From Parity to Superiority?
The Silk Cut Jaguar team came close to winning the 1986 World Sportscar Championship despite taking the chequered flag only once, at Silverstone, and its effort will be even more effective this year. The Porsche teams will increase their strength, though, and the Kouros Sauber-Mercedes team will run a new car, or cars, in five or six races.
In other words what was a good, if rather short World Championship last year looks likely to become a more evenly contested series in which successes will be shared.
On Jaguar's behalf, Tom Walkinshaw Racing is building two new XJR-6 chassis for the coming season, which starts at Jarama on March 22 and ends, 13 races later, in Australia on October 25.
The team is insisting that its drivers give the programme their undivided efforts and for that reason the line-up had not been finalised in February. Eddie Cheever, John Watson and Jan Lammers have signed their contracts but now that Derek Warwick is to lead the Arrows Formula 1 team, his place could be taken by any of several names on Wallkinshaw's desk.
The cars themselves were competitive on all circuits last year, but more so at the very fast tracks, like Silverstone, with fourth and fifth gear corners which allow their superior ground effects to work at a premium. They cannot be any lighter, since they were down to the 850kg minimum limit in 1986, but a host of detail improvements has been carried out, concentrating on areas which were troublesome last year: the fuel system has been revised, gear linkage improved, driver ventilation increased, new discs and calipers will be lighter, and Speedline will supply lighter wheels. The monocoque has been reinforced to improve driver safety (never tested in race conditions, thankfully), and part of the floor is replaceable.
The bodywork will be lighter and aerodynamics subtly improved, the doors will be front-hinged, and the suspension geometries have been revised, also increasing roll stiffness. Better performance is expected from the Dunlop tyres, and in the V12 engine department Jaguar expects to find more power together with better economy. Last year's power figure from the 6,262cc engine was 680bhp at 6,500rpm, and the XJR-6 was marginally more economical than its turbocharged rivals.
That sort of development would be normal for any Formula 1 team, but the Porsches are little different to those raced from 1982 onwards. There have been improvements, naturally, and the customers have had their own ideas on improvements but basically this is an obsolete design.
On paper one would expect the Silk Cut Jaguars to move from parity to superiority in 1987, especially with a more experienced driver combination. The drivers, for one reason or another, passed up two, perhaps three opportunities to win last season. Mechanical failures accounted for another three defeats, and Tom Walkinshaw is not the sort of man to let that happen again.
There is one more factor in favour of the Silk Cut Jaguars, and that is the banning of toluene additives. These increase the fuel's density without raising its octane value and therefore raise the 'energy per tank' factor. Special fuel is said to be of more benefit to a turbocharged engine and it remains to be seen if the Jaguars can eke out an extra benefit.
At the end of last season it seemed that Rothmans and Porsche would part company. The contract had expired and the factory Porsches would be seen in only a handful of races early in the season, until development of the CART Indycar got underway.
Like two lovers who find it hard to part, a new deal was formed at the Porsche Cup prizegiving and the partnership looks stronger than ever for 1987. Rothmans' Sean Roberts and Porsche's top management met in December to say farewell . . . but couldn't remember why! Expect Rothmans-Porsche to run one or two cars in at least eight races next season — and more, if they need to in order to secure the championships yet again.
Two new 962C chassis have been built to replace those destroyed at the Nurburgring in August, and they will be better than before. Mechanically, we are told, there won't be any major development, but new aerodynamics have been formed in Porsche's modern wind tunnel at Weissach, and improvements should not be underestimated.
Derek Bell and Hans Stuck will lead the team, backed in most races by Jochen Mass and Bob Wollek, though both of them had signed contracts with American IMSA teams and will not be available for clashing races at Jarama, Monza and Brands Hatch.
Last year's performances by the Rothmans-Porsche team were only just good enough Bell and Stuck, and dreadfully disappointing for Mass and Wollek. The development of the PDK semi-automatic gearbox, which is 35kg heavier than the normal transmission and rather less reliable, is being pushed by management rather than the team, as is the introduction of ABS brakes (also rather heavy).
At times the four drivers felt like athletes with two Achilles heels, trying to do what they used to do so well. A 950kg racing car would have to be remarkable to compete with a good 850kg car, but that is what happened at the end of the year.
The situation has been resolved to the entire satisfaction of all four drivers. PDK transmission will be used only in three or four races where it may have a distinct advantage — on slow or difficult tracks like the Norisring, Jerez and Brands Hatch perhaps, where instant gearchanging and total absence of turbo lag will be an advantage. A lighter PDK is under development.
