Victory for Lancia on a sad occasion
The second round of the World Championship for Makes run at Brands Hatch on March 16th may not have been the most exciting long distance race ever, but at least it provided an unexpected result. Lancia Beta Montecarlo Turbos finished first, second and fourth, the first time a Group 5 car from the under 2-litre division has over won a World Championship endurance race. Sadly, though, the race was marred by a fatal accident to amateur British sports car driver, Martin Raymond.
It came as no surprise to see the turbocharged 2.1-litre Porsche 908/4 of Reinhold Joest and Volkert Merl on pole. The two Germans had won the last Brands Hatch Six Hours the previous August with the same car, and Joest, its owner, lapped more than a second faster than then to head the 32 car field with a 1 min. 25.42 sec. Second and third on a full and varied grid were the two works Lancia Montecarlos, which with their 1.4-litre turbo engines headed all the bigger cars in the Group 5 classes. The quicker of the two factory Lancias was the red and white car of rally ace Walter Röhrl and F1 driver Riccardo Patrese, who set its best practice lap of 1 min. 27.89 sec. The blue and white sister car of Eddie Cheever and Michele Alboreto was only a tenth of a second slower.
The fourth car on the grid was a veritable museum piece: a ten year old, eight cylinder, 3-litre Porsche 908/3 that contested the 1970 Targa Florio among other events. Still painted in the proper factory team colour scheme of those days, it is now owned and very ably driven by a German dentist, one Siegfried Brunn.
At the start, Joest's turbo Porsche shot away as expected, but Bruno slipped into second place and succeeded in holding off Patrese's Lancia for over five laps. Even when Patrese squeezed past, Brunn hung on grimly. Gradually the Lancia shook off the aged 908/3; but with the race half an hour old, the valiant German amateur closed up again on the F1 "star", and for lap after lap stayed firmly in Patrese's slipstream. What was that about progress? The second works Lancia, meanwhile, had lost time in an early pit-stop to repair tattered bodywork after Cheever had touched Lella Lombardi's Osella-BMW in the opening laps.
As the Joest/Merl 908/4 stretched out an ever more convincing lead, Brunn's doughty challenge for second place evaporated when his car's clutch needed readjustment. But then Martin Raymond took up the chase in the Mogil team's Chevron B36. Driving the 2-litre sports-racer with a spirit seldom seen in modern long distance racing, he fought the Patrese/Röhrl Lancia for an hour, closing on Patrese after the refuelling stops and harrying him relentlessly for second place.
Then, with the race approaching half distance, Raymond's Chevron spun out of Westfield and stalled in the dip of Dingle Dell. Raymond coaxed the engine back to life, but found he could not engage a gear. After several futile attempts lasting some minutes, he prepared to abandon the car — but just as he walked away, Paul Edwards' Porsche Carrera RSR and Marco Rocca's Osella collided on the plunge into the valley. Instantly both cars spun, and one cannoned off the stationary Chevron into its departing driver. Raymond was killed instantly. Edwards broke a bone in his hand, and Rocca received an ankle injury.
With the track blocked by debris, the race was halted and not restarted for some 75 minutes. When it recommenced, it was for but an hour, to ensure full championship points for the surviving cars. After only one lap of the restart, Merl retired the leading Porsche with a broken gear linkage. As Patrese sped on to ensure Lancia's first World Championship racing victory since the fifties, Eddie Cheever overhauled the De Cadenet-DFV of Alain de Cadenet and Desiré Wilson to give the Italian works team a clean sweep. The 3-litre De Cadenet finished third, with the privately entered Lancia Montecarlo Turbo of Facetti and Finotto fourth. First big Group 5 car home, in fifth place, was the ex-Kremer Porsche 935 of Dudley Wood, John Cooper and Pete Lovett, while Barrie Williams and Adrian Yates-Smith claimed sixth position with the latter's relatively underpowered but neatly rebodied 2.8-litre Porsche 911.