Early last year there was a terrible shemozzle in the sports car world when FISA decided at short notice to “do a deal” with the American IMSA organisation. They scrapped the proposed fuel economy rules for a start, requiring a 15% reduction in the amount available for a 1,000 kilometre event, to 510 litres, and the works Porsche team was so upset that it withdrew its cars from Le Mans. All that is still fresh in the mind, as is FISA’s change of heart last July when it was evident that IMSA had no intention of aligning itself with the World Endurance Championship.
The 1985 series got under way at Mugello on April 14th after all, with more stringent economy roles. . . and the result was chaos in the final hour, and the irony of the Rothmans-Porsche driven by Derek Bell and Hans Stuck being disqualified for running out of fuel two laps from the end! Bell’s reaction was understandably terse. “You can’t call it motor racing — it was an economy run.” In the end, the outcome of the race was determined in the pits, by calculators and computers, not by the heroics of the drivers out there on the mountainous 5.24 kilometre track. The first how was a real motor race, with Riccardo Patrese’s Lancia-Martini streaking away with Stefan Bellof and Derek Bell in hot pursuit. Bellof, who has left the works team this year to drive for Walter Brun’s Porsche team, felt he had something to prove and, lap after lap, he looked for a way past the much improved Lancia. On the 25th lap he barged past the Italian car in the big, climbing corner at the end of the long main straight, and Patrese was so nonplussed that he missed a gear and let Bell through as well. For a seasoned Formula 1 driver, under pressure from renowned charger Bellof, his comment was surprisingly naive: “He hit me!”
With less fuel available it was quite crucial to run to a strict schedule, running 36 laps per 100-litre tankful. Bell stopped after 32, Bellof after 33, leaving co-drivers Boutsen and Stuck with the task of covering more than 36 laps in the second stint to pull back the fuel average. It soon became clear that Lancia had the upper hand, Patrese covering 35 laps on his first tank a minute quicker than Ickx, who’d been hanging back in seventh or eighth place early on and also refuelled after 35 laps. Mauro Baldi, who’d been even more restrained in the first hour, was the only driver in the C1 class to run 36 laps.
Sheer speed was going to be an embarrassment to the team managers, and the key was to run quickly and economically . . . like Ickx and Mass, who were actually lapped after 70 tours of Mugello. Running mostly in fourth and fifth gears at a maximum of 7,000 rpm (the turbocharged flat-six will run to 8,200 rpm) their new 962C looked an also-ran in the first half of the race. Bell and Stuck were lapped, too, when they slowed their pace drastically, and the spectators could be forgiven for wondering what on earth had happened to the dominant Rothmans-Porsches. Was the 962C a ghastly failure? Surely not, for race leaders Bellof / Boutsen and Winkelhock / Surer were also driving new 962Cs. Perhaps, then, the works cars were handicapped by a development which had been a problem in practice? In order to fit a wider, more effective ground effect venturi panels underneath the cars, Porsche fitted taller, 19-inch diameter rear wheels of narrower section, 15 inches rather than 16. The “footprint” is the same but the sidewalls are lower and stiffer, subtly changing the handling characteristics and making the cars difficult to drive on the limit. When going for times the drivers had experienced dramatic oversteer, but all four reported that the cars were fine at steady race speeds.
Just before half distance the Lancias were very nicely placed. During the winter, lng. Claudio Lombardi has undertaken some useful development work including widening the track by 10cm to the full 200cm allowed by the regulations. The suspension was necessarily improved, and Michelin supplied the tyres. The Lancias were designed to run on Pirelli radials, hut the Italian manufacturer got into such a dishevelled state in 1983 that Fiorio had to go to Dunlop for his tyres, and compromises had to be made for the crossply equipment supplied. Michelin, it was thought, with all their Formula 1 experience, would be able to supply a critical factor to Lancia’s success. New bodywork is fitted to the latest Lancias (though they still have the original monocoques, now going into their thid season) with 15% more downforce, and the only question marks now related to preparation, reliability and organisation. The bad luck factor that haunted Lancia for two seasons has not gone to another hunting ground. It was bad luck that Mauro Baldi had a broken throttle spring just before half distance, losing him two laps. They’d never had that problem before It was bad luck that Nannini should have lost a sideswiping contest with Stuck, putting the Lancia off the road for more than a minute. It was bad luck that the oil pressure should have disappeared when Nannini was driving, while in third place and just ahead of the eventual winner. It’s more than likely that had the engine not failed, Patrese and Nannini would have won the race, for they had fuel to spare at the speed they were running. Wollek and Baldi were less happy with their car’s handling and although they, too, were achieving the necessary consumption figure they were rarely ahead of Ickx and Mass and the throttle spring failure does not fully account for their four-lap deficit at the end. Even so the Lancia-Martini performance augurs well for the season, and a first-time victory against the might of the works and private Porsche teams at Monza on April 25 seemed to be a very real possibility. All they have to do now is repel the bad luck factor. . . .
