1988 Le Mans winner
2 Group C World Sportscar victories
Andy Wallace’s long and illustrious sportscar career took off when he signed for Tom Walkinshaw’s factory Jaguar team. And he promptly won the Le Mans 24 Hours on his fourth Group C start.
Wallace had been approached by Walkinshaw after taking the 1986 British Formula 3 crown in a Madgwick Motorsport Reynard, but the Briton was still pursuing a single-seater career at the time. After a troubled season in Formula 3000, Wallace fortunately gave a different answer when the TWR boss asked again for 1988.
Sharing with Johns Nielsen and Watson, Wallace was second on his World Sportscar debut at Jerez, before starring in one of the greatest Le Mans battles. The #2 XJR-9LM of Wallace, Jan Lammers and Johnny Dumfries led a five-car Jaguar assault against three works Porsches (and myriad privateers), eventually taking victory by less than a lap.
“You’re never going to forget winning Le Mans,” says Wallace. “The thing that really sticks in my mind is that we still didn’t have the chicanes on the Mulsanne Straight and were doing 240mph. You could double tow.
“The Porsches had more power but also more drag. Out of Tertre Rouge and onto the straight, they could pop out and blitz by you. But you could get into their tow and, when they hit the aerodynamic wall, we could go back past them. We all knew it was going to happen so you’d give them a little wave.”
Wallace remained a Jaguar mainstay while the TWR squad switched from the normally aspirated V12 to turbocharged XJR-11 as it unsuccessfully strove to keep pace with Sauber-Mercedes. Indeed, despite a second (1990) and fourth (1991) at Le Mans, Wallace only scored one other World Sportscar success – in 1988 at Brands Hatch – but his career was really only just beginning.
In 1990 he took his first Daytona 24 Hours success with Jaguar, and would add another two victories in the American enduro before the end of the decade, long after Group C had died. Completing a rare hat-trick, Wallace also won the 1992 Sebring 12 Hours in an Eagle-Toyota with Juan Manuel Fangio II, and the duo repeated the result the following year.
In Europe, Wallace was a BPR Global Endurance GT winner in a David Price Racing McLaren F1 GTR and narrowly missed out on another Le Mans success in 1995, taking third with father-and-son duo Derek and Justin Bell. He also took another podium at La Sarthe as Bentley returned in 2001.
During the 1990s, Wallace carved a fine career for himself in America, taking the IMSA GTS-1 title in 1998 and winning Petit Le Mans in 1999 for Panoz with David Brabham and Eric Bernard.
One of Britain’s great sportscar racers of recent decades, the ever-friendly and approachable Wallace is also a Goodwood regular and has starred in a Jaguar Mk1 saloon at the Revival.
1988 World Sportscar Champion
1990 Le Mans winner
8 Group C World Sportscar victories
Few people were as fast as Martin Brundle in a Group C sportscar. His Formula 1 career meant he didn’t spend long in sports-prototypes during the era, but he was invariably a contender on his outings with Tom Walkinshaw Racing’s Jaguar squad.
After four fairly frustrating F1 seasons, Brundle signed up to lead Jaguar’s 1988 attack. He had previously been a winner with TWR’s European Touring Car Championship team and his endurance-racing career started brilliantly. Victory in the Daytona 24 Hours was followed by wins in three of the first four World Sportscar Championship rounds.
Brundle battled the ever-growing threat of Sauber-Mercedes to take two more victories in the XJR-9 and he clinched the drivers’ crown before heading back to F1.
If there had been a disappointment in 1988, it had been Le Mans. Brundle qualified fastest of all the Jaguars, only for a set-up error to hamper him and John Nielsen in the race. Engine problems finally put them out, but Brundle was to have a happier time in 1990.
Back in sportscars after another season in F1, Brundle found himself up against the Mercedes steamroller and, despite some combative performances in the turbocharged XJR-11, there was only a single championship race victory. At Le Mans, however, in the absence of Mercedes, the V12 XJR-12s scored a one-two, Brundle being drafted in to join the Nielsen/Price Cobb machine on the Sunday.
Brundle returned to F1 (with Brabham) in 1991, but still found time to make sportscar appearances in the sensational new Jaguar XJR-14. And he put in one of the drives of the season at Silverstone’s Empire Trophy encounter.
A throttle cable broke on lap two and Brundle lost nine minutes to repairs. His solo recovery drive got him onto the podium more than two hours later, having twice unlapped himself from the winning XJR-14 of Derek Warwick and Teo Fabi. Brundle’s fastest lap around Silverstone’s then-new Grand Prix circuit – 1m29.372s – was as fast as either he or Brabham team-mate Mark Blundell would achieve during the F1 race two months later.
