World Sportscar Championship: Silverstone 1000kms
With three consecutive victories to its credit, the Silk Cut Jaguar team went to Silverstone determined to repeat last year's maiden success, but a little afraid too that its luck might run out on home ground.
The outcome, though, was a comprehensive whitewash of the works Porsche team, and Jaguar's first 1-2 result in Group C. Eddie Cheever and Raul Boesel beat Jan Lammers and John Watson by six seconds.
Derek Bell and Hans Stuck were a lap behind (though credited with the full distance, the Porsche pairing never having looked like winners. Jochen Mass and Bob Wollek counted themselves lucky to be fourth after racing at reduced speed with fuel pressure and pick-up problems, and the C1 class was completed by Walter Brun, with Jesus Pareia and Uwe Schafer, in fifth place.
Compared with previous years, the entry was down for the BRDC's annual 1000 km World Sportscar Championship race, but the quality was high. Overshadowing the series at present is the desperate plight of the private run Porsche teams, all adrift with the commercial fuel they have to use.
Reinhold Joest withdrew his entry on the slightly spurious grounds that the 97-octane minimum guaranteed was unsuitable for his car, and the Brun and Kremer teams have lost their edge too. In retarding the ignitions and reducing the boost they've become distinctly uncompetitive, and the Britten-Lloyd Liqui Moby team is also working overtime on engine changes. That, and a general shortage of good sponsorship in this supposed boom-time is hurting the Group C series, in which C2 entries now comfortably outnumber the C1s.
Until now there have been two teams to pay attention to, Silk Cut Jaguar and Porsche AG, but at Silverstone the new Kouros Sauber Mercedes C9 made a marvellous debut in the capable hands of Mike Thackwell and Henri Pescarolo. Peter Sauber, the Swiss constructor, has prepared a completely new car, developed from last year's Nurburgring winner, notably with far more ground-effect. It was, literally, a dark horse, to which neither Porsche nor Jaguar paid very much attention as it rumbled round on Saturday morning.
The twin-turbo Mercedes V8 was misfiring slightly, and the drivers knew the pads were knocking off and the mechanics had accidentally transposed fourth and fifth gears in the Hewland VGC. With 15 minutes to go, Stuck had claimed pole position and Mass was alongside on the front row; the Jaguars of Cheever and Lammers were third and fourth fastest, and unable to make any further impression on the high-boost Porsches.
Then the Swiss mechanics cured the misfire, and rather ordinary times began to tumble as Thackwell went out on qualifying tyres. His second set, on the final lap of the morning session, produced a time of 1min 15.17sec, only fractionally slower than Stuck's lmin 15.11sec. In fact Porsche's timer had Thackwell at 1min 14.3sec, (an unusual discrepancy), and it would be fair to say that the Germans were stunned by the Sauber's speed.
Thackwell's modesty is unusual too, in a racing driver. "It was nothing to do with me." Pardon? "It was the car, I just steered it!" Given that the brakes were not right, and it was a nuisance having to change gear in a different sequence, Thackwell believed that another 1.5sec could easily be found at Silverstone, so there are now three makes to watch. Two cars will run at Le Mans, the second for Johnny Dumfries and American Chip Ganassi, and , if Sauber can find the right level of reliability, the 24-hour race is going to be even more exciting than we anticipate.
Tom Walkinshaw wished the new Woodcote Corner, virtually a large chicane complex, had been built after the race, asserting that the superiority of the XJR-8 had been cancelled completely. The works Porsches, he said accelerated from Woodcote to Copse a second faster than his cars, and were a second a quicker in qualifying. Cheever, though, complained that his car was "nervous aerodimically," and was improved by changing the venturi which had been damaged in Lammers "off' at Monza.
Jaguar's third car was in full Le Mans trim for Martin Brundle and John Nielson: heavier at 900kg, and with lower venturi and reduced ground effect. It, too, is powered by the full 7-litre, 730bhp V12 engine, though the unit is angled upwards towards the rear so the driveshafts can run in a straight line from the hubs to the March gearbox, giving the cv joints an easier life.
The car's handling is discernably less good , since the centre of gravity is raised at the back, but the drivers were told to "go out and give it a thrashing" further to check its reliability, and to gather experience of driving it.
Walkinshaw believed it would surprise people by being 1.5 sec slower round Silverstone, but Brundle's fastest race lap was 2.74 sec slower than Cheever's new outright circuit record, and that was no disgrace at all. Apart from being overweight, the Tony Southgate-designed XJR-8LM is very much like next year's Group C cars which will have restricted ground effects, and M Balestre may be disappointed to find that lap speeds are hardly any slower than they are now.
