1995 or the turning point? That’s probably what Alfa Romeo and the Alfa Corse guys were thinking.
It was to be a whole new season, regulations were changed and the Championship and calendar would go global. A turning point as the Deutsche Tourenwagen Meisterchaft – DTM – would be run alongside the newly introduced International Touring Car series – ITC – that same year. Both open to FIA Class 1 Touring Cars, the same Manufacturers, Teams and Drivers would go on to contest the two Championships, the DTM in Germany with 7 Rounds and the ITC series with 5 Rounds on European circuits but we’ll come back later to that.
What was to be the big change for 1995 was the Championship regulations, main point was the liberalization of the suspension design. While in previous years, original production from one of the Manufacturer original range model had to be retained, now it was open to large thinking.
The second point was the car underbody aerodynamics which from 1995 would allow complete use of this part of the car as opposed to the limited “up to” front axle and “behind” rear axle assemblies of 1994. Now it was to be a whole floor, covering the whole car and therefore ensuring maximum use of this area.
First, it meant on the suspension side and design that front and rear subframes used in previous years could be disposed of. The double wishbones could now be connected directly to the differential casings and these could therefore be bolted directly to the rigid and integral part of the car, the roll over protection system or cage which in essence was the true chassis of the car. The switch from McPherson struts to pushrod type suspension meant two things, most important was the better setup possibilities and that the cars were now to be true silhouettes with the bodyshell only being there as a sort of dressing.
Also and structurally speaking, the gearbox could now be moved freely within the front half of the car and be of a semi-automatic or sequential type. The fuel capacity was to be unlimited with a maximum of 70 litres in the boot which again proved a good point in terms of mass distribution. The gearbox moving to the center of the car in order to help it but also to help the servicing of the units during sessions and in-between the races with ratios also becoming an option. On fuel, an additional fuel tank was placed in the cockpit, behind the drivers in order to improve the balance.
All in all, this resulted in massive aerodynamic development with the use of three different wind-tunnels, Alfa Corse focusing on the work at the Fiat one in Orbassano as well as hiring the Williams Formula One Team one in the UK and crossing information with Dallara in Italy by conducting tests over there as well. While in situ a test team was carrying work at the Michelin test track in Ladoux, France and the Quattroruote magazine test track in Vairano, Italy, both “flat” tracks in order to practice the results.
As said, maximum use of the underfloor developments was to be the key and it ended with the making of a modular system that would permit to adjust the aero balance of the car by use of different floors and aerodynamic parts. A good example to that work was the new exhaust system for 1995, which would retain catalytic converters and mufflers in order to comply to the Championship regulations but which were located in the right side of the car under a raised floor in order to achieve the best possible airflow underneath it.
Electronics were also being investigated with TAG alongside structural and aerodynamic work. Power braking being the main focus. A challenge as the car featured a electronically controlled 4 Wheel Drive transmission with hydraulic diff units and that the key to the system consisted in getting the best pressure modulation of the power braking system to the four corners while keeping up with the pedal feel set by the drivers.
Again and as per 1994, Alfa Romeo and Alfa Corse through the new for 1995, Abarth SE062 DTM model were going to take on the Germans, Mercedes and Opel with a very highly sophisticated machine. The new Martini Racing livery looked splendid and the driver line-up looked to be an “all-out” for the Italians to retake the crown but was it gonna happen? That was the true question at the time.
Now and talking of the racing, politics and Championship. There had been a lot going on with the Championship and the “on tour” becoming a series of its own. The German one with 7 Rounds of 2 Races (Hockenheim, Avus, Norisring, Diepholz, Nürburgring, Alemannenring and Hockenheim) and the more international one with the ITC series and addition of 5 Rounds of 2 Races (Mugello (ITA), Helsinki (FIN), Donington Park (GBR), Estoril (PRT) and Magny-Cours (FRA).
Certainly, it looked good on the paper, 3 Manufacturers, almost Formula One technology and an entry list of 30 cars for the German one and 32 cars for the ITC series but yeah, a bag of bones in a way with the FIA and good old Max and Bernie, ITR – the German DTM promoter – and Manufacturers all involved with addition of TV rights and such things, well, the future looked bright for 1995 but would it go on forever… Whatever, but it was already a concern.
