1981 World Sports Car Championship (World Endurance Championship of Makes)

 

You have permission, to open your Christmas present, early. Over the course of the next ten days, we will look in depth, in great detail, at some of the memorable and classic races, of the era of the 1980s in World Sports Car Championship racing. An extra treat, is seven straight seasons of the phenomenal, monstrous, ground pounding Group C sports cars. But, let us start, at the beginning of this decade, and venture in our time machine, back to 1981, when production based Group 5 cars which had their run from 1976-’82, still hold sway.

Come with me now, as we journey into the decade of the ’80s. Are you ready? Good. Roll tape!

Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida, a place of speed since after the turn of the 20th century when Ransom Olds raced Alexander Winton here, and then, land speed record attempts were made for decades, albeit with some tragedy, on the beach. The record breakers would go on to the Bonneville salt flats in Utah. But, this wide, flat beach, as wide and flat as a great slab of stone, was the venue for years for speed record attempts and the birth of stock car racing alike. NASCAR moved inland to the new Daytona International Speedway in 1959, and sports cars followed suit, running the first of what would become the Daytona 24 Hours races in 1962.

What better place to begin our journey then, than on an overcast February Saturday afternoon, at Daytona, for the 19th renewal of this great classic 24 hour odyssey. Through this 1981 series, we will focus on the Lancia team, the Lancia Martini effort racing two of their Beta Montecarlo GT cars. There were 15 races on the schedule. But, we will look at the half dozen events that comprise the FIA World Endurance Championship of makes, and it all begins here, with the 24 Hour Pepsi Challenge on the high banks at Daytona.

We have a field of 69 cars, ready to compete.

http://www.racingsportscars.com/photo/Daytona-1981-02-01.html

We will follow throughout this review, the Lancia Beta Montecarlo Turbo team, and Martini Lancia Racing. They will start two cars here in the IMSA GTX or Grand Touring Experimental Division, along with GTO (Grand Touring over 2.5 liters), and GTU (Grand Touring under 2.5 liters). The field thunders away at the drop of the green flag, with the polesitting Porsche 935 for Andial Racing/Meister Homes shooting into the lead. American Howard Meister is sharing with German veterans Rolf Stommelen and Harald Grohs. The race is beginning to settle into a pace now, and we see the Lancia’s running well.

Car #3 has Riccardo Patrese of Italy, the Formula 1 driver, three-time 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Henri Pescarolo of France, and German Hans Heyer on the driver’s strength. The sister automobile, car #4 is being shared by a trio of Italians with either sports car or F1 experience. Michele Alboreto driving with Piercarlo Ghinzani and Beppe Gabbiani. The Lancia’s have done well through the daylight hours, but it is always the dark of night, here at Daytona or any other long distance race, especially the crown jewel at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, where the night can be a great equalizer for the endurance of the drivers, and also, the reliability of the race cars.

Headlights on, the sports cars shoot through the darkness like missiles around the 31 degree high banks. Prayers are answered through the gloom of the long, dark night, and those who have made it through, see the sunrise and feel rejuvenated, but with a long ways still to go. At sunup, that also means breakfast time, for the hearty souls who have watched the great race steam on through the night and hopefully, too, for the driver’s who have been changing shifts and getting rest to continue their journey while their co-drivers keep putting in the miles, and the pit crews who do not get a break, and are up all hours of the night to attend to their car if it needs routine service, or if heartbreak occurs in the form of an accident or a mechanical failure.

Lancia seems to be right on top of things with the #3, and also for the #24 Jolly Club Italia Lancia Beta Montecarlo in the hands of three more Italian drivers, Martino Finotto, Carlo Facetti, and Emmanuelle Pirro, a man who would go on to much more sports car racing success with Audi, over two decades after this race happened. As the hours of Sunday morning continue, Lancia remains hopeful that their cars will see the checkered flag. 24 hours is a long, long time to race, especially since the Daytona event takes place in the wintertime in the northern hemisphere. So, the hours of darkness as we have documented, are far greater than the hours of daylight on what should be a weekend of sunshine and warmth here in Florida, but the cars and drivers have been racing through the gloom, more or less.

