Still hazy, after all these years
The biggest race in the sports car calendar is almost upon us. On the surface, the Le Mans entry looks to be relatively healthy, but behind the massed ranks of Porsche 911s and obsolete Group C cars lurk some worrying, unanswered questions.
The size of the entry is a product of the ACO’s ingenuity, but the content could do with fine-tuning.
Last year, the difference in speed between the Peugeot 905s and some of the slower makeweights – around 90s per lap in the most extreme instance – gave cause for concern. This time, there will be twice as many cars on the circuit, and there was almost two minutes per lap difference between the quickest 905 and an ageing, privately-entered Sauber at the recent Le Mans test day.
In the immediate future, it means that the Automobile Club de l’Ouest gets a full grid on lune 19. Clearly, though, this is not a long-term solution for sports car racing.
The ‘Category IV’ (GT, to you and me) entry list, approximately the same size as the entire 1992 Le Mans field, gives greater cause for optimism, though there is still work to be done. Here we are, halfway through what was supposed to be the first season in the new GT racing era, and still nobody has come up with a definitive set of championship rules.
Small wonder that there has been little manufacturer interest. (The first international GT race, originally scheduled to take place at Silverstone in May, was cancelled due to lack of entries.)
There are fledgling GT series in Italy, Germany. and Britain, but only the former is blessed with the Ferraris and Jaguar XJ220s that supposedly represent a new dawn for sports car racing. The first round of the German series produced a 1-2 for that well-known GT car the BMW M3, while Britain struggles on with a series for a fistful of Porsche owners who have nowhere else to play.
A common set of GT regulations is now scheduled to appear on June 9, 10 days before sports car racing’s showpiece event and so absurdly late that they will be largely irrelevant . . . except to those who have already committed substantial investment to the GT concept. As you can read elsewhere in this issue, Jaguar XJ220C designer Richard Owen says that the final rules are likely to define a car quite different to the one his team has spent the last six months preparing..
When GT racing was originally proposed, there was a mild flutter of interest from manufacturers. The governing body’s subsequent procrastination has hardly increased the level of commitment from potential entrants.
As any member of the paying public who was subjected to the ludicrously limited paddock access and user-unfriendly timetable (both dictated by FISA) at Silverstone’s recent Formula 3000 meeting will be aware, the governing body’s reluctance to push hard for anything other than Formula 1, which is largely self-promoting in any case, remains absolute.
In the case of GT racing, the delays could prove to be terminal.
No matter how many ill-matched cars turn up at Le Mans each year, we believe that a healthy world sports car series is still some way off. S A