Step Forward, Men Of Vision

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While the Formula 1 world is preoccupied with silly-season rumours about driver contracts, the sports-car teams have only one question to ask: will there be a World Championship in 1993?

Clearly Peugeot is a key component, and at Donington Jean Todt gave an indication that PTS will continue to be involved in sports car racing until the end of 1994, providing FISA maintains the World Championship status and a viable series of stable, well-run events.

Only if sports car racing is downgraded to FIA Cup status would Peugeot pull out, says Todt, and that goes down very well with Toyota Team TOM’S and Mazdaspeed, both of which want to carry on in Group C competition.

Todt revealed that Peugeot has a five-year programme in Group C, and would prefer to maintain it. Essentially, though. he puts the ball back firmly into FISA’s court, saying: “We will not make any decision before the meeting of the FISA Motorsports World Council.

“We want to know the rules of the World Championship in 1993. We want to see the calendar. We want to take part, it is part of our plan, but it must be a real world championship.”

Supporting the theme, Peugeot put the 905 Evolution 2 model on display in the paddock, and if the advantages claimed for it are substantiated — better aerodynamics, more downforce, improved traction — then the Japanese rivals have something to be concerned about.

Todt initiated the Evo2 last November, very soon after the Sportscar World Championship was apparently done to death, so it was a great act of faith. “I thought the championship might finally take place and we wouldn’t be in a winning position,” he commented when the car was first tested at the Paul Ricard circuit early in July.

We have a Sportscar World Championship this year thanks to the strenuous efforts made by Todt to keep the show alive and as a result of his agreement together with that of Toyota and Mazda, to pay FISA’s $3 million ransom.

But now, with grids down to 10 cars and fewer spectators than would support an average clubbie, all three manufacturers must be wondering if the SWC series is worth saving. “This is on my mind too,” Todt admits in a quiet moment, but he is prepared to regard this as the low-tide mark and look forward to a bigger, better future.

Optimism was further damaged on July 27, a week after the Donington race, when FISA announced the cancellation of the Jarama 500 km scheduled for October 4. The Mexican event was cancelled because none of the teams actually wanted to go there but surely, we felt, the Spanish round would go ahead?

The $3 million is supposed to guarantee eight races and a stable calendar. According to a Spanish source Ecclestone also asked the organisers for the customary $600,000 registration fee for the privilege of having a 10-car World Championship race. They refused, of course, but offered FISA the use of the circuit free of charge.

Some might have felt that FISA was under obligation to accept, but the controlling body neatly side-stepped the matter by cancelling the race on safety grounds. However, as we closed for press, the race was thought “likely” to be reinstated!

We recall that when the Jarama race was cancelled in 1990, even as the major teams prepared to move straight on from Le Mans, the circuit had been widened, refurbished and improved to Formula 1 standard. In pique FISA has not since authorised a full international race meeting at the Madrid circuit.

With two races cancelled and only two — possibly three, Jarama permitting — remaining, it’s now almost certain that Peugeot will win the teams’ championship and Derek Warwick the drivers’, which the Englishman will share with Yannick Dalmas. The titles will be well-deserved, but will they be enjoyed as they ought to be, after such a damp-squib season?

It’s harder than ever to believe there will be a Sportscar World Championship in 1993, but Max Mosley continues to pursue the concept of Grand Touring Supercar racing in the belief that he can get it up and running within the next six months.

Mosley’s plan for next year, approved by FISA’s World Council, includes the current Group C cars with lower rear wings, moved closer to the rear wheels; Grand Touring ‘Supercars’ strictly regulated on a power-to-weight basis plus an electronic control (designed and manufactured by the Bicester company, Simtek, which is not unknown to Mosley), and a third group for open two-seater cars based on Formula 3000 running gear. The World Council also approved, in principle, a further category for F3000 cars with enveloping bodywork, this presumably on the lines of CanAm cars in the late ’70s, and Japanese ‘Grand Champion’ cars which fizzled out only recently.

At Donington we established that neither Nigel Stroud (Mazda), Andre de Cortanze (Peugeot) nor Tony Southgate (Toyota) has given much thought to the low-downforce proposal for next year. but they all agree that it will make a significant difference to the car’s handling qualities.

“At a guess I’d say that we’ll have about 25 per cent less downforce.” says Southgate. You won’t see much difference in slow corners, but it will be marked in medium to fast corners where the need for downforce is greatest. The cars will slide around more, I’m sure, and it will cost us a couple of seconds per lap.”

Southgate also reckons that FISA has missed its chance to lengthen braking distances by banning carbon brakes, and to reduce horsepower significantly by stipulating 98 octane pump fuel (as was planned for this year, but lost in last winter’s turmoil).