Why is it, you may ask, the grandstands at Daytona are empty? Well, it isn’t because no one is here to see the race. But for sports car racing, you really want to be down at ground level to take in the sights and sounds of these fantastic cars as they scream around this 3.81 mile combined NASCAR tri oval and infield road course. Finally, the 24 hours have expired. The race is over. For our pals from Lancia, they have finished this event, although the Jolly Club car, the Facetti/Finotto/Pirro car is fifth overall, while the two factory cars had their problems or finished further down the order than they would have liked. Patrese/Pescarolo/Heyer, their car is 18th overall, while the sister machine of Alboreto/Ghinzani/Gabbiani, expired from the motor race with valve problems in it’s twin turbo 4 cylinder engine, coming home in a disappointing 41st overall.4

The winner at the 1981 24 Hours of Daytona, car #9, the Style Auto/Garretson Racing Porsche 935 shared by American’s Bob Garretson and Bobby Rahal (who would go on to be an IndyCar winner, Indianapolis 500 champion, and IndyCar and IMSA team owner), and the great sports car racing star, from England, Brian Redman, a man you will hear a lot more about as this series continues. In between the World Championship rounds, the other famous American endurance event, the 12 Hours of Sebring has taken place, won by the American entered Bayside Disposal Racing Porsche 935, car #86 of car owner Bruce Leven, Hurley Haywood, who has become one of if not the most decorated endurance driver in history, who is now retired, and the late, great Al Holbert, another American driver we will hear more about in future installments of this series.

http://www.racingsportscars.com/photo/Sebring-1981-03-21.html

A small field assembled at the Mugello circuit in the Tuscany region of Italy on April 12th, 1981 for 6 Hours of Mugello, but with no fewer than six divisions, encompassing the Group 4, Group 5, and Group 6 rules of international sports car racing still being used at this time. Taking the victory, the Osella Squadra Corse team from Italy with their 2.0 liter Sports Racer Osella PA9 powered by a BMW M12 4 cylinder motor, in the hands of Italian’s Giorgio Francia and Lella Lombardi.

http://www.racingsportscars.com/photo/Mugello-1981-04-12.html?sort=Results

After Mugello, the championship stays in Italy for the legendary Monza 1,000 Kilometers that was first contested around 1970 or so. 32 cars in the aforementioned six or seven classes, started this motor race, and your winners are the Kremer Porsche 935 K3 for Weralit Racing out of Germany. Congratulations to Edgar Doren, Jurgen Lassig, and Gerhard Holup.

http://www.racingsportscars.com/photo/Monza-1981-04-26.html?sort=Results

We pick up the World Championship action again, on May 10th, 1981, at the Silverstone Circuit in Silverstone, England.

Lancia team boss Cesare Fiorio mentions that the team has the points lead in the constructors championship, and Porsche are their biggest rivals going into this second round of the World Championship. Fiorio says the Group 6 cars that are not racing for the championship, they are faster than the Group 5 entries, of which Lancia are one, and these other cars, the full on prototypes that will morph into Group C, later, must not become a distraction. These are cars like the Osella, the Porsche 908/80 and 908/3 turbo, the Hesketh built Ibec Ford Cosworth, and the De Cadenet Lola.  Fiorio believes Lancia needs to stick with the Group 5 cars, their rivals, the Porsche 935’s and BMW M1’s. Sports car racing has always been about technology transfer between the race cars and the production cars for Fiat and Lancia.

Lancia were outright champions in the World Sports Car Championship in 1980. Can they go for a second triumph in 1981? Porsche and Lancia are currently tied with 40 points after the opening events you’ve already heard about from Daytona and Monza. Three Lancia’s are entered here at Silverstone. Riccardo Patrese shares the #28 Lancia Beta Monte Carlo Turbo with American Eddie Cheever, and an all-Italian duo shares car #60, Andrea de Cesaris and Piercarlo Ghinzani. The third car is the privately entered #62 Lubrifilm backed Lancia Beta Montecarlo Turbo, shared again by an all Italian driver lineup of Beppe Gabbiani, Giorgio Schon, and Giorgio Pianta.

Lancia has an opportunity to double up on points today if they win in both the over 2.0 liter division and the under 2.0 liter division, as each class win affords the opportunity of 20 possible championship points. Riccardo Patrese and Eddie Cheever will be on a mission today at Silverstone, to take points away from the Porsche’s. Some of the competition includes the #39 Coca Cola sponsored Bob Akin Racing Team Porsche 935 K3, to be driven by Bob Akin and Bobby Rahal from the U.S. and Peter Lovett, in his home race as he is British. BMW has their GTX class spec BMW M1 under the Emka Productions Ltd. team of Steve O’Rourke. O’Rourke, the car owner, will be sharing with fellow Brits Derek Bell and David Hobbs.