The man himself credits that Silverstone performance as one of the things that got him a Benetton F1 seat alongside Michael Schumacher for 1992. That would prove to be his best year in F1, five podiums helping him to sixth on the points table, even though he was controversially dropped for the following season.
Brundle continued in F1 until 1996 and was involved in GT1 Le Mans programmes for both Nissan and Toyota, but the victories his talent deserved remained elusive.
Now 57, Brundle has become one of the world’s leading F1 commentators and still occasionally gets back behind the wheel. He finished 15th at Le Mans in 2012, sharing an LMP2 Zytek with son Alex.
He has also competed at the Goodwood Revival, winning the prestigious RAC TT Celebration race with top F1 designer Adrian Newey in a Jaguar E-type Lightweight in 2012.
1989 Le Mans winner
19 Group C World Sportscar victories
Goodwood stalwart and Darnley House Captain Jochen Mass scored more World Sportscar Championship race wins during the Group C era than any other driver. Given some of the names he was up against, that is no mean feat.
Mass’s Formula 1 career – which yielded a single victory for McLaren in the truncated 1975 Spanish Grand Prix – was coming to an end as Group C began in 1982. He had already established himself as one of the top drivers in sportscar racing, often forming an impressive partnership with Jacky Ickx, and was a key part of Porsche’s 956 programme.
The combination of Mass and Ickx continued in Group C and was a potent one, the German helping Ickx to the drivers’ title in both 1982 and 1983, even though a Le Mans victory eluded Mass while he was at Stuttgart.
In 1988 Mass joined the Sauber squad, which now had backing from Mercedes-Benz. This time it was Jean-Louis Schlesser’s title attack he assisted, though it was Jaguar’s Martin Brundle who was crowned at season’s end.
The following year was arguably Mass’s best. Four wins gave him second in the points table to Schlesser, and there was also the small matter of winning the non-championship (!) Le Mans 24 Hours, leading a Sauber C9 1-2-5 with Manuel Reuter and Stanley Dickens.
Mercedes put Mass’s experience to good use in 1990, partnering him with one of the Junior Team members, normally Michael Schumacher or Karl Wendlinger. Two wins and missing out on the title by 1.5 points was the result.
“It was quite interesting to have different co-drivers,” recalls Mass. “I liked it. They listened to me and sometimes they admitted I was right! They were as quick or quicker than me, but then as young drivers if they are not quicker than the old guy what is the point?!”
While Mercedes struggled to make the new 3.5-litre C291 reliable in 1991, Mass and Schlesser initially pressed on with the C11, now saddled with extra weight to bring it up to 1000kg. In the face of new, lightweight competition, the combination still proved its worth and should (along with Alain Ferté) have won the 1991 Le Mans 24 Hours but for the failure of a small but crucial part.
Mass’s career largely came to an end after Group C, but he demonstrated his abilities were still very much with him in a David Price Racing drive at Le Mans in 1995 at the wheel of a McLaren F1 GTR.
The underrated Mass is arguably the greatest Group C regular who did not take the World Sportscar title and he remains second in the all-time World Sportscar Championship winners’ list, behind only Jacky Ickx.
Still an enthusiast, Mass is a regular at Goodwood and other historic events, piloting a variety of machines, many of which date back to before his own career began.
1989 and 1990 World Sportscar Champion
15 Group C World Sportscar victories
It’s unfortunate that many fans remember Jean-Louis Schlesser thanks to the clash that cost Ayrton Senna victory in the 1988 Italian Grand Prix. Partly that’s because it wasn’t the Williams test driver’s fault (take a look if you don’t believe us!), but mainly it’s because he achieved so much elsewhere in motorsport.
Schlesser served a long apprenticeship in Formula 3 – sharing the 1978 French Championship with Alain Prost – and made brief but unsuccessful appearances in F2 in 1982.
There was more joy in tin-tops. Schlesser was French Supertourisme champion in 1985 and got a sportscar chance with Tom Walkinshaw Racing’s Jaguar team. It was with the Sauber-Mercedes squad, however, that Schlesser really came to the fore.
He joined for the 1988 season and immediately became the team’s championship challenger. Six poles and four wins from 10 starts (Sauber withdrew from Le Mans after tyre failures in practice) showed his and the C9/88’s pace, but Schlesser was pipped to the drivers’ title by Martin Brundle, his opposite number at Jaguar.
