SPA 1,000 km.
THE finale of the World Endurance Championship for Manufacturers took place at Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium on Sunday September 5th. The WEC crown was being contested by Ford, Rondeau and Porsche, with the French equipe leading the Rothmans-backed German team into the final round by 60 points to 40. However, Porsche have claimed 15 points scored by a Group B Porsche 911 turbo at the Nimburgring race, which the works Op. C 956s did not attend. An anomaly in the regulations implies that Gp. B cars can score points towards the WEC, but FISA never intended this Lobe the camas Gp. B cars are supposed to have their own GT championship. FISA issued a statement to this effect but, by the time Spa came mood, Porsche had still not accepted the fact and continued to claim a championship points score of 55. This was the background against which the Spa race took place, with Rondeau needing to finish fifth or higher to secure the title if Porsche, as expected, won the race. If, however, FISA were to stand down on the issue, a win for Porsche would send the championship to Germany wherever Rondeau finished.
Spa was the first race WEC race to be held since Porsche’s steamroller victory at Le Mans. The Stuttgart marque brought nvo of its 956 designs to Spa for Jacky Ickx, Jochen Mass, Derek Bell and Vern Schuppan. After two wins together, lckx and Bell shared the same number of points in the WEC drivers’ championship. A couple of weeks before Spa, Belgian Iclut decided that it would be fairer for both brand Bell to drive different cars, to give one or the other a better chance to win the championship. That would be fine if both drivers were to receive equal status in terms of equipment, but with Icicx the undisputed Porsche number one, what his idea effectively meant was that Bell would be relegated to the second car and would finish behind him unless he retired. Sonar three-times Le Mans winner found himself in a car with Australian Schuppan, trying out some new modifications to the 2.65-litre turbocharged engine.
In the event, Ickes very nearly had his nose put out of joint, for the new tweaks worked very well during the hot, dry practice sessions and Bell was able to make a significant challenge to the Belgian’s pole position. Unfortunately. the .4-lap race started on a wet track and Bell’s Porsche became something of a pig to drive. The engine was not responsive enough to allow the car to pass others (including backmarkers), without dropping down into a lower gear, and Derek was sivy unable to run with Ida, circulating in third place. At the start, the Group Six Martini Lancia of Riccardo Patrmie grabbed the lead from the Gp. C Ford C100 of Swiss Grand Prix driver Marc Surer. Patrese and co-driver Teo Fabi qualified in third position behind the two works Porsches, after a notably trouble-free practice. Lancia’s only Problem was a lack of horsepower, the 1.4-litre turbocharged engines only producing about 450 b,h.P. and finding it difficult to push the cars up Pa S }9.8 hills. Passing slower cars was a Particular problem, especially if the manoeuvre had robe carried out between Eau Rouge and Lea Conthes, but the Lancias were by no means hu.bled by their more powerful opposition and made up for what they lacked in “gm,” with ‘
e.nt handling. The second Lancia of Michele Iberelo and Piercarlo Ghinzani backed up the grid. Italian threat, starting from fourth place on the Behind this foursome came the unique Kremer Porsche C K5 which made its debut at Le Mans. This effective design has featured at the front of German sports car championship races for some time and finally won its first race at Hockenheim a couple of weeks prior to Spa. At the Ardennes track, the car was driven by former Grand Prix driver and German veteran Rolf Stommelen and Maurer Formula Two star Stefan Belief. The C K5, powered by a turbocharged Porsche engine of about 2.6-litres capacity, was fastest in a straightline with Stommelen describing its performance as “fantastic”. Starting the race from the inside of the third row, Stommelen quickly attached himself to Ickx’s gearbox but was unable to make a significant challenge as Ida carved confidently and positively through the myriad tail enders. After the first refuelling stop, Bellof took over at the helm and maintained Kremer’s position amongst the first five but then struck problems as hr prepared to hand over again to Stommelen. Descending the hill past the pits, the C K5 briefly misfired and then the engine died altogether as the driver turned into Eau Rouge. Bellof coasted to the top of the following brow where he attempted to coax the motor back into life. He wasn’t exactly successful, for although he managed to drive back to the pits some time later, the engine’s