Going into the second half of the race Bell had to compensate for his earlier enthusiasm, and eked out 38 laps on a tank This he did by running the engine 50 6,000 rpm and keeping in fifth gear as long as possible, all too reminiscent of that dispiriting race at Silverstone in May 1982, on the 956’s debut. The car was visibly slower on the main straight, and for any racing driver this must have been the worst sort of torment, a nightmare that comes at three o’clock in the morning.
Bellof and Boutsen, in the Brun Porsche 962C, and Winkelhock / Surer in the Kremer Porsche 962C, did not yet seem to have woken up to the realities for they were still lapping at 1m 50s or thereabouts, while Bell had slowed to 1m 52s. At times like that you wonder whether all the fuss about pole Position was worth bothering about. Patrese had used qualifying tyres, even a qualifying engine, to screw himself up for a lap in 1m 39.07s, while Stuck had bravely achieved 1m 40.73s in the 956C, on qualifying tyres, but with his race engine on high boost.
But now the race was being run ten seconds slower per lap, at times well within the capabilities of any competent racing driver and certainly not a test of the skills of world-class drivers. All they needed was the intelligence to obey their pit signals, and drive at an economical speed. There was, at least, a decent motor race going on in the C2 class where Gordon Spice / Ray Bellm were locked in combat with the Carmo-Alba of Martino Finotto / Carlo Facetti / Guido Dacco. They have the same allocation of fuel as before, 330 litres, and knew exactly what they had to do. In the first half-hour Bellm was able to fend off Finotto’s challenge, but the power of the turbocharged engine eventually enabled the Italian to overhaul Bellm’s 425 bhp Cosworth DFV. Their rivals, in a thinly supported class, were left well behind and the lead see-sawed this way, that way, until the Alba’s driveshaft broke and put the Italian car into the pits for 12 laps. The result would have been a close-run thing, but Spice had a slight edge when the Alba stopped.
Just as the first hour had provided a stage for the drivers to show their speed, or consistency, the final hour was all-important for the result. Sixty minutes from the end Surer led Ickx by 28 seconds, and Bellof by 70 seconds. Stuck was now a lap down and cruising along, Wollek was four laps behind and had given up hope. The last pit stops were made, rather short since the cars could only take 30 or 40 litres, and Mass finally went ahead 35 minutes from the end, lapping at 1 min 47 sec as he passed Bellof.
Of all, Mass had the most fuel in the tank, and wasn’t much concerned about economy. Seven laps from the end Stuck went past the pits at half speed, his lap time 2 min 3 sec. Even the C2 cars were going quicker than that, and the German mechanics went into a frenzy of activity getting spare wheels ready for a pit stop next time. But the next lap was 1 min 55 sec, and then Bellof did an even slower lap at 2 min 5 sec. How could the spectators know what was happening? How could they go home to tell mamma they’d seen a marvellous motor race, after witnessing this exhibition?
Mass was serene as he passed the flag, Surer glad to get there 30 seconds later. Bellof even more relieved to cross the line on the last dregs of the reserve supply — but Stuck had been sitting at the side of the track for two laps, with just enough fuel to reach the end of the pits lane. His last lap was timed at eight minutes, too long according to the regulations, so fourth place was awarded instead to Wollek’s Lancia (the first bit of good luck!).
Maybe Mugello was heavy on fuel; some tracks are more demanding than others, though experience is the only way to find out for sure. And certainly the engine management systems will be improved too, just as they were in 1982 to cope with, then, a difficult target of 60 litres per 100 kilometres. Even so, Peter Falk’s prediction that 610 bhp would be about right to achieve the necessary economy looks optimistic at the moment, and no doubt Porsche and Bosch are furiously making fresh calculations. Funnily enough Lancia claimed 680 bhp on race boost (dismissed out of hand by Porsche) and they were better situated. All this most have given heart to Tom Walkinshaw, a keenly interested spectator with designer Tony Southgate, Jaguar’s Ron Elkins and timekeeper Mike Eyre. Suddenly their comparatively economical 600 bhp Jaguar V12 engine looks positively menacing to the Porsches and Lancias, and the debut of the TWR Jaguar at Silverstone on May 12th is keenly anticipated.
The opening round of the 1985 World Endurance Championship was certainly interesting, even memorable, but not necessarily for the right reason. Those who tried to make a race of it were heavily penalised, and those who turned it into a Mobil economy run were, eventually, successful. The question is, do the spectators really care very much about the point that FISA and the constructors are trying to make? — M.L.C.