World Sportscar Championship: Monza 1000kms

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Big Cat-trick!

It may be too soon yet to claim that Jaguar has Porsche on the run in the World Sportscar Championship, but John Watson and Jan Lammers took a faultless victory in the Monza 1000km race on April 12, and put the Jaguar company firmly at the top of the Teams’ Championship.

Three successes in four weeks is a marvellous start to the new season for the Silk Cut team run by Tom Walkinshaw, and although twice delayed on their way to second place, Derek Bell and Hans Stuck did not look able to beat Jaguar in their Porsche 962C. Sir John Egan looked delighted as he stood in the pouring rain to watch Lammers take the chequered flag, but Walkinshaw was far from pleased that a certain 1-2 victory had slipped away. As the rain set in 20 minutes before the end of the race, orders were given for the two XJR-8 drivers to stop for grooved tyres. Lammers came in at once but Raul Boesel, 50 seconds behind, chanced an extra lap and paid the full penalty with a trip into the sand-trap from which the car did not emerge.

Bell and Stuck would have settled for third place and 12 points after making two unscheduled pit stops, but were as pleased as winners to take 15 points and move into the lead of the Championship, by a margin of two points over Watson and Lammers.

Jochen Mass and Bob Wollek, in the second Rothmans-Porsche, lead for 28 of the first 58 laps, but seemed to be yielding to the Jaguars when a turbocharger failed them; their car went 14 laps down, and was still 14 laps behind when it finished in sixth place. In past years the Rothmans-Porsches have sometimes enjoyed the luck of the devil, taking victories even when seemingly beaten, but in the face of well-engineered and well-organised opposition from Jaguar, the tide seems to have turned. Walkinshaw will not underestimate Bell and Stuck for a moment, though, for if they don’t win they’ll probably finish second or third, and will keep on scoring points relentlessly.

Last year technical development of the PDK semi-automatic transmission and, latterly, of anti-lock brakes, took priority, as well it might so long as customer teams had the measure of the opposition. Now, the emphasis is shifting towards total competitiveness, evidenced by the substitution of a normal 5-speed manual transmission in Bell’s car the night before the race. The PDK had been troublesome on Saturday afternoon, and the decision to abandon the system was made easier by the presence of board members Peter Schutz and Prof Helmuth Boss, whose ultimate approval was needed. The drivers made no objections at all, even though the full-throttle changes possible with the PDK made the car perhaps a second per lap faster.

The Kremer Porsche team was absent, racing in Japan, but Reinhold Joest started his season late with two brand-new 962Cs for Klaus Ludwig/Piercarlo Ghinzani and “John Winter”/Stanley Dickens. They, and the Liqui Moly Porsche of Mauro Baldi/Bruno Giacomelli, would join Brun Motorsport in chasing the factory Porsches and Jaguars, but the weekend got off to a bad start with a spate of Porsche engine failures, eight altogether, in the two days of testing and qualifying. Richard Lloyd’s team lost two engines in one day, Brun’s four engines in two days, so as usual the quality of Italian fuel was suspected.

The Rothmans-Porsches and Silk Cut Jaguars had experienced no problems, though, and it is more likely that the customers’ turbo-sixes hadn’t been `mapped’ properly for the high-speed circuit (the two in Spain allowed averages of below 100 mph). Technically the rules were broken when the Porsche teams, including the factory’s, went out and bought fuel from a nearby garage rather than accepting the brew provided by the organisers, but with valuable engines at stake there were no quibbles.

The opening laps of the race provided an excellent battle for the lead between the two works teams, though Stuck lost nearly a lap early on due to a puncture and Baldi a similar time after colliding with a C2 car and having the nose panel changed. Klaus Ludvvig joined the battle, though his Joest Porsche has not yet been tuned finely enough to be a race leader, and the Brun team Porsches were again disappointing (especially Oscar Larrauri’s, which broke its exhaust manifold an the opening lap, and retired).

The Jaguars seemed to have a slight edge over the Porsches, and were running more economically too, but midway through the race Porsche’s challenge fell apart. Bell had a rare incident when following Giacomelli’s Liqui Moly Porsche, a five-car train having to brake hard at a chicane to avoid a back marker. Bell suddenly buried himself right up to the windscreen under Giacomelli’s car, spun, and made a stop to have the Porsche checked. That, and the earlier puncture, put him two laps down.

A piston broke in Ludwig’s car at half distance, and then the Mass/Wollek Porsche was in the pits for 23 minutes having its turbocharger changed, leaving the Silk Cut Jaguars unmolested. Despite the arrival of some attractive newcomers to the C2 class, most with turbochargers, the contest was again almost exclusively between Spice Engineering and Swiftair Ecurie Ecosse, and for the third time in succession Gordon Spice and Fermin Velez, in the Danone-sponsored Spice Pontiac, gained a narrow advantage over Ray Mallock and David Leslie. After six hours of racing at Jerez, Spice was 35 seconds ahead of the Ecosse, and after five hours round Monza Spice was 37 seconds ahead; races don’t usually come much closer than that! MLC