electrical and fuel system problems were deemed sufficient to force retirement. Rondeau also his trouble early on. After practice the three M382Cs of Henri Pescarolo I Thierry Boutsen, Jean-Pierre Jaussaud Jean Rondeau and Gordon Spice / Francois Migault, lined up directly behind one another on the grid. The cars ran reliably through the two 90 minute sessions but their Dunlop tyres simply would not offer enough grip. It transpired diet Dunlop’s race tyre was too soft and was going off very quickly, which problem also afflicted Stommelen’s C K5 at the Hockenheim DRM race. Right at the start, Spice spun and also delayed the Lola of Rupert Keegan, but Jaussaud, too, was slow away from she line, leaving Boutsen alone at the front of the race. Then the Belgian Spirit F2 driver came up to lap the slow Porsche 924 of Swiss Peter Zbinden and Edi Kofel. Boutsen dived for the inside on the last corner before the point where the new track joins the old below Blanchimont. He was already in front of Zbinden when the Porsche’s right front hit the
Rondeau’s left rear wheel. The French Gp. C car spun round in shrine before stewing back to the ground with broken rear suspension. Zbinden, cynically suggested as being in the pay of the works Porsche team, carried on, mission accomplished. . . .
The promise shown by Sneer’s Ford C100 soon evaporated as well. Fitted with new DFL engines which like all the other 3.9-litre Fords, also featured revised crankshaft dampers after the Le Mans debacle, the C100s handled well but lacked good straightline speed. Klaus Ludwig, the man who has covered more miles in a C100 than probably anyone else, put Surer’s car into sixth place on the grid while ATS Fl driver Manfred `37inkelhock, sharing with Klaus Niedwiedz, complained of a suspension problem but nevertheless qualified eighth. Surer started the race on grooved slicks but as the track dried out, he gradually began to slip back. First he succumbed to Ghinzani, then Ickx and Stommelen and finally before the first fuel stop, Bell. Ludwig took over, surviving a moment at La Source with Alboreto’s Lancia, maintaining Ford’s sixth position until he brought the C100 in for fuel. There the Ford Zakspeed mechanics discovered a cracked exhaust primary pipe and despite I.udwig’s protestations that it was hardly affecting performance, changed it. That dropped the car down the leader board which was when the real problems began. First the fuel system played up, then the gear linkage gave trouble and finally, there were several stops to fasten a steering component which persistently shook itself loose! When the chequered flag finally put the car out of its misery, it was lying in 23rd position. Winkelhock and Niedzwiedz fared little better, similarly enduring problems with the engine to finish 18th. With the Ludwig Ford’s demise, the BASF Sauber Ford of Hans Stuck / Hans Heyer became the best placed normally aspirated car in fifth. In practice, the GS Tuning team’s unloved 3.9-litre DFL engine had proved no quicker than the more reliable 3.3, so team manager Domingos Piedade ordered it should be replaced with the latter for the race. Moments after his remarking “Our only problem has been those turbos”, the Sauber’s engine fell very sick. The mechanics changed canons components in the electrical and ignition systems, but nothing made any difference. Dejected but resigned, Hcyer staggercd back into the race where the remaining finishers picked him off one by one, ultimately crossing the line in 10th position. Next year, Sauber are going to put a turbocharged 3.5-litre BMW engine into one of its cars after a season ruined by the unreliability of its Ford power units. As for the drivers, Stuck looks as if he might be heading for America and the IMSA series with BMW, while Heyer is already talking about driving a Ferrari-engined Lancia Gp. C car, In the opening stages, Heyer had to contend with the privately entered Nimrod Aston Martin of Ray Mallock. Nimrod had come to Spa with the firm intention of securing third place in the manufacturers’ championship. Robin Hamilton’s works team entered their latest chassis for Geoff Lees, who holds the Spa-Francorchamps lap record, and Tiff Needell. Matlock, in the Richard Williams-prepared car, was assisted as usual by vetenin Mike Salmon. During practice, the big 5.3-litre V8 engined cars struggled to find the right balance, suffering from understeer and oversteer respectively. Matlock once again put one over she factory when he dialled his car in sufficiently early to record 13th fastest time in
the first session. Lees eventually found the improvement he was looking for but by then the second period had been spoilt by an oil spillage. Nevertheless, he still pared off nearly two seconds to take the outside of the ninth row.
