The last Le Mans 24 Hours of this Group C formula may well prove to be among the best in the entire history of the event. Jaguar, Nissan, Toyota and Mazda all run full factory teams with the belief that they could win the race outright, but to do so they’ll have to beat some vastly experienced Porsche teams operating in their natural habitat. Reinhold Joest, in particular, looks to repeat his victories of 1984 and 1985 with what are, virtually, works cars crewed by Hans Stuck, Derek Bell, Jonathan Palmer, Bob Wollek and Frank Jelinski . . . . and who’d lay serious odds against them?
Tom Walkinshaw has made the sensible decision to run four Silk Cut Jaguar XJR-12 (V12) models in the race on June 16/17, cars of the type that won 24 hour races at Le Mans in 1988, and at Daytona in 1988 and 1990. On duty will be proven 24 hour race winners Jan Lammers, Andy Wallace, Martin Brundle, John Nielsen and Davy Jones, along with Alain Ferte and Patrick Tambay, Price Cobb, Eliseo Salazar, Luis Perez Sala and David Leslie, the Scotsman who was number one in Aston Martin’s ill-fated WS-PC team.
Walkinshaw believes that the causes of last year’s transmission failures, faulty oil seals, have been modified beyond suspicion, and is also satisfied that the overheating problems of the two XJR-12s which finished first and second at Daytona were caused by track debris getting through the wire mesh screens protecting the radiators and actually bending the fins over 80% of the surface area.
“Last year our cars were significantly quicker than anything else out there, but we were unable to keep them running for 24 hours without having problems,” said Walkinshaw at Silverstone. “We know what those problems were, we know what was causing them and we have addressed those problems. I am fairly confident that we have the strongest combination of cars and drivers in the race; we’ve got everything we need to win Le Mans this time.”
Nissan team principal Howard Marsden expects that the two new chicanes up the Mulsanne Straight (ligne droit des Hunadieres to the French) will add 20 seconds, or 10% to the lap times, and that the number of laps covered will be reduced by a similar percentage. “We cannot calculate what that will do to the fuel consumption. Our experts say that the consumption will be virtually the same, but I’ll have to see that to believe it.” Everyone agrees that transmission reliability will be the key to the 1990 edition of Les Vingt-Quatre Heures du Mans, and the leading manufacturers have done a considerable amount of work on gearbox reliability. Jaguar has a new six speed gearbox available, and a decision was made after we went to press. It is heavier, may not now be what the team needs for the 24 Hours, and furthermore the test car immediately ran into starter motor problems which is the very last thing anyone wants at Le Mans.
Nissan is the second major force of the race, Porsche the third. Toyota may be the fourth and Mazda the fifth, but realistically their chances depend on a high rate of attrition among the leaders.
Five 1990 models have been entered by Nissan Motorsports, easily the biggest bid ever made by the Japanese manufacturer. One comes direct from Japan, two from Nissan Motorsport Europe’s World Championship team, and two more will be operated by Nissan Performance Technology Inc., previously known as Electramotive.
This of course is the top team in IMSA racing, and has prepared two cars very similar to those operated by NME. Tyres are supplied by Goodyear, not Dunlop, and the American team has to prepare for one race only, not four in six weeks. It could be a distinct advantage, and it’s also worth remembering that Geoff Brabham’s Nissan actually led Jochen Mass’ Mercedes at half distance last year, indicating that the Japanese cars may have a winning pace.
Toyota sends three cars from Japan, having tested extensively on the company’s 10-mile oval test track with chicanes installed. Two are entered by Tom’s, the third by SARD, and they shouldn’t be taken too lightly despite some disappointing form shown recently. The gearboxes (Toyota, with Hewland internals) have been reinforced, the 3.6-litre engines specially prepared, and even the chassis are modified with longer wheelbase dimensions.
The World Championship team managed by Dave Sims will be at Le Mans throughout qualifying — this goes on until midnight on Wednesday and Thursday evenings — and so long as the Japanese still have three cars, and don’t need a spare, he’ll take his team on southwards towards Jarama for the next World Championship race. “If the R90 cars are intact after Le Mans, they’ll go to our base at Hingham, and be prepared for testing at the Nürburgring,” says Sims, indicating just how gruelling the schedule is at the moment.
Similarly three Mazdas come from Japan, two of the Nigel Stroud designed, all-composite 787 models backed by a 767B. They are tuned to 700 bhp and should be quite competitive, at least in theory, but once again Mazdaspeed will be aiming for a formation finish. Joest’s 3.2-litre cars supplied by the factory are some way ahead of all the others, but the Kremer brothers have one car that’s worth keeping an eye on, as do Richard Lloyd and Walter Brun, and Vern Schuppan actually has two cars with pedigree drivers. The Australian has vowed not to drive in the 24 hour race and his team might be all the more effective for that.
Below is a selection of leading entries:
Silk Cut Jaguar: 4 x XJR-12s for Jan Lammers, Andy Wallace, Davy Jones, John Nielsen, Price Cobb, Martin Brundle, Alain Ferte, Patrick Tambay, Luis Perez Sala, David Leslie, Eliseo Salazar, plus one tbn.
Nissan Motorsports Europe: 2 x R9OCKs for Julian Bailey, Kenny Acheson, Olivier Grouillard, Mark Blundell, Martin Donnelly and Gianfranco Brancatelli.
Nissan Motorsports International: 1 x R9OCJ for Kazuyoshi Hoshino, Masahiro Hasemi and Toshio Suzuki.
Le Mans Company: 1 x R89C for Anders Olofsson, Takeo Wada and one tbn.
Nissan Performance Technology Inc. 2 x R9OCKs for Geoff Brabham, Chip Robinson, Derek Daly, Bob Earl, Steve Millen and Michael Roe.
Toyota Team Tom’s: 2 x 90C-Vs for Geoff Lees, Hitoshi Ogawa, Masanori Sekiya, Aguri Suzuki, Johnny Dumfries and Roberto Ravaglia.