Two weeks after the race at Imola, the World Endurance Championship moves to Japan and the majestic Mount Fuji, where the circuit shares the name with the mountain. This is the third year of the East/West rivalry in the world of sports car racing, converging upon Fuji Speedway. Japan’s major car manufacturers are all here, to prove they can compete with the best from Europe, namely, Porsche. Magnificent Mount Fuji watches over the speedway which she has lent her name, with graceful splendor, boding good fortune for the race.
Porsche already has the manufacturers’ championship in their pocket. But, the driver’s cup is what is being fought for, and Jochen Mass and Stefan Bellof, both of them know this all too well. The privateer Porsche’s want a say in this, and the Japanese brands, Toyota, Mazda, and Nissan, all three are hoping to give Porsche a tough run for their money, and perhaps even beat the great cars from Stuttgart. As we are shown on a lap aboard the Rothmans Porsche camera car, with Richard Lloyd at the wheel, Fuji demands precision, and a car that handles.
A chicane has been added to a diabolical final corner on the course. Recall, a year ago, in 1983, two of the European entered Porsche’s were totally demolished after crashes in that turn, before the race. An added benefit of the new chicane is a reduction in lap times of around eight seconds. Despite the chicanes, Fuji remains one of the fastest tracks in the world. This is round seven of the manufacturer’s cup and also, round nine of the driver’s championship, as qualifying begins.
Stefan Bellof wants pole, and so does team manager, Klaus Bischoff. But, out to steal Bellof’s thunder, is Rothmans Porsche team mate in car #1, Jochen Mass. Norbert Singer is the team boss for the #1 entry. Bellof will be sharing last year’s winning Porsche 956 with John Watson. He won the race here at Fuji, co-driving with Derek Bell, last year. Bellof is matching times with Watson, or vice versa. Resources are stretched here in Japan. Bellof, as he prepares for his qualifying trial, he hopes to break the magic 1:18 lap time barrier that no one has come close to touching, so far this weekend.
Watson has done his qualifying lap. He gets out of the car, refueling himself on a magic electrolyte drink. Do you want a taste? No thanks. I am only the writer here, not the driver. I’d rather have lemon lime Gatorade. No chance for Jacky Ickx to repeat as World Champion in 1984, this is because he and Jochen Mass both score the same points tallies, driving together. Someone else will be champ in ’84. It’s hot work here at Fuji. No showers in sight at least for the moment. So, Jochen Mass has to wipe himself down with a towel after his qualifying run.
Vern Schuppan and Hans Stuck are sharing another Porsche 956 this weekend. They are driving the #60 Trust Racing Team Porsche 956, with sponsorship from Iseki Tractor. The car has front fins underneath the nose instead of the widespread front aero wings we’ve seen on the cars earlier in ’84. Schuppan and Stuck qualify third, the fastest customer Porsche at Fuji this weekend. Schuppan has won twice this year at Fuji in the Japanese Group C series wheeling the Iseki Tractors special. Fourth quickest is the #7 Joest New Man Porsche 956, still sporting the raised front wing, with Henri Pescarolo and Stefan Johansson driving. Pescarolo, won the 24 Hours of Le Mans earlier in the season of course.
This car is supported by Tokyo New Man jeans boutique, Taka Q. Jan Lammers and Johnny Palmer are fifth on the grid, as the #14 Canon Porsche has been dealing with persistent handling issues at Fuji. The pink Kremer Porsche qualifies sixth in the hands of Manfred Winkelhock and newly crowned Formula 2 champion, Brit Mike Thackwell. Switzerland’s Marc Surer is also slated to be on the driver’s strength. But, it remains a question if he will take part in the race, with Thackwell and Winkelhock. “The Pink Panther” as this car has come to be known this weekend, is sponsored by another Tokyo fashion boutique.
