World Sportscar Championship: Jerez 360 kms

Jaguar fiasco at Jerez

Derek Warwick and Paul Frère have one thing in common: thirty years ago the talented Belgian dashed Jaguar’s hopes at Le Mans by spinning his works D-type at the Esses and involving team-mate Jack Fairman, though on that occasion Ecurie Ecosse saved the day for the Coventry marque. At Jerez on August 3 Warwick made a dubious piece of history by having all three Silk Cut Jaguars spinning off at the first corner, opening the way for a deserved 1-2 victory by Walter Brun’s Swiss Porsche team. This time there was no Ecurie Ecosse in the background, though Warwick himself was able to keep his Drivers’ Championship hopes alive by finishing third and moving 12 points closer to Derek Bell and Hans Stuck, absent through lack of sponsorship for a private entry.

The Spanish round, confirmed late in the day, attracted a poor entry and the organisers were saved by handsome sponsorship from the Gallahers cigarette company, for a meagre 4,500 spectators bought tickets at the subsidised price of 500 pesetas, £2.50.  The superb motor racing facility in the rolling, sun-baked Andalusian countryside deserves better, but one fears for its viability.

A small matter of settlement of heavy ‘fines’ following the inaugural Grand Prix in April had to be arranged before FISA would grant the permit, and the sixth round of the drivers’ championship attracted only nine C1 cars and eight C2 entries: no Rothmans-Porsches, no Lancias, no Lloyd, no Joest, no Kremer. The race would be contested by the Silk Cut Jaguar team, and by two-car entries from Walter Brun and John Fitzpatrick, with backing from the Obermaier Porsche team which included Dudley Wood, and by the Cosmik Racing March-Porsche 84G handled by Costas Los and Tiff Needell.

Even if the Jaguars had enjoyed a clear run, it would have been difficult to beat the Brun Porsches which finished just 36 seconds apart, Oscar Larrauri/Jesus Pareja leading Walter Brun/Frank Jelinski. Larrauri made the fastest lap, despite Cheever’s charge up the field while Warwick, with Jan Lammers, could do nothing to retrieve the two laps spent lodged in the gravel trap at the first corner. Neither Cheever nor Brancatelli reached half distance, both XJR6s going out with identical driveshaft breakages.

Tom Walkinshaw’s team had prepared three cars as usual and all three would race, last year’s stars Jan Lammers and Martin Brundle being brought back to partner Warwick and Cheever respectively, with Jean-Louis Schlesser partnering Gianfranco Brancatelli in the third. Tom Walkinshaw himself was engaged at Spa with the Rover team, and manager Roger Silman looked confident after seeing Cheever, Schlesser and Warwick post the best times in the preliminary session on Friday afternoon. Afternoon temperatures were hitting 40 degrees C, and the cars were prepared with an extra oil cooler apiece, water cooled brakes in case they were needed, and the drivers wore glycol cooled suits.

As at Brands Hatch, though, Warwick was not happy with his car, complaining about poor balance. Overnight he claimed Schlesser’s car, much to the annoyance of the Parisian jeweller who smartly turned the tables on Saturday morning.

Without changing anything, Schlesser had qualifying Dunlops fitted and whirled round in 1min 33.80 sec, a time which even Cheever conceded as pole position. The American was next at 1 min 34.31 sec while Warwick was struggling with a best time of 1 min 34.81 sec, admitting tiredness, and confusion too, after racing on nine consecutive Sundays.

The Brun team, running wider Michelins at the front and happier than usual, produced Jelinski’s 956 from the garage eight minutes from the end of the morning session and the German snatched pole position from the wrong-footed Jaguars, at 1 min 33.48 sec. Jelinski has been regarded as one of the quickest drivers in the C2 division, and his promotion to C1 was proving a great success, while Larrauri completed the Jaguar sandwich by making the fifth best time of 1 min 34.97 sec.

Tiff Needell was making Costes Los’ March-Porsche 84G go quicker than ever before, taking seventh place on the grid at 1 min 38.15 sec on race compound tyres: as many others have discovered, having a fast and reliable man in the team, looking after the setting-up, can improve morale no end, and Los himself was improving his times steadily so that the March, 70 kg overweight, looked fully competitive with the privately entered Porsche 956s.

In C2 none can match the professionalism of the Spice Engineering team, which regularly causes confusion in foreign parts by calling its car a Pontiac Fiero. It bears about as much resemblance to the GM sports car as a Williams-Honda does to a Honda Prelude, but GM paid for the car’s development in order to enter the IMSA Camel Light series, and that’s the name that Spice agreed to. Power, as usual, is provided by the ubiquitous Cosworth 3.3 litre DFL engine, with Lucas engine management, and as usual Gordon Spice and Ray Bellm dominated practice and the C2 race, despite a short somewhere in the management system’s separate electrical system which could only be dealt with by changing the battery every hour.

Le Mans class winners Ian Harrower and Evan Clements were well up with the ADA Engineering Gebhardt Cosworth, completely rebuilt in the space of a week after being crashed at Brands Hatch, and Roy Baker’s Tiga-Ford BDT team had three entries which were afflicted by mechanical problems.

