Peace in our time?
The navy blue IMSA trailer was laden with heavyweights at Daytona. Jean-Pierre Moreau, the Le Mans organiser, discussed the 1994 Grand Touring Car regulations peaceably with FISA engineer Charlie Whiting, with JAF representatives Toshio lwasaki and Kazuo Suzuki, ACCUS delegate Burdette Martin, IMSA vice-president Mark Raffauf and Hugh Chamberlain representing the private entrants.
Whiting may not have stood on the top step with a piece of paper afterwards, but he was all smiles. "We've agreed to agree," he announced, the best news yet for the future of sports car racing worldwide.
At the least, the meeting established a new bridge between FISA and the ACO, and indicated that the 1994 edition of Le Mans could be part of any European Championship. Or, if not part of a FISA series, at least not apart from it in the sense of requiring a different preparation of GT cars.
Said Hugh Chamberlain, one of the architects of the 1993 Grand Touring Car series: "I'm extremely pleased that the meeting went ahead in the friendly spirit that prevailed. We made real progress, it was all very worthwhile."
The entente cordiale establishes that exactly the same regulations will prevail around the world for Grand Touring Car racing in 1994. A car that's eligible for Daytona will also be eligible for Silverstone, Le Mans and Fuji, making it possible to build up a series of premier events in I 995 and beyond.
The agreement will provide for GT cars which are not necessarily homologated, but have been type approved in at least two countries; this will rule out kit cars and specials. The minimum weight will be 1,100 kg and engine power will be restricted to around 475 bhp by means of air restrictors, two of 32 mm or one of 47.2/47.5 mm.
Crash test data must be supplied, and to keep costs down exotic materials will be banned: titanium is excluded unless as a heat shield, no magnesium or ceramics will be allowed and carbon fibre will be allowed only in clutch assemblies and belt covers.
Transmissions will be restricted to a maximum of six speeds and noise levels to 108 dB, though not necessarily with emission controls.
Whiting is now hard at work preparing the regulations which will have to be ratified by FISA, possibly in June. None of the agreements apply in the season ahead, unfortunately, and preparations for Le Mans will cause certain difficulties.
There are wide differences between the current, modified FISA GT regulations (prevailing at Daytona) and the ACO's, concerning weights, size of air restrictors, wheel widths, rear wing sizes and so on. Since the FISA regulations are still not acceptable to the ACO, Tom Walkinshaw for instance would very much like the Jaguar XJ220-C — which makes its debut at Silverstone on May 9 — to be accepted as an IMSA GT, thus getting into Le Mans by the back door.
That isn't straightforward, though, as Raffauf explains. "There is no way you can mix these exotic GTs with production models. It just won't work. Something like the Jaguar XJ220, designed as a race car, must beat Porsche 911s. And if you restrict the Jaguar so that it doesn't win, then why would anyone spend all that money?"
Raffauf doesn't see the Grand Touring Cars as being the entire future, anyway. "They will be an important part of the scene in 1994, but they won't draw big crowds. The future, as we see it, lies in the World Sports Car category announced by IMSA."
Ah yes, the World Sports Car formula. This is IMSA's vision . . . open top, simple, flat bottom, not-very-expensive sports cars powered by stock-block engines up to five-litre capacity. Maximum power will be in the region of 550 horsepower, but with a sliding weight scale it's thought that an engine of 4.0 to 4.5 litres will be the optimum.
It will suit Buick, Chevrolet and Ford down to the ground. Toyota has already confirmed that it won't build a new car to these regulations and Porsche doesn't have a suitable engine (Alwin Springer is lobbying hard for turbochargers, but is unlikely to succeed).
Engines must be from mass-produced automobiles, and lacking a clear definition of that term IMSA reserves the right to exclude a Ferrari, for instance. Variable camshaft timing is excluded, so that knocks out the Honda NSX and Porsche 968 at a stroke. Weights will range from 1,650 pounds for a three-litre to 2,050 pounds for a five-litre.
These WSC machines are likely to be very fast indeed in a straight line. Raffauf bubbles on about them being "quicker than the Porsche 917s, which reached 225 mph on the Daytona banking", and invokes modern suspensions and tyres in predicting good lap times, not far off today's Camel Lights.
The significant facts of the Daytona meeting are that M Moreau gave World Sports Cars an open invitation to Le Mans next year, and the JAF showed keen interest. No doubt the Japanese would amend the engine regulation to favour domestic manufacturers but as Raffauf says, "if the French and Japanese accept our chassis regulations, we are 80 per cent of the way there.
The first year of any new formula is full of difficulties, and IMSA will meet these in full measure. It is likely that all the existing GTPs will be given a year of grace in 1994, though handicapped (haven't we heard this before?) so as not to beat the new WSC cars.
It remains to be seen how FISA will react to a new sports car formula hatched in America and exported worldwide. . . not very well, it may be anticipated.
Tom Walkinshaw, who arrived at Daytona on Friday evening, was thought to be a trifle upset at having missed the summit sportscar meeting. He, though, had made his bid for Le Mans success by visiting the ACO the previous week with engine manager Allan Scott at his side.
TWR and Jaguar are adamant that they will abstain from the 24 Hours on June 19/20, for the second time, unless the half-baked air restrictor rule is changed. As prescribed, it gives the Jaguar V12 less air than a Porsche turbo. According to Scott it needs 10 per cent more air to achieve similar power, and IMSA's engineers agree with his calculation.
The return to 1990 regulations for Group C cars at Le Mans should mean just that, says Walkinshaw, advocating a return to fuel consumption. He wants the full 1990 quota of 2,550 litres, of course, while Porsche have made representations to have the larger, 41 mm air restrictors for the 962C as applied by IMSA. (It was interesting to note at Daytona that the seven-litre Jaguars, with no restrictors at all, were absolutely evenly matched with the Porsches with 41 mm restrictors).
The ACO has made no response to either manufacturer. Last year Jean Todt had the power of veto, exercised at FISA, in order to prevent the old Group C cars from posing any threat to his Peugeots. Surely Todt doesn't have the same power of veto with the Auto-mobile Club de l'Ouest?
M L C