Toyota is supporting four, factory Dome built Group C cars this weekend, and at the heart of these machines is their 2.1 liter twin turbocharged 4T-GT four cylinder engines. They have around 600 horsepower at their disposal, nearly as much as the Porsche’s. The overall Dome Motorsports entry, is car #38, the Dome 84C Toyota being shared by Eje Elgh from Sweden, and Masanori Sekiya, from Japan, in his home race. They have qualified in seventh for the race. Another Dome to look out for is car #36. This is the Tom’s Dome with the same Toyota engine, being shared by Satoru Nakajima and Keiji Matsumoto.
Another contender in the Dome stable is #37, with Canon sponsorship. This is the Team Ikuzawa car, with Brits James Weaver and Tiff Needell scheduled to share the wheel. The car is qualified 11th on the grid. The fourth Dome entered here at Fuji, is last year’s car, the 83C model. It is entered by Xebec Motorsports Division, for a trio of Japanese pilots including Kaoru Hoshino, Kiyoshi Masaki, and Kazuo Mogi. Yes, there is a fifth Dome racer entered as well. This is the #29 car with Ford Cosworth power. Skoal Bandit Porsche regular, Rupert Keegan will share this ride with Aguri Suzuki, another Japanese star of the future, for the Autobacs Uchida Racing Team. The Skoal Bandit Porsche’s are not entered at Fuji after their double engine failures at Spa Francorchamps and Imola.
It is a short weekend for Keegan and company however. Poor old Rupert Keegan would crash out of both qualifying and the race, after the suspension broke on the Autobacs Dome. Nissan’s main entry in their home event is the Nissan Silvia named March 83G Nissan for Hoshino Racing. The car is propelled by a 2.1 liter turbocharged double overhead cam Nissan LZ20B 4 cylinder, and has Kazuyoshi Hoshino and Akira Hagiwara doing the driving. But, the pair could not better ninth fastest in qualifying. Nissan also powers the two LM cars, for the Le Mans Company. The #50 car for Hasemi Motorsports, the Tomica Skyline liveried LM 04 Nissan of Masahiro Hasemi and Kenji Tohira qualified tenth, while in 12th spot was the sister car, the #20 Canon/Coca Cola Light entry of Takao Wada and Haruhito Yanagida. Nissan encourages the use of the names of their road cars for the Group C prototypes. Hence, one Fairlady, one a Skyline, and one, a Silvia.
Meanwhile, Mazda, for the first time ever have entered the overall Group C class in a WEC event. Four weeks ago, a March 84G chassis was delivered to the team, and it is here, at Fuji, to race. Car #17 runs under the Mazdaspeed banner and driving will be two Japanese drivers, Takashi Yorino, and Yoshimi Katayama. They qualify in 15th place. With the same livery, but in a smaller package, is the C2 class #86 Mooncraft built Mazda 727C with it’s 13B 2 rotor rotary engine, to be shared by Yojiro Terada, Britain’s David Kennedy, and Belgian Pierre Dieudonne. Dieudonne, incidentally, never drove the car.
Also back, for the first time since the Nurburgring race in July, are the BFGoodrich Lola Mazda’s for the driving duos of Jim Busby and Pete Halsmer in car #67, and Dieter Quester and Rick Knoop in car #68. These guys finished first and third in C2 at Le Mans earlier in the year, but according to Dieter Quester, they need handling adjustments. Alba goes quickest in the C2 division, with the #80 machine of Carlo Facetti, Martino Finotto, and Alfredo Sebastiani, setting the pace. Next in class is the surprising #84 Lotec BMW. This is the Auto Beaurex Motorsport entry, from Japan, set to be driven by Naoki Nagasaka and Keiichi Suzuki. A new car to the Group C ranks, is a visiting team from the IMSA Camel GT series in the United States, who hope to do a full WEC campaign in 1985.
This is the #131 Kendall Racing Lola T600 with a big, thundering 350 cubic inch Chevrolet V8 in the back of it, set to be shared by American drivers Chuck Kendall (the team owner), and Jim Cook. They qualify the Lola, 19th on the grid. After the Lola, there’s another Porsche 956. This is the same car that Preston Henn’s team finished second with at Le Mans, but it is now wearing the #16, and FromA, OZ Wheels, and STP colors, under the Nova Engineering team banner. Jiro Yoneyama, Chikage Oguchi, and Frenchman Philip Corona, will share the car, although Corona will not start, leaving the driving chores to Yoneyama and Oguchi.