35 cars are set to start here at Silverstone. Actually, make that 32. All the development of the new Lancia sports car, began in 1978, using a production based 4 cylinder motor, coupled to a Triple K turbocharger. In 1979, they won the class championship for under 2 liter cars, last year in 1980 they won the overall World Championship and in ’81, they want the double. They are hungry for a repeat. The Group 6 cars are going to provide stiff competition. Car #1, the Lola T600 Ford Cosworth Group 6 prototype of Guy Edwards and Emilio de Villota will be a top contender.

They were second quickest in practice, but quickest of all, Porsche, the Porsche 936/80 spyder open cockpit prototype to be shared by the German trio of Jochen Mass, Reinhold Joest, and Volkert Merl. But, keep in mind that the Group 6 cars are inelligible for points toward the World Championship, while the Group 5 machines, they are eligible, and the quickest Group 5 racer in practice are our old buddies at Lancia, Riccardo Patrese and Eddie Cheever. Remember, the specification differences between the classes. Group 5 cars are heavily modified versions of production GT cars that you can buy in a showroom of a prestige brand’s automobile dealer, while the Group 6 machines, they are the thoroughbred racing cars, the prototypes.

Riccardo Patrese and Eddie Cheever are confident. They had a brake issue but they are running really well. Practice day was dry. But, a spanner is definitely thrown in the works here, because there’s torrential rain. It’s been bucketing down for the last hour and a half prior to the start of this motor race. The cars make their way from pit lane onto the grid to form up for the start, and the track is totally awash. The Porsche 936, known at this time as a 908/80, is fastest qualifier. Again, this is the Mass/Joest/Merl entry. Guy Edwards and Emilio de Villota in the Lola T600 start on the outside of the front row.

The cars roll off on their exploratory and formation laps. It isn’t raining per se now, but the real issue on the soaked track here at Silverstone, is going to be the spray. We see the spray already being misted into the atmosphere on the formation lap. The safety car pulls off, we’ve got a green light, and we are underway here at Silverstone! The 32 cars file into Copse corner for the first time, and after a lap of racing, it is Guy Edwards in the Lola in the race lead. In these wet conditions, one of our contenders is already out! Jochen Mass has crashed the Porsche 936! It’s game over for Reinhold Joest and his team. Bobby Rahal moves up to second overall, driving the #39 Porsche 935 K3. Eddie Cheever and Andrea de Cesaris come next in both of the Lancia’s. Cheever, in the larger displacement car, and de Cesaris at the wheel of the 2 liter machine.

So, the order is Guy Edwards, Bobby Rahal, Eddie Cheever, and Hans Stuck. Stuck is in the BMW M1, the #35 car he shares with Hans Heyer for BASF GS Sport. Stuck is the rainmeister, and revels in these soaking wet conditions. Beppe Gabbiani in the #62 Lancia Beta Montecarlo, the 2,0 liter car had to hit pit lane with electrical trouble, and had to have the electronics of the car, dried out. We watch the progress too, of the #18 Group 5 class Ferrari 308 GTB Turbo for the Jolly Club team of Martino Finotto and Carlo Facetti, two Italian drivers in a Ferrari, naturally. Also, the #10 Ibec Group 6 prototype is running well with it’s 3.0 liter Ford Cosworth DFV V8 in the back. This is the open cockpit car, shared by a trio of British pilots. Tiff Needell and Tony Trimmer from England, are joined by Vivian Candy of Ireland.

he drivers are taking it pretty easy indeed as it is still difficult to see through the spray. Andrea de Cesaris in the #60 Lancia has crashed out here at Silverstone, after a tangle with another car. Eddie Cheever and Beppe Gabbiani both are in with a shout for Lancia. Eddie Cheever is being pursued hotly as Hans Stuck is right on his tail, look. A couple of other notable cars are competing on the same piece of race track into Copse corner. The #22 Vegla Racing Team Porsche 935J has World Rally driver Walter Rohrl at the wheel of it sharing in this race with countrymen Dieter Schornstein and Harald Grohs. The #36 Morgan Plus 8 is also in this scrap. The GT class Morgan entered by Morris Stapleton Motors Ltd. has a 3.5 liter Rover V8 under the bonnet and is being shared by Bruce Stapleton, Richard Down, and William Wykeham, all in their home race, as they are British.

Bobby Rahal is also running well in his Group 5 935 Porsche. The Lola still leads, but remember, it is the Group 5 machinery that is going for the championship. The Lancia’s only produce 400 horsepower from their 1.7 liter turbocharged engines, while the Porsche’s also turbocharged, with their bigger, 3.2 liter flat six motors, have far more power on tap. We also catch a glimpse of the #45 dark blue and gold Mazda RX7 253i in the GTU class. Yojiro Terada of Japan, who would go on to compete at Le Mans many times throughout his career, sharing with Britain’s Win Percy. The wet conditions are a great equalizer for every car entered here. We also see some of the little 2 liter sports racers out on track, the #56 Osella PA9 BMW, is the Osella factory car for Italian drivers Leila Lombardi and Giorgio Francia.

