The story so far . . .
When the Group 5 circus of so-called “Special Production Cars” comes to Brands Hatch on the 24th and 25th of September for the seventh round of the World Championship for Makes, the once fiercely contested title will have already been long decided in Porsche’s favour. When this summary of the championship to date was written, the Canadian round at Mosport had still to take place, and after the Brands race there remain further rounds at Hockenheim and Vallelunga, yet still Porsche had taken an unconquerable lead in the series after only five of its nine races.
Ever since the championship was converted to an entirely production car based contest at the start of 5976, Porsche’s Turbo Carrera model has been its mainstay in one guise or another. But last year, the Stuttgart firm secured their claim to the World Group 5 crown only after an unexpectedly close, season-long struggle with BMW.
Capitalising on that success, over the winter Porsche laid down ten replicas of the works 935 that had won them the 1976 title, and sold them off to wealthy privateers like the Kremer brothers’ team and German industrialist Georg Loos. Largely thanks to that policy of close cooperation with private customers, Porsche have not merely provided the backbone of this year’s World Championship for Makes, but have completely dominated it, taking full points in every round so far with only token opposition to overcome. As if the ordinary 935, with its 6zo b.h.p. turbocharged flat-six motor, were not enough, the competitions department at Weissach produced an even faster, easier to drive version for the second round of the championship at Mugello the 935/77. Only two of these later models have so far appeared, both running as full factory cars in the white, red and blue livery of Martini Racing. They feature more aerodynamic bodywork than had the older cars, lighter steering, servo assisted brakes and, most significantly of all, a 2.85-litre flat-six power unit that by utilising not one but two turbocharger units has eradicated almost entirely the throttle lag problem. Apart from that, it also produces 30 b.h.p. more than
Porsche as a marque has completley dominated tint-sponsored works team has not fared so well Silverstone, however.
the single turbo engine at a peak of 7900 r.p.m.
Against this formidable assault, only BMW have put up any sort of factory supported opposition, and that has been sporadic. At the end of 1976, BMW seemed to have come up with something that would one day give the Porsches a trouncing in the shape of their fabulous, Soo b.h.p. CSI. Turbo. But the transmission badly needed the introduction of a more robust transmission system, were it to survive the rigours of six hours endurance races.
With the CSL model’s departure from the BMW range, the management in Munich saw little point in continuing the costly development of what had become an obsolete car. So the Bavarian manufacturer’s European representation in Group 5 this year has amounted to a couple of appearances for its 290 b.h.p. 3201s. With only 2-litre engines to power them, these cars are obviously no match for the 620 and 650 b.h.p., 2.9-litre Porsche 935$, even with their beautifully balanced handling. In America, at Watkins Glen, BMW ran the 320 Turbo which the McLaren team has been preparing all season for David Hobbs’ efforts in the trans-Atlantic IMSA series. Otherwise though, BMW’s efforts in the World Championship have been out— powered and, quite literally, out-classed.
Otherwise, the only manufacturers to score points have been Lancia and Ford, both of whom have “earned” them thanks entirely to the efforts of pure privateers and slow drivers working on low budgets at that! Indeed, Ford’s overwhelming total of two points came from an old, Mkt shelled Escort! Although Porsche as a marque has dominated the World Championship for Makes, the Martini
sponsored works team has not fared so well. In fact the works team received a particularly inauspicious start to their season when the championship opened in February at Daytona in Florida. Having got the better of an initial dice with a three-year-old prototype Porsche Turbo shared by Danny Ongais and George Follmer, the works Porsche of Jochen Mass and Jacky Wm led for over three hours before a blown tyre slammed the car into the retaining wall above the fast, steep banking. Their car repaired, Ickx and Mass regained the lead during the night, but after 16 of the race’s 24 hours another blow out forced the German driver into the wall for a second time. The car was wrecked.
That accident left the Kremer Porsche of Reinhold Joest, Bob Wollek and Albrecht Krebs in the lead, but dire clutch troubles and finally a broken hub delayed their car in the closing hours. The upshot was that Porsche’s championship points were scored by the Italian, Jolly Club entered 935 of Martino Finotto, Carlo Facetti and Romeo Camathias, even though they finished two laps behind an ordinary 3-litre Porsche Carrera that was not eligible for points according to FIA rules.
The second round of the series, at Mugello in Italy, saw a further calamity for the Martini Porsche team. Its brand new 935/77 appeared for the first time, with Jurgen Barth deputising for an unwell Jacky Ickx as Mass’s co-driver. For an hour Mass held a comfortable lead over the rival Kremer Porsche, driven first by Bob Wollek and then by John Fitzpatrick. But Mass, too, was far from well, losing the lead to Wollek soon after being sick into his helmet, though the latter’s first refuelling stop a few minutes later handed the lead back to Mass. A puncture on the works Martini Porsche returned the advantage to Fitzpatrick but a shower of rain at the two hour mark let Barth take the brand new 935/77 to the head of the order once more. Ten minutes later an alternator belt broke always a weak point on the works Porsche 935 for some reason, and Barth had to stop again. At exactly the moment he rejoined, Fitzpatrick howled past the pits and into the lead with the Kremer car. Barth chased him down the long straight to the first, horseshoe shaped corner, and then, still travelling at over to m.p.h., hammered hard into the back of Fitzpatrick’s car. The two fastest machines in the race were destroyed as they both careered through the catch fences. Had the brakes failed, or had Barth, in his haste to leave the pit lane before losing the lead, forgotten to pump the brake pedal before the first corner? New pads had been fitted
during the unscheduled stop and pedal pumping is a necessary standard procedure before their first application on the 935. No-one will ever be sure; Barth maintains the brakes failed, but many people still suspect he was the one at fault.
