Cats for Group C?

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It would be rather appropriate if the sports-racing ‘Coventry Cats’, Jaguars in other words, were the first to compete in World Championship racing with catalytic converters in the exhaust systems, but that’s the way the industry is thinking at the moment.

Whilst FISA is hustling the manufacturers down the corridor marked ‘horsepower unlimited’, more than one is expressing concern about the environment, and a possible backlash from customers in the future. Is there another corridor marked ‘green and responsible’?

Less than ten years ago (and you can define the year as 1983, when the turbos finally usurped the Cosworth brigade) a good DFY yielded around 510 bhp, or 170 bhp per litre. It was an ageing design, of course, and it was only to be expected that the new generation of Honda, Ferrari and Renault V10 and V12 engines would attain the magic 200 bhp per litre.

These new designs are, however, supremely expensive and wasteful, and altogether fail to address the problems facing the motor industry in the final decade of the 20th century.

Pollution of the atmosphere now joins energy conservation as a matter of the highest importance. Noise pollution is an issue that has dogged our sport for the past 30 years, and more circuits may go the way of Zandvoort within a relatively short space of time.

Our former Standard House colleague Mike Doodson (MGD) has revealed the existence of an unpublished letter from Edsel Ford to FISA president Jean-Marie Balestre outlining his company’s view that Grand Prix racing is in danger of losing its direction at the expense of ecological programmes favoured by the motor industry. Perhaps not coincidentally John Barnard, employed by Ford to design and develop the Benetton Grand Prix car, has become an outspoken critic of the quest for absolute power, and suggests the return to a fuel limitation (just as Porsche’s Dr Bez did, a couple of months ago).

Designers and team financiers now agree that the 700 bhp, normally aspirated engines cost more than the best turbos did, in real terms, and that they use up to 60% more fuel! Whereas the World Championship winning McLaren Honda turbos needed 150 litres to succeed in 1988, the V10s now need up to 250 litres to win races of the same length.

Exotic brews of gasoline are required to extract 200 bhp per litre, and the revs are now going up to the region of 15,000. ‘Crank up the revs and pour in more fuel’ is the ready reckoner for absolute power, and even if that were applicable to Formula 1 (and we argue that it is not), it is certainly not applicable to the World Sportscar Championship. It would be a fine start to wind the regulations back to pump fuel, commercial grades bought at street-corner filling stations, both for F1 and for next year’s World Sportscar Championship. These would, immediately, knock off the top 20 bhp and limit the usefulness of ultra expensive development.

FISA counters, though, that the fuel companies wish to experiment with heavy and exotic fuels, in the interests of their own lines of research, and this thesis is borne out by BP, according to MGD. Only recently, though, have the petrol companies been heavily engaged in motor racing, because since the early Seventies the oil companies have had the higher profile. That may be changing, and not necessarily for the better.

Mercedes favoured the retention of commercial grade gasoline for sports car racing and so too, we believe, did Jaguar and Nissan. Toyota has a BP contract and Peugeot is entering the sport with a massive Esso contract, and Mercedes’ Jochen Neerpasch now concedes that unless everyone uses the same fuel, from a single source, it’s impossible to control the mixtures.

Nissan’s Howard Marsden argues for catalytic converters to be introduced to sports car racing, explaining eloquently as usual that the manufacturers involved in Group C racing have a fine chance to get ahead of the critics, who’ll surely be heard within the next five years. ‘High profile activities such as ours will be questioned’ he insists. ‘We are beginning to realise what a mess we are making of the world, and it’s up to FISA, and all of us, to take a longer view to see where we should be heading.

“We should be concerned about pollution, noise, safety and efficiency. We must be prepared to show that we can get the last ounce of energy out of our fuel, and it should be the same fuel that the ordinary motorist uses.

“One day our managements may decide that it is not to our advantage to advertise a victory at Le Mans, and if that day should come we’d all be out of business. Let us keep ahead of public opinion, and prepare in such a way that we’ll always be proud of our achievements on the circuits”.

WSC concern mounts

It looks as though FISA’s World Motorsports Council has overcooked the task of the ‘unlimited’ sports car teams next year by stipulating an extra weight penalty of 100kg. The first person. I met in the Dijon paddock was Mercedes’ Jochen Neerpasch, who demanded to know; ‘What happened to the 50kg penalty we agreed? Do you know the Porsche teams are going to boycott next year’s championship?’

