Jaguar's Revenge

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Although nobody liked to admit it, Jaguar’s defeat at Brno in Czechoslovakia was taken very seriously at Kidlington and in Coventry. There, for the first time in 1988, the British cars had been beaten fair and square by Sauber Mercedes, with no excuses, and fears were raised that the Swiss-German team might raise the level of competition, just as the Electramotive Nissan team has done to Jaguar’s cost in the States.

The Brands Hatch result, a convincing victory for Martin Brundle, John Nielsen and Andy Wallace, restored the Silk Cut team’s morale to a large degree, even though Mercedes’ race was ruined by an accident which wrecked Jochen Mass’ C9/88 and delayed his team-mate Mauro Baldi.

Last year the Porsches were soundly thrashed by the Jaguars in this race and looked thoroughly obsolete — all that is except Richard Lloyd’s special model driven by Mauro Baldi and Johnny Dumfries, which was a good second. Lloyd’s entry, for Derek Bell and Will Hoy, fell through this time because the Silverstone entrant couldn’t raise the £50,000 or so of extra sponsorship needed to instal the new Bosch Motronic 1.7 engine-management system. We can only suppose that the RLR Porsche would have been a front-runner, since Klaus Ludwig and Bob Wollek chased the Jaguars hard in Reinhold Joest’s “normal” 962C equipped with that same new management system.

The 962C is obsolete — no excuses need be made for that, since it is derived from the 956 model designed late in 1981. Yet Joest’s car led throughout the first hour at Brands Hatch and again later in the race, finishing only a lap behind the XJR-9, which is some tribute to Joest’s excellent preparation and to the skills of the two drivers.

Despite a very poor practice which ended with fourth, sixth and eighth places on the grid, the Roger Silman-managed TWR team eased out an appreciable race advantage, always going away from the Sauber Mercedes which eventually finished five laps behind.

Just when it looked like a Jaguar 1-2, though, Johnny Dumfries dived for his pit 40 minutes from the end and baled out with acrid smoke in the cockpit, and five minutes later the car was pushed away with its wiring loom burned out. So after all the Porsche was second, the Sauber third, and Jean-Louis Schlesser earned just enough points to remain ahead of Brundle in the drivers’ table.

The Group C Saubers had not raced before at Brands Hatch, but with former RLR manager Dave Price assuming the function of technical team-manager they were perfectly prepared, with correct gear-ratios, for Friday’s pre-practice afternoon, and Baldi and Schlesser emerged clearly quicker than the Jaguars. They were quickest, again, on Saturday morning in official qualifying, Baldi at 1min 14.17sec (126.87 mph) for pole position and Schlesser nearly a second slower, reflecting the changing track conditions.

Ludwig made third place on the grid, but John Watson slipped up at the reshaped Dingle Dell “chicane” and reshaped the latest 48-valve, V12 powered XJR-9 just as the track was drying nicely. Later, when the track really was dry and the Sauber hotshoes were doing their best, Jaguar had the “wrong” drivers in their cars, Nielsen instead of Brundle and Dumfries instead of Lammers.

Team politics being what they are, the “right” drivers had to be installed, with qualifying tyres fitted, and by that time the BRSCC decided to run a mandatory ambulance emergency exercise. So, while Brundle and Lammers sat by the gate noisily exercising their 24 collective pistons there were white flags, yellow flags, red flags. . . and the chequered flag. What timing, what perfection!

If the Saubers had been thwarted in that way some very hard feelings might have been aired, but Walkinshaw and Silman were almost speechless. The so-called mandatory exercise has not been held before, not no blatantly anyway, and never in the crucial last three minutes of qualifying, and one wishes that the BRSCC had organised it while it was raining, which it frequently was.

Wrong-footed the Jaguar team might have been in qualifying but tactically, if not technically, the race was a good one. Ludwig went romping away into the lead in his Porsche pursued by the two Saubers (Mass a few lengths ahead of Baldi), with Brundle, Lammers and Watson running comfortably a few seconds back, with Frank Jelinski for company in Joest’s second Porsche.

It was settling down to be a very good race until the leaders arrived at Clearways for the seventh time. American driver Stephen Hynes, in Roy Baker’s C2-class Tiga, saw the pack bearing down on him going at least 50 mph quicker, and moved as far to the left as he could go, only to run onto “marbles” and slide into a broadside, rolling forwards into Mass’ rear wheel as it went by.