Two seconds or more off the pace in qualifying were Oscar Larrauri/Massimo Sigala (Brun Porsche), Kris Nissen/Volker Weidler/Allen Berg (Kremer Porsche). Walter Brun/Jesus Pareja/Uwe Schafer (Brun Porsche), and Jonathan Palmer/Mauro Baldi (Liqui Moly Porsche), the British entry burning out a valve in the engine on Friday, and misfiring through Saturday's morning session until last year's Motronic system was installed.
On Sunday the main grandstand was full when the morning warm-up was held. Cheever and Watson were easily fastest, but Mass was lapping slowly with a low fuel pressure problem, and it was not much better when the race began. The Rothmans-Porsche circulated steadily in eighth place, keeping company with the off-form Brun Porsches, and wasn't going to pose any sort of threat.
Thackwell commanded the race from the start, and behind him both Cheever and Lammers found a way past Stuck, making the order Mercedes, Jaguar, Jaguar, Porsche. The German team, which has dominated Group C since its inception in 1982, was beginning to look rather ordinary; perhaps that is not surprising, since the design is now six years old.
The Kouros Sauber Mercedes made its point in the first 16 laps, but Thackwell eased off in deference to his fuel computer and Cheever stormed past, to pull away. The American felt this was his race, regarding Lammers and Watson as his main opposition, and so it proved. Palmer's race was a short one, the Liqui Moly Porsche losing power, when fourth, and retiring after a long inspection.
In Pescarolo's stint the Sauber ran third to Boesel and Watson, then the misfire came back and the plugs were changed. From then on the race became a test run which ended when a rear suspension rose-joint failed at half distance.
"We've got the speed, and now we've got to refine the car" was the way Thackwell saw the future. He even felt that fuel consumption would not be a problem at Le Mans, since the C9 had too much ground effect at Silverstone, which was slowing the car on the straights and spoiling the economy. The 24-hour cars have a different venturi and will not be handicapped in that way.
Stuck saw the lead only once, on lap 38, when he went a bit further on his fuel, and in the second stint Bell was overhauled by Nielsen in the Jaguar LM. The World Champion was keeping a good watch on his fuel consumption read-out at the time, but it was significant that the low-downforce Jaguar should be able to breeze past and pull away.
Stuck regained third place in the third stint, when satisfied with the consumption reading, and at three-quarter distance the LM Jaguar went out of the race with engine problems resulting from over-revving on a downshift. That happened minutes after Nielsen had punted Sigala's Porsche into the gravel at Copse, impatient with the Italian who was slow to move out of the way.
Sigala was pulled out of the gravel and carried on with the race, though it was by no means clear that he should have done, after receiving outside assistance, and the team might have wished it had not bothered when Larrauri crashed the car 15 laps from the end. The Argentinian made to pass Bruno Sotty's C2 class Tiga on the left going past the pits, but the Frenchman obviously didn't see him coming and moved to the outside. The Tiga spun along the pit wall in a series of crunches which almost destroyed the car, and the Porsche looked the worse for wear too.
Behind the pace car, Lammers moved onto Cheever's tail and the last ten laps would be a sprint. The American certainly won that, establishing a record for the revised circuit six laps from the end, while the Dutchman coped with a very oily windscreen. Six seconds separated them at the finish, while Stuck completed two extra laps at full speed after the flag, and was credited with one of them!
The C2 battle had been equally exciting. and the Swiftair Ecurie Ecosse team turned the tables on Spice Engineering after three, successive narrow defeats. The Scottish team had two Cosworth-powered cars for Silverstone, a new one for Ray Mallock/David Leslie and the older one for Johnny Dumfries/Mike Wilds, and they were extremely evenly matched throughout the weekend.
After leading C2 initially, Spice was set back by an exploded rear tyre which damaged the venturi and bodywork, and it was all that he and Fermin Velez could do to keep between the Ecosses. Dumfries and Wilds each spun the older Ecosse, which was oversteenng markedly, but a sticky throttle and a lost wheel-weight didn't handicap Mallock's car unduly. These three cars, in fact, were sixth. seventh and eighth overall at the finish, a model of speed and reliability as usual.
The Scots can look forward to Le Mans with particular interest, for it is 20 years since Jaguar and Ecurie Ecosse won the 24-Hour race. Lanarkshire-born Walkinshaw has little time for motor racing history ("I'm only interested in whether we've done the job right"), but Midlothian Hugh McCaig is dedicated to winning the C2 class, and with the 1986 World C2 Championship to his credit he wants history to repeat itself. MLC