PRESENTED BY Simon Lewis Transport Bookshop
FIA GT SERIES
BRDC BRITISH GT SERIES
LE MANS LINKS
THE DEATH OF GT RACING ?
FIA GT 1998
For many fans the most mouth watering of race cars are not Formula one, but the exotic roadcar-based GTs,the kind of supercar you promise yourself when you win the lottery! For those with long memories or a passion for history,the Ferrari GTO or Jaguar E Type, Cobra or Gt40 are prime examples - OK,only JUST road cars in some cases,but still the stuff dreams are made of that you really would buy yourself if only you had the money to spare.
By the end of the 60's the major sports car events no longer catered for this type of car,the era of the "prototype" or sports-racing car was dawning and would push out most privateers. Many a rich amateurs could have bought the previous generation of "prototype" that ran in the 50's and 60's, a Jaguar D type was a showroom model,buy it,race it.But now the dream cars,the 250GTs or Cobras were replaced by unobtainable mega-buck factory-only devices that bore more resemblance to Formula one cars with two seats that road going supercars. Sporadiclly this type of racing flourished before repeatedly undergoing near-death experiences only to slowly rise agin with a major rule chance(such as Group C in 1982). Each time the recovery looked good,something killed it, another rule change or a factory asault that steamrollered the rest into oblivion.
Out of the ashes of the last such conflagration,the over priced and under populated SWC of 1991-2 , came an independant effort to rekindle the GT ethic in what was to become the BPR series.While big-time sports car racing had gone out of reach of the amateur a number of one-make race series grew up which for "gentlemen "racers who could afford to run exotics such as Ferrari 348s,Porsche Careeras or Venturis.With a void on the international scene now left by the desintegrating SWC,such cars could once again get entries for the real big-one, Le Mans and as night follows day,a series was created to bring them all togather and race around the circuits of europe in it's place.
It was a runaway success - within a year the early style of cars,drawn from the one-make series' were joined by more mouth watering cars like the McLaren GTR, Ferrari F40 and Jaguar XJ220.Some serious racers got involved and for a couple of seasons we were treated to racing of the old-style with the "gentlemen"hiring a quick pro as a co-driver and more and more manufacturers produced suitable cars to run.OK it needed a McLaren to WIN but you could have raced Ferrari ,Porsche ,Marcos,TVR,Jaguar,Venturi,Bugatti,Dodge Viper, Corvette, Lister,Vortex,Helem,Morgan ...... the list kept growing! So did the crowds.
I loved that series and went to the Silverstone and Donington rounds,even got a press pass for two of the races,which was fantastic! I adored the look of the cars,the bark of the McLaren V12,the howl of the F40,the growl of the Marcos and that wierd noise the Viper makes - 8 litres ? it sounds more like 2 ! I watched the televised events with avid interest and the racing was really really good.The only problem was when Porsche didn't play the game and threw in a works team with a car that was rather less than a modified road car,more of a detuned racer.The demand for races led to the "Global GT" series which included a race in China but at this point the organisers ambition tripped them up.
The FIA,the government of the sport jealously guards it's self proclaimed right to control all international championships and seeing a darn good thing going,stepped in and assumed command without batting an eyelid.The BPR partners were undecided on how to react,fell out and went their separate ways.So was born the Fia GT World Championship, son of the Sportscar World Championship (Rest in peace 1993) & World Endurance Championship(died circa 1989),grandson of the World Championsh Of Makes (passed away about 1980) and nephew of the World Touring Car Championship( murdered 19 87) and European Touring Car Cahmpionship (left for dead 1988), The Touring Car World Cup( deceased after 1994) International Touring Car Championship(taken otu and shot 1996)and the European Rallycross Championship (look out fellows,any second now....)
So you can guess,with this pedegree,what happens next.......
Well it's lasted two seasons.The "death rate" has been amazing,I expected to switch on the television and hear someone in a flack jacket report "This is Kate Adie For BBC News, under shell fire at the Nurburgring".
Lets Call The Roll Of The Dear Departed...
Isn't it depressing? And what of the replacements? Mercedes & Panoz hmmmm.....
