Sauber makes Jaguar wait
The AEG Sauber-Mercedes driven by Jean-Louis Schlesser and Jochen Mass took an excellent victory at the Nurburgring on the first weekend in September, leaving Martin Brundle and Eddie Cheever in second place in their Silk Cut Jaguar XJR-9. But it was still almost a formality for the British team to win the World Sports-Prototype Championship for the second year in succession, perhaps at Spa-Francorchamps a fortnight later.
Brundle, though, will have to work harder for the Drivers’ Championship which is led by Schlesser. Because the best seven scores (of eleven) settle the contest, the odds were slightly on the Jaguar driver, since Schlesser already had seven results after the German round, but the Sauber’s form is absolutely formidable at the moment. Porsche is working hard to find a sponsor for 1989 and 1990, to put a sports-car team together again. If that happened the cars would, necessarily, he existing 962C chassis, and after Sauber’s victory a Porsche engineer was asked the big question: could a works Porsche have beaten it? A long pause . . .”no”.
Say what you like about the tobacco industry, its money is supporting professional motor racing at the moment, as it has been for some years, and since the departure of Rothmans, Porsche has talked deeply with Camel and Marlboro. Refusals suggest that even the Porsche factory will not be able to secure the multi-million budget which is required these days; they are talking of upwards of £5-million per year to operate a two-car team properly, and even then the manufacturer would be supporting the budget.
Rivalry between Jaguar and Sauber-Mercedes has taken them to a higher level, though the Porsche customers have been able to close up now that the Bosch Motronic 1.7 engine-management system has become available (at no mean price, DM150,000). Reinhold Joest’s team has just taken delivery of an ex-works Porsche (962C-007) and in it Bob Wollek claimed the third place on the grid behind the two Saubers, and ahead of the two Jaguars. Even now the ageing 962C cannot be said to be completely obsolete, but teams question how much better off they would be with a new chassis, perhaps of the type that will be offered by Spice Engineering next year.
The ADAC’s decision to hold the race in two heats, each supposedly of 500km, was extremely controversial, and in the dreadful weather conditions of Saturday evening the heat ran to 413km before being stopped at the three-hour mark.
Jan Lammers pulled out a substantial lead over Schlesser and Baldi in the opening laps, but had a margin of 24 seconds taken away when the pace-car was sent out. A lake had formed at the Sachs curve, causing Claude Ballot-Lena and World C2 Champion Ray Bellm to crash, and several others to spin. After half-an-hour the pace picked up again and Lammers eked out a fresh lead of 15 seconds before his first pit-stop became due.
Tactics, it proved, settled this race, as the Silk Cut team adhered to its plan and stopped each car twice, Lammers staying in No 2 until half-an-hour from the finish, Cheever in No 1 until an hour from the end. Such was the pace, though, that Schlesser was able to stay motoring for 53 laps, covered in 110 minutes, and the dark-blue car stopped only once for Mass to take the wheel for the last 70 minutes. It is probably not more economical than a Jaguar XJR, but Peter Sauber is prepared to run his car to the bottom of its fuel-tanks, unlike Roger Silman with the Jaguars, and on that evening his tactics were more versatile.
The well -driven Sauber was the winner by 76 seconds, the two Jaguars crossing the line together; Dumfries had been hit in the back by a Porsche 12 minutes from the end and slowed as his oil cooler was leaking on to the rear tyres.
The garages were unlocked 90 minutes before Sunday’s heat so that repairs could be carried out, Wollek’s Porsche for instance having a new transmission installed.
Conditions were wet again for the start of the second heat, though the track dried quickly, and while Schlesser started on full rain tyres (Michelin supplying a new construction), Baldi bravely chose slicks, and Brundle and Dumfries wisely opted for intermediate Dunlops for their Jaguars.
The first few minutes were extraordinary, for Baldi could not find any grip at all and spun twice on the warm-up lap (the second time hitting the Armco by the startline) and a third time on the first lap, damaging the Sauber too badly to continue. Dumfries also crashed on the first lap, repairs to his Jaguar taking half-an-hour, and effectively the race became a straight contest between Schlesser/Mass and Brundle/Cheever, with the Sauber holding a 76.9-second advantage at the start.
Schlesser lost some of his advantage when he needed a tyre change, to slicks, after only 12 laps, and the Jaguar was usually ahead on the road throughout the afternoon while the Sauber was ahead on aggregate. The Parisian was 34 seconds ahead overall going into the last hour, and was surely the winner even before Cheever’s engine began to run very roughly ten laps from the finish. Allan Scott, TWR’s engine expert , guessed that a cylinder-liner had cracked, and the American counted himself lucky to get to the finish in second place, earning 30 points for Jaguar, and for Brundle’s account. MLC