As a 360 kilometre ‘sprint’ race Jerez was good value, though it would have been a bore if run to the minimum 1,000 kilometre distance that was mandatory until this year. What happened in the first few seconds of the race will go down in history’s black book, and the accident involving the three Silk Cut Jaguars can only be blamed on Warwick, who accepted the blame with apologies (“the worst mistake of my career”, he called it).

Only now a year old, Tom Walkinshaw’s team is suffering growing pains. Warwick and Cheever both have Formula 1 backgrounds and the Englishman, in particular, feels the need to prove himself every moment he is in the car. Whereas veterans like Bell, Stuck and Ludwig will wait and watch, driving fast but studiously avoiding collisions, Walkinshaw’s lead drivers attack every half-chance with verve, and sometimes pay the price.  We saw, at Brands Hatch, Warwick deal with Cheever most rudely at Paddock Bend on the opening lap, and at Jerez he made an ill-conceived manoeuvre right at the start.

Brun, on pole position, should control the speed to the starting lights once the pace car has pulled off, and the Swiss correctly held an even throttle in third gear. Warwick drove round him, Cheever accelerated too, and the three Jaguars had already boxed out the pole man even before the lights had flashed to green. An American starter, of course, would have maintained the red light and made them do another lap but the Spanish starter gave the start signal and treated the crowd to the sight of three Jaguars going up the incline, towards the right-hander, virtually side by side with Brun in their wake.

Even then, of course, the accident should never have happened, but Warwick made an error of classic proportions, turning into the flank of Brancatelli’s car and claiming he hadn’t seen it! Warwick’s car veered into the gravel trap on the outside, where it remained for nearly three laps before emerging undamaged; Brancatelli’s was knocked straight by Cheever and actually came by in second place, behind Larrauri on the opening lap, but stopped on the second to have damaged bodywork pulled from the wheel. Cheever’s went over the harsh kerbing and across the infield, needing a new nose at the end of the first lap and going a lap down.

Probably the retirements of Brancatelli and Cheever, both with snapped driveshafts before half distance, had nothing at all to do with the first lap fracas, though both drivers handled their cars with anger. Perhaps, too, Warwick and Lammers wouldn’t have beaten the two Brun Porsches which dominated the race, for they made no ground and Larrauri set the fastest lap, and in that case the Silk Cut team may have achieved all it ever would from the outing, but we’ll never know for sure.

A lot of people will be disappointed, some angry, at what happened, but the Jaguar team is finding it hard going at the deep end, and the Silverstone success may have come too soon. The cars may look competitive but they’re being driven at 11-10ths to keep up, while the Porsche drivers, with boost knobs to play with, can afford to avoid incidents, put on a spurt when it suits them, and save fuel when the going is calmer. Other than driveshafts there are no inherent weaknesses in the Jaguars but random problems keep striking  (“cor, we’ve never had one of those go before”), and Porsche has 35 years of experience in dealing with them.

One feels that if Walkinshaw used the new crankshafts employed by the Tullius team in America, taking the V12’s capacity to 6.5 litres, the drivers would have better margins, something in reserve for overtaking.  Perhaps they would be marginal on fuel, but so would be the Porsche drivers if they used 1.4 bar boost all the time.

Of the others, Dudley Wood helped the Obermaier Porsche team to a steady fourth place. Spice and Bellm were fifth despite two extra stops for new batteries, and Ian Harrower collapsed with heat exhaustion after finishing sixth, being taken to hospital with a temperature of 107 degrees and a weak pulse. The Londoner was on the danger list for a while, but was able to return home the next day. Villota and Velez finished eighth after having the brake pedal break off, but Fitzpatrick’s second entry was crashed heavily by Paco Romero: Los and Needell were ninth, as at Brands Hatch, after dealing with a fuel pump failure.

As never before, pressure is on the Silk Cut Jaguar team to perform well in the three remaining races of the season, all full-scale Teams and Drivers Championship rounds. The Nürburgring encounter will have taken place on August 24, followed by the Spa 1000 Kms on September 14 and the Fuji 1000 Kms on October 5. — M.L.C.


Results (top five) —  Jerez Silk Cut 360 Kms, 6th round, World Sportscar Championship for drivers.  86 laps

1.  O Laurrari/J Paroja  (2.8 t/c Brun Porsche 962C) — 2hr 27min 47.34sec (91.51mph)

2.  W Brun/F Jelinski  (2.8 t/c Brun Porsche 956) — 2hr 28min 23.24sec

3.  D Warwick/J Lammers  (6.0-litre Silk Cut Jaguar XJR-6)  —  84 laps

4.  J Lassig/F Ballablo/D Wood  (2.6 t/c Obermaier Porsche 956) —  82 laps

5.  G Spice/R Bellm (3.3 t/c Spice-Pontiac DFL C2  —  78 laps

Conditions: Hot

Fastest lap:  Laurrari, 1min 36.09sec (96.19 mph) —  record created.