Well what we have now is NOT GT racing in the accepted way,what we have is the dreaded works-only prototypes back again .OK the Porsche 911GT1-98 is also run by a private team and so is last year's V12 Mercedes,but let's face it,when did you last see one of these ugly monsters being driver on the road,even in a magazine feature? So how are they GT cars with road versions available? And the "Private teams" are ever so well in with the factories so quite how private they are is open for discussion.Even the GT2 catagory which was supposed to be the bedrock of privateer entries has been dominated by a quasi-works team.
The racing has been boring,the results inevitable,the rule changes seemed to be all in favour of one manufacturer,the 4 hour format with it's value-for-money and tactical interest has gone for what ammounts to a stretched Grand Prix distance and the odd local hero who was able to run his Ferrari 348 or Porsche 91 GT2 has vanished.Now Porsche,pigged off with being beaten to a pulp by the Mercedes steamroller looks set to drop out and the series will then either die(another one bites the dust....)or become a GT2-only affair,but can anyone afford to be in it? What a crying shame.
THE BRDC BRITISH GT SERIES - More like it!
From humble beginnings as a variation on the natioanl Porsche Supercup,in which you really had to have some sort of 911 to compete,this has become one of the best,mayby THE best GT series left.It has everything the FIA series should have had,variety,under-dogs, small manufacturers and a mix of amateur and pro drivers.
Last year's title winner's O'Rourke and Sugden ran the EMI McLaren in 1998 and after a lengthy fight with the Porsche GT1 of Greasley/Wallinder (and,at the final round, Kaufmann),scooped the GT1 class title .Two outright wins and a bunch of decent high placings tipped the scales at the season's end in favour of the glorious v12 engined beast.
For much of the season the Blue Coral Porsche was having the rub of the green,it all seemed to be falling just right for the team,aided by some damn good driving and spot-on tactical decisions.They won the opener by a few seconds from the McLaren,gained a very lucky win at the British GP support race when the red flags came out and the result was back-dated to just before they lost the lead.A further win at Donington extended their GT1 lead while the McLaren had only taken the laurels once, at Oulton Park in round two.Late season form then swung back to The McLaren,a fortunate win at Spa - due to a pace car situation- cancelled out the effect of the GP support race and with the 911 GT1 struggling it was game-set-match to the red and white McLaren. Even though Kauffman's error cost them the last round victory,the title was already out of reach by that point.The car is now for sale.What of 1999? A 1997 "slippery" spec Porsche maybe?
In addition to these two,another McLaren,of Fiskin and Hardman appeared once,at the GP meeting,and another 91 GT1 has appeared in the hands of two different teams.Originally raced by Millenium Motorsport and sports car veterand John Nielson and Torkild Thyrring(sorry if I spelt that wrong...)it scored a win at Croft before the money ran out.The same car reappeared in the hands of BTCC regulars Matt Neal and David Lesie at the GP round,run by Neal's 100+ WHEELS team.It was a one-off oputing but more will follow next season I hope.
The small Bitish firm of LISTER hold the high ground on patriotism for the race fans.Jaguar has always been a firm favourite with the spectator and these front engined monsters boast 7 litre Jaguar v12 engines.The car is certainly awefully effective but luck has been missing for much of the year.The works car of ex GP drivers Bailey and Needel has been every bit as fast as the McLaren or Porsche GT1s but a number of unfortunate incidents blunted their overall challenge.Worst was Bailey's silly start line shunt at round one which put the car heavily into the pit wall before it had even taken the green light! From there onward things did improve and they took two wins,at Snetterton and at the Final Silverstone event ;but should have picked up the GP support race too.The curious way officials applied the red-flag rule pushed the car out of it's hard fought lead and back to second on a count-back ...odd. A minor clash with the Harrier at Donington led to a puncture which left the Lister scrabbling to regain lost ground while the Greasley Porsche was able to take the win.Then there was the unfortunate pace car situation at Spa where the Bailey/Needal car pitted moments before it came on track and lost heaps of time while the McLaren and many others pitted under "yellow".
