WSC -- Monza 430 kms

Set for the Season?

Jaguar's XJR-14 is by far the fastest car taking part in the Sportscar World Championship, and the Silk Cut team's 1-2 success at Monza on May 5 was well deserved because their problems were minor compared with others.

Derek Warwick made two unscheduled pit stops on his way to victory, one to have his windscreen cleaned and another to comply with a stop-go penalty, and in second place Teo Fabi's XJR was delayed 12 minutes (three pace-car laps) by a recalcitrant starter motor solenoid.

Martin Brundle drove both Jaguars in turn and established a new Monza sports-car lap record at 1m 29.182s (145 mph), more than four seconds quicker than the old mark set last year by a Mercedes C11. The sheer disappointment that lingered from the debut outing at Suzuka was swept away by the success, and the Italian race exposed fundamental problems that will haunt Peugeot and Mercedes at least until the next sprint race, at the Nürburgring in August.

It seems clear now that so long as one Jaguar keeps going without any problems it will win all the 430-kilometre races this year, even more easily than Mercedes won most of the races in 1989 and 1990. Qualifying times and best race laps confirm that the XJRs have three or four seconds a lap in hand over their rivals, a huge margin by today's standards -- worth one lap per hour on a typical circuit.

Even a margin like that can soon evaporate if the starter motor goes on the blink, and since the TWR team had starter failures both at Suzuka and Monza this will be the main concern. Starters have always been a problem on sports-racing cars, especially on DFV/DFL V8s in recent years because of the scale of vibrations involved, so it's not likely that a quick remedy can be found.

No doubt Mercedes and Peugeot wish their priority list was as short. The C291 evidently has a superb chassis which Michael Schumacher exploited to the full at Monza, with just as much enthusiasm in the rain as on dry track.

There have been starting problems with this car too, traced in two instances to a broken magnet in the ignition sender and twice to a broken starter motor ring gear. When Dr Hermann Hiereth's technical team can find another 50 horsepower, and when the design committee can shed 40 kilogrammes from the C291, the Silk Cut Jaguar team will have a very strong opponent.

Peugeot won at Suzuka and led at Monza, but that doesn't arouse much optimism in the French team for the rest of the season. It is now fairly evident that the 905's narrow track chassis is a serious handicap to exploiting the prodigious downforce available to modern designers, and has not even made the car outstandingly quick in a straight line, or very light on the scales. The full width of the Peugeot is 1760mm, far less than the Jaguar and Mercedes which exploit the maximum permitted 2000mm width.

Lack of grip is a perennial problem for Peugeot's drivers, compounded in race conditions by a further lack of tyre grip as the rubber gets hot. Also taking into account a consistent history of ignition failures, and failed clutches at the two opening rounds, it seems that Peugeot has further to go in developing a consistent winner, or challenger.

None of these teams can afford to underestimate each other, not for a moment. We heard from Jean Todt himself that Peugeot had a bad time with transmission failures during the winter, but the six-speed gearboxes have been consistently reliable in the opening rounds.

When you have the resources of a major manufacturer at your disposal, and the cream of their engineers devoted to your racing car project, no problem is insoluble.. . . the principal factor is how long it takes to eradicate it.

Engineers now have three months to develop their cars, between Silverstone on May 19 and the Nürburg 430 kms on August 18, and our views on the composition of the calendar don't need airing again.

In fact the teams welcome this break after completing the first three sprint events in six weeks (it would have been four in seven weeks, had the Ricard race not been cancelled), as a chance to get back to the drawing board. The German round should see the teams at a higher level of competitiveness, because if they're not ready for that they're not going to be ready for anything this year.

It seemed to be raining every time we went out of doors at Monza, though there was a five minute "window" on Friday afternoon when the track was merely damp. Warwick thought he had pole position at 1m 34.027s but his team-mate Fabi, a Milanese who can regard the autodromo as his fiefdom, replied with an even faster lap at 1m 33.672s. Last year Mauro Baldi put the Mercedes C11 on pole at 1m 29.165s, and that marker came under threat from Brundle in the race.

Oscar Larrauri made good use of his Yokohama intermediate tyres to place eighth on the grid at 1m 37.853s.... or rather, first on the "unlimited" grid behind all the 3.5-litre cars, in his Repsol Brun Motorsport Porsche 962C.

The Argentinian had the final factory development of the flat-six twin-turbo engine, now called the "Mexico version" because that's where it ran for the first time in a Joest Porsche last October. Jean-Louis Schlesser was second on the "second grid" in the Mercedes C11, which weighs 50 kg more than the Porsche at 1000 kg and Manuel Reuter was third in the Kremer Porsche 962C-K6.

The Peugeots were fourth and sixth fastest overall, Mauro Baldi on 1m 38.040s and Keke Rosberg on 1m 38.954s, but it really was a lottery in the conditions. Schlesser left it too late and prepared for his quick lap when the chequered flag was waved, and Schumacher, whose turn it was to qualify the C291, was watching co-driver Karl Wendlinger go around when he realised that good times were within reach.

