MOTOR SPORT attends the annual Spa Francorchamps 24 hour saloon car race to catch up on Jaguar results in this year’s European Touring Can Championship. Results already include defeating the cream of German opposition at The Nürburgring and another win in Czechoslovakia . . .
OUR May issue contained a three page look at the construction and debut of the Tom Walkinshaw Racing (TWR) Jaguar XJS in the European Championship, a series Jaguar won in 1963 with German Peter Nӧcker and last contested in 1977, when Broadspeed Engineering ran two ill-starred XJC coupés through a season of mechanical carnage that brought only a second place at the Nürburgring in the way of encouraging results. Given the 1977 programme it was wise to be cautious about the chances of even such a fleet V12 as the XJS in a series dominated by hordes of BMWs (usually initially purchased from Munich in a kit trim that supplies body, chassis and suspension but leaves engine and assembly to the privateer concerned). Yet the lone Jaguar’s racing results in the eight events held prior to Spa’s 24 hour Championship qualifier justified a look at the Group A-prepared debut of the second Jaguar in Belgium.
So far the record for Tom Walkinshaw and Charles “Chuck” Nicholson encompasses wins at the Brno Czechoslovakian street circuit in June and an historic defeat for the home teams at Nürburgring on July 4th. On the latter occasion BMW even put Hans Joachim Stuck and Dieter Quester in one of their BMWs while Ford turned up with some seriously-prepared Capris for their stars like Klaus Ludwig and Ari Vatanen. Even a puncture and consequent hairy return to the pits could not deprive Jaguar and TWR of their epic win in Der Grosser Preis von Tourenwagen, as the Germans label the tough six hours race.
Aside from the two wins the black Motul and Akai-supported XJ returned third overall from the second Championship round (Vallelunga: April 4); there was also a second overall, after a very convincing net weather performance, to be recorded from June 27th’s Austrian Championship race, held at Öesterreichring.
At the majority of events the Jaguar qualified quickest and led the event, even if it didn’t come home with the top three results we have recounted. Thus the preparation of a second car for the Spa Francorchamps annual, with its 3½ hours of promised TV coverage (including one in-car system for the Jaguar team) was based on solid achievements.
Mechanically speaking the cars have been considerably refined over the original example. Belgian co-driver and journalist Pierre Dieudonne — who won the Spa 24 hour race last year with Walkinshaw in a Mazda RX-7 — related how the car had improved in feel throughout the year, particularly in suspension and engine response; “the brakes have always been magnificent,” Pierre commented of the thoroughly re-engineered system, adding that steering was towards the heavy, for the power steering pump and belt are there to meet the regulations rather than assist the driver.
Preparation within the Group A regulations that will also come in force for next year’s British saloon car Championship (which has a 3.6-litre overall limit) essentially provides a car that looks like a production model. Extensively altered or newly fabricated suspension and braking (the BMWs have some M1 technology for their braking system) may be hidden beneath the skin, although engine modifications are essentially restricted by the demand for production inlet and exhaust components.
Since we talked to Tom Walkinshaw at the beginning of the season, the biggest fundamental change in XJS specification had come in the adoption for his car of a Getrag five-speed gearbox. “It doesn’t give us much advantage hem at Spa,” commented Tom, “because the engine’s got so much torque it can cope with the four-speed, but it’s something that we planned to use all along. Now we’ve three such boxes we can race I understand the five-speed unit is actually lighter than the original four-speed: for this race Walkinshaw’s own machine weighed just over the class limit of 1,400 kg.
Other detail alterations to the specifications include roll bars that are faster to change; the adoption of a thicker core water radiator of reduced overall width — which allows accommodation of the oil cooler alongside and improved engine accessibility. The water system is now pressurised and can be completely refilled and freed of any air locks at a pit stop with an air pressure line system. Tom explained, “this system was meant to be with us for the Donington round, but it didn’t appear and we went out with a holed radiator: now we could change it in a matter of minutes and be on our way, with the water system all topped up around it.”
