World Sportscar Championship: Donington 480kms

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Champion’s performance

To capture the 1989 World Sports-Prototype Championship, the Mercedes team had to pass a Spitfire 120 times at Donington on September 3. There was a peculiar irony in the situation, even though the warplane was only a plastic replica, and no-one felt like alluding to the anniversary of the outbreak of war until Jochen Mass broke the ice, in celebration: “It’s a good job we’re wearing soft shoes, or you’d hear the clicking of heels!”

On that sunny late-summer afternoon Peter Sauber’s Mercedes team performed like a champion and recorded its third 1-2 result of the season. Jean-Louis Schlesser notched up his fourth victory of the year helped by Mass, and 52 seconds behind came Mauro Baldi and Kenny Acheson. As at the Nurburgring a fortnight before their principal opposition came from Nissan, the R89C driven by Julian Bailey and Mark Blundell finishing on the lead lap despite a front tyre failure two laps from the flag. Above all, Donington presented a challenge to the microchip engineers who have to calculate the best ‘map’ for economy. Fuel consumption was absolutely critical, even more so than at the ‘Ring, and once again the east-side Stuttgart engineers came up with the right answers, while the west-siders were wrong-footed and saw their Porsches finish fourth and fifth, a lap behind.

The Silk Cut Jaguar team enjoyed an encouraging first hour but slipped in the second, both Spices succumbed to electrical problems, but Aston Martin faced the Huns for longest and finished sixth and seventh, with honour. One title that is undisputably British is the World Championship for C2 Teams. Spice Engineering claimed it in 1985, 1987 and 1988, Ecurie Ecosse in 1986, and at Donington Chamberlain Engineering took the honours with the Spice SE89C Cosworth driven by Fermin Velez and Nick Adams. Third place was what Hugh Chamberlain’s team needed and third is what it got, after a restrained race which left no margin for a couple of unscheduled stops.

Baldi on pole

Half an hour into the first qualifying session there were six makes of car in the top six positions, a milestone for Group C racing and the new-look World Championship. The order, for a few minutes at least, was Mercedes, Nissan, Toyota, Aston Martin, Spice and Jaguar. … then another Mercedes followed by three Porsches.

By the end of qualifying, though, the Sauber Mercedes team had as expected established the pecking order. In the final two minutes of the morning session JeanLouis Schlesser claimed the pole at 1 min 19.196 sec and was clearly quickest . .. for all of ten seconds! Then Maurio Baldi crossed the line in 1 min 19.123 sec, at 113.65 mph, establishing just how fast the C9/89 model is capable of going round the East Midlands track. This was, incidentally, some 6.5 seconds faster than the outright circuit record established two years ago by Yannick Dalmas in an F3000 March, which gives some idea of the potential of modern Group C cars. Two Japanese cars, the Nissan and the Toyota, occupied the second row of the grid, Nissan perhaps having made greater progress in the research for fuel economy standing a higher chance of success in the race. Julian Bailey, partnered again by Mark Blundell, made the third quickest time at 1 min 20.752 sec while Johnny Dumfries, sharing the Toyota 89C-V with John Watson, made a best time of 1 min 21.298 sec.

The Silk Cut Jaguar team looked much happier on the track where so much testing has been carried out on the XJR-11 turbo model, but faces fell during pre-qualifying when Jan Lammers’ car stopped with a broken camshaft belt and engine damage, and Andy Wallace’s pulled off with dud electrics. The two cars were fully restored on Saturday though when Lammers and Wallace qualified for the third row within two hundredths of a second of each other, Wallace delighted to be able to show his speed in qualifying as John Nielsen was otherwise occupied, racing for Jaguar in America. At Donington his co-driver was Alain Ferte, Silk Cut Jaguar’s signing for 1990, who had an unfortunate collision with Will Hoy in the pit lane. Hoy was at a standstill in Jochen Dauer’s Porsche, preparing to back up to the pit in the usual way, when Ferte cannoned into the side of him and caused so much damage that Dauer withdrew his entry. If the circuit had one shortcoming, it was insufficient garages and pit lane length for 36 Group C cars. Behind them were the three best Porsches, then the normally aspirated Aston Martins and Spice Cosworths. Joest, Brun and Richard Lloyd each had a Porsche between 1 min 21.848 sec (Bob Wollek), 1 min 21.880 sec (Oscar Larrauri) and 1 min 21.982 sec (Tiff Needell) so there wasn’t much to choose there, either. David Leslie did spectacularly well in the Aston Martin to qualify tenth at 1 min 22.209 sec, fractionally ahead of the nimble Spices.

