You can do it in an MG
Alan Coren recalls his first sports car. The first car I ever owned was an…
Jaguar ends Porsche success story
It took Tom Walkinshaw’s Silk Cut Jaguar team just seven races to end four years of Porsche domination in the World Sportscar Championship, and fittingly it was at Silverstone on May 5th that Derek Warwick and Eddie Cheever scored their well-deserved success. The white and mauve car ran perfectly for nearly five hours, at an average of 129.08 mph, to beat Word Champions Derek Bell and Hans Stuck by nearly three laps.
The Porsche was slowing with a serious gearbox problem, but that made no difference to the outcome and Walkinshaw was exultant after the victory. “After Monza we came here determined to win. There’s winning and winning, and we wanted to win from the front. That we did.”
There was never any doubt that the main ambition of Jaguar and the TWR team was to beat Porsche, just as the Rover programme was mounted to beat the BMWs. Twenty-nine years after Jaguar’s last sportscar victory, at Le Mans in 1957, the Coventry marque had returned to the forefront, winning the Kouros 1,000 Kilometre race handsomely.
In fact the race was all about three cars, and none of them were Porsches. For half the race the battle was between the Jaguars of Warwick and Cheever, Jean-Louis Schlesser and Gianfranco Brancatelli, and the sole Lancia-Martini LC2/86 of Andrea de Cesaris and Sandro Nannini. Amazingly Bell and Stuck had been lapped three times before half distance, and even the famed good fortune of the Weissach team could not retrieve that sort of margin.
Peter Falk’s Rothmans-Porsche team returned to Weissach with mixed emotions. Hans Stuck ended the race with his PDK semi-automatic transmission in ruins. Jochen Mass and Bob Wollek having retired much earlier with a broken crownwheel in the differential. The Monza success, a fortnight previously, had been rather lucky, more than the Porsche team expected, but on the form shown at Silverstone new victories will be harder to achieve.
After four years of winning with ease, Herr Falk’s team is treating 1986 as a year of technical development and is firmly committed to running, and developing the semi-automatic transmission in all the races except Le Mans (and even there the third car may have PDK transmission). It is 30 kg heavier than a normal 5-speed gearbox, it is not totally reliable, it affects the cars’ handling, but the drivers are well paid, and sufficiently loyal not to complain. Actually they really believe in PDK, feeling that they are taking part in motor racing history
“How long did it take the turbocharged cars to start winning Grands Prix?” asked Bob Wollek rhetorically. “For me, the most important thing is to be part of this factory team, my greatest ambition. If we don’t win this week there will be more opportunities. We have to get the weight down, and we have to make the cars handle better, but we’ll get there.” Soon the race cars will be fitted with anti-skid brakes, as used on the 959 road car, and there may be fresh problems to overcome.
Lancia’s decision to attend Silverstone, instead of Brands Hatch in July, was made after the opening round at Monza, and even when the LC2/86 was through scrutineering there was still doubt it would be started. Henri Toivonen’s death in Corsica on Friday had plunged the Italian team into mourning, and a top-level discussion was conducted by phone on Saturday morning, with the decision that the car would race.
In the first timed session de Cesaris claimed pole position in a dramatic way. Even on harder compound race tyres he lapped the 2.93 mile circuit at 1 min 10.81 sec, three-hundredths quicker than Riccardo Patrese’s stunning pole position last year, and tantalisingly close to the 150 mph barrier at 149.06 mph. It seemed that the car would go faster still on qualifying tyres, but on the fast lap on the high boost, 800 bhp V8 engine went seriously wrong and de Cesaris came straightly the pit, done for the day.
Hans Stuck was nearly two seconds slower despite a spectacular qualifying lap, and evidently there was no more to come from this car, while just 0.3 sec slower was Derek Warwick in the Silk Cut Jaguar, complaining about the heavy traffic. Removing nearly 100 kg from the weight of the XJR-6 during the winter has paid dividends, for last year Martin Brundle was struggling to get on terms with the turbocharged cars, but at Silverstone it was Bell who remarked: “Those Jaguars have so much power . . they just pull away on the straights.” In fact the power has hardly changed during the winter, but the power-to-weight has improved dramatically.
The three Brun Porsches were handicapped by understeer problems and lack of grip from their French tyre supply and the Kouros Sauber Mercedes, too, was slowed through lack of downforce through the highspeed comers. Jack Nielsen was racing in F3000 on Sunday so Mike Thackwell was drafted into the team, with Henri Pescarolo, and all three raced on Monday. Thackwell and Christian Danner are the drivers of the second Kouros entry at Le Mans.