Typical of the car’s cavernous depths full of hidden mechanical tricks are the neat panels on the rear side pillars. Open the flaps and you find two more connections for snap fit delivery of precious fluids, in this case oil for the gearbox and back axle, which can also be topped up via pressure hoses during fuel and tyre stops. Just rearward of them is the exposed connector for the air jack system that all top touring car competitors have used since 1977. Nonetheless, the Belgian organisers had to go into a full FISA Formula 1-type regulations row before clarification could be obtained from Paris after four days of wrangling at Spa. Typically the row had started at the beginning of the year and was left to a race organiser to try and resolve on the spot rather than those who ostensibly control our sport from France.
Nicholson and Walkinshaw remained in the original five speed-equipped XJS while Dieudonne, plus Rover 3500 drivers Peter Lovett and Jeff Allam, shared the newly constructed second example. Allam and Win Percy, British Championship winner elect for Toyota in 1982, shared a few laps in a TWR 3-litre Capri that the team had also rescued from a shed, the Ford entered purely to try and get some extra space in the embarrassingly cramped downhill pits at Francorchamps. Percy did drive the Walkinshaw XJS briefly in practice and was expected to take a night stint during the race, the Capri destined for the non-starter list.
A change in personnel at the Royal Automobile Club de Belgique at Liege forced the architect of Spa’s long distance event (M. H. de Harlez) to retire from the organisation this year and resulted in expensive changes to the format. Instead of the Spa town scrutineering session at which some of the racers would arrive on the road with their competition machines, by special dispensation, there was a far larger bunfight at Liege. The public could not gain access to this venue, so this Tuesday show went largely ignored.
Wednesday and Thursday had afternoon and evening practice sessions totalling 12 hours for the two days. No wonder some of the BMW teams did one-third race distance before the 4 o’clock Saturday afternoon start; Friday was a day off in this long winded week. Every single aspect of the event was changed this year, right down to a stupid paddock ticket system, where one actually handed in one’s pass at the end of the day and collected it again in the morning. This led to the kind of in-paddock bad temper and queueing at the midnight close of practice that can be best imagined amongst teams attempting to qualify amongst 55 vacant grid positions.
Our Jaguar weekend began with the red Rover 3500 of BL Cars Competitions Director, John Davenport, swooping down to Dover. Several hundred miles at the 100+ steering wheel convinced us that Police specification vented front discs and a spoiler kit that included a rear appendage (plus some cleverly incorporated spats ahead of the rear wheels) made an excellent recipe for the enthusiastic pre-1982 V8 owner. Emphasising the BL aspect of the racing weekend, I also borrowed the team’s tiny Metro 1.3S for a Friday that included an even more unsuccessful sortie than usual on the karts at the nearbye Coo track. This year the youngsters employed by Motoring News were able to humiliate MOTOR SPORT’s representative, who was issued with a kart in which 63 degrees of front wheel negative camber ensured front wheel contact with tarmac was intermittent and accompanied by double Vision. Finally both the comparative children employed by MN flew off into the undergrowth, or the startled crowd, leaving your reporter to wheeze home unharmed.
Wednesday and Thursday proved useful team observation days. One forgets the basic size of an operation behind running two cars for 24 hours. In the TWR camp there was a sensible Sherpa van that had transported many of the mechanics overland alongside their colleages from DART, the Dunlop racing tyre retail organisation also owned by Walkinshaw. Besides the two main spares and transporter trucks, TWR also had a motorhome to accommodate the 35 personnel at various times, a Land Rover, Chevrolet pick up, the Metro, and Tom’s svelte Pirelli and BBS wheel-shod XJ saloon. Included in the staffing were four Silverstone regular timekeepers (they had two more last year) feeding top 20 information to a TV display unit and TWR record and logistics keeper Hugo Tippett. In the back of the newer Jaguar were 35kg of Belgian TV camera equipment and we had the benefit of a separate TV hitched into the Belgian broadcasting system in one of two crowded pits. Which accommodation was turned virtually into self-contained garages with the installation of refuelling equipment, trailing high pressure Items and a four plug injection box taking electricity out for the lights the team had rigged outside our pit, amongst myriad other tasks.
