Once you start bending the rules, the habit takes hold. The Sportscar World Championship, subtitled ‘The Bartered Bride’ is now pushed, pulled and pummelled by FISA, by teams and by organisers — all of whom seem determined to get what they want out of it.
The public, however, is permitted only to look at the entrails of sports car racing, or in the case of the Silverstone 500 km, advised in official pre-event publicity that it wouldn’t be worth their while turning up.
It all started with the infamous ‘Heathrow meeting’ last November at which Bernie Ecclestone and Max Mosley, known collectively in the business as Ecclesley, bounced the teams into a decision that it wasn’t worth carrying on with the SWC series.
Eventually, on April 1 (appropriately), when an acceptable $3 million was promised to FISA by Peugeot, Toyota and Mazda, it was announced that there would be a championship after all. Never mind that Euro Racing Lola, BRM, Franz Konrad and Gianni Mussato had lost their sponsorship amidst the midwinter dithering, the championship would be held.
Was that the end of the trauma for 1992? Heck no, it was just the beginning! Then we had the horse-trading about entries for Le Mans, the refusal to allow Porsche and Jaguar a decent amount of fuel for the event, the acceptance of Peugeot single-seaters, called 905 Spyders, for the Grand Prix de Vitesse et d’Endurance, as it used to be known.
Finally, we had the farce of classifying one finisher at Monza, and the last-minute attempt by Silverstone to devalue its race to 200 km, which by my reckoning would have lasted exactly one hour.
Even at the beginning of May, we were still waiting for FISA to release the Le Mans entry list. No doubt Ecclesley were rather too ashamed of it to allow it to be published any sooner than necessary, because it would not show more than 16 decent cars. . .three Peugeots, five Toyotas (three 3.5 litres, two turbocharged), two Lolas, one BRM and five Porsches was about the best we could hope for. By nightfall on June 20 no more than seven or eight will be running competitively and most of them will be turbocharged, running at half speed!
If anyone in authority had considered the spectators for a moment (Spectators? Aren’t they the creatures who look through the wire cages around the paddock?) there would have been a proper, sporting fuel allocation so that we could have had Jaguars taking part, Joest Porsches and even (dare we mention it?) Nissans.
If anyone in authority had considered the Automobile Club de l’Ouest for a moment (ACO? Aren’t they the tiresome Frenchmen who think their race is more important than the World Championship?) the grid would have been packed out with Group B cars, of the sort that will be welcome in 1993 but not now, dears.
The organisers could have relied upon a dozen Porsche Carrera Cup 911s, of which 10 would been running at the end of the 24 Hours, and I dare say the TVR Tuscan Challenge competitors would have enjoyed an outing to the Sarthe on a one-off basis.
But no, the speed differential would have been too great, and it didn’t fit in with FISA’s Grand Plan. The speed differential can be coped with at Daytona and Sebring, where you get turbocharged Nissans and Toyotas mixing it with ageing, badly driven Camaros and Corvettes, but not in Europe because the drivers are too precious.
Quote from Andy Wallace after winning the Sebring 12 Hours: “Before the race, Juan and I agreed that if we hit a slower car, it would be our fault. There wouldn’t be any excuses.” Neither of them hit a slower car. It is a ludicrous travesty to allow the Peugeot 905 Spyder Cup cars into the Le Mans 24 Hours. They are single-seaters, like Formula 3, with enveloping bodywork, and in order to compete they will need to be equipped with alternators and lights.
Of course they don’t comply with Group C regulations in any respect whatsoever, and it is suspected that they wouldn’t pass the 1992 FISA crash test that Ecclesley wanted the 1990 Spices to be subjected to. The fact that Jean Todt is a powerful man, whose opinions have to be respected by FISA, is quite beside the point.
FISA finds itself on the slippery slope, and Tom Walkinshaw is delighted to supply the Fairy Liquid. Frustrated by Jean Todt’s adamant refusal to countenance a proper fuel allocation for his Jaguars at Le Mans, the Scotsman has to consider how to run the Silverstone SWC race.
Should it cover 500 km, bearing in mind that only one car, out of 11, could go the distance at Monza? It might be forgotten, in the heat of the moment, that only one car was running competitively at half-distance at Suzuka in April 1991, but Jaguar and Mercedes got their acts together at Silverstone to provide a very decent race. At Monza, I felt certain that the Sportscar World Championship had already hit its low point and would improve steadily. Walkinshaw and Hamish Brown might have thought so too, but they wanted to demonstrate a touch of showmanship.
“We’ll either reduce the race to 200 kilometres or cancel it,” they threatened, remembering to invoke the requirements of the spectators. “We expected a fast and furious race with a boost in entries,” said Brown, Silverstone’s managing director.
Their idea was to force Peugeot and Toyota to run their spare cars, in order to give three of their four drivers a chance to race; in Mazda’s case, a car each for the two drivers. This plan was announced on Monday April 27, just 13 days before the Silverstone weekend, and while some competitors grudgingly agreed, Toyota certainly did not.
“We’ve spent a million dollars with FISA that says Silverstone is a proper World Championship race, of 500 kilometres,” said one high-up in TOM’S Toyota. Their cars are believed to be very reliable, good enough for 24 hours, and any shortening of the race would only be to the advantage of their opponents.
One can sympathise with Silverstone’s contention. It is their commercial duty to provide the best possible race for the public to see, and a one-hour dash would have had some appeal.
It would not, however, have been a World Championship race. No matter that FISA might have agreed to the format, the sporting authority is no longer respected and followers of the Sportscar World Championship would not have been satisfied.
Anarchy would have prevailed, but for Toyota’s sturdy response to the proposal. Anarchy will prevail at Le Mans, and I’m afraid that the rest of the World Championship would have been reduced to a farce if Silverstone had got away with its plan.
Shall we combine a British Touring Car Championship race with the Sportscar World Championship at Donington? What a splendid idea! How about letting those nice old American sedans join in at Mexico City? No choice, really, they’ll never run a race for eight cars!
Within 36 hours of announcing that the Silverstone race would be of 200 km duration, Toyota had forced the issue with FISA and caused the race to be put back to 500 kilometres.
This was announced by Silverstone in one of the most extraordinary pre-event press releases to reach the Motor Sport office in the 26 years I have been writing about sports car racing. It was titled Silverstone’s Sportscar blow.
“Toyota Japan has threatened to withdraw its entry from the second round of the FIA Sportscar Championship, to be held at Silverstone over the 9th-10th May, after a positive move by the circuit to reduce the race distance.
“Despite the benefits of the shorter format Toyota decided that it would not be in its best interests and thus the race distance has remained at 500 km.”
Despite Silverstone’s best efforts to deter, I went to Silverstone on May 10 and enjoyed the race I saw!