A third Rothmans-Porsche will run at Le Mans as usual, for Vern Schuppan, Price Cobb and Kees Nierop, with Al Holbert joining Bell and Stuck again in number 1. Also, Porsche will enter an improved 961 four-wheel drive car at Le Mans.
Porsche's commitment has returned, if it ever went away, and, on form shown prior to 1986, victories should be achieved on a regular basis; that's what makes the 1987 season so fascinating to forecast. Le Mans, of course, almost belongs to Porsche, now with 11 victories in 16 years, and that will be the hardest race of all for Jaguar to conquer.
Of the customers, Reinhold Joest has consistently been the most successful since Group C was formulated in 1982, but he has been hardest hit by the banishment of the 956 model from racing, on pedal box safety grounds. Preparation of a pair of new 962Cs, however, also gives him the opportunity to start afresh with current-spec cars.
Klaus Ludwig will, after all, drive for Joest in three races (definitely not Le Mans), and Bob Wollek will join the team whenever he's not in a Rothmans-Porsche or the BFG Porsche in America. Kris Nissen and Piercarlo Ghinzani are also likely to drive for Joest.
Erwin and Manfred Kremer, with SAT backing, expect to run a 962 for Volker Weidler and Bruno Giacomelli, Richard Lloyd Racing will have Mauro Baldi as lead driver in the Liqui Moly Porsche 962B, and may yet have Jonathan Palmer rejoin the team if he fails to find a Formula One seat.
The biggest effort of all, valued at over four million Deutchmarks, comes from the World Champion Walter Brun team with two or three cars in every round. Gianfranco Brancatelli replaces Thierry Boutsen, who'll give his full attention to the Benetton F1 team, Brun will himself drive, and the line-up will include Frank Jelinski, Oscar Larrauri, Jesus Pareja and, probably, Stanley Dickens.
The Brun Porsches will run on Goodyear tyres rather than Michelin, the French company apparently having gone out of contact since last October, "They didn't congratulate us after we won the World Championship" says manager Peter Reinisch. "I believe they think we should have congratulated them. I heard they were most surprised when we signed with Goodyear."
In Switzerland Peter Sauber is preparing two new chassis for the turbocharged 5-litre Mercedes V8 engine, winner at the Nurburgring last August, with improved ground effect. Sponsorship for five races again comes from Kouros, and Mike Thackwell is the lead driver, probably with Henri Pescarolo. Two Saubers will race at Le Mans, with, is hoped, better fortune than in 1985 and 1986.
The Lamborghini-Tiga may have been seen in some races in the hands of Tiff Needell - it finally made its debut at the non-championship race at Kyalami at the end of the '86 season — and Le Mans should see the reappearance of Nissan, Toyota and Mazda with improved and more competitive cars.
Nissan now has a powerful and economical 3-litre V8 under development, but will need to have the whole effort facing the same way if it is to make a good impression in the 24-hour race. Toyota, we know, has a powerful 2.1 litre 16-valve turbo engine which was good enough for pole position at Fuji (then disallowed), but will have to prove itself good enough to run night and day without failure. Mazda, meanwhile, continues in the IMSA category.
Reliability, as well as speed, is a combination not seen throughout the ranks of the C2 division. Gordon Spice has both factors but hasn't yet selected a co-driver, and will come up against stern opposition from Ecurie Ecosse, probably with two well-sponsored Cosworth DFL-powered cars and with Ray Mallock as lead driver.
Quite soon the turbocharged-engined teams should begin to find superiority, and those of Hugh Chamberlain and Martin Schanche are knocking on the door. Chamberlain has now bought a Spice chassis for his 2-litre Hart turbo engine and with Will Hoy driving, this should be capable of breaking the Spice-Ecosse domination. Schanche had an expensive season in '86 but the Zakspeed turbo engine was pretty reliable and the Argo chassis competitive, especially later in the season.
Ian Harrower's ADA Engineering led the 1986 Teams Championship for much of the season, but continues with a now elderly chassis and Cosworth power.
We won't see the Lancias again in the near future, and John Fitzpatrick has sold his Porsches to Jochen Dauer, mainly for the German Supercup.
Between them Porsche and Jaguar should win all the races, possibly with Sauber earning another success somewhere, but getting closer to a prediction is difficult. Will Jaguar let Porsche get back into their winning routine? Almost certainly not. MLC