Since its first tentative dabblings into motoring sport a few years ago, Leyland’s motor-sport organisation has cultivated too many little chiefs, most of them falling about one another in an effort to bask in the brightest part of the reflected glory which inevitably attaches itself to motor racing and rallying at national or international level. At last the Leyland hierarchy have realised that one big chief is essential to co-ordinate success, which is something Marcus Chambers, Stuart Turner and Peter Browning could have told them all along. Big Chief Leyland Motorsport is revealed as John Davenport, like the legendary Turner a former Standard House journalist, and top-class international rally co-driver, who rapt almost overnight from his post as Motor Sport Executive at the RAC to Director, Motorsport, Leyland Cars. From his base at Abingdon, Davenport still run all Leyland motor sporting activities along with Leyland ST, the old Special Tuning Department.
Davenport’s first job has been to co-ordinate the company’s 1977 rallying and racing plans, at home and abroad, and ambitious ones they prove to be.
The racing programme is spearheaded by two Broadspeed-prepared Jaguar XJ 5.3Cs in an attack on the European Touring Car Championship. Some idea of Leyland’s Petition budget for 1977 can be estimated from the size of the purses which they must be paying to attract drivers of the calibre of John Fitzpatrick and Tim Schenken, both former European GT champions, partners in one of the Jaguars and Derek Bell, who is teamed with Ralph Broad’s protégé and former British Touring Car Champion Andy Rouse in the second car. The employment, of Australian Schenken goes against the all-British theme adopted by Leyland last year; a strong school of thought within and without Leyland and backed by Derek Bell is known to have favoured popular British driver Chris Craft for the seat. But the choice of “Fitz” to join the team will be tremendously popular with the British public.
Modifications to the Group 2 XJ 5.3Cs since the model’s one race in the Tourist Trophy last season include the adoption of diameter instead of 16 in. diameter wheels to improve power transfer and overcome tyre problems, the use of a fort, high boot-lid spoiler and a modified front spoiler.
To homologate the tail spoilers Leyland have had to make them available to the public, which means we should be seeing some prety racy XJs around the roads. Made from crackle black high-stress flexible polymer, the spoiler is available from Leyland ST under part number STN 0092 for £53.20 and fits any XJ saloon or coupe. Wind tunnel tests on a 5.3C proved that the spoiler reduced the drag coefficient by 4.7 per cent.
Assuming there are none of last year’s false starts to the Jaguar racing programme, their entry should put back much-needed prestige into the European Touring Car Championship and hopefully entice other works teams into greater involvement. The Championship will be held over 12 rounds, with just one of them in Britain, the Tourist Trophy, at Silverstone on September 17th/ 18th.
Leyland will field two Triumph Dolomite Sprints in the RAC Touring Car Championship. “The choice of drivers for these cars will depend largely upon the degree of sponsorship given to the championship”, say Leyland, obtusely. These too will be prepared by Broadspeed of Southam, Warwickshire. Benefiting from the winter-time homologation of twin Weber 48 DCOE carburetters, the 16-valve Sprint engines in this Group “1 1/2” guise are expected to give in excess of 200 b.h.p. Whoever the Sprint drivers are, they will bless the newly-homologated ventilated front disc brakes; braking has been a continual problem with the racing Sprints in previous seasons. A high-ratio steering rack is another addition to the homologation papers.
The RAC Touring Car Championship will be run over twelve rounds, with the first at Silverstone on March 5th/6th and the last at Brands Hatch on October 15th/16th.
Unperturbed by last year’s lack of success in Formula 3 with two Dolomite Sprint-engined Marches driven by Tony Dion and Dick Parsons, Leyland are keeping their Unipart colours on a two-March team for 1977. The drivers will be twenty-five-year-old “Tiff” Needell, winner of last year’s Grovewood Award and twenty-nine-year-old Ian Taylor, winner of the 1976 Formula Ford 2000 series and of the 1973 Forward Trust Formula 3 Championship. With a year of experience and Sprint engine development behind them, the Unipart Racing Team, managed by former Graham Hill mechanic Alan Howell and based in Brentford, London, is hoping for better things in 1977. Holbay Racing Engines will prepare the engines; with twenty-three British and European races planned for the cars Holbay should be kept busy.
Finally in racing, Leyland are again promoting the Leyland Cars National Mini Challenge, a low cost formula which saw some very close and competitive racing last season.
Organised by the Mini 7 Racing Club, the 1977 Challenge will be run over forty-eight races divided into classes for 850, 1000 and 1275 GT Minis at circuits throughout the UK. There will be £6,000 in prize money at stake and the challenger who scores the most points, irrespective of class, will win a new Mini 1275 GT, as did last year’s Champion, Mike Curnow. The 850 and 1000 classes are practically free-formula for full-race cars, while the 1275 GTs arc much closer to standard, although more extensive modifications are to be allowed this year. Last season’s 1275 GT races were punctuated by a loss of front wheels from some of the quickest car (standard steel wheels and road tyres were mandatory); to overcome, this, competition wheels shod with Dunlop 155 x 500 x 12 CR82 Mk. 2 racing tyres and covered by wing extensions are mandatory for this season. Competition camshafts, pistons, crankshafts and close-ratio straight cut gears may be fitted with an option of four helical cut differential final drive ratios.
Now to rallying, for which Leyland ST at Abingdon are preparing two Group 4 Triumph TR7s and a Group 1 Dolomite Sprint. Brian Culcheth and Tony Pond have been retained as drivers for the TR7s. A twelve-event International rally programme includes six major continental rallies to gain Leyland some exposure in Belgium, France, Germany and Italy, and six home Internationals. TR7 co-drivers have not yet been announced, though it will he surprising if Culcheth’s regular partner, the colourful Scot photographer Johnstone Syer, is not alongside him again. The TR7’s 16-valve Sprint engines will give 220 b.h.p. at 7,000 r.p.m. running on a compression ratio of 11:1, a special camshaft with increased lift and overlap and twin 48 DCOE Weber carburetters. Five-speed gearboxes and uprated rear-axles, relocated with twin trailing arms, a Panhard rod and special bushes, will be used.
Pat Ryan, the twenty-seven-year-old Birmingham driver who put up some excellent Performances in a Group I Dolomite Sprint last year, will drive the Sprint again in the 10 National or International rounds of the Motor-RAC Rally Championship. In common with the racing Group 1 Sprints the rally car has benefited from homologation “extras”, including the 48 DCOE Webers, ventilated discs and high ratio saris. Slightly de-tuned from the racing specification, the rally engine gives about 180 b.h.p. and drives through a gearbox fitted with wide ratio gears, used in conjunction with a Laycock competition overdrive unit.
Leyland are going all out to encourage competition use of their cars by privateers with a big cash-or-parts bonus scheme. Bonus payments of up to £1000 will be given to private entrants who become overall championship winners in Leyland cars in racing, rallying, rallycross, autocross, production car trials, autotests, hill-climbing and drag racing, though for some reason sprints have been omitted. Sensibly, Leyland are offering bonus payments in cash or alternatively entrants can collect from Leyland ST at Abingdon parts of their choice available from stock up to double the bonus cash value at current retail prices, including VAT, which sounds a good deal.
The Leyland Motorsport Bonus Scheme comes at a lisle when the Ford Motor Company has shelved its bonus scheme, an encouraging thought for potential Leyland users. Overall, the 1977 Leyland Motorsport programme appears well balanced and contrived. We hope that it remains free of last year’s false starts and wish Leyland every success. British motoring sport needs their involvement to stem the lack of variety caused by Ford saturation.—C.R.