1985 in Group C World Endurance Championship sports car racing was marked by triumph, tragedy, and the beginning of a shift in the forces that dominated the sport.
Italy epitomizes beautiful scenery, good food, and fast cars. The fast cars part, is going to be emphasized as we are in the land of Lancia, for the first of two consecutive races, to kick off the 1985 World Endurance Championship for sports cars. There is no longer a manufacturer’s championship, and instead, the focus shifts off of the factory cars, in a way, and moves to recognizing teams and sponsors. Another new wrinkle is a 15% fuel consumption reduction. Speed and economy are both the name of the game in ’85. Lancia take pole for the first of their two home races, here at Mugello, in the Tuscany mountains.
Lancia sets pole at a 1:39 dead. 1:39.07, at a speed of 190 kilometers per hour. That’s 118.75 miles an hour around the Mugello track. Lancia team manager Cesare Fiorio says the time is good for an endurance car, and it’s good for this track. It is quicker than a Formula 2 car. Fiorio says he is hopeful the season will go well. The tech staff changed over in the middle of the 1984 season for Lancia. Fiorio says that he isn’t sure how well Lancia will do, and no decision has been made for the future on whether the team will continue. Fiorio also mentions the Porsche’s, the 956s and new 962s will be tough opponents.
The pole sitting #4 Lancia LC2/85 will have the all Italian lineup of Riccardo Patrese and Alessandro Nannini, while the sister car, #5 is being shared by Bob Wollek of France, and Italy’s Mauro Baldi. The team had two crashes in practice which severely compromised the handling of the car. The cars have around 680 horsepower to play with and their fuel consumption is touted as excellent. The Rothmans Porsche team believes they have an ace up their sleeve in the form of Hans Stuck, who is newly signed to drive for Rothmans Porsche this year, having won for Brun Porsche at Imola last year.
Stuck is the new team mate for Derek Bell in the #2 Rothmans Porsche 962. The 962C is the longer wheelbase replacement for the three-time championship winning 956 model, and Stuck has qualified second fastest on the starting grid for this race. Stuck says he sees the team as being organized and experienced, and this makes it easier for him as a driver. Bell drove with Stefan Bellof and Bellof won the ’84 championship. Bell admires Stuck and says he is underrated, and that Stuck is proving his ability. Asked if he’d drive if he could choose between Stefan Bellof and Hans Stuck, Bell says, “I wouldn’t even drive if I had those two on my team. They are so good, I’d just sit back and watch them race.”
The Lancia is 1.6 seconds quicker than the Porsche, and Stuck says he only ran at about 97-98%. He says he couldn’t have gone lower than a 1:39.5 lap time. Stuck is actually two seconds quicker than Bellof, who is now driving for Brun Motorsport alongside Thierry Boutsen of Belgium in the Brun Motorsports Torno sponsored Porsche 962. Brun have kept the little extra front winglet atop their Porsche after most other teams got rid of them, after experimenting with them throughout the 1984 campaign.
Jacky Ickx and Jochen Mass focus on fuel consumption running during qualifying. But, Mass finds enough speed in the car to go fourth quick on the timesheets. FISA has devised a new safety equipment package, and so, the 962 Porsche subsequently has a longer wheelbase than did the 956, and a stouter roll cage and crash structure. The cars are heavier, and this presents a conundrum for Rothmans Porsche in the handling department. Fuel restrictions have also dropped power down by 10 break horsepower from 620 to 610. Jacky Ickx, and Porsche team manager, Norbert Singer, they are quietly confident.
Slightly bigger wheels will help with traction on the Rothmans 962. But, here at Mugello, the cars are hopping and porpoising all over the road, and oversteering like crazy. Brun Motorsport’s sister car runs sixth, behind the second of the Lancia’s as Oscar Larrauri from Argentina, and Italian Massimo Sigala qualified behind the second Lancia, the Patrese/Nannini car. The sister car is the older Porsche 956, the dominant car in Group C during both 1983 and ’84 of course.
Seventh quickest, is the #10 Kremer Racing Porsche 962 of Germany’s Manfred Winkelhock and Switzerland’s, Marc Surer. Watch for Winkelhock and Surer in ’85. They are certain to be a strong driver pairing. The sister Kremer Porsche qualifies next on the grid, in eighth, driven by Klaus Ludwig of Germany and South African George Fouche. The third driver, is a guest driver in the car for this race, Italy’s Gianni Mussato. But, he crashed the car in the morning warmup which couldn’t have given Mussato a favorable reputation with team boss Erwin Kremer and the rest of the lads in the garage. So, we won’t dwell on Mr. Mussato’s antics anymore.
