Fuji 1,000 Kms

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Fuji 1,000 Kms

Watson joins a winning team

IT WAS third time lucky for John Watson as a member of the Rothmans-Porsche endurance team. At Spa in early September the Ulsterman was struggling to match the pace of his team-mates, certainly not helped by a 956 that didn’t run properly all weekend. At Imola a fortnight later in the drivers’ championship race the experimental twin-clutch gearbox failed on the first lap. But at Fuji on September 29th everything clicked at last: Watson was as quick as anyone on race tyres, successfully defended a 15-second lead over Jacky Ida during his first session at the wheel, and ran out the winner with Stefan Belief.

Anticipation was high for the Japanese race, the seventh round of the World Endurance Championship and the ninth in the drivers’ series. Jochen Mass led Bellof by two points in the drivers’ championship with reigning champion Ickx trailing. The constructors’ championship has long since been settled in Porsche’s favour for the third successive year, and rivals Lancia-Martini left Fuji off their calendar altogether, preferring to support important rallies where their efforts are better rewarded. The real interest was in the efforts of the three major Japanese manufacturers, Nissan, Toyota and Mazda, who had prepared for their third encounter with the Porsches. On paper Nissan looked the strongest challengers with four cars, all privately entered with works-loaned engines. The four-cylinder, 2.1-litre production based engines have Garrett turbochargers and, with four valves per cylinder, are said to produce 550 bhp. The quickest Nissan in practice was that with a March 83G chassis, the others having their chassis made by the Japanese Le Mans company.

Toyota also had four cars in the field, all with Dome Engineering chassis, and during practice and in the event they had the upper hand. Their engines are also 2.1-litres but with two valves per cylinder, and have Toyota’s own turbochargers to produce 500 bhp. Collectively these are known as Tom’s Toyotas since the programme is handled on the manufacturer’s behalf by Nobuhide Tachi, a former member of the competitions staff and now president of Tom’s Toyota Tuning company. Individually, one was entered by Tom’s, one by Xebec (who make gear wheels and differentials), one by Dome Engineering for Eje Elgh and Masanori Sekiya, and one by Tetsu Ikuzawa for Britons Tiff Needell and James Weaver. The turbocharged Mazda-March 84G was an unknown quantity in the entry list, making its debut run in the hands tit Yoshimi Katayarna and Takashi Yorino.

Team manager Takayoshi Ohashi insisted that it was far too soon to be hoping for a good result, and his main fear seemed to be the car’s prodigious fuel consumption. Twin Hitachi turbochargers boosted the nominal 300 bhp of the 13B twin rotor 2.6-litre engine to a thumping 550 bhp, and there was little doubt about the efficiency of the Bicestcr built chassis.

The Mazda team had a setback a week previously when leading driver Yohjiro Terada wrote off a brand-new 727C Group C2 model, apparently due to a transmission failure, and switched to the second car with Irishman David Kennedy. They had a privately owned 727C for company, ranged against a German Lotec-BMW with 470 bhp-worth of MI power, three Italian Giannini-Albas, two B. F. Goodrich Mazda-Lolas and a whole fleet of old March 74S models with a variety of power units, BMW and Toyota origin. Unfortunately Terada’s Mazda broke its throttle cable on the opening lap of the race and lost 45 minutes, so effectively it was out of the race. Other than the Rotlunans-Porsche camera car, which was driven intermittently in the race by Richard Lloyd, there were seven Porsche 956s in the event and they characteristically dominated both practice and the 226 lap race.

With Derek Bell chasing IMSA points at Watkins Glen John Watson partnered Bellof who claimed pole position once again, though his time was around eight seconds slower than last year due to a new chicane being installed before the fast corner leading to the 1,400 metre main straight. Mass and Ida were second quickest, Hans Stuck and Vern Schuppan third in the Team Trust 956, Stefan Johansson and Henri Pescarolo fourth in the Joest team’s New Man sponsored car, Jonathan Palmer and Jan Lammers fifth in the Canon Porsche 956B and Manfred Winkelhock / Mick Thackwell sixth in Erwin Kremer’s 956 which was running on Bridgestone tyres. Two Toyotas occupied the fourth row of the grid ahead of the Nissan-March, and though they were only a couple of seconds off the Porsche pace it was clear that the smaller-capacity engines were at a disadvantage of this fast circuit, pole

position time representing a speed of 127.1 mph.

It basso be said that the 1,000 Kilometre race was the most processional seen this year. Bellof and Watson led every lap apart from one, relinquished to the Canon team at the first refuelling stop, and were chased hard but not overtaken by Mass and Ickx, who in turn had Stuck and Schuppan in hot pursuit. Except for the Canon Porsche, which ran fourth in the opening laps but dropped back later, the order on the first lap was the same as the order on the last so far as the top five places were concerned, and little happened in between!

Unfortunately the Japanese challenge fizzled out, almost entirely due to turbocharger or related problems. Within the first hour three of the Nissans had retired while the fourth, driven by Hasemi and Tohira, was running at reduced speed and sounded dreadful.

The Toyotas looked a whole lot better running sixth, seventh and eighth at the 100-lap mark, but at half distance that of Needell and Weaver dropped out with engine failure and towards the end Eje Elgh and Masanori Sckiyua slowed with no boost pressure, eventually to finish seventh. The Mazda-March also had turbo problems and wasn’t classified, though it was still running at the finish.

An incident which almost changed the order happened when Bellof came up to lap Barberio’s Alba at the big left-hander behind the pits. Barberio moved over as far as he could but Bellof still managed to side-swipe him under braking, pitching the Italian car into a spin that ended abruptly against a car parked at the side of the track, against the armco. The Alba was written off, Bellof continued at full speed until the pace car came out, and Mass was seen overtaking a slower car while the yellow flags were out. Ironically the car was later black-flagged and had to spend ten seconds in the pits as a penalty . . . while Ickx was at the wheel! With the Facetti / Finotto Alba delayed by a spin early in the race, Facetti removing the tail section complete against some semen, the C2 class was dominated by the Holts Car Care sponsored Lotec-BMW which was driven hard and faultlessly to sixth place overall, four laps clear of a Mazda 83C and a long way ahead of the BF Goodrich Mazda-Lotus which were off the pace, and slowing with fuel consumption problems towards the end.

At the finish Bellors works 956 was 32 seconds ahead of the sister-car, and as a result Bellof goes three points clear of Mass in the drivers’ championship. — M.L.C.

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