Torrential TT

Britain’s oldest motor race, the Tourist Trophy, produced drama right to the end of its 105-lap distance and, as has often been the case since the event moved to Silverstone, threw up a surprise winning combination.

Having run strongly in streaming wet conditions throughout the race, Enzo Calderari and Fabio Mancini guided their BMW M3 past the flag for the penultimate time, just ahead of a charging Roberto Ravaglia’s similar car with which it was contesting second spot. By the time they reached Stowe corner, the battle was for the lead.

Amazingly, the leader at that point, Luis Sala, had made a monumental error by spinning away a 45-second advantage and stalling his M3. In quiet disbelief Mancini took the flag by a mere three seconds to record his first ever major international win, and Calderari’s first triumph since the days of the TWR Jaguars.

The rain which fell all race long changed the whole plan of the race. Practice had seen Ford’s RS500 Cosworth dominate, with Briton Steve Soper waiting until the last minute of a tension-filled practice session to take pole position in his Eggenberger works machine. Up to that point Andy Rouse’s Cosworth had been fastest with Klaus Ludwig/Klaus Niedzwiedz, the championship leaders, struggling slightly in third just ahead of Win Percy/Pete Hall and Joachim (brother of the late Manfred) Winkelhock/Jeff Allam, also in Fords.

On a track where sheer horsepower is all-important, the class-B BMW M3s expected to be off the front pace, although Gianfranco Brancatelli/Johnny Cecotto and Emanuele Pirro/Roberto Ravaglia flew the Bavarian standard with honour by taking the fastest non-turbo times. However, the Alfa Romeo squad had upped its showing and was snapping at the M3’s heels for class honours.

For most of qualifying, Thomas Lindstrom and Steven Andskar had been the quickest Alfa duo and seemed set for a good race. However, halfway through the second timed session, Andskar suffered a monumental accident when the car hit the barriers backwards, rolled upside down onto the track and caught fire with the unfortunate Swede unconcious inside. He was dragged out by fellow drivers Winkelhock and Peter Oberndorfer, sustaining only a slight neck burn. His race was most certainly run though.

Although most observers expected to see the Fords charge into the distance at the start of the race, as they entered the new Woodcote section at the end of the first lap Ludwig, who had made the best getaway, skated straight down the escape road, and left teammate Soper leading from Pirro and Rouse. Brancatelli crashed on lap one and Percy’s challenge soon ended with turbo troubles while Ludwig needed a pit stop to replace the alternator.

At least Ford had the consolation of seeing Soper lead from Rouse and Winkelhock (Pirro having pitted for new rain tyres) but soon Andy was ‘out with transmission trouble and Soper lost his lead with a pit stop to replace the differential.

Despite a couple of visits to the countryside, all part of his spectacular, crowd-pleasing driving style, Winkelhock held a commanding lead over the M3s of Olivier Grouillard (sharing with Sala), Calderon and Pirro.

Through the driver changes and towards the finish, the positions remained the same until Allam, in the lead Ford, felt his car misfire and needed a series of pit stops to cure electrical problems. This left Sala ahead of Mancini and Ravaglia, the two Italians battling ahead of Giorgio Francia/ Jean-Louis Schlesser’s Alfa, the Mercedes of Oberndorfer and former Olympic skiing champion Franz Klammer and, with Niedzwiedz at the wheel, the recovered Ludwig Cosworth. In the circumstances the latter duo’s had been a fine, forceful drive.

That looked the way they would finish — until Sala approached Stowe on that last lap! The result closed the gap between the Ford and BMW men in the championship table and, with Bathurst, Calder, Wellington and Fuji to come, the first World Touring Car title is still open to allcomers. GD