Jaguar's Crown

Five years of Porsche domination in Group C ended at the Nürburgring, when the Silk Cut Jaguar team recorded its sixth victory of the season and secured the 1987 Teams championship. Eddie Cheever and Raul Boesel took the flag three laps ahead of Derek Bell and Hans Stuck in the Joest Racing Porsche 962C, with Jochen Mass and Oscar Larrauri a further two laps back in a Walter Brun Porsche.

Last year Jaguar and Derek Warwick came close to winning the two major World Sports-Prototype Championship titles, despite winning only one race, at Silverstone. If Cheever hadn't accidentally knocked off the battery master switch at Fuji, if third place had been second, then Jaguar would have achieved successes with a hollow ring.

In 1987, though, every victory has been gold-plated, earned by the most professional team with the best equipment and drivers, and even Porsche's loan of factory-prepared 3-litre engines to the leading private teams has not been enough to halt an overwhelming force from Coventry and Kidlington.

Although Jaguar won the Le Mans 24-Hours five times in the 1950s, the marque has never before won a constructors' championship, and the 1987 record could only have been bettered by winning this year's 24-Hour race.

Jaguar's reliability is still not perfect, for only at Jarama, Monza and Silverstone have both cars been completely trouble-free — suggesting that there is still room for improvement, as Tom Walkinshaw is very well aware— but that winners' luck is on the side of Cheever and Boesel, the Brazilian having increased his lead in the Drivers' Championship.

John Watson and Jan Lammers have been rather. less lucky since Silverstone. Theirs was the car which Win Percy crashed in the night at Le Mans, the one which had a broken transmission at the Norisring, a wheel bearing failure at Brands Hatch — and a broken valve-spring at the Nürburgring, stopping their progress within the first hour. Their luck, surely, can only improve, although the team's effort swung behind Boesel, who took a somewhat slender 11-point advantage over Bell and Stuck.

Although no Porsche team can catch Silk Cut Jaguar, it is too soon to write off the chances of further race victories for the Stuttgart make. The Britten-Lloyd Racing Liqui Moly 962 showed again that the Nigel Stroud chassis is extremely competitive, as Mauro Baldi claimed pole position at the Neue Nürburgring, the Italian shaving 0.05sec off Hans Stuck's qualifying record set in the Supercup meeting in April, at 1min 25.43sec.

Baldi and Jonathan Palmer qualified and raced with the 2.8-litre engine, Palmer finding that the 3-litre lacked sharpness and throttle response, but a 50-minute engine change before the race had Baldi starting with lack of turbo boost on one bank, so he lost seven laps in the opening stages.

Klaus Ludwig, partnered by Bob Wollek, set out to prove that the 962 is not yet obsolete. The German qualified fifth fastest at 1min 26.53sec, behind the two Jaguars and the Kouros Sauber Mercedes, and completely dominated the first half of the race. Having pulled out a minute in the first 30 laps, then stopped early for fuel, Ludwig set people thinking. . . had Reinhold Joest sent him out with a 3.2-litre qualifying engine, and was he far over his fuel allocation?

In fact the Porsche was running at 2.8-litres, and it only took 80 litres to fill the tank at the first stop; and Ludwig was putting pressure on early, driving a double stint, to make life easy for Bob Wollek who has two broken ribs after a crash in America. Wollek, admitting to being in agony, drove the third hour without conceding anything to the Sauber and the Jaguar (remaining a full lap ahead), only to see Ludwig retire with a broken gearbox five laps beyond the midpoint of the race.

Despite the advantages of a lighter chassis and a 3-litre engine (though it is debatable whether the factory engine really is a benefit) Bell and Stuck counted themselves lucky to finish second. They had a truly awful practice, three seconds off the pace until the engine was changed, with understeer, a broken differential on Saturday morning, and a violent spin for Stuck during the warm-up when a back wheel fell off.

