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New formula for Le Mans?

Motor Sport’s proposed Supercar Grand Touring category has been well received by manufacturers and by the public, whose concern for the future of sports-car racing is raised by the extremely commercial nature of FISA’s development of the World Championship.

Peace proposals have been agreed between FISA and the Automobile Club de l’Ouest for the running of this year’s 24-hour race, and further talks will be held later in the summer to ensure the “perenniality” of the event within the series.

Who knows whether the proposed 31/2-litre cars will be the staple diet at Le Mans throughout the 1990s, or whether an amalgam of current Group C and IMSA cars might be suitable, or again whether an entirely new, production-based GT formula will be needed?

As things stand today the big manufacturers in Group C racing would be appalled if Le Mans fell out of the World Championship. It is by far the most prestigious sports-car race in the world, one justification for all their effort and expense, and it is said traditionally that to win Le Mans is worth more than the entire championship. Certainly the ACO’s event has been run outside the World Championship before, but it was for the same cars, and the issue today is whether the 31/2-litre racing models will be suitable for the rigours of Le Mans. Even now the more committed manufacturers are preparing special “24-hour” versions of their new engines, and wish perhaps that there were more proper endurance races.

Let us suppose that the 31/2-litre sportscar formula grows in stature like Formula One, and that the 200-mile “made for television” races become extremely popular. In that case FISA might conclude that Les Vingt Qtiatre Heures du Mans no longer suits its purposes, the format being all wrong for television, and the major manufacturers might even agree. Today and in the near future, the leading lights of FISA will bully and cajole the ACO into a continuing support for the world series, but when it suits them they will fall back on the biggest stumbling block of all: that there will be 36 cars and 36 drivers for the series, but a need for 50 cars and 150 drivers for one event per annum!

We can rule the current Group C and IMSA cars out of the reckoning almost without discussion: they will soon be obsolete. No manufacturer involved in the 31/2-litre championship would spend one hour, one pound, one Deutschmark, one franc or one yen developing them, and in any case IMSA will move towards 31/2-litre racing engines, normally-aspirated stockblocks and turbo engines up to 2-litres, all of which suggests amateur teams buying “off-the-shelf” equipment.

With inevitability we return to our original suggestion of a production GT “Supercar” formula, the basis for which already exists in FISA’s “Yellow Book”. All it needs is for a circuit owner or race organiser to stage a race for these cars, and for others to follow suit. Here are some reactions we received from leading manufacturers: Victor Gauntlet of Aston Martin: “I have every sympathy for the thinking behind your pushing for Grand Touring racing, but I have to say that my enthusiasm is dampened for two reasons. One, with our commitment to the World Sports-Prototype Championship, I do not believe we will be able to divert resources elsewhere; two, surely the GT racing will disintegrate into some kind of ‘silhouette’ racing? Now, road-driveable GT cars — that’s something different!”

Manfred Jantke, Porsche’s director of public relations: “We at Porsche often think back on the history of GT racing, and we regret that for some years Gran Turismo is more or less dead in sport. These cars have always been more suitable for motor racing than any modified touring car, and they had their own fascination.

“It is a fact that high-performance cars undergo a revival and that we see the arrival of ‘super sports cars’ coming along lately. For Porsche I can say that we would love to have new opportunities to bring our production sports-cars back to racing. The big, old question is to what degree they should be modified. It is certainly not a good idea to race GT cars which cost more than a Group C sports-car (eg, silhouette formula).”

Dottore Franco Gozzi of Ferrari: “The official point of view of Ferrari on this matter is that we are favourable to a policy that lets private customers race with their own cars. Do you remember the Fifties? We will do our best to help our customers, private teams, representatives of Ferrari, wherever they race, but we cannot manage directly any kind of car except Formula One.”

Readers’ response has been good, and we thank all those who sent postcards in support of our proposal.

What is interesting is that all those who responded appeared to favour standard model racing, or “N-GT” as it is referred to in Germany, and seem not to want such highly-modified cars as we proposed (a six-litre limit for the top class, and Group A-type modifications). We can only say that to run GT cars in showroom condition would be to display differences in performance between, say, a Ferrari Testarossa and a Mercedes 560, or a Jaguar XJ-S, and the weaker models would soon disappear from the competition. To allow limited modifications might bring the competing makes closer together and improve the quality of racing. We will keep you informed of developments in the Motor Sport proposal, as and when they happen. MLC