by Franco Lini
Riccardo Patrese and Michele Alboreto both came close to winning the World Endurance Championship for Drivers in 1982. But they both failed to bring Italy a much needed title following the season's disappointments at Ferrari. Their chance may come next year with the Ferrari-Lancia-Martini, but meanwhile, Patrese and Alboreto, two very different personalities, look back at a season's Endurance racing.
Italian motor sport fans have reason to be happy: they have an unequalled number of drivers to support in the upper echelons of the sport. Furthermore, there is as much quality as quantity. The Italians aren't complaining, although such representation could well be a dream for an ambitious national president elsewhere. However, Fabrizio Serena, president of the CSAI, is not one to be swayed by such status.
There were nine Formula One drivers in Formula One in 1981, and seven in 1982 following Riccardo Paletti's death and Eddie Cheever's defection. But the Italians had gained status in 1982 with Elio de Angelis, Riccardo Patrese and Michele Alboreto all winning their first Grand Prix. But the latter two also came close to winning another championship for Lancia: the World Endurance Championship for Drivers.
Lancia took a gamble at the beginning of the year: they built Group Six sports cars and hired the best drivers so that one of them, at least, could win the Drivers' title. The Lancias were unable to score points in the Makes series, but four outright wins should have allowed one of their drivers to win the other title. It didn't work out that way, but neither driver was unhappy with his season's endurance racing. It was a delight to welcome them to long distance racing, a series chosen by the drivers themselves for their own sake rather than for contractual reasons, even if those drivers do prefer Formula One.
At 26, Michele Alboreto was the find of the 1982 season. A sensible, thinking driver, he's almost certainly on the verge of a great career in motor racing. He is proof that maturity doesn't necessarily come with age. His powers of analysis, the clarity with which he views his task and his honesty remind some people of Gilles Villeneuve. Indeed, many people see him as a future Ferrari Grand Prix driver, but Michele's feet are planted firmly on the ground: "I won't believe that until I've signed the contract."
Racing in endurance events poses no problems for Michele, even though he accepts that he has had a much busier season that most of his Formula One colleagues: "I've been driving in endurance and single-seater races for three years now, so I'm used to having busy seasons. I enjoy the competition and I think it widens a driver's experience. I don't believe in a driver limiting himself to a single type of racing."
We may agree with him, but what if Lancia asked him to try his hand at rallying? "Why not? I'd be quite happy to drive in a rally, although I wouldn't like to predict a result. Actually, I'd quite like to drive in a rally. Remember Carlos Reutemann on the Codasur? He surprised a few people!"
Does Michele find it tiring to race in both endurance events and Grand Prix? "Yes, endurance races are tiring because by definition they're longer. You really feel it if you have a Grand Prix the following week-end. All the same, I try not to drive too much at night. That's not because I don't like driving at night, but because it takes you longer to get over it. The close proximity of Grand Prix means that you have to recuperate very quickly from each race. That's why I drive as much as possible during the day, and as little as possible at night. But, as I say, it's not a question of taste but one of necessity."
Formula One races are of a sprint nature of course, while an endurance event calls for a more regular pace. Does Michele find it hard to adapt to a rhythm slower than that of which he is capable? "In some cases, yes. But as Cesare Fiorio says, it's easier to make a hare walk than to make a tortoise run. But the races this year have been so competitive that I don't remember ever actually easing off."
Michele Alboreto just failed to win the World Endurance title this year. Was he very disappointed not to be champion? "Yes, very disappointed. With just a little more luck, I would have won more races, Spa for example. It was crazy to lose points for what appeared to be a breakage but wasn't. But sometimes circumstances are against you. I knew that I'd lost the title in Japan when the car got away from me. And then there were retirements for quite ordinary reasons, the electrical problem in Monza for instance. I feel sore about those when I look back at them now."
Alboreto is particularly sensitive when it comes to the atmosphere in endurance racing, especially concerning those close to him. "It's a lot more relaxed than Formula One, much more sane. Races are longer and demand consistency, but there's much less tension than in F1. You can chat and have a good time." Generally speaking, would Michele admit that it's a more human and pleasant series? "Exactly, in Formula One, there's a lot more tension, and we have to work that much harder in a lot less time. It's a lot calmer in endurance racing, more a team effort." Is Formula One too influenced by financial concerns? "Not when it comes to me it isn't!" replies Michele with a laugh. Clearly Michele isn't yet earning a star's wage.
But he'll be back in endurance racing again next year, driving the new Ferrari-Lancia-Martini. An increase in power and a roof over his head doesn't worry Michele however. "The important thing is to be enthusiastic about one's job. Mine is to drive. I derive deep satisfaction from driving, and I must admit I make quite a good living at it as well. I'm lucky to be able to realise my dreams. Not everyone has that opportunity. But one has to work at one's job. Endurance racing often puts greater emphasis on the car than the driver, but the driver can still derive the same satisfaction as in F1: that of having done a job well. I really like endurance racing. I drive because I enjoy it."