The collision, the most spectacular seen in the championship all year, left the Mugello race a dull procession for its remaining 31 hours, with the second and older Martini Porsche 935 of Rolf Stommelen and Manfred Schurti emerging an unchallenged victor from the private 935 of Finotto and Facetti.
The third round of the series, at Silverstone in May, produced an exciting six hour duel between the lone factory Porsche of Mass and Ickx and the Kremer car of Fitzpatrick and Wollek. After a stirring chase in which first one and then the other led, Mass and Ickx finally defeated their rivals by little more than a lap. After doing its share of leading in the hectic early laps, the Georg Loos owned Porsche 935 driven by Rolf Stommelen and Toine Hezemans had to settle for third place after being delayed by an errant hare, while the drives of the race came from Ronnie Peterson and his partner Helmuth Kelleners in the Faltz Alpina prepared BMW 3201 that finished fourth, the only non-Porsche interloper in the first 14 places.
The next round, the historic ADAC 1000 Km% at the incomparable Nurburgring, produced even greater drama. From the start Ickx led in the works 935/77, but before the end of the opening lap Stommelen had taken over the pace-making in his scarlet Gelo Racing Porsche. On the fourth lap, however, Stommelen’s car retired with a broken differential, giving the lead back to Ickx, the bespectacled German taking over his team’s sister car started by Tim Schenken.
When the leading Porsche refuelled for the first time, however, an alternator belt had to be replaced, and before long it developed a misfire that forced it into retirement. The factory car’s troubles left Manfred Schurti leading in a Max Moritz Team Porsche 935. Hardly had Schurti’s team-mate Helmuth Kelleners taken over that car, however, than a tyre deflated and caused such havoc to the rear bodywork that the car fell right out of contention. Kelleners’ misfortune heralded the onset of a tremendous battle for the lead between the Kremer Porsche of Fitzpatrick and Wollek (who had been delayed by another costly puncture), the Stommelen/Hezemans/ Schenken Gelo 935, and yet another Porsche Turbo shared by Leo Kinunnen, Albrecht Krebs and Jurgen Neuhaus. Even though the Kinnunen/Krebs/Neuhaus car went out at half distance when a jamming throttle resulted in its engine being over-revved in the pit-lane (!), the fight continued between the remaining two adversaries. It was the best
long distance race of the year as for well over an hour the vivid green Kremer Porsche and the bright red Gelo Porsche ran nose to tail. Just when it looked as though Fitzpatrick and Wollek had the race in their pockets, the unlucky Kremer crew suffered a partially broken throttle linkage, and thus victory passed to the Georg Loos Porsche of Hezemans, Schenken and Stommelen. Manfred Winkelhock and Marc Surer gave BMW their best placing of the series in their third positioned 320i.
The fifth round of the World Championship, at Watkins Glen, started by looking like a virtual walk-over for the Martini Porsche of Mass and Ickx, especially once Ronnie Peterson’s BMW Turbo had crashed on lap I 7 after a bleed valve had fallen OM of its braking system. However, the axle of a rocker arm in the Porsche’s rear suspension worked loose, and the ensuing ten minute delay dropped it to fourth place, so that Ickx and Mass had to drive very hard indeed to recapture the lead 70 minutes before the chequered flag came out. With the BMW challenge broken and the Faltz Alpina 320i never shone at all the runner up positions were left to the privately run, American owned Porsche Turbos of George Follmer/Brett Lunger and Hurley Haywood/Bob Hagestad. Not that they enjoyed trouble-free runs either Lunger had a wheel drop off just as he entered the pit lane at one stage, whilst
Haywood lost a rear tyre and slithered off the road on the very last lap after nursing a weakening stub axle throughout the last half hour.
If the World Championship for Makes has been a disappointment, though, the World Championship for (so called) Sports Cars has been a disaster. Alfa Romeo has been the only full factory team to take part, and running two, or sometimes three, of its flat-12 3-litre 33SC12s it has won every one of the six races so far held against minimal opposition. With only one round still to come, at Salzburgring, Alfa Romeo can already celebrate a somewhat hollow victory in this season’s Group Six Championship.
Built around engines basically the same power as the Brabham Formula One cars, the latest Alfas look almost identical to the cars that won the sports car championship two years ago, although they now have monocoque rather than spaceframe chassis. Arturo Merzario, Vittorio Brambilla and Jean-Pierre Jarier have been the team’s main drivers, with John Watson, Giorgio Francia and Spartaco Dini helping out on occasion.
Only at Monza has there been a really good field, and only at Dijon, Monza and Paul Ricard anything resembling a motor race and of those, the latter event was brought to life only because Brambilla took his team-mate Merzario off the road on the first lap! A series noted for some pretty low ebbs in recent years reached its lowest ever at Estoril when only eight cars started and a mere six finished.
In the two French races and at Monza, a Cosworth DFV powered To’, built and raced by Jorg Obermoser, provided a surprisingly stern challenge to the Alfas, especially when Rolf Stommelen was at the wheel. But at Dijon its gearbox broke, at Monza a fuel pump failed, and at Paul Ricard it finished second after being delayed by a puncture.
The only other car to get even a sniff at the Alfa Romeos all year has been the older, 2.1-litre turbocharged Porsche 908/36 run by Reinhold Joest for himself and Brett Lunger. At Dijon It led briefly but then suffered transmission troubles, while at Monza it was second when its engine failed a few laps from home. With no other 3-litre cars proving at all competitive, it has been left to the 2-litre cars from Osella, Chevron, Lola and Sauber to pick up a string of good second and third places, with the result that the Italian marque is now second in the championship from Chevron and Lola. –J.C.T.