Tricky Start

Arch-rivals Jaguar and Mercedes both had heart-stopping anxieties before the start. A large pool of oil was seen under Warwick's XJR merely 90 minutes before the start and an emergency engine change was ordered. If it had been the Mercedes C291 it would have taken at least six hours to change the engine, but TWR's work was completed in time for Martin Brundle to start from the pitlane. Mercedes, though, had a different emergency as Schumacher couldn't start the flat-12 engine on the button, and expert ministration was needed in the pit.

Teo Fabi was completing his first lap when Schumacher latched onto the Jaguar's tail, and the next 20 laps were a great credit to both cars. The young German knew that his power-to-weight ratio was sadly inferior but he could catch up in the chicanes, and in the Lesmo curves, and actually claimed to have braked a couple of times to avoid hitting the Silk Cut car.

The pair of them pulled away from the Peugeots with apparent ease, at two or three seconds per lap, and the Mercedes team could draw ample consolation from the performance, one which underlined Schumacher's potential to be Germany's leading Grand Prix driver within a year or two. Wet or dry he seemed to be fearless and totally committed, in a way that made some of his peers look rather ordinary in places.

Wendlinger, also 22, didn't get a chance to show his paces because the engine wouldn't fire up after the first pit stop. This time it was the starter motor ring, a component that also broke in the qualifying engine on Saturday. The C11, meanwhile, was rumbling around in the top six and would, eventually, earn Mercedes, Schlesser and Mass enough points to lead the World Championship league.

Fabi's Jaguar was stricken at the same time, also with a dud starter, and 12 minutes passed before someone remembered the time-honoured cure of a blow with a hammer. TWR's plan was for Brundle to start in Warwick's car, rest in the pits for 40 minutes and finish the race in Fabi's, a system which the other teams must now envy. It saves the potentially huge expense of having a fourth driver, and gives each of three the two stints they really want from a sports car race.

The pace cars were out for four laps when Max Cohen-Oliver crashed Antoine Salamin's Porsche at the Parabolica, and in the confusion of the pit stops, and cars being held for the queue to come around, the Peugeots got out ahead of Warwick.

The Englishman took only three laps to haul himself ahead of Yannick Dalmas and Philippe Alliot, but they donated enough oil to his polycarbonate screen to blind him. Warwick made a very slow lap peering through the bottom corner of the screen, and kept the Jaguar's V8 engine running while it was cleaned. Although he switched off after about 20 seconds Warwick earned himself a stop-go penalty, which he took later.

It must have set some sort of record since he arrived at the pit, switched off and restarted, and continued with the lap with a total loss of 15 seconds!

Dalmas and Alliot forged on while this was happening, although Warwick caught and split them before the middle-shift ended. Then came a dangerous incident as Dalmas went to his pit rather too quickly, locked up and felled his fuel tower. As the special fuel spilled across the pit apron one mechanic collected a broken nose, another a bruised leg, and with commendable speed an ambulance arrived at the Peugeot pit.

In the space of a minute we had Rosberg being refuelled from Baldi's rig, Alliot arriving with a broken clutch and having no rig to call on, an ambulance part-blocking the acceleration lane, and the TWR personnel approaching melt-down as their cars were due.

Further disasters were averted, but Peugeot's lack of racecraft was exposed cruelly. Baldi lost five laps while his 905 was pushed, pulled and coaxed into action, putting him and Alliot back to eighth place overall, and before long Rosberg's V10 engine blew up mightily as he passed the pits for the 64th time.

Derek Warwick had all the time in the world to finish the race safely, his two-lap lead over Brundle being halved in the last 40 minutes.

Brundle, released again by Brabham and Yamaha to help Jaguar, completed seven of his last dozen laps under 1m 30s and established a scorching new Group C record at 1m 29.182s which is less than three seconds slower than Ayrton Senna's outright record set last September. Considering that the sports cars are 50% heavier than the Formula 1 machines that is a considerable achievement.

Jaguar chairman Bill Hayden was there to cheer the success, as was Gallahers International chief executive Peter Gilpin, and the two couldn't have looked more pleased as the purple cars crossed the line in formation. It was a good weekend for Silk Cut Jaguar, and it almost certainly previews further successes in the months ahead. -- MLC


Results (top five): Monza 430 kms, May 5

1. Warwick/Brundle (Jaguar XJR 14) 2h 5m 42.844s

2. Fabi/Brundle (Jaguar XJR 14) 74 laps

3. Schlesser/Mass (Mercedes C11) 73 laps

4. Zwolsman/Euser (Spice) 71 laps

5. Reuter/Toivonen (Porsche 962) 71 laps

Drivers' World Championship: 1st Mass, Schlesser 27pts; 3rd Alliot, Baldi 23pts

Teams' World Championship: 1st Sauber Mercedes 27pts; 2nd Peugeot Talbot 23 pts.