Porsche's win assured
Porsche’s win assured
THERE was never any doubt that a Porschc would win the Spa-Francorchamps Loon Kilometres race, bringing the Stuttgart company’s tally of World Endurance Championship for Makes victories up to six this year. Lancia-Martini withdrew their entries, preoccupied with the 1,000 Lakes Rally and with getting their ears right for the Imola (Drivers’ Championship) race later itt the month, and the only car that broke Porsche’s monopoly of the Cl class was Chuck Graemiger’s new Aston Martin powered Cheetah. which could hardly be expected to present a serious challenge on its debut outing.
History has a habit of repeating itself in endurance racing. In 1969 Ferrari rose to the challenge set by the Porsche 917 and, although the red 512s were poorly rewarded by results the contests between the Germ. and Italian cars represented a zenith in long distance racing. In 1976 no manufacturer really set about the domination of the Porsche 935 so the .1,1 Group 5 started a steep decline in its third year ( tothe point where the Porsche factory virtually withdrew, letting its customers get on with the job). And novv, in the third year of Group C we see the same pattern again. Lancia use Ferrari engines as their base, twin turbo 3-litre Vfis which develop up to 720 bhp on high boost and 680 bhp in race conditions. The Dallara-designed chassis is liked by the drivers and on paper the Martini-sponsored team should be able to beat Porsche on occasions. Yet the lack tticoherent management at the circuits results in the Lancias struggling to overcome self-inflicted handicaps, and the team is now so demoralised that it chooses to miss some events in order to concentrate on others, preferably nearer home.
One of Lancia’s contracted drivers sums it up like this: “We go testing and we make progress. Then in practice everything is changed. The spare car is always the best one, in the transporter. So we get the race cars ready, then in the warm-up we find that things have been changed again.” The commitment and sense of purpose that’s found in the rally team is not to be found in the endurance race tei,m, probably because the compet it kilts department isn’t big enough to do two major programmes properly. ‘The situation is gooki neither for Lancia nor for the World Chatnpionship, and Group C racing looks ready for another decline. At Spa Porsche’, Norbert Singer told us that he wants to develop new cars for 1985, better chassis with more ground effect. “But it all depends on l„ancia”, he explained succinctly. All four of the Rothmans-Porsche drivers. lax, Mass, Bell and Bella, have utt informal agreement to carry on next year, when their contracts are due for renewal, but as yet the continued sponsorship ot Rothmam has not been confirmed. Presumably it will be. hoi Lancia’s lukewarm and patchy presence is not very encouraging; it has never been Porsche’s policy specifically to race against their customers, but on at least three occasions this sear this will have been the case. We can hope to sec new challenges coming from the East, in the shape of new Nissan, Toyota and Mazda Group C ears NI Rill on September 29th, and that they will
be sufficiently competit INV fOr WM: companies to plan a full season.
There were two interesting developments in the paddock at Spa -or three, if you count the rumoured three-litre engine in John Fitzpatrick’s Skoal Bandit Porsche 956 driven by Thierry Boutsen and David Hobbs. At Brands Hatch Reinhokl Joest’s 956 did have a three-litre engine. we finind out subsequently. but it wasn’t enough to match the on-form Canon-Porsche fitr speed and it used too much fuel during the race. Fitzpatrick’s engines are now prepared by Charles Ivey and admittedly have SOIlle IleW developments though Fitz won’t confirm the actual capacity. Whether the engine was 2.8 strut full three-litres ,entirety legal, see hasten to add) it was, in Belgium, enough to enable Boutsen to claim pole position. More signifkam, perhaps. was Richard Lloyd’s new Canon Porsche 956B which has a new Nigel Stroud-designed chassis with better ground effect, improved suspension adjustment, revised steering 111,1 more powerful Al’ braking. The chassis 106B accepts Porsche’s normal engine ftanstnission pack and outwardly the ,:ar just the same as the other custom,cars, save perhaps the team’s own split kevlar rear wing and distinctive nose wing, now copied by rivals Fitzpatrick and )(test. The Canon Porsche driven by Jonathan Palmer and J. Lammers was fourth quickest in practice but, having been developed a Silverstone, was not quite at ease on the slower corners. With a far greater range of adjustment in the suspension it may rake the team a little 11111,e to find a routine of development at each circuit, but good progress was being made at Spa and it seas unfortunate that the
factory-supplied clutch bellhousing fractured on the fifth lap of the race, inevitably causing retirement. It’s a sign of the times, perhaps, that the
