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o not jump to the cliched conclusion of “Italian unreliability” if you espy an Alfa Romeo 155TS Silverstone parked up on the hard shoulder. It’s more likely that the owner will be switching to its low drag configuration in readiness for a long motorway haul!

Thanks to the Milan company’s homologation wizards surely, there are none better in this black art the car is endowed with an adjustable front spoiler and a rear wing that may be raised or lowered by means of three packing pieces to be found in the boot. Apparently, the latest Audi 80 quattro takes this a stage further by supplying the owner with a selection of gurney flaps! So far, these are the only two companies to have gone to the expense and trouble of

building the necessary 2500 units required by the FM for Class 2 homologation purposes. But this has triggered off a whole new attitude towards such racing. Until recently, the proponents of the two-litre, two-wheel-drive formula have proudly boasted that manufacturers could only effectively spend so much because of the strictures of the regulations. But after Alfa’s recent debut BTCC wi at Thruxton

statement appears to be old hat. Alfa Romeo has always stressed that the BTCC would be just as expensive to contest as its more technologically advanced German cousin, where cars feature the whizzbang gizmos traction control, ABS and active suspension so controversially dropped from Formula One for this season. This claim h s alway been doubted b he

JClass 2 fraternity indeed Alfa’s budget for Germany is still substantially larger than was that if you wanted to win rather than arrived in a new category the goalposts merely finish on the podium, it was necessary to build a homologation special. This that for Britain but the reasoning behind it has long been the Fiat Group’s motorsport modus operandi, and whenever it has have immediately moved.

Spend whatever it takes to win. attitude has been bubbling

the BTCC’s surface for a couple of years, but Alfa’s arrival has sent it geysering skywards.

lawyer by profession, knew that such a nefarious statement would not stand up against the hard evidence of the rulebook. His car had been declared legal by the chief scrutineer and that was the end of it.

Amidst the grumbling, however, there was also grudging respect for Alfa’s approach, a number of rival team managers stating that had they had the budget they would have done exactly the same.

So what now? Homologate or die?

There is already talk that BMW another of the companies with a long and rich motorsport heritage-will build a “wing car” in readiness for the next homologation date on July I. But it is unlikely that many of the others will follow suit because the budget is just not available to them.

So will Alfa dominate?

Not necessarily. Its number one driver, Gabriele Tarquini, was keen to play down the significance of the wing in his Thruxton victory, saying that he had done very little testing with it fitted. But there can be no doubt that it helped at this track’s very fast sweeping bends. But this circuit is like no other, and it remains to be seen if increased downforce plays a vital role elsewhere.

Some remain unconvinced by the importance of the latter. Previously, aerodynamic grip has played very little part in a championship where most teams have been happy merely to minimise a saloon car’s natural lift at speed. Indeed, Ford’s Andy Rouse has chosen to run a model of the Mondeo that is not fitted with a rear spoiler. However, that was a standard boot-hugging item, and Alfa’s raising of its wing to make it more effective may change this attitude. Of its rivals, Vauxhall and Ford look the

most likely to challenge; the latter’s John Cleland finished less than a second behind Tarquini at Thruxton in a car fitted with no more than a boot lip-spoiler. So talk of redwash is still premature.

The Italian manufacturer may have taken it a step further, but none of its rivals have been standing still during the winter. What was very noticeable at Thruxton was the increase in team professionalism, the improvements in car preparation, and that another giant leap away from saloon cars to outright racing machines had been taken.

They may look the same as last year, but every car has undergone a thorough revision during the off-season, and, in general, very little has been retained. For example, all that has survived of last year’s Vauxhall Cavalier is the clutch pedal.

Budgets have undoubtedly swelled. Consequently, this year was always likely to weed out those manufacturers not 100 per cent committed to the championship, but Alfa’s arrival is likely to accelerate the process. It is not to be blamed for this. Instead, it is to be hoped that the series is strong enough to survive until the new homologation rules come into play in 1995, when 25,000 special units will have to be built. Even Alfa may blanche at that prospect. Many will see this as scaremongering. I agree that the BTCC does not look likely to cave at the end of this year, but should Alfa dominate, will the rest take their bat and ball home? Giorgio Pianta, head of Fiat’s motorsport organisation, has always said that Class 2 racing should be left to the privateers, and he looks intent on proving himself. P T F