The season so far: seven wins to Jaguar, two to BMW, Toyota, Rover and Volvo getting competitive. . .
Ever since the creation of Group A racing, the once-moribund ETC series (formerly Group 2, unattractive to manufacturers) has begun to come to life. Now we are well into the third season, and the racing is getting better all the time. Silverstone may not be as exciting a venue as some, but this month’s TT can be expected to live up to its original intention and provide close racing between cars recognisable as the kind you could buy and use on the road. True, a lot of items, such as wheels, tyres and brakes can be unrelated to the road-going model; but the regulations do ensure strict limitations as to the modifications allowed.
We have all seen what happened to the 1983 British Championship. The European Championship has not been all sweetness and light either. What kind of racing is, nowadays? As teams and officials wrestled with the regs, sufficient diplomacy was retained to bring the 1983 season to a tight and exciting conclusion, with Dieter Quester of Austria (Schnitzer BMW 635 CSi) pipping Scotland’s Tom Walkinshaw (TWR Jaguar XJ-S) only in the final round. With each race at least 500 km (or 3.5 hours) long, the ETC series has much more “meat” to it than national “sprint” championships; and it was therefore in the FIA’s interests to ensure a similar interpretation of the regulations by all contestants. The result has been the appointment of a Technical Delegate to the ETC series, a post visualised by Secretary General Pierre Aumonier last year.
Marcel Servais is from Belgium, a country with no national marques in present-day terms (its industry now being one of assembly rather than creation). As FISA’s Technical Delegate he is on hand to verify specifications with manufacturers and competitors and, if necessary, to point a finger at anyone “over-interpreting” Group A regulations. His job is a pretty lonely one, yet his presence has co-incided with a visible reduction in inter-team tension. Marcel Servais knows the tricks of racing, and the racers know he knows. So they are getting on with their racing, and turning it into a cracking good season.
It began in April with two thoroughly miserable races in Italy — cold at wet. Not simple wet either, but variably wet, keeping the tyre-men on their toes throughout. At Monza, the Jaguar’s performance gave it the edge, putting Tom Walkinshaw and Hans Heyer at the top of the table — positions they have continued to occupy. At Vallelunga a week later, fate decreed a wrong tyre choice for the Jaguar team leader; he was not the only one to suffer but he and Heyer had to work hard to pull up from mid-field to third. It was a BMW day, Alan Cudini and Dany Snobeck in a Juma car (“practicing for the 24-hour race”) defeating reigning champion Dieter Quester, now sharing his Schnitzer 635CSi with Hans-Joachim Stuck on a regular basis. What a simple scrutiny of the results does not reveal is that turbocharged Volvos led both races for a while — Thomas Lindstrom’s at Monza and Ulf Granberg’s at Vallelunga.
At the end of that month came Round Three at Donington, and a victory for Win Percy and Chuck Nicholson in the year’s first dry race, their Jaguar followed home by three BMWs. Fair’s fair, or maybe it’s just the way things turn out, but it was the third XJ-S crew (Martin Brundle/Enzo Calderari) which triumphed at Pergusa in May. Last year, a thick cloud hung over active Etna; this year the cloud took the form of swarms of insects around Pergusa Lake. They were a nuisance to all drivers, despite agreement on the use of deflectors. This didn’t prevent the Motul and Jaguar sponsored TWR cars from taking their first 1-2-3 of the year.
A four-week break preceded a concentrated period with four races in the space of a month. The water-injection Volvo ran at Brno on June 10th; new corrective features of the Jaguars included non-cracking Speedline wheels and non-throwing multi-vee belts. This super Circuit incorporated two bits of the old Masaryk course (though in the opposite direction) and is very fast. In fact it has just about everything — villages, forests, uphill, downhill, open bends, blind bends. On the bumpy straight you could hear the scream of the stiffer-sprung BMWs alter in pitch between the crests; the same remark would apply to the Volvos if they weren’t so quiet. Robert Qvist’s very fast Volvo had a “touch” on the straight, and began to roll. It rolled and it rolled — a good job it is all fields at that point. Another 1-2-3 put the Kidlington team in good heart, and for the first time a Volvo (Ulf Granberg/Eje Elgh) was next.
Less than five hours’ drive away from Czechoslovakia — but light-years away in lifestyle — the teams re-grouped at the Osterreichring to race again a week later. This glorious circuit and location in southern Austria overlooks the Zeltweg airfield where the Grand Prix used to be held. (D.S.J says one should refer to Knittelfeld, not Zeltweg, as the related
miscellany, November 1999
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