Martin Brundle goes into the fifth annual Del Mar Grand Prix with the onus of having to do well, but not too well.
The winner of the 1988 Del Mar Grand Prix, Brundle is here as part of the Jaguar team that has a dual goal Sunday: to win the manufacturers’ title, which has gone to Nissan the past three years, and to see its featured driver, Davy Jones, win the individual Grand Prix points championship.
Jones, the Lake Tahoe-based 27-year-old star of the International Motor Sports Assn., is third going into the last race of the series with 156 points, trailing Nissan teammates Chip Robinson (166) and Geoff Brabham (163). A victory is worth 20 points, with extra points for winning the pole, most laps led and fastest lap.
So when Brundle, a 32-year-old veteran of both Grand Prix and Formula One racing, is driving in this afternoon’s qualifying laps, he faces a paradoxical challenge: “I’ve got to be quick to be competitive, but not steal the pole.”
And if things work out Sunday, Brundle will place high enough to win points for Jaguar, take points away from the competition and yet play a supporting role for Jones.
Things might have gotten even more complicated Friday when Jones bounced off two concrete barriers and tore up his Jaguar XJR-16. Jones escaped injury, and mechanics said the car would have to be torn down before they could determine whether they could repair it in time for Sunday. If not, Jones would get Brundle’s car, and Brundle would get a backup.
“I’ve got a job I never had to do before--help Davy win a title and play a supporting role,” said Brundle, who has been both a teammate and rival of Jones since they began driving the same circuits in 1983.
“It’ll be different, because there’s extra points for the pole and fastest lap--which Davy must do. So I have to go quickly, yet not too quickly and keep points from the Nissan drivers.
“It’s kind of like playing the piano badly, on purpose.”
In a sense, Brundle might be running interference, but he said that won’t include unsportsmanlike tactics.
“I don’t know much about the competition,” he said. “I’ll support Davy Jones as much as possible. But I’m a professional racer. That doesn’t include blocking or pushing people off the road.”
Jones, who has led for 526 laps in IMSA Camel GT sprints this year--next closest is defending Del Mar champion Juan Manuel Fangio with 129--said, “Martin and I have driven before. We’ve been in different cars in the same team and the same car in the same team. He’s here to help the whole team win. It’s a good feeling to have him in the team to help plan strategy. I hope we can pull off a 1-2, and maybe someday I can repay him.”
Jones said the two haven’t really discussed a game plan, though.
“He can put spaces between us (and the competition),” Jones said. “You can have all kinds of plans and strategy, but usually after the first quarter of the race that’s all out the window. You just hope you have two good machines.”
Brundle, a native of Norfolk, England, is finishing a hectic year during which he has raced both Formula One and sports cars on several continents. As soon as this race ends, he heads to Australia. In Italy, he managed to finish both first and second in the same race, co-driving two Jaguar Silk Cuts.
This weekend, Jones and Brundle will be driving Jaguar Bud Light XJR-16s, cars that already have four Camel GT victories this year. Brundle hasn’t yet raced that machine but noted it “looked good on cable TV.” He said he has no problem adapting to different class cars.
“You just have to find the limit of the car you’re driving--or slightly over,” he said.
The 1.6-mile circuit at Del Mar has been changed this year, with a different pit setup and a few different curves. Both drivers said the changes are for the better, though Jones thought it will be tougher to pass.
Brundle said: “It’s an interesting circuit, I think it provides some overtaking opportunities.”
And if Jones should have mechanical problems?
“Then it becomes a win situation,” Brundle said with a smile.
But the script, for now, calls for Jones in the forefront.
“I see no reason why we can’t be Jaguar 1-2,” Brundle said.
The heat wave is on the drivers’ minds, though some say it’s tougher on the cars than on them. Brundle said the temperature in the cockpit--which is directly in front of the 800-horsepower engine--can reach 130 to 140 degrees.
“Driving by yourself, everybody gets a great deal of stress,” he said. “This is where your stamina comes in, and you find out how fit you are or what you have to work on in your winter program.”
Jones said the heat “is a factor on the mechanical side but physically you never really know until you get out in the race. It’s a relatively short race, almost like a sprint. Sometimes you breeze by, other times you’re just exhausted. I’ll watch what I eat and watch my fluid intake.”
Frenchman Philippe de Henning said the last time he drove here, in 1987, the heat cost him and his co-driver a higher finish.
“My co-driver passed out due to the heat and missed the pit stop,” De Henning said. “We had to push the car back to the pit and finished fourth. We probably would have finished second.”
Philippe de Henning, 48, is one of the more eclectic entrants in the Grand Prix. De Henning, who returned to auto racing in 1985 at the age of 42 after an 11-year hiatus, is an acclaimed fashion designer and graphic artist. He says his competitive zeal was rekindled after reading L. Ron Hubbard’s “Dianetics” and his Spice Buick is sponsored by Bridge Publications, the Los Angeles-based publisher of “Dianetics.”
De Henning was forced out of racing in 1974 when France banned auto competition during the oil embargo and he lost his sponsors. Drawing on his background as a photographer and painter, he became heavily involved in fashion design. Since then, he’s moved into interior design on a large scale and he’s currently working with a Paris museum on everything from its layout to its logo and stationery.
In the early ‘80s, he read Hubbard’s book and found himself wanting to get back into racing to apply his new philosophy. When publishers learned of his tie to “Dianetics,” they offered backing, providing him an opportunity to move into international competition.
In his first international race, the 24 hours of Le Mans in 1987, de Henning won his Prototype class, placed sixth overall and set a speed record the C2 class.
“Not only was I the best rookie,” he said. “I won. Incredible.”
In his second racing life, de Henning has since rung up several more victories, including the 1989 European Super Cup Championship.
He savors the chance to race in America again. His last U.S. appearance was at Del Mar four years ago.
“This is my first time back since ’87 and I love it here,” he said. “Racing is getting very businesslike in Europe. It’s very professional here but they don’t make you feel (pressured). The drivers are relaxed. And a lot of titles are still open so it’s going to be quite exciting.”
Robby Gordon, in a Ford Mustang, had the top qualifying time Friday for today’s Exxon Supreme Series race with an average speed of 86.592 mph. He was followed by Price Cobb in a Mazda RX-7 and Pete Halsmer in a Mazda RX-7. . . . Page Jones was the top qualifier for Sunday’s Barber Saab Pro Series Race with an average speed Friday of 81.954 mph. Johnny Robinson was second, Robert Amren third.