The Armada repulsed!
Silverstone played host to the 52nd running of the Tourist Trophy on September 4, which was also the penultimate round of the European Touring Car Championship.
Having won the World Championship for teams last year, and with its prospects looking good for the European title this year, through its official representative the Swiss Eggenberger team, Ford came to the race hoping to pick up its first win here since 1972, the glory days of the fire-breathing RS Capris.
Despite Eggenberger cars winning six of the nine races so far this year, only Pierre Dieudonne among its drivers, having notched up only two wins compared to the four of Steve Soper and three of Klaus Niedzwiedz, stood a chance of becoming champion. To give him maximum chance, team tactics were to hold him back and put him into the best-placed car after half-distance.
After its failure at Donington, the team had dominated the season but it was beginning to fall apart, losing out at both Spa and Zolder to the Schnitzer BMWs prior to this race. Victory in these events virtually assured Roberto Ravaglia of his third successive touring car drivers’ championship, having been World Champion last year and European Champion the year before. As in the case of Dieudonne, he was being held back until the second half of the race before being placed in the leading Schnitzer car.
Pitting their wits and skill against these regular front-running contenders were a wide-ranging number of teams, all of whom wanted to have a pop at Europe’s armada of champions. Of these the most fancied was the Kaliber-backed British equipe of Andy Rouse Engineering. A dominant force in the British Touring Car Championship, Rouse was joined by Alain Ferte, whom he runs in the French series, while the other Kaliber-backed car was driven by regular pilot Guy Edwards and Tyrrell Grand Prix driver Jonathan Palmer. A third Rouse-prepared car was entered for Laurence Bristow and Robb Gravett.
Making a welcome appearance at the race was the RS500 of Dick Johnson, this year’s Australian Touring Car Champion who had won the series quite handsomely. Lest anyone should think otherwise, the championship down-under has for a long time been regarded as one of the toughest and most competitive series in any form of racing, with its star event at Bathurst rivalling Le Mans, Indianapolis and any Grand Prix in national following and television coverage. Partnered by John Bowe, Johnson was coming to Europe determined to prove a point.
Other Sierra drivers hoping to make their mark were Armin Hahne and Harald Grohs in the fast but hitherto frail Wolf Racing entry, while British regulars Graham Goode and Mike Newman were teamed in the Listerine-backed car and Jerry Mahony and Mark Hales in the Arquati Ford. Altogether seventeen RS500s were to start the race, out of 46.
Setting identical times in practice were the recently-homologated Holden Commodore of Tom Walkinshaw and Jeff Allam, and the Nissan GTS-R of Win Percy and Allan Grice. The latter had set fastest lap at the previous round at Zolder, so was clearly a potential winner, while anything Tom Walkinshaw turns his hand to cannot be discounted.
Apart from the two Schnitzer BMWs, there were eleven other M3s. Regular runners Bigazzi had two cars for Jacques Laffite, Olivier Grouillard, Mark Thatcher and Winni Vogt, while leading the British challenge were two Prodrive cars for Frank Sytner, Mike Smith, Will Hoy and Mark Duez.
In the 1600cc class, the entry-list comprised nothing but Toyota Corollas, but it was the example of Phil Dowsett and Tiff Needell which differed from the rest by being front-wheel-drive. lt was quickest in practice, but there were doubts about its reliability. In the event, however, Dowsett and Needell were able to bring the car home first in class ahead of regular European winners Fermine and de Liedekerke.
At the sharp end of the grid, it was the Australian Cosworth which showed the rest of the pack a clean pair of heels. From the start, Johnson stamped his authority on the race, and maintained it even after a pace-car interlude had allowed the field to bunch up again. In his wake were the RS500s of Ludwig, Soper, Hahne, Rouse and Gravett, while next in line were the Holden and Nissan. It was the antics of Rouse which maintained interest at this stage of the race. From fifth place on the first lap, he passed Palmer on the fourth and then began a duel with Soper which was to last, on and off, for the rest of the race. It was a battle that went one way and then the other: at first Soper had the advantage, then Rouse, then Soper again, but not for long as Rouse re-took third place. With adrenalin flowing, he charged past Ludwig two laps later to claim second.
The early pit-stops, however, were where the European regulars were at their strongest, allowing the Eggenberger cars to resume the lead. Soper was able to gain a 24-second advantage over team-mates Brancatelli and Ludwig, while Ferte, taking over from Rouse, was quickly being reeled in by Bowe, who had replaced Johnson.
Bowe soon passed Ferte and quickly closed up on the third-placed Eggenberger car, but as Brancatelli pitted, it was Ludwig who was soon in his sights. The German was no easy prey. For lap after lap Bowe was all over him, even going onto two wheels as they hammered it out, neither man giving an inch nor receiving any mercy. Only when they pitted together after several frantic laps did the battle subdue.
Quickly the stop-watches were out, as if for a Grand Prix, in the hope of a second instalment, but while the Eggenberger car shot-out after 29.7 seconds the Australian car sat still, its worthy challenge halted by a faulty water-pump. Johnson did eventually get back into the race and charged round, but was to finish in 21st place, eight laps behind the winner.
Fortunately for the few spectators who had turned up, the racing was far from over. Ferte was able to take advantage of the Ludwig/Bowe/Soper stops to inherit the lead for five laps before the Frenchman himself pitted. Rouse, now back behind the wheel, immediately overtook Ludwig for second place, and at a second a lap reeled in Dieudonne, who had taken over from Soper. It took just eight laps until Rouse finally took the lead on lap 82; for the remaining 23 he maintained a five-second gap to claim a well earned victory.
Into second, third and fourth came the Eggenberger cars and fifth, a lap down, was the Wolf Racing Ford. With PaImer finishing sixth and the Bristow/Gravett car ninth, it was a good day for Andy Rouse Engineering. The Holden made it to the finish as well, in fifteenth place between the two Toyota Supras, but the Nissan had retired before quarter-distance with gearbox problems.
More significantly, by coming home tenth overall and first in class in Schnitzer’s M3, Roberto Ravaglia had yet again clinched the European Championship. WPK