In a certain way, Europeans are strange people. They have this air of carelessness about them; sway through life like a humble-bee swarms over a spray of flowers in fresh bloom. Then suddenly reveal themselves to be rigidly principled on certain matters. It is a duality that increases as one moves higher up North.
By the time one reaches Germany, it should thus not be a surprise to find people abiding by principles with near religious conviction.
The telegram from Zuffenhausen serving a one-sided termination of our collaboration and informing us of the Porsche 917PA’s absence in Monterey did therefore not hit us out of left field. But the Germans had the nerve to insist that we were at fault. Because our chief-mechanic and driver were supposedly reported surrounded by floozies, with shirts dripping brown rum and Coca-Cola, in a place called the Marbella Club. What the Krauts omitted to mention was that, with all their pünktlichkeit und grundlichheiter, the sehr geehrte herr doktoren had simply failed to get our car ready for Edmonton.
So why should we have kept Voigt and old Marcelo from indulging in some good old boys leisure down South, I wondered? There was no car to race anyway. And we are not a club of choirboys, in essence.
I made it clear to Shum that the next occasion to ram some pünktlichkeit up the doktoren’s smaller holes was under no circumstances to be missed. And that we should be very grundlich about it as well; using only very corroded needles. Kicking some punch into their fair judgment skills.
Still, for Laguna Seca, we were out of a car; and Voigt with us. Lady Luck smiled our way though and we managed to strike a deal with the McCaig-brothers. Which allowed Voigt to drive their McLaren M8E at both Laguna Seca and Riverside. Not only did Voigt get a car, he ended up with a better one.
Another one in need of some Lady Luck grace at Laguna Seca was Sabre. Both his Donnybrooke and Edmonton races had been quiet simply horrendous. Pole at Donnybrooke had only yielded sixth at the finish. And a second spot on the grid in Edmonton saw him end the race in a distant 8th. Result was that he had first lost the lead in the championship to Plaçais. And was now even trailing an ever improving Jundt for second.
With Plaçais 21 points ahead as they arrived in Laguna Seca, the Brit needed nothing less than a win to keep some spunk in his ambitions for the crown.
Sabre started by duly grabbing pole position. And not just by a whisker, but by a full 3 tenths of a second. Which was gigantic as the next 9 cars all where within 1 second of each other.
The weekend bore more strong omens for the McLaren prodigy. Plaçais only qualified sixth and had Jaques in the Autocoast, Riddall in the Shadow, Jundt in the older Jerubee McLaren and Sabre’s teammate Bos between him and his main championship challenger.
No track is more apt to turn situations upside down within the blink of a lap than Laguna, however. It’s fast yet sweeping. Its rises and drops are sudden and brutal. And it has several turns that allow no margin for error whatsoever. Just think Corkscrew, and you get the basic idea.
And so it happened that the starter had barely dropped his flag or things already looked somewhat less bright for Sabre. Grant Riddall shot ahead like a rocket and not even wild horses could keep him from the lead. Barely a turn into the race and Sabre was already down a spot.
Through turn 2 and 3 there was smoke and the screeching of rubber sliding over tarmac. Jundt spun and lost some places. But everyone was able to continue unscathed. It moved Plaçais back up to 5th. While Sabre was losing places to Riddall, the French fox was already gaining points.
Sabre, intend on keeping matters in his own hands, immediately tried to recover the lead on the run towards the Corkscrew. But Fast Grant masterfully defended and held on to the top spot.
As they came speeding over the start-finish line, Riddall even started to edge away.
On lap 2, Henrique rolled his car exiting the Corkscrew. His race was over.
Things also took a turn for the worse for Sabre. He spun the McLaren under braking for the Corkscrew. Jaques said “hello and thank you” as he came by. Bos was slightly more respectful for his team leader but got ahead all the same.
