World Sportscar Championship: Monza 1000kms

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April fuel day

The Monza 1000km race on April 10 had all the classic ingredients, Jaguar versus Mercedes versus Porsche, and the Silk Cut team ended the day with a beautifully-judged victory which puts Jaguar ahead for the first time this year in the World Sports-Prototype Team’s Championship.

Martin Brundle and Eddie Cheever beat the Sauber-Mercedes C9/88 by a clear lap, and trimmed 12 minutes from last year’s race time, having paced their XJR-9 for the first half of the race as their rivals raced ahead, then reeled them in and commanded the second half.

Races which last five or six hours are not to everyone’s taste, and the Porsche parades that were the standard fare between 1976 and 1985 probably did not do anything for the image of endurance racing, though the company’s reputation was undoubtedly enhanced.

The arrival of Jaguar as a major force, and now the added ingredient of Sauber-Mercedes as a front runner, has introduced the element of inter-marque racing which a world championship series needs –each event now becomes infinitely more interesting, so much better than speculating so to whether the Joest, Fitzpatrick, Lloyd, Kremer or Brun customer teams might get to grips with the factory Porsches.

Monza has a history of close finishes, especially in the days of full-blooded slip-steaming without chicanes, and this year’s Group C race was a gripping encounter from start to finish. Jean-Louis Schlesser, Jochen Mass and Mauro Baldi set a storming pace in the first half (though with hands on hearts they said they were on their fuel allowance), duelling with the Porsches of Klaus Ludwig/Massimo Sigala who were certainly using far too much of their 510-litre allocation.

Jaguar’s drivers let them get on with it. There is no boost knob on the Coventry V12, and it the turbo teams want to make a break there is not a lot they can do about it. “We knew exactly how fast we could go on the fuel, and that’s the speed we stuck to,” said TWR team manager Roger Silman.

Patience was duly rewarded. The opposition used a well-established technique born of the fuel-economy regulations–going as far ahead as possible, to lap the competition, then hope for pace cars or rain to bring the average down. Sometimes it works, but at Monza it did not, and the issue was decided by the superior economy of the Jaguar V12.

This is the last year of the Group C economy regulations, for next year the races will be more like IMSA’s with the turbos’ power limited by restrictors. Average speeds may be higher still, and in the meantime it is rather a nice thought as we go to each circuit, that next year will be different. Jaguar’s successes last year and this are achieved because it is a better team with more economical engines, and it is difficult to speculate what will happen in 1989 when the Porsche and Mercedes factory teams are working at peak efficiency.

After the tight circuits in Spain, with averages below 100 mph, the Monza fixture suited Mercedes and Porsche well, giving them the chance to use their power advantage (and in the case of the Porsche teams, the age of their 962C chassis would not be such a telling factor). Schlesser duly claimed pole position at 1 min 31.69 sec (141.50 mph), but still failed to break the 1 min 31.00 sec qualifying record which dates back to 1985, when Riccardo Patrese had almost unlimited power for his high-downforce Lancia LC2.

Ludwig (Joest Porsche) and Larrauri (Brun Porsche) were within 0.6 seconds, while Brundle and Jan Lammers recorded identical times of 1min 33.62 sec. in their Jaguars. Although two seconds slower than the Sauber, the Jaguar had actually improved on last year’s qualifying performance by 1.5 seconds, a notable achievement since its downforce has been lessened by the 1988 regulations.

Schlesser made the running for the first four laps, then Ludwig took the lead and opened a gap of nearly 11 seconds before trimming his speed and coming back to Schlesser and Larrauri.

Brundle was 20 seconds behind after 25 laps, Lammers still further behind in fourth place after failing to start his engine cleanly for the pace lap, but the point of the exercise was that Schlesser and Larrauri stopped after 27 laps, Ludwig after 28, while Brundle ran 30 laps on his first tank, and briefly took the lead.

During the second stint Cheever and Dumfries kept station in fifth and sixth places, until the American decided to pass Sigala and Jelinski in one go. As he moved up to third, though, the TWR tyre-temperature warning light blinked on. “I interrogated the computer” said Cheever in modern parlance, “and found that it wasn’t a puncture”, but he decided to make an early pit-stop anyway to be on the safe side, and the blistered tyre was changed.

The thought of playing computer games, while driving a racing car at up to 200 mph in traffic, rather boggles the imagination for ordinary mortals who would not even have time to look at a gauge . . .