George Fouche meanwhile is one of the most improved drivers in Group C from ’84, and his team mate, Klaus Ludwig, he’s kind of the big dog on this driver’s strength because he was part of the winning team with Henri Pescarolo for Reinhold Joest at Le Mans last year. In the lightweight C2 division, Alba emulates Lancia, going fastest in the class, with the #80 Alba Carma in the hands of their all Italian driving trio. The car will be shared by Carlo Facetti, Martino Finotto, and Guido Dacco. It was Dacco who set quick time for the Alba, which is now racing on Avon tires. The Alba is just slightly quicker than the #70 Tiga Ford for Spice Engineering in the hands of Gordon Spice and Ray Bellm.
Last year, in 1984, Spice was extremely competitive, winning five races in the C2 division, but they lost out on the championship as they didn’t run every race of the year. Their motor is the 3.3 liter Ford Cosworth DFL V8 with a 90 degree, double overhead cam, 4 valve layout. They are meeting even more stringent fuel requirements with the C2 cars than are the big bruisers in Group C, (C1). As the C2 cars have their own championship, Spice Tiga is going to go for it again this year, when it comes to winning the championship.
First seen at Spa, last year, the thunderous Cheetah Aston Martin is back in the Group C game for ’85. The 5.3 liter Tickford built Aston Martin V8, is indeed the lump in the back of the car, and propelling the beast, will be drivers, Gianfranco Brancatelli of Italy, and Bernard de Dryver of Belgium. The car sounds lovely, but is still in the development stages. Fuel consumption is not the only subject playing upon the minds of the teams. We also have a tremendous war on hand, and that is between the tire companies. Dunlop, Michelin, Goodyear, and Avon, are the four tire brands who are slugging it out this year to see whose rubber can keep these ground pounding beasts on the road, the best.
Dunlop has the two top Porsche teams from Rothmans and Brun among others. Tire techs are prepping for a possibility of a wet race after cold and wet running in Friday practice when the teams arrived at the autodrome. There are hand grooved rain tires. A technician is cutting further grooves into the tire’s tread surface, with a razor blade. Kremer Porsche has opted to use Goodyear tires in 1985, and the U.S. based tires, made in Akron, Ohio, have a sterling wet weather record. One of the teams not here at Mugello, but who will contest the bulk of the races in 1985, is the Canon Porsche 956/962 for GTi Engineering, spearheaded by Richard Lloyd, with Jan Lammers of Holland, and Englishman Jonathan Palmer, once again, doing the driving.
Richard Lloyd’s squad is making the switch, from Dunlop to Goodyear tires. In 1985, Michelin is purely, solely focused on the FIA World Endurance Championship, having pulled out of Formula 1. Michelin is serving as tire supplier for the Lancia team, and there’s speculation they are prepping for Renault to come back to sports car racing, after Renault last participated in the late 1970s, in ’77 and ’78, with the Alpine A442’s that won Le Mans in 1978, with French drivers Jean Pierre Jassaud and Didier Pironi, winning. Pironi would go on to Formula 1, most notably, with Ferrari.
All of the lighter C2 prototypes are racing on the British made Avon tires. At the next race at Monza, also in Italy, Yokohama tires, from Japan, will become the fifth tire supplier in Group C, being used by John Fitzpatrick Racing. It is now time to race, at Mugello, on Sunday, April 14th. The weather is cloudy, but dry with a very remote chance of rain. Pre-race activities are furnished by the medieval flag throwers troupe from nearby Florence, Italy. Toss the flags in the air, and catch them. Jacky Ickx and Jochen Mass, are stunned by their skills.
A record crowd is in attendance for the first race of the World Endurance Championship of 1985. The fans have turned out, expecting a great race. Friday snow still lingers on the mountains above the circuit. The Lancia safety car leads the field on their formation lap promptly at 11AM. Porsche and Lancia are going with a similar strategy for this race, each team will run a tortoise and a hare. Both Rothmans Porsche and Martini Lancia trust that at least one of their cars will be ahead of the privateer entered Porsche’s when the checkered flag falls.
The safety car pulls off, and Riccardo Patrese, from pole, leads the field in the Lancia. Green lights, on! Away we go! We are underway in the 1985 World Endurance Championship! Riccardo Patrese has parlayed his pole position into a lead on this first lap. Patrese was storming in qualifying, and his time of 1:39.07 in qualifying, was untouched by any other team entered. He had the welly down then, and does now. That being said, in qualifying, you can throw caution to the wind and turn the boost control for the turbo all the way up. But, you’re going to have to turn it down, and conserve the car for the 1,000 kilometer race.