As Sabre got going again, down in 4th now, main challenger Plaçais even had a look at pulling past on the run to turn 7. The pressure was not on Yves however and he wisely held back. This was still a long race after all. And all Plaçais had to do, was stay on the tail of the car in front of him.
This was not going to be Sabre’s day. The Brit had another spin, dropping to 10th place. Plaçais duly moved up to 4th. Even if it was still early days in Laguna Seca, the Frenchman looked like bagging the championship for Ferrari right there and then.
The leaders were now entering lap 21 of 90 and were: Grant Riddall leading in the only fashion he knows, fast and commanding; Jaques right behind him awaiting the right opportunity. Bos in the first of the factory McLarens was already about 9 seconds behind those two.
Jundt was back to 4th and building up a pace. Plaçais was already a lap down in 5th but seemed not to care much. With Sabre only running 8th, the French Ferrari-driver was securing an increasingly tight grip on the championship.
6th and 7th were occupied by Brian Janik and Andres Adamovich. Jason Whited and Gerard Ryon rounded out the top 10.
There was not much to report about Voigt’s race. He started last. Then made up some places, mainly through the mistakes of others. Then had some spins of his own and was now running 21st, already 2 laps down.
Jaques started raising the pressure and by times looked like disappearing in the exhaust system of the Shadow. Some started wondering whether all this could end well.
The entire track went in shock as some horrible images reached the pits. Bruno Chacon had gone sideways on the run down to turn 6 and had lost control. A charging Raul Jereb could not avoid him. The Croatian driver’s car got launched in the air. Then slammed against the wall of the cross-over bridge at unabated speed. Jereb’s race was over.
There was more trouble behind. Janik and Adamovich came together but continued. Sabre turned that to his advantage and wiggled his car passed both Janik and Adamovich. He was back into 6th, boosting his championship hopes slightly.
Chacon managed to keep his car in the race but needed to pit for repairs.
Jaques kept Riddall’s lead equal to almost nothing and continued running straight behind the Shadow. Both cars were approaching a bunch of slower cars and the prospect of fierce action made people rise from their chairs.
The Shadow and Autocoast had about the same power, both being propelled by fat 8.1 liter Chevy engines. But the Autocoast carried less weight. And Jaques put that to his advantage to increase the pressure on Grant in the twisty parts of the track. The least mistake or slightest hesitation while lapping on Grant’s behalf were now prone to result in an immediate loss of the top spot.
Further down the field, everything between 4th and 10th spot was heavily focused on dispensing with slower cars.
Chacon spun out of turn 11 and caused grief for Hackman.
The lapping of slower cars put an additional strain on the faster drivers and this, combined with growing confidence in car and track, proved a tricky cocktail. Miller went wide out of turn 6, slamming his M6B hard into the guardrails.
Riddall then went wide exiting turn 8 and lost the car. He made a full circle spinning and resumed his race loosing almost no time. But it was enough for Jaques to go through, reversing the order at the top.
Grant Riddall went off again somewhere in the T1-2 complex and now lost a considerable amount of time. An evolution Jaques welcomed wholeheartedly as he had heavy traffic ahead. Dealing with those back-markers would be a tad easier without the pressure of a hunting Riddall.
Bos spun his factory McLaren in the Corkscrew. Jundt was straight up to try and capitalize. Which he did in turn 9 with a near magical pass around the outside of the McLaren. The Swiss had done it again. Like a thief in the night he had climbed on to a podium spot and was now in an ideal position to benefit from any misfortune of the two leaders.
Adam Hackman retired the Bob Brown M8E.
Jundt then did something very out of character for him; he made a mistake and spun his car exiting turn 9. Bos recaptured third.
Sabre had meanwhile caught up with Plaçais and was trying hard to get ahead of the Ferrari. Not that it mattered much because the win David needed to feed his championship aspirations, was still far away. And on top of that, Plaçais looked like scoring a fair amount of points.
