Cotton on....

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Pipped at the post

As Jean-Louis Schlesser stood by his Sauber Mercedes at Spa his mind went back a year to the time when Martin Brundle won the World Sportscar Championship for Jaguar. Schlesser had won the first race and led the drivers’ championshi for much of the season, only to be overhauled on the last stretch,at Spa and Fuji. He believed that the Englishman had snatched his title away, and now…. with his car out of fuel just 600 metres from the line, his own team-mate, Mauro Baldi, was coming up fast on the inside, and might yet claim the championship in Mexico City on October 29th. Assuming that a Mercedes wins the race, then its number one driver wll be the new World Champion.

The rule about crossing the line is a tough one, founded (like so many others) by the Automobile Club de l’Ouest. When the World Sportscar Championship, by the contemporary name, revolved around the 24-hour race, a number of rules were applied to the series … crossing the finishing line, having a limited number of people working on the car, receiving outside assistance, refuelling at a slow rate in the interests of safety. All that is changing now. The manufacturers, entrants and entusiasts fervently hope that Le Mans will remain on the WS-PC calander but hardly expect that it will now be a central event. Rather, it will be the odd one out in a series of shorter, faster and more professional events. Many things will change; next year, for instance, the scoring system and the number of workers “over the wall”, and FISA may want to take a fresh look at the system of excluding a car altogether if it doesn’t actually take the flag.

At the Nurburgring in August, the Joest Racing Porsche didn’t exist so far as the results were concerned, even though Bob Wollek had been jousting with the Mercedes right up to the final lap, and the Nissan didn’t exist either, even though it had led for more than half the distance and would still have been in the points, had Grand Prix rules applied.

Derek Bell and Vern Schuppan were on the losing side in 1979, when their Claxton Mirage Renault was disqualified at Le Mans for failing to complete the last lap. There have even been instances of cars breaking down on the slowing down lap at Le Mans and not being classified, and one can only be mystified by the propensity of the French for making a volume of rules and regulations (all the things you cannot do) and throwing the book at the transgressors. If Bernie Ecclestone represents the Englishness of FISA, he is likely to sympathise with the more positive American way of doing things: don’t make a rule unless you have to, but then make it stick.

IMSA rules are very benevolent indeed, compared with FISA’s. In 1984 the South African crewed Kreepy Krauly March-Porsche won the Daytona 24-Hours, despite having run out of fuel in the night (Sarel van der Merwe arrived from the pits on a motor bike with a fuel can), and last year Al Holbert’s Porsche collected some IMSA points at Daytona, despite blowing its engine asunder five hours from the finish. On balance most teams, and probably all spectators, would prefer the American standard of leniency. Does a team have to be punished (and what better word?) for failing to take the flag? If a Porsche and a Nissan injected a real element of competition into the race, should they be excluded for failing to cover the last kilometre?

While Mr Ecclestone considers awarding gold medals to the winners, and the World Championship to the competitor with the greatest number, perhaps he’d spare a few minutes to rectify a punitive rule that may have pleased Charles Faroux, once upon a time, but just won’t do for the 1990s.

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