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Bring back the Grand Tourers!

Aston Martin’s decision to participate in the World Sports-Prototype Championship creates fresh interest in the series, which is already undergoing fundamental change. A single Ecurie Ecosse-run Group C Aston powered by the new “Virage” 32-valve V8 engine will be seen in the first part of the series, with a second expected to appear at Le Mans.

AML thus joins Jaguar and Mercedes as a manufacturer/entrant, whilst Nissan and Toyota are also close to announcing their intentions (Nissan, it’s no great secret, has ordered four new sports-cars from Lola in Huntingdon, which replaces March as its chassis constructor).

In addition, a so far unnamed French customer has ordered a pair of Ferrari F40s to run in the new Grand Touring Competition class (GTC), and the Maranello company is putting a great deal of effort into these. The power output of 760 horsepower already makes a mockery of the intention of the GTC class to re-introduce the “Grand Touring” element.

Positive reaction to last month’s reflection on the future of sports-car racing encourages Motor Sport to take the subject a stage further and propose a “Supercar Grand Touring” competition series which revives the true spirit of long-distance, production-based sports-car competitions.

Rarely has there been a variety of exotic sports cars such as the Lamborghini Countach, the Ferrari Testarossa and the Aston Martin Virage, and rarely has there been so little opportunity for them to appear in competition. There was a European Grand Touting Championship until 1977, when Porsche’s continued domination led FISA to discontinue the farce, and since then no manufacturer of sports-cars has had a public stage on which to exhibit its evocative products at speed. In 1991 FISA’s World Sports-Car Championship will exist only for sports-racing cars of 31/2-litre capacity, will last for about two hours maximum (360km/223 miles) and will be for one driver only.

The exception will be the ACO’s Vingt Quatre Heures du Mans, but the ACO must be concerned about the longevity of these Formula One equivalent engines. Three-litre F1 engines did power sports-cars between 1968 and 1975 but they were, at least, adapted to last for 1000km or six hours, and could be persuaded to run around the clock. The 31/2-litre engines may well not have the reserves to do so.

It was the ACO which first opened the lid of Pandora’s Box in 1949, accepting “prototypes” of production sports-cars on the grounds that none had been made for ten years, and whilst the major manufacturers kept to the spirit of the rules in the 1950s, Ferrari did not in the 1960s, and established an ascendancy which Ford could break only with a multi-million-dollar challenge.

The days of “production sports” were finished, over and done with, and it must be said that the era of Porsche dominance in Group C, between 1983 and 1986, was one of the most sterile in the history of the category. In fact, the Le Mans-winning Porsche in 1987 was barely distinguishable from that in 1982, and that cannot be what we have in mind when we think of sports-car racing. We will only know if there is a real dernand for sports-car racing if we make a proposal, sound out the opinions of manufacturers and circuit owners, then report back in Motor Sport. In other words, we’ll find out whether there is a ball, and whether it will roll.

Our proposal is for a series of races, perhaps in different European countries, most of which would cover a distance of 500km (310 miles), with possible exceptions.

The cars should be homologated into FISA’s Group B, or have been produced at a rate of, say, 100 in 12 months. They are to have two doors, a “production structure” (ie, not spaceframe) and minimum weights of 1500kg in the upper class (3500cc to 6000cc and 1250kg in the lower class (up to 3500cc). Bodywork is to remain standard in appearance but wheels can be changed; “invisible” lightening permitted, or ballasting mandated, to achieve the weight-limit; Group B engine modifications permitted, including four-valve cylinder-head conversions.

Cars such as the Porsche 959 and Ferrari F40 could clearly kill any Grand Touring formula stone dead, other manufacturers historically being deterred, and therefore we would propose a top limit of 2500cc on turbocharged cars in the upper class at 1500kg, and of 2000cc in the lower class at 1250kg. The number, make, size and type of turbocharger may not be changed and there could not be a boost control inside the car.

Typically, a Group B modified engine could produce 100-110 bhp per litre, leading to a ceiling of perhaps 660 bhp for the upper class, and that should be ample for maximum speeds of 200 mph on a long straight. The list of eligible cars is surprisingly extensive and is certainly impressive, so a “Supercar GT” competition could provide a superb spectacle in the right setting.

Please do let us have your views, on a postcard. MLC

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