Total Eclipse

Tom Walkinshaw was true to his word when he said the full weight of the Silk Cut Jaguar team would be behind Raul Boesel in his quest to win the World Sports-Prototype Championship for Drivers, entering the Brazilian as the third driver in all three Jaguars at Spa. The ploy worked perfectly, as the cars finished first, second and fourth, Boesel joining Martin Brundle and Johnny Dumfries in the leading entry, and securing the championship.

Derek Bell, World Champion in 1985 and 1986, had to concede his title as he finished fifth, with Hans Stuck and Bob Wollek in the Rothmans-sponsored Joest Racing Porsche. Even Stuck has not been able to make the privately-entered Porsche look anything but ordinary since the factory withdrew, and there is no longer any doubt at all that the conventional chassis has now been eclipsed by the Tony Southgate-designed Jaguar.

The last European round of the 1987 series was a time for farewells. Kouros announced the withdrawal of its support for Peter Sauber’s Mercedes-powered team, Liqui Moly will not renew its contract with Britten-Lloyd Racing, and it is believed that Rothmans will now withdraw from Group C after a highly successful association with the factory Porsche team over the past six seasons.

If Sauber can find another “blue chip” sponsor during the winter it could be to his advantage, since the Kouros budget has not been sufficient for more than five races in each of the past two seasons, and the C9 seems ready to win more races, and might be the only car to give the Jaguars a run next year.

Porsche will not start the design of a new Group C car until the FISA executive has defined, or redefined, the regulations. Last October the sportscar manufacturers and teams won a binding agreement through to the end of 1991 but now the battle is being fought all over again, M Balestre and Mr Ecclestone reportedly being determined to impose a 3.5-litre racing engine 6-litre stock block formula, perhaps as soon as 1989, against the determined wills of Jaguar, Mercedes, Porsche, Nissan, Toyota and Mazda, who want to develop the existing formula.

Sauber and BLR were keen to give their sponsors the best possible send-off, and locked into an all-day battle for pole position. In the morning Jonathan Palmer became the first sportscar driver to crack the 200 kph barrier at Spa, recording 2min 04.11sec (201.305 kph), driving the Liqui Moly Porsche with the factory-prepared 3-litre engine for the first time.

Mike Thackwell was a couple of seconds slower in the Kouros car; in fact co-driver Jean-Louis Schlesser set the quicker time when a misfire had been cured, but in the last minutes of the afternoon session Thackwell rumbled the Sauber round in 2min 04.04sec, a great effort which left all three Jaguars breathless in the 2min 05sec bracket.

Silk Cut Jaguar’s third entry for Brundle and Dumfries was in the wars, Brundle crashing it on Friday and Dumfries damaging it again on Saturday. Of the three it seemed the least likely to be a race winner, seemingly reducing Boesel’s chances of winning the race and securing the title.

In C2 as well, Swiftair Ecurie Ecosse’s hopes of denying Gordon Spice two titles seemed to be reduced when Mike Wilds had a major accident in the second car, losing control exiting the fifth-gear Raidillon turn. The Scottish team’s mechanics worked through the night to repair the red car and finished their work just before the race started, though it ran well in the warm-up.

The opening laps of the race were dominated by Thackwell and Palmer, with Cheever keeping in touch while Brundle and Lammers dropped back a little, running to a plan.

The race had hardly settled down when Thackwell headed for the pits after four laps with the driving seat catch broken, making it difficult for the New Zealander to reach the pedals. A second stop was needed to pack sorbo rubber behind the seat, and Thackwell then established a new Group C record at 2min 09.30sec to prove that the car was healthy.

Cheever’s challenge faded when a wire broke in the engine-management system and put one bank of the V12 onto full rich mixture, the American making an early stop as the fuel consumption readout was giving a warning. He and John Nielsen went nearly three laps behind Palmer, while Brundle moved his Jaguar up to a threatening position, taking the lead when the Porsche stopped for fuel.

Rain swept the circuit at the two-hour mark and kept the track wet or damp for the rest of the race, which ran to its six-hour limit and ended three laps short of the distance. Tyre choices then became critical, Dunlop having an ideal intermediate for the Jaguars, Goodyear able to supply only rain tyres to the Liqui Moly and Joest teams.

Brundle and Dumfries (the Scot having signed an option to drive for Silk Cut Jaguar in 1988) were joined by Boesel in the winning car, Jan Lammers and John Watson finishing a lap behind after losing a minute having the rear wing angle increased. Jochen Mass found his old form after a lacklustre couple of seasons in World Championship racing, finishing a strong third with Oscar Larrauri in the Brun Motorsport Porsche 962C, merely 10 seconds ahead of Cheever and Nielsen at the end. Palmer and Mauro Baldi slipped down the order when it rained, and retired with the differential broken.

Gordon Spice and Fermin Velez dominated the C2 category in their Spice Pontiac DFL, finishing tenth overall, and six laps ahead of Wilds and Marc Duez, the Belgian having put in a superb performance in the rain on his home circuit. Spice and Velez become the C2 champion drivers for 1987, but the C2 teams contest will be settled in Japan. MLC