Round 1: Suzuka Circuit, Suzuka, Japan April 9th, 1989

World Sports Prototype Championship

For 1989, big changes have come to the World Sports Car Championship, now the World Sports Prototype Championship.  Seven races will be run starting in Japan, followed by half a dozen events in Europe, all of which will now have a sprint race format, bringing sports car racing closer to Formula 1, and each car will have just two drivers.  The 24 Hours of Le Mans has become a stand-alone event and will not count towards the WSPC.  We pick up the action with round one, at the Suzuka Circuit in Suzuka, Japan.

During 1989, the WSPC provided close, competitive racing, for eight rounds, and didn’t let up from start to finish.  The WSPC is out to show that sports prototype racing can, and indeed does, share the same level of glamor of Formula 1.  The Suzuka circuit with it’s tricky curves and undulating, hilly nature is tough enough.  But, to greet the drivers of the 1989 championship, one more wrench has to be thrown into the works here.  Said wrench, is rain.  It may be springtime in Japan, and the cherry blossoms on the trees might be blooming.  That’s all well and good, but this race will test the drivers more than any other you are about to read about in this series of reviews.

In practice, (and no we haven’t even gotten to racing yet), the track is awash.  Jean Louis Schlesser in the silver arrow Sauber Mercedes C9-88 was the first victim, spinning off the road in the wet.  He was OK.  But the car, well, that was another story altogether.  The Mercedes is certainly damaged after Schlesser’s off course excursion.  Arch rival Jaguar, would suffer a similar fate, when Jan Lammers lost control and binned it as well.  Lammers didn’t hit the wall, but rather, he was caught out in the wet, and sank into a pothole before the car slithered onto the grass.

Happily, the rainy monsoon at Suzuka was short lived, and the rest of the weekend saw spring like and sunny, warm weather.  This year, will particularly be a boon for the Japanese brands as Toyota and Nissan, launch their major factory efforts to fight the best Europe has to offer in world championship sports car racing.  Despite going off the road in qualifying, Toyota leads the field here in Japan, well clear of rivals from Nissan.  The all British lineup of Geoff Lees and former Le Mans winning driver, for Jaguar, incidentally, Johnny Dumfries, has pole.  34 cars will start this race.  Let’s have a look at the grid.

  1. #37 Lees/Dumfries Toyota 89C-V     Toyota Team Tom’s
  2. #36 Ogawa/Barilla Toyota 89C-V     Toyota Team Tom’s
  3. #1 Lammers/Tambay                 Jaguar XJR-9       Silk Cut Jaguar
  4. #61 Schlesser/Baldi Sauber C9/88 Mercedes                               Team Sauber Mercedes
  5. #72 Nakaya/Grohs Porsche 962C     Obermaier Primagaz (From A Racing)
  6. #24 Hasemi/Olofsson Nissan R88C        Nissan Motorsports International
  7. #23 Hoshino/Suzuki Nissan R88C        Nissan Motorsports International
  8. #100 Fouche/Andskar Porsche 962C GTi  Richard Lloyd Racing (Trust Racing Team)
  9. #55 Schuppan/Elgh Porsche 962C     Team Davey (Omron Racing Team)
  10. #7 Wollek/Jelinski Porsche 962C                     Joest Racing
  11. #85 Wada/Morimoto March 88S Nissan        Nissan Motorsports International (Cabin Racing Team with Le Mans)
  12. #2 Nielsen/Wallace Jaguar XJR9                         Silk Cut Jaguar
  1. #34 Takahashi/Dickens Porsche 962C                     Porsche Almeras Montpelier

(Advan Alpha Nova)

  1. #11 Sekiya/Okada Porsche 962C                     Porsche Kremer Racing (Leyton House                                                                                                                   Racing Team)
  2. #21 Salazar/Bellm/Thyrring Spice SE89C Ford Cosworth  Spice Engineering
  3. #10 Lavaggi/Giacomelli Porsche 962CK6                                Kremer Racing Team
  4. #201 Yorino/Oota Mazda 767                          Mazdaspeed
  5. #5 Huysman/Varjosaari Porsche 962C                     Repsol Brun Motorsport
  6. #202 Katayama/Terada Mazda 767                          Mazdaspeed
  7. #50 Ratzenberger/Suzuki Toyota 89C-V                     Toyota Team Tom’s (SARD)
  8. #40 Mogi/Takahashi/Tutiya Porsche 962C                     Swiss Team Salamin (Advan Alpha                                                                                                                            Tomei)
  9. #14 Bell/Needell Porsche 962C GTi             Richard Lloyd Racing (Cabin Racing)
  10. #6 Brun/Pareja Porsche  962C                    Repsol Brun Motorsport
  11. #17 Dauer/Konrad Porsche 962C                     Dauer Racing
  12. #16 Larrauri/Sala Porsche 962C                     Repsol Brun Motorsport
  13. #13 Fabre/Santin Cougar C22S Porsche      Courage Competition
  14. #20 Lee-Davey/Barth Porsche 962C                     Team Davey
  15. #22 Thyrring/Taylor Spice SE89C Ford Cosworth  Spice Engineering
  16. #8 Ricci/Ballot-Lena Porsche 962C                     Joest Racing
  17. #62 Acheson/Schlesser/Mass Sauber C9 Mercedes      Team Sauber Mercedes
  18. #103 Coppelli/Thuner Spice SE88C Ford Cosworth  France Prototeam
  19. #101 Velez/Adams Spice SE86C Hart               Chamberlain Engineering
  20. #108 Sheldon/Lindstrom Tiga GC289 Ford Cosworth  Roy Baker Racing