Bell started the race last when the engine refused to run properly then had to drive at reduced speed in the first hour because the fuel computer gauge was over-reading hopelessly. They did not really get into the race until the second hour, when more than a lap behind, and moved into second place in the last hour when the Brun Porsche of Jochen Mass and Oscar Larrauri ran short of brakes.

The Kouros team was impressive again, although transmission failure stopped the navy blue car after four hours when Mike Thackwell, Johnny Dumfries and Henri Pescarolo were running in second place. There were to have been two cars, but Dumfries was ambushed by Bruno Sotty's slow-moving ALD on Friday, and the Sauber C9 was badly damaged. The Scot moved into Thackwell's car which was updated with heavier driveshafts and bigger AP four-piston caliper brakes.

Although the Swiss team had completed a 1000km test at the 'Ring a week before, the usual transmission weakness showed up as soon as Thackwell went out on sticky qualifying tyres. After one lap the input shaft snapped in the March gearbox, indicating again that the Sauber has more torque than any other.

The Sauber ran second to Ludwig and Wollek for two hours, taking the lead briefly when Ludwig stopped early, and was second to Cheever and Boesel when it retired. Perhaps not too much should be read into that, since it was a slow race with no records broken (the Jaguar ran strictly to its fuel schedule throughout and Cheever finished with three litres in the tank). Although the Sauber C9 has not managed to finish a race this season, a leading result cannot be far away.

Cheever and Boesel were two laps clear of Mass/Larrauri and Stuck/Bell when the Sauber retired with third gear broken, two hours from the fmish, and were able to wind their speed down all the way to the end.

In fact the margin increased to three laps when Stuck ran short of fuel towards the end and Mass stopped to have his brakes bled, and that created special problems for the leading runners in the C2 class.

As usual the Spice Engineering and Swiftair Ecurie Ecosse teams were dominating the C2 proceedings, Gordon Spice and Fermin Velez locked in battle with Ray Mallock and David Leslie for five-and-a-half hours. Mike Wilds and Win Percy had fallen back with an acute understeering problem but were comfortably third in class, ahead of Costas Los/Dudley Wood in their Tiga-Cosworth.

So far the race had run to expectations. Will Hoy claimed his sixth C2 "pole" of the season to Martin Schanche's Lucky strike Argo Zakspeed, he and Spice being some three seconds inside last year's qualifying record. Hoy led the first 17 laps as well, until the Argo's battery went flat, and three batteries later Schanche stopped out on the course, with an electrical short being blamed.

Thorkild Thyrring's Tiga-Ford BDT-E was quick in practice but had its race spoiled by water and fuel leaks, and Nick Adams, in Hugh Chamberlain's Spice-Hart turbo, was knocked clean off the track by Lammers' Jaguar and the C2 car did not handle too well after that.

Something the Ecosse team had never experienced before was difficulty in picking up the last 10 litres of fuel. It affected both cars identically, and both misfired as the tanks ran low. Spice, delayed slightly when he needed a new battery, caught and passed Leslie an hour from the end, the Ecosse also suffering with a slipping clutch. It looked as though Spice had the upper hand again, and that he and Velez would become the World Champion C2 drivers.

Twenty minutes from the finish Leslie stopped on the main straight, the last 10 litres beyond reach of the pumps. Two laps later Wilds stopped as well, so Spice, also critically short of fuel, decided to spend ten minutes the pits. His nightmare began six minutes from flagfall when the engine refused to start. A new battery made no impression, since the starter motor had jammed solid!

Spice could either be disqualified for failing to cross the line, for failing to complete the last lap in six minutes, or for receiving a push start; it wasn't a nice choice for manager Jeff Hazell to make, and he had the car push-started just before Cheever came round for the last time. Disqualification followed, Los and Wood being as amazed as everyone else to become the C2 winners.

Leslie managed to get his Ecosse round the final lap to earn 12 points, and bring Ecosse to within three points of Spice in the Teams' Championship. There is likely to be as much interest in the C2 class, in the last three races, as in the outcome of Boesel's efforts to take the World Drivers' Championship away from Derek Bell. MLC