With their initial burst of enthusiasm out of the way, the leading drivers put prudence to the fore, Wollek maintaining a dwindling lead on Mass, his former Porsche partner. The German put one over Wollek to regain the lead, boxing him neatly behind his team-mate “John Winter” on the run to the first chicane. When their stops were done just 100 seconds covered Baldi, Cheever, Ludwig, Larrauri and Lammers, the Dutchman soon being lapped by the Sauber.
Lapped maybe, but not beaten.

Lammers kept his Jaguar in the Sauber’s shadow for 15 laps, just sitting there and occupying Baldi’s attention. Pad changes would be needed by all the quick cars at half-distance, but the Sauber’s were down to the metal, and the co-efficient of friction between steel and iron is not good enough.

Pumping the brakes like mad, Baldi could not slow down enough for the second chicane and chose to spin the car broadside rather than head off into the sand. Lammers was too close to avid the navy blue car, which was sideways across the road, and bounced off its front wheel.

Both drivers reached their pits for their scheduled stops, but the Jaguar had come off worse. Sixteen laps were lost while the radiator was changed and the front body supports straightened, while excellent team-work by Peter Sauber’s crew lost the C9 hardly any excess time. With four new wheels, new pads and a new nose-panel the Sauber was ready for Schlesser, though the steering wheel was a few degrees out and the car pulled to the right.

That was probably not decisive, even though Schlesser was just a lap behind the Brundle/Cheever Jaguar, because the British team was exactly where it wanted to be, running at the speed it chose, and was slightly ahead of its fuel target. Alarm bells were ringing in the Joest and Brun pits where fuel was now a critical factor, and the Sauber would finish the race a lap behind the Jaguar, and with a dry tank.

The three challengers remained on the Jaguar’s lead lap until Ludwig’s car ran out of brakes, and Larrauri had a collision with his Brun team-mate Manuel Reuter. The Joest Porsche was 20 litres short of a full tank when Wollek took over for the last stint, and a longish pit-stop of seven or eight laps was anticipated . . .

A brake overhaul provided the perfect cover, but Wollek really was out of friction and stopped at Joest’s pit, to say that the pedal was going to the floor, moments before the flag was unfurled. He dropped to fifth, behind team-mates Frank Jelinski and “John Winter” who had driven a far more conservative race . . . but they, of course, never contested the lead.

Larrauri went two laps down with an unscheduled stop for a new wheel, the body being damaged, and manager Peter Reinisch had no idea, at the time, that the Argentinian had knocked Reuter off the track at the second Lesmo corner.

This is taken at 150 mph, flat in fourth, and the road seems very narrow there, the guardrails ominously near. Larrauri said he thought Reuter had left room on the inside, but at the speed he was travelling he would never have got round off-line, and a collision was inevitable. Reuter’s 962C was virtually a write-off, with damage that would make a large dent in half-a-million Swiss francs.

Baldi allowed Brundle to lap him shortly before the finish (thus saving three litres) and Jaguar’s victory became all the sweeter.

Fuel was equally critical in the C2 class, for although the allocation has been increased this year by ten per cent, to 363 litres, the quick drivers have no trouble in using it all up. Gordon Spice, winning yet again with Ray Bellm (they have maximum points from the first three races), was putting his Spice SE88 out of gear and coasting along the straights.

Martin Schanche in the Lucky Strike Argo, meanwhile, reduced his DL’s engine speed to 5000 rpm, and still came to a halt five laps from the end. The Argo, quick in qualifying and C2 leader for most of the race in the hands of Schanche and Will Hoy, was thought to have a dry tank, but post-race inspection showed it to have 17 litres in the tank and a faulty reserve pump.

The C2 category showed much better reliability than last year’s standard in the Spanish races, but at Monza the 15 starters were reduced to three finishers, all with Spice chassis and Cosworth 3.3-litre DFL engines.

The partisan crowd, much bigger than in recent years, was disappointed to see Gianni Mussato’s ex-works Lancia LC2 (in the hands of Andrea de Cesaris) retire early with a seized camshaft drive, and unhappy too that Jean-Pierre Frey’s Argo, powered by the 2-litre Motori Moderni V6 turbo, was having an engine changed when the race started and joined the event at quarter-distance.

Jaguar’s Silk Cut team is as confident as a racing team ever dares to be about winning the BRDC’s Silverstone 1000km race on May 8–what could be a third successive victory (and a hat-trick for Cheever).

Brundle needs a couple more successes to catch Schlesser and Baldi in the drivers’ championship, but it’s time for some good fortune to shine on Lammers and Dumfries; they failed to reach the finish, and open their points account for the season, when Dumfries spun into the sand at the Parabolica. The Kidlington team is rooting for Brundle, who has temporarily given up his Formula One career to drive for Jaguar, but success for the number two car would delight Tom Walkingshaw and Roger Silman. MLC