Lancia shows promise
The debut of the Lancia-Martini at the Monza 1,000 Kilometre race in April was a qualified success, although one car was delayed and the other retired due to damage caused by tyre failures. Despite the small grid of 19 cars, supplemented by 14 laps by eight 2-litre Group 6 cars taking part in the Italian national championship, it was an interesting event won by Bob Wollek and Thierry Boutsen in Reinhold Joest’s Porsche 956.
The opening round of the 1983 World Endurance Championship was notable for several reasons. Out for the first time in public, the new Ferrari-powered Lancia driven by Piercarlo Ghinzani easily claimed pole position and led the race for eight laps, pulling away at a rate of a second per lap, until his left rear tyre burst (as it had in practice). Of the 19 starters, 12 were Porsches — seven were the type 956 models, and they occupied the top seven places in the results.
Most intriguing, though, was the fact that the Rothmans-Porsche 956 works team, invincible in Group C last year, was soundly beaten at Monza by a customer team which was faster and more economical on fuel. Fuel consumption played a crucial role, dictating the speed at which the race was run, but even if the teams had been allowed all the fuel they wanted to run at top speed, it always looked as though Wollek and Boutsen had the edge on Mass and Ickx.
Ghinzani’s pole position time of 1 min. 35.86 sec. in the Lancia-Martini, set after half an hour of practice, was more than four seconds faster than last year’s quickest time when, admittedly, the Group 6 Lancias had no great opposition. The Italian driver was in the team’s spare car, having damaged the race car beyond immediate repair during testing on Friday when the engine cut out suddenly at the Curva Grande. No sooner had Ghinzani recorded the fastest time than the left rear tyre burst, the first of three identical failures on his and the Patrese / Alboreto car over the weekend.
Patrese and Alboreto were troubled by an engine misfire which was never properly sorted out. Both the Lancia and works Porsche teams are now well advanced with electronic engine management, the Italian team using a Marelli system and the Germans a Bosch Motronic system. In theory this is the most advanced computer controlled system yet devised for setting the ignition and fuel flow, cutting off the supply of petrol on overrun. The Bosch system is controlled by, and reacts to engine speed, temperature, inlet air temperature, boost and battery voltage. Faced with any malfunction the race engirteers should be able to remove the micro chip board and fit a new one in moments, but Lancia didn’t find it that easy to sort out Patrese’s car.
With the help of Dunlop qualifying tyres (and at £600 a set, Joest’s was the only private team to bother with these) Wollek was second quickest in practice at 1 min. 36.61 sec. marginally quicker than Ickx at 1 min. 36.68 sec. and comfortably faster than Bell and Holbert on 1 min. 37.96 sec. Others to break the 1 min. 40 sec. barrier were Patrese / Alboreto (Lancia), Fitzpatrick / Hobbs (Porsche 956), and Stommelen / Heyer / Schickentanz (Porsche 956). Richard Lloyd’s Canon Porsche 956 driven by Jan Lammers / Tiff Needell and Lloyd was eighth quickest, the team concentrating on fuel consumption rather than outright speed.
Ghinzani made the most of his pole position to pull out an increasing lead until, passing the pits for the eighth time the rear tyre burst, damaging the rear of the car and showering the track with debris. Shortly after Patrese’s car suffered a similar fate (though it was to soldier on to ninth place) and it was only a question then of which Porsche would win. Fitzpatrick lost ten frustrating laps in the sand at the second chicane after being pushed off by a Group 6 car, and when the first refuelling stops had been completed only four Porsches were on the same lap looking as though they were in contention: those of Ickx / Mass, Wollek / Boutsen, Bell / Holbert and Stommelen / Heyer.
It concerned the works Porsche team that, despite their supposedly superior Motronic system, Wollek / Boutsen not only kept up with Ickn / Mass but raced an extra lap per 100 litre tank. All the teams had to complete an average of 29 laps per tank in order to compete the 173 lap event with her stops, so when Ickx, Bell and Stommelen made their first stops at 27 laps and Wollek made another tour, the writing was on the wall.
Wollek / Boutsen took the lead firmly on the 83rd lap when Mass refuelled four laps ahead of his schedule. This meant, in effect, that the works car would have to be soft-shoed around for the second half of the race while the Joest entry, only one lap down on schedule, could be driven quite hard, and at this point Peter Falk’s team virtually conceded defeat. It’s a funny way to go motor racing!
Bell and Holbert, running third about a minute behind, thought they were in with a chance as they had been conserving fuel and were only two laps behind their refuelling schedule. A seized rear wheel bearing put paid to their chances, however, costing the best part of 20 min. in the pits having the entire rear corner, including the driveshaft, changed. Earlier, it had been impressive to see the mechanics change the front brake pads on both works Porsches in less than the two minutes it takes to refuel them.
Wollek and Boutsen made no errors at all as they pressed home 73 sec. ahead of Ickx / Mass. As private entrants, they achieved the sort of superiority that a works team would be proud of.