Back to Alfa Corse, the driver line-up looked even stronger than in 1994, with the following entries through DTM and ITC series for the permanent entries:
- Alessandro Nannini – Alfa Corse Martini Racing
- Nicola Larini – Alfa Corse Martini Racing
- Christian Danner – Schübel Engineering
- Michele Alboreto – Schübel Engineering / Alfa Corse 2
- Giancarlo Fisichella – Alfa Corse 2
- Gianni Giudici – Alfa Corse 2
- Stefano Modena – Euroteam
- Michael Bartels – Euroteam
And hot shoes brought in during the year with the likes of:
- Gabriele Tarquini – Alfa Corse 2 / Schübel Engineering
- Fabrizio Giovanardi – Alfa Corse 2 / Schübel Engineering
- Stig Amthor – Alfa Corse 2
- Markku Alen – Alfa Corse 2
- Pedro Couceiro – Alfa Corse 2
- Philippe Gache – Alfa Corse 2
- Giampiero Simoni – Alfa Corse 2
Of course, not all the line-up would benefit from the last Abarth SE062 DTM – 95/2 – evolution at the start of the season. This was to be the privilege of the top Alfa Corse Martini Racing team for Larini and Nannini. The rest would be equipped with the previous 1994 Abarth SE057E which were in essence the latest 1995 evolution of the cars and built by Dallara but benefitting from part of the 1995 evolution, a sort of italian mix I guess and defined as 95/1.
But here comes the racing with Round 1 of the DTM, held in Hockenheim, a circuit not suited to the Alfa and of course claimed by Alfa Corse but Mercedes were not impressed and Norbert Haug dismissed the claim of the Italians stating that this was a trick to try and make the Germans and especially Mercedes feel complacent… But well, after Qualifying, there was certainly an element of truth in that. The fastest of the Alfa boys was Italian F3 graduate, Giancarlo Fisichella in sixth place, followed by Stefano Modena in seventh and both on the 1994 car. The fastest of the 1995 spec car was Larini in eleventh place. In the race, Fisichella would end-up sixth in Race 1 and Alboreto, also on a 95/1 car taking seventh in Race 2 while Fisichella crashed out. That was basically all you could say about that race with Larini and Nannini finishing tenth and seventeenth in Race 1 while Larini did not finish and Nannini did not even start in Race 2… Bernd Schneider did however score 2 wins for Mercedes.
Round 2 of the DTM was held at the Avus in Berlin. Following on Hockenheim, Larini had switched back to the 95/1 spec car or the 1994 car let’s say. Nannini was sticking with the 95/2 car for the semi-automatic gearbox but the power braking system and hydraulic diff units were taken off. It looked good from the start with Larini taking second in Qualifying but the car was almost 20km/h down on the Mercedes if looking at the speed trap..! In Race 1, Larini did not finish after hitting Thiim under braking. Still, it looked good with the Alfa contingent finishing 3, 4, 5 and 6 for Nannini, Fisichella, Modena and Bartels. Race 2 proved a disaster, Fisichella hitting Nannini and that proved a hard one for the car which was set on fire due to an oil line breakage which resulted in the race being red flagged. At the restart, Larini hit the Opel of Rosberg and the Alfa of Danner while trying to go all out for the lead. Damage was bad but still, Larini finished sixth while Modena place second and Danner third. Both races went to Kurt Thiim and Mercedes was looking strong already.
As Alfa was hitting troubles, heavy development and testing was carried on back in Italy and the aim was to find the missing speed out of the 1995 or 95/2 car with Francia conducting tests at Nardo. On the politics, as Mugello was coming up for the start of the ITC series, an agreement was finally reached between ITR and the FIA and so it would happen with Bernie on board…
So yeah, the Mugello Cup for Round 1 of the ITC series and Alfa Corse saw this as a new start to the season. While seven entries were supported by Alfa Corse, none of the cars were of the same specification, again, a sign that there were a lot of things to cure… Fisichella, Modena and Alboreto all received 95/2 cars, two with semi-automatic and one with sequential gearboxes, none had the same aerodynamic package or underfloor and exhausts systems were all different as well. In Race 1, Larini would finish second to Schneider and the Merc’ while Nannini, Modena and Fisichella placed fifth, sixth and seventh respectively, a great effort for “Fisicho” who had started from fifteenth place. In Race 2, Fisicho proved to be the horse, placing second behind Franchitti in a Merc’ again! And Larini was fifth with all other Alfas placing out of the top ten.
Round 2 of the ITC series was to be the C1 Thunder in Helsinki event and the Finnish capital would prove to be a fantastic place for Alfa Corse. Danner and Modena taking a one-two for Alfa in front of Opel and the Calibras in Race 1 while Larini placed seventh behind Alfa good old privateer, Gianni Giudici! In Race 2, Larini would prove to be the man to beat and scored his first win of the season in front of five Mercs’ while Giudici proved the second best scorer and Marku Alen the third one in tenth place. Good negociations skills for Alen who secured a drive with Alfa as part of the help given to secure a home round. All other cars did not finish or start for Bartels but all in all a very good weekend as Larini was now leading the ITC series for Alfa Corse, oh yeah!
Back to development, it was still happening and by then, the 95/2 car was being trialed in all sort of different configuration with Nannini, Fisicho, Alboreto and Modena all having had their own try. Servo system power braking, active and passive differentials were trialed in order to achieve good and by then, the solution was to use the active ones front and back while the central unit remained passive.
