From the Canyons of My Mind
Cries of delight from the Cellar. Mr. Brooks has found some of his early
masterpieces, taken at the Brands Hatch 1,000 Kilometre race in October 1982.
"They're not bad" he decides with a touch of wonderment, so let us judge for
ourselves. If I can recall the race, Brooksie will go public with his race pix.
As it happens, I remember the Brands 1,000 Kms very well. It was an extraordinary
event which resulted in a paper-thin victory for Jacky Ickx and Derek Bell in their
new Rothmans-Porsche 956, a win that crowned Ickx as the World Sportscar
Champion by the narrowest of margins from Lancia's Riccardo Patrese.
Lancia raced their Barchetta LC1 outside the new Group C regulations in 1982. It
was a carry-over from previous seasons and was not eligible for manufacturers'
points, but its drivers were eligible for drivers' points. So far, so FIA. It was not
subject to the very strict fuel consumption regulations, which meant that Patrese,
Michele Alboreto, Teo Fabi and Piercarlo Ghinzani were off the leash for the entire
1,000 Kilometre distance, but they could claim victories and trophies.
The Porsche 956 was the first ground effect car from Weissach, so although it
was heavier than the Lancia Barchetta it was quicker through fast corners,
especially at Le Mans. All Porsche race cars are designed to win at Le Mans;
everything else follows.
Lancia had won the first encounter, the Silverstone 6-Hours, where Ickx and Bell
were horribly handicapped by needing to run the full distance on 600 litres of fuel.
The FIA stipulated 600 litres for 1,000 Kilometres but the BRDC, in its wisdom,
stuck to its traditional 'Silverstone Six Hours' (so onomatopoeiac!) and the
Porsche 956 was obliged to travel 1,120 kilometres on this meagre ration. Ickx
and Bell spent half the race trundling round in fifth gear, economising on fuel,
while the Lancia covered 1,132 kilometres.
I haf no Budgie
Porsche then finished 1-2-3 at Le Mans, a result that more truly represented the
worth of the new Group C car. Ickx and Mass then won at Spa, again in Fuji, and at
this point Ickx realised that he could win the World Championship if he could beat
Patrese at Brands Hatch, a Group C European Championship round.
Neither Rothmans nor Porsche had any budget for the British event, but Ickx
volunteered to race without payment - he was that keen! - Bell agreed to co-drive,
and some budget was found at the bottom of a coffer to make the whole thing
Brands Hatch can be a dreary place in October, and there was often a mishap
which delayed proceedings and caused the race to finish in darkness. So it was in
1982. It rained, and Marc Surer and Manfred Winkelhock devised a suicidal plan to
race their Ford C100s side by side, so as not to blind each other with their spray
as they explained later, while marshals collected the Fords in kit form from the
environs of Surtees Bend.
Who Knows Where the Time Goes?
The BRSCC decided to issue a result, with Ickx six seconds ahead of Patrese,
and some time later the event was restarted. The result would be calculated on
the aggregate of two heats, a nicety that escaped Peter Falk, Porsche's team
director and computer wizard. He thought that the organisers had started a new
race, which added to the excitement later on.
We forget, now, just how daft the fuel consumption formula really was. Maybe it
was a great technical exercise which forced the issue of fuel economy, but this
was lost on spectators who paid good money to be entertained.
While the Americans rationed the air, which was inexhaustible, through restrictors
and thereby roughly equated the performances of a variety of power units, the FIA
restricted the fuel supply and penalised the drivers who were a bit heavy with their
right feet (or more usually, their long-suffering co-drivers who had to get back onto
the fuel schedule. Mr. Bell could write a book about this!).
The Group C cars started with 100 litres in the tank, of course, and were allowed
to stop five times to take on 100 litres. Team managers had to calculate the stops
so that the car was on its last drops, otherwise it would consume less than 600
litres, and 'intermediate' stops for tyres were heavily penalised because the tank
couldn't be filled at the same time.
So it was that Bell came on the radio, with increasing urgency, telling Mr. Falk and
Norbert Singer that his wet tyres were overheating on a drying track. He was losing
grip, losing ground fast to the rapid Lancia with Patrese at the wheel, but he was
not allowed to make an interim stop before the tank ran low.
Twilight’s Last Gleaming
When Ickx took the wheel, an hour from the end, Fabi was almost a lap ahead.
There was no way that the Porsche could catch the Italian car, but Ickx drove one of
the most inspired races of his entire career.
I had seen him drive his F2 Matra at the Nurburgring, humbling most of the Grand
Prix drivers, I had seen him make rivals look like learners at Spa, but I had never
seen such an amazing display of track-craft as at Brands.
Darkness was gathering, and the Porsche's full-beam lighting added to the
drama. Ickx overtook slower cars any way they came, like shooting ducks in a
funfair gallery. We hadn't seen anything like this since Pedro's fabulous run in the
Porsche 917 in 1970, but when the chequered flag was unfurled the Belgian was
still two seconds, just two brief seconds, behind Fabi.
The Italian crossed the line as Ickx thundered out of Clearways for the last time, so
Mr. Brooks will have been exceptionally clever if he got both cars in the finish shot.
I realised straight away that Ickx would be declared the winner - it was not the first
time that the Brands Hatch race had been a two-parter - but when I hoofed it
through the tunnel and went to the Porsche pit, Falk and Singer were
commiserating. "What a race, what a pity about the result" was their verdict.
"But Mr. Falk, what about the result of the first part?" I chipped in. "I think that Jacky
has won by a few seconds." He looked disbelieving, then he rushed back into the
pit to study his never-ending rolls of computer tape. "Yes, we won" he exclaimed,
and the mood changed dramatically.
The elation almost matched that at the finish of the Le Mans 24-Hours. Porsche
had dominated at Le Mans, Rothmans-Porsche had won the Manufacturers'
Championship, Ickx had won the Drivers' Championship, and the 962 remained
unbeaten in Group C competitions. Bell had to wait three more years to win the
first of his two World Championship titles, which were long overdue by 1985.
Could we have imagined, that day, that within 20 years Porsche's management
would show no interest in top-level racing and that Derek Bell would be a
consultant to a Le Mans effort by Bentley? I doubt it.