Riccardo Patrese is eking out a gap to hold an advantage before eventually handing the car to co-driver and fellow Italian, Alessandro Nannini. Stefan Bellof runs in second spot in the #19 Brun Porsche, and in third, it’s Derek Bell in the #2 Rothmans Porsche. Jacky Ickx and Jochen Mass in Porsche #1, are nowhere to be seen. What could the matter be? You ask. Nothing’s wrong. They are tactically playing the tortoise for Rothmans Porsche, and they will very well speed up before this race is done and dusted. By the 90 minute mark, Stefan Bellof was well and truly in the lead of the motor race, and we see Derek Bell nip past Riccardo Patrese.
Jacky Ickx is making his way forward, and he is up to sixth in the overall. Meanwhile, in Group C2, Gordon Spice leads, and Martino Finotto in the Alba, is chasing him all the time. The first scheduled pit stops are underway, which will affect team strategy throughout the remainder of this motor race. Hans Stuck has taken over from Derek Bell, and now we see the Kremer Porsche, car #10 into the lane, for service. Manfred Winkelhock, once again, is sharing that car with Switzerland’s Marc Surer. 33 laps (107 and a half miles) are complete. Brun Porsche are in the pit lane for service. Stefan Bellof has handed the car to his co-driver, Belgian Thierry Boutsen.
We fast forward to lap 40, (130 miles), and the running order in the top placings is Boutsen, Stuck, Winkelhock, Nannini, and Jochen Mass. Both of the Lancia’s were on pace, but the #4 car had to slow down as they were using too much fuel too early. Lancia became embroiled in a battle with the Rothmans Porsche, #2 of Hans Stuck. Nannini loops the Lancia, and loses a lap in the process. This promotes to fourt, the #1 Ickx/Mass Porsche. Thierry Boutsen is forced to enter pit lane on lap 109 for an extra pit stop. This is at the 355 mile mark in the race. Boutsen has a flat tire.
On the exchange, Manfred Winkelhock assumes P1 with the Kremer Porsche. Winkelhock still needs another fuel stop, remember. The tire is replaced in short order, and Winkelhock heads out back into the race. On the pit stop exchange, Jacky Ickx and Jochen Mass, have now moved to second place in the running order. Heartbreak for Lancia! The quicker of their two cars, the #4, with Alessandro Nannini, is out of the race. Game over. He retires on lap 113 (368 miles into the race). Moving ahead, Manfred Winkelhock pits the Kremer Porsche from the race lead, on lap 132 (430 miles exactly), into the race. While Winkelhock is being serviced in the lane, Jacky Ickx and Jochen Mass take the race lead.
We have seen so far in this race, Winkelhock and Surer, both of them are definite contenders. Jacky Ickx and Jochen Mass, they pit, dropping to second, and allowing Thierry Boutsen back into the lead. The #1 car has an advantage, though. Remember, at the beginning of the race, they went at a much slower pace. They will turn on the afterburners and step up their pace as the race draws to a close. Boutsen is now making a pit stop, and handing the car back to Stefan Bellof. #19 stays in the lead, but they need one more fuel stop, a splash and a dash, while the Rothmans boys will have to come ‘round one full lap on the circuit, to unlap themselves.
Derek Bell and Hans Stuck in the sister #2 Rothmans Porsche have also burned off a lot of fuel and will have to slow down. #1 is going quicker, but the #2 team manager, Walter Najer has instructed Bell and Stuck to back off just a skosh. The Winkelhock/Surer Porsche has passed the Spice/Bellm Spice Tiga, which is the car that will win the Group C2 division here at Mugello. Jochen Mass has taken the lead on lap 169. Just 21 laps to the finish here at Mugello, and Norbert Singer, Porsche Motorsport team director insists there is no fuel left. They’ve used up the allotted 510 liters for this race. Stefan Bellof makes the extra fuel stop for the Brun team on lap 178, at the 580 mile mark. There’s just 45 miles or so to go now. He will drop to third behind the #10 Winkelhock/Surer Kremer Porsche. It’s victory for the #1 team of Jochen Mass and Jacky Ickx, but it’s heartbreak for their sister car, #2, of Hans Stuck and Derek Bell!
They’ve run out of gas just before the end, and are three laps short! They rely on the starter motor to creep across the finish line, but will be disqualified for this maneuver, because there’s an obscure rule that says the final lap of a race has to be completed within 400% of the pole position time. They’ve broken the 400% rule, and will be disqualified for it. Ickx and Mass win, taking the lead in the driver’s championship, while Rothmans Porsche now leads the world team’s championship.