But it's a view which Riccardo Patrese doesn't share. Patrese and Alboreto are not similar. The former is more shy, and therefore more reserved. He's always said that he prefers Formula One. Alboreto is a more diverse driver in the old-fashioned sense, more a Jacky Ickx than a James Hunt for instance. Patrese, on the other hand, comes from the newer but colder school where drivers banish all emotion from the job. For him there has to be a good reason to drive for Lancia in endurance events. In his case, there are two reasons: the money and personal publicity at home. But Formula One is still his preference. "They're two entirely different disciplines, although you can derive the same satisfaction from them. But in the end I'm a single-seater man. I prefer Formula One where you do your utmost for two hours or so. Endurance racing means thinking about tactics, about preserving the car, and not about pure speed."
Does that mean he feels limited in endurance racing? "No, not really, particularly as this year I feel that the races have been more like Grand Prix over 1000 kilometers instead of 300kms. And over that distance there are a lot more factors: your teammate, fuel stops, all those things. In a Grand Prix there's just you and the car, end of story. Sure, the team and the way you work with them has some influence before the start of the race, but once the flag drops you're on your own. I don't feel limited nor frustrated in endurance racing, I just prefer Grand Prix and if I had to chose, I'd opt for Formula One."
Poor Patrese lost the World title in the final laps of the final race. Ickx's drive in the gathering gloom at Brands Hatch, Teo Fabi's desperate resistance is still too fresh in his memory. "It's enormously rewarding to be a World Champion, and to lose the title by a few seconds is something that isn't easily forgotten. But it's all over now. That's racing, even if it is a bitter pill to swallow. If one has lost with honour, one has to be dignified in defeat. We came second, but next year we'll be doing everything to win."
But Patrese has gained considerable experience from his endurance racing. "Even a veteran with more than 300 Grand Prix to his name has something to learn. I feel that driving in the World Endurance Championship has been positive."
The Lancia team has certainly had its ups and downs during the season, with both high and low spots. "I think I felt the most satisfaction at the Nurburgring. I had a big accident during practice, and them won the race. The worst race? I think that would be Mugello. I was leading the championship and we did all we could to win that race. I even had the choice of three cars. I had every chance of improving my points score. But out of the three cars, it had to be mine which stopped. I think that's where I lost the championship. You could say that it was at Fuji, but I made a driving error there, that wasn't bad luck."
And what of Brands Hatch? "That was a worrying race. You know what happened. We've been blamed for having chosen intermediate tyres at half distance which lost us the race. But at that stage it looked like rain and we gambled on rain. We could have been right, but instead the track dried and we had made the wrong choice. It could have gone either way: Porsche could have made the wrong choice. We stopped first and lost, but it could have been the other way round. No, believe me, I lost the championship at Mugello."
At Le Mans, neither Alboreto nor Patrese drove much at night. We've already heard Alboreto's reason for this; here are Patrese's: "There's not a lot to say apart from that I won't be doing Le Mans in 1983. I just don't like that race for a variety of reasons. I don't like the circuit, I don't think it's safe and I don't like the organisers. As far as I'm concerned you can forget Le Mans."
Riccardo is obviously anti-Le Mans, but he's also against 24 hour races. "A 24 hour race is too dangerous and tiring, particularly for those who aren't used to driving competitively at night. It's too long. And it really isn't a speed race, you just go round and round in order to finish which appears to be the main aim, no matter what the speed."
There's another aspect to the 24 hour format that Patrese dislikes: the mixture of drivers of varying experience. "It's really a very negative factor which jeopardizes safety. And talking of safety, the rules don't actually forbid one from building downright dangerous cars. Thank heavens the Lancia men have our well-being at heart, as you'll be able to see on the new car. But some of the cars are really dangerous, even though they conform to the regulations. Drivers have fought for safety in Formula One and have succeeded. Unfortunately, there aren't enough F1 drivers in endurance racing, and most of them drive only occasionally so few people are really aware of the problem. But then the people who make up the rules shouldn't really have to wait until the drivers begin to protest before they make the cars safe."
And finally, Alboreto and Patrese agree on one point: the circuit which is the most rewarding in terms of driving. Without doubt, both drivers agree that it is the Nurburgring. Patrese, in particular, is sorry to see it go. "It isn't the safest of circuits but I think most drivers enjoy racing there. I was the last driver to win the classic sports car race there, and I feel that is an honour. Now we have to resign ourselves to its demise. It's a shame but inevitable. Now we can only enjoy Spa and Mugello. But it wont be the same without the Nurburgring. Nothing could ever replace the 'Ring."
From Grand Prix International Special Edition No2 - December 1982