Normally Neerpasch is a fount of knowledge, but he was as baffled as other members of the FISA Manufacturers’ Commission that, two days after they’d agreed to slap an extra 50kg on the Nissans and Porsches, FISA had doubled the handicap to 100kg, meaning that they’ll have to weigh 1,000kg in the scrutineering bay before and after world championship races.

Ironically Neerpasch may have played an innocent part in all this, since it was he who got the manufacturers to agree on 50kg when (a) Max Mosley proposed no penalty, or 25kg, on the Porsche and (b) Peugeot’s Jean Todt proposed 200kg just to make damned sure they couldn’t win anything!

Informed wisdom in the paddock suggested that FISA took this view: Herr Neerpasch proposed 50kg. Maybe Mercedes’ new 12-cylinder engine will not be ready for the start of the season. Perhaps it was in Mercedes’ interest to propose 50kg. So, we will make it 100kg.’

The current Nissans, Toyotas and Jaguars should not be able to compete with the new generation 3 1/2-litre cars, which should weigh 750 kg (the first Peugeot 905 prototype constructed was found to weigh 830 kg, to Todt’s chagrin, and one wonders whether there is any significance to that!) and will be right out of court with a 1000 kg minimum. So the Porsches, which already look like trucks on the slow circuits, would become a positive liability.

I think it’s not surprising that most of the Porsches will go away in 1991, to Japan or America where they’re still wanted. Maybe Richard Lloyd will carry on with his GTi version, and the Kremers with the CK6, until their own 3 1/2-litre cars are ready. Walter Brun is committed to building his own 3 1/2-litre cars, probably with Judd V8 engines, in place of his desperately unsuccessful F1 programme.

So that takes 15 Porsches out of the 1991 World Sportscar Championship. Even Nissan are having second thoughts, since their 3 1/2-litre won’t be ready until 1992, and Toyota’s V10 programme is rumoured to be well behind schedule. If Nissan pull out for a year, as seems entirely possible, Toyota could follow.

My next line of research at Dijon, concerning Le Mans, revealed that all the manufacturers want the race returned to its rightful place in the World Championship, but not in 1991, thank you! Suppose there are a dozen decent 3 1/2-litre cars at Le Mans next June: two Mercedes, two Peugeots, two Ford HB powered Jaguars, two Alfa Romeos and some Spices in various colours — that doesn’t make a race, but they’ll be heavily favoured by the regulations regarding fuel, and refuelling, to the tune of six or seven laps according to Nissan’s calculations.

There should be large numbers of Porsches, Nissans and Toyotas making up the bulk of the field, but there is now a stark possibility that they may not even be registered for the championship. Hence the feeling, let’s have one more year for Le Mans outside the championship, but without the bitterness and argument that wrecked our Christmas dinners in 1989. Allow the ACO to prepare unique rules for the competition, perhaps favouring the 3 1/2-litre cars but admitting allcomers — Jaguar with V12s, Nissan and Toyota with turbos, and lots of Porsches which are not handicapped out of the reckoning.

Come 1992, there ought to be enough 3 1/2-litre cars to form half a Le Mans grid, and FISA will have to find a way of filling it.

I have seen the enemy, and he is us.

Some real words of wisdom have been published recently. Could they have been written by Jean-Marie Balestre? By the RACMSA’s John Quenby — or do they have an American ring? “The bureaucrats and regulations are often taking precedence over your enjoyment. Our members are supposed to be on top of the organisation chart, and you’re telling me we have it upside down.

“Our organisation often gives the appearance of operating not for the benefit of the participants but for that of the administrators and officials instead. The participant is sometimes treated as an irritant rather than the reason for the existence of our staff’s jobs. Good officials and workers are critical to the conduct of a safe event. Good officials and workers are also the key to a fun event, but let us not forget that the reason we are all here is because of the drivers.

“We are also not serving our sponsors, manufacturers and tyre companies as well as we should. Our mission should be to help them to succeed, to involve them in the process rather than being bushwhacked by capricious or uninformed rule making/enforcement. Just as our members are our customers, these people are vital participants whose needs also have to be recognised”.

Take a bow, Nicholas W. Craw, president of the SCCA, announcing sweeping changes to the American club’s management structure. His words should form the first chapter of the bible of motor sports’ administrators. MLC.

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