Fuji 1,000 Kms
Europeans lose face
Nine years ago Niki Lauda made a decision which cost him the Formula 1 World Championship, when he pulled out of the Japanese Grand Prix at Fuji. It was pouring with rain and the track was flooding in places, and in those conditions he felt that he might have his second major accident in a space of three months. In October the World Endurance Championship teams faced exactly the same dilemma and, having the time to consider their options, the Europeans made a collective decision not to take part in the shortened race. When the pace car pulled off after 10 slow laps, to did they.
So much for the fact of the matter. An event counting for the World Championship — though worth only half points, since it was cut to two hours, arguably one-third of the intended duration — did take place. There were no major incidents, and the race was won handsomely by Kazuyoshi Hoshino in the new Nissan V6 turbo powered March 85G. By then the Europeans had lost face, a great sin in Japan, and the spectators must have been wondering about the bravery of newly crowned World Endurance Champion drivers Derek Bell and Hans-Joachim Stuck.
The Europeans, including Rothmans-Porsche, the TWR Jaguar, and Reinhold Joest teams had made an inevitable decision, but explaining it was quite another matter. The track was deluged for 24 hours by torrential rain, the backwash of a typhoon which missed Japan but made its mark all the same. There had been a minor earthquake on Friday and, as Derek Bell pointed out at the prize-giving, the regular Participants are still recovering from three serious accidents in recent events. It would be true to say that their hearts really weren’t in the job when the drivers woke up on Sunday morning to see rain pouring from dark skies.
The track was worse than they feared. The ominous clouds were actually below the level of the top rows of the grandstand, Packed to capacity! According to the organisers 83,100 spectators had paid their money, and even if that was an exaggeration, there was certainly a much larger crowd than has attended any 1,000 kilometre race this year.
The spectators could not have failed to realise how bad the conditions were… they were soaked to the skin, most of them. They saw Stuck execute a massive double spin during the warm-up, and the German, Whose bravery has never been in the slightest doubt, reported that conditions were absolutely undriveable.
The start was delayed, and at lunchtime the organisers arranged five laps behind the Nissan Mid-4 pace car. Stuck, riding passenger in the pace car, said even that frightened him!
Then came the parleying. Some drivers, notably Jochen Mass and Mike Thackwell, felt they ought to race and put on some sort of a show. Jacky Ickx, Stuck, Bell, and most of the others felt that the risks were altogether unacceptable. “If I am told to race then I will… maybe backwards, maybe I’ll have an accident, but I’ll do what I’m told” said the sunny Hans Heyer, of the Jaguar team. Bernard de Dryver, in the Cheetah, felt the same. “It’s up to Chuck (Graezniger). I don’t want to race, but I will if he tells me to. But I think I would crash.”
There were the spectators to think about. Sponsors, too, would have to be told. Meanwhile the organisers were leaning heavily on FISA steward Main Bertaut. If the race was cancelled they’d have to return money to the spectators, and having brought the Europeans over at vast expense there would be an insupportable loss. If the race was delayed until Monday there would be few spectators and hardly any marshals. If they delayed it until Thursday, a public holiday, most of the Europeans wouldn’t stay, anyway. Critically, most of the Japanese teams wanted to race. Their Bridgestone, Yokohama and Dunlop tyres were far better suited to the conditions; Bridgestone, for instance, had a choice of three rain tyres with deep grooves for these monsoon conditions.
Bertaut made the inevitable decision that the race would go ahead, though of a shorter duration. The European teams, considering their tyre handicap, made the equally inevitable decision not to take part, though they were sensitive about the word “boycott”. Their organisation, OSCAR, helped them to make a collective decision, but one was left with the feeling that if it was left strictly to the team managers, the Europeans would perhaps have made a token effort that would have avoided the collective guilt of chickening-out.
There is no question that Hoshino would have won the race even against the top WEC teams. He was a complete master of the situation, his Bridgestone tyres coped efficiently with the lakes and rivers that had the German Dunlops aquaplaning, the drivers helpless in the steering and traction departments. But who is going to explain that to the 83,000 spectators?
Hoshino pulled out two or three seconds on every lap, eventually winning the race by a clear lap, and Bridgestone-tyred cars claimed the top three places. The similar March-Nissan, which had shared the second row, slipped back to fifth place on Japanese-made Dunlops, and that was the difference between ideal tyre equipment and merely adequate… and the European rubber was not lathe same league at all.
The Nissan-powered March was by far the most interesting and competitive car so far as the visitors were concerned, powered by the two-valve, Nissan V6 three-litre engine. Electramotive, the Californian tuning firm, had fitted twin Garrett water cooled turbochargers to bring the power up to 710 bhp (for qualifying) or 680 at 1.2 bar boost, presumably with correct economy for a 1,000 kilometre race, though that has yet to be demonstrated. There were two March chassis, and a third Nissan V6 in a Lola T810, each operated by a private team. The Lola was never quite on the pace, perhaps because the team wasn’t as well organised (fresh mechanic, had been recruited since its previous race at Suzuka), and finished in eighth place.
The two March-Nissans had thrown down the gauntlet during Friday’s qualifying session, Hoshino lapping quicker than Stefan Belles pole time last year, though Stuck responded on Saturday with a typical all-out effort which put pole position beyond doubt. The Jaguars were only 19th and 20th quickest, after missing Friday’s qualifying session due to engine problems, but it’s doubtful if they could have gone any quicker on Saturday, as usual, they were outgunned by all the Porsches, plus the turbocharged Nissans and Toyotas, and never got the opportunity to prove their competitiveness in race conditions.
Derek Bell and Hans Stuck shared the World Championship without actually racing at Fuji, since challengers Ickx and Mass didn’t start either, and their success was something of an anti-climax. However, with three wins, three second places and a third to their credit, none deserved the title more. — M.L.C.
Fuji 1,000 Kms. World Endurance Championship for Teams and Drivers. Race shortened to 2 hours (62 laps, 273.2 kilometres) Weather – heavy rain
1st: K. Hoshino (3.0 t/c Nissan-March 85G) 2 hr 01 min 10.79 sec (135.38 kph)
2nd: O. Nakako (2.3 t/c Nissan-Le Mans) 61 laps
3rd: S. Nakajima(2.1 t/c Toyota-Dome 85C) 61 laps