Spa 1,000 Kms

Lancias getting better   

The World Endurance Championship will continue with a clouded future until such time as another manufacturer seriously challenges Porsche, and at Spa-Francorchamps on September 4th the signs were that the Lancia LC2/83 is becoming competitive. A 10-week respite since Le Mans (due to the postponement of the Kyalami event until early December) allowed Lancia’s project engineer Giovanni Tonti the time to iron out various problems and present cars which are competitive with the Porsche customer 956s, which is a move in the right direction.

Porsche’s Rothmans’ sponsored work’s cars are now in a different league, and it will need another quantum leap from Lancia to challenge them . . . next year, with luck, when Pirelli provides the Italian make with suitable radial ply tyres for which the LC2s were designed. Since the opening round of the 1983 World Endurance Championship at Monza, when the works cars were surprisingly beaten by Bob Wollek and Stefan Johansson in the Reinhold Joest prepared, Sorga entered, and Marlboro sponsored 956, Peter Falk’s team based at Weissach has intensified its development programme.

Bosch Motronic management is the key to the works team’s success. The engines are no more economical with electronic control of the fuel injection and the ignition, but they have better throttle response at all engine speeds — the slower the track, the greater the advantage. This system is not yet available to the customers, though it will be in time for next year’s programme. With fully automatic ignition control including knock sensors, it also enables the works cars to run higher compression ratios, 8.5:1 compared with 8:1 for the customer cars, with further advantage. Then, the Rothmans-Porsches are around 20 kg lighter than the customer cars and have subtly better aerodynamic shapes; put all these factors together, add reliability, and you have a pair of cars which are virtually unbeatable at the present time.

Untimed practice on Friday, on a drying track, and timed practice on Saturday confirmed the current form of the works Porsches. Jacky Ickx, paired with Jochen Mass, took no less than six seconds off his pole time of last year, recording 2 min 09.00 sec on the revised 6.9 kilometre track at an average of 193.476 kph. Stefan Bellof, paired with Derek Bell, recorded 2 min 10.19 sec in a slightly heavier car (their race had been written-off by a mechanic at Porsche’s test track just before the transporter set off), then Derek Warwick was third quickest in the Kremer Porsche 956 at 2 min 12.60 sec, a time which got the other Porsche customers thinking hard. The Patrese/Alboreto Lancia-Martini was fourth fastest at 2 min 14.05 sec, team-mates Ghinzani/Fabi further back as their car was not running properly during the morning session, and the track was flooded with rain in the afternoon.

Right from the start Mass led Bellof into the difficult Eau Rouge turn at the foot of the hill, Warwick falling in behind, and pulled out a lead of three or four seconds per lap, leaving Warwick to have a lonely race well clear of Klaus Niedzwiedz in the Zakspeed Ford C1/4 Turbo, the two Lancia-Martinis, and Paolo Barilla in the Mirabella team Lancia. Johansson was moving up through the field rapidly in the Marlboro Porsche 956 but had a controversial accident involving Patrese’s Lancia on lap five and the Porsche retired on the spot with damaged suspension, Patrese losing five laps having his suspension repaired.

Ray Mallock was going well in the Aston Martin Nimrod, was actually in fourth place briefly when the leading cars made their pit stops by virtue of running an extra lap. The John Fitzpatrick/David Hobbs 956 was delayed first by a puncture and then by a misfire, traced to the rev-limiter, but was soon to move up the field, helped by the retirement of the Zakspeed Ford with gearbox failure. The Canon Porsche of Jan Lammers and Thierry Boutsen was also hampered, first by a faulty connection between a turbocharger and the intercooler, and then by a misfire which did not clear up properly. When Derek Warwick’s co-driver, Franz Konrad, retired the 956 during the second stint with a piston failure there was no further threat to the works Porsches, which could win as they pleased. Bell’s car got the upper hand when Mass tried to eke an extra lap on a tank of fuel and almost ran out, coming to the pits a minute late, but the tables were turned at half distance when the brake pads were changed. Bell was sent on his way, but then a mechanic owned up that the pad retaining split pin might not have gone in properly so the Englishman had to return to the pits, and sure enough the pin was insecure. The car was at rest less than a minute, but allowing for stopping and starting it was enough to rob the pairing of victory.

Fabi’s Lancia-Martini became a casualty when an obscure wire severed in the electronic engine management system, losing some 25 laps, and Driver Championship leader Bob Wollek, having lost his regular car in Johansson’s accident, then hit a barrier in the New Man sponsored Porsche 956 run by the same team, when the suspension broke. The last bit of bad luck to hit the Lancia equipe came just five laps from the finish when the Mirabella LC2, lying fourth close behind Fitzpatrick, stopped at the pits with a broken differential. It was sent out again and staggered home sixth — at least the three Lancias finished the race, lacking only an extra turn of speed.

Little more than an hour from the end the Aston Martin Nimrod retired from eighth place with a seized engine, a disappointing end to what had been a good race for the team with an admittedly tired V8 engine. Perhaps next year, when the fuel consumption regulations are tightened up, Porsche’s supremacy will be challenged. The cars will have their fuel tanks limited to 85 litres instead of 100 litres, as at present, with a correspondingly smaller fuel ration to run the races. In theory this will favour the normally aspirated cars, and could open the contest up again. — MLC.