Finishing on a High Note

Jaguar finished the 1987 World Sports Prototype Championship with a splendid one-two victory at Fuji, following up the double success at Spa-Francorchamps two weeks previously. John Watson and Jan Lammers finished less than a minute ahead of Raul Boesel and Johnny Dumfries, with BLR’s Porsche 962 three laps behind.

Although outgunned in qualifying, where a turbocharger is a vital asset for the climbing one-mile main straight, the Roger Silman-managed Jaguar team soon asserted itself in the race, Lammers keeping close to Alan Jones in the Tom’s Toyota. With the exception of this “works” Toyota, Japanese cars were generally disappointing despite taking the first three grid positions, and when the Jones/Lees/Sekiya entry retired just short of half-distance there was no competition for the Silk Cut team.

The weekend got off to a thoroughly bad start when it was learned that the eleventh and final round at the new Nishi-Sendai track was likely to be cancelled (this was confirmed after the Fuji race) because the circuit had failed no fewer than three FISA safety inspections.

Group C is under threat from FISA, and a cancellation was the last thing the European teams wanted. Hans Stuck failed to join Joest’s team after breaking his wrist at home, World Champion Raul Boesel was detained by Japanese immigration for 48 hours for failing to arrive with a visa, and all the while ominous clouds spilled from Mount Fuji, laden with rain. A lot of people wondered whether the trip had been worth making . . .

Times were about four seconds slower than before since a fairly slow chicane had been installed on the downhill section. On a drying track on Saturday morning, Jones claimed a provisional “pole” at 1min 32.092sec, though almost counting the days until his Japanese contract expires. Lammers was half a second slower in the Jaguar, and even at that stage felt confident enough to believe he would win.

Conditions improved considerably in the afternoon and Takao Wada surprised everyone by claiming pole position at 1min 10.021sec in the Person’s-sponsored “works March” Nissan R86V. The factory Nismo Nissans were on the fourth row, the Japanese crews (plus Britain’s Dave Scott) no doubt wondering whether the new V8 engine is such a good idea after all. Last year’s V6 now has ample power with good reliability, and the V8 will undergo heavy development before next season.

Geoff Lees put the Tom’s Toyota on the front row, just ahead of Ross Cheever in the Dome Toyota shared with Eje Elgh. Jaguar’s computer had the American listed as Cheever Junior, although Senior was in Spain at the time. Mauro Baldi was fourth fastest in the BLR Porsche, Lammers fifth, and Jochen Mass sixth in the Brun Porsche shared with Oscar Larrauri.

The first hour of the race provided great entertainment as Lees and Lammers battled for the lead, the Toyota having the upper hand. At the end of the first stint, though, Jaguar noted that the Toyota stopped two laps sooner and took two litres more of fuel, which was highly significant. “After that,” said Lammers, “I felt that the Toyota was not really ahead of us at all, and we drove our car accordingly.”

Watson, who still had not been offered a contract for 1988, drove every bit as well as in the season’s opener at Jarama, coming from the pits in front of Jones and pulling away. A pace car period brought the two cars together again and when a C2 had been dragged off the track Jones made use of the boost to pass the Jaguar, while Dumfries moved up smoothly into third place.

Elgh’s Toyota had retired early with a blown engine, and Hasemi’s Nissan lasted only two laps before a driveshaft broke; Hoshino’s Nissan was midfield, behind Velez in the Spice Pontiac, lacking grip from its Bridgestones and tending to overheat its V8.

At one-third distance the Tom’s Toyota was the only domestic in contention, and Masanori Sekiya went out for the third stint with instructions toga easy on fuel. That he did, but the turbo started overboosting, dropping him to fifth; then an ignition lead broke and stopped him on the course.

At half-distance the two Jaguars were 50 seconds apart and two full laps ahead of eight Porsches, the best of which was the From A entry driven by John Nielsen and Hideki Okada. They lost time, later, when the ignition cut out and caused a nine-lap delay, allowing Baldi and Mike Thackwell to occupy third place to the finish.

Although Lloyd’s Porsche offered the drivers difficult downshifting they kept up a cracking pace while the Brun, Joest and Kremer teams vied for fourth place. Derek Bell and Geoff Brabham were there too, in an ex-works Porsche owned by Vern Schuppan and sponsored by Rothmans Japan, but lost a vital minute when a brake-pad change went badly.

Bob Wollek’s Joest Racing Porsche retired in the second hour when co-driver Harald Grohs was nudged by a Jaguar (which one he did not know). It was not much of an accident, hardly worth mentioning except that an exhaust pipe was closed up, and the engine expired almost immediately.

Volker Weidler and Kris Nissen were going particularly well for the Kremer brothers, only to lose a certain fourth when Nissen ran low on fuel in the last stint, and stopped on the final lap. Into fourth, gratefully, went Mass and Larrauri, whose Brun Porsche had poor brakes and a factory 3-litre engine badly in need of an overhaul after completing the Nürburgring and Spa races.

Wollek mined “John Winter”, Stanley Dickens and Frank Jelinski in Joest’s surviving Porsche, which finished fifth lacking boost pressure, but since the regulations allow only three drivers per car, there was a bit of a cover-up and Dickens was not listed in the results.

Eighth overall was the C2 class-winning Spice Pontiac Cosworth driven by Gordon Spice and Fermin Velez, who repeated their Spa performance and trounced the Emilie Ecosse team. To finish ahead of the Scots was vital for Spice, since it assured his make of the Teams’ Championship, but the margin of seven laps, following a margin of six laps at Spa, amazed Swiftair tearn-manager Richard Williams, who is more used to seeing mere seconds decide the issue. The Spice team has made substantial progress in the latter part of the season, and is likely to remain in C2 next year while Ecurie Ecosse moves up a division, with Aston Martin power.

The result at Fuji confirmed what has been clear since Brands Hatch in July, that the Silk Cut Jaguar team has a clear superiority over the “conventional” Porsche teams. Unless Brun, Joest and Kremer follow Richard Lloyd’s line of development it is hard to imagine that Jaguar will not repeat its triumphs in 1988. MLC