There is also the #51 Lola T296 with a BMW motor in the hands of German’s Rolf Gotz and Roland Binder. The Lola is running well, still, the Group 6 coupe, and we see a bit of a battle between the Ferrari 308 Turbo. Hans Stuck, Eddie Cheever, they are out there cutting the wheel tracks through the spray, holding to a pace in the wet. The driver’s of the Group 5 and Group 6 cars have to keep a sharp eye out for the slower drivers in the sports racer and GT cars who are not as experienced and don’t have the time behind the wheel in race conditions.

There are 80 drivers among the 32 cars. Pit stop time nowfor Lancia. Riccardo Patrese is in the car, for his stint, replacing Eddie Cheever. The car is being refueled and only refueled. There is the gravity fed fueling rig and the bottle at the front of the car to catch excess fuel from the Relumet system that is the gravity fed fueling apparatus to add fuel to the automobile. No tire change. A fast, efficient stop for Lancia, and here is the leading Lola. Guy Edwards has finished his stint and hands the Lola to Emilio de Villota, the Spaniard.

The Team Lola mechanics are servicing the car, be it the fuel man, the tire changers or the bloke in charge of cleaning the windscreen. Now, it looks as though the heaviest of the rain is letting up. The track might dry out soon. The teams may have to swap to intermediate or to fully slick tires. de Villota is down and away. No tire change. Also in the pits are #58, the special 1.5 liter flat six turbo Group 5 935 L-1, driven by Mike Wilds from England and Jan Lundgardh from Sweden, and the Lubrifilm #62 Lancia. Again, that is the Gabbiani/Schon/Pianta machine.

Fuel and a driver change for the #62 Lancia and Pianta is the bloke getting into the car, ready to go out there and keep racing. Again, as mentioned on the Lola pit stop, these teams are utilizing the Relumet gravity fed fueling systems on their cars. The Lancia team has changed tires and cleaned the windscreen as well. #62 is back ionto thr race and oh wow! Bobby Rahal has crunched the front end of the #39 Porsche 935! The pit crew is working feverishly to repair the Bob Akin Racing 935. Peter Lovett may have been in the car for the most recent stint as far as we can tell. Bob Akin is set to take over, and the team is switching from wets to slick tires.

Oh. They are using the intermediate tire. Riccardo Patrese and Giorgio Pianta are moving through the field in the Lancia’s after their pit stops and Martino Finotto is now at the controls of the #18 Ferarri 308 GTB Turbo, at this stage. He runs through Woodcote a little sideways, as we also see Dieter Schornstein still at the wheel of the #22 Porsche 935 in the Group 5 class, the Vegla Racing team car he shares with Walter Rohrl and Harald Grohs. So, Schornstein is second and after his earlier off road excursion and repairs, Bob Akin is now fifth overall in the #39 Porsche 935. The rain is letting up, look, through Woodcote, here at Silverstone. We could be dry for the remainder of this motor race.

Watch out for the damp patches on the road that are invisible as the track is drying. Preston Henn is at the wheel of his own Porsche 935 K3/80, he is sharing with Adrian Yates-Smith. A Brit and an American sharing that car. Lancia are still running out front and we also see the #22 Porsche, and the #40 BMW M1 of Steve O’Rourke and David Hobbs, both of these cars having competitive outings. Two and a half hours into the race, Riccardo Patrese at the wheel of the #28 Lancia Beta Montecarlo, finds trouble. They were delayed in the pits for almost 20 minutes, a total of 19 to be exact, with a broken throttle linkage. They are thenth, fighting their way through. Giorgio Pianta is second in Group 5 and we have also seen glimpses of the #22 Porsche 935 and the unusual Morgan Plus 8 that was mentioned earlier, with its Rover V8. That’s the Stapleton/Down/Wykeham car.

Giorgio Pianta has taken the lead for Lancia in Group 5. The Patrese/Cheever Lancia is running well, but we hear tell that it is game over for the #1 Lola T600. Guy Edwards and Emilio de Vilotta have sputtered to a stop with a fuel starvation and/or fuel pickup problem. So, Dieter Schornstein for Porsche, leads the motor race and now, Lancia #28 is in the lane. The Patrese/Cheever car is making a scheduled fuel stop. On track, they’ve been gaining and Ricardo Patrese is now into the car, replacing Eddie Cheever. Mr. Lunardi, dealer manager for Lancia says that the motorsports will indeed bring people to their showrooms. Win on Sunday, sell on Monday.