His cause wasn’t helped by one of Group C’s most famous crashes, which came at Brands Hatch. Chasing Klaus Ludwig’s leading Joest Porsche, Jochen Mass was passing the Tiga of Stephen Hynes at Clark Curve when the C2 car spun into the rear of the Sauber. Mass was fired into the barriers, with further disaster only being prevented by an incredible avoidance by Mauro Baldi in the sister car. Schlesser had been entered in both C9s, but could only recover to third in the machine started by Baldi. Brundle duly won the race.
Some consolation came with the German ADAC Supercup crown, but better was to follow. Paired with the experienced Mass for much of 1989 in the now silver-liveried C9, the Frenchman flew to five wins and the championship as Sauber-Mercedes dominated.
It was much the same story in 1990 with the imposing C11. This time sharing with Baldi throughout the season, Schlesser took six wins and the duo took another title for Mercedes.
Of all the big Group C hitters, Schlesser is arguably the best who didn’t taste victory at Le Mans. He twice took pole, in 1989 (his 3m15.040s lap, averaging 155mph, remains one of the fastest ever laps at La Sarthe) and 1991, but second – scored in a Rondeau in 1981 – was his best result.
Schlesser’s biggest Le Mans heartbreak probably came in 1991. Even saddled with extra weight, the Mercedes C11 was comfortably the class of the field and Schlesser/Mass/Alain Ferté did much of the leading. A big advantage shortly before the 21-hour mark evaporated when a broken alternator bracket led to the five-litre turbocharged V8 overheating.
After his sportscar career ended, Schlesser turned his attentions to endurance rallying, building his own series of two-wheel-drive buggies. He proved incredibly successful, winning the famed Dakar Rally in 1999 and 2000 against factory opposition, as well as taking five consecutive FIA Cross Country World Rally Cups.
Had it not been for a poorly Nigel Mansell and the subsequent Monza debacle, Schlesser’s versatility would surely get the credit it deserves.
1992 World Sportscar Champion and Le Mans winner
7 Group C World Sportscar victories
Derek Warwick only contested three full seasons in the World Sportscar Championship, but came close to scoring a hat-trick of Group C titles.
Having started in stock car racing, Warwick became a rising star of the junior single-seater scene and battled Nelson Piquet in British Formula 3 throughout 1978. A graduation to F1 came with Toleman in 1981 and in 1984 Warwick became a regular frontrunner with Renault.
After a torrid 1985 with the awful RE60 and the Renault team’s subsequent withdrawal (along with a certain Ayrton Senna blocking his move to Lotus), Warwick was left without an F1 seat. Tom Walkinshaw took the opportunity to sign him up for Jaguar’s assault on the 1986 World Sports-Prototype Championship.
Warwick and Eddie Cheever duly took Jaguar’s first Group C win at Silverstone and Warwick lost the Spa 1,000km by the smallest margin in the category’s history when he finished 0.8 seconds behind the Porsche of Thierry Boutsen/Frank Jelinski. Warwick nevertheless looked set for the title in a dramatic Fuji finale, only for a V12 misfire to hand the crown to Porsche rival Derek Bell.
By that time, Warwick had got back into F1 with Brabham following Elio de Angelis’ fatal testing accident at Paul Ricard. His next sportscar chance thus didn’t come until 1991, when design guru Ross Brawn tempted him back to TWR with the incredible Jaguar XJR-14.
“They were good times to be in sportscars,” says Warwick. “Peugeot was spending a fortune and there were the Mercedes young drivers [Michael Schumacher, Heinz-Harald Frentzen and Karl Wendlinger]. The XJR-14 was as close as you could get to an F1 car and had masses of downforce.”
To this day Warwick rates the 3.5-litre machine as one of the greatest cars he ever raced and only an organisational error cost him the crown. At Silverstone, Walkinshaw moved him from one car to another between qualifying and the race, meaning Warwick didn’t score the 20 points he should have taken for the victory with Teo Fabi. Come the end of the season, Warwick had missed out on the title by seven points…
For 1992, Warwick switched to Peugeot, which had been growing stronger and stronger since joining Group C’s 3.5-litre class at the end of 1990.
Despite opposition from Toyota and team-mates Philippe Alliot/Mauro Baldi, Warwick and co-driver Yannick Dalmas secured the crown with a race to spare. Sharing with Mark Blundell, they also won Le Mans.
Warwick then briefly returned to F1 before heading into British Touring Cars. He was one of the founding members of the Triple Eight organisation that has become one of the world’s leading touring car operations.
One of the greatest drivers never to win a Grand Prix, the 61-year-old remains a key motorsport figure. He is currently the president of the British Racing Drivers’ Club and has helped many young British drivers, including reigning Formula Renault 3.5 champion and F1 hopeful Oliver Rowland.
Images courtesy of LAT