TWR approached practice in an orderly fashion compared to their rivals, running only 53 laps in the pole position Walkinshaw car and 81 in the seventh-quickest Lovett machine. Consider that there were three drivers per car, and that all drivers must qualify, day and night separately, and you have an idea of that achievement. Particularly when they were immediately able to respond to the fourth dusk practice of Hans Heyer (in Eddy Joosen’s Juma-prepared BMW 528i) who managed a time of 2 mm. 54.71 sec. This was too close to Tom’s race tyre time of 2 min. 54.28 sec. that had stood as fastest since the first Wednesday session, so Walkinshaw went out equipped with racing rubber softer than they would use in the event (but not qualifying specials) and sent the pit-side TV screen quivering with 2 min. 52.91 sec. (145.241 k.p.h.: 90.196 m.p.h.) to which the BMW squad had no reply. There were actually five 528i four doors between the Jaguars with times within a second of each other, including a third fastest Jean-Pierre Jarier. The Osella Formula 1 driver worked exceptionally hard throughout the weekend, and made a fascinating study in smooth cockpit skills via the onboard TV, particularly in the rain where you could almost count a couple of seconds opposite lock motoring in the really wet conditions that opened the race. The seventh placed Jaguar shared Walkinshaw’s qualifying rubber immediately after Walkinshaw’s run, but Peter Lovett did not reduce his 2 mm. 55.93 sec. Dunlop racing rubber time.
There had been a number of propshaft changes on the TWR Jaguars during practice, a recurrent vibration leading to obvious suspicion of that particular batch. The newer car completed part of its practice with the tachometer of the original car as its own example was only indicating half the truth. In the race planned r.p.m. would be 6,500 and anticipated m.p.g. over six to the gallon, whereas practice running for the best times had returned 5.7 m.p.g. All four tyres would-have to be changed at each stop, assuming hard running in dry conditions.
For the Jaguar spectator the most spectacle came on Thursday afternoon. The hot sun was not being matched by lap times, yet that everyone was trying could be seen when standing on the fast double apex left (London-Dublin) that follows the main downhill straight of the “new” Spa track. The four wheel ventilated disc brake systems of both BMWs and Jaguars hauled the cars down from 130 m.p.h. effortlessly, but the top BMW men were actually going for another gear beyond the 100 metre braking board while the Jaguars needed extra braking distance before settling into a steady but very strong understeer the whole way round the corner. Naturally the Jariers, Joosens and Questers in the BMWs would largely be coping with some happy tail-out motoring at the heart of this 100 m.p.h. left, but the drift angles were restrained compared with previous BMW antics. Look at the 528s with their rear wheels off and you can see they have done just as much box section suspension fabrication as TWR, only the trailing arm principle remaining in amongst the fresh parts, new coil springs and Bilstein gas damping. It was at this hillside viewing point that a sharp intake of breath followed the arrival of Messrs. Lovett, Lucien Guitteny (Juma 528i) and Walkinshaw. The BMW was sandwiched between the Jaguars when we saw them fleeing down toward the left. A pall of dust confirmed the abrupt departure of Messrs. Guitteny and Lovett from the straight and narrow, the BMW man deciding that a mid-corner passing move could work. Neither machine was more than dinged, but the onlooking Mr. Walkinshaw could not believe what was going on ahead of his Jaguar’s long snout!
