World Sportscar Championship: Spa 1000kms

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Silk Cut Jaguar beaten by a length!

To the delight of the Belgian crowd, but to the chagrin of the Silk Cut Jaguar team, Thierry Boutsen won the Spa 1,000 Kilometre race by a scant 0.8 seconds, both his Brun Porsche and Derek Warwick’s XJR-6 spluttering on their last drops of fuel as they crossed the line nose-to-tail after five and a half hours of close combat.

Excitement heightened as the last laps were reeled off. Hans Stuck, in the Rothmans-Porsche 962C shared with Derek Bell, was forced to slow five laps from home and Warwick flew past him, closing on Boutsen at a rate of three seconds per lap. The Jaguar was coughing at each corner as it picked up the last litres in the tank but the Englishman was confident of gaining the lead when he saw the Jägermeister-sponsored Porsche weaving towards La Source. Then, as Warwick accelerated from the last corner the engine died on him, and Boutsen kept his slender advantage. Stuck finished safely 29 seconds later and all three drivers parked at the foot of the hill, unable to go any further.

The Francorchamps circuit holds sad memories for many people, especially the Brun team and Boutsen who was Stefan Bellof’s co-driver when the German crashed fatally at Eau Rouge 12 months before. If Bellof could have seen the team’s victory on September 14, he would undoubtedly have regarded it as the greatest tribute that could be paid to him.

This year it was Frank Jelinski who partnered Boutsen and he made a fine job of keeping the car in contention under intense pressure from five rivals: the V12 Jaguars of Warwick/Jan Lammers and Eddie Cheever/Jean-Louis Schlesser, Stuck and Bell, Klaus Ludwig/Paolo Barilla in the Joest Porsche 956, and Mauro Baldli/James Weaver in the Liqui Moly Porsche 956B. All were in contention well into the second half of the race, though fuel economy would decide the result.

After some races marred by bad weather, accidents and pace cars, the final European round of the World Sportscar Championship was fast and virtually free of incidents — even the weather relented on race day enabling the teams to enjoy their task.

A year has made all the difference to Tom Walkinshaw’s Jaguars, which were heavy and less powerful in 1985. Last September they could only watch the Porsches from behind but now they are highly competitive, Cheever in particular being extremely impressive at the difficult Eau Rouge complex. Approaching at over 170 mph most drivers, even Stuck, will brake and change down to fourth, but the superior ground-effect of the Jaguar enabled Cheever to take the climbing turn in fifth with only a check of the brakes, the mauve and white car bouncing on its suspension stops and trailing a shower of sparks from the magnesium undershield. Cheever may not have been the winner, but is the deserving holder of a new Group C record at 2 min 09.38 sec (120.00 mph). Co-driver Schlesser had a puncture during his time at the wheel and near the finish Cheever had a flat tyre also, each incident losing the car a lap. . . and there was no chance of recovering, so they had to settle for fifth place in the results.

With a 3-litre qualifying engine Boutsen made sure of pole position with a lap of 2 min 06.87 sec (122.37 mph) ahead of the 3-litre, PDK transmission Rothmans-Porsches of Stuck (2 min 07.53 sec) and Bob Wollek (2 min 07.78 sec). The Jaguar team was quite surprised not to be at the front, Cheever also recording 2 min 07.78 sec and Warwick 2 min 08.64 sec, though on race tyres as a driveshaft snapped and stranded the car before the track was dry enough to opt for qualifying rubber.

Rain fell intermittently and the track was never completely dry, which made Boutsen’s time all the more worthy, less than a second slower than Patrese went last year, in the 800 bhp Lancia, in perfect conditions. Baldi and Oscar Larrauri were two more to break 2 min 10 secs but the Kouros Sauber Mercedes of Mike Thackwell and Henri Pescarolo was only eighth fastest, at 2 min 10.31 sec, and did not look a likely winner this time. The chassis is flat-bottomed, and the Spa circuit puts a premium on ground effect grip. Thackwell, though, believed that “if we could put this engine into a Jaguar chassis we’d win all the races by three laps!”

Boutsen took the lead straight from the rolling start with Bell, Mass, Cheever, Baldi, Warwick and Barilla close behind, most of these key figures in the contest that lay ahead. Only Mass broke ranks, stopping after 16 laps with a puncture and again with a broken oil pipe to a turbo, losing five valuable laps. Larrauri had a bad misfire almost from the start, which was traced, after three pit stops, to a broken spark plug lead; the Argentinian retired before half distance with a turbo on fire, out on the course.