Again, the Cheever/Patrese Lancia Beta Montecarlo Turbo is up to third overall. Preston Henn spins his Porsche after running wide into Stowe corner! It looks as though Henn might have beached that car in the mud. He won’t get unstuck from it anytime soon, and so, it is game over for Preston Henn and Adrian Yates-Smith. Just an hour and a half or so remains at Silverstone. Giorgio Pianta in the Lancia leads Group 5. Riccardo Patrese meanwhile is going faster and faster and he is hot on the heels of the second place BMW M1, the #40 EMKA Productions car of Steve O’Rourke, Derek Bell, and David Hobbs. Bobby Rahal has cracked the top five and remains fifth in the overall in the Bob Akin Porsche 935 K3. Meanwhile, more maladies for the Mazda. Nice alliteration there, as the front end of the #45 Mazda came into contact with race leader Dieter Schornstein, and has to have said crash damage repaired.

Lancia are in the lane for their final stop, and Eddie Cheever will take the Beta Monte Carlo to the flag. Lancia are in with a chance of winning the Silverstone 6 Hours, overall. More bad news for Porsche, as the Schornstein/Grohs/Rohrl 935 might be having issues. They are hanging onto the lead, but barely. They are running a lot slower than they were earlier on. Trouble, too, for the #39 Porsche 935! It could be game over for the Bob Akin automobile. The EMKA #40 BMW M1 makes it’s final pit stop, but they are being caught hand over fist by the Lancia. Lancia, too, they thought they were in the clear, but they’ve had a wheel come adrift off the car! The wheel nut wasn’t tightened and Cheever had the wheel pass him on Hangar straight.

The #56 factory Osella BMW pits, the Lombardi/Francia car. Poor Lancia have lost the overall race, but they have nothing to hang their heads about, because they will still score the win in the Group 5 class. So Porsche 935 #22 leads with BMW M1 #40 in second. At 6PM local time on May 10th, 1981, let the records show that Dieter Schornstein, Harald Grohs, and Walter Rohrl have won the 6 Hours of Silverstone!

#22 Rohrl/Grohs/Schornstein Vegla Racing Team Porsche 935J

Group 5 victors are the many times highlighted #62 Lancia Beta Montecarlo Turbo for Lubrifilm Racing!

#62 Gabbiani/Schon/Pianta Lubrifilm Racing Lancia Beta Montecarlo Turbo

Lancia and Porsche are level in the championship with 60 points apiece. Next up, the most legendary sports car race in the world, the 24 Hours of Le Mans at Circuit de la Sarthe in Le Mans, France.

Lancia comes to Le Mans with a two and a half point lead over Porsche. 70 points for Lancia, and 67.5 points for Porsche. Le Mans serves as the penultimate race of the 1981 FIA World Endurance Championship before closing the season out with the 6 Hours of Watkins Glen at Watkins Glen International Raceway in the Finger Lakes Region of upstate New York, in the United States. We have 55 cars that will start here at Le Mans, with many, many classes represented. Groups 5 and 6 are here along with the touring and GT Group 4 cars, as well as the IMSA GTP, GTX, GTO, and GTU cars, and we have a handful more prototype entries in the Le Mans Grand Toruing Prototype (LM GTP) class and also in the Group C class.

On the front row of the grid are the two factory Porsche System Porsche 936/81’s. Car #11 has Jacky Ickx and Derek Bell driving, the Belgian and the Briton, who in later years, both will become legends of Le Mans. The sister car, #12 has Jochen Mass, sharing with Australia’s Vern Schuppan, and American, Hurley Haywood, who will also build his own legend in later years as we will see. Lancia have entered four cars in the Group 5 class, all of them, Beta Monte Carlo turbos. Before this race starts, yours truly will give you a rundown of the Lancia’s and who is driving them.

Car #65 is being shared by Eddie Cheever, Michele Alboreto, and Carlo Facetti.

Car #66 is being shared by Riccardo Patrese, Piercarlo Ghinzani, and Hans Heyer.

Car #67 is being shared by Beppe Gabbiani, and Emanuele Pirro.