Since the Jaguar has already shown it can take six hours racing around Nürburgring with engines that are deliberately left in a very mild state of tune (350 b.h.p. was the lowest estimate I heard, 360 to 370 the most common: almost 200 b.h.p. less than Ralph Broad had extracted) there were few worries mechanically. As ever it was the imponderables of Ardennes weather and a field containing nine BMW 528s in the top 20 that were bigger worries. Also amongst that elite along with The two Jaguars was only one Capri (the 1978 / 9 / 80 winning choice had no British representation this year because of differing regulations); one Chevrolet Camaro; one beautiful three speed automatic Mercedes 450SL, with Britain’s John Cooper on Claude Bourgoignie’s co-driving strength of this 310 b.h.p. machine, which had Stuttgart’s Bandama rally knowledge heartily incorporated, for the engine and transmission particularly. Also amongst the opposition were four of the sturdy and well balanced Alfa Rom. GTV6s, showing well on 2½-litres that sounded every centimetre of the production unit’s racing ancestry, plus two of the under-rated Opel Monza 3.0E coupés that can now match some of the BMW contingent for pace as well as durability. While David Ham (Lister Jaguar) appropriately won an eight lap supporting race for Histories, opening a 3.1 sec advantage over a similarly mounted Dutchman and setting a quickest lap of 3 min. 10.4 sec. (about 17 sec . a lap slower than the 80s XJ managed when running for pole position) the racing Xis were carefully warmed up beneath their paddock awnings. The V12s punished onlookers’ eardrums as over 10½-litres warmed fully to noisy health in the area formed by trucks and motor home. The pristine black coupes, looking rather like Churchillian cigars out on the track versus the angular BMWs, slid out from paddock to pits, driven by their young chief mechanics. Meanwhile Claude Bourgoignie was busy winning the race for artic tow trucks with a 360 CV Renault Turbo at an average of 86.678 k.p.h. 153.827 m.p.h., with a fastest lap short of a 60 m.p.h. average (4 min. 28.4 sec.).
Some 35 minutes before 1982’s edition of 24 h/u Francorchamps was scheduled to begin, the rain came down. Even beneath the now rather more weatherproof start and finish grandstand roofing, its force was such that one could sympathise with the provision of two warming up laps, some typically Belgian manoeuvring from Teddy Pilette (driving out of the assembled pack, up for a chat with organisers while some of the machinery behind boiled) and the unique motor sporting spectacle of Messrs. Walkinshaw and Joosen paddling up to their front row places with doors open and discussion continuing as to why the race start should be delayed! At least everyone knew by that time that they had to fit wet tyres, but what TWR didn’t know was the astoundingly bad news that this would prove to their racing competitiveness.
Over now to my dog-eared and largely water-sodden notebook arid race diary. Some 17 min. 9 sec. after schedule the race got away to its new format rolling start. Walkinshaw made the initial break away from Joosen and Jarier in the BMWs. Up the hill to the new section the black cigar was pursued by over 50 competitors, whose principal impressions were of car manufactured mist, within which lurked other maniacs.
As the pack streamed down the newer track surface of the 1979 shortened circuit, Walkinshaw and Dieudonne — the latter lost in the swirling body of the pack — already knew that Mr. Dunlop’s crossply covers would not be a match for either Pirelli or Michelin radials. T.W. could discount Michelin as an alternative because the French concern did not make anything suitable for a 16 inch diameter Jaguar wheel, but within the opening hour the Scottish tones emanating from the radio indicated in sample terms that a source of Pirellis should be found and mounted as soon as possible!
The Jaguars made an awesome sight as they slithered from one steering lock to another, helplessly trying to transmit some sort of directional control, traction or retardation commands. Even former Le Mans winner and international journalist Paul Frere was moved to comment to Davenport how he had stood for two hours in the rain, riveted by the evidence of how badly the XJs slid about in the wet. . . . Meanwhile the lap chart told a simple tale. In the first lap Walkinshaw was sixth and Dieudonne 11th, Guittenv hanging on to his hard won BMW lead over Joosen and Jarrier.
On the second lap Walkinshaw was seventh, Dieudonne falling further in arrears: after nine laps and nearly half an hour of racing Guitteny continued to lead from three more BMWs with Walkinshaw 21st and Dieudonne 27th! The best lap time was over 18 sec off the Jaguar practice pace, but the Jaguars themselves were anything up to a minute over their best times when conditions were at their most diabolical. A trip over to the pits confirmed that Walkinshaw had come in just beyond the hour mark for a fresh set of Dunlops, but his times went over the 4 min. 10 sec barrier and confirmed it was just a question of waiting until the Pirellis could be mounted and balanced.
