World Sportscars

Group:
Sports Cars
Description

More than any other major series, the World Sportscar Championship has had a history of success and failure, boom and bust. The original series was first organised for manufacturers in 1953 and featured the classic long-distance races of the time.

During the 1950s the championship attracted competition from Ferrari, Jaguar, Aston Martin, Mercedes-Benz, Cunningham, Lancia, Alfa Romeo, Maserati, and others. But by 1961 all serious challenges to Ferrari (who had been champions for all but two seasons to date) had dwindled and the series was cancelled.

With the FIA’s attention turning to Grand Touring cars, the organisers of the Sebring 12 Hours, Targa Florio, Nurburgring 1000kms, and Le Mans 24 Hours joined forces to promote the Speed World Challenge for Sports Cars. It proved a success and was adopted by the FIA in 1963 who developed it into a full World Championship for Makes.

Ferrari continued to dominate until Ford perfected the spectacular GT40 into a race-winning force in 1965. World Championship victories for Ford followed in 1966 and under new regulations in 1968.

Porsche, destined to become the most successful sports car manufacturer, introduced its classic 917 in 1969. The car withstood a renewed challenge from Ferrari to win three successive championships from 1969-71, prompting another new formula for 1972. Although this change brought Ferrari back to the fore, the company withdrew from sports car racing at the end of 1973 to concentrate on Formula 1.

Matra, Alfa Romeo, and Renault all made brief and successful forays into endurance racing during the 1970s, but Porsche remained the mainstay of the category. In 1976 and 1977 separate series were organised for Group 5 and Group 6 cars. That was a period of decline due to the confusion between the championships and a lack of interest from sponsors, spectators, and most manufacturers alike.

A drivers' championship was introduced for the first time in 1981, and new Group C rules were adopted a year later. Although Porsche continued to extend its unrivalled record with the 956 and 962 Group C cars, the company faced renewed challenges in the late 1980s – first from Jaguar and then from Mercedes-Benz.

To reflect the number of privateers running Porsches, a teams' championship replaced the manufacturers' title in 1985. Brun Motorsport won the 1986 series for Porsche after which Jaguar and Sauber-Mercedes dominated.

But the introduction of new 3.5-litre engines during a transitional period that began in 1989 alienated the privateer teams that had been the backbone of the Group C years. The championship was abandoned after a final under-supported year in 1992 with Peugeot the final champions for two decades.

GT racing soon filled the void but the FIA eventually resurrected the World Endurance Championship for sports cars in 2012. By that time, Audi was the undisputed leading manufacturer as evidenced by its multiple victories at Le Mans. Audi drivers won the WEC title in 2012 and 2013 but Toyota and then Porsche have since more than challenged its dominance.

Subscribe to Motor Sport

Please select one of the following subscription offerings to gain uninterrupted access to over 92 years of Motor Sport archive.