Round 3 of the DTM and back to good old Germany and the Nuremberg reichstag with the Norisring. A fantastic race it was for Danner who took the win for Alfa after storming through the field from twentieth on the grid. The good choice as he was the only one who gambled on slick tyres as the conditions were wet at the start but it proved efficient. Second best placed Alfa was Nannini in third with the 95/2 car and who was starting to finally show the true potential of the sophisticated evolution. Modena and Bartels were the two other best in the top ten but the later would be disqualified after the event for using illegal fuel. – Jagermeister maybe?! – Race 2 proved a different play with the Mercs’ taking the first three spots and Modena taking fourth, followed by Danner in sixth while none of the other cars did finish.
Round 3 of the ITC series with the Donington Gold Cup, not a very convincing weekend for Alfa, Nannini did not start after a crash in practice which proved to have twisted the chassis. Only Fisichella and Modena proved strong scoring a fourth and fifth place respectively in Race 1. The only Alfas in the top ten… Race 2, Danner only just made it into the top ten with a ninth place fininsh… A weekend to forget for the Italians probably.
Round 4 of the DTM followed on the Diepholz airfield and it proved a fully Jagermeister powered weekend as Michael Bartels took pole position and both Race 1 and Race 2 honors for Alfa Romeo with Larini, Nannini, Fisichella and Danner placing third, fourth, sixth and eighth respectively. In Race 2, Larini placed second behind Bartels while only Alboreto and Giudici did make it to the finish for the Alfa contingent. Some say that this sudden form was linked to ITR having reviewed their regulations on weight for 4WD cars following the ongoing complaints from Opel. Equalizing the balance to 1040kg for all while it used to be 1020kg for the Mercs’ (2WD) and 1060kg for the Alfas and Opels previously. But who cared? Norbert, maybe.
Round 4 of the ITC series was the Estoril Gold Cup and it proved a Mercs’ weekend as they took the two wins over the weekend. Larini anyhow secured a third place in Race 1, followed by Fisicho in fourth and Nannini in eighth. Race 2 and Alfa honors went to Modena in fifth, followed by Nannini in seventh place. Not a good one, and unreliability was to be the word for that weekend as ABS and diffs proved to be the weak point once again for Alfa Corse.
Round 5 of the DTM, the Nürburgring and a Mercedes circuit according to the Italians once again but that was not about being compleasant in any way. The Mercs’ and Schneider would dominate the weekend and took both wins. Larini would manage a second in Race 1 and a third in Race 2 but as he declared it, he had to basically race at qualifying speed to achieve that…
Round 6 of the DTM was the Alemannenring in Singen and while this was according to the previous years results a circuit suited to the Alfa, it proved the opposite that particular year with Kurt Thiim and Mercedes taking the two wins there as well. Larini managed a third in Race 1 but was forced out in Race 2 for reliability reasons while Danner placing fourth in that same race… As declared there, a black day for Alfa.
Final round of the ITC series in Magny Cours was the next stop and a disaster it was or let’s say that the chain just continued… After Larini, Nannini, Fisichella and Modena secured pole, second, third and ninth on the grid, the two Alfa Corse Martini Racing entries did not even made it to the first corner with both cars gearboxes locking out at the start due to a software problem… At the end, Race 1 proved to have only one Alfa in the top ten with Stefano Modena being the best scorer there. In Race 2, Modena would prove strong again in sixth and Nannini saved the works team honors by placing ninth followed by local hot shoe, Philippe Gache in tenth place.
All that followed by the final and seventh round of the DTM Championship and back in Hockenheim. Again, the Alfa faired well in Qualifying with Larini and Nannini taking fourth and fifth in a Mercedes and Opel dominated top ten. In Race 1 however, Larini did not finish and Nannini took fifth with Fisichella placing tenth. Race 2 proved worst with Fisichella retaining tenth place and Nannini taking twelfth, only…
A bad year it had been for the Italians, Alfa Corse and its satellite teams. Bernd Schneider proved Mercedes hot shoe by taking both the Deutsche Tourenwagen Meisterchaft and International Touring Car series titles as Driver and for the German Manufacturer.
The car or 1995 evolution known as the SE062 or 95/2 proved and probably as for the previous season, too complicated. The Italians did not learn from the past experience and the year proved plagued with unreliability and need for better development while the Mercedes looked strong from the beginning and Opel was starting to shine consistently. 1996 would prove a turning point as by the end of 1995 it was announced that FIA Class 1 Touring Cars would go on as a totally international series by then. DTM had been killed and that wasn’t nice following the contribution it made to the Touring Car world and FIA. Also, vitally important question started to arise with the nineties financial crisis having hit the world that year. Investment and return would prove a key in the coming years and ITC was not looking strong.
Anyhow, costs were high and technology was crazy, still, Fiat through Alfa stayed committed as well as General Motors through Opel and the good old Mercs’. Would Alfa go on and retake its honors that year, who knows. More was to come and the Italians were only hoping for better as opposed to the previous too much and too late development moto of the two past seasons.
To be continued.
1995 Touring Car World