The Trois Couleurs waves at Le Mans, and we’re off and racing for 24 hours in the 49th renewal of this great race! Heat will play a major factor in this race with temperatures in the high 80 degrees Fahrenheit range forecast for the whole event. Jacky Ickx is going for his record fifth win here at Le Mans. He has four already. Derek Bell, is going for his third Le Mans win. Again, as we have stated before, the Group 6 cars are ineligible for points toward the World Championship while the Group 5 cars are indeed able to score here at Le Mans. There are two segments of Group 5, with the under 2 liter displacement cars and the over 2 liter displacement cars, as the field flies down the four mile Mulsanne straight for the first time.

Eddie Cheever starts Lancia #65. The Lancia’s are eligible for the under 2 liters Group 5 division as they run a 1.4 liter turbocharged 4 cylinder engine. 1981 at Le Mans surely sees the major manufacturers returning en masse to sports car racing, and the future looks bright in the ’80s for sports car racing as a whole as you will soon find out. Lancia want to repeat their championship glories from 1980, as the little Beta Montecarlo screams down the Mulsanne straight at a pretty decent clip. The Group 6 machines will easily top 230+ miles an hour on the Mulsanne as the #68 Lubrifilm Lancia Beta Montecarlo hits pit lane. They are sponsored by CS Computer Systems here at Le Mans, and this is the Giorgio Pianta, Giorgio Schon, Martino Finotto car.

They currently run third in Group 5 and are 21st in the overall out of the 55 cars that started the race. Pit stops in endurance racing have to have three components. Speed, efficiency, and safety are required. Dusk has settled over the track here at Circuit de la Sarthe, and with it, comes a special atmosphere, one that is very rare, with the exception of the Daytona 24 Hours that we’ve already seen. But here at Le Mans, in summer, the hours of darkness are far shorter. We are so close to the longest day of the year as the headlights pierce the gloom, and flames shoot from the car’s exhausts.

The carnival is also in full swing. So, we fast forward to the morning. The gloom, gives way to bright sunshine, and Lancia runs eighth in the overall and they are leading in the Group 5 category for the under 2 liter cars. They can still score 20 points. The Cheever/Alboreto/Facetti Lancia passes the BMW M1, car #52, of Marc Surer. Surer, from Switzerland is the lead driver in the Wuerth-Lubrifilm Team Sauber BMW M1, and is sharing with Austrian Dieter Quester and Canadian driver, David Deacon. The magic hour of 3PM is coming, and the race is over. Eddie Cheever, Michele Alboreto, and Carlo Facetti finish eighth overall and make it home, while one of the Porsche’s wins Group 5.

That is the #55 Claude Bourgoignie Porsche 935 that finishes fourth overall, shared by the car owner, from Belgium, Claude Bourgoignie, and British drivers Dudley Wood and John Cooper. Overall honors go to Porsche with the 936/81 car #11 for Porsche System of Jacky Ickx and Derek Bell! Half a million people came to Le Mans, and now they can flood the track and celebrate.

#11 Bell/Ickx Porsche System Porsche 936/81

One race left in the championship after Le Mans, as the FIA WEC comes to America and the 6 Hours of Watkins Glen at the picturesque Watkins Glen International Raceway in upstate New York for the 6 Hours of Watkins Glen, featuring the IMSA cars and the Group 5 World Championship machines.

http://www.racingsportscars.com/photo/Watkins_Glen-1981-07-12.html

Cesare Fiorio believes this race is the most important as it is the finale, and Lancia wants their second championship. Fiorio is pleased with the outcome in practice. Lancia got a 1-2 outright in the 1980 6 Hours of Watkins Glen. Can they do the same in 1981? Lancia has used two different engines. They have the small 1.4 liter 4 cylinder engines in the small displacement class. The 1.4 has 450 horsepower.

The basic car and engine are road derivative, as well as the chassis, suspension etc. The Martini Lancia team leads Porsche just by 2.5 points, 90 points to 87.5 points, coming in. On the pole, Ted Field and Bill Whittington in the #0 Interscope IMSA Racing Inc. Porsche 935 K3/80. Ten Porsche 935 turbo cars are running against the three Lancia’s for this motor race. Lancia have to finish if they want the championship cup. Here is the roster in each car for the 6 Hours of Watkins Glen.

#1 Riccardo Patrese & Michele Alboreto

#4 Piercarlo Ghinzani & Beppe Gabbiani

#5 Henri Pescarolo & Andrea de Cesaris

They have five Formula 1 drivers in their three cars. They want to bring the world championship back to Lancia. The mini cannon blasts, signaling people to clear the grid, and the cars roll off behind the safety car. Just like at Le Mans, this race will be a hot one. It’s 90 degrees Fahrenheit and the track temperature is soaring to a sweltering 110 degrees! They thunder away from the starting grid for the start of the 6 Hours of Watkins Glen! The big 30 car field is away safely around this 3.4 mile circuit. Whoops! We have a car, on the whirligig. Oh dear! That’s the #23 Porsche 911 from Canada, the Stephen Lax Racing owned car. Lax is at the wheel of it, sharing with fellow Canadian Herman Lausberg.

