When exactly was the golden age of sportscar racing? Everyone has a different answer. Was it when Jaguar and Aston Martin took on and beat the Italian factories in the 1950s? Then there is Ford’s invasion in the mid-60s with the mighty GT40 against Ferrari. Or, for sheer, no-holds-barred velocity, it’s hard to match the Porsche 917 and Ferrari 512S models of the early ’70s. And if manufacturer involvement is the key then, by the late 1980s, the Group C formula stands as the zenith of endurance racing.
Whichever era is closest to your heart, what each of these periods has in common is that the cars were contesting a true world championship, attracting the most famous marques and great drivers. There has been no world title since 1992, and it is no coincidence that no period since registers as a contender for the mantle of ‘the golden age’.
So, when the debate began in this office as to whom should be considered for our top 20 greatest sportscar drivers (page 31), 1992 seemed a natural cut-off point And yet this excludes a man with five Le Mans victories. Where would Tom Kristensen rank against Moss and Ickx?
All racing categories have their peaks and troughs, but sportscar’s current low is a long one. Yet there are still manufacturers interested in endurance racing. With the announcement of Aston Martin’s return to racing with the DB9 (page 16), there is further evidence of a movement by some of the most prestigious marques towards GT racing. By the end of 2004 there will be factory-supported cars from Aston, Maserati, Ferrari and Lamborghini on the track. If Porsche can be added to this list, you have a line-up to rival any decade of sportscar racing. But, at present, these cars will not be gunning for overall honours at sportscar racing’s centrepiece, the Le Mans 24 Hours. That will be won by an out-dated, but faster, prototype. But what’s more alluring — a Maserati or a Courage?
We all know that motorsport’s powers that be are focused on Formula One. But surely a concerted effort of co-operation between the FIA, Le Mans and these powerful manufacturers could produce a contender for another golden age.