Voigt was running an abysmally low 18th position. 4 laps down on Jaques. In a car with which Jaques has nearly won at Road America. There were no excuses in hell able to mitigate just how insipid his performance was. Removing his genitals, preferably without using anesthetics, and sending them to hell barely was an appropriate punishment.
Maybe, I thought, we should just lock him away somewhere in Marseille together with that Popeye Doyle guy.
Sabre had been hooked to a Ferrari’s ass for many laps now. In search for a change of scenery, he managed a good tow out of T9. The McLaren pulled alongside on the run to turn 3. Plaçais did not insist a lot. Probably understanding that he had more to loose from a straight duel than he could ever win from it.
Sabre moved up to 5th. His McLaren was calling out to two faraway brothers: “War is declared and battle come down.” The McLaren was calling to the underworld: “Come out of the cupboard, you Bosses and Jundts!”
Voigt had a spin and damaged the suspension. Which, at the look on the McCaig brothers’ faces, was going to cost me a small fortune. Yet, as Voigt entered the box, he did not show even the least sign of distress. Somewhere deep down, a guy with Jezebel eyes started anticipating a feast involving fresh racedriver’s meat.
Jaques now had such an advance over Riddall that his second win in the series seemed a very realistic prospect. It was a win that had been within reach on several occasions but had, since Mont-Tremblant, always eluded him for some reason.
Riddall was in a pretty lonely place, with no one around to threaten the silver plate he would take home from Laguna Seca. It would be his first points finish after the strong Elkhart Lake win.
Bos on the contrary, was far from home in third. He had a Swiss precision machine drilling his nerves. And past records showed that it was a Swiss machine with tenacity.
The great Ghosts of Racing then decided to show Grant Riddall that in racing nothing is ever certain before the chequered flag drops. While lapping Jason Whited, there was a misunderstanding between the drivers and the Shadow and Motschenbacher McLaren bumped each other quiet hard. The damage to the Motschenbacher car ended Jason Whited’s race on the spot. Riddall found himself on top of one of the high sandbanks surrounding the track, but could continue.
Jaques could not quietly settle in the lead however, as he got shoved of the track while lapping Adamovich. Instead of being thrown back, Riddall suddenly found himself right behind Jaques’ Autocoast. The race was back on.
The big question now was how badly the cars of both leaders had been affected by their respective incidents? A question that only gained significance as Bos and Jundt had the leaders back within eyesight.
It seemed that Laguna Seca would again deliver a thrill of a race with four cars now having a reasonable shot at victory.
The first one to leave the small train of ducklings was Riddall. He spun on the run to turn 4, leaving it to both Bos and Jundt to entertain Jaques.
With 40 laps remaining, Jaques was leading a merry-go-round with Bos and Jundt eager to have a shot at the brass ring. Riddall was some 10 seconds behind Jaques and had Sabre filling his mirrors. Plaçais and Janik were quietly minding their own business in respectively 6th and 7th. All the others were a lap or more down.
The merry-go-round’s spinning reached whirligig-like proportions. More in any case than Jaques could take. The Autocoast spun off in turn 3, hit the Armco and retired. Another certain victory had evaporated into the thin air of smoking rubber.
Bos was now in the lead and the St Bernard-instinct in Jundt was awakening.
The race was now down to the Great Steady Precision from the Alps versus the Cool Methodology from the Lowlands. And the Swiss made his intentions clear; all thoughts of neutrality went overboard. If Bos wanted the win, he would have to earn it.
Bos had his hands full with lapping Canola and Ray Riddall, who were caught in a fight of their own. It allowed Jundt to close right in but the Swiss then looked unwilling to capitalize on the situation. Was DJ showing the world what a real gentleman racer is? Or was it just full blown psychological warfare?
The Riddall faster than his Shadow lost more ground as he rolled his car through the Corkscrew. There still were some saints on his side however, as he could continue the race. Only to blow his engine two turns later. Third went out the door.