The difference in speeds between Group B and Group C cars will be very great. At Donington the 3.5-litre record was established at 1m 19.38s, the FIA Cup record at 1m 28.027s (Will Hoy, in the Chamberlain Spice), and on the same day Norman McRoberts established a record of 1m 39.27s — 25 per cent slower than Baldi — in his Porsche Turbo RSR. which might be some sort of benchmark for supercars.

Needless to say Hoy would have been cornering much, much faster than McRoberts, so the closing speeds would be astonishing if Baldi was passing McRoberts, as he would on every fourth lap.

Historically the sports-racing cars can share the tracks with GT cars, as they still do sometimes in America. They did so 20 years ago when the likes of Erwin Kremer, John Fitzpatrick and Bob Wollek drove Porsche 911s in competition with the noisome Matra and Ferrari 12-cylinder Group 6 cars.

In 1973 Francois Cevert claimed pole position for Matra at Dijon in 59.4s, while ‘Fitz’ was 18th and 24 per cent slower at 1m 13.8s, so he would have been overtaken by the leaders on every fourth lap: at Spa Jacky lckx was on pole in the fabulous Ferrari 312PB at 3m 12.7s, ‘Fitz’ was 15th and about 21 per cent slower at 3m 54.4s. The differences were pretty large then, but not insuperable.

Jo Bonnier lost his life in 1972 when his Lola rammed the back of a Ferrari Daytona at Le Mans, but generally there were few instances of fast cars running into slow ones… though there was a flap in the same event when Marie-Claude Beaumont went thundering down the Mulsanne Straight in her Chevrolet Corvette, in blinding rain, and drove straight into the back of Howden Ganley’s Matra (to this day, Howden has neither forgotten nor forgiven the lady).

Those were the days when wind tunnels were for aircraft designers, and racing drivers considered themselves lucky if their cars had any downforce at all, or stability as they thought of it.

Today the 3.5-litre cars are impossibly fast through the corners, and FISA really needs to do everything in its power to slow them down. Like Formula 1 cars, the Peugeots, Toyotas and Mazdas seemed hardly to slow at all for the Old Hairpin, and indeed the drivers were still accelerating and changing up to sixth in the approaching left-hander.

For a time the noise, the sheer speed, and the drivers’ dexterity with the gear lever make a very fine spectacle. But after a while the show gets rather boring, as it does in Formula 1. These cars are too damned efficient, their brakes too powerful and their cornering too fast. The drivers find it difficult or impossible to overtake near rivals. These are not sports cars in the accepted sense of the term, nor will thinly disguised F3000 cars answer the description. They are freaks.

FISA needs to go the whole hog now, while there is still the chance. We need to bring back the mellifluous sounds of production-based turbocharged engines: we need Grand Touring cars: we need to slow the 3.5-litre cars drastically by removing the wing appendages altogether, banning all but the most modest venturi, limiting wheel widths to 12 inches, banning carbon brakes, banning special fuels and so on.

Only then, when the 3.5-litre cars have been slowed by 10 seconds a lap, will it be feasible to mix a whole concoction of sports cars on one track.

FISA’s hierarchy, which really doesn’t understand sports car racing at all, continues to assert that racing engines must dominate the equation in 1993 and beyond. As I discussed last month we do need to keep the show on the road in ’93 in order to have a beyond, but the future has nothing to do with racing engines.

The ruling body tried that in 1972 but it fizzled out in 1974. History is undoubtedly repeating itself, as I said in January 1989 that it would (and many times since).

Given the choice, how many readers would back FISA’s judgement on the future of endurance racing, and how many would back the wisdom of the Automobile Club de l’Ouest? I don’t think we need a show of hands to answer that question.

In September the ACO will publish its own regulations for the 24-hour race to be held next June. They will admit 1993 specification Group C cars (and that keep the competitors happy, if not FISA’s hierarchy): they will have classes for homologated and non-homologated Grand Touring cars: they will admit national championship GT cars such as those in Porsche 911 Carrera Cup series, even TVR Tuscans probably. Finally, they will devise a new category for open-top prototypes weighing 600 kg, and with engines developing not more than 425 bhp. These may be F3000 engines with rev-limiters, or production-based units with restrictions, probably on the intake ducting.

The ACO aims to have as many as 80 cars eligible for the race and perhaps 60 taking part in qualifying. They know, as do all the organisers, that above all we need to have full grids in 1993.

Grids full of spectacle, colour and variety. Some cars faster than others, but not so mind-bendingly efficient that no-one can truly appreciate them. None which are so stratospherically expensive to operate that the owners need oil-well revenues to stay in business.

Does FISA have the imagination, the breadth of wisdom, to see all this and do something about it? We’ll find out in October, but there are no grounds for optimism. M L C