This car, qualified just behind the Rothmans Porsche camera car, which here at Fuji, is the #3 Rothmans Porsche with Richard Lloyd driving, that was also supposed to have many of the other drivers for the team, partner in it if possible, such as Stefan Bellof, Jacky Ickx, and Jochen Mass. 35 cars will start the race. The aforementioned Dome and one of the Porsche’s, with Advan sponsorship, crashed out of the race before it was even due to begin. That was the #18 Nova Engineering Advan Porsche 956B, that was to be shared by Kenji and Kunimitsu Takahashi, and Brit Geoff Lees.
OK, folks. Is anyone hungry? Racing can be set aside for dinner. A big meal is being prepped for many of the drivers. Specifically, a giant pot of spaghetti Bolognese is being prepared by Martino Finotto and his sous chef, and co-driver, Almo Coppelli. Lunch is ready, for everyone. So, all the teams get to partake in spaghetti Bolognese a la chopsticks, an interesting melding of cultures and cuisine. Make do with the chopsticks, everyone, but whatever you do, don’t forget the Parmesan cheese. Manfred Winkelhock has the idea of eating the spaghetti with the chopsticks, down, and others prefer Eastern noodles to Western spaghetti. With 80,000 spectators, the concession stands at Fuji are very busy. Traditional food is served. There’s raw fish, noodles, spice rolls, and some very interesting and very delicious looking Japanese style pizzas. There is hibachi grilled corn on the cob, too. The visiting teams’ verdict on the Japanese cuisine, superb, awesome, and delicious!
John Watson says there isn’t too much difference between racing in Europe vs. Japan. The language barrier at the driver’s briefing is a barrier, and you eat with chopsticks instead of a knife and fork, but that’s about it. The question still remains. Will it be Jochen Mass, or Stefan Bellof, who win the championship? Six of the Porsche 956’s have filled the top six spots on the grid, but from seventh to 15th place, variety abounds among the Japanese entered Group C cars. The Dome built cars are the most likely cars to give Porsche a tough run for their money. The Nissan Group C car is also right back in the middle of the grid, as is the Rothmans Porsche #3, the camera car. The race will be hot, from a temperature standpoint in the mid-80s, Fahrenheit, and, also, from the competition.
The safety car leads the field away on the formation lap. The lush, green forests around this track are present because Fuji Speedway is nestled within the premier national park in Japan. The field of 35 cars weaves back and forth to heat and clean the tires, forming up for the start. Watch out for the speedy dry, the cement dust on the road, which is sopping up oil spilled by a car in an earlier support race. Bellof and Mass lead the field down, and we are green, at Fuji! It’s three wide already between three of the private Porsche’s! Manfred Winkelhock, Jan Lammers, and Stefan Johansson, each of them is eager to go for it right from the start!
Richard Lloyd has a fight on his hands early with one of the local Nissan’s. Stefan Bellof is eking out a huge gap on the rest of the field. Meanwhile, in C2, this race would see sheer dominance from the Lotec M1C BMW, car #84 of Naoki Nagasaka and Keiichi Suzuki, since the Tiga Spice was not entered. So, the Lotec was to be the only competition for the basically all-conquering Alba team, from Italy. These were the chaps who graciously provided the pasta meal to members of the other teams in the paddock, earlier in the weekend.
The Rothmans Porsches, make hay while the sun shines, and now, Stefan Bellof is in the pit lane for his first stop. He hands the driving duties to John Watson. Watson ran so, so well, finishing sixth for Rothmans Porsche at Spa in September. The Toyota squad has entered Group C racing with a bang in Japan, and we hope they will race the entire World Endurance Championship series in the future. Because of the popularity of sports car racing in Japan, it stands to reason that major brands like Nissan, Mazda, and Toyota, would likely look into entering the full championship. Vern Schuppan has the #60 Iseki Porsche 956 up to third in the overall, sharing of course with Hans Stuck.
