We have another large grid of Group C cars assembled for the Nurburgring race. Mercedes Benz, by now is the team to beat. Joest Porsche are their main rivals. But, the new Jaguar and Nissan cars are in the mix as well. Aston Martin and Toyota are fast. But, can they compete with the top runners? Here are the top qualifiers.
- #62 Baldi/Acheson Sauber C9-88 Mercedes Team Sauber Mercedes
- #61 Schlesser/Mass Sauber C9-88 Mercedes Team Sauber Mercedes
- #1 Lammers/Tambay Jaguar XJR11 Silk Cut Jaguar
- #23 Gilbert-Scott/Bailey Nissan R89C Nissan Motorsports International
- #7 Wollek/Jelinski Porsche 962C Joest Racing
- #37 Dumfries/Lees Toyota 89C-V Tom’s Toyota
As you can tell, it’s all close at the front between the Brits, the German’s, and the Japanese. The lights flash to green here at Nurburgring, and we are underway in the Eiffel Mountains! Mercedes leads away from Nissan and Jaguar. Aston Martin are competitive, and so is Toyota. But, the 89C-V Toyota’s 3.2 liter turbo V8 is proving to be too thirsty of a motor to keep up with the rest of the pack on fuel efficiency.
The lights flash green, and away we go! Mercedes leads the start in their home race, with Nissan and Jaguar in tow. Mauro Baldi is without a doubt the faster driver than his co-driver Acheson, or Jean Louis Schlesser and Jochen Mass in the sister Silver Arrow. Mercedes is running their same strategy, qualify at the front, open up a lead, and then, cruise to the finish of the race, conserving fuel. We have a car off the road in the first few corners. It looks to be one of the Nissans, but it’s difficult to tell. Fuel consumption is key as quantities of petrol for each race are allotted by the race organizers at the FIA and fixed. Maximum capacity of the fuel cells in the Group C automobiles is 100 liters, and thus, in sprint race trim, they are obliged to make a minimum of two pit stops.
Once again, these regulations are quite similar to Formula 1 as far as fuel, although refueling in Formula 1 was banned and then reintroduced at some point. The fuel flow rate is also decreed so that the maximum pit stop time is around 100 seconds. Mercedes has the advantage on fuel economy as we watch one of the Jaguars participate in some agricultural racing, but the deal is Mercedes hopes they are the ones with the best fuel mileage and they simply cannot let their rivals snooker them on fuel. Mark Blundell is not driving for Nissan this weekend, so, young Brit Andrew Gilbert-Scott is at the wheel of it, and he is doing an impressive job to stay with the Mercedes duo at the front.
The lead battle is seeing the silver cars, vs. the blue, white, and red factory car from Japan. The pressure is without doubt on the Mercedes boys with the Nissan right on their tails. OK. Andrew Gilbert-Scott, he wants to go for it. He wants to show the Mercedes blokes what he’s made of. Gilbert-Scott dives inside of Mauro Baldi, completes the pass for second spot, and makes it stick! Now, he is determined to give Jean Louis Schlesser all the Frenchman can handle. Mercedes are driving to a plan that includes fuel consumption.
They have to resist the challenge of the Nissan, but at the same time, team management has said that if a competitor passes them, they must resist the urge to fight back. Andrew Gilbert-Scott is taking no prisoners, and he has taken P1 away from Schlesser. So, Nissan is at the sharp end, and it looks like Mercedes is about to get swamped. They have been the dominant force in Group C all year, but Jaguar and Porsche are the sharks in the water, smelling blood, and Mercedes may just become the minnow here. The Jaguar’s fuel consumption is unknown right now and it might be able to still pass and stay ahead of the competition.
More trouble for one of the RLR Porsche’s. That’s the #15 off the road in the hands this weekend of Sweden’s Steven Andskar and future Formula 1 driver/current Formula 3000 pilot, Frenchman Bertrand Gachot. Neither Nissan nor Joest seem to have the capability of keeping on top of their fuel consumption while simultaneously trying to lead this motor race. Oscar Larrauri though, in the #16 Jagermeister liveried Brun Porsche 962 has other ideas. He is so determined to get in front that he is showing no respect to Schlesser, and biffing the Frenchman right out of the way. Jean Louis, you make a better door than a window, and I am going to go right past you. Seriously, bud, you are a road hog.
After that bit of insult, Schlesser recovers and continues on his way. Minor dramas and attrition affected the remainder of the field, but there was no letup in the battle at the front of this motor race. Pit stops came and went, and Mercedes, these boys are on their own schedule, in their own zip code. Overtaking rivals is more expensive on fuel, with the bursts of acceleration and more frequent use of the gearbox. Nissan, with Julian Bailey driving, lead this race now by 27 seconds. Nissan team manager Keith Green is telling Bailey, “slow your pace down, sunshine.” Incidentally, this is the same Keith Green who was team boss at Richard Lloyd Racing earlier in the decade.
Nissan is definitely showing Mercedes who’s boss, and that, on Mercedes’ home turf in the heart of Deutschland here at the Nurburgring. What will the Mercedes team think of that? A relative newcomer interloping on their turf, has to be leaving the Sauber Mercedes squad, scratching their heads. That being said, Nissan is now running low on petrol. Like Toyota, Nissan was also dealing with fuel consumption issues on their new car. It’s rocket quick, but it’s also very thirsty. Mercedes and Joest Porsche, the German veterans, have mastered fuel consumption to a T. But the Japanese teams are still struggling with the fuel calculations that are so much a part of this type of racing even though it has clearly switched from endurance to a sprint/Grand Prix type format for ’89.
