COTTON ON...

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COTTON ON

We owe to Jenks the homespun philosophy that motor racing’s fun while the engines are running. “You can’t hear the whingeing against a background of Ferrari V12s and Cosworth V8s,” he used to say. This winter the politics have been particularly unpleasant, unnecessary and damaging to the sport, and to develop Jenks’ theme I’ll define the “sport” as everything that happens whilst the engines are firing on all eight, ten or twelve.

When the engines are still we’ve heard the booming voice of FISA President Balestre demanding apologies from Ayrton Senna, Ron Dennis and Raymond Gouloumes of the Automobile Club de l’Ouest, although I suppose that Balestre would hotly deny that he is motor racing’s dictator. A real dictator of the calibre of Stalin or Ceausescu, would have killed his opponents. . . he, Balestre, merely sought to teach them a lesson they’d never forget.

The apology signed by M. Gouloumes was a nauseous document drafted, in fact, by Balestre himself. The ACO’s president merely had to sign the letter which paid tribute to Balestre who “saved French motor sports in 1973 by re-establishing competition events”, regretted unfounded declarations made against the FISA, lauded Balestre “for exerting great personal efforts in an attempt to set up a memorandum of understanding between the FISA and the Le Mans 24 Hours”, also declaring that “he never sought to take financial control”.

Presumably M. Gouloumes will lose no sleep over this. The wording of the apology is so full of humbug that nobody with intelligence would imagine he’d written it himself, but as of February 5th it seems to have performed the trick of appeasing Balestre, who gave the event a guarded go-ahead. “As the conditions which it (FISA) had set have been fulfilled, the FISA has ordered its Safety and Circuits Commission to go to Le Mans in order to study the proposals of the relevant authorities for the construction of two slowing down corners.”

Just as we predicted, FISA waited until the teams had registered for the 1990 World Sports-Prototype Championship before making any positive statement about the status of Le Mans. All the politicking had led to the closure of Aston Martin’s Protech Group C team with the loss of 60 jobs, the withdrawal of Mazda’s World Championship team based at Silverstone, and the withdrawal too of Don Shead’s Team Mako, the France Prototeam, the Tiga works team, PC Automotive, Jochen Dauer’s Porsche and Gianni Mussato’s Lancia.

Does FISA care? Almost certainly not. After all, securing apologies from the likes of Senna, Dennis and Gouloumes is a far more important business than promoting a World Championship, because principles are at stake. If the World Championship can’t withstand a little off-season horseplay between Balestre and Gouloumes it can’t be much good, can it?

Three months after the last round of the WS-PC series, and with millions of bad tempered words now wrapping the world’s fish and chips, it was nice to go to a place where the engines were on full song and the politics aren’t at all bad. Early in February the Daytona International Speedway is a magnet enough with daytime temperatures in the mid-eighties, and under new management the IMSA organisation continues to run motor racing entirely for the benefit of its members, and their public (they never forget the spectators!).

IMSA isn’t in a particularly healthy state, as it happens, with Daytona entries sharply reduced. Costs are rising steeply while the American economy is stagnant; sponsors are harder to secure, and it’s no longer easy to purchase a race-winning car. In the 24-hour race the professionalism of the Castrol Jaguar, and Nissan teams stood out clearly; there were three or four good Porsches on the grid, one on pole position, but their luck deserted them. In the heyday of the 962, between 1985 and 1987 there were others in the queue to paper over the cracks. Now, it’s another make that takes the flag, and you still can’t buy a Jaguar XJR.

IMSA President Mark Raffauf, who mingles easily with the competitors at every opportunity, confirms that in 1992 the Association’s GTP regulations will come close to FISA’s. There will however, be no rapprochement between the two, even after a separation of ten years.

“We will continue to admit turbocharged engines, rotaries and stock-blocks,” says Raffauf. “From 1992 our equivalencies will be based on the 31/2-litre engine, weights included, and there will be no significant differences between the IMSA and FISA 3 %-litre categories.” Thus, it will be possible for any World Championship team to race in America and vice-versa.

Most pundits believe that of the six or seven world class manufacturers involved in the World Sportscar Championship next year, no more than two or three will be active in 1994. “Clearly there will be major winners and some lost causes,” comments one team owner. “I can easily predict that the losers won’t stay around very long; there’s too much at stake.” The losers might well decide to follow Mazda’s example and cross the Atlantic (or Pacific), where Mr Raffauf will be waiting with open arms! Porsche will return to the FISA championship in 1992 with a new sports car based on the company’s 31/2-litre V12, recently announced in the deal with Jack Oliver’s Arrows Fl team. “Unlike the TAG engine, which was paid for by a customer, we are partners for the V12, and it is available to us,” says Helmuth Flegl, Porsche’s competitions manager. The official team in 1992 will be operated by Reinhold Joest, in much the same way as John Wyer ran the “works” team in 1970-71, and a favoured American team might also be selected to represent Porsche in the IMSA

championship. Will the new 3%-litre Porsche go on general sale? “I doubt it,” replied Flegl as he looked around the Daytona paddock after the race.”These teams weren’t very good, were they?” None, to be sure, met the standards once set by Al Holbert’s team — but Reinhold Joest’s fell down on the job too. In racing, you can never pass judgement based on one race.

Immediately after Daytona, Peugeot unveiled the 905 sports racing car at the firm’s new headquarters at Velizy, on the outskirts of Paris. This was not the building once occupied by the Matra racing team, but a new one with the ambience of an industrial hangar, and it will house 200 people by the end of this year.

Peugeot’s team, led by competitions director Jean Todt, has opted for a V10 engine which is already running on the test bench. I had always supposed that the V10 was a compromise between the V8, ideal in size for an Fl chassis, and the V12 which has preferable characteristics but is more bulky. It isn’t necessary to compromise with a sports car which has a comparitively massive floor area, but an 80 degree V10 is what engine designer Jean-Pierre Boudy chose. Testing should start in June, as soon as the Peugeot 6-speed gearbox is ready, and Todt hopes to see his 905 baptised in the scheduled American 480 kilometre race on October 7th followed by the Mexican event two weeks later.

According to FISA’s regulations no-one can join the championship towards the end, but Todt (once a bitter courtroom opponent of Balestre over the abolition of Group B in rallies) had Balestre nodding approval from the front row when he mentioned that he would seek permission to contest two races, and threw in a broadside at the ACO for good measure!

Peugeot will become a “heavyweight” team straight away alongside Mercedes, Porsche, Nissan and Toyota . . . and Jaguar, we hope, although Sir John Egan confirms that the decision hasn’t yet been taken to support the 372-litre formula. I all depends, he says, on stability in th World Sportscar Championship, and particularly on stability for Le Mans. “We are very worried about the state of the World Championship,” Sir John commented at Daytona. “We are worried about the appalling relationship between FISA and others involved in professional motor racing . . . Le Mans is the heritage of the motor industry, and it is mischievous for anyone to play games with it. I can tell you, the World Championship is hollow without Le Mans . . . we need assurance that the race has a secure future before we make any decision about next year.” And so say many people who have viewed the events of the last few weeks with concern, turning to disbelief. The Americans are absolutely incredulous that the manufacturers, teams and sponsors should allow Balestre to rampage through the sport like a brain-addled bull. It s anyone’s guess how long this state of affairs can continue. NILC

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