Toyota's own goal
Toyota will look back on the Silverstone 500 km race as a fairly spectacular own goal. Two weeks previously, the day after the Monza fiasco in fact, the BRDC proposed to reduce the British event, the second round of the Sportscar World Championship, to a mere 200 km.
TOM'S Toyota objected so strongly that the race ran its full distance, and was won by Derek Warwick and Yannick Dalmas in a Peugeot 905. Geoff Lees, who had led at 200 km, and at 250, saw his Toyota TS010 return on a tow-rope after the electrical system failed co-driver Hitoshi Ogawa at the 288 km mark!
"No, I'm not sorry we made the objection. It was the principle of the thing," said TOM'S director Glenn Waters after the race. His concern was in another direction, because once back in captivity the TS010 fired up perfectly five times in a row, making it possible that the actual cause of the electronic signal loss might remain a mystery. With the Le Mans 24 Hours beckoning, that is not a nice thought.
The BRDC made a good case for having a 200 km, one-hour sprint, but it would not have been a World Championship event. Jean Todt was uncharacteristically easy-going on the subject, and was rewarded by a worthy victory which put Peugeot. Warwick and Dalmas firmly at the head of the World Championship tables.
The head-to-head competition between Peugeot and Toyota fizzled out when Lees' car retired an hour before the finish, leaving Dalmas and Warwick to take a gentle stroll to the podium.
Johnny Herbert and Maurizio Sandro Sala had a trouble-free run to second place in the Mazda MXR-01, but it wasn't quick enough to challenge Peugeot and finished two laps behind. Third, a further four laps behind, was the Euro Racing Lola T92/10, well driven by Stefan Johansson and Jesus Pareja, who nursed it to the finish with only second and sixth gears available in the unreliable transmission.
It was a success of sorts for John Judd, who now knows that his V10 engines will run reliably, and fairly competitively, for two-and-a-half hours. Toyota, on the other hand, had a total engine failure in the Jan Lammers/Andy Wallace car caused by a missed gearshift 10 laps into the race (Lammers took the V10 round to 15,200 rpm, according to the telemetry), and shortly afterwards Philippe Alliot's Peugeot V10 dropped a valve, so we were down to two really competitive cars within the first hour.
This was not a good advertisement for 3.5-litre 'endurance' racing, with a paucity of entries and a worrying lack of reliability. Hugh Chamberlain's Spice SE89-Cosworth may not be the fastest car on the track, but the Buntingford entrant now has the best reliability record of any in the World Championship, following-up his third place at Monza with an untroubled fourth at Silverstone.
Ferdinand de Lesseps, great grandson of the builder of the Suez Canal, has a maximum of 40 points in the FIA Cup, and was partnered at Silverstone by Will Hoy. The reigning British Touring Car champion provided the speed, although he'd forgotten just how quickly the Spices go round corners, and de Lesseps was a reliable co-driver who provided the wherewithal.
Fifth, and the last to be classified, were the Italians Ranieri Randaccio and Stefano Sebastiani, also known as 'Stingbrace', in the Team SCI Spice SE90 Cosworth. Their car led the category for a while, but finished the race at touring speed jammed in third gear.
The dark green and orange BRM was a great attraction, but it didn't get to the grid after the oil pump drive sheared during the morning warm-up. The BRM, with its unique V12, 48-valve engine, looked a worthy successor to the cars that Graham Hill drove in the 1960s but suffered from a lack of testing (it had covered 70 miles before being seen in public for the first time), and had a job list longer than a supermarket till roll.
Without labouring any points, the BRM ran out of fuel after three laps on Friday morning ("had to do a low tank test, and it was more thirsty than we expected"), blew an oil seal on its first lap of qualifying ("we didn't warm the engine up sufficiently"), then stopped with a flat battery after seven laps on Saturday morning ("the management system is so sophisticated that it's taking more out of the electrical system than we anticipated").
Reliability was improving on Saturday afternoon, when Wayne Taylor recorded a respectable two-minute lap in wet conditions, so the failure on Sunday morning was particularly disappointing.
The British motor industry has not been as generous as team director John Mangoletsi once hoped, but John and David Owen, directors of Rubery Owen, give much-needed moral and financial support to the project. The need now is to do a great deal of testing before Le Mans, so that the BRM may go as well as it looks.