In the end it came good with win number two at the last race although an close encounter with team mate Flux's Goldfish sponsored car early on almost scuppered both car's! The pace car again came out at just the wrong moment but some spirited driving and an error from the leading Blue Coral Poarche,saw the lead snatched on the final lap of the season in a race that was jammed full of incident.
The Goldfish sponsored Lister of Ian Flux had all the potential to win and Fluxie often romped away from the field early in the race,only for his car owner-co driver Jake Ulrich to lose all the ground that has been gained,and then some, once he got cautiously behind the wheel.Ulrich doesn't have much background in the sport and unfortunately doesn't seem to be able to get the hang of the Lister at all-even after a second season with the 7 litre car. Another co-driver would have engabled Flux to be a real force.Late in the season that situation arose when TVR Tuscan star and former National Hot Rod world champion Ian McKeller stepped into the breach.The result was 2nd at Spa and the best result all year.It is a shame Ulrich hadn't stepped down earlier in the year ,but he owns the car and if wants to race, well ,it's his !
Third member of the Lister sqaud was gearbox maker William Hewland and c-driver,ex F3 hotshoe Paul Evans.A good pairing who's car sounded just that bit better than anything else in the field-the big V12 really screamed in this one! Luck wasn't with them either,the photo here shows the car running bits of bodywork borrowed from the factory team at round 1 after a practice "off" removed the smart yellow and blue painted sections against a stout wall. But the potential was certainly there for overall success.Third in the final race was some reward for a good season-long effort.
The small Evesham Micros Harrier team have been a force to reckon with in past seasons and scored overall wins with the little Sierra Cosworth powered car however this season they have not been able to match the increasing standard of competetiveness at the front and drivers Portman and Campbell-Walter have been relegated to filling out the top 6 on most ocassions.Next year a V12 4 litre Judd engine is set to be shoe-horned into the chassis - sounds interesting!
One of the pleasures of the BRDC series is the sheer variety of cars it allows and attracts. The sort of cars one might just envisage buying with just a small lottery win! In addition to the pace setters in GT1 the field has included the amazing 7 litre V12 TVR SPEED 12 a monster of a thing with vast power but slightly interesting handling initially.It ran from the middle of the season onwards with remarkable turns of speed despite little time to test. Once developed the car could be the real star of the show for 1999.
Gary Ward's Mirage Ford. A Lamborghini replica driven by an ex F3 hotshoe.It was planned to race it last year but that never happened - sadly the times have moved on and it hasn't been on the pace
Transmission specialist Mick Quaife ran his ex rallycross Escort Cosworth last year and built his own car from the ground up for 1998.The Quaife has a 6 litre Ford V8 engine and 4wd.It's the smartest looking car on the track but has yet to reach it's potential.
Splitting it's season between infrequent BRDC and FIA appearances has been the Saleen Mustang,seen here on the tail of the GT1 Harrier.A big shed of a thing,it has defeated even the likes of ex BTCC star Patrick Watts who found it powerfull but very big and wayward. Still...it sounded nice!
The overall title had already gone to the GT2 Viper of Luby and Dean,(leading left)just fater mid season.Both drivers are veterans of several top single seater classes(F3,3000 etc). Their year with the 8 litre V10 muscle car almost stalled after race one when the team that ran it was wound up due to circumstances best not mentioned here! Fortunately the car was taken over by Oftendahl motor sport who have produced admirable reliability and unbeatable pace to bag 6 class and one outright win! The rain helped with their greatest achievment but it was a giant killing act of some scale! It is a shame the car was badly burnt in an incident at the last race,but by then the overall title was safe.The only chalenger looked like being the Dutch Racing Promotions Lotus Esprit V8 Turbo(right) which won the first and last rounds ,but it's speed and reliability did not quite match up and swapping drivers around can't have helped either.Ian Astley was joined at various times by , Dutch TV F1 commentator Allard Kallf , ex FFord champion Jacky van der Ende and Brit' Grahame Morris.The car easily wound up 2nd in the GT2 class.
Other GT2s have had a hard time,the Marcos LM600 of Purvis and Erdos (right)was quick, having been fantastic in the previous season's opening round ,but it wasn't at enough events and with the other LM600s The LM500 and Mantis was simply outpaced while the TVR Cerbera(top left) Venturi(below right) ,Porsches of various type, Harrier, Ultima(middle left) the rest of the GT2 class havn't hade a look in.
