No self-respecting sport, other than motor racing it seems, would tolerate the shambles that its governing body “arranges” each year when publication of the calendar is due.
FISA has neglected the World Sports Prototype Championship almost absolutely for many years now, except to tell the manufacturers and entrants what they cannot do, but in the midst of his extraordinary tirade at Le Mans last June Jean Marie Balestre promised that FISA would lead the formula into a golden era, and subsequently that sports-car racing would be as important as Formula One.
Despite all that, by the middle of February the calendar for 1989 contained six definite fixtures (although “definite” should be taken as “probable”, since Jarama does not have the pits space for more than two-thirds of the 36 cars that will compete) and two “possibles” in Canada and America, while Spa has moved into the “likely” phase for September (the reason for its removal from the calendar never having been explained) and Silverstone has been reinstated at a late stage, but not on the May 14 date initially offered to the BRDC.
Is it surprising, therefore, that no-one can take Group C very seriously, even though it represents the might of Jaguar, Mercedes, Aston Martin, Nissan, Toyota and Mazda?
It is difficult at the best of times for team owners, managers and drivers to plan their schedules, their travel, their sponsorship and especially their budgets, but as long as the calendar remains as worthless as a £9 note their task is almost impossible.
It must be the highest priority of FISA to produce a credible calendar of World Championship events no later than September, and for the national automobile clubs to have firm dates for five years ahead. If that were to be the case, we would know that the British Grand Prix would be held on July 15, 1990 (for instance) even if FISA, FOCA and the BRDC had a tiff and it was moved to Donington Park.
We put it like that because it seems that circuit suitability and financial viability is the biggest stumbling block. Of course circuit owners might fall behind in their updating programmes if they were certain of keeping their Grand Prix for five years — all the more reason for FISA to encourage a second, or even a third circuit to maintain its international status.
Monaco and San Marino might find it difficult to maintain a second circuit, having enough problems with one, but almost without exception long-term contracts could be forged for Grands Prix, World Championship sports-car races, and presumably for World rallies as well. FISA insists on an absolutely professional approach from the participants, and rightly so where world-class competitions are concerned. However the ruling body itself only rarely reaches a high degree of professional competence, and it could begin to put its house in order this coming September by announcing an absolutely inviolable calendar for 1990.
Despite the confusion over the programme of events, no fewer than 36 sports-prototypes had been committed to the World Championship when the list closed on January 31, of which 22 are in the Group Cl class, three in the new 31/2-litre class and 11 in C2, the latter group remaining rather more popular than many people expected. The top class contains two Silk Cut Jaguars and two Sauber Mercedes on a regular basis, one Aston Martin, Yves Courage’s Cougar-Porsche, Gianni Mussato’s Lancia LC2, one Toyota, one Nissan, one Mazda, and a dozen privately-owned Porsches —the most notable of these being three from Walter Brun’s Repsol-sponsored team, two from Joest Racing and one each from Richard Lloyd and the Kremer brothers. Derek Bell, twice World Champion and eight times a 24-hour event winner, has a full contract with RLR and PCGB, and Tiff Needell and Martin Donnelly have signed options, but they had hoped for a little more tangible commitment by now.
All three of the Japanese cars taking part in the entire world championship will be based in England. The new Lola-chassised Nissan V8 will be maintained by Howard Marsden in Milton Keynes, a Mazda 767 will be operated by Alan Docking at Silverstone, and the Toyota for Johnny Dumfries and Geoff Lees will be run by Dave Sims at the Tom’s subsidiary near Norwich.
Not all teams have yet named their drivers but Jaguar has Jan Lammers, John Nielsen and Andy Wallace on full strength, Sauber-Mercedes has Jean-Louis Schlesser, Jochen Mass, Mauro Baldi and Kenny Acheson, and Aston Martin has David Leslie and Brian Redman.
The 31/2-litre class is a little disappointing at first, with just three Cosworth DFL V8-powered Spices, but the group will fill up rapidly next year when Alfa Romeo and Peugeot begin their programmes. Two of the Spices are works cars driven, it is expected, by World C2 champions Gordon Spice and Ray Bellm, and Thorkild Thyrring with Wayne Taylor. The third car will be run by MT Sport, based at Montlhery, for Michel Ferte.
Spice team director Jeff Hazell expects his nimble SE89s to be extremely competitive on the twisty tracks especially, and he looks forward to the first encounter at Suzuka. He calculates that while the Jaguars will be 18% heavier and 30% more powerful, their advantage will be reduced to 10% or less in race conditions, while the Spices will have the advantage of being able to use as much fuel as they like.
Hazell’s equation assumes a Jaguar weighing the minimum of 900kg, with a driver weighing 75kg and half a tank of fuel weighing 30kg. Midway through a stint therefore the XJR might weigh 1005kg, which, assuming a power output of 750 bhp, would mean 1.34kg per bhp. A Spice will easily weigh 750kg in the scrutineering bay, plus a driver at 75kg and half a tank of fuel of 25kg. At the same point, therefore, the Spice will weigh 850kg, which, assuming a power output of 575 bhp, is 1.478kg per bhp.
Even with 600 bhp, which is feasible in 1990, the 31/2-litre cars would be nowhere near parity, but Hazel also calculates that the “unlimited” engines cannot develop their claimed 750 bhp from start to finish, on the allocation of 245 litres per 480km, and at places like Brands Hatch he hopes to see his cars moving in for possible victory.
Remember Brands Hatch in April 1971? The 3-litre Alfa Romeo team finally caught and passed the omnipotent Porsche 917s there, and did it again at Watkins Glen later in the season. Next year, maybe, when the thunderous Group C cars are on their run-out, there could be the odd surprise. Hugh Chamberlain, whose team we featured last month, has been temporarily frustrated in his hopes to move into the 31/2-litre class, but looks to be the class of the C2 category with a pair of Spices for Nick Adams, Fermin Velez (who won the title with Gordon Spice in 1987), Gigi Taverna and Richard Jones.
Sadly though, the Grand Touring category will never happen. Only two possible entries were spoken of, the Ferrari F40s ordered by French importer Charles Pozzi, but at the final count they were not among the cars registered, apparently because they would not be competitive for outright victories. FISA, of course, never intended that they should be, the cars being at least 100kg heavier and confined to “production” shapes, so the whole programme appears to have been ill-conceived. MC