World Sportscar Championship: Jarama 360kms

Levelling the score

Jaguar levelled the score with Sauber-Mercedes in the second round of the World Sports-Prototype Championship at Jarama, as Martin Brundle and Eddie Cheever took victory in their XJR-9. After the 360km “sprint” they were 20 seconds ahead of Jean-Louis Schlesser and Mauro Baldi, with John Watson and John Nielsen third in another Jaguar after an unscheduled stop caused by a puncture.

The navy blue AEG-Olympia-sponsored SauberC9/88 is clearly going to provide tough opposition to the reigning World Champions all year, and narrowly led the team’s championship after the two Spanish races. Schlesser and Baldi had clear advantage in the driver’s championship, but ironically Watson and Nielsen, the highest-placed Jaguar drivers, are not regular members of the Silk Cut team.

As he had at Jarama, Schlesser dominated the qualifying sessions, making full use of the reputed 820 bhp of the Mercedes V8 twin-turbo engine, beating Cheever’s 1987 qualifying record. The Jaguars were fractionally slower than last year, having been robbed of some downforce by the 1988 regulations, but Jan Lammers, Cheever and Nielsen claimed the next three grid positions.

Derek Bell, suffering from influenza, withdrew from the event on Saturday evening, leaving James Weaver without a partner in Richard Lloyd’s Porsche.

The Sauber had one handicap on the slow Spanish circuits –lack of grip from the rear tyres when under maximum load. They were worth about 30 minutes of full-speed running, before the drivers had to slacken pace.

So for the 2½ -hour event Peter Sauber and manager Max Welti decided to make two stops –at one-third and two-thirds distance–for tyres, fuel and driver-changes. Each stop would take about 30 seconds, compared with 90 seconds for Jaguar’s single stops at half-distance, so it had the makings of a good contest.

The race was exciting from beginning to end. Schlesser pulled out a lead of some six seconds in the opening laps, but then eased off and was caught by Lammers, who took his Jaguar past on lap 22. Cheever could not get past, but was handily placed second when Schlesser handed over to Baldi, with Neilsen third.

Jaguar’s 1-2-3 formation broke up when Nielsen collected a puncture and spun, going two laps down, and after half-distance Brundle drove outstandingly well to catch and pass Johnny Dumfries, who had taken over from Lammers. At two-thirds distance Schlesser took the Sauber from Baldi and made an inspired charge, which could have threatened the Jaguars had he been able to maintain his pace.

Shaping up for a grandstand finish, though Schlesser’s rear tyres again lost grip and he had a half spin which took the pressure off the Jaguar team. Even so Dumfries made an error of concentration and parked his Jaguar in a gravel trap, letting the Sauber team move up gratefully to second, and Watson to third.

The Porsches were again outpaced, but youngsters Manuel Reuter and Uwe Schäfer performed well for Walter Brun’s team, finishing fourth.

Gordon Spice continued his winning ways in the C2 division, thus earning a maximum of 60 points from the two Iberian events, with Ray Bellm co-driving.

Even at this early stage it looks likely that Spice will win the C2 World Championship for the fourth year in succession, and remarkably Spice-built SE88C chassis also finished second and third in class at Jarama. MLC