Fine Canon team win
The 1984 World Endurance Championship events are, generally, spaced out a month apart as the teams wished, but with a fine sense of timing F1SA allowed the BRSCC organised, British Aerospace-sponsored Brands Hatch 1,000 Kms race to be held on July 29th, just a week before the Mosport 1,000 Kms. A few teams, notably John Fitzpatrick’s Skoal Porsches, decided to do both but for most it was a choice, and the “home” event in Kent won the day. Although not a round of the Manufacturers’ Championship the race qualified for Drivers’ Championship points so apart from Derek Bell and Jacky lckx (both of whom were racing in America) all the top names were there.
Right from the start of the weekend Richard Lloyd’s Canon/GTI Engineering team showed a clear superiority over its rivals, arriving at the circuit with a small wing mounted above the nose of the 956. It may have been partly psychological, but Jonathan Palmer and Jan Lammers found that the Porsche was perfectly balanced on the hilly circuit where others found their cars understeering. Palmer’s pole position time of 1 min 17.32 sec was within 0.1 sec of his qualifying time for the Grand Prix the week before, though far removed from Piquet’s time.
A full half-second slower was Stefan Bellof, with Harold Grohs in one of Walter Bean’s Porsches, followed by Jochen Mass with Henri Pescarolo in one of Reinhold Joest’s cars. Only then did Bob Wollek claim fourth quickest time in the allegedly 680 bhp Lancia-Martini, complaining bitterly about understeer. The Italian team has, for a long time, given full priority to the rally programme, but perhaps to redress the balance a little has switched rally engineer Ing Gianpaulo Messori to the development of the LC2 machines. His first move was to fit strakes up the front wings to stop air spilling over, and to have wider front wheels fitted. The cars should have been better than before, but they still fail to show their full potential. lng Messori now plans revisions to the suspension, brakes and electronic engine management which could bring the Lancias to a more competitive level in time for the Spa-Francorchamps 1,000 Kms on September 2nd.
The Skoal team had a pair of 956s and its unique 956-engined 962 at Brands Hatch for Thierry Boutsen/David Hobbs and Guy Edwards/Rupert Keegan, with one car kept in reserve to go onto the plane to Canada the next day. The team is now a lot more competitive on Goodyear tyres than hitherto on Japanese Yokohamas and the Skoal cars qualified in fifth and seventh places for the grid,
The 23-car grid was small but select, with a lively battle promised in the C2 class where an interloper, the DFV-powered Grid of the Gil Baird team for Steve Thompson, Tony Lanfranchi and Divina Galica was quickest, ahead of the Giannini-Alba of Carlo Facetti/Martino Finotto and the Gordon Spice team Tiga-DFV of Neil Crang and Ray Bellm, which was badly damaged during practice when a rear brake pad jumped out and pitched Crang into the barrier at Paddock Bend. The mechanics worked all night to prepare the car for the event.
From the start of the race Palmer went into the lead while Wollek dived into second place and held up the pursuit, allowing the Canon car to pull out 5.7 sec in the opening three laps. Mass found his way past but Bellof couldn’t, finding perhaps that a privately-entered Porsche just lacks the edge of a works car in tight situations. For the first half-hour of the race Palmer pulled away to a 15 sec lead while Mass, Wollek, Bellof and Boutsen charged along in a group. It all looked very exciting, but after the initial shuffling there were no changes in the order until Boutsen and Bellof made heavy contact while attempting to lap back-markers,
Boutsen stopped at his pit to have the car checked for damage. There was none, but the engine would not fire up again. and 11 laps were lost while the fault was traced to the ignition box. Bellof was soon in the pits too, not because of damage but because the pumps were not picking up the fuel properly, so the car needed topping up frequently with just 65 litres when it should have been taking nearer 100 litres. Problems with the brakes, which needed bleeding, and with the clutch leading to the master cylinder being changed gave Bellof a taste of what it’s like to be out of the works team for a race!
So confident was the Canon team that Palmer was running lower boost, 1.1 bar, than his rivals and the advantage showed up when the pit stops were due. Most stopped between laps 31 and 34. but Palmer ran 39 before he stopped and the advantage of stopping five times in the race, against six for his immediate opposition helped to flatter the victory.
Mass and Pescarolo kept up the pressure, but never got within 45 sec after the first pit stops, and Boutsen joined Keegan and Edwards in the Skoal 962 to shadow the leaders. The Lancias, unfortunately, had an undistinguished race, the Baldi/Martini car needing a new front wheel bearing after 31 laps and Barilla taking the better-placed car off the road at Clearways, in fact in a carbon copy of his accident in last year’s race. Poor Barilla was downcast about the accident, though apart from a smashed headlamp there was virtually no damage on the car, and a more spirited driver might soon have had it back in the pits.
Steve Thompson, the former F5000 driver, was making mincement of the C2 class, and those who thought he would exceed the fuel allocation were due for a shock when he made his first stop later than his rivals. The Alba was in electrical trouble, having new batteries fitted at regular intervals and needing a gearbox rebuild, while Crang and Bellm were hampered by poor fuel pick up which made the engine misfire. Lanfranchi continued to dominate C2 during his stint, but when it was Divina Galica’s turn to drive the Grid the throttle bar broke in the engine compartment and stranded her at Dingle Dell. Miss Galica gamely pushed the car all the way to the pits, but needed assistance at Clearways and the car was subsequently disqualified from 12th place. So, eventually, the Spice team’s Tiga was an easy winner in the class, though the patron was away racing a Toyota Supra in the Spa-Francorchamps touring car race.
The loss of fifth gear in the final hour did not daunt the Canon team, though they were obviously worried that the gearbox might seize up. Palmer stayed in the car for the final stint (he’d stopped four laps early due to a puncture, and Lammers was not quite ready to take over), and just turned up the boost pressure to 1.2 bar to compensate . . . and then turned in a lap at 1 min 21.4 sec, among the fastest of the afternoon! It was a pity the Rothmans-Porsches weren’t there, for they would have had a tough job trying to beat the Canon Porsche at Brands Hatch.
For the Spa-Francorchamps 1,000 Kms the Canon team will have a new chassis, designed “in-house” by Nigel Stroud. It accepts all the Porsche components and the car will look like any other 956, but the team believes it may find an edge in handling and braking. Early test results have been promising. and it will be fascinating to see if this private team can find an edge over the factory in the third year of the 956’s life. — M.L.C.