A rolling start, and the 1989 Group C season is underway!  Toyotas lead into the first corner,l and as would become the norm now that there is a new sprint format, everyone wants to go for it straight away in this motor race.  In a roaring frenzy the cars spread out, and Jean Louis Schlesser of France puts his thundering V8 Mercedes into the lead.  Toyota, Jaguar, Nissan, and Porsche (albeit an assorted range of them from mixed parentage, instead of a full factory effort), charge behind.  We see Jean Louis Schlesser pulling out a lead over the second place Toyota, Paolo Barilla, the Italian, at the wheel of it.

Jaguar, Toyota, Jaguar, Toyota, and the sister Kenny Acheson driven Mercedes come next.  Now, disregard what it says in the starting grid.  Mauro Baldi is teamed up with Jean Louis Schlesser, and Kenny Acheson is going Marco Solo in the #62 Mercedes as his team mate, Jochen Mass, is sick with an eye infection.  We watch the action from the onboard camera installed in the RLR Porsche with Derek Bell, able to see the rapid acceleration and frighteningly amazing deceleration rates of these space age racers.

Meanwhile, at the sharp end, the scrap is on for the lead.  Jean Louis Schlesser is being hounded by Paolo Barilla at the moment.  Barilla dives inside the big Mercedes, and takes the lead away.  Jean Louis Schlesser is having some tire trouble, as they are not fitting on the rims, making steering the big Mercedes a real handful.  Speaking of handfuls, we have a spinner!  Johnny Dumfries in the Toyota, under pressure to pass Bob Wollek’s Porsche and to stay ahead of Jan Lammers in the Jaguar, is wrong footed in the left hand turn spinning a full 360 and forced to deal with loose bodywork.

Toyota and tire trouble?  You don’t say.  The shoe is now on the other foot.  Barilla has his hands full with Schlesser.  Vroom.  Schlesser thunders around the outside.  He will no doubt extend his lead over the Toyota.  This race could very well set the tone for the ’89 season, seeing Mercedes dominance.  Will that happen?  You’ll have to stay tuned and keep reading to find out.  Johnny Dumfries in the Toyota is making up time, going ahead of former Jaguar team mate Jan Lammers.  Lammers is the defending world champ.  But the Jaguar as a car, is already showing its age, having been around on the WSPC grid since 1986.  It’s pit stop time for Mercedes.  Now, you will notice that these sprint races are going to turn out strategy wise, more like a Grand Prix.

The lead will reshuffle pretty constantly, since these chaps don’t have endurance to worry about and can go Harry Flatters for the whole race.  Let’s review.  Harry Flatters, means, flat out.  Cars can come into the pit lane in what amounts to random order, due to need for fuel, a knackered set of tires, or a driver change, as always.  But there’s no set rule on what has to be done when.  Mercedes, Toyota and others, are frantically pitting their cars.  Far more than in 15 second Formula 1 pit stops, pit stop strategy will be more crucial.  The stops will last around a minute.  Now, let’s resume the racing, and we see that Mauro Baldi has gone about on the whirligig, spinning the Mercedes early on in his stint.  Despite that mistake, Baldi holds the lead and will return the car to Jean Louis Schlesser, while it is still in the lead.

We are beginning to see problems, however, for the TWR Jaguar team, and they are dropping like stones down the order.  The leaders are slugging it out amongst themselves, but the big cats with their V12 engines have to slow down.  They just don’t have the performance based on the available fuel.  But, that’s relative.  These cars are balanced on the edge of adhesion.  Meanwhile, it is all Mercedes at the top of the tree, and not content with second place, Northern Irishman Kenny Acheson flies past team mate Jean Louis Schlesser as if he’s stopped dead stick, to take the lead!  Here at Suzuka will be the only time we see Mercedes use team orders during the 1989 season.

Kenny Acheson is obliged to move over for Jean Louis Schlesser, so that Schlesser can take the lead of we will have to get used to seeing a lot of in ’89.  But, it’s game over for Jaguar.  The #1 Lammers/Tambay entry is stopped on the circuit.  The defending champions run out of gas towards the end, and it’s victory in Japan for Mercedes!  Let’s have a look at the top six finishers.

  1. #61 Schlesser/Baldi Sauber C9/88 Mercedes                               Team Sauber Mercedes
  2. #62 Acheson/Schlesser/Mass Sauber C9/88 Mercedes  Team Sauber Mercedes
  3. #7 Wollek/Jelinski Porsche 962C     Joest Racing
  4. #23 Hoshino/Suzuki Nissan R88C                        Nissan Motorsports International
  5. #2 Nielsen/Wallace Jaguar  XJR9                        Silk Cut Jaguar
  6. #36 Ogawa/Barilla Toyota 89C-V                     Toyota Team Tom’ s

Next, it is a six week break before we resume the action in France, in Dijon at the Circuit Dijon Prenois, in the same region of France that is famous, for their mustard.  Join us there.


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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