The Lancia of Michele Alboreto is moving up, as Porsche runs 1-2. The Field/Whittington Porsche leads and it is about to pass and/or lap the #30 Momo Porsche 935-78/81, of Gianpiero Moretti and Bobby Rahal. In the early stages of the 6 Hours of Watkins Glen, we can see the Lancia’s running very reliably indeed, and all three cars are up there at the sharp end of this field. The Lancia’s seem to be blowing everybody’s doors off right now! They are right behind car #60, which is the renumbered Lola T600 Ford Cosworth of Guy Edwards and Emilio de Villota, and that car is no slouch because it has in the back, the famous Ford Cosworth DFL V8, which is the same engine that rules Formula 1 and has for years.

Porsche’s are out in force, and many of the great 935s are doing their best to take the title from Lancia. One of these vehicles is the #11 for John Fitzpatrick Racing. Fitzpatrick is sharing the car with American sports car driver, Jim Busby. Riccardo Patrese has just overtaken Bob Akin’s Porsche 935, the #43 Coca Cola car he shares with Craig Siebert and Vivian Candy. Car #86 follows, with Bruce Leven and Hurley Haywood. Now, you’ll have to excuse the error by commentator Brian Kreisky as he credited #86 as being driven by Herbert Muller. But sadly, the Swiss driver, who was a two-time winner of the Sicilian Targo Florio road rally, died in a crash at the Nurburgring 1,000 Kilometers which was not a part of the 1981 WSC championship, at the wheel of a Porsche 908 Turbo, sharing the car with longtime pal, Siegfried Brunn.

Before the Nurburgring race, Muller said, “my plan is to retire when this race is over.” Little did Herbert Muller know, this was going to be his last race, but also, the final day of his time on earth. Muller crashed the 908 at the Kesselchen corner at Nurburgring trying to avoid another driver who spun directly in front of him. He collided with the stopped car, driven by Bobby Rahal, which was previously retired, and upon impact, the 908 Porsche exploded and caught fire. Muller was not wearing his safety harness for some strange reason, and the initial impact with Rahal’s car, killed him instantly. What a tragedy! What a terrible, terrible tragedy! We dedicate the rest of the reporting on this 6 Hours of Watkins Glen, to the memory of Herbert Muller. May he Rest In Peace.

The Ghinzani/Gabbiani Lancia is running well, and currently, Lancia runs fourth, sixth, and seventh in the overall. Bill Whittington leads the motor race with John Fitzpatrick in second. Taking over the lead of this motor race, is the Group 6 Lola prototype, the de Villota/Edwards machine. Henri Pescarolo and Andrea de Cesaris have had a solid run all day. Poor old Gianpiero Moretti has had a litany of problems with his Porsche 935. Beppe Gabbiani meanwhile, he is gaining on the Interscope Porsche 935 with either Ted Field or Bill Whittington at the wheel of it. Henri Pescarolo and Riccardo Patrese are both running extremely well for Lancia, although we can see Patrese has the fastest of the three cars.

Pit stop time for #5. Lancia, in the lane, for service. Pescarolo hands the car on the driver change, to Andrea de Cesaris. They change tires, as the Pirelli tires supplied to Lancia, they have been worn down after short stints due to the hot, summer weather here in upstate New York. Preston Henn in the pit lane for a scheduled stop for the #22 Porsche 935 K3. This is the car for Marty Hinze Racing that Henn is sharing with Marty Hinze, the car owner, and Dale Whittington. An all American lineup of IMSA drivers in that car. In comes the #9 Porsche 935, the Garretson Racing car. Bob Garretson is sharing with two legends of the Indianapolis 500 who have won it no less than twice, Rick Mears and Johnny Rutherford. Rutherford would go on to win a third Indy 500, and Mears, would win it twice more, in his career, becoming a four-time champion along with Al Unser Sr. and A.J. Foyt.

