A tense Tourist Trophy

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Silverstone, 18th September

During the seventies the RAC Tourist Trophy race has taken on a new mantle, that of Britain’s only representation in European series which cater for saloon cars. The formulae under which the cars have raced varied front full-blooded Group 2, in the days of four-valve-per-cylinder sixes for Ford and BMW, to the comparatively tame Trophie de l’Avenir regulations, more like those seen in our own national Championship these days. This year’s edition of the TT, sponsored by Access for the fourth time, allowed both European Group 2 and British Group 1 cars, producing a monster 60-plus entry for the 44 places on the grid. In this case the quantity of the entry was also backed up by quality with the two Leyland-Broadspeed Jaguars taking the two premier places on the grid.

It was widely felt that this would be the race that produced a win for the two white and blue 5.4-litre coupes. Driven by the regular pairings of Andrew Rouse/Derck Bell and Tim Schenken/John Fitzpatrick, the fast corners of Silverstone were expected to spoil the 100% winning record of the BMW marque. Albeit they were private BMW CSL-equipped teams from Germany (Alpina), Belgium (Luigi) and Italy, represented by Martino Finotto’s Imberti-prepared example, which he shares with Carlo Facetti.

Further down thy grid there was the interest of a pair of BMW 320is facing up to the unexpectedly weak challenge of a Swiss-prepared Dolomite Sprint in Group 2 trim. It was not the fault of drivers Tony Dron and Jean-Claude Bering that the Triumph did not excel. The fact is that in three races the car has shown a strong tendency to blow head gaskets and generally creep round the scenery, making Leyland’s misery with the Jaguars even more pronounced.

The two days of practice-Friday unofficial and two separate hours for each of the five classes on Saturday-produced two strong impressions. The first was that the Jaguars seemed unlikely to go much faster than the Alpina BMW of Tom Walkinshaw/ Dieter Quester, barely 0.7 sec. covering the first three cars on the grid. Rouse was on pole with 1 min. 36.05 sec. (nearly 110 m.p.h. average), Schenken was 0.51 sec. behind and Quester had managed 1 min. 36.74 sec. after it glorious wheel-lifting effort on special qualifying tyres.

The second strong impression was of the speed achieved by a fleet of British Group 1 1/2 Capris, the fastest on the fifth row, alongside the sparkling orange Jagermeister VW Scirocco of Willi Bergmeister/Helmut Henzler, the 1,600 c.c. VW in Full Group 2 trim.

We expected a good race between the Alpina BMW and the Jaguars at the front, plus plenty of interest in the midfield runners. This time saloon car racing really did deliver the goods. From a rolling 100-plus m.p.h. start a crowd of over 20,000 watched Andy Rouse gain the initial advantage. Schenken slipped past his team-mate to take over as Rouse’s coupe was spluttering with a temporary fuel injection malfunction. The two Jaguars were under strong pressure from the Alpina coupe though. Their opening three-lap confrontation-heading some eight-strong midfield bunches of kerb-hopping, gaily painted saloons-reminded one how good this class of racing can be. On the fourth lap Schenken spun at Copse, leaving Rouse open-mouthed but in the lead!

Rouse led for 20 laps while Quester and Schenken diced desperately for second overall. Quester would skip past the Jaguar under braking, particularly at Woodcote, but the bulky 2-door XJ would woosh past the BMW again, given the expanses of the Hangar straight. Once Quester did get into second place the British lead looked very precarious and he did get by Rouse after 24 laps. But that was not the end of the matter. Rouse retook the BMW on a more permanent basis – they had been staging it repeat of the Schenken v. Quester squabble over second place-and after another five laps the Jaguar was in front to stay. Well, until its first fuel stop at 38 laps, when the BMW took over again!

Bad news for Leyland had begun on the second lap when Dron-winner of four consecutive RAC Saloon Car Championship rounds at the time of writing – found this Dolomite overheating again. Then, just a lap before the Rouse Jaguar fuel stop, Schenken found himself bounding along towards the catch fencing, in a Jaguar tricycle, a front hub had broken.

The second Jaguar looked like lasting the distance: ironically this Bell/Rouse machine had the older wet sump lubrication layout. Bell put in it typically gutsy drive, his traffic experience carving through the inevitably large bunches of traffic, and pulled back the BMW at an average 2 sec. a lap. Would it be enough to offset Jaguar’s extra fuel stop?

That question became increasingly relevant as Rouse took over the Jaguar for thy final stint. Exactly half a minute had been lost in a stop that saw the big coupe fed with new rubber (one front), oil, water for the brakes and fuel. Some 23 laps were left to run when the gap between the immaculate green BMW and the Jaguar was 19.2 sec. With 17 laps to go, the gap was down to 14.9 sec. on the anxiously-held Leyland-Broadspeed pit board.

Perhaps the miracle would happen. Perhaps Rouse would get close enough to pressurise the cool Walkinshaw in the BMW. Conditions conspired to tilt the odds slightly against Rouse, who has spent more time testing the Jaguars at Silverstone in recent months than even he cares to recall. The grey clouds spat a little more rain than they, had earlier in the event and the Jaguar started to slither away the power advantage it had been able to employ so successfully to that paint. Rouse became enmeshed in the traffic, Walkinshaw kept his head and the gap to the flying green BMW stayed static, around 12 sec. Jusst nine laps from the end, nearly three hours of sustained motor racing came to an end as Rouse lost that great big machine at Abbey, normally a flat-out left-hander where the Jaguar would be approaching 150 m.p.h. The car slid totally out of control towards the Armco. It was not that badly damaged in the ensuing accident, but it was the end of any real hope for Leyland to score a victory in the European Touring Car Championship . . . the Jaguars were withdrawn from competition after the following round, in Belgium, where 1 1/2 hours of the dull Zolder autodrome was enough to produce, mechanical failures in both cars once more.

Meritorious British performances came, aside from Walkinshaw’s clever performance in the winning BMW, from Vince Woodman/ Jonathan Buncombe, whose Group 1 1/2 Capri (powered by a Broadspeed-modified V6!) was actually fourth past the flag, fifth on the results sheet behind the crashed Jaguar. In the early stages of the race Holman Blackburn and Brian Robinson in a fuel-injected Group 2 Capri showed the potential the Ford still has, holding down seventh place behind the Jaguar and BMW combatants. At the end of the day there was no escaping the fact that, with scant factory help, BMW had scored a remarkable Tour-de Force. They filled she first three places overall; Alpina-BMW took the three-car team award, and BMWs filled the first three places in the 2-litre class. It cannot be long before the British concessionaires justifiably re-instate that arrogant “Unbeatable BMW” slogan! VW, who tie with BMW in the fight for the marque title within the ETC series (Quester is the leading driver), scored another class win front the efforts of a privately-entered Scirocco GTI. Alfa Romeo took the smallest class with a pair of Argentinian-financed Sprint coupes, prepared by Autodelta.

It had been a thoroughly good motor race but with a sad result for the home team. They could so easily have won; now the cars will just fade into history. – J.W.