Far From The Madding Crowd

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Even if there’d been 50 cars on the grid the result wouldn’t have been any different. We would have won.” Derek Warwick’s post-race comment at Le Mans seemed very appropriate at the time, and would have served equally well at Donington a few weeks later. The two Peugeot 905s raced virtually nose-to-tail for three hours and fairly dominated the Toyotas, albeit by a mere 28s at the finish.

Thanks to a dubious piece of overtaking, even as the pace car headed for the pit lane, Philippe Alliot led Yannick Dalmas for the last 45 minutes of the race, so he and Mauro Baldi were able to achieve their first victory since the opening round at Suzuka last year.

Technically Alliot was in the wrong. He should have held station behind Dalmas until the green flag was shown at the startline, but the incident took place under braking for the Goddard corner and it wasn’t noted.

Both Warwick (under strict orders to follow Baldi through his second stint) and Dalmas were furious, knowing that their car was the faster of the two, but there was a certain justice about the result because it enabled Alliot and Baldi to move into joint third place in the drivers’ championship, sharing the position with Toyota’s Geoff Lees.

Toyota Team TOM’S has to win its home race at Suzuka on August 30 to stand any chance of challenging Peugeot, and Lees needs to be the winning driver. The cancellation of events in Mexico — and possibly Spain — reduces Toyota’s opportunities, of course, with perhaps only two more rounds to be run. From those, Warwick and Dalmas would require to score only two more points to be sure of the crown…

The BRM was withdrawn from the Triton Showers Donington 500 km, in need of further development, so the grid was reduced to 10 cars. Just 5,000 spectators turned up to see the World Championship round, and many of those were attracted by the excellent supporting programme of historical events.

With nearly two years of race development, the Peugeot Talbot Sport team directed by Jean Todt is now at its peak, every bit as good as the works Porsche team in 1983-85, the TWR Jaguars in 1987-88 and Sauber Mercedes in 1989-90. The V10-engined 905s have become reliable and the team is able to respond to any pressure brought to bear, which is a sure sign of maturity.

Warwick and Baldi were in a class apart during qualifying, the Englishman doing to Donington’s unofficial record what Nigel Mansell did to Silverstone’s the week before. In cool, cloudy conditions on Friday, Warwick and Baldi took turns at toppling the previous qualifying record of 1m 16.592s, which was established by Baldi nearly two years ago in the Mercedes C11.

The German car had at least 850 bhp in a 900 kg chassis, while the Peugeot has an estimated 700 in a 750 kg chassis. There would be little to choose in terms of power-to-weight, but the 3.5-litre car is certainly more nimble, and can run softer tyre compounds.

Eventually Warwick claimed the provisional pole position at 1m 15.570s which he said was “near perfect”, but on Saturday he drove an even more perfect lap at 1m 15.285s, and was actually disappointed not to break the 75s mark. Even so, the average was 119.53 mph, which is not something to be blasé about!

The East Midlands track is narrow and undulating, and has two slow corners which worked decisively against the Toyotas, which lack low-speed traction. The medium speed Old Hairpin is particularly important, too, as the Adenau Bridge used to be with an uphill section following.

It’s awesome to stand in the spectator area to watch the Peugeot and Toyota drivers snatching sixth gear, momentarily, as they enter the Craner Curves, then make the carbon brakes shine like beacons as they line their cars up for the Old Hairpin. It was almost beyond belief that so few people bothered to visit Donington to see

English born Warwick, Lees, Andy Wallace, David Brabham, Phil Andrews and Will Hoy driving their hearts out in such spectacular cars.

Andrews, whose father David was a long time competitor in endurance racing, joined the Euro Racing Lola team for the weekend, sharing a Judd-engined Lola T92/ 10 with Heinz-Harald Frentzen. The young German was one of Mercedes’ juniors in 1990 and his only race in the C11 was at Donington, where he finished second.

Lammers and Lees managed to keep the Peugeots in sight in the first part of the race, but co-drivers Wallace and Brabham lost touch in the second stint. This wasn’t because they were significantly slower, but because Michelin had some different compounds for the Peugeots to deal with the warmer and less grippy conditions that prevailed on Sunday afternoon.

The Olivetti-Longines time sheets issued after the race showed that all four Peugeot drivers had best laps in the 1m 19s bracket- with a new record to Baldi, at 1m 19.38s — and all four Toyota drivers were in the 1m 20s bracket, joined only by Frentzen who had a trouble-free run with Andrews into fourth place.

Lammers’ luck ran out when an oil pipe fractured at two-thirds distance, lubricant going onto the Toyota’s rear tyres and dumping the car in the gravel on the downhill run.

This promoted Lees to third place, a rather distant 63s behind the Peugeots, but the pace car bunched the leaders a little, though the picture was out of focus due to pit stops. Brabham was 15 seconds behind when the pace picked up, but drifted back.

The Mazda MXR-01 driven by Maurizio Sandro Sala and Alex Caffi was off the pace all afternoon, having been driven into a gravel pit during a pre-race warm-up as a result of which it lacked something in the handling department.

A passing shower dampened the circuit at midday, so the FISA officials promptly declared an extra ‘wet practice’, which tempted a handful of cars on slicks. Sala will not easily forget his excursion off the road, which seemed so unnecessary.

He and Caffi, the Italian who has been seriously underemployed since his unfortunate experience with the Andrea Moda F1 team, eventually claimed a very hot and bothered fifth place, not far ahead of the Chamberlain Engineering Spice which won the FIA Cup category for the fourth time in succession.

Chamberlain has clinched the FIA Trophy and Ferdinand de Lesseps the drivers’ championship, but they were studiously ignored in the post-race festivities, until such time as de Lesseps was invited to visit the medical centre for a routine drug test!

Needless to say the Frenchman was extremely underwhelmed with the whole business, wondering why he bothered to be a racing driver. Hugh Chamberlain, who won the World Championship for C2 teams in 1989 — and was given FISA’s cold-shoulder treatment — needs little excuse to celebrate, having run a most professional programme on extremely limited resources.

On show in the paddock was Peugeot’s new car, the 905 Evolution 2, which follows the Allard route in topside aerodynamics, and has a new chassis and a transverse six-speed gearbox with push-pull lever operation like the Mercedes C291 . Evo 2 will never win a beauty contest, but it should strike fear into the opposition. M L C