Ironically the Tiga was not very badly damaged, and later resumed the race, but the Sauber spun violently into the tyre barrier on the left at close-on 150 mph and was substantially damaged, if not wrecked. Thankfully Mass had nothing worse than bruised ribs, but the track was ahnost blocked by two cars and dozens of vvayward tyres, the pace car being needed for 15 minutes.

Baldi, the chirpy Italian vvho won the race in 1986 and was second last year in the RLR Porsche, was brilliant in avoiding the carnage. He had a tiny fraction of a second in which to hit the brakes and throw his Sauber into a spin, missing everything but finishing up on the pits entry-road with four smoking, flat-spotted tyres and a stalled engine. He lost two laps right away, but raced on.

Later, as the hours passed by, the handling deteriorated and the left-rear tyre blistered frequently, suggesting that the car was in urgent need of a suspension check. More time was lost when Schlesser made a rather foolhardy attempt to pass Lammers’ Jaguar at Druids. He started from way back, touched the Jaguar (which would not have made space under any circumstances), spun and bogged down for two minutes on wet grass. Schlesser’s remarks on the rostrum, accusing Lammers of deliberately shutting the door on him and causing an accident, were not becoming.

After Brands Hatch the teams had six weeks to relax before the Nürburgring 1000km on September 4 and the Spa 1000km on September 18. Jaguar novv has to win only one of those to be virtually certain of retaining the World Championship for Teams.

Gordon Spice and Ray Bellm, meanwhile, could spend their summer vacations celebrating their early crowning as 1988 World Champion C2 drivers.

The 48-year-old motor-factoring magnate Spice gets better with each year that passes, and like Mario Andretti he resolutely stays at the very top of his profession. He has now secured his fourth successive World Championship, Bellm his third as Spice’s co-driver, and the Spice Engineering firm has won the Teams’ Championship in each of the three years it has existed.

Some of Gordon Spice’s conjuring tricks are very good indeed, and he’s a gifted entertainer. Rivals on the track, though, just wish he wouldn’t practice his illusions whilst competing in his car!

It was No 111 that we saw going past the pits, two or three times, with the engine switched off, wasn’t it? It was Ray BeIlm experiencing serious ignition problems? Surely Almo Coppelli and Thorkild Thyrring, in the second BP Spice team entry, would win C2 this time and make the Guvnor wait until September? Or did Gordie do his handkerchief trick, and have a different car on the pits apron? We’ll never know.

As Bellm and Spice came to terms with the ignition fault — they couldn’t cure it, but flicking the switch seemed to help — Coppelli and Thyrring lost their five-lap advantage when a wheel came loose straight after a pit stop, and the Dane temporarily lost faith in the handling after that. He was still thinking about it when Spice roared past. . .

As usual the Spice team’s opposition was self-destructive, but that is not to detract from the performance of the most professional of C2-class outfits, which also claimed fourth and fifth places overall. “Your cars were as quick as ours mid-corner,” Martin Brundle told Gordon Spice with admiration afterwards. Brands Hatch is virtually all corner with no decent straights — an ideal track for the Spices — and the patron said with relish that it had been “flat out, all the way”.

Because of the nature of the place, the quick C1 cars always have particular problems with the slower C2 cars, and Eddie Cheever was extremely vehement about that two years ago. That’s why clerk-of-course John Nichol sensibly adopted the Fuji system of split qualifying, separating the C1 and C2 cars for half an hour at a time, which made his emergency ambulance check all the more mystifying. Interesting, though, that Ray Bellm should complain: “Something’s got to be done about these slower drivers; there are a couple who shouldn’t be allowed out .” That is what the Cheevers of this world have been saying for years, and shows that the Spice team is now right among the big boys.

It is to be hoped that Spice Engineering will move up into the C1 category next year, as now seems most likely. It is also to be hoped, though, that another team will rise up to maintain its standards of professionalism and reliability; if C2 were to become synonymous with unreliability and amateurism it would quickly fade away, and no-one wants that to happen. The class provides an excellent training ground for world championship racing, and it should continue to do so. MLC

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