Bailey is slowing, falling into the clutches of Jean Louis Schlesser. On the long straights of the Nurburgring, the Mercedes is closing up on the Nissan hand over fist. Schlesser now has Bailey in his crosshairs. It’s nose to tail stuff between the two drivers now. It’s a matter of time, and the Mercedes certainly looks like it will prevail, and the shark is about to swallow the minnow whole in one gulp. Bailey doesn’t even get an assist from any of the back markers. Schlesser goes by, and then, to add insult to injury for Bailey, Bob Wollek in the Porsche plays mind games with him, too, and relegates the Nissan to third spot.
Mercedes, Porsche, Nissan, Mercedes, that’s the top four in the running order currently. Schlesser sails through, and then, Wollek goes for the inside pass on Bailey. Bailey has the door halfway open. Bob Wollek, though, he’s a veteran. He’s a scrapper, and he won’t just let Bailey slam the door in his face. Wollek forces Bailey a bit wide onto the front straight, and makes the pass as cleanly as you please, like a hot knife through butter. Jean Louis Schlesser is content in 1st place. He’s master of his fuel consumption, and he can drive a smoother race. This is a very similar situation to what we’ve seen in modern day Formula 1 with Mercedes, and their multiple world champion Lewis Hamilton. Get into the lead, and maintain enough of a gap that you can just drive away from everyone else, and be out on a Sunday cruise.
But, this race is far from over. Bob Wollek is not rolling over and playing dead yet. Wollek is all over Schlesser like the proverbial el cheapo suito here, and soon, he makes his move and takes the lead away from the Mercedes. Now, Porsche leads over Mercedes. For Wollek, however, the dreaded fuel gauge is going to bite him. He’s running dry in the 962 and has to top up in the lane, soon. Tit for tat, as Jean Louis Schlesser nips past the Joest Porsche to reclaim the top spot. Wollek will be holding on for dear life here, now that Schlesser has regained command of this motor race. What did we talk about earlier? Wollek is a fighter. He’s come back. This is turning from a motor race into a ten round heavyweight boxing match. Wollek is somehow able to hang right with Schlesser even though he’s conserving his last drops of fuel in the tank. Will Bob Wollek have anything left in the locker to catch Schlesser? Wollek chooses his moment, and retakes the top spot, putting Porsche out front again here at Nurburgring.
So determined is Bob Wollek, the marshals have put out the blue passing flags for Schlesser telling him in no uncertain terms to move over and make way for the Porsche. Schlesser knows Wollek is there, and he isn’t just going to stop and open the door for his countryman to come through. Somehow, Wollek gets a tremendous drive out of the final corner on the circuit. Here he comes! He’s making his move on Schlesser! Wollek tried to dive inside Schlesser into the turn as he’d done to Julian Bailey. No dice. So, he powers by the Mercedes Benz on the front straightaway and says, “au revoir, Jean Louis”. Wollek is throwing caution to the wind, while Schlesser has no choice but to keep conserving his petrol level.
Schlesser is giving Wollek the same treatment. He’s weaving around, looking for a slight opening to go back through that door. These two are racing, while the other competitors are just tooling around hoping to finish the motor race. But, it’s clear sailing now for Schlesser. Bob Wollek’s low fuel light has come on in the cockpit. The 962’s tank is dry, and the Frenchman from Strasbourg must heed the call to the pits. Schlesser, though, has fuel issues of his own. Did he use up too much in the tank in that battle royal with Wollek? Amazingly, Mercedes makes it to the flag! Jean Louis Schlesser wins, and it’s a Mercedes 1-2 with Mauro Baldi coming home second! How about that?!
Poor old Bob Wollek, he does run out of fuel and the marshals have to push him onto the grass. Kremer Porsche finishes in third spot with the #10 Porsche 962 of South African George Fouche and Italian Giovanni Lavaggi, whose name translates literally in English, to Johnny Carwash. Walter Brun and Jesus Pareja are fourth. John Nielsen and Andy Wallace in fifth place, as the best of the Jaguars. Aston Martin complete the top six with Brian Redman and David Leslie. Check that. They are eighth, bhind the Oscar Larrauri/Franz Konrad Brun Jagermeister Porsche, car #16, and the Lees/Dumfries #37 Toyota.
- #61 Schlesser/Mass Sauber C9/88 Mercedes Team Sauber Mercedes
- #62 Baldi/Acheson Sauber C9/88 Mercedes Team Sauber Mercedes
- #10 Fouche/Lavaggi Porsche 962 CK6 Porsche Kremer
- #6 Brun/Pareja Porsche 962C Repsol Brun Motorsport
- #2 Nielsen/Wallace Jaguar XJR11 Silk Cut Jaguar
- #16 Larrauri/Konrad/Schafer Porsche 962C Repsol Brun Motorsport
Pardon the language here. But, to quote Jochen Mass, about Jean Louis Schlesser, when asked, “how was your co-driver?”, Mass replies, “he’s normally full of s***, but today, he was good!” Mass tells Schlesser “get on with the interview!” Ha! Schlesser says the win is very good. Jochen Mass says, “you have to win in Germany, ja! and we did!” Races are dwindling on the schedule, and we head next back to England and to the Donington Park circuit in Leicestershire, in two weeks.