Richard Lloyd’s Porsche 956B, now taken over by Liqui Moly for Klaus Niedzwiedz, was suffering from severe braking problems during practice, and it was only a little better during the race defying all attempts to find a solution. Niedzwiedz was racing his Ford Sierra turbo in Italy on Sunday (Tom Walkinshaw also took the day off management to drive his Rover in the Touring Car Championship race) and it was James Weaver who qualified the Porsche in 10th place.
In the C2 class a newcomer was the 1986 Ecosse for Ray Mallock and Mike Wilds, with power from Austin Rover’s V64V Metro rally engine, tuned by Swindon Racing Engines to 410 bhp at 9,200 rpm, and with good economy. First time out Mallock was third quickest behind Gordon Spice/ Ray Bellm (Spice Fiero Cosworth) and Martino Finotto/ Carlo Facetti (1.9 turbo Carma Alba FF).
From the start of the race the two Jaguars and the Lancia drove away from all the Porsches, Nannini pulling out 12 seconds in the first dozen laps. Warwick and Bell had clashed doors heavily at the start and it was the Jaguar that recovered best, closing right up on the Lancia with 25 laps run.
Schlesser was going well in third place keeping the lead battle in sight on Silverstone’s 200 mph straights, and the Porsches were dropping away fast as Gartner fended off Weaver, Wollek, Bell, Larrauri and Thackwell.
Warwick’s Jaguar headed the field for the first time when the Lancia refuelled, then Cheever went ahead on the road in passing de Cesaris, pulling away to a 12-second lead at 70 laps. By this time the remainder of the field had been lapped twice, Needell ahead of Stuck, Niedzwiedz and Mass, with Velez, Nielsen and Brun three laps behind, and Morton four laps behind in the Joest Porsche.
Cheever’s hard-on advantage faltered when the Jaguar ran low on fuel, the American switching to the reserve tank as de Cesaris went by. After the pit stops Warwick passed Nannini brilliantly, braking for the chicane, then Nannini led again to lap 92, then it was Warwick again up to half distance. The thrilling duel had 26,000 spectators cheering every move by the Jaguar, but after keeping pace with the leaders Schlesser stopped with the gear lever detached from the carbon fibre monocoque. There was nothing to weld, of course, and a tie-strap had to be used to keep the lever more or less where the drivers expected it to be!
This incident put the Schlesser/ Brancatelli Jaguar back eight costly laps, in amongst the straggling Porsches, and Mass/ Wollek retired on 81 laps with a broken crownwheel in the transmission.
In C2 the new Ecosse had built up a commanding two-lap lead at half distance. for the Spice Fiero had been delayed early on by a misfire, cured by fitting a new ignition failure. The closest challengers, then, were the Spice Fiero, last year’s Spice-Tiga championship winning car entered for Pasquale Barberio, Mauricio Genii, and engine builder John Nicholson, and Ian Harrower’s ADA Engineering Gebhardt co-driven by Evan Clements.
The turning point in the race came, for Lancia, at half distance when the rear brake pads were difficult to change. De Cesaris rejoined nearly a lap behind Cheever, and in fact the American was able to sit back and monitor his lead constantly. Then, at the three-hour mark, de Cesaris headed for the pits with a dead engine and the mechanics spent more than an hour working on the electrical and fuel systems, eventually curing the fuel pressure problem. De Cesaris was sent out for a few laps to establish a new GpC record at 1 min 13.95 sec. two seconds faster than Jonathan Palmer’s record, and then the healthy Lancia was parked as Cesare Fiorio drove away from the track with his entourage. The record, incidentally, was established with a full fuel tank!
Now Warwick and Cheever had the best part of two hours to imagine everything that could happen to the Silk Cut Jaguar, while preserving a lead of almost three laps over Bell and Stuck. It was a nerve-racking time for everyone, but the V12 engine continued to run perfectly, and the chequered flag was reached nearly six minutes quicker than lckx and Mass had done in 1985. It was the Rothmans-Porsche that gave problems near the end, and Stuck thought himself lucky to have collected 15 more points.
Sadly for the Ecosse, it retired without any warning with an engine problem just an hour from the finish, leaving Spice Bellm to record their first win with the new Fiero model. Barberio’s Tiga was five laps behind and Harrower, third in class, ran out of fuel across the finishing line. The two new triple-rotor Mazda 757s ran very well in the IMSA GTP class, though David Kennedy’s was delayed by low fuel pressure, and Yoshimi Katayama and Takashi Yorino were classified 13th overall.
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