Surprises at Monza

Sprint racing is something new in the World Sportscar Championship calendar, and the 1986 season started up with a 365 kilometre dash through the Monza parkland on April 20th. It counted only towards the Drivers Championship, the planned opener at Mugello having been cancelled due to financial difficulties at the venue, but still attracted full-scale support from Rothmans-Porsche, the Silk Cut Jaguars, the private Joest, Kremer, Brun and Fitzpatrick Porsche teams, Lancia-Martini, and the heavily sponsored Kouros Sauber-Mercedes.

By all previous standards it was a heavy representation for a 108 minute sprint race, though it pales alongside the Formula 1 circus which often sees the transporters being loaded up again before the Monza race was over.

It was successful for Derek Bell and Hans Stuck, who won rather against the odds that would have been quoted after qualifying, but rather less so for most participants especially Tom Walkinshaw's vastly improved Jaguar XJR-6 team, which looked strong and ran with the leaders, but failed to get either car to the finishing line.

It was Thierry Boutsen, leader of Walter Brun's team, who put his finger on the problem "If you go too fast at the start of a 1,000 kilometre race it is not difficult to slow down and get back on your fuel schedule. But if you go too fast today, you won't finish."

At Le Mans teams have to pace themselves very strictly, and not because of the fuel ration, but by definition a sprint should be a blinder, a flat-out "devil take the hindmost" job... an extension of qualifying, if you like. At Monza the drivers were certainly sandbagging from start to finish, and while it was not very obvious to begin with, we were treated to the sight of drivers going slower, and slower and slower towards the end, the very reverse of what 15,000 hot-blooded Italians paid to watch. In fact Andrea de Cesaris, more hot-blooded than most, had slithered from third to seventh place within 15 laps simply because the digital fuel consumption read-out in his Lancia's cockpit had broken, on lap four, and he couldn't guess how hard he should be driving!

Several cars did not appear on the last lap, and were not classified. Most heartbreaking of all was Gianfranco Brancatelli's non-appearance on lap 62 in the third-placed Silk Cut Jaguar. Everyone, certainly Tom Welkinshaw, believed that "Branca" had run out of fuel just like Walter Brun (who stopped before the line, and crawled across to take third position). Larrauri and Boutsen himself, credited with fourth and fifth places in Brun's cars after cruising to the flag. Brancatelli's car actually had nine litres taken from the tank when recovered to the paddock, and the cause of the retirement was then put down to vaporisation.

This set-back, following Derek Warwick's retirement on lap 48, when third, with a broken driveshaft, made Walkinshaw's team all the more determined to do well at Silverstone, the season's first 1,000 kilometre race, also reported in this issue.

Had the teams not been rationed to 190 litres, equating as usual with 51 litres per 100 kilometres, we could have had a marvellous sprint race, though it would have lacked the normally aspirated Jaguars. There is no question that Jaguar Cars and TWA would renounce these races, perhaps the Championship in entirety, if relaxation of the fuel consumption regulations were to favour the turbocharged teams.

A lesser criticism of the sprint format is that Bell and Stuck each earned 20 points, as many as they would for winning Le Mans, and that hardly seems fair either. If the championship is to be so fundamentally changed one would hope that FISA would credit the Le Mans winners with 40 points apiece next year. Having made these points, though, the finale to the Monza race was a nerve-racking experience, waiting anxiously for more cars to hiccup their way from Parabolica, and the spectators never had a chance to become bored. Maybe, with tuning, sprints will become a welcome aspect of the World Sportscar Championship.

As usual the works Porsche team came out of the mire smelling of roses. While others had been weight-watching through the winter (the Jaguars were 851 and 853 kg, the Lancia-Martini 852 kg, and even the Kouros Sauber-Mercedes was only 880 kg), the Rothmans-Porsches weighed 907 and 912 kg, burdened with Porsche's unique PDK twin-clutch transmission, and did not qualify well. Stuck was a plucky fifth after practice, 2.6 seconds slower than de Cesaris, and Mass / Wollek languished in eighth place after grappling with understeer. The race was to be no better for Mass, who lost three laps right at the start having the clutch adjusted.

Understeering too, was the Sauber which was only tenth on the grid, though Saturday evening alterations to the bodywork and suspension made the Swiss car a whole lot befter for the race.

It was Klaus Ludwig, who joined the Lancia on the front row in Reinhold Joest's 956, who made the running in the early laps. He pulled out 300 metres on the opening lap, and it appeared that he had either forgotten the fuel restriction (most unlikely!) or he again enjoyed the advantage seen at Le Mans last June, apparent but almost inexplicable.

Ludwig pulled out 10 sec within four laps, a huge margin, over Hans Stuck, while de Cesaris relinquished third place to Eddie Cheever's Jaguar, then fourth to Jean-Louis Schlesser's Jaguar, then fifth to Larrauri. Defending sixth from Nielsen, the Danish driver attempted to "slingshot" the Lancia out of the Lesmo turn but apparently misjudged things completely and smote fellow Dane Thorkyld Thyrring clean off the track. Thyrring was extremely fortunate not to be hurt as his Roy Baker Tiga was totally demolished, losing three wheels and its gearbox amongst other things. Nielsen made a stop to have the Saubers bodywork changed, and another to have a piece of loose bodywork removed from the area of the intercooler, but then ran trouble-free to ninth.

An almost certain victory for Ludwig evaporated when Paolo Barilla took over, his margin over Derek Bell dwindling, then disappearing when he stopped to discuss a shortage of gears. Barilla was sent on his way very smartly, to finish with whatever he could find in the box, but his clutch burned out in the pits lane.

Although the Lancia was supposed to speed up in Nannini's stint Bell was actually able to increase his lead from 34 to 50 seconds in the closing dozen laps, though his reserve light was on for the last two-and-a-half laps.

The C2 class was a lively contest between the Gebhardts, both factory and ADA, Gordon Spice's new Spice Fiero (still with Cosworth DFL power, though with Pontiac affiliation following the arrangement with the GM company), Martino Finotto's Carma FF, and Martin Schanche's new Lucky Strike sponsored Argo, powered by a 450 bhp Zakspeed turbo engine. With a Hart 1.8-litre turbo engine, also giving around 450 bhp, was Hugh Chamberlain's new Tiga for Will Hoy and Gareth Chapman.

The heady contest. with several lead changes, settled down when Finotto's car suffered from fuel pick-up problems and Frank Jelinski/ Stanley Dickens established themselves in command in the Gebhardt, chased by Ian Harrower's ADA Gebhardt until it ran out of fuel at the finish. Out of fuel, too, was the Chamberlain Engineering Tiga, leaving Spice/Bellm and Schanche/Dyrstad to finish second and third in class, two laps down the fleet little Gebhardt. — M.L.C.