Now, the Garretson squad are having issues as fuel is spilled out of the hose for the Relumet gravity fed fueling rig. That spilled fuel could ignite. A very dangerous situation indeed, as we see the #4 Lancia hit the pit lane. Piercarlo Ghinzani has some kind of mechanical problem on the car, but the safety car has been deployed onto the track. Guy Edwards, in the Lola T600, he has had a big crash on the far end of the circuit, and this brings out the safety car undoubtedly. Pit stops ensue under full course yellow, but Guy Edwards is beside himself with frustration. He cannot believe that gorgeous Lola of his has been totally demolished, written off, in this incident. The Racing For Charities car, is done. It’s game over. He’ll have to build or find another sports car to race, in 1982.

The safety car pulls back off the circuit, and now, we have a new leader, the #0 Interscope Porsche 935 of Ted Field and Bill Whittington. Commentator Brian Kreisky, has referred to the car as being driven by Danny Ongais. Yes, “the Flyin’ Hawaiian” did drive this car, but not in this race. Earlier in 1981, he had a horrible crash at the Indianapolis 500 and by this time, it may have been he was still recovering from that accident. John Fitzpatrick is second in his Porsche 935, followed by Marc Surer in the BMW M1. Ricardo Patrese and Michele Alboreto in the Lancia are next in the order. Henri Pescarolo and Andrea de Cesaris have the second Lancia in fifth overall.

The sister #4 Lancia is dropping like a stone through the field. The Chevrolet Camaro is still running strongly, although that #44 machine is smoking, which may signal the V8 engine is about to go ka-blammo. That is the #44 car in American GT for Billy Hagan and Bill Cooper, sponsored by Hagan’s logging and timber company, Stratagraph Inc. Speaking of extremely expensive smoke, there’s big plumes of it emanating from behind the #0 Porsche 935 which should be a tell tale sign that Field and Whittington are about to expire from this motor race. Oh dear. Riccardo Patrese and Michele Alboreto still lead the under 2.0 liter section of Group 5. Marc Surer is also moving forward in the #2 BMW Motorsport GmbH/BMW North America BMW M1 that he shares with Englishman David Hobbs. Both of them are BMW factory drivers.

Bob Akin trundles the #43 Porsche 935 into the lane with a flat left rear tire. Will this jeopardize a good finish for the Akin/Siebert/Candy trio? Well, she done blew up. It’s game over for car #0. The engine in the back of the Field/Whittington Interscope 935 Porsche finally went boom. This briefly puts the #11 John Fitzpatrick/Jim Busby driven JFR Porsche 935 K3/80 into the race lead. But, the Fitzpatrick/Busby pair also has mechanical maladies! The pit crew is working on the engine, with the good old Birmingham screwdriver. For all of us non British chaps out there, that’s a hammer. It looks like the fan belt is busted. Well, will slamming that thing repeatedly with a hammer somehow put it back into place? When all else fails, use brute force.

Marc Surer co-driving with David Hobbs, lead the motor race, with the Alboreto/Patrese Lancia in second. The other Lancia of Pescarolo/de Cesaris is third overall. Less than an hour remains in the 1981 FIA WEC season. Andrea de Cesaris will take the Lancia to the finish of this race after Henri Pescarolo completes his stint and they are in the pit lane, doing the changeover and the service, as we speak here, chaps. So, the plot thickens as the end of the season looms. They have the deck lid up, checking the oil levels on the rear mounted engine. Clean the windscreen, change the tires, and Andrea de Cesaris is back into the race, in third spot, on the podium.

Pit stop time for the BMW M1, but it’s stopped on the far side of the circuit! It’s all come apart for David Hobbs and Marc Surer! The 3.5 liter M88 straight six in the back of the BMW has gone bang! More engine woes here, at The Glen! Unbelievable! Lancia is just about ready to celebrate, as they gain a 1-2 placing just before this race is set to conclude. How lucky are the boys from Turin, Italy? Michele Alboreto will hand over to Ricardo Patrese, as they lead overall in the finale of the 1981 World Endurance Championship! Amazing! Stay cool, boys. Team manager Cesare Fiorio looking on. They have to run 15 minutes to the end of this race, as Andrea de Cesaris and company have put a merciless whipping on Porsche today.

Lancia are going to win the race, and the championship! How about it! For the second consecutive year, Martini Lancia wins the championship, and the Italian’s, the Tifosi, go crazy! They can wave their flag proudly, in victory lane.

#1 Patrese/Alboreto Lancia Beta Montecarlo

Grazie mille! Thank you so much! Lancia, are world champions! The church bells can ring, in Italy. That’s all for the 1981 World Sports Car Championship. So long, everybody, until next time.

 

 

Published by

the braking zone

International racing fan for over 20 years. I follow Formula One, Indycars, sports cars, touring cars and other varied forms of racing within and outside the U.S. I am a recent college graduate and have been following the world of car racing since childhood.

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