Storm-swept but exciting
The 1,000 Kilometre race at Brands Hatch has a history of bad weather, having been stopped twice in the past six years when the conditions became too bad for racing, and this year’s event was nearly as bad in the first two hours, though use of the course car to slow the competitors down when the track flooded on September 18th did keep the event running. It ran out of time, though, the mandatory six-hour mark being reached when 232 of the scheduled 238 laps had been covered, but almost single-handed Derek Warwick had long since secured victory in the Porsche 956 shared with John Fitzpatrick.
Although the BRSCC organised, Grand Prix International sponsored event was not a round of the World Endurance Championship it was the sixth round of the concurrent European Endurance series, and as such attracted two entries from the works Rothmans-Porsche team, two from Lancia-Martini, and most of the regular private entrants.
At Spa, and again at Brands Hatch, the accustomed superiority of the works Porsches was challenged, not so much by another entrant as by another driver. This year’s endurance series has produced a good crop of talented young drivers who can challenge the ‘establishment’ for speed, notably Stefan Bellof, Stefan Johansson, Thierry Boutsen, Jonathan Palmer and Derek Warwick, all of whom enjoy the long distance races which are still free of the pressures of Grand Prix racing.
Warwick and Palmer were the quickest drivers in the unofficial session on Friday afternoon while the works drivers concentrated on new, higher down-force undertrays and compatible springing, and on Saturday morning Johansson was fastest for a while in the Joest/Sorga/Marlboro 956 having lapped at 1 min 17.59 sec, on qualifying tyres just before the new Chevrolet powered Tiga coated the the circuit in oil. Mass and Bellof did secure the front row of the grid, Mass’ pole position at 1 min 17.19 sec, Bellof on 1 min 17.36 sec, with Warwick fourth fastest on 1 min 18.04 sec.
Conditions were wild, wet .and windy on Sunday morning and as the field was unleashed at midday a vast ball of spray made conditions extremely hazardous. lckx led briefly but Warwick soon passed him at Druids Bend and proceeded to pull away rapidly, helped by his superior Goodyear rain tyres which were visibly better through the wetter parts of the circuit. Bob Wollek, too, got the better of the Rothmans-Porsches and lckx was delayed briefly by spinning at Clearways.
After 20 laps Warwick was 45 sec ahead of Wollek, Bell was third, lckx fourth and Alboreto fifth in the Lancia, the remainder having been lapped though, on the road, the three Lancias were close together, Nannini and Francia doing a good job keeping Alboreto in sight. By this time the track was flooding at Graham Hill bend (nee Bottom Bend) and the clerk of the course sent out the pace car for five laps to slow the competitors down. This reduced Warwick’s advantage, but resulted in lckx being lapped as the pace car joined the circuit in front of him.
Five laps later the race was on again, Warwick continuing to dominate the running. Wollek dropped back with a misfiring engine but kept station behind Bell, with lckx, Alboreto and Palmer filling the next three places a lap behind.
Nannini’s Lancia retired with loss of compression on one cylinder, and later Barilla’s Mirabella Lancia made contact with a car it was lapping and slid off into the guardrail at Clearways. There was some skilful driving in the rain, but there was also the usual quota of amateurish driving and not a few collisions, the French driver Sotty being black-flagged for flagrantly failing to use his mirrors.
Warwick stayed at the wheel during the first scheduled pit stop, and early in his second session lapped Bellof’s second-placed Porsche to give himself a really good margin with which to command the race. Patrese and Mass were having a good duel for third place, the German getting the upper hand just before the second pit stops were due. An equally interesting duel was being fought for fifth place, Johansson challenging Palmer’s Canon sponsored 956, but the Swede dropped back when the ignition warning light came.on. His routine stop was a long one as the alternator belt had to be replaced, a fiddly job, and as another new belt had to be fitted later in the race the Marlboro entry ceased to be in contention.
Palmer too, had his problems midway through the race when the distributor drive sheared, losing the car 21 minutes, leaving only four cars in contention: Fitzpatrick’s car leading the two Rothmans-Porsches a lap behind, and the Alboreto/Patrese Lancia which was two laps behind. The Nimrod was running strongly in ninth place until it retired in the second half of the event with crown-wheel failure, and a car that was attracting attention was the very rapid and reliable Giannini-Alba Junior class entry driven by Carlo Facetti and Martino Finotto, which eventually finished tenth.
Conditions rapidly improved during the afternoon, and by the fourth hour the track was dry under pale sunshine. Fitzpatrick’s team could not afford a slip-up with the formidable works team poised a lap behind, for two minutes can so easily be lost if a body panel is damaged, or if the brake pads don’t come out easily. . . and that is the difference between winning and losing. On this occasion everything worked perfectly for Fitzpatrick’s team, there weren’t any stumbles in the pits, and the 956 maintained its advantage.
Just as Warwick was contemplating his first race win since September 1980 he made contact with a slow-driven Porsche 911 Turbo five minutes from the end of the race, covering the last three laps with the front bodywork damaged. It had more impact on Bellof’s second-placed car, as the German spotted some debris on the track and slammed on his brakes, going right through the rubber on his right-front tyre. He had to stop for a wheel-change, and that allowed Mass to nip through for second position. MLC