World Endurance Championship: Monza 1000kms

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WEC — Round 2. Rothmans-Porsche beaten at last!

The Porsche factory’s sportscar team has not been beaten in a World Endurance Championship race since Derek Warwick and John Fitzpatrick trounced the Rothmans cars at Brands Hatch in September 1983, and the inevitable defeat came at Monza on April 28th.

The Monza 1,000 Kms (or 800 Kms, as it turned out) was a memorable event. On Friday Hans Stuck was lapping consistently in the new Porsche 962C he shares with Derek Bell when the engine compartment caught fire, and the car was completely burned out just around the Curva Grande, between two fire points. Stuck got out before the fierce blaze took hold, but the marshals were fast asleep and it took them three minutes to reach the scene and put the fire out, by which time the back of the DM800,000 car was a molten ruin. Presumably FISA and FOCA will be looking into this matter before the Italian Grand Prix is held at Monza in September.

Memorable, too, because no-one could remember any previous occasion when a World Championship motor race was stopped by a fallen tree. The afternoon was clear, quite warm, but a gentle breeze became a gale-force wind at four o’clock in the afternoon, and the tall poplar trees in the park were swaying spectacularly. Mike Wilds, in the new Ecosse C2 car, had a branch fall in front of him, then Paolo Barilla stopped his Joest Porsche at the pits with the headlights knocked out — again by a falling branch. A few minutes later the whole tree fell down and the track went quiet. In the pits there was tension . . . there always is when you know something has happened, and you don’t know what . . . then laughter when one of the drivers got on the radio to say that the circuit was blocked by a tree. Fortunately it hadn’t fallen on any spectators, or cars, and Jonathan Palmer who was first along had plenty of time to stop.

It was certainly a stroke of luck for Erwin Kremer, whose 962C driven by Manfred Winkelhock and Marc Surer was in the lead at the time, and was declared the winner. Much earlier Surer had deftly knocked Mauro Baldi’s Lancia off the track at the Parabolica, stopped for new tyres and half a tank of fuel, and been out of step with everyone else on refuelling ever since. The car was due to stop on the next lap and, had the tree fallen five minutes later, would have been fourth in the results, not first.

Controversy about how much fuel was left in each car’s pit was purely academic, of course. Bell and Stuck, placed second, were sure that they would have won. Patrese and Nannini in the third-placed Lancia had lost a valuable 30 sec at the first refuelling and another 30 sec when their mid-point pad change went badly, but even so they might have won. Mass and Ickx, placed fourth, would not have done since Ickx had used too much fuel in his stint, trying to make a race after exercising exemplary self-control at Mugello a fortnight before. Bellof and Boutsen, provisionally placed fifth (and still on the same lap as the winners) were excluded for taking on fuel too rapidly at the second stop. The regulations say that refuelling must be at a rate not faster than 50 litres per minute, and after a long stop the first time (91 litres in 2 mm 20 sec) their team manager adjusted too generously. If they thought they’d be allowed to average the first two stops, they were sadly mistaken.

Lancia went to Monza brimful with confidence, armed with special high-boost qualifying engines for Saturday’s timed sessions. Reputed to develop over 800 bhp, the Italian cars then proceeded to do respectable Formula 1 times assisted by Michelin’s best rubber and the wide-track suspension, which was developed during the winter.

Palmer was third quickest, ahead of Mass, and the works team didn’t look nearly as confident as usual. The 962C is a little bit “edgy” during qualifying, having 19 in diameter rear wheels and ultra-low, stiff sidewall Dunlops which aren’t as progressive as the 16 in tyres used last year. Then again, none of the Porsches had demon engines for qualifying, and all the competitors become preoccupied with checking fuel consumption, now the all-important factor in the race. Rothmans-Porsche had a pair of 962Cs and a pair of back-up 956s with lowdownforce Le Mans bodywork to check economies, and after losing Stuck’s 962C put him and Bell into a 956 with a highdownforce tail and a low-downforce nose.

Race speeds tend to be about 10 sec a lap slower than qualifying, but this is deceiving because the Mugello race was run at a faster average than the previous event, in September 1983, while the Monza average in four hours was almost identical to last year’s winning average. The cars are actually going just as quickly while using 15% less fuel which is exactly what FISA envisaged when the rule was formulated.

Porsche and Lancia may make all the running in C1, but the C2 class has much more variety with Martino Finotto’s Carma-Alba FF team defending its 1984 Championship from Gordon Spice, whose Spice Engineering Tiga-DFL has now won both opening rounds, the new Ecosse-DFV which made its 1985 debut with a new chassis and carbon-fibre/Kevlar bodywork and the Gebhardts.

Finotto, a wealthy industrialist, owns the Carma team and Carlo Facetti, his co-driver designed the 1.9-litre turbocharged engine which usually goes like the wind in qualifying. Giorgio Stirano designed the attractive new Alba carbon-fibre chassis, and the sophisticated machine was romping away with the C2 class until the rear bodywork flew away, complete with the wing, and forced its retirement. Whether it would have gone so fast in the last hour, when the fuel situation became critical, is open to some doubt, but Spice’s immaculately prepared, reliable Tiga was never far behind . . . and in this car’s wake, Hugh McCaig’s EMP, was earning admiration as it ran faultlessly in the hands of Ray Matlock and Mike Wilds. A new Ecosse will be seen in C1 next year, commissioned by McCaig and sponsors Boris, probably (but not certainly) to be powered by Aston Martin’s V8. No doubt they’re bending John Egan’s ear even now to secure a 6-litre Jaguar V12, which would truly renew the illustrious partnership between the Scots and Coventry of the ‘fifties. — MLC.