SWC Magny-Cours

Home fire burning

The Sportscar World Championship has been a one-sided contest this year, and the result of the sixth round at Magny-Cours, in central France on September 15 put Silk Cut Jaguar well on the trail of the main title. What nobody predicted was that the gallant Peugeot Talbot Sport team would turn the tables on Jaguar and fairly dominate the race with a 1-2 result!

“If you’d told me at Suzuka that before the season ended I’d be lapping a Jaguar I wouldn’t have believed you.” Keke Rosberg, winner of the 430 Kilometre race with Yannick Dalmas, found it hard to comprehend what had happened. “The progress the team has made has been quite incredible. The whole package was very good all weekend, Peugeot deserved this result, absolutely.”

Faster than Jaguar in testing, quickest in all four practice and qualifying sessions, fastest lap, and total reliability — what more could team director Jean Todt have asked for? Second, 43 seconds behind the winning Peugeot 905, were Suzuka winners Philippe Alliot and Mauro Baldi, and the margin would have been a lot closer but for a messy pit stop that was beyond the team’s control.

Although the purple Jaguars were comprehensively outgunned at Magny-Cours, by a margin of two seconds per lap on average, the result wasn’t a complete disaster. David Brabham helped Teo Fabi to a worthwhile third place and Derek Warwick to fifth after an extremely eventful run, which included a flash fuel fire and a visit to a gravel bed.

The important feature of the race, from Jaguar’s viewpoint, was that Mercedes couldn’t earn any points at Magny-Cours, and are not realistic challengers any more. Continuing technical problems, now with porous engine blocks, blight the effort of the Swiss-German team that was almost invincible in the past two years, and in all probability will delay the decision about entering the Formula One arena in 1993.

Warwick’s eight points at Magny Cours may not have been all he wished for, but they could be decisive in the Driver’s Championship where six scores count, of eight. Fabi is well ahead, with 74 points to Warwick’s 58, but if the Italian keeps up his excellent reliability record he will have to drop a score, perhaps 12 points, after the final round. Their relative positions could quite easily change if Warwick wins in Mexico or at Autopolis, a real possibility.

The Jaguar XJR-14s designed by Ross Brawn have been supremely successful for most of the season, but on fast circuits such as Suzuka (120.08 mph Group C record to Warwick), Monza (145.48 mph Group C record to Martin Bnindle), Silverstone (130.80 mph outright record to Brundle) and the Nürburgring (124.58 mph outright record to Fabi).

Peugeot made real progress at the Nürburgring with the 905 bis evolution, and showed it to be superior at Magny-Cours where the fastest lap was set by Alliot at 111.32mph. “No grip, no traction” were the complaints not only of the three Jaguar drivers, but of others up and down the pit lane.

The XJRs continue to be pace-setters in the fast corners, of which there are two at Magny-Cours (the first and second after the pits, in fact) but were handicapped on the other five significant, and very slow turns. Some are so slow, in fact, that they’re unworthy of a Grand Prix circuit, and would be more in keeping with a karting track.

“It’s a Michelin track, of course” was the other hot news of the warm weekend, but even that contention didn’t bear up as Michael Schumacher claimed third place on the grid in the Mercedes C291, and Jean-Louis Schlesser made a huge effort to top the Sunday morning warm-up times.

Their Goodyears worked well when the suspensions had been set up properly, and there was the crux of Jaguar’s difficulties: the XJR lacks mechanical grip, and could be in difficulties again at Autopolis unless Brawn can make a significant development.

Peugeot’s team was confident from the very start, seeing that the Jaguars were laden with aerodynamic appendages to increase the downforce. In fact the 905s were in some difficulties on Friday morning with tendencies to bounce and porpoise at speed, but quite subtle changes cured the problems.

“The 905 responds to setting-up in the way a Formula One car would” says chassis engineer Tim Wright, formerly with McLaren. Wright shudders when he recalls his early experiences, on joining the team last December, when the drivers couldn’t feel the difference between 200-pound and 400-pound springs.