Challengers vanquished

The first hour of the 300-mile race yielded one of the finest contests of the season as Mercedes, Jaguar, Nissan, Spice and Porsche all contested the lead. The silver cars may have led more often than not in the first stint but rarely by more than a few metres, and it was far too soon to make any predictions. The spectators could not know how well the teams were coping with the fuel allocation, and this was the bluff which some spun out to the very end.

Baldi led the first ten laps then Lammers had a short-lived spell at the front, passing the Italian for all of 400 metres before being overtaken by Schlesser into Redgate. So closely were the cars grouped that Bailey got the Nissan into third place on the same lap, and it looked more like a Formula Ford race than a serious World Championship event.

Was it a slow race, on account of consumption? Julian Bailey provided the answer to that by establishing a new outright circuit record on lap 36 at 1 min 24.50 sec (106.42 mph), defying Reinhold Joest’s prediction that the race would be run at a running average of 1 min 27 sec or slower. Was Bob Wollek running at the correct speed, then, reeling off laps at 87-88 seconds but occupying tenth place, and falling back? We didn’t know the answer to that until the finish, when he crossed the line slowly in fourth place having covered one lap fewer than the leaders.

Tim Harvey’s works Spice stopped after the pace lap to have an electrical problem checked, rejoining one lap down. Baldi could have done without him, for on lap 31 the Englishman nudged the Mercedes into a half spin at the Melbourne hairpin, and the silver car also blocked Dumfries’ Toyota for half a minute. So far as Baldi was concerned, his driver championship chances were severely dented at that moment.

When the first pit stops were due, a pattern was beginning to emerge. Bailey now led in the Nissan, driving faultlessly, pursued by Schlesser and Lammers. There was a small gap to Larrauri, Baldi, Wallace who was driving to the fuel schedule in the second Jaguar, Dumfries, and the two rumbling Aston Martins. David Sears made a particularly good start from five rows behind David Leslie, getting into his slipstream 22 laps into the race, and the Protech twins made a fine sight as they lapped the 21/2 mile track in convoy. Early in the second hour, the hopes of Britain depended on them. Wayne Taylor ran strongly with the leaders, cheekily trying to pass Schlesser a couple of times, but his Spice didn’t quite manage to lead a World Championship race and may not now, this season; Spa and Mexico won’t suit the 31/2-litre cars. Both Spices had stopped with electrical failures during the morning warm-up, and both retired from the race in the second hour for the same reason. Even now, after 23 seasons, the mysteries of Cosworth V8 engine vibrations, and their effects on ancillaries, haven’t been resolved.

Jaguar’s bid was thwarted in the second hour too. Ferte took over from Wallace but lost two laps because the starter wouldn’t work, and a new battery was installed. Despite the loss of mileage the car ran out of fuel on the last lap, and wasn’t classified. In the better placed Jaguar Patrick Tambay coasted to retirement when the distributor drive broke. Bailey had a six-second lead over Schlesser when he stopped but Blundell enjoyed a 13 second cushion over Mass after the pit stops. This was noted by the stewards who found that the Nissan’s fuel flow meter was running faster than the mandatory 60 litres per minute, so the car was held for an extra 12 seconds at the second stop. In C2, the Velez/Adams car went out sooner than it should have done, and a penalty stop hurt more because the Spice was supposed to stop only once.

Everyone waited for the last 20 laps, to see who was in trouble. Oscar Larrauri, whose Brun Motorsport/Hydro Aluminium Porsche had shadowed the leaders throughout, was the first to topple, and the Argentinian was overtaken by Wollek in the joest Porsche at the climax of the race. Blundell was slowing too, in the Nissan, and while he may have been short of fuel he was handicapped by a slowly deflating leftfoot tyre. Most spectators weren’t aware of that until the tyre disintegrated two laps from the end, inconveniently on the downhill Craner Curves. “I was lucky to get to the finish, even more so to finish third,” Bailey commented with relief.

The finishing order looked as symmetrical as the grid with Mercedes placed first and second, the Nissan third, the Joest Porsche fourth, the Brun Porsche fifth and the Aston Martins sixth and seventh. Johnny Dumfries and John Watson got a single point apiece for getting the Toyota 89C-V to the end, desperately short of fuel though four laps short of the target, and behind their car were Derek Bell and Tiff Needell in the RLR Porsche, disappointed to be so far behind after running strictly to the fuel allocation.

Surprised and delighted to win C2 were Jari Nurminen and Tony Trevor in the works Tiga Cosworth, the team having managed a couple of fourth places so far this season at Jarama and Brands Hatch. Defeats of Spice cars make news, and this was headline stuff in C2, but with third place Chamberlain Engineering proudly won the World Championship for C2 teams. Driver championships, though, would take longer to resolve.  MLC

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