It was intended that this season should see a renaissance of endurance racing, but with the opening rounds at Brands Hatch and Mugello cancelled because of lack of sufficient entries (the race at Monza on April 18th was scheduled to happen after we closed for press) the prospects have been depressing. We must hope for a recovery in time for this month’s BRDC Six-Hour race at Silverstone on May 16th. This should be the second round counting towards the Manufacturers’ Championship and those who believe that racing should be contested by rival car producers as much as between the drivers themselves will want to support such a race, given an exciting and representative field.
The Group-C rules governing these 1982 endurance races are intended to encourage a form of once-popular competition between other than F1 cars, over appreciable distances. With so many of the once-great sports/racing car contests merely a memory — the Mille Miglia, the Targa Florio, the Ulster TT, the Nürburgring 1,000 kilometres, the Spa 1,000 kilometres, the Sebring 12 hours and countless other “touring-car” contests — a return to something akin to this type of racing is overdue. Le Mans, where the 24-hour race of 1923 may be said to have started this kind of racing, still attracts the greatest interest and enjoys maximum spectator-support — and is of course one of the qualifying races for the Manufacturers’ Championship, on June 19th/20th this year.
The ideal situation for such racing is for the competing cars to be reasonably indentifiable with those you can buy for ordinary road motoring. This applied at Le Mans and in many similar, if shorter races — not forgetting those held at Brooklands, Donington and Phoenix Park before the war — until prototypes were allowed in, after the war. While it was possible to buy very similar cars to the Bentleys, Chenard-Walckers, Lorraine-Dietrichs, Alfa Romeos, Lagonda, Delahaye and Bugattis that scored outright at the Sarthe in pre-war times, the same applying to the Lea-Francis, MG, Riley, Alfa Romeo (if you allow for a detachable head) and Mercedes-Benz cars which won at Ulster between 1928 and 1936, this ideal situation changed. You could never, for example, purchase a Mercedes-Benz 300SLR such as won the last Mille Miglia and the 1955 Dundrod TT, etc., and would have won at Le Mans had that ghastly accident not involved the German team-cars. Apply this reasoning to later Le Mans and similar races and see how often a “catalogue-type” car took the honours.
Times change and the possibility of having a sliding-scale handicap so that the smaller cars also came into the picture, as at Le Mans with the Index of Performance category, is endangered by the risks involved in having cars of widely varying speed and accelerative potential on a circuit at the same time, especially when racing in the dark. Maximum speeds are already alarmingly high, 220 m.p.h. being expected down the Mulsanne straight at Le Mans this summer. Organisers of long-distance races are in a dilemma in other respects, too. If the competing cars are too close to “catalogue” they will be dull to watch, if they are so specialised (and therefore quick) that few can hope to own anything similar or drive it to the extent of its performance, Iet alone on the road, the whole point of such racing is lost and we might as well concentrate on F1, in which, no matter what the sponsors and TV producers may tell us, there is plenty of inter-marque rivalry mechanically to combat the driver-appeal that some would have us see now as the major factor in such racing.
Le Mans rules changed along the years, moving the race away from its original concept of a great test of touring-type sporting cars. When prototypes were admitted in 1949, while insisting that the rest of the entry had to be production-style cars, ten and eventually 100 of which had been sold within the year, the rot, in the eyes of those advocating production-car contests, began. Admittedly, following the 1955 Le Mans disaster, prototypes were curbed by a maximum engine size of 2.5-litres and new body dimensions, as the CSI decreed. But when the race looked like becoming a GT-contest, the fear of diminishing spectator support gave rise to the admission of 4-litre prototypes and experimental cars, even if they were intended to have road-equipped road-going bodywork and, indeed, to “conform to the spirit of the race”. Gone, however, were the days of Le Mans cars you could have happily driven away from the circuit and used as your everyday sports car without alteration, anxiety, or police intervention. . . .
From that aspect, one can only advocate with hindsight the kind of race which was won by, for example, the C-type Jaguar, as at Le Mans in 1951 (average, 93.49 m.p.h. for 2,243.8 miles) and 1953 (average, 105.85 m.p.h. for 2,540.3 miles), or if you like when a 300SL Mercedes-Benz coupé won Le Mans at 96.97 m.p.h. in 1952 or, not to put too fine a point on it, when cars such as the Culpan/Aldington Frazer Nash and the Sydney Allard/Tom Cole J2 Cadillac-Allard could take 3rd place at Le Mans (1949/1950), from fields of 49 and 60 respectively, before crowds of some 200,000. The new Group-C regulations for 1982 endurance racing call for “recognised” engines homologated for Group A or B production-cars, but of unlimited capacity. By restricting fuel-tank size and specifying a minimum of 102.5 miles (165 km.) between refuelling (those pit-stops!), fuel consumption must be at least 4.6 m.p.g., wheels are not permitted to have a rim-width exceeding 16″, minimum weight with a two-seater body of specified windscreen-area must not be less than 800 kg. without fuel, and to some extent ground-effect down-forces are reduced by undershield requirements.
It seems a long way from the old ideas of sound sports/racing car rulings, but as Porsche, Lola, March, Ford, Nimrod-Aston Martin, Lancia, Rondeau and others are lined up for the BRDC race at Silverstone on May 16th to be driven by such names as Jacky Ickx, Derek Bell, Ricardo Patrese, Michele Alboreto, Marc Surer, Manfred Winkelhock, Tiff Needell, Geoff Lees, Henri Pescarolo and Gordon Spice, amongst many more, we can expect some exciting contests. Another round of this Manufacturers’ Championship is due at the Nürburgring on May 30th.
OUR open letter to the Chancellor last month has been acknowledged, with the comment that Sir Geoffrey “will doubtlessly answer the detailed points that you raise”. At the time of closing for press, no such reply had been received.