first major devel,ments on the three-yearold 956 design should be undertaken by a private team. While Ickx and Mass were happy with the handling of their car, which Ickx put alongside Boutsen on the front tow of the grid, the other two team cars were both suffering from acute understeer and the drivers would have loved the (pportunity to try out a nose wing such as appeared to half a dozen customer cars. But being in the factors, team, of course. they couldn’t copv the customers! There is logo in the factory’s methods, though. because in most eases a nose wing merely disguises a fundamental imbalance which is better cured in the suspension department. Wigs should be put on afterwards to improve what is already good. 01 the Swiss Cheetah, Rav Mallock alAY remark,’ that they were now doing development work that Porsche would have done in private months ago.Chuck_ G nw raemiger’s e ear has been prevented time and again from making its d,:)but due to (t)hnrseats uf when it appeared it caused gRueit’eseal sb; Rather Porsche,like to appearance. haams Keylarcluksssti(wi m sseeigahrittitng,Niust 3,1 kilogr 580 bhP is ,msan,
bolted direct to this chassis as a fully stressed unit, while the suspensions are attached in the some manner. At 870 kilogrammes in the Spa scrutineering bay the Cheetah, which is wholly owned by the sponsoring Gatoil lubricants distribution company, is by far the lightest challenger yet seen either with Aston Martin or Jaguar power, and with the fuel consumption being tightened up in 1985 it could well be an effective opponent to Porsche’s 956. Driven by Mallock and Bernard de Dryver it ran 17 laps in the wake of a dozen Porsche 956s before stopping to have a water leak repaired in the header tank, and later retired with loose crankshaft damper. It certainly wasn’t disgraced, and with better backing than the promising
EMKA enjoyed the Cheetah could become a leading make in 1985.
Realistically the winner of the SpaFrancorchamps 1,000 Kms could only come from the Porsche ranks, and although the customer teams have made good progress this year in closing the gap on the factory team their efforts crumbled in the early stages of the race. Rothmans-Porsche entered a third car for the first time this Year, driven by John Watson and Vern SehnI,Pan, but it understeered rather badly all weekend and suffered an electrical n,isfire throughout the race, consuming batteries at an alarming rate before limping across the line in sixth position.
A lamming throttle marred Thierry Boutsen’s bid to beat the works team. Though he and lax shared the front row of the grad_, a fact which must have swclkd crowd impressively on a hot day — Ickx held to his ground lea, into the Eau Rouge sweeps up the hill for the first time with 87,en tucked in behind followed by , “of, H i Hans Stuck n Walter Brun s 956, Jan L urr_ antners in the Canon entry and Oscar 1.12..1-2 in the Gaggia-sponsored 956. rescarolo lay seventh in Reinhold Joest’s New Man sponsored 956, thc team now acutely short of finance despite their fine victory at Le Mans. So much so that they no longer go testing, and actually practised at Spa on worn tyres left over from
the Brands Hatch race. Boutscn’s throttle jammed the first time at the fast Spa Curve and the Belgian jUSI about kept the car on the road, but the second time it happened he plunged off into the tyre barrier at the chicane, damaging the
nose panel and the ground effect undertray.
He and Hobbs did a finc job bringing the car back into contention despite the handling handicap, helped by various mishaps befalling their rivals: the Canon car retired early with its clutch bellhousing shattered, Stock’s car suffered from fading brakes, Pescarolo’s collected a puncture and shortly afterwards had an ignition failure, while the Ickx / Mass 956 was misfiring due to a malfunction in the Motronic system and the Bell / Bellof car was also misfiring due to a problem with fuel supply; in their case it helped to keep the reserve fuel pump switched on.
So it was, perhaps, just as well that the Lancias weren’t there, from Porsche’s point of view, because if a good rival had enjoyed a trouble-free race it would surely have won. With 60 of the 144 laps completed only Bell / Bellof, Boutsen / Hobbs and Mass / lobs were on the same lap, the Shoal entry keeping up the pressure until the last hour when the oil pressure suddenly failed. That left the number two entry cruising along to a seemingly comfortable victory with a lap in hand, but even that was almost denied Bell and Bellof when the German driver came to the pits just two laps from the end with a front brake caliper scraping against the wheel rim! The mechanics took off the wheel, put a new bolt in the caliper and sent Bellof out again in about a minute, enabling him to cross the line 57 seconds ahead of Mass. It was not, perhaps, one of the more impressive Porsche victories
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