At Le Mans, Mallock, Nimrod went two thirds of the distance before striking problems but at Spa they began at the first fuel stop. The car fell off one of its air jacks, rupturing the oil cooler. Williams’ team borrowed a spare from the works but the stop dropped the car from ninth place all the way down to 27th. From here the car gradually recovered to finish seventh in Gp. C and bring Nimrod Aston Martin that third place in the manufacturers. championship. The fortunes of the works were a little worse. Already delayed by a broken throttle return spring which also cooked the brakes, the engine then dropped a valve and finally blew up altogether right in front of the pits, about halfway through the race. Disgusted with yet another major engine failure, Hamilton vowed to dispense with Tickford’s services next year and build his own engines. • Mass and Ida took the lead after two hours and, with the Porsche running faultlessly, aimed towards the chequered flag. Alboreto and Ghinzani, however, kept them in sight some 50 to 60 seconds in arrears but as their Lancia, like the sister car of Patrese / Fabi, was consuming batteries at a heavy rate, they could not make any consistent impression on the Porsche’s lead. Bell and Schuppan, reluctant guinea pigs for a Porsche experiment, held third ahead of the second Lancia, followed by the Belgian Martin brothers, the Rondeau of Spice / Migault and the Gp6 Osella BMW of Giorgio Francia / Luigi Moreschi. Mass led into the final lap and the 56 sec. wait for the Lancia began; and ended with the sight of the car silently cruising down the hill to Eau Rouge where Alboreto pulled off onto the gravel. Incredibly, he had run out of fuel! Michele climbed from the cockpit and, without thinking,
began to stride back to the pits. Then he stopped, returned to the car and examined the reserve fuel tank tap. It wasn’t turned on properly. There were still six litres of fuel left.
By this time Mass had already taken the flag and the organisers had significantly interpreted Alboreto’s actions as “abandoning the car”. The Lancia was thus posted as a retirement. Everyone behind immediately moved up a place, with the fifth placed Rondeau scoring sufficient points to claim the manufacturers’ title, subject, of course, to a favourable solution to the points dispute. But the drama wasn’t quite over yet. Alboreto restarted his car and drove it back to the finish line, with Lancia team manager Cesare Finns subsequently trying to convince the organisers that his man should not be disqualified from the results. The organisers hesitated, then issued a statement concerning Alboreto’s desertion of the car and finally issued the results. The Lancia was out. The race was finally over.
For one team though, the race was over barely moments after it had begun. After being clipped by Migatiles rotating Rondeau on the first lap, Keegan stopped at the pits for a replacement nosecone.Thus equipped, he charged straight back onto the track without stopping for the red light at the end of the pit lane. Next time round, Keegan was black-flagged so he stopped again and rushed with team manager Jeff Hazel’ to race control. There, the organisers decided to make an example of Keegan for his disrepected of the red light, and excluded him from the race. Which was pretty unfair in view of the fact that Lola had no third driver to accompany Guy Edwards and thus found the whole team suffering for Keegan’s stupidity. For a while, Edwards did carry on single-handed, but having poured £50,000 down the drain already, Lola saw no point in throwing more money by continuing. Lola retired after 50 minutes, no doubt reflecting on a season which began with controversy at Monza and ended on a similar note at Spa. — A.C.M.