Muddy waters

Sports car racing begins the long haul back to respectability in 1993, based on the concept of homologated Grand Touring cars. National championships will take place in Britain, Germany, France, Italy, America and Japan, but nowhere will there be common regulations.

Lacking any sort of lead from FISA, John Quenby (chief executive of the RAC Motor Sports Association) has taken the initiative in putting together and announcing an ad hoc series of European races.

Two will be run in Britain, at Silverstone on May 9 and at Donington on September 12, and the Grand Touring class at Le Mans (June 19/20) will be the premier event. It is expected that the opening round will take place at Mugello in April, and that a round will be held at Jarama in July. Two more 'definites' are at the Nürburgring on August 22 and at Magny-Cours on October 17.

Who will take part in these races, and to what regulations will they run? It's not easy in January to answer either of these questions. but Lotus will supply a new Esprit Sport 300 model to Hugh Chamberlain, Allen Lloyd plans to run the new Jaguar XJ220C (perhaps for Derek and Justin Bell?), and there is always a nucleus of Porsche 911 owners you can trust to turn up.

Although the regulations are different in every country, a common theme will be introduced, and it's more likely to be the Le Mans class than FISA's. At Silverstone, for instance, the BRDC's category will come first, and the race (of perhaps one hour, or two hours with a midway break) will be firmly production based.

"We have to cater for cars that already exist," says Chris Norman, the BRDC's competitions manager. "I have looked at the FISA regulations, but they are aimed so much at the supercars that only five or six types will be eligible; I doubt if we'd have any entries in May.

"People will be preparing cars for Le Mans and will want to try them out. Silverstone has traditionally been the place to prepare for Le Mans. Our own series will be for less exotic production cars, Porsches, Honda NSXs and perhaps Ferraris and Aston Martins in an evolution class.

"We would be much closer to the German GT championship than to FISA, and the response we've had so far has been very encouraging."

The format envisaged is for the national category to form the main class (ADAC in Germany, BRDC in Britain) with Le Mans and FISA classes added. The GT class in the Daytona 24 Hours on January 30/31 will run to amended FISA regulations, which have not been made public. These scrap the power-to-weight formula ratified last June, and introduce a single, 1,100 kg class, with performances limited by restrictors... much like the ACO's rules, in fact.

These are, as a reminder, for cars weighing at least 1,000 kg and for any engine size, though with inlet restrictors limiting the power to about 475 bhp. Super- or turbochargers may be installed, if not already specified, and cars from national championships (such as IMSA GTO, or German saloons) are catered for.

FISA, having driven sports car racing to the point of extinction, has a clear responsibility to help the process of rehabilitation, but its executives are rather too laid-back at the present time.

Somewhere between October 20, when president Max Mosley said that he would announce a calendar "within the next three weeks", and November 20 when he responded "er, thanks for reminding me", a good deal of enthusiasm evaporated.

The problems of Formula 1 were too pressing to delay, but FISA has a staff and could have cobbled something together. The announcement of an official calendar would have been a significant step, giving credibility and status to the GT class. Without it, there is vacuum which others, no part of FISA, mind you, are working hard to fill.

Hugh Chamberlain, winner of the 1992 FIA Cup, finally twigged that FISA had nothing on the agenda when he attended the FIA prizegiving ceremony in Paris on December 11. It was then that he realised that if he didn't start a ball rolling, no one would, and obtained Mosley's authority to approach Quenby and get some telephones warmed up around Europe. The process was started just before Christmas, and continued in January.

Tom Kean, who drafted the GT regulations approved in June, recommended some changes to widen their scope. These have been discussed by FISA's technical commission and relayed to IMSA, although no amendments have been ratified by FISA.

"When I was asked to prepare these regulations in the early part of last year, the brief was to consider exotic GT cars which would compete with Group C cars." says Kean. "Clearly FISA is in a different situation now as there are no Group C cars, and the GTs don't need to lap as quickly as envisaged."

Porsches are 'in' again, and doubtless will predominate at Daytona. By abandoning the engine size/minimum weight categorisation FISA is taking a huge step onto middle ground, but whether they'll make any dent on the ACO's rules — for which a number of cars are being prepared — is anyone's guess.

FISA's recent track record with endurance racing is shameful, and the GTs will surely make a better start out in the meadow than in any hothouse managed by Mosley and Bernie Ecclestone.

Eventually. though, Grand Touring racing will need FISA's authority to develop into a European Championship, and then into a world series.

Whether or not Mosley remains wedded to the idea of Simtek making a magic black box that will equalise the performance of all cars, he may not take kindly to the realisation that the ACO's Le Mans regulations have become the standard for GT cars around the world.

And for its part, the ACO would be aggrieved if FISA suddenly applied black-box technology to the GTs competing in the 24 Hours. Sports car racing will swim in muddy waters for a long time to come! MLC