Alliot was quicker than Dalmas in the cool of the morning, but the two Frenchmen reversed the positions as the temperature rose for the qualifying session, adding perhaps a second to the times overall. Baldi and Rosberg were asked to take secondary roles for the weekend, which they did without demur, and Dalmas claimed pole position at 1 min 21.821 sec with Alliot close by at 1 min 22.020.

The two Jaguars and two Mercedes were far behind, in the 24s, Warwick and Fabi struggling with cars that didn’t feel anything like championship contenders, and Schlesser and Schumacher coping with a crop of mechanical disasters.

Jochen Neerpasch admitted quite openly that faulty, porous castings were causing the flat-12 engines to overheat, but it was a broken differential that stopped Schumacher on Friday afternoon. The next day his intended race car lost its oil pressure, and the young German thrust the T-car to third place on the grid at 1 min 22.192 sec.

Schlesser’s race car overheated so he stepped into the T-car to have another crack at qualifying, only to have the engine break on his second lap. Team director Peter Sauber wasn’t enjoying the experience, but the Mercedes engineers were resigned to hearing bad news, or something worse, every time the cars were prepared for action.

Walter Brun and Franz Konrad had their new 3.5-litre cars raceworthy on their second appearance, although they didn’t last any longer than the Mercedes when the race was under way.

Oscar Larrauri made all the running in the Judd V8 powered Brun C91 and qualified seventh, just ahead of the Euro Racing Spice driven by Cor Euser and Charles Zwolsman, while Stefan Johansson and Franz Konrad went through a brief, traumatic development programme to get the Lamborghini V12-powered Konrad KM-011 onto the seventh row.

Allowing that the dominant cars were white, not purple, the pattern of the race looked hauntingly familiar. Alliot claimed the first corner rather forcefully and fended off a number of lusty challenges from Dalmas (one of which put the bemused Mauricio Sandro Sala — “I thought they were team-mates” — onto the grass in his Mazda) and only one man could cause them any concern, Schumacher.

The silver Mercedes tagged Dalmas for eight laps, until Schumacher made a rather bold attempt to lap Jesus Pareja’s Brun Porsche and just made the pits with a smashed front wheel. Schlesser yielded fifth place almost simultaneously as the throttle linkage broke (“like at the Nürburgring, but not in the same way” Neerpasch agreed), and Schumacher’s spirited recovery ended in sixth place when the engine failed.

Johansson was amazed to find himself holding sixth place in the Konrad, despite gearshift problems and blistering front tyres, but the outing ended at the first pit stop when the starter wouldn’t engage. Larrauri managed only four laps in seventh place before the Brun-Judd dumped its oil.

Fabi, running third in the Jaguar, was losing a second per lap to the Peugeots and was somewhat relieved it wasn’t worse. David Brabham, holding fourth in Warwick’s car, was losing more like two seconds per lap as he started on the softer Goodyear 240 compounds, and coped with chronic understeer.

Later, the car was well alight for a couple of seconds when the fuel valve jammed during the first pit stop, and Warwick was lucky to reach the end after diving into a gravel bed, and being helped out by the marshals. Ahead of him, claiming another good helping of points after a competitive outing, was the Euro Racing Spice of Euser and Zwolsman. A broken driveshaft prevented the evergreen veteran Henri Pescarolo from finishing in the second Spice, shared with Jean-Louis Ricci. — MLC


Results (top five), Magny-Cours, September 15

1. Rosberg/Dalmas (Peugeot 905B) — 2h 31m 38.258s

2. Baldi/Alliot (Peugeot 905B) — 2h 32m 21.078s

3. Fabi/Brabham (Jaguar XJR-14) — 99 laps

4. Euser/Zwolsman (Spice SE90C) — 95 laps

5. Warwick/Brabham (Jaguar XRJ-14) — 94 laps

Fastest lap: Alliot, 1 m 25.823s (111.32 mph)