Problems for the #99 Tiga Ford C2 car, look. Jeremy Rossiter loses a wheel, and finds it among the crowd. He may be able to reinstall it, but it looks unlikely. So, game over for Rossiter and co-drivers with the Briton, Philippe Colonna of France, and Altfrid Heger of Germany. John Watson gets the taste of a lead in a World Championship motor race, for the first time since his Formula 1 days. Hans Stuck in the pits is getting a massage, as his car comes in, Vern Schuppan ready to turn it over to Stuck for the next stint.
Stuck and Schuppan challenged the #1 Rothmans Porsche of Jacky Ickx and Jochen Mass, early on. Both cars made pit stops and in that time, they are also being hotly challenged by Stefan Johansson and Henri Pescarolo. Whoa! Close moment for Hans Stuck as he nearly gets into some argy bargy with the Lotec BMW leading the C2 class! Mama mia! Stefan Bellof continues to lead, and is a lap up over the team Rothmans car of Ickx and Mass. A spin, for the #85 Mazda 727C. This is the privately entered Japanese Setrab Racing by Yours entry. Three Japanese drivers share the car, including Hideki Okada, Masatomo Shimizu, and Tomohiko Tsutsumi. The #14 Canon Porsche was nowhere to be seen through this race. At Fuji, they have had a litany of problems, and Jan Lammers with co-driver Johnny Palmer, these blokes are having a tough old time of it to say the least.
Then, disaster, and a massive hit for one of the Alba’s! #82 smashes… ker-runch!, straight into a car that was already parked off the side of the road with mechanical issues. Spare a thought for the Jolly Club Alba AR3 Ford, a rather secondhand motorcar. Also, spare a thought for the drivers, who are out of this race, Pasquale Barberio and his countryman from Italy, Maurizio Gellini. This colossal shunt with the Alba brings out the safety car. Jacky Ickx, meanwhile, is about to have a problem of his own. He was alleged to have passed under the safety car, had to pit for a drive through stop and go penalty, was told off by the clerk of the course, like having your hands slapped with the ruler by the school headmaster, and sent back on his way.
With all of that muss and fuss out of the way, Ickx is a lap down to his team mates, the #2 Rothmans Porsche of Bellof and Watson. Manfred Winkelhock and Mike Thackwell in the #21 Porsche would finish this race, but not before one of them spun the car. Bellof and Watson hang on to win, at Fuji, with their sister car of Ickx and Mass, just 32 seconds behind in second place.
- #2 Bellof/Watson Porsche 956 Rothmans Porsche
- #1 Ickx/Mass Porsche 956 Rothmans Porsche
- #60 Stuck/Schuppan Porsche 956 Trust Racing Team
- #7 Johansson/Pescarolo Porsche 956 Joest Racing
- #10 Winkelhock/Thackwell Porsche 956 Kremer Racing
- #84 Nagasaka/Suzuki Lotec M1C BMW Auto Beaurex Motorsports
Once again, the C2 class winners:
#84 Nagasaka/Suzuki Lotec M1C BMW Auto Beaurex Motorsports
The points table after Fuji, with just a couple of rounds to go, has a three point lead over Jochen Mass, 119-116. Jacky Ickx is third on 89 points. Henri Pescarolo is fourth on 75 markers. Derek Bell, in fifth with 71 points, and tied equal for sixth because they share the same car, are Johnny Palmer and Jan Lammers on 63 points. The final event of the championship, is coming up, in Australia. Stay tuned for all the action from Sandown Park.
Notably, a month before the Sandown event, there was the 1,000 Kilometers at Kyalami in South Africa. It was not as dramatic a race as we saw in 1983. Lancia finished 1-2. A few group C cars showed up, but they were blended in with a field of South Africa Saloon Car Championship machines and Group 1 Touring Cars. Cars such as Alfa Romeo Alfetta’s, Rover 3500s, Volkswagen Golf GTI’s, Nissan Skyline’s, Stanza’s, and 160Z’s, Mazda Capella’s and RX7’s, Alfa Alfetta’s and Toyota Corolla’s. Lancia won the race, but most of the Group C teams didn’t show up due to a travel money disagreement.