After two hours racing Dieudonne and Lovett had got back to 19th overall, the Walkinshaw car ten more positions behind delayed by extra pits stops but the Pirellis were to hand shortly before seven. A frantic pit stop with at least six people involved around the Jaguar drew official attention, but the object was achieved. Walkinshaw’s last Dunlop lap had been 3 min. 48 sec.; Chuck Nicholson’s first flying lap after the stop was 3 min. 26 sec. Meanwhile Lovett soldiered on gallantly for the best part of an hour (to 19.55) at 3 min. 33 sec. laps before the second set of Pirellis were fitted and Allam allowed into the car. Yet that was a disastrous stop: a rear and a front wheel got transposed and had to be refitted (there hadn’t been time to mark up corners for wheels and tyres) and the engine kept vaporising its mixture while at rest, demanding watering-can treatment before firing after 10 min. 30 sec. of agony.
Nicholson re-entered the pits at 20.15 complaining of transmission trouble and it was established that five centre lock pegs had sheared on the rear hub assembly, the result of an earlier hurried change rather than an inherent fault. This time remedial action was ragged, including the wrong brake disc being fetched from the truck, but 10 min. 50 sec. of frantic action saw the boys ready for that disc: it was all bolted up and ready to go after 15 min. 9 sec.
After five hours racing (21.17) Dieudonne’s machine was being consistently lapped in 24th overall and Walkinshaw was 32nd! Now the track was drying though and Allam was able to pull in for dries just after ten that evening (20.06), a process then completed at 21.45 by the lower placed XJ. Now the cars were fully competitive again, running times little over 3 min. 2 sec. in the case of Walkinshaw and set to recover further from their positions just in and out of the top 20.
Midnight: nearly eight hours racing completed and the TWR pits are ready to receive Dieudonne, due for 24 odd gallons of four star Motul. Tippett fills in the pit log with the anticipated arrival time of 00.05. A minute or so after that anticipated pit call the radio headphones relay Dieudonne’s tired voice. The operator symbolically cuts his throat for the crew to see, a passing wit adds the word trouble to log notation IN. By quarter past midnight the artificial light is giving a ghost-like quality to the normally pale complexion of Dieudonne who says with simple honesty, “it was the silliest mistake I ever made. Just slowing down before the chicane and I go off on the last right. I had just slackened off my belts and cut the radio ready to come in, must have lust lost concentration. The car? Oh she is bad, the front part only, but I do not think it would be possible to move it at all.” So Jaguar number five is out, but subsequent inspection shows damage is not as bad as at first feared and there is little reason to suppose that it cannot be readied for the teams next appearance (Tourist Trophy, Silverstone, September 12th). Worse is to come. . . .
Dieudonne had been 16th while Nicholson in the five speeder was eight places back. Typically Ardennes night fog on the higher ground had swept in during the minutes that had elapsed since Dieudonne’s slip. As Nicholson peered through the mist at the top of the hill, the vivid spectacle of the Pascal Witmeur-driven pink Opel Monza loomed through the night. “Chuck” went for the inside and came into heavy collision with the Opel, which was not leaving a gap as hoped, but going for a misty racing line.
By 00.29 the stricken XJS had limped back to the pit. Some 33 min. 57 sec. later they had bodged up the bent bodywork around the nearside front wheel but could do nothing about the kinked sub-frame and chassis rail that was giving the Jaguar’s BBS racing wheel the kind of camber angles that we had enjoyed on that local kart track. The effect must have been much the same too. Tom Walkinshaw did one cursory lap and the Jaguar two car assault on the 1982 Spa-Francorchamps race was over.
BMW 528s occupied eight of the top ten places, including the car of Hans Heyer / Armin Hahne / Eddy Joosen which led for the last 20 hours, covering 1,950.58 miles at an average of over 81 m.p.h. It thus beat Jean-Pierre Jarier and French actor Jean Louis Trintignant by just over 14 miles after 24 hours racing from BMWs backed by the cigarette companies.
Even with this kind of crushing victory and a third straight European Championship title win for BMW-mounted Helmut Kelleners — who has shared the winning 528i on five occasions this season — BMW Motorsport in Munich are bitterly unhappy about the Jaguar XJ’s homologation into Group A. BMW are totally opposed to even homologating their own 635 coupe or speeding development of the official 535i, so it looks as though the Jaguar will be able to romp amongst the cream of European saloons without official opposition.
Before Jaguar men cheer too loudly over that prospect let’s just remember that the best-placed Briton (John Cooper) at Spa drove a Mercedes 4505L to ninth overall . . . automatically!