Baldi was going particularly well, climbing from sixth place and passing Boutsen, but soon the fuel mixture settings proved to be out, the car stopping four laps earlier than scheduled. There was no instant remedy and it was surprising that the Liqui Moly car remained in contention for as long as it did, needing to “lose” several minutes in the pits waiting for the flag and dropping to an unworthy tenth in the results.

Into the second stint Jelinski led Stuck by 45 seconds, Schlesser forfeiting third when his windscreen became coated in oil after the C2 class Isolia blew its DFV engine asunder. Lammers then moved easily into third place ahead of Ludwig, Weaver and Schlesser, with the Sauber Mercedes seventh and lapped.

Further back, the Richard Cleare/David Leslie March 85G Porsche had two broken exhaust systems in succession, retiring without boost pressure, and Costas Los’ March 84G Porsche lost fuel pressure, needing a new pump. Later co-driver Tiff Needell had a collision with Neil Crang in Tim Lee-Davey’s Tiga-DFL turbo and had to be towed from a gravel trap — to be classified 18th — while Crang went through some catch-fencing to become the only accident retirement of the race.

Jelinski is the youngster in the C1 division, Stuck the reigning world champion, and the Brun driver could only hang on as the man from Munich drew closer and closer. By the 48th lap the 45 second lead had disappeared, and it was with some relief that Jelinski went to the pits to hand the car back to Boutsen. Cheever’s Jaguar led once only, on lap 53 during the refuelling stops, but was in the pits lane at the time!

The third stint, pitting Boutsen against Bell, saw the race settle down as a margin of 6.4 seconds at the beginning reduced to 3.2 seconds at the end, but that was all in vain for the Rothmans team when the mid-distance pad change went badly, the pistons jamming in one caliper, and Stuck was a minute down when he rejoined.

Boutsen remained in his seat for the fourth stint, maintaining his lead on Ludwig at around 15 secs with Lammers, Stuck, Cheever and Baldi well spaced, though on the same lap. The pace did not slacken — in fact the final average speed was quicker than at half distance — and no team manager was sanguine about fuel consumption. The cars of Baldi, Stuck and Ludwig were giving the greatest concern and all there would have to slow in the last hour.

With half an hour to run the contest was between Boutsen, Stuck and Warwick, with 30 seconds between them. Tension was mounting, none of the teams knowing how hard to push, and Stuck was the first to yield dropping to a comparative touring speed for the last five laps. The Jaguar team was shouting itself hoarse for Warwick, and in the next pits the Brun crew, with backing from the Belgian nation, was doing the same for Boutsen.

The C2 division was nearly as close but unfortunately few people were much aware of it. Sixteen cars had started, Piercarlo Ghinzani being quickest for five laps in the Techno Racing Alba, until the wheel locating pegs sheared on the right rear, and mechanical problems were rife.

Once again it was a straight contest between the Spice Engineering entry of Gordon Spice/Ray Bellm and Ecurie Ecosse, with the V64V envied car handled by Ray Mallock and Marc Duez. They were evenly matched, though Spice lost a minute early on after a collision with Will Hoy’s Chamberlain team Tiga-Hart, and Hugh McCaig’s Ecosse team was delighted to win by a clear lap having shown competitive speed, reliability and economy. Ian Harrower and Evan Clements were well back in the ADA Engineering Gebhardt, third in class, and Jens Winther/Angelo Pallavacini were fourth in C2 in the URD-BMW, this being Winther’s last race before retirement from competitions. — M.L.C.

***

Results (top five) — Spa 1000 Kms, 145 laps, September 14

4th round, World Sportscar Championship for Teams, 8th round Drivers’ Championship

1.  T. Boutson/F. Jelinski  (2.8 t/c Brun Porsche 962C)  — 5hr 35min 54.54sec (111.79mph)

2.  D. Warwick/J. Lammers  (6.3 Silk Cut Jaguar XJR6) — 5hr 35min 55.34sec

3.  H. Stuck/D. Bell  (3.0 t/c Rothmans-Porsche 962C PDK) — 5hr 36min 28.83sec

4.  K. Ludvig/P. Barilla (2.8 t/c JoestPorsche 956)  — 144 laps

5.  E. Cheever/J-L. Schlesser (6.3 Silk Cut Jaguar XJR6)  — 143 laps

Fastest lap: E. Cheever, 2min 09.38sec (120.00mph) 

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