There's no doubting that the BRM is a serious project which deserves to succeed. Paul Brown is a leading designer who seems to have got the carbonfibre chassis P351 right first time, and Graham Dale-Jones has designed an excellent engine. Cheshire businessman and Alfa Romeo dealer John Mangoletsi has done wonders with his charm and persuasion, but the credibility gap lies in the budget (and doesn't that sound like 1951?).
The BRM is probably a more raceworthy project than the Mercedes-Benz C291 was in its infancy, but Mercedes had enormous resources to throw at the Group C car and BRM has next to nothing. If the crowd had thrown pennies, or preferably £1 coins allowing for inflation, BRM might have gone along the track with a collecting box.
No Jaguars took part in the race, although the TWR built XJRs have won each of the last five World Championship sportscar races held at Silverstone, and of course no Porsches were eligible, so the event's credibility gap was nothing less than alarming.
A Jaguar was entered for David Coyne and Georg Paulin under the banner of Geepee Jaguar, which all sounded rather mysterious, and there were rumours that "the car is on its way." Sadly this wasn't quite right.
Paulin and Coyne were Argo's drivers at Monza, but the Swiss has taken his business to Hugh Chamberlain with a view to running a Jaguar XJR-12 and an XJR-17 at Le Mans. As a result of this the Argo may not be seen again in the 1992 World Championship, and with a deal as yet unconsummated there was no Jaguar either. Welcome to the 1992 Sportscar World Championship!
The BRDC Empire Trophy Race at Silverstone will be remembered, if at all, for the interesting duel between Geoff Lees and Derek Warwick.
Warwick was on a high all weekend, starting with the Friday afternoon qualifying session when he smashed Nigel Mansell's Formula 1 and outright circuit record by nearly two seconds (although, in qualifying trim, Mansell lapped in 1m 20.939s). It was a mighty effort to hurl the Peugeot 905 round in 1m 24.421s, especially since it wasn't handling as well as it had in the morning practice, and Philippe Alliot was only a fifth of a second slower in the sister Peugeot.
The Toyotas have a habit of destroying Goodyear's qualifying tyres, and Lees qualified his TS010 in third place on soft race tyres (130) in 1m 25.982s. He, too, was inside the Formula 1 lap record which was most creditable for the car's third race, but the Peugeots seemed to have a slight edge all weekend. They were consistently 3-4 mph quicker across the start-finish line, which supported the theory that the French V10s have the advantage of greater power.
Jan Lammers made a typically electrifying start, swooping along the pit wall to pass the rather surprised Lees, and challenged the Peugeots into Copse. Warwick established a two-second lead straight away then throttled back to maintain his advantage over Baldi, while in their wake Lees had to think of ways of passing his team-mate. This he did on the eighth lap, and in next to no time the Dutchman was out with a blown engine. Again, Wallace didn't get a race.
Baldi was the first to stop, on lap 21, with Warwick in the next time round. Since Lees ran 27 laps on the first tank he was well clear when Alliot's Peugeot retired with a dropped valve, and Dalmas stopped (just as he did at Monza) to have his seat belts tightened.
Lees had an advantage of 19s over Dalmas, and it should have been enough. At the end of the stint a by now familiar fuel fire engulfed the back of the Peugeot, with Warwick already strapped in. "I was ready to get out but I didn't want to," said Warwick, who'd experienced this with the Jaguar at Magny-Cours last autumn.
The flames were soon out and the Peugeot erupted from a cloud of powder and vapour, joining the track right in front of Lees' Toyota. Naturally Lees thought he could go a lap up but Warwick wasn't letting that happen, and a passing attempt failed at Becketts.
Five laps later the contest itself was extinguished. Ogawa took the Toyota out with a lead of half a minute, but tamely lost speed and stopped on the grass at Stowe. The electrical impulse had died and killed the engine management system, and after a few minutes of trying to restart the engine Ogawa had to abandon the car. "I thought, oh, what a shame," remarked Warwick later with a smile, as he prepared to reduce speed and preserve the car for another hour.
Last year Warwick won the race but forfeited his 20 points, and narrowly failed to win the World Championship. It's beginning to look as though his luck has improved but, like Nigel Mansell, he doesn't want to think about it. Yet.
SILVERSTONE 500 KM, MAY 10
1st: Warwick/Dalmas – Peugeot 905 1A – 2h 32m 29.226s
2nd: Sala/Herbert – Mazda MXR-01 – 94 laps
3rd: Pareja/Johansson – Lola T92/10 – 90 laps
4th: De Lesseps/Hoy – Spice SE89C – 85 laps
5th: Ranadaccio/Sebastiani – Spice SE90C – 76 laps