Out of nowhere, Sabre was back on the podium; with only two McLarens in front of him. And one of those his teammate. But he spun somewhere and fell back down to 6th. The last spot on the podium suddenly belonged to none else than the unavoidable Ferrari of Plaçais. The Frenchman was on route to a magnificent season finale.
Up front the traditional accordion had been put into operation. Jundt lost time as it took Canola over a lap to let him by. Then Bos needed time to find his way passed Sterr and DJ was right back on the number 7 car.
Sabre had gotten by Sterr and was back into 5th. As things stood, with Jundt only 2nd and Sabre only 5th, finishing 3rd was sufficient for Plaçais to take the championship. Sabre’s outlook was grim as, even if he would score points, Plaçais still had to score none. Which seemed very unlikely. Winning the race might however still leave Swiss Jundt a shot at the title in the last race of the season at Riverside. So Jundt put some more pressure on Bos. Making sure that the Belgian got his work cut out for him.
Every back-marker now became a hazard for Bos; and an opportunity for Jundt. The slower cars however showed exemplary behavior and left the leaders all the room they needed.
Then, with about 15 laps to go, Jundt had a half spin through turns one and two. He kept the car on the track and hit nothing. But he lost time and was now some 7 seconds behind Bos. The cause seemed settled.
Steve Parker launched his older McLaren M8C towards higher grounds over the crest at turn one. His race was over.
Sabre had another spin in the Corkscrew, definitely burying any remnants of championship hope he still catered.
For all his ability and skill, Jundt however has one great flaw: he can simply never give up. So, within a matter of laps, he had reduced the gap with Bos to nada.
Reeling in Bos was one thing. Getting passed him was a whole other matter. So Jundt was now stalking the factory McLaren. His main enemy at this stage was the massive power of the Chevy engine in Bos’ car. In every turn, the Swiss would have his nose right under Bos’ rear wing. But on the following straight, Juha was always able to pull away just enough.
With 5 laps to go, Jundt was now exploring every square inch of real estate on the track; and some more. He started cutting wide out of turn 3, crossing over the terrain to gain some speed.
With two laps remaining, the Swiss pressure machine was up to full working temperature. Jundt had a good run out of turn 9 and almost pulled aside Bos on the main straight. He ran just short of tarmac. It would all come down to the last lap.
Jundt now unleashed every devil living in the hells of Switzerland. Then added some Austrian behemoths.
He put his nose inside of Bos’ McLaren entering turn 7. Bos stayed ahead but Jundt was almost along side for the run to turn 8. It looked as if Jundt cleared Bos round the outside. But the factory McLaren barfed one last gigantic shot of power towards turn 9. Bos was still in the lead, but on the outside.
Jundt had the inside and in the very last turn made the move he had been brewing up during the two previous laps.
Victory was for the Swiss. Post race, he mentioned that it felt a bit like a stolen race.
A disappointed Bos took what was probably the hardest earned second spot ever.
Plaçais came home in third, taking home an additional 12 points for the championship.
Brian Janik took 4th and Sabre salvaged 5th.
Not that it did matter. The points gap between Sabre and Plaçais had grown over 20 points. The Frenchman was out of reach.
The 20 points falling to Jundt for victory, however meant the Swiss kept a chance to equal Plaçais’ points.
Should the Swiss succeed in equalizing the points score at Riverside, which was very theoretical, it would not have a real impact however. The Can-Am rules indeed provide that only the 4 best results out of the first 5 races and the 4 best out of the 5 last races count towards the championship.
The consequence was that, in case of a Riverside-win, Jundt would have to drop his third place finish at Donnybrooke. That effectively put Plaçais out of anyone’s reach in the points standing. The championship had been promised to the McLaren team by every writing in the stars, but Ferrari had refused to accept it and ended up taking the crown home.
Some would later mention a shy smile on the Commendatore’s face, but no one really knew for sure. Whatever, pictures of Plaçais enjoying the Riviera aboard a Riva soon flooded the specialized illustrated magazines. The Commendatore knew how to reward his soldiers.