Despite the rather one-car natiure of the GT 2 battle it has been a pleasure to watch so many different cars and so many different ideas out on the track.Measures are in hand to cap the rate at which GT technology advances in the BRDC series so it is hoped that 1999 will see a similar diversity of entries.
Next season the FIA series looks like a dead duck,the european GT series is already in the grave yard and a lot of expensive GT cars have nowhere else to race .The quasi-GT cars that ran under works team banners in the FIA series are not going to be allowed into the British version in an effort to keep control of costs and speeds(wise move..)but a heap of GT2 Porsche's,maybe some more Vipers and the Dutch entered Marcos might just appear,as may the McLaren that Bscher and Lees campaigned.TVR should have the Speed Twelve walking to heel a bit better and Lister are said to be building some GT2 versions of the Storm.All in all a season to look forward to with relish!
copyright Simon Lewis Oct 1998
If you havn't been there you have certainly missed out! Le Mans is very special and stands alone as THE event to win if your not in a single seater race car!
Racing at night is THE most spine tingling fix a racing addict can get.Imagine the throaty growl of a Porsche flat 6 turbo on full song as you stand on the terrace at the end of the pit straight,It's 2am and the fairground rides are a dizzy blur of neon light in the distance,the pits are all aglow in the foreground,as the car rockets past at over 170mph on "full noise" then lights up its brakes,a momentary lull in the sound as the gearbox changes down,flames spit out of the exhaust,the engine note barks and bounces off the buildings,the car sways through the chicane,lights up the DUNLOP sign on the bridge then pops over the hill out of view.........
Imagine it's Saturday evening as the sun goes downYou are stood on the inside of Mulsanne corner,the marshalls camped out on the golf course behind you are having a bar-b-q,you can taste it in the air, the light is a golden-orange colour and makes the drivers screw up their eyes as they exit the turn.A McLaren pops into sight,brakes still glowing red,the photographers over on the road-island on the outside of the bend snap away.The car twitches as it accelerates hard ,changing up the gears,the hard edged V12 engine note rattles between the walls and hurt your ears as it climbs the hill ,spitting back the odd flame,towards Indianapolis corner a mile and a bit in the distance.It disappears over the brow and it's sound becomes faint - then another comes howling down the straight,unseen behind your back,rips down the gearbox and pops into view,bathed in that gorgeous light with the old farm buildings across the gravel trap as a backdrop,a quick flick of opposite lock to correct the slide them it blasts past and off into the trees ....
They have spoilt it in recent years with high fences that restict the view,a new pits that has no balcony to hang over and watch the pitwork going on 20 feet below you.The chicanes have cut the fantastic 3 mile straight and you no longer stand in the camping field and listen to a 4 rotor Mazda squeel its way down the whole length at full bore,on and on and on drowning out any other sound around.But the event is still amazing,despite the ravages of modern racing and it's obsession with "safety improvements".The buzz at the start is just like that at a Grand Prix,even though the order into turn one matters not one jot compared to the opening moments in F1 where everything can be won or lost.
For all the fences and the way a piece of history,like the pit block,was thrown out with the rubbish one day,the start and finish straight at Le Mans is an awesome stadium in which to stand.The sheer volume of people,the speed of the quick cars at the top of the hill - it takes your breath away.
Text & Photos Copyright Simon Lewis October 1998
LINKS TO SPORTS CAR GT & LE MANS SITES
THE UNOFFICIAL SPECTATOR lots of features On Le Mans from fans and spectators
SPORTS CAR WORLD big site ,very professional,features & race reports on FIA,BRDC SportsCar(USA)and other series with photos and statistics
MULSANNE MIKE How did you guess this site is by another Le Mans fanatic with a name like that I wonder? Lots of Le Mans,Sebring,Daytona & other sportscar stuff here.
MOTOR SPORT FANATIC INDEX
AND VIDEOS ON GT RACING , LE MANS ,GROUP C AND THE SWC TRY