ricard had shown that the tyres were underinflated, and were being rubbed by the carbon-fibre ground effect ducting on either side of the gearbox. Practice showed that temperatures were still too high, though lowered by fitting titanium heat shields behind the turbochargers (in close proximity to the tyres), and by reducing the camber angle. Not until near the end of the final practice session was it found that increasing the toe-in angle brought the temperatures right down to the correct level, and the Pirelli engineers could relax at last.
Stefan Bellof, new to the Porsche works team and paired with Derek Bell, put the number two car on pole position with an all-out lap in 1 min. 13.15 sec. (144.29 m.p.h.) which was more than two seconds faster than Ickx, Wollek, Bell, Mass and Alboreto managed. Up to then they had been content with their practice laps in the 1 min. 15 sec. bracket, which compared well with last year’s pole time of 1 min. 16.91 sec., though there was a suspicion that Bellof had turned the boost up for his quick lap. Stefan Johansson took Wollek’s car out in the dying minutes of practice to record the second fastest time in 1 min. 15.10 sec.
Piercarlo Ghinzani was fifth quickest in the second Lancia ahead of Fitzpatrick / Hobbs (Porsche 956), Schickentanz / Merl / Heyer (Porsche 956), Lammers / Boutsen / Lloyd (Porsche 956), and Alan Jones making his endurance racing debut with Vern Schuppan in the Kremer Porsche 956. The lightened and more aerodynamic Aston Martin Nimrod driven by Ray Mallock and Mike Salmon was 15th fastest, 1.6 sec. faster than the brand new Aston Martin Emka of Steve O’Rourke with Tiff Needell and Jeff Allam.
From the rolling start the Lancias swept into the lead on their rain tyres, Alboreto in the lead on the first lap then Ghinzani taking charge for the next ten. The Porsches were very tip-toe on their slicks, Bell being harried and even touched by Larrauri’s Lancia LC1 (last year’s works car with coupe bodywork), and Jones worked his way up from seventh place on the opening lap to third place by the sixth tour. By then the Lancias were out of sight, 23 seconds ahead, but as the racing line dried Jones, on intermediate rubber, reeled them in.
After 16 laps the Lancias had both been in to have slick tyres fitted, and Jones went into the lead for five laps. Now Mass and Bell were closing on the Australian as their slicks warmed up, joined by Wollek recovering from a spin, and they soon pushed Jones down the order.
Last year’s race, the debut for the Porsche 956, was spoiled by the fuel regulations. This year they had the same ration of petrol (600 litres) but the race was reduced to 1,000 km., which meant that the cars could be driven much harder. After the first pit stops it was clear that the race would be dominated by the two works cars and the Marlboro car, already a lap clear of the two Lancias, Jones / Schuppan, Lammers / Boutsen, and Schickentanz / Heyer / Merl. The gap continued to increase, but all the while the three leading cars were rarely more than 20 seconds apart.
Lancia’s hopes died when Patrese stopped at his pit on lap 47 with a serious overheating problem, followed eight laps later by Fabi in similar trouble. Due to an installation fault both Lancias had too much pressure in the cooling system, which was rebuilt by the mechanics. It took an hour to do the job, by which time the race was only of academic interest for the Italian team, and the cars were sent out again to set the fastest lap before retiring.
At half distance Ickx led Bell by 5.9 sec. with Wollek another 6.5 sec. in arrears, and it was still anyone’s race. Then, after the next pit stops, it was Bellof in the lead from Johansson and Mass. Quickly Mass set about closing on Johansson, when a heavy rain shower at the far end of the circuit made conditions treacherous. It was not the young drivers who succumbed, but Mass who took a wide line at Club to pass Johansson and steered straight off the road, through the catch fencing. Truffo’s Lancia LC1 was hit by debris and also crashed, this being the last Lancia left in the race.
Lammers and Boutsen consolidated third place though inconvenienced by finding third gear difficult to select, Jones / Schuppan dropping back a little due to a punctured tyre. Mallock hit a rabbit, or a hare, travelling at top speed in the Nimrod and needed to have the shattered front corner taped up, dropping out of seventh place for a while. The Emka fell back from ninth place when the rear wing support collapsed, but was running well in 13th place until a rear wheel bearing failed on the final lap.
After Mass’ exit from the race Johansson began to fall back from Bellof, troubled by understeer, and team chief Reinhold Joest gave the Swede a signal to increase the boost to 1.3 bar, worth another 30 b.h.p. It was enough to narrow the gap again, but not to take the lead.
When it was his turn to drive, Wollek had the additional problem that the throttle return spring had weakened and was not responding as it should. Even so he kept Bell’s lead to eight seconds when the last refuelling stop was due, an the final stint was a straight fight between the two Stefans.
Bellof drove quickly and sensibly to extend his lead, Johansson unable to attack because of the poor throttle return which was too much of an embarrassment at an average of 125 m.p.h. The gap extended to 53 seconds at the finish, after five hours of racing.
Porsche’s tally of 40 points after two rounds looked commanding against Lancia’s three, the Italians having a lot to do for the rest of the season if they are to crack the German domination. In the driver’s championship Wollek leads with 35 points ahead of Boutsen on 32. — M.L.C.